It’s kind of like virginity. It is hard to get back.” — John Zogby on President Bush regaining public trust
Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder writes that “Bush has lost his aura of invincibility” and Republicans are losing cohesion and direction. “‘There’s been an erosion of power at high levels,’ California Institute of Technology’s Alvarez said. “They’re not able to focus on maintaining the kind of cohesion that has been their hallmark since 2000. They’re not able to put the energy into cracking the whip.'”
House Republicans looked back in form last night as they pulled a political stunt to block serious discussion of Congressman Murtha’s Iraq redeployment proposal. However, seems to me yesterday’s episode in cowardice and misdirection could easily backfire on the Republicans. In spite of the GOP’s shameless mockery of his serious proposal, I don’t believe John Murtha is going away. Much depends on whether Dems get some spine and back him up. Early yesterday that looked iffy, but last night’s House debacle may have pissed off enough of ’em that maybe they’ll finally form a line of battle and start fighting together.
One of Congressman’s Murtha’s points, that Iraqis are not going to “stand up” as long as we’re there to do the standing for ’em, has a nice “tough love” ring to it that could be very appealing to a lot of Americans. It even sounds kinda conservative; it makes me think of old conservative arguments about welfare dependency — that some people won’t get serious about working as long as they can live on the public dole. Considering that at least 60 percent of the public has turned against the war, I think Murtha’s is a much stronger argument than Bush’s mushy “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” which leaves control of when we leave in the hands of Iraqis.
In fact, as Christopher Dickey writes in Newsweek, the U.S. isn’t in much control of anything in Iraq.
The Bush administration no longer sets the agenda in Iraq, in fact, and hasnâ€™t for at least two years. The watershed came in November 2003 when there was a dramatic spike in U.S. casualties and Washington suddenly scrambled together a policy for transferring sovereignty back to Iraqis instead of pocketing it indefinitely for the Pentagon and the oil companies, as originally intended. The American invasion, which was supposed to be proactive, has led to an occupation that is entirely reactive, and itâ€™s clearâ€”or ought to beâ€”that the castles in the air constructed by Wolfowitz and his friends have been blown away by facts on the ground.
Dickey contrasts Bushie empty rhetoric with John Murtha:
Murtha makes a point that ought to be obvious, but that this administration constantly struggles to obscure: â€œOur military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.â€ Meanwhile â€œour reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects have been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year.â€
Murthaâ€™s argument that only a withdrawal of American forces can improve the situation was greeted by troops I know on the ground, and also by the White House, with genuine consternation. There is a plan, they say. In President George W. Bushâ€™s phrase, â€œas Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down.â€ And the military keeps compiling metrics to show something like that is happening. But itâ€™s not enough, and Murtha puts his finger on the essential problem: as long as the Americans are there to bear the burden of the fighting, the Iraqis who are supposed to stand up donâ€™t really see any need. As Murtha put it in mil-speak: â€œI believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control.â€
This is critical:
In fact, standing down is not about pulling out. So topsy-turvy is the policy at this point that weâ€™re not going to imagine leaving until the Iraqi government demands that we goâ€”and you can be sure the Iraqis who are now taking power will do just that. When? As soon as they and their Iranian allies have consolidated their hold on the southern three fourths of the country and its oil.
That’s what our sons and daughters are dying for, folks. God bless America.
William Arkins blogs at The Washington Post (if the blog doesn’t appear on your screen, scroll down):
Congressman John Murtha’s speech on Iraq yesterday is another turning point in the Iraq debate. The President and Vice President may argue that politicians are playing politics and their feelings may be hurt that their competence and motives are called into question, but when one of the Pentagon’s best friends speaks out against continuing the Iraq enterprise, the voices at the White House seem ever more puny and defensive.
Arkin does on to argue in support of Murtha’s proposal. This is just part of it:
… the U.S. military has demonstrated that it can do little to stem the ever growing hard core sectarian violence in Iraq. Our best hope to restore some degree of peace between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds in Iraq is to remove ourselves from the crosshairs, contain the violence as best we can to inside Iraq’s borders, and work internationally, diplomatically and politically to assist the three groups to find a way to live together. That enterprise might fail, but 140,000 U.S. troops is hardly a sufficient number to contain the consequences.
Good point; our presence in Iraq is fueling violence, but we don’t have enough troops over there to control or contain the violence. Brilliant. In truth, we need either to put a whole lot more military resources into Iraq to establish some control, or find new ways to deal with Iraq that doesn’t require the presence of our troops. I vote for the latter.