During a campaign-style town hall meeting in Louisville on Wednesday, President Bush continued his PR offensive on Iraq, offering up his familiar "strategy for victory" talking points (Saddam: bad; democracy: good) and an upbeat assessment of the situation there.
According to the president, "Things are good."
He also continued to make the case that Iraq is an essential part of the war on terror: "Al Qaeda has made it very clear their intentions in Iraq, which is to drive the United States out so they will have a base from which to operate to spread their ideology... In other words, al Qaeda has made Iraq a front in the war on terror. And that's why we've developed a strategy for victory."
Luckily, Rep. Jack Murtha is still on the case, traveling around the country, speaking out, cutting through the fog of the administration's rosy rhetoric, and making it clear -- again and again -- that the ongoing bloodshed isn't, as the president put it, "an ideological struggle" in which "you defeat an ideology of darkness with an ideology of light and hope". It's the result of internal Iraqi politics.
In other words, as Murtha says, "Iraq is not about terrorism; it's about civil war". And our presence there is only fueling the fire.
"Iraq is not enhancing the war against terror," Murtha said at a lunch in New York on Wednesday (at roughly the same time Bush was making his claims in Kentucky). "In fact, just the opposite is true: Iraq is hurting our prospects for winning the fight against terror. We've become the issue over there. Abu Ghraib and Fallujah have hurt us badly. That's why we need to take ourselves out of the equation."
Murtha elaborated on this point in an eloquent 9-page Dear Colleague letter he sent to his fellow members of the House:
"If the War in Iraq and our continued large military presence was actually succeeding in driving a stake into the heart of Al Qaeda, the terrible loss of life and limb and the quarter of a trillion dollars we have spent in Iraq to date would be worth it. But I believe that President George H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, was right when he observed that the way we are handling the War in Iraq is 'feeding' terrorism, not eliminating it. Our heavy military presence in Iraq is the single most important reason our radical enemies have been able to recruit fresh new suicide bombers and terrorists and garner a measure of support from the Iraqi people. Even by the administration's own numbers, our current policy is creating as many or more terrorists than it is eliminating. It is simply not working."
Reports from around the country are that wherever Murtha goes -- be it a Home Depot or a Starbucks -- applause breaks out. The well-spring of sentiment against the war that he tapped into when he first spoke out in November is still very much alive. He hit a nerve, one that strikes at the heart of the administration's signature policy initiative: the invasion of Iraq.
If Democrats are smart, they will keep Murtha front and center -- making him the face of the party for the 2006 race in the way the GOP utilized Gingrich to nationalize the 1994 elections.
As he proceeds on his barnstorming offensive, Murtha does what the Democrats should have been doing for years (are you listening, Hillary?): show how the war on Iraq has actually undermined our national security.
"The annual expenditures for the War on Iraq dwarf those of the combined budgets of all other programs in place to fight terrorism," he wrote in his letter. "That is a gross misallocation of resources and has important consequences for making our population safer from terrorist attack. The dollars used to pay for an 8,000 mile logistical pipeline to Iraq could be reapplied to fixing our many vulnerabilities at home in the transportation sector, or at chemical plants, river levees, or nuclear power plants...
"We should be conducting a war against the terrorists in which America's borders are effectively guarded to keep out terrorists, and programs are in place to ensure that none of the millions of cargo containers that enter American ports contain explosives that could render one or more of our great ports inoperable and debilitate our economy, not a "War on Terror" where our finest young people are sacrificing their lives and limbs to implement the visions of "intellectual geopolitical strategists" who fantasize about Jeffersonian democracies being installed in Middle East cultures that have had authoritarian regimes during their entire two millennia of existence...
"It is time to 'change the course' of our Iraqi policy. It is time to wage an effective war against international terrorism. The American people know it. It is time for the administration and the Congress to catch up with them..."
Expect more of this impassioned and spot-on reasoning when Murtha is profiled on "60 Minutes" this Sunday.