After Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam and a renowned advocate of military veterans, came out in favor of an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, Republicans hit the roof. House GOP leaders replaced his thoughtful resolution with a one-sentence call for an immediate withdrawal. It was designed to split Democrats, so the GOP sent it to the floor for a vote.
Democrats refused to take the bait, as all but three Dems rejected the GOP resolution, but not before first-year Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, had a few minutes of infamy during the House debate over the resolution, when she scolded Murtha that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Schmidt previously had belittled the sacrifice of Paul Hackett, the Marine veteran of Iraq and a Democrat who ran against her in the August special election that narrowly sent her to Congress from the suburban Cincinnati district.
Murtha did not back down, even after Vice President Dick Cheney questioned the congressman's judgment. "I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," replied Murtha, who won a Bronze Star for action in Vietnam.
Of course a Bronze Star won't deflect a Republican smear job, as the GOP Swift Boat hacks showed last year when they slandered John Kerry's bemedalled Vietnam record in favor of No-Show George. Republicans already have filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee about Murtha's relationship with his lobbyist brother.
Dennis Roddy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that in the early 1980s, when a team of FBI agents posing as representatives of a fictitious Arab sheik offered Congress members $50,000 in return for helping the sheik gain residency in the US, Murtha was taped telling the agents, "Not interested," but inviting the sheik to invest a few million dollars in his struggling hometown of Jonestown, Pa., where unemployment reached 25%. "Now, having learned through Abscam that good intentions cannot be achieved by appealing to false premises, Mr. Murtha is applying the same fresh truth to the Iraq war," Roddy wrote.
"No man has more credibility on issues military and certainly none represents a district more attuned to the values Mr. Bush professes to love," Roddy added. "If Jack Murtha's district stands behind him on this, the Bush administration has lost that part of the body politic wherein the heart is kept."
The cowards are not the Congress members who are having second thoughts about trusting the president when he said Saddam Hussein presented a threat to the US. The cowards are those in power who "fixed" intelligence to support the case for a war that they thought would benefit the oil companies and help them regain control of the Senate.
Those cowards won't admit they made a mistake when they withdrew US military resources from Afghanistan, which actually supported the 9/11 attacks on the US, to proceed with an invasion of Iraq, against the advice of US allies in the region who warned that US intervention of Iraq would simply recruit more anti-Western Islamic fanatics.
Those cowards won't admit they erred when they fired Gen. Eric Shinseki for saying they would need several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq. Or when they fired White House economist Larry Lindsey for telling a journalist the war would cost upwards of $200 billion. They won't admit it was a mistake to go ahead with the invasion before they had enough armored vests or armored cars to protect US soldiers. But soldiers pay for those mistakes. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, was promoted to head the World Bank. And CIA Director George Tenet, who assured Secretary of State Colin Powell that the allegations had been checked out and Saddam was on the verge of developing weapons of mass destruction, received the Medal of Freedom.
The Los Angeles Times on Nov. 20 reported that the German handlers of the Iraqi informant code-named "Curveball," who provided stories about Iraq's supposed weapons program, warned US intel officials that Curveball's information was not proven. They were shocked when Bush and Powell misused that information in prewar speeches.
"This was not substantial evidence," a senior German intelligence official told the Times. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."
After Bush said "more than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power," former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who was chairman of the Senate intelligence committee during the runup to the war in 2002, was outraged by the president's attacks on Democrats who believed his warnings that "if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud."
Graham wrote in the Washington Post Nov. 20, "The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity."
Graham was stunned in September 2002 when Tenet said that the White House had not requested a National Intelligence Estimate for a preemptive war in Iraq. Graham directed the completion of an NIE, which showed vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by departments of State and Energy. The public version of that NIE, which most Congress members saw, represented that Hussein possessed WMDs and omitted the dissenting opinions.
"On Oct. 11, 2002, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not."
Public opinion polls show that Republicans are vulnerable heading into next year's elections but people don't have much confidence that Dems would do much better.
Rep. Jack Murtha's resolution on withdrawing US troops from Iraq is a good start toward ending the debacle in Iraq, but if Democrats want to establish their bona fides with the working class once again, they should promise to expand Medicare to everyone, so that health insurance is no longer dependent on your employer. One of the reasons GM is laying off 30,000 workers in the US is the $1,500 it spends on each vehicle to provide health insurance for the workers that built it. Carmakers in other countries don't have to pay those costs because they have national health coverage.
If Republicans can run against Big Government, Democrats should run against Big Insurance and Big Pharma, particularly after seniors get a look at the feckless new Medicare drug plan. Democrats also should promise to increase the minimum wage to $8 or more an hour (which also would go a long way toward shoring up Social Security funds). Dems should pledge to restore federal grants and loans for higher education so that any qualified student can attend a public university. They should back an energy policy that promotes conservation and creates jobs by providing alternatives to fossil fuels. They should create more jobs by rebuilding the nation's highways, bridges and public transportation systems, including a strong passenger railroad system. Dems should make sure high-speed Internet access is available everywhere. They should update corporate accountability laws. And they should pay for those public works by taking back those tax breaks from the rich. Remember that the nation's greatest economic growth was in the 1950s, when marginal tax rates were more than 90% for the wealthiest taxpayers.
The GI Bill created the middle class that drove that growth. We need something like that again. -- JMC