Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha moved the debate over Iraq into a new direction by calling for the immediate “redeployment” of American military personnel. This is the most substantial public statement yet by a member of Congress on the war. You’d expect this kind of statement from a Democrat, but not necessarily Murtha, a long-time “war hawk” who has been among the Pentagon’s biggest supporters for all of his 30 years in the House. Only Murtha could have changed the terms of the debate and for that he should be commended. In so doing, Murtha returned to the heroics that characterized his Vietnam service.
Murtha’s public call for the removal of American military personnel from Iraq has been the talk of DC from the moment he made his announcement. The response has been predictable and complicated. Predictably, Republicans have charged that Murtha is wrong and some have gone so far as to play the “Michael Moore” card in charging that he is aligned with the far left wing of the Democratic party. But Murtha is no tree hugging liberal. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Murtha has built a reputation as being too protective of the Pentagon. So, when Murtha speaks, he does so with the credibility built on 30 years of staunch support of America’s military. That’s why Murtha’s “coming out” on Iraq is a problem for Bush. Murtha now gives cover to Democrats and Republicans who see Iraq as folly, but have yet to bring themselves to publicly call for change. Murtha, however, complicated things for fence-sitting Democrats who have yet to step up an voice publicly what they believe privately.
Now that Murtha has emerged as a chief critic of the Iraq War, we have a circumstance in which time and attention will continue to be focused on why we went to war rather than actually winning the war. Murtha’s too credible to be brushed off with a few pointed comments designed to make him seem like a weak-kneed dove. Every day that the past is discussed is a bad day for the Bushies because it gives the American public more reasons to wonder if the decision to go to war was right. Further, it puts Bush administration incompetence into full view and demonstrates how it picked intelligence that confirmed its desire to go to war while ignoring contrary evidence. Lastly, with the 2006 elections coming into view, the Republicans have to turn this around quickly. They can no longer afford to have this issue–one which they have mishandled–be the one that is freshest in the minds of the voters. If it is, then gear up for Democratic control of at least one house of Congress.
Murtha’s biggest contribution to the Iraq war will prove to be his call for it’s end. In so doing, Murtha has changed the tone of the debate. We no longer talk about if U.S. service men and women will leave Iraq, but when. Murtha now makes it likely that the U.S. will pull out sooner rather than later and that’s a blessing to those who want the U.S. occupation to end now. Murtha did what no one else could have done–he changed the tone and pushed the Bush Administration to do something it wasn’t ready to do: acknowledge that troops will be coming home sooner rather than later.