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November 17, 2005


What demoralizes [our troops] is not the criticism" but the lack of a plan to win the peace.

This is a winning line that should be repeated over and over, by everyone. Bush may be able to throw sand in the eyes of the American people about support for the war pre-war. But if people actually begin to look at how Bush's inability to solve disputes in his cabinet about post-war reconstruction, it will be clear where the blame for failure lies.

Kagro, you inside-the-beltway insider, you. Those few of us Democrats not among the party's representatives in the House figured this out -- I think even the centrists of us -- months ago. Nice to see the elected officials catching up.

The beginning of the end -- at least for widespread Democratic complacency on the war. -- in the halls of power I think you mean. The intermission between acts for the rest of us perhaps. Or am I being a northeast liberal elitist?

e-pockets: it's nothing new to those of us here, of course. What Murtha's epiphany represents is fresh reinforcements from the center. It wasn't a story when anonymous bloggers declared themselves against the war. It was just slightly more when now-out-of-office politicians announced their own awakenings.

Having Jack Murtha break our way is cause for fireworks for us, and warning flares for "them," as this Daily Kos diary aptly notes, in reporting that NRO's "The Corner" sees it coming:

If tough, non-effete guys like Murtha are willing to go this far, and can make the case in ways that Red America can relate to -- and listening to him talk was like listening to my dad, who's about the same age, and his hunting buddies -- then the president is in big trouble. I'm sure there's going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.

Oh happy day!

Obviously Kagro is talking about elected Democrats, not the rank and file.

This seems like a defining moment to me. What really bothers me is that we could easily withdraw with honor instead of treating it like a loss, but we won't be able to, because the whiny Right has insisted that anything short of an indefinite commitment is equivalent to "cutting and running."

The most persuasive argument for getting out in an orderly way over the next 12 months is just this: As long as we are an occupying power in Iraq, the government we are propping up is seen as illegitimate. That simple fact prevents the Sunni Arabs from taking part in the government and makes all those who are cooperating targets for the insurgency.

If we leave, or even announce we are leaving over the next few months, the government would be an Iraqi project, not our project; the Sunni could take part; and the foreign fighters supporting the insurgency would be isolated and could be defeated by the iraqis themselves.

This is the thesis of journalist Nir Rosen in the current Atlantic Monthly (behind a wall). He says that the likely outcome of our leaving is thus not civil war, but an easing of the civil war currently underway. The downsides are that the Kurds would leave, but he feels they are leaving anyway, and the country would become an Islamic state because at this point both the Sunni and the Shia want that. That is not something we can control. How can we support "democracy" if we won't let them determine their own form of government? He believes that Iraqi nationalism is strong enough to keep the Sunni arabs and Shia together, and to fend off Iran.

Thus, we will have spent all that treasure and lives just to install another more-or-less unfriendly Islamic state.

If that is indeed the outcome, the Bush people it seems to me will be punished. The Dems should reorient their message toward the future--however we got there, it is a botch and a mess and we must get out now because we are now the problem. The incompetent conduct of the war and occupation cost us any possibility there might have been for a better outcome.

I would like to see War Dems recant, but I'll settle for them to repent and promise never to abdicate their oversight responsibilities or believe this Administration when it tries to take us to war again.

Kagro & Steve, the real question I was egging after is why our leaders are lagging behind those they're meant to be leading. Why has it taken this long for this seismic shift, in your words, to happen. Calloo callay and better late than never, but jeez guys... this jabberwock was ready to be slain for a while now.

Anyway, I am glad the boat is beginning to rock from the front at last.

They can no longer claim this is "a war only a Murtha could love." (sorry.)

Murtha takes point ... and with exquisite timing.

There's no bigger friend of the troops in Congress. Murtha served. Murtha voted for the war. And now Murtha sends D.O.D. Dick Cheney a message: "You want to challenge the political manhood and moral gravitas of Democrats who voted for War Powers and now criticize the war? If you want to get to them, you have to go through me."

Tell the Sunni, tell the Shi'a, tell the Kurds. Tell the neighbors. Tell the EU, Japan, India, China and Russia.

For better or worse [and it can get orders of magnitude worse], it's only a matter of time now. Our kids are coming home.

I think there are still too many risk-averse Dems who are afraid of being painted as nopt tough enough or weak on national security. I think it is as simple as that. They tried to stake out a position as "national security Dems" and it backfired because the war backfired.

It is the same ol' pointing your finger at the moon and mistaking it for the moon problem. You don't demonstrate that you are strong by advocating war. You do it by thinking a position through, then advocating it as if you mean it (because you do) and standing up to critics in the other party. What makes ypu tough is standing up, not standing up for war, particualrly when that is what the GOP wants you to do.

They laid a good trap. But it caught them too in the end, because Bush/Rove forgot that to be the war president you have to win the war. Now that he's losing it, he's losing everyone and everything, because there was never any real substance there except those same ol' unattractive Republican ideas of redistributing more power and wealth to the already wealthy and powerful.

Nice to see the elected officials catching up.

I just saw excerpts on CNN, and Murtha did in fact say that the American people are 'far ahead' of congress on this. He also took a good swipe at Cheney and his 'five deferments'.

This is indeed big.

I think there are still too many risk-averse Dems who are afraid of being painted as not tough enough or weak
on national security. I think it is as simple as that. They tried to stake out a position as "national security Dems" and it backfired because the war backfired.

Exactly what I've been arguing since January.

Nir Rosen's piece has a complement in the Atlantic Monthly; it's James Fallows's piece on Why Iraq Has No Army. He blames it on Dubyanocchio. And then falls in line with those who say we can't leave "honorably" until that Iraqi army is viable. Which means sometime around 2010 or '11, since the Administration will not, under any circumstances, belly up to the task.

Murtha's remarks do seem to represent what could be a seismic shift. Less than two months ago, General Wesley Clark was urging House Democrats in the Out of Iraq Caucus (which includes my Congressman, Xavier Becerra) not to push for a timetable or suggest pulling troops out of Iraq right away. Essentially, he was offering the same arguments he made 18 months ago in the Democratic primaries.

While I'm glad to see Murtha take his stand and put himself in the same corner as Russ Feingold (and other House Democrats who didn't serve as Marines), any Democrat who wanted "cover" on this issue over the past 12 to 18 months merely needed to follow the lead of a general with more impeccably strong-on-defense credentials than Clark - former National Security Agency chief General William Odom. His most recent commentary - but far from his first on Iraq - can be found here.

So Murtha agrees with me. Good.

Took him long enough.

risk-averse Dems who are afraid of being painted as not tough enough or weak on national security

I had (limited) sympathy for this in late 2001, most of 2002, I'll even give them 2003. But when every poll shows the public souring on the war, I just don't get what painter they're worried about. I agree with you that that is the reason: I just think it's irrational.

On the other hand (being an academic I have license to argue with myself) -- elected officials are supposed to be less volatile in their shifting opinions than the electorate is. If we pull out 8,000 troops by Christmas and two months later a private plane is crashed into the Superbowl, there will be political hell to pay. I don't know what to do about that (except call it what it would be: another failure of homeland defense under Bush).

following up on MB's comment. Odom, who was Reagan's director of the NSA, has been a luminary on Iraq withdrawal policy. See also Retreating in Good Order (PDF) by him.

Some explanatory and otherwise illuminating excerpts from the full transcript of Murtha's remarks:

The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction.


I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won "militarily." I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are untied against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control.


Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.

This tells us why Murtha "took so long." He wasn't pro-war because he thought the polls demanded it. Nor was he pro-war because Bush demanded it. He was pro-war because he thought there was a mission to accomplish there, namely the removal of Saddam Hussein. That mission has been accomplished, and we should leave. We may not agree with his assessment of what our role should have been, but it seems to me it was an honest opinion, genuinely held. Where was Jack Murtha back when you and I knew the war was a mistake? He was disagreeing with us. And saying so, as he says today.

Mimikatz, You're right on the mark re: the war president "thing." [To quote Bush senior!] The bottom line is that Bush's prosecution of the war has been a disaster. Most Americans believe the war could have been successful. Don't get me started on why they think that. That's how junior was able to get re-elected. Now that an increasing majority can see that a string of catastrophic mistakes has been made over the course of the war, Bush's war has become a failed war. The war president has become a failed president.

But it's not the full transcript. Just saw it on C-SPAN ... the tearful recitation of contacts with maimed servicemembers, the Q&A, troops' responsibilities vs elected's responsibilities, the bristling at Cheney.

I'll take issue with Blades on Clark & Odom. Murtha's move does not seem inconsistent with Clark's "narrowing window" analysis, which mostly got blown off teh screen by Katrina. (I picked up a turn of phrase which sounded like a nod to Clark.)

And remember that Odom's analysis is premised on pulling out only to regroup, to go back in more forcefully a couple of turns later.

BTW, 'pockets gets the "Murtha....Murtha..." prize:

They can no longer claim this is "a war only a Murtha could love." (sorry.)

you're killin' me!

The seismic shift may be a general recognition by members of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) that the whole neo-conservative chickenhawk ideology of spreading democracy is a crock of shit. Democracy is a revolution. You can't impose it at will. Nationalism will destroy it.

rasmus -- You can't get democracy until you have nationalism (or something analogous, depending on the setting). No democracy until most of the polity commits to keeping their skins in the game even when their side loses.

Likewise, you can't build an Iraqi Army until most all of 'em buy the idea of "Iraq". All we're doing now is helping a loose collection of combat elements improve their fighting trim.

Furthermore, an administration that considers France an enemy for publicly disagreeing with us isn't interested in spreading actual democracy. They're interested in forcing countries to have governments that have elections and can be declared PR successes, but always "democratically" decide to do what we want.

I'm glad Cheney was so over the top in characterizing Dem criticisms about manipulated intel as "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever leveled in this city" because it brings the focus back to him and his dishonest and reprehensible claims about Iraq.

And bravo for Murtha for sticking it to Cheney and Bush. His comment that what was hurting the troops was not lack of support for the war but lack of a plan for success was dead on. And then to follow up with the idea that there is no longer any success to be had in Iraq because it was botched so bad, therefore we must start to withdraw. He is the epitome of what I meant--real toughness.

And again--where's Rumsfeld? I week or so it seemed like Gordon England was auditioning for his job.

This actually reminds me of what happened with my grandpa and Vietnam. My grandpa had been a UAW organizer at P&H in Milwaukee, a line worker, and then an inspector. He was right wing, racist and a former member of the Klan. Granpa was vehement in his support of the war. So imagine our surprise when he announced that he was voting for Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Wisconsin primary.

Granpa was fed up with the war just going on and on with no plan for victory in sight. When he saw bullshit he called it.

For me and for my very anti-war parents that was a real turning point on Vietnam. Barely a week later, LBJ announced he wouldn't seek or accept the nomination of his party for president.

As you probably already guessed, I don't agree, Ron.

While General Clark has long recognized that Bushco policy in Iraq was wrongheaded, reckless and dangerous, and he has offered what would be a proper strategy for changing course if a Democrat were president, he has been unwilling to budge from his view that now is not the time to argue in favor of a pull-out.

Now was not the time in April or June or October of 2004. Now was not the time in late August 2005 when he wrote his well-distributed Washington Post Op-Ed column. Now was not the time when he spoke to the Out of Iraq Caucus in late September. Now was not the time when he gave his radio address in late October at the time of the constitution vote.

I hate to be trite, but if not now when? And if not Democrats, who?

His August column, by the way, was on the money when he described Bush's policy. And, though I disagreed with elements of it, he had some excellent prescriptions for improving the situation. Vast improvements if, again, a Democratic were president.. But Bush is president and will be for 38 more months, four more than we've already been failing in Iraq. Clark still seems to believe that the Administration can be persuaded, cajoled or pressured into putting things right in Iraq. I don't.

In the last line of that column, Clark writes:

If the Administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that the Administration bring our troops home.

Bush won't and can't adopt a winning strategy. For those who backed the war, that time was three years ago, two years ago, even one year ago. But now, with 13% of the Iraqi people supporting continued occupation and all the other FUBARs we're too familiar with, it's clear there is no winning strategy. (As an opponent from get-go, I never thought there was a winning strategy in the first place, but that's another discussion.)

Clark says there is a narrowing window of opportunity; but he's been saying that for a long time. And he continues to argue against timetables for withdrawal using the same old claims that both Odom and Nir Rosen demolish; to wit, they point out that most of the bad effects of withdrawal have already occurred. But Clark says we must stick it out a while longer. Another year? Two? Five?

As for Odom premising his views on going back later, well, he's neither pacifist nor isolationist, and neither am I. But his idea of going back later in what presumably would be a broader regional war is premised on multilateral intervention, if necessary, not the idea that the U.S. will pull out, then unilaterally storm back into the Middle East across a broader front, "doing it right this time" with enough troops and a rebuilding plan.

MB -- FWIW, I found Odom's arguments weak, and Rosen's ludicrous.

Cut the red wire? Or the blue wire? We're going to cut the red wire, and if that's the wrong move, and a lot of people might die.

Out for the evening, but we'll discuss further.

Mark the date, indeed.

My historian's nose tells me that November 17, 2005 will be a date that history marks as the end of the war in Iraq.

It took me a while today to come up with a good analogy for what happened today to explain its significance to those who didn't know John Murtha.

I finally decided that it most reminds me of Welch finally challenging McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings with his "at long last, sir, have you left no sense of decency?"

I think we can give Murtha some of the credit for the subsequent defeat of the budget bill, as well. His speech must have shaken that place to its core, waking some of those across the aisle from their long sleep in the cult of the Bush Davidians.

whoops ... of course I meant to say the BEGINNING of the end of the war in Iraq.

I've been making mistakes all day. Too much excitement.

I read today (in a week or so old New Yorker column) that there is more LEFT of Bush's term than JFK's whole presidency. At least more left of Bush's term. A really sobering thought.

Two things. Calling for us to withdraw doesn't mean start to pull the troops out tomorrow. It means get a plan together for the orderly withdrawal of the troops, and at least a rough date to begin. It would take months most likely to stage an orderly withdrawal. It isn't going to be like the abandonment of the embassy in Saigon.

So calling for it now means in effect it couldn't happen until early next year, after the Iraqi elections. But knowing we were going to leave would give the Sunni more incentive to participate in the elections and formation of the government.

Secondly, the military itself is drawing up redeploymnent plans for a sizeable part of our forces. The pressure to scale back is going to be immense next year, both from the military itself and from moderate R's up for reelection. The Bush partizans are painting themselves into a corner, since we aren't going to be any closer to "victory" next year than we are today. Every time they characterize redeployment as "surrender" it makes it that much harder for Bush to make the move. When they do have to switch gears, they can try to blame it on the Dems, but if the majority feels the war is no longer worth it, then in effect they are really bowing to public pressure.

Rosen may be overly optimistic, although he has been in Iraq for a very long time, and has some familiarity with conditions there. The real unknown, for me, is whether a critical mass of the Sunni and Shia factions can reach some sort of accommodation. The Sunni have Saddam's old officers, but no longer the troops. The fact that we won't give serious weapons to the Iraqi Army has been a hindrance, but do the Sunnis have materially better weapons?

I do think we have to keep troops in the region to discourage Iran. But it is the fact of the occupation that fuels the insurgency and makes the gov't a target. That seems pretty unassailable to me.

And it was drawing the US into occupying a Muslim country that was Osama's goal in the 9/11 attacks.

I suggest it will be very difficult to move Bush and Cheney to execute any kind of withdrawal or redeployment at least till after the 2006 elections, when, should congress change, then the Iraqi project can be defunded -- which is how we eventually got Nixon out of Nam -- we got congress to start cutting the funds, and earmarking what was appropriated for specific purposes.

We might be realistic and expect the next year to be about forcing Bush to clearly define his political purpose in the occupation. I think we know that if he does get specific, he divides his own party. He's got the Neo-con project on one hand, but he also has his small government types, his isolationists, and his fundamentalist patriots -- and if he lays out any specific political goals, he will shave off yet another few points of his remaining base. Essentially, Bush's problem is he never defined the political goals of his war, and now he is looking at that straight on.

Mimikatz -- Rosen has been in Iraq for a while. I have been in the US, and in my particular state and city and neighborhood for much longer than Rosen has been in Iraq.

I would not dare speak with Rosen's assurance on such topics as what a majority of my neighbors thought, or what would or would not happen next under some ill-defined but radical change in their existential circumstances.

And I'm pretty good at guessing what happen next.

ISTM the quality of analysis on the withdrawal side today matches the quality of analysis on the conquest side back in 2002.

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