The immense significance of Rep John Murtha’s November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the US senior officer corps, seeing the institution they lead as “broken, worn out” and “living hand to mouth”, to use the biting words of their spokesman, John Murtha, as he reiterated on December his denunciation of Bush’s destruction of the Army.
A CounterPuncher with nearly 40 years experience working in and around the Pentagon told me this week that “The Four Star Generals picked Murtha to make this speech because he has maximum credibility.” It’s true. Even in the US Senate there’s no one with quite Murtha’s standing to deliver the message, except maybe for Byrd, but the venerable senator from West Virginia was a vehement opponent of the war from the outset , whereas Murtha voted for it and only recently has turned around.
So the Four-Star Generals briefed Murtha and gave him the state-of-the-art data which made his speech so deadly, stinging the White House into panic-stricken and foolish denunciations of Murtha as a clone of Michael Moore.
It cannot have taken vice president Cheney, a former US Defense Secretary, more than a moment to scan Murtha’s speech and realize the import of Murtha’s speech as an announcement that the generals have had enough.
Listen once more to what the generals want the country to know:
“The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they’d never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.
“Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared.
“The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I’ve been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq.
“Much of our ground equipment is worn out.
“Most importantly — this is the most important point — incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revolution at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.”
What happened on the heels of this speech is very instructive. The Democrats fell over themselves distancing themselves from Murtha, emboldening the White House to go one the attack.
>From Bush’s presidential plane, touring Asia, came the derisive comment that Murtha was of “endorsing the policies of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”
It took the traveling White House about 48 hours to realize that this was a dumb thing to have said. Murtha’s not the kind of guy you can slime, the way Bush and Co did the glass-jawed Kerry in 2004. The much decorated vet Murtha snapped back publicly that he hadn’t much time for smears from people like Cheney who’d got five deferments from military service in Vietnam.
By the weekend Bush was speaking of Murtha respectfully. On Monday, gritting his teeth, Cheney told a Washington audience that though he disagreed with Murtha “he’s a good man, a Marine, a patriot, and he’s taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion.”
One day later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News, “I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now because — for very much longer — because Iraqis are stepping up.” A week later Bush was preparing a speech laying heavy emphasis on US withdrawals as the Iraqi armed forces take up the burden.
Are there US-trained Iraqi detachments ready in the wings? Not if you believe reports from Iraq, but they could be nonagenarians armed with bows and arrows and the Bush high command would still be invoking their superb training and readiness for the great mission.
Ten days after Murtha’s speech commentators on the tv Sunday talk shows were clambering aboard the Bring ‘em home bandwagon. Voices calling for America to “stay the course” in Iraq were few and far between. On December 1 Murtha returned to the attack in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, telling a civic group there that he was wrong to have voted for the war and that most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year because the Army is “broken, worn out” and “living hand to mouth”.
The stench of panic in Washington that hangs like a winter fog over Capitol Hill intensified. The panic stems from the core concern of every politician in the nation’s capital: survival. The people sweating are Republicans and the source of their terror is the deadly message spelled out in every current poll: Bush’s war on Iraq spells disaster for the Republican Party in next year’s midterm elections.
Take a mid-November poll by SurveyUSA: in only seven states did Bush’s current approval rating exceed 50 per cent. These consisted of the thinly populated states of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi. In twelve states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, his rating was under 35.
You have to go back to the early 1970s, when a scandal-stained Nixon was on the verge of resignation, to find numbers lower than Bush’s. Like Bush, Nixon had swept to triumphant reelection in 1972. Less than two years later he turned the White House over to vice president Ford and flew off into exile.
No one expects Bush to resign, or even to be impeached (though vice president Cheney’s future is less assured) and his second term has more than three years to run.
But right now, to use a famous phrase from the Nixon era, a cancer is gnawing at his presidency and that cancer is the war in Iraq. The American people are now 60 per cent against it and 40 per cent think Bush lied to get them to back it.
Hence the panic. Even though the seats in the House of Representatives are now so gerrymandered that less than 50 out of 435 districts are reckoned as ever being likely to change hands, Republicans worry that few seats, however gerrymandered, can withstand a Force 5 political hurricane.
What they get from current polls is a simple message. If the US has not withdrawn substantial numbers of its troops from Iraq by the fall of next year, a Force 5 storm surge might very well wash them away.
Amid this potential debacle, the Republicans’ only source of comfort is the truly incredible conduct of the Democrats. First came the Democrats’ terrified reaction to Murtha, symbolized by Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of a press conference supporting Murtha. This prompted the Republicans to realize that the Democrats were ready to have their bluff called by the Republican-sponsored resolution calling for immediate withdrawal, for which only three Democrats voted, while so-called progressives like Kucinich and Sanders and Conyers ran for cover.
Listen to any prominent Democrat senator, like Kerry or Clinton or Feingold or Obama and you get the same adamant refusal to go beyond the savage characterization by Glenn Ford and Peter Gamble of the Black Commentator, of Obama’s address to the Council on Foreign Relations:
“U.S. Senator Barack Obama has planted his feet deeply inside the Iraq war-prolongation camp of the Democratic Party, the great swamp that, if not drained, will swallow up any hope of victory over the GOP in next year’s congressional elections. In a masterpiece of double-speak before the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, November 22, the Black Illinois lawmaker managed to out-mush-mouth Sen. John Kerry – a prodigious feat, indeed.
“In essence, all Obama wants from the Bush regime is that it fess up to having launched the war based on false information, and to henceforth come clean with the Senate on how it plans to proceed in the future. Those Democrats who want to dwell on the past – the actual genesis and rationale for the war, and the real reasons for its continuation – should be quiet.
” ‘Withdrawal’ and ‘timetables’ are bad words, and Obama will have nothing to do with them.
“Of course, the ‘insurgents’ are not a ‘faction,’ and must therefore be defeated. On this point, Obama and the Bush men agree: ‘In sum, we have to focus, methodically and without partisanship, on those steps that will: one, stabilize Iraq, avoid all out civil war, and give the factions within Iraq the space they need to forge a political settlement; two, contain and ultimately extinguish the insurgency in Iraq; and three, bring our troops safely home.’
“Nobody in the White House would argue with any of these points. Point number two in Obama’s ‘pragmatic’ baseline is, the containment and elimination of the ‘insurgency.’ Of course, one can only do that by continuing the war. Indeed, it appears that Obama and many of his colleagues are more intent on consulting the Bush men on the best ways to ‘win’ the war than in effecting an American withdrawal at any foreseeable time.
“They want ‘victory’ just as much as the White House; they just don’t want the word shouted at every press conference.”
The Black Commentator concludes its excoriation of Obama and his fellow Democrats with these words:
“By late summer of 2006, when voters are deciding what they want their Senate and House to look like, if the Democrats have not caught up to public opinion to offer a tangible and quick exit from Iraq, the Republicans will retain control of both chambers of congress.
“All that will be left in November is mush from Kerry, Hillary, Biden, Edwards – and Obama’s – mouths.”
Here at CounterPunch we heartily endorse this sentiment.