(November 17, 2007) -- Two years ago today, I wrote in this space that perhaps a kind of "Cronkite moment" had arrived in what already seemed like a long war in Iraq. The hawkish Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) had suddenly, that day, come out with a call to start rapidly removing U.S. troops from the war zone. I wondered if editorialists and pundits would finally embrace that notion, rather than continue to lag behind the views of the American public.
They didn't, Congress also failed to act, and where are we two years later? We have even more troops in Iraq now -- and far fewer Iraqis there, as the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing has, if you will pardon the expression, "surged." While rampant violence has declined lately, there has been little or no political progress in that country.
The Democrats have just released a statement by Murtha, along with some revealing stats. The first number comes from two years ago, the latter from today.
U.S. troops fatalities: 2,081 (3,865)
U.S. troops wounded: 15,900 (28,400)
Coast to taxpayers: $213.6 billion ($448.6 billion)
Then there is the shocking increase in suicides among our Iraq veterans in the past two years, as documented by E&P and CBS News recently.
Here is how my original column for November 17, 2005 opened.
For months, media watchers have wondered if we would any time soon witness another “Cronkite moment” -- some sort of dramatic statement by a mainstream media figure that would turn hearts and minds against an ill-advised war, for good. It hasn't happened. But perhaps a not-very-famous, 73-year-old gentleman named John Murtha will be the new Cronkite.
A few days ago, newspaper editorial pages were merely trailing their readers on this issue. Now they are even behind Congress.
Earlier this week, even pro-war Democrats in Congress, such as senators Biden and Clinton, asked Bush if he could, please, at least come up with some kind of long-term timetable. It wasn't much and it didn't pass, but that's still more than we have seen from all but a few editorial pages. The New York Times, for example, once again Thursday morning came out against any withdrawal or a timetable for exiting.
Now, how will newspapers respond to the angry, moving statement by conservative Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) today? The crusty, hawkish former Marine called for an Iraq pullout, starting not in, say, 2007, but ASAP, and introduced a bill to this effect. “Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily,” Murtha said. “It is time to bring them home.”
Wisely, he called it a “redeployment,” not a pullout, and he said it was not exactly "immediate," but could be largely accomplished by the middle of next year. Asked at a press conference if this did not amount to "cutting-and running," Murtha replied that the war had been handled haplessly from the start, and new polls show that even 80% of the Iraqis want us out.
In response, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore."
“If tough, non-effete guys like Murtha are willing to go this far, and can make the case in ways that Red America can relate to -- and listening to him talk was like listening to my dad, who's about the same age, and his hunting buddies -- then the president is in big trouble. I'm sure there's going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.”
This man: After serving in the Marines in the early 1950's, he re-enlisted in 1966 and served in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry. Today, in a not-so-veiled response to Vice President Cheney's recent attacks on the patriotism of antiwar critics, Murtha said: "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."