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No Easy Exit

November 23, 2005
By Neil Snyder

Were one to require further proof of the deceptive nature of the House Republicans or their penchant for making the conflict in Iraq a political tool, the GOP leadership provided it last week in a grand, nauseating gesture that sought to both entrap the Democrats and essentially put words into the mouth of a distinguished veteran congressman from Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, November 17, John P. Murtha, representative of Pennsylvania's twelfth district, made an impassioned speech in the House arguing that the military had completed its mission in Iraq and that "the U.S. can not accomplish anything further militarily." The congressman suggested that a redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq would compel Iraqi security forces to step in and take control of the situation and eliminate U.S. soldiers as target for the ire of competing factions in Iraq.

Murtha did not offer a timetable for withdrawal or even an immediate withdrawal, calling instead for a redeployment of U.S. troops "consistent with the safety of U.S. forces," implying that redeployment should come at the earliest practical date. In order to control the situation if a battle were to break out that threatened to plunge Iraq into an all-out civil war, Murtha suggested that a "quick reaction force" should be created in the region.

Murtha's plan was by no means radical; on Friday we learned that General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had submitted a plan to Secretary Rumsfeld recommending that brigades begin gradually pulling out of Iraq early next year. Casey's plan required that a number of conditions be met before troops would be withdrawn, such as U.S. commanders having sufficient confidence in both the abilities of the Iraqi security forces and the political, infrastructural, and economic stability of Iraq.

Murtha's plan, then, was nothing more than Casey's plan but without the details. The first requirement of Murtha's resolution, that forces be withdrawn at the "earliest practical date," is perfectly congruent with Casey's requirements for troop withdrawal.

The House Republicans on Thursday, however, unaware of the Casey plan, reacted to Murtha's speech as if he had called for the military to simply drop everything and flee Iraq. House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested that Murtha and his supporters "want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." Representative David Dreier stated that "[i]t would be an absolute mistake and a real insult to the lives that have been lost" to approve Murtha's resolution.

However, the Republicans are never ones to shy away from a fight, especially one that might prove to be potentially embarrassing or harmful to the Democrats. Thus they decided to allow Murtha's resolution to be voted on - albeit a resolution doctored by the Republicans to put the Democrats in a tough position. The resolution that Murtha introduced had stated:

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States Forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

The "revised" Republican version of the resolution read simply:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

The House Republicans turned Murtha's thoughtful, rational resolution into a useless bit of partisanship, as they knew full well that the Democrats were not going to vote for something so absurdly worded. And they didn't - the resolution was voted down 403-3.

The nadir of the Friday evening debates over the resolution was provided by Representative Jeanne Schmidt of Ohio's second district. Quoting an Ohio state representative (and Marine colonel), Dan Bubp, Schmidt put her foot in her mouth with all the force of a Howitzer by saying that the colonel asked her to send a message to Congressman Murtha "that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

The reaction in the House to that statement has few precedents in congressional history. The Democrats became so furious with Schmidt's assertion that House business was halted for ten minutes while the Republicans begged Schmidt to request her comments be stricken from the record, as the Democrats loudly admonished Schmidt from the floor.

Congresswoman Schmidt's comments are indicative of the position many conservatives hold on the war today. In the black and white world of Republicans, suggesting that U.S. forces be removed from Iraq in a logical, orderly and timely manner is tantamount to advocating the military be immediately pulled out of the war zone, and those who make such suggestions are advocating a policy of retreat and surrender.

It is difficult to believe that Ms. Schmidt was unaware of the implication of Mr. Bubp's comment, as it was extremely blunt and straightforward. Mr. Murtha was suggesting that the U.S. "cut and run" (a cherished phrase of Republicans invoked to silence critics); cowards, according, to Mr. Bubp, "cut and run," not Marines; therefore, Mr. Murtha is not only not a coward, he's also not a real Marine.

Congressman Murtha, it should be noted, had a 37-year career in the Marine Corps before his retirement as a colonel in 1990 and saw combat during both the Korean and Viet Nam wars, earning a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry in the latter. But as last year's presidential race proved, none of these qualifications exempts you from being labeled a coward or a traitor if you question the foreign policy of the United States.

Immediate (that is to say overnight) withdrawal from Iraq is, at this point, not an option. The war itself was a costly, ill-conceived strategic mistake, and many people who could barely be described as "doves" said as much as the President and his government were banging their drums and rattling their sabers in the months before the invasion. Public opinion, which was initially quite strong about the war, has soured as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, and a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll published last week found that 60% of those interviewed believed that the Iraq war was not worthwhile. Congressman Murtha himself was originally a proponent of the Iraq invasion (much has been made of his reputation as a hawk since his speech in Congress). But what is to be made of this "buyer's remorse"?

The problem with the Iraq situation is that it can not be solved by simply leaving. The Iraq war might have been a mistake, but it is a mistake that the United States cannot walk away from and simply pretend never happened. The great tragedy in foreign policy is that you cannot change your mind once you have set something into motion - it will continue on even if you wish it wouldn't.

Iraq did not attack the United States, nor did it aim to. The United States chose to invade a sovereign nation, oust its government and attempt to set up a republic, and it did so with much popular domestic support. But the war has not gone well for the United States. The capitulation of Saddam Hussein's army and the taking of key cities with little resistance was met with applause in the United States, but those proved to be pyrrhic victories, for the real threat to the army was to come not from the imaginary armies of Saddam Hussein, but from the thousands of jihadists pouring into Iraq from neighboring countries, champing at the bit to do battle with the Americans, and from domestic insurgents.

Simply retreating from Iraq now and washing our hands of the war would be an inhuman act at this point. Granted, staying there is not a savory prospect either. However, it would be immoral and abhorrent to invade a country without provocation and under false pretenses, dismantle its government, destroy its infrastructure, and then leave when things looked grim. The United States owes it to the Iraqi people to maintain a presence in Iraq and maintain order.

As it stands now, what unites every faction in Iraq is an overwhelming hatred of the American presence. The United States is the focus of their rage. Were the United States to step out at this point, the factions would shift their focus to each other, and Iraq would undoubtedly be plunged into a prolonged, bloody, destructive civil war. Considering what the U.S. has already done there, such a move would be unconscionable.

Congressman Murtha provided a blueprint for what needs to be done in Iraq. Having the troops languish in Iraq as a target for the insurgents does no good, and the men and women of the U.S. military have done all they can in Iraq - their mission has been completed. It is now time for the Iraqi security forces to step up to the plate and take over day to day operations. As long as the coalition army remains in Iraq, the Iraqi forces have no impetus for action. But we cannot just give them the responsibility of controlling the situation and then abandon them; it is imperative that a small, specialized force remain in Iraq in order to intervene if the fighting gets out of control.

This strategy would neither force the U.S. to retreat from Iraq, nor would it allow America's soldiers to remain as a sitting ducks. It is a plan that would both allow the United States to exit in a timely manner and maintain order if it is necessary. We cannot abandon Iraq, but at the same time, we cannot remain. Congressman Murtha's plan would enable the United States to avoid redressing one injustice by committing another.

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