"A New Low"

By Sean Carroll | November 19, 2005 2:51 pm

I can be as amused by a theatrical political stunt as the next guy. You want to call the Senate into closed session? Close down the government for a bit? Be my guest. (Although, as Newt Gingrich will testify, sometimes stunts can backfire.)

But then there are stunts that are so fundamentally dishonest that they make your skin crawl, and it’s hard to understand how even people who agree on the politics can ever excuse the tactics. We were just handed a classic example by House Republicans. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Democratic Representative John Murtha, an ex-Marine and noted hawk, recently came out in favor of withdrawal from Iraq. Originally a supporter of the war, Murtha gave an impassioned speech decrying the casualties and the lack of support for our troops within Iraq itself; see video of his speech at Crooks and Liars, read the text at firedoglake. He did not shy away from pointing out that many of the architects of the conflict had managed to avoid military service in their own day.

Here is the text of the resolution sponsored by Murtha:

Whereas, Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to “promote the emergence of a democratic government”;

Whereas, additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas, more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas, U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,
Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas, polls also indicate that 45 percent of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

Even if you weren’t in favor of the war originally, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you support withdrawal at this point. My own attitude is that we have completely turned Iraq upside down, and have some responsibility to help the country get back on its feet — maybe the way to do that is to remove our troops and let them sort things out for themselves, maybe it’s to stay in there and help out how we can. I honestly don’t know. But at least it’s worth some reasonable consideration, by people on either side of the issue.

House Republicans, needless to say, don’t agree. They were scared to death that a pro-war conservative Democrat would come out in favor of withdrawal, as they see poll numbers for the war plummeting. The last thing they want is an actual debate on the merits. But, rather than just ignoring the resolution, they resorted to an incredibly dishonest tactic: they had California Republican Duncan Hunter propose a new (and stupid) resolution calling for withdrawal, and then debated against it, referring to it repeatedly as “the Murtha resolution” or “the Democratic proposal.” A starkly blatant lie, meant only to discredit the Democrats as soft-headed and unpatriotic.

Here is the full text of Hunter’s resolution (via Shakespeare’s Sister):

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

1 Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Notice any differences between this one and the one Murtha actually proposed? No justification, “immediate” withdrawal instead of “earliest practicable date,” no talk of quick-reaction forces. It’s a farce, and Nancy Pelosi was exactly correct when she called it “a new low, even for them.”

Of course the GOP didn’t stop there; predictably, they launched an immediate ethics investigation against Murtha. If I were a principled conservative who believed in good faith that the invasion and subsequent nation-building exercise in Iraq was the best way to spread democracy and stability in the region, it would make me feel sick that these were the people representing my views in the government. As it is, I simply feel sick that these are the people running my country.

As one tiny footnote, thank goodness for blogs. Although the Murtha controversy is all over the media, nine stories out of ten are completely confused about what happened with the competing resolutions — it takes some work to find out that the resolution was proposed by Republican Hunter. (And would be nearly impossible to find the text of the resolutions if you relied on newspaper stories.) Who knows, maybe this particular cheap stunt actually had the desired effect.

  • Alejandro Rivero

    My XXIth century english is very bad. What is the meaning of the verb deploy nowadays? And deployment?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    I couldn’t agree more. I have not been able to understand how the good, honest, well-meaning conservatives in this country can turn a blind eye to the lack of ethics in this administration.

    I read an article (forget where) that said blogs are playing a big role in getting the truth out on this issue. Perhaps blogs will someday replace reporting.

  • spyder

    What was particularly striking about this entire episode, was the live CSPAN “debate” that essentially boiled down to Repugs attacked Demos for “turning their backs on the troops; and the Demos harshly criticizing the administration for lying us into the whole fiasco. At one poignant moment the lovely Ohio Congresswoman made such a brutally harsh unnecessary insult of Murtha that even the GOP acting speaker had to recall her to apologize after near violence broke out when Demos crossed the “mythical” line to get in her face. Thanking blogs needs to be followed up by thanking the whole internet: a system that allows one sitting 3200 miles away to quickly identify House members, spouting their “patriotic” support of the war–oops i mean troops, and cross checking their House bios to so readily discover how few of these “patriots” ever served in the military. It was truly a shameful incident that further demonstrates the lunacy of the US to the rest of the world.

    I had another thought as i was watching all this unfold. We keep likening the Iraq situation to Vietnam, which has numerous valid points. But in so many ways, this is also very much like Great Britain’s efforts in controlling Northern Ireland. Two viciously opposed sectarian faithful, spawned from the same original religious mythos, trying to be ‘tamed’ by outsiders forcing coercion at gunpoint. How long? How Long indeed.

  • Elliot

    The tremendous irony here is that Murtha actually fought in a war as did Kerry and Gore and Cleland and McCain. All have been brutalized by Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz who did not serve.

    More later on this but my favorite quote of the week is from Michael Moore who (I am paraphrasing) said…. my position on the war in Iraq is now mainstream it is Bush who is the extremist.

    This is playing out like a classic Greek tragedy. Unfortunately 2000+ American servicmen won’t get to see the final act of the play.


  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    Yes, unfortunately, not.

    But we can remind ourselves when such nonsense existed in our past. Here is one come-tragedy solution by the Greeks that still seems fresh today:


  • spyder

    yet another low, or where are the major profiteers of the work of scientists such as any petrochemical, military industrial, aerospace engineering, shipbuilding and the thousands of others that seem to have no problem hiring well trained grad school degree holding scientists??????

    The Darwin exhibition frightening off corporate sponsors
    By Nicholas Wapshott in New York
    (Filed: 20/11/2005)

    An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.

    The failure of American companies to back what until recently would have been considered a mainstream educational exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George W Bush’s most vocal supporters, over all walks of life in the United States.

    The outbreak of corporate cold feet has shocked New York’s intellectuals. “It is a disgrace that large companies should shy away from such an important scientific exhibition,” said a trustee of another prominent museum in the city, who was told of the exhibition’s funding problem by a trustee of the AMNH.

    “They tried to find corporate sponsors, but everyone backed off.”

  • Haelfix

    Seans post is a bit disengenous and doesnt paint the full story.

    The Republicans did not want to debate a lengthy proposal for withdrawal, so instead (for the sake of time) they sponsored a very simple bill that more or less cuts to the core of the issue and have a vote on that, even though secretely everyone knows they were talking and voting about Mushas bill.

    A lot of this sort of affair has to do with congressional floor time, playing politics and time allocation. Often these sorts of mini bills can be used to stall issues that are forthcoming, or to focus on politically sensitive issues that disparage one party. For instance, the republicans stalled and stalled during the Clinton impeachment hearings, so as to maximize the amount of publicity and time spent debasing the president.

    By and large pretty much every politician out there has already made up their mind on the issue, one way or another. ‘Debating’ as such is more of a benefit to the public, whereas substantive withdrawal plans are done in commitees with the aids of thinktanks and military planners.

    Again, its just one of those sorts of things you just can’t appreciate unless you’ve lived in Washington and learned the machinery of how congress works. A lot of times things aren’t what they seem to be, and being ‘outraged’ at x often misses the point entirely.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Haelfix–you might have a point if the word ‘immediately’ wasn’t inserted into the republican version. Inserting that word completely changes the intent of Murtha’s resolution. The entire goal was to force Dems into a false dichotomy and use whichever way that they came out against them in 2006. The goal was to force them to either vote to ‘support the war’ or to vote for a completely nonviable ‘immediate withdrawal’ option.

    As far as the debates being meaningless on the floor, fine, but it’d be nice to actually see politicians debate anything regarding the war, as we’ve had very little actual, substantative debate regarding the war.

    Noneof that excuses Jean Schmidt (R-OH) from using a call from a Colonel as an excuse for calling Murtha a coward who cuts and runs, on the floor of the House of Representatives. That completely violates all sense of decorum. She left herself just short of censure there.

    Though it should be noted that this isn’t yet the low point of decorum in the US congress–that distinction goes to when Abolotionist senator Chares Sumner was caned on the Senate Floor in 1856. I have a feeling we’re not all that far from that, though.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    Murtha cites polls indicating 80% of Iraqis support withdrawal; Sunni Saddam and his nominally secular Ba’athist bullies were supported by a neatly reciprocal 20% – all of whom were Sunnis.

    So what happens when the U.S. pulls out? Payback time.

    The difference between Iraq and Viet Nam is that when the U.S. pulled out of Viet Nam the country was already 95% controlled by communists; the U.S. pullout didn’t leave a power vacuum. If the U.S. pulls out of Iraq now, that country will be cast into absolute chaos which will undoubtedly ( anybody here doubt it? ) produce a new dictatorship. The new dictatorship probably won’t have the constraint of minority support to limit its policies. The so-called democratic gov’t now theoretically in effect will make the Weimar Republic look like the very model of stability and durability.

    Another fine mess..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Haelefix, that is, in all sincerity, a truly impressive bit of rationalization. I honestly never would have thought of the idea that the real Murtha resolution (which I quoted in full) was too long and complicated to be considered seriously, in the eyes of the Republican caucus. When they had one of their own members propose a resolution which they then referred to as “the Democratic proposal,” they were actually doing the Democrats a favor! It wasn’t about making Democrats look bad, it was just about the efficient use of Congressional floor time. Which they then used to give charming little speeches about how Democrats are cowards. Genius.

    So glad you are here to clear things up for those of us who haven’t lived in Washington and don’t understand how things really work.

  • Charles Martel

    A few minor points for my friends at this blog:

    1. Regarding those of you complaining that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did not serve in the military, you are aware that the military is under civilian control, right?

    2. Joanne: In your view, can any “good, honest, well-meaning conservative in this country” not agree with you that there is, as you say, a “lack of ethics in this administration”? Or is agreeing with you requisite for being labeled as “good, honest and well-meaning”? Please consider your answer thoroughly, as this thread claims to be about dishonest debate tactics.

    3. Sean: The next time you feel compelled to repeat your anthem about mean-spirited conservatives mistreating their political opponents, I would like you to peruse this article about the disgusting treatment of Michael Steele at the hands of the inclusive and tolerant Left. Apparently Mr. Steele does not appreciate the Oreos.

    4. Actually, we had done just fine holding back the Reds in Vietnam, and things would have been in decent shape (even following withdrawal) had we simply followed through on our commitments to continue funding the South, and provide the air cover which we promised their troops in the event of a major action by the North. What happened after funding was pulled, and the air support never materialized? Southeast Asia fell to the communists. 2.5 million slaughtered in Cambodia. 1 million boat people. Millions more enslaved by totalitarian regimes. Since it worked so well the first time, let’s try it again!

    5. No progress in Iraq? Heard of Operation Rivergate? Operation Mountaineers? Operation Iron Fist? Operation Steel Curtain? No, I suppose not. Then again, how could you? (Fun fact: news of the Iraqi constitution’s passage was reported on page A13 of the Washington Post.) The media’s mantra these days is “good news is no news”. At least we agree on one issue: blogs do help get out the truth.

    6. That the “progressive left” has effectively withdrawn from this nation’s fight against a brutal Islamofascist enemy which despises women, laughs at the concept of minority rights, stones adulterers, murders homosexuals, and seeks to impose totalitarian theocracy from Spain to Bali (for starters) is truly one of the grand ironies of the modern age. Sleep well tonight, friends.

  • Aaron

    Apparently Mr. Steele does not appreciate the Oreos

    It seems quite possible that that incident never happened.

    No progress in Iraq? Heard of Operation Rivergate? Operation Mountaineers? Operation Iron Fist? Operation Steel Curtain? No, I suppose not. Then again, how could you?

    I have. I even head about them in the “MSM”. I also realize that those sort of things really have very little to do with an effective counterinsurgency.

    (Fun fact: news of the Iraqi constitution’s passage was reported on page A13 of the Washington Post.)

    Of course, a week earlier than that article, this article appeared on page A1.

    That the “progressive left” has effectively withdrawn from this nation’s fight against a brutal Islamofascist enemy

    We’re cowards too. Don’t forget that.

  • Elliot


    Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    Rumsfeld did serve. Bush took a cushy National Guard job during Vietnam and Cheney got multiple student deferrements claiming he had “other priorities” than fighting in a war for his country.

    Yes the military is under civilian control but it is the height of hypocrisy for those who were chose not to sign up to questions the patriotism of thow who did such as Murtha, Cleland, Kerry and Gore.

    Since when does it make us a “superpower” to invade a sovereign country that did not attack us.

    If you are so concerned about Islamofacists why don’t you suggest to your White House buddies that we invade Saudi Arabia and see how much support you get?

    Your recollections of Vietnam seem to ignore the fact that this was a popular insurgency.

    Oh yeah and you forgot the oil….


  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com/ Count Iblis

    Charles: ”4. Actually, we had done just fine holding back the Reds in Vietnam, and things would have been in decent shape (even following withdrawal) had we simply followed through on our commitments to continue funding the South, and provide the air cover which we promised their troops in the event of a major action by the North. What happened after funding was pulled, and the air support never materialized? Southeast Asia fell to the communists. 2.5 million slaughtered in Cambodia. 1 million boat people. Millions more enslaved by totalitarian regimes. Since it worked so well the first time, let’s try it again!”

    Had the US stayed longer in Vietnam the outcome would have become even worse. The US couldn’t win, because the US tried to fight a limited war. Targets in North Vietnam were bombed, but the US took care not to bomb Soviet ships supplying North Vietnam.

    In Iraq there is no way that the insurgens can be defeated, because a large fraction of the Iraqis (40% according to a recent poll)don’t think attacks on US soldiers are wrong. With only 160,000 US soldiers and about 200,000 Iraqi soldiers the only way to prevent bombs being made is if Iraqis provide intelligence about bomb makers, insurgents etc. A Sunni in Al Anbar province won’t be keen to betray someone who he suspects of making bombs for several reasons:

    1) He may be sympathetic to the insurgency.

    2) He may be against the insurgency, but he may also think that insurgency against US soldiers is lawful.

    3) The person who he thinks is involved in the insurgency may be a good friend of his relatives/friends (some of them fall under points 1 and 2).

    4) He can’t be 100% sure if the person in question is really an insurgent. There must be a proper investigation of accused people. The Sunnis have little faith in the judicial system (I don’t have to explain why).

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com/ Count Iblis

    Charles: ”5. No progress in Iraq? Heard of Operation Rivergate? Operation Mountaineers? Operation Iron Fist? Operation Steel Curtain?”

    Yes, but what counts is the result of those operations. Similarly, the mere fact that string theorists have worked for an enormous number of man hours to do calculations doesn’t give any faith in the results of their efforts. :)

  • http://thomas.loc.gov X

    Murtha tried expressing his concerns to the Administration for over an year and kept getting the cold shoulder, that is why he made his resolution. And what he is saying is clear enough – in the absence of the will to put enough men and gather enough resources to win this war, the correct thing to do is to withdraw. Did you watch the debate on C-SPAN? Murtha essentially said that the Army is broken, the budgets to replenish their equipment are being cut, enlistment is falling short and there are inadequate resources to take care of the returning wounded. Instead we’re cutting taxes.

    To the anti-war folks here – Murtha is a hawk; if the President actually behaved as though the war in Iraq required us to win, and actually issued a mobilization, then I think Murtha would be standing at his side. But Murtha will not let his comrades-in-arms be sacrificed for the vanity of the Commander-in-Chief.

  • http://thomas.loc.gov X

    Regarding brutal Islamofascist enemies – Saddam was brutal, and more Stalinist than Fascist; but the “Islamo-” label applied to him is ridiculous.

    By the way, I think it is in the nature of men to be brainwashed. In Pakistani madrassas, young men were led to believe they would be taking up arms with the Taliban against the infidel, whereas the infidels were actually the Northern Alliance, once headed by Ahmed Shah Massoud. So Pakistanis fighting alongside the Taliban were killing fellow Muslims, fellow Sunnis even. But these were kids brought up and schooled in the cloistered environs of the religious schools.

    What excuse do Americans have who cannot even identify the “Islamofascists”? In any case, the al Qaeda are not fascists; one wonders how one can fight a war without being able to identify the enemy; bin Laden is dangerous, but different from a Hitler or Mussolini. But it does make one think that a free and open society is greatly overvalued in that it does not diminish willful ignorance. You may say, in the open and free society, we are not bound to such people. But, we’re at war, in the wrong war, so in what practical way are we not bound by the decisions of such people?

  • spyder

    “That the “progressive left” has effectively withdrawn from this nation’s fight against a brutal Islamofascist enemy”

    Wow, if i substitute “Communist” for “Islamofascist” it does begin to sound like Vietnam. And Charles, pray tell please, your own military service history??

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    I’m embarassed that jerk is my congressman. I’m certainly going to work to make sure that he isn’t in the very near future.

    What an ass Drunken Hunter is.

  • Elliot

    A gentle reminder to all here. Both Saddam and the Taliban were supported by the United States. Saddam to fight Iran and the Taliban to fight the Soviets.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Elliot, actually the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The Taliban arose around 1994, after the various factions of holy warriors who had fought the Soviets fought among themselves. The US fault lay in helping create these people, and then walking away from it all. Pakistan first backed Hekmatyar, who I think more damage to the city of Kabul than the Soviets had; and then the Taliban.

    The documents at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/ are worth reading in this regard.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Charles #12: No worries, I completely respect a difference of opinion. But I will only respect that difference if the other side has taken the time to gather the facts and think about the issues for themselves, rather than parrot information fed to them from a side they wish to believe. And I say this with experience – all of the people closest to me are Conservatives (yes, you can just imagine dinner time conversation!)

  • Haelfix

    Look im not disaggreeing with anything you guys said. Yes the bill sets up a false dichotomy.

    Otoh be sure that the point of the original bill in the first place was not to truly debate things or to enact change. Everyone knows the Dems ultimately don’t want to withdraw too soon or hastily either and the two parties are a lot closer than the media portrays them to be on how to ultimately proceed. Be sure that many Republicans want and demand ‘smart’ withdrawal plans as well.

    This is usually b/c they have the same analysis (usually from proffessors and so forth in foreign affairs, telling them the same things).

    Again, anyone who knows anything about Washington politics knows that deals are done at coffee tables and behind closed doors. The stuff on the floor is for *show* and to win votes.

    And in general, whenever someone is ‘outraged’ at ‘x’ that happens in the legislature, usually that just means the person is either naive or hasn’t lived long enough around all of that to appreciate how things work.

    The repub bill was more of a way to say ‘hi, leave us alone, we are not goint to waste time on this Red Herring and we wont let you kill our approval ratings anymore than we can’

    Again, im not saying thats right or wrong, just pointing out that perspective.

  • Zero

    Actually, I believe that the aforementioned Euphrates campaigns have been showing significant results: pushing the insurgent bases of operation farther into the desert, taking control of border towns being used as crossing-points for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria, the building of alliances with several anti-AQ tribes (especially to provide intelligence against the pro-AQ locals), etc. The operations in Anbar are not independent, isolated actions, but must be viewed as a whole. We’re making good progress out there.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


See More

Collapse bottom bar