War Vet Murtha Speaks His Mind

June 26th, 2006 - by admin

Robin Toner / New York Times & South Florida Sun-Sentinel – 2006-06-26 23:35:02


War Debate Mostly Waged by Civilians
Number of Veterans in Congress at Lowest Point since WWII

Robin Toner / New York Times

WASHINGTON (June 25, 2006) — Rep. Patrick McHenry, a 30-year-old Republican from North Carolina, rose during the recent debate over Iraq in Congress and declared that the struggle against “Islamic extremists” was his generation’s great challenge. Unlike the “white flag” crowd on the left, he vowed, he would not shrink from the fight.

That was a little too much for Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, an ex-Marine, Vietnam War veteran and a leading advocate of a speedy withdrawal of the troops.

“It is easy to stay in an air-conditioned office and say, ‘I am going to stay the course,’ ” he said angrily after McHenry, who never served in the military, was finished. “It is the troops that are doing the fighting, not the members of Congress that are doing the fighting.”

Behind that exchange was a demographic reality: The debate, which has consumed the House and the Senate for the last two weeks, was largely conducted by men and women who have never worn a military uniform. Twenty-five percent of the House and 31 percent of the Senate are veterans — the lowest proportions since World War II, according to the Military Officers Association of America.

Does it make a difference?

Murtha felt it did, sharply criticizing some nonveteran hawks — notably Karl Rove, the president’s chief political strategist — for not understanding the reality in Iraq, the toll of “deploying people two or three times,” the complexity of the mission.

“It’s a very small segment that are making the sacrifices, and it’s pretty easy to say, ‘Let’s keep them over there,’ ” he said in an interview.

Some analysts have argued that there are clear differences between veterans and nonveterans in attitudes toward the use of U.S. military power. Christopher Gelpi, associate professor of political science at Duke and co-author of “Choosing Your Battles,” said his 1998-99 research showed that “veterans are very skeptical of the kind of mission that Iraq is: nation-building, a long commitment where our goals are really political more than military.”

Still, there were vets in the recent debate who supported the idea of a timetable on troop withdrawal, and vets who endorsed President Bush’s more open-ended commitment to U.S. troops in Iraq — a debate that ended in votes beating back Democratic calls for withdrawal. For example, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine (San Diego County), also is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and he led the charge for the Bush position.

Partisanship might explain more about lawmakers’ positions than military backgrounds. William Bianco, professor of political science at Indiana University, said his study on voting patterns showed that, “in the main, veterans look like nonveterans in Congress, on any dimension we can measure.”

But David King, associate director at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, worries that there is, in today’s politics, a shortage of people “with a background in the service who can speak truth to both military and political power.” He cited Harry Truman, who served in France in World War I and rose to prominence as a senator in the early 1940s by investigating military procurement.

Indeed, men like Murtha derive much of their influence — on Capitol Hill and with the public at large — from their status as tough-minded combat veterans. Murtha transformed the debate over the war last fall when he called for a withdrawal.

Some veterans say that combat experience does make them different. “When you’ve never experienced war,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., another decorated Vietnam vet, “it’s a little easier to be more cavalier about committing troops and not understanding the consequences of war.”

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern, calls this the era of “patriotism lite” on Capitol Hill. He notes that not only are there few veterans, but also few lawmakers with children in the armed services. That first statistic, at least, might change — the war in Iraq has produced a wave of veterans running for office now.

©2006 New York Times

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Murtha Says US Poses Top Threat to World Peace
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI (June 25, 2006) — American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said to an audience of more than 200 in North Miami Saturday afternoon.

Murtha was the guest speaker at a town hall meeting organized by Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, D-Miami, at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus. Meek’s mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, was also on the panel.

War veterans, local mayors, university students and faculty were in the Mary Ann Wolfe Theatre to listen to the three panelists discuss the war in Iraq for an hour.

A former Marine and a prominent critic of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq, Murtha reiterated his views that the war cannot be won militarily and needs political solutions. He said the more than 100,000 troops in Iraq should be pulled out immediately, and deployed to peripheral countries like Kuwait.

“We do not want permanent bases in Iraq,” Murtha told the audience. “We want as many Americans out of there as possible.”

Murtha also has publicly said that the shooting of 24 Iraqis in November at Haditha, a city in the Anbar province of western Iraq that has been plagued by insurgents, was wrongfully covered up.

The killings, which sparked an investigation into the deadly encounter and another into whether they were the subject of a cover-up, could undermine US efforts in Iraq more than the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, Murtha said.

“(The United States) became the target when Abu Ghraib came along,” Murtha said.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.