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by Tom Pauken    Tue, Nov 29, 2005, 12:15 PM

John P. Murtha.jpg  John Murtha

The November 25th issue of the Washington Post carries a lengthy story on Congressman John Murtha, headlined, "The About-face of a Hawkish Democrat" which discusses the fallout from Murtha’s call for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. I wrote about the importance of Murtha a week ago (click here).

The initial reaction of Administration spokesmen and some Congressional Republicans was to attack Murtha personally for his defection. As the Post story mentioned, White House spokesman Scott McClellan described Murtha as "endorsing the policy position of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party", and even accused Murtha of being in favor of a surrender to the terrorists". In a heated debate over the war in the House of Representatives, some Republicans accused Murtha of proposing to "cut and run".

The personal attacks on Murtha boomeranged and wiser Republican leaders cooled the harsh rhetoric. Curt Weldon, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, had this to say about his colleague: "Jack Murtha is one of a kind. He is an example for all us in this body, and none of us should ever think of questioning his motives, his desires or support of our American troops."

President Bush chimed in last Sunday when he called Murtha "a fine man, a good man, who served our country with honor and distinction." The President added that the Murtha came to his position on the Iraq war "in careful and thoughtful way".

Unfortunately, John Kerry politicized the debate even more by sending out a fundraising letter to his supporters falsely claiming that Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert had called Murtha a coward.

The Post writer, Shailagh Murray, makes an interesting observation that Murtha may be reflecting more than just his views in calling for an exit strategy from the war: "Judging from his history and close relationships at the Pentagon, Murtha probably was echoing a belief that runs deep within the ranks of senior officers."

What the Post writer doesn’t mention in the article is the long-standing dispute within the Administration over war strategy between the civilian hawks at the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Security Council (NSC), and Vice President Cheney’s office on the one hand versus active duty and retired military leaders at DOD and the Department of State on the other hand. These divisions over the most effective strategy to combat militant Islam are reminiscent of the split over strategy during the Vietnam War between similar factions at the time: Robert McNamera and his "civilian whiz kids" at DOD versus our military commanders and soldiers in the field.

We will see how this battle over strategy plays out, but Congressman Murtha sure has stirred the waters by his comments on the war.

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