Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lawmakers Reject Immediate Iraq Withdrawal

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled House spurned calls for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq in a vote hastily arranged by the GOP that Democrats vociferously denounced as politically motivated.

"To cut and run would invite terrorism into our backyards, and no one wants to see troops fighting terrorism on American soil," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Friday night after the House, as planned, rejected a GOP-written resolution for immediate withdrawal.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., holds a press conference with other House GOP members to summarize GOP efforts before Thanksgiving recess on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005. Behind him are House Majority Leader Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., right, and Rep. Eric Cantor R-Va. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The vote, held as lawmakers rushed toward a two-week Thanksgiving break, was 403-3.

Democrats accused Republicans of orchestrating a political stunt that prohibited thoughtful debate on the issue, and nearly all voted against the measure.

That included Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the Democratic hawk whose call Thursday for pulling out troops set off a nasty, personal debate over the war.

It has been a rather busy Friday in the House. The whole fiasco really started off on Thursday, when House Democrat John Murtha called for a six month withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Murtha is a Democratic hawk, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and a decorated Marine who fought in the Vietnam War. He called the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." He said the U.S. presence in Iraq was "uniting the enemy against us." It was also "time to bring the troops home." (See CNN Story). Continuing on with the Yahoo Story:

"Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on our present course," Murtha said. He said the GOP resolution was not the thoughtful approach he had suggested to bring the troops safely home in six months.

Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa

Murtha's call for a timetable withdrawal had sent both the Republicans in Congress, and the White House into a major tizzy. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called Murtha's proposal, "baffling." McClellan claimed that Murtha was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party." (See CNN Story).

So far, I've been summarizing the background for this House fiasco. As a respected Democrat with extensive knowledge on defense issues, Murtha's resolution brought this entire debate to the front of everything. The Republicans knew that Murtha's timetable would certainly gather support over time--especially by moderate Republicans who would fear that their seats would be in jeopardy during next year's elections if there is continued mounting opposition to the war by the American public. The Republicans can also see trouble with President Bush's poll numbers--an extensive debate on a timetable would further erode support for President Bush's policy in Iraq. In short, the Republicans continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding Iraq. The only alternative the Republicans have is to try to quash Murtha's resolution.

And that's just what they did.

First, the Republicans rewrote Murtha's resolution. Here is what Murtha's resolution said:

Whereas, Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government;"

Whereas, additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas, more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas, U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas, polls also indicate that 45 percent of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

Now here's the GOP rewrite of the resolution:


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that
the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Notice the difference? The GOP version required that the U.S. forces be pulled out of Iraq immediately! This is completely opposite of what Murtha wanted. Murtha's resolution said that the forces should be withdrawn "at the earliest practicable date." Murtha knew it would take time to pull the American--and their equipment--out of Iraq. In fact, when Murtha introduced this resolution, he reasoned it would take about six months for U.S. forces to complete the pull-out. The Republican resolution called for "United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." In other words, the Republican resolution called for the U.S. to "cut and run" from Iraq.

The Republicans never meant for this resolution to be passed. This was all a sham--a political con game to try and trap the Democrats. If the Democrats voted "yes" on the GOP resolution, the the Republican propaganda machine could use that vote against the Democrats in next year's midterm elections--claiming the Democrats were unpatriotic, they didn't support the troops, or that they wanted to surrender to the terrorists. If the Democrats voted "no" on the resolution, and another timetable withdrawal resolution came up in the near future, the Republicans could accuse the Democrats of "flip-flopping" on the issue.

Thus, we had a huge fight erupt in the House, Friday, over this GOP resolution, with insults traded on both sides. Consider this from the New York Times:

The battle boiled over when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican who is the most junior member of the House, told of a phone call she had just received from a Marine colonel back home.

"He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course," Ms. Schmidt said. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-OH

Democrats booed in protest and shouted Ms. Schmidt down in her attack on Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran and one of the House's most respected members on military matters. They caused the House to come to an abrupt standstill, and moments later, Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, charged across the chamber's center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidt's attack had been unwarranted.

"You guys are pathetic!" yelled Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. "Pathetic."

The measure to withdraw the troops failed in a 403-to-3 vote late Friday night.

The battle came as Democrats accused Republicans of pulling a political stunt by moving toward a vote on a symbolic alternative to the resolution that Mr. Murtha offered on Thursday, calling for the swift withdrawal of American troops. Democrats said the ploy distorted the meaning of Mr. Murtha's measure and left little time for meaningful debate.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, denied that there were any political tricks involved and said pulling forces out of Iraq so rashly would hurt troop morale overseas. "We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

The measure's fate was sealed - and the vote count's significance minimized - when the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, criticized the Republican tactics and instructed Democrats to join Republicans in voting against an immediate withdrawal.

"Just when you thought you'd seen it all, the Republicans have stooped to new lows, even for them," said Ms. Pelosi, who assailed Republicans as impugning Mr. Murtha's patriotism.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi D-CA

The parliamentary maneuvering came amid more than three hours of often nasty floor debate and boisterous political theater, with Democrats accusing Republicans of resorting to desperate tactics to back a failed war and Republicans warning that Mr. Murtha's measure would play into the hands of terrorists.

And what was the White House response to the House vote? According to Reuters:

OSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush vowed on Saturday "we will stay in the fight" until victory in Iraq, rejected critics' calls for a troop pullout timetable and insisted progress is being made in Baghdad.

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to U.S. soldiers at Osan Air Base in South Korea November 19, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Bush quoted a top U.S. commander in Iraq, Major-General William Webster, as saying that setting a deadline for withdrawal would be "a recipe for disaster", and said that as long as he was president, "our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sole judgment of our military commanders on the ground".

"We will fight the terrorists in Iraq, we will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for," he said.

There you have it--the rancorous fight that's been going on for the last three days. And it is still going on right now, as lawmakers on both sides are spinning this story for their own political gain. And I don't have to tell you what the topic will be on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

In retrospect, while the Republicans may have won this little battle, they may have overplayed their hand in the political war regarding Iraq. The Republicans still do not have an answer in resolving the Iraq issue. So far, they are still holding on to the "stay the course" message and "we'll succeed when we accomplish our mission." Look at President Bush's comments from the Reuter's quotes--it's basically the same spin for the past two years. But while the Republican PR spin has remained the same, the American public's views on the Iraq war have changed. In this Reuters story:

A Gallup poll this week showed 63 percent of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq policy. A Gallup poll in March 2003 showed 66 percent would approve going to war to enforce Bush's demands of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

President Bush's poll numbers are also dropping. According to this Yahoo News story:

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The latest Harris Poll finds that President Bush's positive job rating has continued to fall, touching another new low for his presidency at 34 percent. This compares with his positive ratings of fully 88 percent after 9/11, 65 percent in November 2002, 50 percent at the end of 2003, 50 percent in November 2004, 45 percent in June of this year, and 40 percent in August.

The Republicans are fighting a losing battle--with the midterm elections coming up next year. There is only so much spin you can try to push down the American public's throats. There are only so many political tricks you can use, before the American public realizes they've been conned. The longer the Republicans continue this political game, the deeper the political hole that they will dig themselves into with their support the troops / stay the course message. The Republican lies are starting to fall of deaf ears. And remember, the Republicans are not only fighting this Murtha resolution, but they also have to fight a defensive battle against Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation in the Valerie Plame affair, the accusations that the Bush White House manipulated intelligence to sell their war in Iraq, the Scooter Libby trial, the Jack Abramoff / Tom DeLay investigations, Bill Frist's insider trading investigation on his stock sales, the continued Katrina / FEMA disaster. All of these issues will come up in the midterm elections. So while the Republicans play this game of surpressing everything, the pressure and anger regarding these issues, and the Republican incompetence to resolve them, will continue to build. It is only a matter of time before the pressure explodes, and the Republicans will have nowhere to go, but complete and utter defeat.

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