John Murtha is now off the reservation.
If I had to pick one of the least likely candidates to demand an immediate pullout from Iraq, the Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania would be right up there. Vietnam veteran, big Pentagon supporter, rarely makes waves on the Hill. We're not talking Ted Kennedy here. He supported the Gulf war and the Iraq war. And yet the guy holds a news conference yesterday and says it's time to go because "our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency."
The Murtha Moment follows Bill Clinton saying the war was a mistake, John Edwards saying his vote was a mistake, the Nation saying it won't support any pro-war Dems, Senate Republicans saying the White House should fill out quarterly report cards on how it's getting us the heck out, and a few things I'm sure I've forgotten.
The point is not that an irresistible groundswell for withdrawal is sweeping the country. The point is that the landscape is changing as politicians scramble to catch up with polls showing a majority sees the war as a blunder. We seem to have moved beyond the administration's things-are-improving-in-Iraq argument to a more narrow focus on how to extricate American troops. (Anyone old enough to remember "Vietnamization" knows what I'm talking about.)
But this is still the backseat debate. The frontseat debate is Dick Cheney accusing critics of prewar intelligence of engaging in "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." It's Harry Reid saying: "The White House needs to understand that deceiving the American people is what got them into trouble. Now is the time to come clean, not to continue the pattern of deceit."
As I noted earlier this week, it's easier to fight about who misled whom than to find a viable exit strategy.
The LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-111705usiraq_lat,0,3712929.story?coll=la-home-headlines headline calls Murtha a "Hawkish Democrat":
"Signaling heightened opposition to the war in Iraq from a corner of long-standing support for the military, Rep. John Murtha, a conservative Pennsylvania Democrat, said today the United States should immediately begin to bring its troops home. . . .
"His declaration, at a Washington news conference, suggested that President Bush has lost a key supporter of the war -- a knowledgeable Democrat to whom others in the party turn for advice and leadership on military issues."
The NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/11/18/politics/18military.html?hp&ex=1132290000&en=2f4f176ef0c3f15b&ei=5094&partner=homepage casts Murtha as firing one more shot in the political wars: "The partisan furor over the Iraq war ratcheted up sharply on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as an influential House Democrat on military matters called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops and Republicans escalated their attacks against the Bush administration's critics. . . .
"He emotionally denounced 'people with five deferments,' a veiled reference to Vice President Cheney, who dared to challenge veterans like him who served honorably about their views."
"Murtha, a Vietnam veteran," says the Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/13196809.htm, "joins a growing number of veterans in Congress putting the administration on the defensive about the war and related policies. Some critics think growing skepticism about the war throughout the country is pushing Congress to a tipping point, illustrated this week by a bipartisan Senate resolution calling for the President to spell out an exit strategy from Iraq."
Says InstaPundit | http://instapundit.com/archives/026902.php: "WHY IS MURTHA'S STATEMENT ON THE WAR NEWS when he said basically the same thing a year and a half ago? This is from May 6, 2004:
"Signaling a new, more aggressive line against the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), the House Democrats' most visible defense hawk, will join Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today to make public his previously private statements that the conflict is 'unwinnable.' "
Not quite the same as a pullout, is it?
Speaking of the Insta man, Reason's Matt Welch | http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2005/11/the_acceptable.shtml#011695 takes on Glenn Reynolds, saying "a common theme that Reynolds has long helped to promote -- that American journalists are monolithically serving the needs of, and perhaps even openly rooting for, American's enemies. It's a load of bull, but that hasn't stopped Reynolds from warning sadly about what will happen to the First Amendment if Americans start believing the nonsense his friends write. . . .
"I don't think we'll ever 'lose our free press,' for these or any other reasons, though I'll note again that if the sky should indeed fall in this way we should reserve at least some finger-pointing for the people who popularized the inaccurate idea that the media is rooting as one for America's enemies. . . .
"Or maybe it boils down to this -- it's OK to say that 'Newsweek lied, people died,' but don't you dare say such a thing about the guy who actually commands the world's most powerful military."
Glenn | http://instapundit.com/archives/026867.php responds:
"I don't mind reporting about problems. (I've done it myself, with regard to the war crimes originally reported by Zeyad, problems with CERP, etc. Reporting on things that are actually going wrong, without the 'see, Bush is horrible!' spin, and false facts, that we're getting elsewhere, is actually helpful, and we could use more of it. It would, however, be work, and it might help Bush out, which is apparently unforgivable.) Reporting that is dishonest, or deliberately misleading -- and there's a lot of that -- is different. By treating complaints about dishonest and politically motivated reporting as the equivalent of complaints about simply reporting bad news, Welch is attacking a straw man."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com/index.php?dish_inc=archives/2005_11_13_dish_archive.html#113210585821133505 takes sides:
"Why, after all, should the president somehow be excused from responsibility for the war he launched and has conducted with such glaring incompetence? Maybe Bush is horrible as a war-leader. Has that occurred to Reynolds yet? Maybe if he'd had the [cojones] to point that out last year, instead of cowering behind the 'Kerry-is-worse' meme for months on end, and hyping the Swift-Boat attacks, we'd have had more pressure to change course.
"For the record, it is not unpatriotic to call this president on the mistakes he has made - the grotesque recklessness of invading a country with no serious plan for the post-invasion, the wrecking of the United States' reputation for humane treatment of prisoners, the debunked intelligence on which he relied (oh, sorry, we're not supposed to criticize the guy who assured us that there were stockpiles of WMDs as a fact, because others were wrong as well). Reynolds simply won't criticize the president for the mistakes for which this president is responsible. Worse, he's arguing that anyone who points out that, yes, Bush is horrible as a commander-in-chief is somehow unhelpful or unpatriotic. One day, denial and distraction from reality will finally collapse at Instapundit."
Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_11/007575.php says Bush is the one playing politics:
"Unlike his father, Bush deliberately timed the vote on the war declaration for maximum impact on the 2002 midterms; he delayed progress on the UN declaration in order to maintain that as hot button for his base; and the Downing Street Memos make clear that the timing of 'spikes of activity' against Iraq were related to the midterm elections as well.
"The rest of the world sees this too and asks the obvious question: If Bush himself treats the war on terrorism as just another partisan club, like tort reform or tax cuts, why should anyone else take it any more seriously? It's a hard question to answer."
Bill Kristol | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/368oamaf.asp is fed up with the Senate GOP:
"One expected no better of the Senate Democrats, who want to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, or sooner than possible--most of them don't really care--and who want to embarrass president Bush. But couldn't the Senate Republicans have stood and fought against passing an irresponsible resolution suggesting that Americans want to get out of Iraq more than we want to win?
"The Republican leadership may have figured they didn't have the votes to defeat the Democratic proposal without giving their members a weaker alternative to vote for. But better to lose such a vote by a small margin than to go on record voting for a resolution that sends a signal of irresolution and weakness at precisely the time when a message of strength is most needed. After all, in precisely a month, the Iraqis will vote for their first government under the new constitution, and one thing they must weigh in their calculations is whether they can count on U.S. staying power in the fight against the terrorists. With today's vote in the Senate, the Republican leadership, apparently working hand in glove with White House staff, showed itself today to be tactically myopic and politically timid."
Robert Scheer | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-scheer/the-big-lie-technique_b_10714.html , who was just dropped by the LAT, continues his Bush-bashing at the Huffington Post:
"The basic claim of the president's desperate and strident attack on the war's critics this past week is that he was acting as a consensus president when intelligence information left him no choice but to invade Iraq as a preventive action to deter a terrorist attack on America. This is flatly wrong.
"His rationalization for attacking Iraq, once accepted uncritically by most in Congress and the media easily intimidated by jingoism, now is known to be false. The bipartisan 9/11 commission selected by Bush concluded unanimously that there was no link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship, al Qaeda's sworn enemy. And a recently declassified 2002 document proves that Bush's 'evidence' for this, available to top administration officials, was based on a single discredited witness.
"Clearly on the defensive, Bush now sounds increasingly Nixonian as he basically calls the majority of the country traitors for noticing he tricked us."
Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/007046.php says it's all about the echo chamber:
"There's one point that's important to remember about the White House's pushback to cover up its collective dishonesty about Iraq. We've noted before that in scandals or political nominations the decisive issue is not the number of opponents, the intensity of their opposition or even the quality of their arguments. The decisive issue is most often whether the scandalee or the nominee has some committed base of support, even if it only amounts to a distinct minority. . . .
"Virtually all of the arguments the White House is now advancing are transparently ridiculous on their face to anyone who has closely followed this evolving debate over the last three years.
"But that doesn't matter. The White House doesn't need to win any debates. What they need is for their core supporters to have something to say. Anything. And to be able to say it loudly. The one thing that would be fatal for the White House from its defenders would be silence."
Roger Simon | http://www.rogersimon.com/archive/2005/11/the_scramble_be.html#002817 explains the Dem dynamic:
"Some of those Democrats who voted to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq in the first place were simply afraid they would look weak and unpatriotic if they did not.
"And while Howard Dean vocally denounced the war, in the end all the leading Democratic contenders for president - - Dean, John Kerry and John Edwards - - supported staying the course in Iraq.
"But that was then. Now, there is something of a scramble within the Democratic party to bring the boys and girls home.
"Senators Edward Kennedy, Russ Feingold, and Kerry all support withdrawing troops from Iraq, and Edwards says flatly that he was wrong in supporting the war in the first place."
On the Woodward front, former magazine editor Richard Bradley | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-bradley/why-bob-woodward-trashed-_b_10802.html questions his modus operandi:
"Set aside for the moment the question of whether it's appropriate for Woodward to publicly comment on a story he's in the middle of reporting. (Answer: It isn't.)
"Why would Woodward go out of his way to trash Fitzgerald, who could be an important source for him? That's an excellent way to guarantee permanent non-cooperation.
"Woodward must have felt that he had nothing to lose . . . which means that he already knew that Fitzgerald wouldn't talk to him. Not in the present, and not in the future. Which only makes you admire Fitzgerald more and Woodward less."
The blogger known as Digby | http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2005_11_13_digbysblog_archive.html#113216845895442876 says one reporter got it right:
"I can't tell you how impressed I continue to be with the elite journalists in this country. After finding out that top reporters from The NY Times, The Washington Post and NBC all withheld information from the public about their leaders, I can only wonder what else they may be keeping back because of their cozy relationships, book deals, or political sympathies. This is a crisis in journalism. Matt Cooper was leaked to by Karl Rove in the summer of 2003 and he fought to keep from revealing his source. But he fulfilled his responsibility as a journalist by writing a story and it was the real story about what was going on. Here's the first paragraph of Cooper's first article on the subject back in 2003:
"Has the Bush Administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium? Perhaps.
"I don't know why all the other reporters who were being leaked this nasty bit of business didn't write articles with that lead, but they should have. As we all know, that was the story then and it's the story now. Instead it's only after the long arm of the law reaches into the newsrooms that we find out dozens of reporters, including some of the most famous and powerful, were involved in this little episode."
Post Political Editor John Harris | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/11/11/DI2005111101007.html has this to say about Woodward in an online chat:
"He is one of the giants of journalism, and is justifiably an institution at the Post. He is in the doghouse with Len Downie, and justifiably so, for not sharing his role in this matter. But even if he had been more forthcoming earlier with Len, it's not clear what this would have led to in terms of coverage. . . .
"He's definitely eating a turd sandwich on this episode, and he acknowledged that he should have done some things differently regarding his conversations with Post editors, and in public comments about the Fitzgerald investigation. But does anyone really thing that Woodward--with a 33-year record of breaking major stories and reporting fairly and aggressively on how government works in Washington--puts on 'kid gloves' with sources?"
While there are superficial similarities between Bob and Judy, says Slate's Jack Shafer | http://www.slate.com/id/2130598/?nav=fix, "The most significant difference between the two journalists is that Woodward has gotten it right -- spectacularly right on many occasions -- more often than any other working reporter. The Miller record, especially on the WMD front, isn't even in the same solar system.
"Setting Woodward's Watergate accomplishments aside, he deserves lasting respect for the way he revolutionized the Supreme Court beat with 1979's The Brethren (1979), which he wrote with Scott Armstrong. The institution was -- and remains -- more leak-proof than the CIA, and The Brethren was the first book to put a human face on a living Supreme Court and its decision-making ways. Veil (1987) captured the out-of-control cowboy that was spook-master William Casey. With nary an anonymous source, Woodward chronicled the life and death of John Belushi in Wired (1984). Although they flow as slowly as an ice-clogged river, The Commanders (1991), The Agenda (1994), Bush at War (2002), and Plan of Attack (2004) boast a thoroughness that you have to admire. Has anybody ever gotten as far inside a working presidential administration as Woodward?"
But, Shafer goes on to ask, "At what cost?"