Saturday, February 17, 2007
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-Pa.) has a message for anyone who spent the week following the House of Representatives' marathon debate on Iraq: You've been distracted by a sideshow. "We have to be careful that people don't think this is the vote," the 74-year-old congressman said of the House's 246-182 decision in favor of a resolution disapproving of President Bush's troop surge. "The real vote will come on the legislation we're putting together." That would be Mr. Murtha's plan to "stop the surge" and "force a redeployment" of U.S. forces from Iraq while ducking the responsibility that should come with such a radical step.
We'll return to Mr. Murtha's plan, but first it's worth considering the five days of debate that he so breezily dismissed. It's true that nonbinding resolutions won't stop the troop surge, which is already underway. But after years of minimal debate and oversight of the war, the House Democratic leadership was right to allow scores of representatives to speak at some length on Iraq. Some of the speeches were little more than partisan rhetoric, but there were also intelligent and heartfelt interventions, especially from veterans of Iraq and Vietnam.
The House vote does matter: It ought to increase the pressure on Mr. Bush and the Iraqi government to follow through on their pledges to accompany the military campaign with tangible steps toward political accords and economic reconstruction. Senate leaders would be wise to reach an agreement today allowing a similar debate. And both chambers should aggressively conduct oversight hearings aimed at holding the administration to its promise to link continued U.S. troop deployments to Iraqi performance.
Mr. Murtha has a different idea. He would stop the surge by crudely hamstringing the ability of military commanders to deploy troops. In an interview carried Thursday by the Web site MoveCongress.org, Mr. Murtha said he would attach language to a war funding bill that would prohibit the redeployment of units that have been at home for less than a year, stop the extension of tours beyond 12 months, and prohibit units from shipping out if they do not train with all of their equipment. His aim, he made clear, is not to improve readiness but to "stop the surge." So why not straightforwardly strip the money out of the appropriations bill -- an action Congress is clearly empowered to take -- rather than try to micromanage the Army in a way that may be unconstitutional? Because, Mr. Murtha said, it will deflect accusations that he is trying to do what he is trying to do. "What we are saying will be very hard to find fault with," he said.
Mr. Murtha's cynicism is matched by an alarming ignorance about conditions in Iraq. He continues to insist that Iraq "would be more stable with us out of there," in spite of the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that early withdrawal would produce "massive civilian casualties." He says he wants to force the administration to "bulldoze" the Abu Ghraib prison, even though it was emptied of prisoners and turned over to the Iraqi government last year. He wants to "get our troops out of the Green Zone" because "they are living in Saddam Hussein's palace"; could he be unaware that the zone's primary occupants are the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy?
It would be nice to believe that Mr. Murtha does not represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party or the thinking of its leadership. Yet when asked about Mr. Murtha's remarks Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered her support. Does Ms. Pelosi really believe that the debate she orchestrated this week was not "the real vote"? If the answer is yes, she is maneuvering her party in a way that can only do it harm.