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On John Murtha’s Position


There is much of which to approve in the recent speech of Rep. John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, on Iraq. The hawkish Murtha had been critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the war for some time, but until now his solution had been to call for more troops. On November 17, however, he recognized courageously that U.S. troops “can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.”

 

Murtha pointed out, as the anti-war movement has been pointing out all along, that the U.S. troops in Iraq, rather than adding to stability, “have become a catalyst for violence.” He referred to the acknowledgement made by General George W. Casey, commander of the “multinational force” in Iraq, during a hearing before the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate in September 2005, that the presence of “the coalition forces as an occupying force” is “one of the elements that fuels the insurgency.”

 

Murtha pointed out that a recent poll indicated that 80% of Iraqis want the U.S. out. This poll, a secret British defense ministry survey conducted in August 2005, is consistent with earlier polls and several facts: the fact that most slates in the January 2005 election — including the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which won the election — had in their platform the demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq; a U.S. military poll in February that found only 23% of urban residents supported the presence of coalition troops, compared to 71% opposed; the statement of 126 members of the Iraqi National Assembly, including a majority of the 140 MPs of the majority UIA, demanding “the departure of the occupation force”; and the request made repeatedly by the National Sovereignty Committee of the Iraq National Assembly for a withdrawal timetable for “occupation troops.”

 

There is no guarantee of what would happen in the event of a U.S. withdrawal, but Murtha noted — as the anti-war movement has argued since the beginning of the occupation – that the U.S. presence makes an agreement between contending Iraqi forces and the peaceful unfolding of the political process more difficult. For example, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the most prominent Sunni organization with ties to the armed resistance, has repeatedly declared that it would call for a cessation of all armed action if the U.S. and its allies set a timetable for their withdrawal.

 

Murtha has submitted a resolution to the House calling for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. That Murtha, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and one of the most prominent boosters of the military in the Congress, has had it with the war is a telling sign of how badly things are going for the warmongers, and the more representatives who join the 13 co-sponsors of his resolution, the better. Furthermore, one has to sympathize with Murtha, of course, for the abuse that has been heaped upon him by the Bush administration and rightwing ideologues in Congress and the media.

 

Nevertheless, the anti-war movement needs to be careful not to confuse Murtha’s position with its own.

 

When Murtha says “redeploy” — instead of withdraw — the troops from Iraq, he makes clear that — despite his rhetoric — he doesn’t want to really bring them home, but to station them in the Middle East. As he told Anderson Cooper of CNN:

“We … have united the Iraqis against us. And so I’m convinced, once we redeploy to Kuwait or to the surrounding area, that it will be much safer. They won’t be able to unify against the United States. And then, if we have to go back in, we can go back in.”

Moreover, Murtha’s resolution calls for the U.S. to create “a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines” to be “deployed to the region.”

 

We strongly disagree. The anti-war movement cannot endorse U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, whether over or under the horizon. We don’t want U.S. troops remaining in the region and poised to go back into Iraq. They don’t belong there, period. Some — though not Murtha — suggest keeping U.S. bases within Iraq, close to the oil fields or in Kurdistan, in order to intervene more or less on the pattern of what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan. But this is a recipe for disaster, since the Iraqi view that the United States intends a permanent occupation is one of the main causes inciting the insurgency. Moreover, stationing U.S. forces in Kurdistan could only deepen the already dangerous ethnic animosities among Iraqis. In any event, if U.S. troops continue to be used in Iraq — whether deployed from bases inside the country or from outside — they will inevitably continue to cause civilian casualties, further provoking violence. Having a U.S. interventionary force stationed in Kuwait or in a similar location will continue to inflame the opposition of Iraqis who will know their sovereignty is still subject to U.S. control. As for the impact of keeping U.S. forces anywhere else in the larger region, it should be recalled that their presence was the decisive factor leading to 9-11 and fuels “global terrorism” in the same way that the U.S. military presence in Iraq “fuels the insurgency” there.

 

Murtha, we need to keep in mind, is not opposed to U.S. imperial designs or U.S. militarism. He criticizes the Bush administration because its Iraq policies have led to cuts in the (non-Iraq) defense budget, threatening the U.S. ability to maintain “military dominance.”

 

Murtha’s resolution calls for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq “at the earliest practicable date” — which is reasonable only if it means that the withdrawal should be started immediately and completed shortly after the December elections, with the exact details to be worked out with the elected Iraqi government. In his press conference, however, Murtha estimated it would take six months to carry out the “redeployment,” which seems far longer than the “earliest practicable date.” (Recall that U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in 60 days from the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty.) To set such a long time period for the evacuation of Iraq is all the more worrying given that the decision to withdraw the troops is not even being considered yet by the Bush administration or the bipartisan majority of the U.S. Congress.

 

Congressional Republicans, in a transparent ploy, offered a one-sentence resolution stating that the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq be terminated immediately. Murtha called this “a ridiculous resolution” that no Democrat would support (Hardball with Chris Matthews, Nov. 18). In point of fact, the resolution was opposed by all of the pro-war Democrats and most of the anti-war Democrats, who (as the Republicans hoped) didn’t want to be accused of “cutting and running.” But actually the resolution wasn’t ridiculous at all understood in the sense we have just explained.

 

The anti-war movement should and no doubt will relentlessly continue its fight for the immediate, total, and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops and their allies from Iraq and the whole region. Its central slogan “Troops Out Now” is more warranted each day and will keep gaining in urgency until victory over the warmongers is achieved.


Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press. Stephen R. Shalom is the author of Imperial Alibis (South End Press) and Which Side Are You On? An Introduction to Politics (Longman).

 

 

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