In the Arena

Playing Politics With Iraq

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I must admit I’m boggled by the question now on the table: Whether to support John Murtha’s clever plan for limiting funding for the mission in Iraq. On the one hand, Murtha has it exactly right–a great many military people say (privately) that units are being deployed to Iraq with insufficient training and equipment, and that those currently in Iraq are staying far too long. Taken together, these trends may result in a “broken” Army.
But a substantive argument can also be made that, given the changed and more dangerous nature of the mission (the stationing of troops and mounting of patrols in Baghdad 24/7), additional forces–even if they are insufficiently trained and equipped–will be needed to protect and spell those already on the ground.
And then you have…the wide world of demagoguery. As Yglesias points out today, there are limits to the possible. It is quite unlikely that Murtha’s amendment will ever be passed in the Senate–and the vote in the House may be deflating, too close for comfort, perhaps even a defeat. And any legislator who votes for it will be smeared as someone willing to imperil the troops…which is why you saw the estimable Senators Hagel and Reed refusing to get pinned down on Murtha’s plan on Meet the Press this morning.
Taking these factors together, a strong pragmatic argument can be made for not pressing the Iraq case any further right now. Give Bush his supplemental appropriation. Hope for the best in Baghdad…and revisit these issues in the fall, or the beginning of 2008, when we’ll have a clearer picture of whether the new tactics have succeeded. Yes, that would be playing politics with Iraq, but what’s the alternative?

Update: Lots of comments like this, from Unapologetic Liberal:

This is the sort of cowardly attitude that is no longer acceptable. Klein may want to act like a beaten wife but the rest of us have had it with the right-wing slime machine, and we will no longer kneel down before them. Any Democrat or Republican who accepts this position get ready to be steam rolled into history under the chapter, redundant.

Fine, but how are you going to get 60 votes in the Senate? I would much rather pursue the Warner-Hagel-Reed strategy: pull out of Baghdad, continue fighting Al Qaeda in al-Anbar and make sure that Iraq’s neighbors don’t take advantage of the chaos. But that’s not going to happen, either. My question to you: If Bush has the power to pursue his surge for now–and that’s probably the case–what’s the smartest tactical way to oppose him?
Finally, I can’t let this, from Bravo 6, go unpublished:

Many of my former soldiers are back in Iraq for another go, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel shame and guilt for not being in the sandbox with them. Support the troops – bring them home. If we must go, ensure that we are properly equipped and trained, and that the operational tempo doesn’t burn us out, or cause good soldiers to leave. Hold the service secretaries and service chiefs accountable, because it isn’t just the President’s fault, or Congress’s fault, or Rumsfeld’s.

Bravo, indeed. First, thank you for your service. Second–and I know this doesn’t mean much–but I’m never so infuriated with Bush et al as when I think about your unwarranted shame and guilt, multiply it 100,000 times across the force, and think about the disastrous consequences for our military and our country. This has now happened twice in my lifetime, in Vietnam and Iraq. And I’m dedicating the rest of my life to making sure that we never go to war so foolishly again–if at all.