Today, Jack Murtha delivered a killer Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union address, filled with passion, insight, perspective, and loads of specific details. It's the one we should have heard last night.
The president received sustained applause during his speech (at least from the right side of the house) when he took a swipe at those who have criticized his handling of the war in Iraq: "Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy."
Governor Tim Kaine, the designated Democratic responder, dutifully stepped right into the president's framing by asking "Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?" and then failing to offer up any kind of alternative strategy. Instead, in a speech Harry Shearer described as "a motivational luncheon address at the Richmond Rotary," he trotted out a vapid phrase -- "There's a better way" -- and left it at that. (Bizarrely, the call for "a better way" is straight out of "The Candidate," where it was used to mock the mushy rhetoric of politicians with nothing to say. And Democrats wonder why they keep losing elections.)
In contrast, Murtha's response, presented at a press conference today and in a letter sent to President Bush, contains a very specific, four-point strategy for changing course in Iraq and "reinvigorating our global anti-terrorism strategy."
After pointing out that the war in Iraq has lasted longer than America's military involvement in WW I, WW II, or the Korean War, Murtha directly takes on Bush's claim that the war in Iraq has made us safer: "Iraq is not the center for the global war on terrorism. I believe Iraq has diverted our attention away from the fight against global terrorism and has depleted the required resources needed to wage an effective war... Our country needs a vigorous and comprehensive strategy for victory against global terrorism. The architect of 9/11 is still out there but now has an international microphone. We must get back to the real issue at hand -- we have to root our and destroy al-Qaeda's worldwide network."
Murtha then lays out the four key elements of his plan: "Redeploy, Replace, Reallocate, and Reconstitute."
Redeploy. As he's said since he first went public, Murtha believes we should quickly withdraw our troops from Iraq, leaving behind a mobile, rapid response force outside the country: "The war in Iraq is fueling terrorism, not eliminating it... A vast majority of the Iraqi people now view American troops as occupiers, not liberators." He backs this up with polls showing that 80 percent of Iraqis want U.S. forces out of Iraq, with 50 percent favoring a withdrawal in the next six months. What's more, 60 percent of Iraqis believe violent attacks in the country will decrease when we leave.
"Our continued military presence in Iraq," says Murtha, "is seen by Iraqis as interfering in Iraq's democratic process and undercuts the chances for the newly elected government to be successful...The longer our military stays in Iraq, the more unwelcome we will be."
Replace. Hindsight alone may not be wisdom -- but refusing to learn from past mistakes is not wisdom either. That's why Murtha wants to replace those responsible for the litany of failures in Iraq. In his letter, he urged the president to "hold accountable those responsible for so many missteps and install a fresh team that demonstrates true diplomatic skill, knowledge of cultural differences and a willingness to earnestly engage other leaders in a respectful and constructive way." In other words, kick Rummy to the curb and stop protecting (let alone promoting) those that have given us the outrages of Abu Ghraib, the bungled occupation, and the failed reconstruction.
Reallocate. Murtha also nails the price we have paid here at home for Bush's imperial adventures abroad: "The Department of Defense has been allocated $238 billion for the war in Iraq, with average monthly costs growing significantly since the beginning of the war. In 2003 the average monthly war cost was $4.4 billion; by 2005 the average monthly cost had reached $6.1 billion.... In the face of threats from international terrorists, we need to reallocate funds from the war in Iraq to protecting the United States against attack. A safe and swift redeployment from Iraq will allow us to do just that."
Reconstitute. Finally, Murtha, a longtime, diehard backer of the U.S. military echoes the concerns of Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Richard Myers, who in a classified report to Congress, worried that "the concentration of American troops and weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan limits the Pentagon's ability to deal with other potential armed conflicts." That's why Murtha wants to reconstitute our depleted forces. "On our current path, I believe we are not only in danger of breaking our military, but that we are increasing the chances of a major miscalculation by our future enemies, who may perceive us as vulnerable."
It's what Democrats need to be saying -- and backing up -- again and again and again: Iraq has made us less safe here at home and less able to deal with crises around the world.
Last night on Hardball, Chris Matthews asked Joe Biden to explain how it is that the American people are "worried about abuse of this NSA spying at home," "want to bring the troops home," and "don't think [the war] was worth it to fight... And yet, when you ask them 'Who do you trust on terrorism and security,' they say the president, who seems to lose on each particular, but somehow wins on the general question of security."
Biden blamed it on the lack of a clear Democratic leader: "I think it's because it's the president versus whom? The president versus this amorphous Congress? This amorphous Democratic Party? It would be a very different circumstance if it was the president versus an individual Democrat who had a different vision and was articulating it."
You mean like Jack Murtha? The problem isn't that the Democrats lack a spokesman with a different vision able to articulate it. The problem is that the Democrats keep shooting themselves in the foot -- sending out Tim Kaine, who today told reporters "I'm not an expert on foreign policy or the war," instead of putting Jack Murtha (who is) front, center, and in prime time.
When will they learn that in a post-9/11 reality, It's the national security, stupid?