U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a conservative Democrat from Pennsylvania, shook up the status quo on Capitol Hill when he recently called for the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and an ally of the Pentagon on most military issues, originally supported President Bush’s Iraq war, but came to the conclusion that the U.S. occupation of Iraq only fuels the insurgency and nothing more could be accomplished.
For many months now, public opinion in the U.S. has been turning against the Iraq war. Growing numbers of Americans feel the war itself has not been worth the price paid in blood and money and are in favor of ending U.S. involvement in the conflict. Indicative of the widespread sentiment that President Bush lied the nation into war, a Harris poll conducted on Nov. 23 found that 64 percent of Americans believe that the Bush administration generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends.
While Murtha has taken a bold position opposing the Iraq war, many other Democrats including Sen. Hillary Clinton and former presidential candidate John Kerry have offered no alternative to the Bush policy. And while the White House talks about “staying the course” in Iraq, administration officials have begun to talk about troop withdrawals in advance of the 2006 Congressional midterm election. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with former CIA analyst David MacMichael, who assesses the growing opposition to the Iraq war, and the debate now underway in Congress.
DAVID MACMICHAEL: We’re in a no-win situation in Iraq. There seems to be solid agreement on that — despite the forthcoming so-called elections that will be held in Iraq — the main focus of discontent within the country is in fact, the presence of a foreign occupying force which is 95 percent U.S. military. If that military leaves, much of the reason for the insurgency will disappear.
The argument made is that the current insurgency will morph into a civil war, with the Kurds in the north, the Shiites in the south, and the Sunni Arabs in the center fighting bitterly over who is going control the country, and by the way, this is not the first time this would happen in the relatively short and usually quite unhappy history of Iraq. But the point that one can make is that if Iraq in fact splits into three parts, is that necessarily a disaster? All we have to do is look at the rest of the region, which in fact, consists of any number — United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and so forth, small-sized oil countries. And one way or another, they all seem to function. I could add Yemen into that as well, they’re really not places I’d really care to do my retirement in, but they do function. And we’ve been able to adapt to that situation. As a matter of fact, the United States was just involved a matter of years ago — very heavily, only a dozen years ago — in a rather ill-considered effort to break up another country into small, constituent parts, and that was Yugoslavia. So, yes, this can be lived with. That’s not an unmitigated disaster.
BETWEEN THE LINES: With the exception of (U.S. Rep.) John Murtha, very few Democrats are standing up and saying the very important words that they believe it’s time for the U.S. to withdraw troops from Iraq. John Kerry, the presidential candidate, backed away from John Murtha’s statement very quickly. Where’s the Democratic Party at now? Do they need to articulate some vision, some policy alternative on Iraq before this next election coming up?
DAVID MACMICHAEL: Well, I don’t know if they need to, but I would certainly advise them to if they hope to gain a majority in the Congress. But given the positions which the Democrats have been taking — and just to focus on Iraq and foreign policy for that matter — wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference.
The most hawkish of the whole group is Hillary Clinton right now, who obviously has presidential ambitions. Well, she’s not going to be out-hawked. I don’t see many people –with some honorable exceptions, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — who have taken any sort of a responsible approach to this.
And I think it’s really within a larger context, Scott, when a president chooses to go outside what seem to be pretty clear constitutional limits, and to continue justifying this on the grounds that he is commander-in-chief, is a considerable temptation for people to get into what they would call a permanent state of war. In fact, describing the situation which we are in as a permanent war against terror. I think you can see how far down the road we go.
BETWEEN THE LINES: How important at this juncture in the Iraq war is citizen action, given that the Democrats are reluctant to take a strong position, on withdrawing from Iraq? Certainly, the Bush administration is nowhere near making a decision on withdrawal of troops. What would you say citizens who oppose this war can most effectively do now?
DAVID MACMICHAEL: The most effective thing, in my opinion, that citizens can do is to continue to make their presence felt. Get out there, organize, be on the street, be visible. The second thing is to keep flooding your representatives with your opinion on this and make (this) very clear: “That you either pledge to stop supporting this war, to get out and to not put us in this situation of unconstitutional warfare-marking — or we’re not voting for you.” I think the position of the majority of politicians in both parties is identical on this. It’s no good saying, this will only help the Republicans and hurt the Democrats. Well, I don’t think the Democrats are going to reform, unless they get hurt.
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David MacMichael serves on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Read his articles online at http://www.commondreams.org.
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Dec. 9, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.