Politics & Policy

Murtha Democrats

The Pentagon is the embodiment of farsightedness and circumspection compared with its critics.

For most of the three years of the Iraq war, the Democrats have been trying to beat something with nothing. Lately, they have been reduced to a fate even worse: trying to beat something with Murtha.

John Murtha is the longtime Pennsylvania congressman and former Marine who fits the Democratic party’s preferred political formula on the war. That formula is to say inane or incoherent things, but have a veteran say them on the theory that, then, no one will notice their inanity or incoherence. This was basically the rationale of the John “Reporting-for-Duty” Kerry presidential campaign in 2004. Murtha was on Meet the Press this past weekend to mark the third anniversary of the launching of the assault on Baghdad.

Murtha produced his usual hail of misstatements. He said Bush went to war “against the advice of his father and the whole administration.” But the closest there was to a major dissenter in the administration was then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who supported the war. Murtha said there was “no connection to terrorism in Iraq itself.” Leaving aside the more controversial arguments about Saddam’s relationship with al Qaeda, it is incontrovertible that Saddam was giving $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, a rather stark connection to terrorism. He cited the U.S. military’s goal of giving Iraqi forces control of security in 75 percent of Iraq, and scorned it because “75 percent of it is desert.”

It is impossible to know if Murtha wants to be deliberately misleading or is simply ill-informed–but neither option is flattering. Nearly half of the key Baghdad province has been handed over to Iraqi security forces. According to USA Today, these forces have also been given responsibility for parts of such dangerous areas as Fallujah, Ramadi, and Samarra. This is why U.S. deaths are down to one a day–almost the lowest level since the insurgency began–while Iraqi deaths are increasing. So much for deserts.

The difficulties in Iraq have created an open season for the war’s critics, who get a license to say anything even if it has no connection to reality. A few months ago, The Atlantic Monthly ran a cover story by James Fallows titled, “Why Iraq Has No Army.” It was widely cited, even though it appeared smack in the midst of an extraordinarily successful training effort to build up an Iraqi army. From February 2005 to February 2006, top-rated Iraqi security forces went from 10,000 to 54,000, according to researchers from the liberal Brookings Institution, who report that “Iraqi security forces continue to improve.”

The rise of these forces has been a key part of the administration’s strategy all along. Murtha not only pretends that they don’t exist, he portrays himself as having been a brave, lonely advocate for creating them. He said that his advice to Bush early in the war was that “you need to train the Iraqis sooner.” Unassailable advice, to be sure, but from the beginning the U.S. was trying to train Iraqis rapidly–in fact, too rapidly. Haste made waste, as the Iraqi security forces initially shoved out the door weren’t properly prepared. The Pentagon retooled and came up with a more effective training program in the beginning of 2004 that has now borne fruit, although everyone is loath to give it any credit.

For all its missteps, the Pentagon is the embodiment of farsightedness and circumspection compared with its critics, whose imperative often seems simply to declare defeat as quickly as possible. Despite all the hue and cry over Iraq, there is a basic consensus around a common-sense strategy that involves attempting to form a national-unity government and train Iraqi security forces. Whether it ultimately works no one can know, but it is irresponsible to lack the patience to give it a reasonable chance.

Democrats think there is a percentage for them in exactly such irresponsibility, and John Murtha is walking point.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate

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