The perils of romanticizing Murtha

News & Politics

Alexander Cockburn has repeatedly made the smart alec but utterly valid point that folks on the left should cheer every time that the identity of a covert officer in the CIA is revealed -- that we should have thanked Karl Rove for outing Valerie Plame, a staffer for a loathesome and vile agency with a legacy decades of political overthrow and mass murder across the globe: "Outing a CIA employee. What's wrong with that?"

Totally fair line of thinking.

But why is he, and why are other old lefty voices pretending that Jack Murtha is a crusading anti-war hero who is blazing a trail for the Democrats in 2006? Murtha isn't that -- in any case, I hope he isn't. I've trumpeted Murtha occasionally since he started talking about getting out of Iraq in the fall of last year, but it wasn't under any pretences. In his decades in the House, Murtha's been a consistent voice for massive military spending, a Pentagon apologist and a stalwart believer in American military force (Murtha's choice quotes include: "I led the fight to go to war in '91 with President Bush I. He knew what he was doing"). His voice speaks on behalf of the military institution ("there's nobody that talks to the people in the Pentagon more than I do"), and the extent to which he's protested the Iraq war is a reflection of how much the institution is up in arms about the bad policies of its political leadership (when he made his big splash in the fall, Murtha stated openly "I didn't want [the public] to think this was a Democrat position plotted from the left wing").

Murtha's opposition to the war is a sign that there's a powerful faction against the war that isn't left-aligned, but it doesn't mean for a second that he's going to vote against a single defense appropriations bill -- what Murtha wants is a strong U.S. military that will keep our hundreds of garrisons running smoothly across the planet, stabilizing markets and finance in the U.S.' and its allied business interests in control. Iraq happens to weaken that broad policy in his and his keepers' views. A smart, Bush I/Clinton-style management of a massive defense apparatus. A smarter, thriftier, diplomatic-economic empire. What's so great about that?

Cockburn does recognize that Murtha speaks on behalf of the brass, but he hasn't concluded what it means if Murtha is "blazing a path for his fellow Democrats." On one level, it shows that the Pentagon holds a more consistent view on Iraq than congressional Democrats, itself a travesty. But it doesn't make an angel out of Murtha.

The consequence is that if Murtha leads the military out of Iraq on behalf of the Dems, he'll opt for "redeployment" to places where he thinks American troops are truly needed. Larry Korb's plan for redeployment on Iraq -- endorsed by Howard Dean and others in the Murtha vein -- has thousands of U.S. troops going to the Horn of Africa for example. I don't think that having them in, say, Yemen is a better idea than having them in Iraq. I'm not just saying that we shouldn't hold hands with Murtha, it's important to recognize that he doesn't want to hold hands with us.

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