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A long-delayed debate about Iraq

Rep. Murtha's news conference today advocating an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and the response by several republican members of the House, is exactly the kind of argument that should have happened a long time ago.

Here's some of what the two sides disagree about:

1. The effect of our occupation of Iraq on the risk of terrorism:

Murtha thinks the occupation of iraq is increasing the risk of terrorism; republicans think it's "keep[ing] the insurgents in the war against terror off balance." Murtha thinks the risk of terrorism has increased; republicans think the four years since 9-11 without terrorism has been because of military actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

2. The nature of a "free" Iraq:

Murtha thinks Iraq will be free only when the American occupation ends; republicans think our military is currently "delivering" freedom to Iraq and (coincidentally?) "delivering a nation that will be, instead of an enemy of the United States, a friend of the United States."

3. The nature of the mission:

Murtha thinks we've done our job by getting rid of Saddam. Republicans think the job isn't done yet.

Some republicans think the mission is to set up a government in Iraq that won't abuse its people. Bob Beauprez and Dan Lungren think that leaving now would be to abandon the Iraqis to a tyrannical government, just like we abandoned the Hmong and the Vietnamese.

Other republicans seem to think the mission goes way beyond that. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen thinks our military should provide "democracy, freedom, hope, the rule of law and true governance to [Iraq]." Duncan Hunter believes that "if we don't change the world, the world is going to change us." Tom Tancredo seems to think that the mission is the "spread of a wonderful idea throughout the world, and that is freedom. It's just possible that we can do this. And I am willing to take the risk. . . ."

4. The nature of dissent:

Geoff Davis from Kentucky says "the liberal leadership have . . . cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies." Murtha and most other critics of the war disagree.

5. How to characterize an immediate withdrawal from Iraq:

Murtha thinks a withdrawal is a wise tactical decision that strengthens America. Republicans think pulling out of Iraq now is surrender, which of course it is if you agree with their characterization of the mission.

Murtha sees withdrawal as a way to avoid more useless casualties. Some republicans think a withdrawal would mean that our troops that have already died will have died in vain.

6. The nature of our enemies in Iraq:

Murtha thinks most of our enemies in Iraq are simply Iraqis who want to end the occupation of their country. Many republicans think that our enemies in Iraq have much larger goals. Louie Gohmert says: "our enemies over there, those who would destroy freedom and our way of life. . . ." Jean Schmidt says: "The big picture is that these Islamic insurgents want to destroy us. They don't like us. They don't like us because we're black, we're white, we're Christian, we're Jew, we're educated, we're free, we're not Islamic. We can never be Islamic because we were not born Islamic. Now, this isn't the Islamic citizens. These are the insurgents. And it is their desire for us to leave so they can take over the whole Middle East and then take over the world."

7. Our success so far:

Both agree that getting rid of Saddam was a success. David Drier thinks that the multi-party elections in Egypt are a "ripple effect" of our war in Iraq, although it's not clear whether he thinks this is because we toppled Saddam, because we've continued to occupy Iraq, or both.

Murtha thinks that our reconstructive efforts have failed, and that the only way to achieve that goal is to pull out our troops. John Carter thinks we're "on the verge of success."

I agree with Murtha on almost every point. I don't need to say much about the irresponsible accusation that the liberal leaders who advocate a pullout are "cooperating" with our enemies. Emboldening them, maybe, but even then the issue is what's in America's best interest, and emboldening a few enemies may or may not be in our best interest depending on which enemies we're talking about and how exactly we're emboldening them. As usual, the republicans aren't making these distinctions because they don't recognize them.

Overall, their arguments are very sloppy. They too easily confuse the Iraqi insurgents with the al Qaeda terrorists. Even in the case of al Qaeda, but especially in the case of the insurgents, the Republican description of our foes' goals seems wildly exaggerated.

I also disagree with the republicans about the kinds of changes that military force is capable of making. They seem to think that the military can establish freedom and democracy everywhere. Even if the United States were capable of this, which I doubt that it is, I don't believe we can do it by invading and continuing to occupy countries like Iraq. Like Murtha, I think sometimes we can only effect positive change by withdrawing our troops and relying on diplomacy. In Iraq, now is one of those times.

One issue where I agree with the republicans is our obligation not to abandon the Iraqi people to a tyrannical government. Regardless of whether we should have invaded in the first place, we're there in Iraq now, and it's our responsibility to see that we leave the country's people better off than when we invaded. But I'm not at all certain that Murtha isn't right that pulling our troops out might reduce the violence suffered by the Iraqis. It's a close call, but there's a limit to how long we should be prepared to wait for continued military occupation to work. I'm not sure that we've waited long enough, but I'm not as sanguine as the republicans seem to be that all we need is a little more time.

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