Rep. Murtha's Feelings
Zdravsbuite, tovarishi! It is a glorious new day in our nation's capitol!
Once again the murmurings of decadent anti-social persons lacking in proper patriotic ardor are to be vanquished and a proper understanding of history restored. Via the People's Organ, we are treated to a culturally-correct version of last week's showdown on Capitol Hill.
As it turned out, the suggestion of the "pro-military Democratic lawmaker condemned by the White House last week for turning against the war" was voted down by the House by a vote of 403-3; a fact which [yawn!] the Post found just too trivial to mention. Now Rep. Murtha's proposal, put up for a yes-or-no vote by House Republicans, has gone down to a resounding defeat and House Democrats are claiming Murtha never called for an immediate withdrawal. Moreover, they are concerned about his self-esteem in the face of mean-spirited attacks on his character.
Perhaps the most striking moment came after Murtha's proposal. The White House assailed Murtha, likening him to liberal maverick filmmaker Michael Moore, characterizing him as a newfound ally of the "extreme liberal wing" of his party and accusing him of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."
Such a direct attack on a member of Congress is more typically delivered by the Republican National Committee, not on White House stationery, and the tone only grew angrier the next day on the House floor when a freshman Republican suggested Murtha was a coward.
First of all, the stated goal of the terrorists is to compel US forces to leave Iraq. On what planet, then, would leaving Iraq immediately not be construed as "giving in" to their demands?
Since Rep. Schmidt's remarks are never cited in the Post account (a puzzling omission which makes it conveniently hard to refute the implied imputation of cowardice) we consult an actual news article to see what the "freshman Republican" actually said:
At one point in the emotional debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.
"He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran and ranking Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee.
Hearing the words of one of our men in uniform, Congressional Democrats fell all over themselves in their hurry to show how they "support the troops":
Democrats booed and shouted her down — causing the House to come to a standstill.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making uncalled-for personal attacks. "You guys are pathetic! Pathetic!" yelled Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass.
House Democrats then tried to have the Colonel's message stricken from the record and Rep. Schmidt punished for forcing them to listen to the words of one of those troops they support so fervently:
Instantly, two dozen Democrats shot to their feet and demanded her words be "taken down," a precursor to House punishment, because she insulted Mr. Murtha. Rep. Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat, said the use of Mr. Murtha's name and "coward" were in "too close a proximity" to let the matter go.
How interesting. A Marine asked his Congresswoman to pass a message to Congress. This is, after all, the job of a Representative: to be the voice of the people in Washington. His message was crystal clear:
It would be a cowardly act for Marines to cut and run from Iraq. Marines do not behave that way.
Given that Rep. Murtha is not presently in Iraq there is no possible personal imputation of cowardice; but even had there been, the imputation would have come from one fighting man to another, not from Rep. Schmidt. The words were not hers, but those of an American, a Marine officer, and presumably a voter. Moreover, he did not call Murtha a coward, but simply objected to Murtha's suggestion that the Marines should act in a cowardly fashion.
John Murtha did, after all, suggest that his fellow Marines adopt a course of action which they (rightly) consider dishonorable and in conflict with over 200 years of Marine Corps history. In response, a Marine Colonel, who has every bit as much right as Rep. Murtha to be heard in Congress, rejected that suggestion and reminded the Congressman of what Marines stand for. Unless Rep. Murtha's fellow Democrats mean to suggest that the words of their constituents and the United States Marines should be barred from the debate over the war, I see nothing improper in Rep. Schmidt's remarks. They may have made for unpleasant hearing, but Rep. Murtha's feelings are not at issue here.
Even given the emphasis on producing a kindler, gentler military, one is astonished at the suggestion that Rep. Murtha - a combat veteran - is so delicate that he must at all costs be protected from the words of a fellow Marine, or from the reaction of the American people to a bill he introduced. No such tender care was extended to the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan by Congressional Democrats. No one, least of all Rep. Murtha, worried about how Marines in combat right now might feel, when they heard a Marine state that the American people don't support what they're doing, the Iraqis want them to leave, and that they are losing the war.
As to the charges that Murtha's bill has been misrepresented, they are utterly false. Democrats have said the two measures were not equivalent because Murtha's called for withdrawal "in an orderly fashion" and the Republican bill called for "immediate withdrawal". No serious person can imagine the military would withdraw in anything but an orderly fashion, or that the withdrawal of over 130,000 troops and equipment would take place over anything less than an extended time frame. According to Rep. Murtha's own press conference, this is what he asked for:
MURTHA: I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice: The United States will immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy.
Setting an exit strategy with some kind of event-driven plan doesn't work, because they always find an excuse not to get them out.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, you say that -- your first point about bringing them home, consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. You know about these matters. What is your sense as to how long that would be?
MURTHA: I think that you get them out of there in six months. I think that we could do it -- you have to do it in a very consistent way, but I think six months would be a reasonable time to get them out of there.
We've done our job militarily. It's time for us to get out.
QUESTION: So you're effectively saying that this war should end, beginning as soon as possible and that all these troops can be brought home within six months, or that's your hope.
MURTHA: I say, they could be brought back -- I'm saying, within -- the safety of the troops. But I project it could be six months.
QUESTION: Six months to start it or six months to have them all back?
MURTHA: I think, in six months, you could have them all back.
If getting 130K plus men and women with all their equipment home in six months is not "immediate" then I cannot imagine what is. I never thought to agree with John McCain on anything, but in this instance I find I cannot quibble with him:
The Senate has responded to the millions who braved bombs and threats to vote, who put their faith and trust in America and their government, by suggesting that our No. 1 priority is to bring our people home.
We have told insurgents that their violence does grind us down, that their horrific acts might be successful. But these are precisely the wrong messages. Our exit strategy in Iraq is not the withdrawal of our troops, it is victory.
Americans may not have been of one mind when it came to the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But, though some disagreed, I believe that nearly all now wish us to prevail.
Because the stakes there are so high — higher even than those in Vietnam — our friends and our enemies need to hear one message: America is committed to success, and we will win this war.
Serving in the military - or in combat - does not exempt any citizen from just criticism of his words or deeds. It confers no unique legitimacy to his opinions, nor does it grant him unbridled license to act irresponsibly. We have a First Amendment so that we may freely debate important ideas in the public forum. John Murtha did not scruple to insult the Vice President earlier this week, so he is apparently no stranger to the ad hominem attack. In point of fact, if there was any imputation of personal cowardice here it was Rep. Murtha's invocation of the infamous chickhawk meme directed at the Vice President:
"I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done,"
Mr. Murtha's use of such a tactic suggests he finds the method not entirely unreasonable.
That a military man should suggest civilians have no voice in the conduct of the war is preposterous. Military men have fought since the dawn of this nation to defend the Constitution. The Constitution dictates civilian control of the military. For Rep. Murtha to suggest that lack of combat experience somehow disqualifies Mr. Cheney from carrying out his Constitutional duties is therefore doubly perplexing.
And regarding Rep. Murtha's feelings, if one fighting man expresses the opinion that reneging on our promises - turning tail and running out on our allies - would be the act of a coward, that point is justly made; even if it makes for difficult hearing. The proper response for House Democrats is not to censor the words of their fighting men, but to listen to them with an open mind, as one hopes they would to the words of any voter. They are not paid to have tender feelings, nor to shut off legitimate debate on matters of national importance.
They are paid to listen to the American people - even when they don't like the message.