So, did Rep. John Murtha call for a quick withdrawal from Iraq or not?
In Slate, Fred Kaplan makes a pretty good case that he did not:
Take a close look at Murtha’s now-infamous statement of Nov. 17. You will not find the words “withdrawal,” “pullout,” or their myriad synonyms. Instead, he calls for a “redeployment” of U.S. troops—which may seem like a euphemism for withdrawal but in fact is very different. Toward the end of his statement, Murtha lays out the elements of what he calls his “plan”:
To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.
He doesn’t elaborate on any of these ideas, but it’s clear they don’t add up to “cut and run.” True, his final line reads, “It is time to bring them home,” but his plan suggests he wants to bring, at most, only some of them home. The others are to be “redeployed” in the quick-reaction forces hovering just offshore.
Murtha stressed this point Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, saying he wanted to “redeploy the troops to the periphery.” He used that phrase—”to the periphery,” meaning just offshore or across the border from Iraq, not all the way home—three times during the interview.
Kaplan also points out that, interestingly enough, Murtha’s proposal looks like a Cliff’s Notes version of a recent report, Strategic Redeployment: A Progressive Plan for Iraq and the Struggle Against Violent Extremists, published by the Center for American Progress and co-authored by Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and Brian Katulis.
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.
(All caps in the original.)
So, which is it? “Cut and run” or phased redeployment?
It’s pretty clear that Murtha’s plan envisions a continuing role for the U.S. military in the region. Yet his concluding line seems to contradict that. Could it be that he let his rhetoric run away with him, and sacrificed a credible plan to a good slogan?
I don’t think Murtha is a “cut and run” guy, though I do think that his proposal is in some ways naive. For instance, he says that ending the occupation “will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a ‘free’ Iraq.” From everything we know, I’d say that the Sunni Arabs in Iraq are at least as nervous and resentful about getting shafted by the Shiites and the Kurds as they are about the presence of the American troops. (Most of their violence is directed at the Shiites, not the Americans.) I’m also not sure why Murtha thinks it’s so important that we announce our withdrawal before the election scheduled for mid-December. I would say that, on the contrary, it would be a good idea to wait and see if the election results in some stabilization before annoucing any drastic moves.
In sum, on Murtha, I agree with Andrew Sullivan: Murtha is wrong, but so are the attempts to smear and belittle him.
Meanwhile, in yesterday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman heaps praise on Murtha — “a much-decorated veteran who cares deeply about America’s fighting men and women” — in a column bluntly titled, “Time to Leave.” Since Krugman is now trapped behind the solid walls of TimesSelect, some excerpts:
[D]efenders of our current policy have had to make a substantive argument: we can’t leave Iraq now, because a civil war will break out after we’re gone. One is tempted to say that they should have thought about that possibility back when they were cheerleading us into this war. But the real question is this: When, exactly, would be a good time to leave Iraq?
The fact is that we’re not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we’ll stay until the American military can take no more.
… And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970’s.
So the question isn’t whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.
Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we’re better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, “We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose.”
And there’s a good case to be made that our departure will actually improve matters. As Mr. Murtha pointed out in his speech, the insurgency derives much of its support from the perception that it’s resisting a foreign occupier. Once we’re gone, the odds are that Iraqis, who don’t have a tradition of religious extremism, will turn on fanatical foreigners like Zarqawi.
The only way to justify staying in Iraq is to make the case that stretching the U.S. army to its breaking point will buy time for something good to happen. I don’t think you can make that case convincingly. So Mr. Murtha is right: it’s time to leave.
Note that Krugman may be endorsing a more radical plan than Murtha is proposing. And note how Krugman simultaneously marshals two contradictory arguments to bolster his case: things in Iraq are likely “turn ugly” after our departure in any case, so we’d better leave soon; our departure is likely to make things better.
Is the state of the military as grim as Krugman suggests? There is no doubt that the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan are a major strain on our armed forces. But the reports on recruitment and reenlistment are somewhat contradictory. Furthermore, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, military officers (admittedly a fairly small sample) are considerably more likely than members of the news media, academics, and foreign affairs experts to believe that the effort to establish a stable democracy in Iraq will succeed.
And there is something else. Krugman quotes the marine from James Fallows’s article in The Atlantic Monthly; but he does not say that Fallows’ long essay (available to subscribers only) takes the opposite of a “cut and run” approach. An excerpt:
Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through. … But perhaps we could stay long enough to meet a more modest standard.
What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder. This requires Iraqi security forces that are working on a couple of levels: a national army strong enough to deter militias from any region and loyal enough to the new Iraq to resist becoming the tool of any faction; policemen who are sufficiently competent, brave, and honest to keep civilians safe. If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.
In the end the United States may not be able to leave honorably. The pressure to get out could become too great. But if we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.
Fallows, it should be noted, is highly critical of the way the U.S. has handled the training of the Iraqi military so far, and he makes a number of specific suggestions for what we should do. “Leave now” is definitely not one of them. Is it, perhaps, a tad disingenuous for Krugman to enlist Fallows to his side without disclosing that Fallows’s position differs so dramatically from his own?
Krugman, I think, is the kind of war critic who truly gives war critics a bad name, and who gives weight to the notion that opposition to the war is driven mainly by hatred for Bush. Remember, Krugman is the guy who once managed to blame Bush for the rise of virulent anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.
We need a debate about an exit strategy in Iraq, and about the best way to ensure that the sacrifices made so far are not in vain without sacrificing thousands more lives. As I have argued here over the past few days, rhetoric demonizing war dissent is not helpful in this debate. But when it comes to Krugman — not to echo the White House, but the word ‘irresponsible” does come to mind.