Iraq: The Courage to Encourage Debate

“Iraq can not be won “militarily.” I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.” —Congressman John Murtha (2005 Speech on Iraq)

Everyone is talking about Representative John Murtha’s call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq during the next six months. In a New York Times article of November 22, Murtha said his “goal was only to force a dialogue with President Bush…”
It’s a worthy goal, and it’s about time!
Discontent over the war didn’t begin with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen U.S. soldier, and it hasn’t ended with her. How long must thoughtful Americans continue to withhold their concerns to avoid being labeled unpatriotic, cowardly or soft on terrorism?
And this is not about supporting the troops. I haven’t found one American who doesn’t fully support them. In fact, what better way to support our troops than by developing plans to bring them home in the near future?
Murtha, a retired Marine colonel who earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam, is a courageous leader. He doesn’t deserve to be demonized by the Bush administration for expressing his views on what’s best for the military and our nation. Unfortunately, recent comments by Bush, Cheney and company indicate that, once again, any debate about the war is unwelcome.
Before the invasion, this administration dismissed analyses from Middle East experts, ignored intelligence that contained information contrary to its views on Iraqi WMD, and silenced our own military leaders. General Eric Shinseki said that several hundred thousand troops would be needed. The administration was annoyed, and Shinseki was fired.
By stifling debate and ignoring dissent, this administration has inadvertently fueled a more widespread insurgency, put more Iraqi and American lives at risk, and blown the lid off simmering anger in the Arab world. Our troops have been assigned to one tour of duty after another (sometimes three or four). Many are dying, and tens of thousands have been injured.
For some time, the American public and the international community have yearned for more debate about the reasons and necessity for going to war. There were (and are) many voices that have raised every side of the issue – from completing what we started, opting out, and every position in between. But our leaders are still not listening.
Today, this administration and its allies want to silence a decorated veteran and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Meanwhile, Murtha’s constituency is “kind of perplexed.” That’s fine, but why aren’t they asking questions? Why aren’t they welcoming his insights, and asking for clarification? Where is the call for a strategy that will improve the situation in Iraq?
As an American, I want to know how we plan to sustain this war, especially when we aren’t even debating the issues. We aren’t discussing the insurgency – who they are and why they’re killing not just Americans, but approximately 30,000 of the people our soldiers are sacrificing their lives to save. You can’t tell me that one man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is responsible for all this mayhem.
We aren’t discussing the sacrifices of soldiers who’ve sacrificed their health and lives to save us from nonexistent weapons. We aren’t discussing our reputation, which has been badly tarnished by pictures of tortured prisoners. How can we claim that “we don’t torture” when the photos say otherwise, and our Vice President advocates its use?
We’ve talked about Saddam “gassing his own people,” but we aren’t debating why it took us so long to punish him. Saddam’s onslaught started in 1987. Why did it take so long to even admonish him for it? In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power observes, “The United States issued no threats or demands.” The government’s objection was that Saddam had used gas to kill his citizens, not that he had killed them.
So here we are again, talking about Congressman Murtha, but not debating the issues. Murtha, who just returned from the region, finally came forward with a plan that offers more substance than simply “staying the course.” He is encouraging us to talk about a war that, according to Linda Bilmes, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, could cost “… more than $1.3 trillion, or $11,300 for every household in the United States.”
Murtha’s plan calls for removing our troops over time, and with care. It does not call for total disengagement. “Creating an over the-horizon-presence of Marines” means someone will remain. Although his plan needs more detail, it’s a start. Instead of scheduling more prime time appearances, our leaders should schedule some serious planning sessions to determine how to fulfill our long-term vision.
Murtha also wants us “to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.” It may behoove us to step back and finally engage the world community, including the United Nations. We need a significantly larger “coalition of the willing.”
This administration wishes to promote democracy in the Middle East, but as things stand, Iraq isn’t moving much closer to this goal. The U.S. needs to rely on experts who understand the Arab world, it needs a true international coalition, and it needs to offer more carrots and fewer sticks to the warring factions (except the foreign terrorists).
In Murtha’s words, “This war needs to be personalized.” For most of us, it has been anything but personal. Most U.S. civilians are not making sacrifices, and most are not debating their views. Our soldiers should not be the only ones sacrificing! Now is the time to get busy – to achieve a consensus of what everyone can do to end the conflict.
If we really want to support our troops, let’s put some ideas on the table, and – at the very least – exercise more control over our political leaders. We got ourselves into this war. We are all responsible for questioning, debating and working toward its satisfactory conclusion.
Let’s get to work!

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2 Responses to “Iraq: The Courage to Encourage Debate”

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