Friday, November 18, 2005

Murtha, the War, and Getting Out

Before Thursday I had started to think some very counterintuitive thoughts for a progressive blogger type.

For instance, after initially rallying behind Harry Reid's Senate shut-down and call for phase II of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation on the use of pre-war intelligence, I'd started to wonder if that was really a good avenue for Democrats to go down. After all, what would such an investigation uncover that wasn't already known? Would the evidence of such an investigation amount to anything more than ambigous conclusions? And perhaps most importantly, would it do anything to improve the course of the conflict and situation in Iraq? Harry Truman's WWII committee on contracts, cost over-runs, and shoddy workmanship in the war effort had just this potential. But I wasn't sure raising anew questions about the intelligence and the use of the intelligence, among other pre-war decisions, was going to amount to much. And politically, was there a danger that such a strategy could in the end prove to be a case of Democratic over-reach, convincing many swing-voters Democrats were just out for blood rather than interested in a constructive solution to the war in Iraq and "war on terrorism" more broadly?

That the Reid Senate maneuver, among other things perhaps, seemed to have energized the White House and encouraged the administration's worst "dissent is unpatriotic" line of attack added to those concerns.

What's more, most Democrats had not really appeared to be offering an alternative course of action in Iraq as I could tell. What could Democrats say to the country about Iraq and what to do there?

The discussion of timetables, or the more radical idea of withdrawal, also hadn't convinced me on either policy or political grounds as being necessarily fruitfull. The "we broke it, we fix it" argument about the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq however over simplified, had a certain merit I couldn't ignore. And most of the Democratic apologies for their Iraq war votes struck me as being too little, too late, lacking a recognition of the propaganda effect that led to the war's approval by fearful Democrats worried about their next elections. Worst of all, the White House counter-charges, that at least some Democrats seemed to regard Iraq as just a much of a threat as the administration, while distorted, also seemed at least partly meritorous even if based only on narrowly construed and taken-out-of-context Democratic party statements.

But John Murtha's public stance yesterday, and the emotional power of his press conference calling for a withdrawal of the troops within, or beginning in at least six months, impressed me, especially given his hawkish background and previous support for the war. That Murtha wasn't Dennis Kucinich, or even John Kerry, made the declaration one of particular import.

And while most Democrats didn't publically jump on the Murtha bandwagon yesterday, it seems pretty clear to me, at least so far, that the Murtha statement was a bombshell, for both the White House just trying to regain its political footing, and for Democrats still trying to protect their national security credentials. While there may not be immediate movement on Murtha's proposition, I suspect it will continue to hang out there in the media stratosphere, serving as a marker of sorts, representing an alternative for the opposition party come election time, and as an item for the media to continually refer back to when discussing the latest war tragedy.

The Murtha call is a line in the sand. The idea of withdrawal has been put on the political map. It's been given credibility.

Now, will it matter?

The administration claims it is holding out for "complete victory" and won't "surrender". But what is victory? Would we know it if we saw it? The capture of Al Zaqari and the dismantling of "Al Qaeda in Iraq", or is the insurgency comprised of much more than this most recent boogey-man, eight of diamonds, deck card of hostile elements the administration once used as its measure of progress in routing the old Baathist regime?

Does victory mean the official establishment of an on-paper Iraqi military/police force? Or would it need to be a more substantive indicator?

And what of our long-term military establishment plans for permanent war bases in Iraq?

These are some of the questions that Murtha's declaration may help to lift back into the public debate on Iraq. And Murta's framework may soon prove the best response.

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