Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Two things about what Mr. Murtha said last week that I don't think are getting a lot of play:

First: There seems to be a wide-spread assumption that Mr. Murtha is acting as a front-man for more liberal Democrats who lack Mr. Murtha's credentials. But I don't know why Mr. Murtha would do that. I think Mr. Murtha is actually fronting for people in the Pentagon.

Bush and Rumsfeld keep saying that troop levels, etc., are determined by the reports they get from generals. But my sense is that the people in the Pentagon do not think that the Administration can handle what the Pentagon wants to tell them. I think they are talking to Mr. Murtha instead.

I think this exchange between Mr. Russert and Mr. Murtha from Meet The Press on Sunday is instructive:

"MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, have you heard privately from people at the Pentagon who are supportive and encouraging of you?

"REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's nobody that talks to the people in the Pentagon more than I do. And they publicly--they have to say what the administra--and that's the way it should be. Soldiers in the field--I'll tell you how bad it's gotten in the field. I talk to sergeants who said to me "We're afraid to say anything because we'll stand to be recriminated by our superiors." I know we had a young captain come to see me that was complaining because the Geneva Convention was not being followed. And that's another point."

Second: Mr. Murtha has been very careful about making the distinction between withdrawal from the war zone, which he is clearly calling for, and bringing the soldiers home, which he doesn't seem to be saying at all. I don't know where he wants the troops re-deployed, and I don't think Mr. Murtha knows himself.

If you listen to what Mr. Murtha is actually saying, rather than focus on the political context in which he is saying it, you wind up concluding that the Pentagon feels the Administration is running the war effort into a ditch.

While the Pentagon, from McNamara to Cheney to Rumsfeld is not the source of All Knowledge, and while the partisan sniping will never cease, down in the trenches, the Administration needs to address the underlying complaint, and deal with it properly.


My own view is that the Administration has made a certain amount of progress -- Saddam is gone, they are drafting laws, they are having elections.. After all, we've been in Iraq for only three years.

I say "only three years" because the aims of the War will take forever to accomplish. When I say forever, I mean beyond the natural lifetime of any adult discussing the War.

What are the aims of the War? The aims of the War that I am willing to support, are, at a minimum

(i) leaving Iraq in a better situation than the one it was in under Saddam Hussein;

(ii)leaving Iraq in a situation where it can protect itself militarily against Iran and perhaps Turkey; and

(iii) leaving a process in place where there is a chance for internal opposition to be handled either politically or religiously -- and not through tyranny from the top or terror from the bottom. This may mean democracy, but it may not. It should mean a reduced threat of terrorism.

Are these the Administration's War Aims? Who knows. While supporters of the War talk about one war, the Administration is talking about another war. The War that is actually being fought, of course, is something else again.

On Monday, Dick Cheney hauled out a version of an old chestnut, the "domino theory" to support his war aims. Fighting Dick Cheney's War will take longer than forever.

Whatever war aims the United States has in the Middle East, they will always take forever to accomplish. That was more predictable in the winter leading up to the War than finding that Saddam had no WMDs.

How did I always know war aims will take forever to accomplish? How did the current Administration know? I'll just name one reason that does not take a lot of explanation or intellectual firepower -- I've seen "Lawrence of Arabia." Didn't anyone in the Administration see "Lawrence of Arabia"?

The Administration has done virtually nothing, in word or deed, to prepare the public for any sort of long, existential struggle in the Middle East. And long, existential struggles are the only struggles you have in the Middle East.

In my opinion, over the next year, it will be those sorts of "soft misrepresentations" about the nature of war in the Middle East, and the war aims of the Administration, rather than any sort of "hard misrepresentations" that may or may not have been made about WMDs, that will come back to haunt us, no matter how you currently feel about the situation in Iraq.