Murtha Is Right

“The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.”

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.)

If anyone other than John Murtha had called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. Murtha not only supported the war, he has been one of the biggest supporters of the Pentagon in Congress, praised by none other than Paul Wolfowitz for his “wonderful” support for the astronomical sums sucked up by the War Party in their never-ending quest for our tax dollars. It was Murtha who led the congressional Democrats in supporting Gulf War I, and, in his 2004 book, characterized a withdrawal from Iraq as potentially “disastrous” for our credibility in the Middle East and the world. (So much for efforts by the pro-war wing of the blogosphere to label him a peacenik because of his relatively mild procedural criticism of the Bush policy.) Rep. Murtha, like the rest of the country, has been on a pretty steep learning curve when it comes to Iraq in recent months. Furthermore, Murtha, as Andrea Mitchell pointed out the other day on Chris Matthews’ Hardball, enjoys the confidence of top military commanders and Pentagon insiders and would not be speaking out if he didn’t have their advance knowledge and implicit support – backing he acknowledged in his appearance on Meet the Press Sunday morning.

That’s what this controversy is all about: the reemergence of opposition to the war from within the top echelons of the uniformed military, as well as the intelligence community and the Democratic Party. It was the generals, you’ll remember, who opposed this war and pointed out our unpreparedness from the very beginning, starting with but not limited to Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was fired for saying we would need 200,000 troops for the occupation. Now that their predictions have come true, in spades, and our armed forces are being chewed up on the battlefields of Iraq, the uniformed wing of the Peace Party is returning for a second engagement, and they’re bringing out the big guns.

The War Party is returning fire, however, and they aren’t taking any prisoners. The GOP response was to draft a one-sentence resolution – “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately” – and force a vote on it. Murtha, who had his own resolution calling for a phased withdrawal over six months, quickly disavowed the GOP maneuver, and it failed with only three votes in favor. The debate caused quite a ruckus on the House floor, however, as Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) rose to speak of a call she supposedly received from a Marine veteran:

“He asked me to send Congress a message – stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message – that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.”

This is said of a 73-year-old Marine veteran who served over 30 years, the latter part of his military career in Vietnam, where he received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Democrats were outraged, but, tellingly, the Republicans did not relent until the president himself sought to calm the waters and praised Murtha’s military service and his “thoughtful” views on Iraq. It was too late, however: the cow was already out of the barn. Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan had said Murtha was “endorsing the policy positions” of antiwar filmmaker Michael Moore and proposing a “surrender to terrorists.” And the vice president had ripped into Murtha and other Democrats who questioned the prewar intelligence that lured us into the Iraqi quagmire:

“The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone – but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.”

It isn’t just the congressional Democrats who believe we were lied into war: the majority of Americans now realize the nature and scope of the deception. They know full well it is Cheney who is rewriting history – his own, as Murtha pointed out:

“I like guys who got five deferments and have never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what ought to be done.”


The chickenhawk brigade is out in force, and they’re clucking up a storm, but it seems to be having a boomerang effect – much like our own heavy-handed tactics in Iraq, where the pace and ferocity of attacks on U.S. forces has picked up considerably. The problem for Murtha, however, is as much with his own party as it is with the Republicans, as Reuters reported:

“But nervous Democrats did not rush to embrace Murtha’s position either. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, asked if she agreed with Murtha’s call for withdrawal, said only, ‘As I said, that was Mr. Murtha’s statement.’ Other House Democrats followed suit.”

As did Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and former party standard-bearer John Kerry, who both distanced themselves from Murtha’s position. The Los Angeles Times informs us:

“Pelosi has dropped plans to seek a vote in early December on adopting a Democratic Conference position in support of Murtha’s plan. … Fearful that the proposal would generate too much opposition among moderate Democrats, Pelosi now plans for the conference only to discuss and debate it, the source said.”

“Fearful” – that about sums up the Pelosi Democrats, who stanched all debate until a rising tide of public outrage forced their hand. These, after all, are the same Democrats who voted for the war and supported an administration – the Clinton administration – that was responsible for an equally unjustified, albeit far less bloody, war of aggression in the Balkans. There, too, we invaded a country that had never been any threat to us, without UN authorization, moved by the same sort of arrogance that prompted then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to complain to Gen. Colin Powell:

“What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

And it’s not as if any of these characters have any moral objections to our decade-long assault on the people of Iraq. Not many lifted so much as an eyebrow when Madame Albright, asked by Leslie Stahl if the death of half a million children – killed by sanctions – was “worth it,” answered:

“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

Now that Americans are dying, however, suddenly the price is too high. I guess it all depends on who’s paying…

As appallingly immoral as the Clintonites were – and are – however, nothing beats the Bushies when it comes to sliming the antiwar opposition. Even after the president went out of his way to characterize Rep. Murtha’s dissent as honorable, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pursued the disloyalty meme. After pointing out that Murtha’s views are not shared by the majority of Democrats, Rumsfeld averred:

“We also have to understand that our words have effects. And put yourself in the shoes of a soldier who thinks that we’re going to pull out precipitously or immediately, as some people have proposed. Obviously, they have to wonder whether what they’re doing makes sense if that’s the idea, if that’s the debate.”

Which means we can never breathe a word about withdrawing from Iraq, because, after all, our troops are so sensitive that such talk amounts to a form of “hate speech” directed at our guys and gals in uniform. It is, in effect, a kind of treason to even raise the subject of getting out, because that will undermine the mission, perhaps fatally. On these grounds, no criticism of any war, at any time, is permissible – which is precisely what our rulers would prefer. The only allowable “debate” is one over means, not ends: anything beyond that is out of bounds.

That, of course, is how we got into this war in the first place – and, if we keep playing by those rules, we’ll never get out. The “debate” will pit Bush and Rumsfeld against the me-too tag-team of Pelosi and Kerry, forever bickering over how to “win” and whether the president needs to report on his “progress” – with the fundamental rightness of the mission never in dispute, not even for a moment.

This bipartisan unanimity over the inevitability of an interventionist foreign policy is what got us into Iraq, and its maintenance will keep us in there until doomsday. That’s why Murtha’s dissent has caused such a refreshing ruckus. The Establishment is shaken to its core because a non-marginal actor in what had been a cooperative bipartisan effort has suddenly defected. A long as he gets away with it he provides an example – and, in Murtha’s case, even an inspiration – to others. The aura of inevitability – the idea that, of course we can’t have it any other way – vanishes, and their game is up.

The War Party’s grip on the policymaking apparatus was made possible by both parties, in pretty much equal measure over the years: that is what antiwar Democrats must recognize before they can take their party back from the Democratic Leadership Council and all the pro-war mandarins. Sure, the Republicans have been in the saddle recently, and it was George W. Bush who took us into this particular war: but what separates the “antiwar” Democrats from their ostensible opponents in the administration is hardly a commitment to a principled anti-interventionist stance. While the Democrats are eager to make political hay out of the disastrous occupation of Iraq, once they’re back in power it will be their war – one they have pledged to prosecute more efficiently. A position in favor of rapid withdrawal, however, calls the whole paradigm of America the overweening superpower into question. Do we really have the right to decide the fate of Iraq – or of any other country, for that matter? That is the question Americans, in increasing numbers, are asking, and it is one that neither party has so far chosen to address, let alone answer.

Murtha made a trenchant point when he said that the American people are “way ahead” of their government on this issue – and one can only wonder how long this yawning gap can be maintained. The elites are committed to a foreign policy that assumes American hegemony and the ever-present possibility of a U.S. military strike somewhere in the world, at any given moment. To any half-normal, ordinary American, such a foreign policy is just asking for trouble. So far, the War Party has managed to keep a lid on the debate by controlling both parties and never letting anyone of consequence step out of line.

Murtha, however, has defied them and must either be humbled or appeased. There can be no middle ground. The monopoly enjoyed until now by the War Party – their iron grip on the discussion over foreign policy in this country – has been broken. The floodgates are opened, and the will of the people is about to come rushing through. Now it is up to the grassroots in both parties to give the Murthas – and the Walter B. Joneses – their full support.

This, the elites complain, is nothing less than a “return to isolationism” – “isolationism” being their scare-word of choice. What it means, however, is that Americans just want to mind their own business and turn to solving festering problems on the home front – problems that, in short, they have some real hope of solving. If this is “isolationism,” then let the “leaders” of both parties make the most of it – and let us hope that we find our great white “isolationist” hope to lead us out of the interventionist, war-wracked wilderness. Who will step forward to fill the huge leadership gap and give voice to the popular will? We have never been more ready than we are at this moment.


Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].