Saturday, December 31, 2005


Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, prominent a Democratic hawk, began a spirited political debate when he said it was time for U.S. troops to start coming home from Iraq.

The retired Marine colonel delivered an emotional statement in November, saying he had concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq was counterproductive because they'd become a magnet for insurgent violence and that they should be redeployed over a period of six months.

That set off a firestorm in Washington in which many Republicans lambasted Murtha for his position, questioning his integrity and his mettle.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan compared the congressman to anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore.

McClellan said it is "baffling that [Murtha] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party."

The White House also accused Murtha of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."

Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Ohio who was obviously unaware of Murtha's combat record, venomously accused the war veteran of being a "coward."

To his credit, Murtha, earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry from the South Vietnamese.

It was just days later that President Bush, after initially criticizing Murtha's proposal, made an incrdible about face by suggesting the possibility of withdrawing some U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006. The change of heart was convenient because 2006 is an election year.

Yet in a confusing contradiction, Vice President Dick Cheney later forcefully argued that early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would be "unwise in the extreme" and increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and other nations.

So what's the story? Could there really be a troop reduction in the new year?

On his most recent trip to Iraq, Rep. Murtha found that U.S. "commanders are truly discouraged" and clearly angry. The following may illustrate why.

Virginia's John Warner, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called a meeting with 10 battalion commanders to get an honest portrayal of the situation in Iraq. The Marine and Army officers were quite frank in their assessments. Contradicting the Pentagon's repeated claims, the commanders said they not only needed more manpower, but that they'd also repeatedly asked for it -- as recently as this past August. Each time, they said, they were denied.

The commanders said they don't have enough troops to keep insurgents out of cities that have initially been cleared and secured. They also complained of lacking enough personnel to effectively deal with the problem of roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. casualties.

So it's hard to imagine the withdrawal of U.S. forces from a war in which there have never been enough forces to begin with. Of course there will be vigorous arguments both for and against, just as there have been up to this point, but it will get really interesting, and perhaps even more ugly, in an election year. At this point the administration can't even get its position straight.

But the ones truly suffering through this debate are our forces fighting in Iraq. I'm inclined to side with the commanders who've said they don't have enough numbers to be truly effective -- or at least as effective as they otherwise could be if they had our government's backing in their valiant effort to defeat this stubborn insurgency. Our troops are worthy of at least that much. That would genuinely be "supporting our troops."

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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