View Full Version : Murtha And The Colonels

11-21-2005, 07:33 PM
Murtha And The Colonels


Ray McGovern
November 21, 2005

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He previously worked for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Listening to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on ABC yesterday, I was reminded of his infamous “long, hard slog” memo of October 16, 2003, to top Pentagon brass. The memo mentioned that he had asked our regional combatant commanders, “Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get?’” That memo was leaked to the press almost immediately, but we never learned what those commanders told Rumsfeld.

Two years later, Rumsfeld has now heard, indirectly, from the commanders fighting the war in Iraq. The silver-tongued defense secretary seemed blindsided yesterday, when he was asked by ABC News to explain why the colonels apparently departed so sharply from the official line that they have all the troops they need in Iraq. The interviewer referred Rumsfeld to a Time magazine report yesterday about an unusual closed-door meeting last week at which 10 battalion commanders were asked for their unvarnished views on the situation in Iraq.

The colonels’ briefing combined with the brave performance of Rep. John Murtha may be the political one-two punch needed to change the course of U.S. policy in Iraq.

The colonels made their splash in a private, uncensored hearing with concerned senators John Warner, R-Va., chair of the Armed Services Committee, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Mark Dayton, D-Minn. Congressional staff members took part, but apparently absent were the civilian minders from Rumsfeld’s office who normally tag along.

The Army and Marine commanders reportedly were chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Battalion commanders represent the crucial link between operations and strategy and, as a group, are ideally positioned to deliver a reality check to Congress. They are at once close to their troops, responsible for implementing the strategy in Iraq, and, at the same time, somewhat insulated from the civilians in the Pentagon.

So their credentials are impeccable. They told the senators not only that they needed more troops, but that their repeated requests had been “turned down flat.” The battalion commanders indicated that, as a result, their units had to “leapfrog” around Iraq to keep insurgents from going back into towns that had been cleared by U.S. forces. They added that there are never enough explosive experts to deal with the roadside bombs responsible for the majority of U.S. casualties.

When confronted by ABC about the Time report, Rumsfeld roundly denied he had ever turned down a request for troop reinforcements in Iraq and claimed there are enough U.S. troops in Iraq to fight the insurgency. Said Rumsfeld, “Is it correct to suggest that General Vines or General Casey or General Abizaid have ever asked for more troops and got turned down? That is flat not true.” Indeed, Rumsfeld may be technically correct, since the colonels themselves complained to the senators that no general officer had been willing to go on record complaining about the need for more troops.

It all seems so surreal. It is abundantly clear that there are hardly enough U.S. troops in Iraq to defend themselves and the Green Zone, much less cope with the armed resistance forces. But where would reinforcements come from? The Army and Marines—active duty, reserve and National Guard—are stretched exceedingly thin, and all the money the Pentagon has plowed into national missile defense and the Navy are of little or no help.

Enter A Plain-Speaking Marine
With two Purple Hearts while serving as a Marine in Korea and Vietnam, Rep. John Murtha has long been a staunch supporter of the armed forces and has many close relationships with top military figures. He made a recent trip to Iraq to assess, as he put it, “the conditions on the ground,” as distinct from what he hears from desk-chair Pentagon leaders. One can only assume he got an earful while in the desert.

But more significantly, Murtha is an appropriator. His success depends on maintaining the trust and confidence of the services. It is reasonable to assume that his network within the uniformed realm of the Pentagon is not too far behind his position, if not already out in front. Murtha’s call for U.S. withdrawal is a logical step from the views he has expressed in the past. Eighteen months ago, on May 6, 2004, he said: “We cannot prevail in this war with the policy that is going today. We either have to mobilize or we have to get out.”

It has long been clear that for the U.S. the war is unwinnable. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity took a strong position on that more than two years ago . As Murtha indicated in his November 17 speech, he too has been saying for over a year that the Iraq war cannot be won “militarily.” Since there are precious few fresh troops to be “mobilized,” and since reconstituting the draft appears out of the question, Murtha decided to do the honest thing and call for the troops to be withdrawn, rather than blithely tolerate a handful of casualties a day in order to “stay the course” —whatever that may mean in present circumstances.

So hats off to John Murtha for being a man of conscience and a mensch not impervious to the pain of others. And additional plaudits for speaking out at a time when many fellow Democrats are hedging their bets.

In the eyes of history, while Murtha’s brave actions may be seen as the force that galvanized the Democrats, it may well be the colonels, sharing their candid insights and chagrin with the likes of Sen. Warner, also a Marine, that will persuade lawmakers to cut U.S. losses and extract our troops from the Iraq quagmire.