The war at home


Cheney Takes Flak for Iraq Invasion

REP. John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran known for his hawkishness and expertise on military matters, did not start this rising wave of discontent with the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But his scathing assessment of the war last week — along with his demand for a near-term withdrawal of troops — appears to be a turning point on Capitol Hill.

The Bush administration knew what it meant to lose John Murtha as an ally on a foreign war. Its first instinct was to strike back with ferocity. A White House spokesman accused the 73-year-old western Pennsylvania Democrat of assuming the “policy positions of (film director) Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.”

House Republicans thought they could outmaneuver Murtha and other war critics by condensing and twisting his position into a resolution they knew would get shot down: It called for an immediate U.S. withdrawal of troops. Democrats wisely failed to take the bait — the overwhelming majority opposed the resolution, which failed on a 403-3 vote.

The tensions over Iraq were laid bare in the vitriolic House debate. Newly elected Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, relayed what she claimed was a message to Murtha from a Marine constituent of hers that “cowards cut and run — Marines never do.”…


The White House quickly recognized the futility of trying to demonize Murtha. Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday made a point of praising Murtha as “a patriot.” Instead, Cheney took a sweeping shot at unnamed Senate Democrats who had engaged in “dishonest and reprehensible” conduct by suggesting the White House intentionally misled the nation into war.

It seems the Bush White House is determined to deflect the many legitimate questions about how much of its rationale for war has been discredited — and why warning signs were missed or ignored — by attacking those who challenge the policy. In a Veterans Day speech, Bush accused critics of trying to “rewrite the history of how that war began” and undermining the effort in the “global war on terror.”

As Murtha observed in a television interview Monday, members of Congress are well behind the American public in grasping the futility of a military solution in Iraq. The latest Gallup poll shows just 35 percent of Americans support the president’s handling of the war.

No single event can account for this drop in public confidence in Bush’s war policy. Hurricane Katrina certainly raised questions about this government’s priorities, as Americans contemplated the billions of dollars — as well as national guardsmen — that were committed to Iraq. The CIA leak case intensified the evidence that the Bush administration had manipulated prewar intelligence — and then stretched the bounds of law and decency in trying to discredit a career diplomat who dared to say so. Allegations of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay — and the administration’s determination to stop the Senate from requiring humane treatment of prisoners — are unsettling to those of us who want “American values” to stand for something in the world.

And the near-daily accounts of insurgent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq beg Murtha’s question about whether this war is repelling or incubating terrorism. He has called for the United States to come up with a firm and relatively fast plan to “turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.”

“I’m trying to prevent another Vietnam,” Murtha said in a CNN interview Monday.

John Murtha has just one vote in the House of Representatives, but his stature as a combat veteran and an advocate for a strong military should embolden others in Congress to challenge an administration whose claims about the cause, cost and complexity of this war have been wrong at almost every turn.


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