No Easy Exit
November 23, 2005
By Neil Snyder
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
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a number of conditions be met before troops would be withdrawn,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forces be withdrawn at the "earliest practical date," is perfectly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
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
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
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
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.