Thursday, February 22, 2007

Which Comes First, The War Or The Troops?

I've not really been paying attention to Rep. John Murtha's plan to raise roadblocks to President George W. Bush's strategy to increase the number of US troops in Iraq. I'm afraid I implicitly made the assumption that Murtha was already such a hate-figure for the uber-right and would attract such loud-mouthed criticism from those conservative pundits with a zero track record in foreign policy success that his fellow Dems - for fear of political fallout - would fail to stick their heads above the parapet in his aid.

But according to Raw Story today, it's actually worse than that. Murtha is not only taking flak from even moderate Republicans:
"We must take great care to ensure that any effort to provide for our armed forces not be used as a proxy for resolving larger issues concerning the war in Iraq,” [Rep. Walter] Jones said to Murtha in a statement sent to RAW STORY. “Any attempt to 'starve' the war as a way of bringing it to a conclusion, rather than through a serious policy debate about the best way forward in Iraq, would be wrong."
Jones added that, "Those troops were sent on a mission created by elected officials in Washington, and until those elected officials...change that mission, their funding should be unfettered by appropriations strings that are in reality a way for Congress to avoid straight up or down policy votes on the House floor."
He's also being subjected to incoming "friendly fire" over his proposals.
A Democratic aide with ties to the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that guaranteeing the readiness of troops before they deployed was certainly long overdue, but worried that Murtha's approach was "tying this into the larger political dialog and debate that is still controversial, several years too late."
Moreover, the aide pointed out that the concentration on obstructing the escalation detracted from broader efforts to end the Iraq War entirely. The staff member was particularly interested to know what had happened to Murtha's earlier bill to bring about redeployment of troops from Iraq.

"Arguably it's sort of a step back, because the call for redeployment was very specific and ballsy," the Democratic staff member told RAW STORY. "I'm surprised that anti-war groups have jumped aboard this for that reason."
On the face of it, objections that Murtha is using "the power of the purse" to prevent a proper policy debate and "up or down vote" seem reasonable - although hypocritical in the extreme coming from Republicans who have often used funding bills to pass legislation that would have provoked extremely heated debate and even outrage if they had come up as seperate policy proposals. But appearances can be deceiving.

Let's start by having a look at the main Murtha proposals.

* Certification by the individual services that troops to be deployed have sufficient equipment and training;
For me, this is a no-brainer bit of pure policy. Sending untrained and ill-equipped troops into a combat zone is just wrong. Any military man will tell you it should only be done in desperation to avoid absolute and total defeat - choosing to do so when existential defeat is not an immediate prospect is dumb and dangerous. How can you object to this except by being a defeatist?

* Prohibiting extension of deployments by more than one year
Again, this is a policy decision. The policy being to keep a viable military which has the flexibility to react to world events rather than being composed of mentally exhausted and possibly mentally damaged soldiers. Again, the only sensible argument against this is that the US military is facing utter existential defeat - does the Right really want to say that? Anti-war proponents certainly haven't. What they have said, correctly, is that the current conditions troops have to suffer because of the war in Iraq is damaging military readiness.

* Eliminating the 'stop-loss' policy that prevents troops from exiting the military
Veterans groups have called the stop-loss policy a "back door draft". Here's another policy decision - does the US have a volunteer military or does it not. If you have the right to volunteer, then you should also have the right to un-volunteer at any time. Period.

* Guaranteeing soldiers one year at home before they return to Iraq
See the comments about keeping a viable military above. This is yet another policy decision. Even the Nazi war-machine didn't allow such long deployments in combat right up until it became an existential necessity, and until then gave plentiful and frequent leave. The Pentagon used to guarantee one year between combat tours but then changed the goalposts because of the pressures on the military caused by the Iraq war.

Murtha is right, and his opponents do not disagree, that enacting all of these policies would mean that the war in Iraq would be unviable. However, all of these are policy decisions that should, by rights, come before any policy decision to stay in Iraq. Despite the ravings of the "Clash of Civilizations" crowd, whether the US continues to be engaged in Iraq does not and never will pose a question of existential victory or defeat for the United States. Murtha's opponents are, simply, putting the cart before the horse and arguing that the war in Iraq comes before the need to keep a viable military.

The policy decisions about supporting the troops, the military, should come before the question of whether to support the war in Iraq. If the policy decision to remain in Iraq is then seen as an unviable one, then so be it.

And if Murtha is considering important principles that should come before any consideration of an individual war, how is that a step backwards from consideration of redeployemnt from Iraq?

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