Murtha's Mind: Congress's Defense Expert Tells the Truth on Iraq
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Editorial
Friday 04 August 2006
Rep. John Murtha is a person who knows Washington, the military and America - and who, at 74, after 32 years in Congress, is prepared to speak out on these subjects, no matter what the political cost.
He met with the Post-Gazette Editorial Board Tuesday to discuss a range of issues at comfortable length.
The Democrat from Johnstown recently attracted considerable attention, and the wrath of the Bush administration, by expressing the opinion that it is past time to put forward a plan for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. He bases this assessment on his reading not just of the situation there, but also of the state of the U.S. military nearly 31/2 years after the invasion. Mr. Murtha is in an especially good position to make such a judgment based on his distinguished service as a Marine and on his many years with the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
He is so close to members of the military at different levels that he is considered by some to virtually speak for the U.S. military in the Congress. He considers the services now to have been so run down by the exigencies of the Iraq war that their condition represents a danger for the United States. According to him, the U.S. military in effect has no strategic reserve at this point, in personnel or equipment. He cites also the nearly 2,600 dead, the estimated 20,000 seriously wounded and the some 100,000 returnees suffering from post-traumatic stress.
On the question of U.S. leadership, he declines to speak out personally against President Bush, in spite of the slime being loosed on the congressman - some of it in Johnstown yesterday - by critics reminiscent of the "Swift boat" attacks against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in the 2004 campaign.
What Rep. Murtha does say is that he can't assess Mr. Bush because he doesn't know him. It is, of course, remarkable that this president never reached out to Mr. Murtha in Washington, given the congressman's rich, relevant experience. Mr. Murtha said Mr. Bush simply does not understand the limits of military power.
Rep. Murtha expressed concern at the budget deficit, at what he estimates to be the $8 billion being spent monthly on the war, and his belief that even if the war were being ended and its cost reduced, the Congress would find other ways to spend the so-called "peace dividend" rather than taking on the vital task of rebuilding the degraded U.S. military.
His prescription for mending America and its military is what he calls "a change of direction," by which he means a change of leaders as well as policy. He believes the route to that change is by making the Bush administration accountable at the ballot box for what it has done.
In June, Rep. Murtha said that he will run for majority leader if the Democrats win control of the chamber in November; then days later he suspended his quest. Whether this is a real ambition on his part or simply a means to focus more public and party leadership attention on his view of Iraq remains to be seen.
In any case, this is a wise man, whose judgments are built on experience and whose opinions are very much to the point and worthy of attention and respect.