Will Murtha's Bold Call on Iraq Make Washington Flinch?
A little while back, I flagged a Walter Pincus piece from the Washington Post about how Democrats could begin exerting real legislative oversight of the Iraq conundrum, without cutting off funding for troops already in the field. The Washington Serious People who either got us into this war or who didn't try to stop us from getting into this war are working hard to make sure Congress doesn't actually do anything other than pass non-binding resolutions when it comes to Iraq. They want us to believe that Congress should not use its one real power -- the power of the purse -- to get things under control, and that to exert such power automatically means we would be leaving our soldiers naked and unarmed in a Baghdad shooting gallery.
But as Pincus showed, there are many ways to use the power of the purse without putting our troops in more danger. And now, Rep. Jack Murtha is taking up the call. Arianna Huffington has the exclusive:
When we asked about the likelihood of the president sending additional troops to Iraq, Murtha was adamant. "The only way you can have a troop surge," he told us, "is to extend the tours of people whose tours have already been extended, or to send back people who have just gotten back home." He explained at length how our military forces are already stretched to the breaking point, with our strategic reserve so depleted we are unprepared to face any additional threats to the country. So does that mean there will be no surge? Murtha offered us a "with Bush anything is possible" look, then said: "Money is the only way we can stop it for sure." To this end, Murtha, the incoming Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, is planning to hold wide-ranging hearings, starting January 17th, that will focus on the depleted state of our military readiness, as well as contractor corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is to turn the spotlight on how drained the military has become, and on how any talk of a troop surge is utterly irresponsible (as well as strategically misguided). "The public," he said repeatedly, "is already ahead of us on all this. He says he wants to "fence the funding," denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq "as soon as we can." (Emphasis added).
I'm looking forward to watching D.C.'s chickenhawk pundit class lecture a Marine veteran and Vietnam war hero about why we should not prevent a military escalation that troops on the ground say they don't want and instead better fund health care for soldiers wounded in battle.
The internal politics of this are going to be really interesting. I'm guessing (with no firsthand knowledge) that House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI) -- one of the earliest critics of the war -- is going to be supportive of Murtha's efforts. And I'm also guessing that Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of the most famous critics of the war, is also going to be supportive, meaning this kind of funding restriction is going to have a very real chance of passing over the expected White House congressional Republican opposition. The X-factor will be the Steny Hoyer/Joe Lieberman faction who think being "tough" on national security means sending more troops needlessly to die in a quagmire that the military experts admit has no military solution.
As a sidenote, I'm still sorry to see that Murtha didn't win the election over Hoyer for Majority Leader, but knowing the way the House works, I've always thought that he could be just as powerful -- if not more powerful -- from his current position on the Appropriations Committee, especially if he was willing to use that position aggressively.