Thursday, September 14, 2006


Mindless Journalism: David Brooks, Jack Murtha and the Lost War [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

There has been a real fuss last week over Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Jack Murtha’s call for the US to leave Iraq. Sunday’s New York Times had an article by suburban-stay-safely-home-while-others-die prowar columnist David Brooks (“The Importance of Staying With Iraq” NYT 11-20-05) taking Murtha to task (he has “simply given up”). Brook’s attitude was more or less echoed by Joe Klein (“Think Twice About a Pullout”) in Time magazine (11-28-05).

Reading these two guys can only lead to the conclusion that the war has already been lost but they want the killing to continue anyway. One senses that the armchair warriors are really frustrated with Murtha for having spoken up.

Brooks agrees that the “American presence in Iraq does lend popular legitimacy” to the Iraqi resistance. He further says that our presence is a “catalyst for violence.” He also calls the American occupation “botched” and responsible for a “security vacuum.” He refers to a Pew Research Center poll that found most journalists and academics who study what is going on think the war is “unwinnable.” Sixty-four percent of military officers, true to the gung-ho spirit, think it is winnable-- not surprising, they thought they would win in Vietnam as well.

Klein quotes Sen. McCain, who favors a crusade against “Islamist radicalism,” as wanting to send more troops into the Iraqi sinkhole. Yet McCain “wasn’t sure where the additional troops would come from.” This is a great victory strategy-- we have a winnable war by sending in non-existent reinforcements. Good luck with your crusade Senator!

Murtha, who has been on the Armed Services Committee for thirty years and who reflects the real sentiments of the Pentagon, frankly thinks the Iraqi aggression has put “the future of our military” at “risk.”

Brooks and Klein worry about what will happen if we pull out and let the Iraqi people decide their own fate without us. Klein complains that people are more interested in the past than the future. He thinks spending time on “whether the President intentionally misled the country into war” is “a waste of time.” We need to concentrate on the future.

Klein’s position isn’t even rational! If Bush intentionally lied to go to war he ought to be impeached. As for the future-- who would trust anything he had to say in the future. Far from being a waste of time, finding out if the American people were intentionally lied to is of the utmost importance. There is already, I think, overwhelming evidence that this is just what happened. Brooks even hints at that when he says “the president doesn’t give out credible information.”

So, with all this, why is Murtha’s withdrawal plea being rejected? Brooks says it overlooks the “main source” of violence in Iraq. That source is “the sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shiites.” Brooks makes it clear that all the blame is on the Sunni side.

This excuse to prolong the killing in Iraq won’t hold water. The sectarian violence is the result of the American invasion and is prolonged and exacerbated by the occupation.

Nevertheless, Brooks wants us to stay the course. It seems that “after 18 months of incompetence” the mightiest, the only, superpower in the world now has a “50-50” chance to win. A 50-50 chance-- superpower vs. a ragtag group of insurgents, and a small but determined resistance can do no better. That is a patheic justification to continue to torture people and to drop white phosphorus on women and children. If this is the best we can do, then this war is already lost.

Finally, as for Murtha, his call for withdrawal is not prompted by any high ethical or moral consideration (such as the inherent immorality of war in the first place, especially a war of aggression). His is a practical objection. We are losing and our military is being broken and we may need it to confront the real enemy “down the road.” Who might that be? I’ll give you a hint: the answer might be found in a fortune cookie.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@political

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