Murtha and Webb return from Iraq with different views on the “surge”

Recent claims that the Bush administration’s “surge” strategy is working in Iraq have bolstered some proponents of the Iraq war and created additional challenges for members of Congress working to pass legislation to end the war.  Democrats suffered a setback this week when Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), veteran and prominent war critic, returned from Iraq stating that the “surge” is working:

"I think the ‘surge’ is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president’s decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."

Violence has dropped significantly in recent months, but Mr. Murtha said he was most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province, where locals have started working closely with U.S. forces to isolate insurgents linked to Al Qaeda.

Many members of Congress have made this rhetorical shift—commending the work of US troops while blaming the Iraqi people for not taking advantage of the “opportunities” the US is providing for them to make political progress. We need politicians to offer a comprehensive vision and recognize the necessity of withdrawing US troops, and fulfilling our moral obligation to the Iraqi people through reconstruction and regional diplomacy.

As always, there was disagreement about the situation on the ground.  Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), former Navy Secretary and veteran, returned from Iraq questioning the impact of the “surge”:

But Webb suggested the realignment of Sunni forces had little to do with the surge of U.S. troops and was more a reaction to a growing frustration with al Qaeda terrorists.

‘`This was happening before the surge began, well before the surge began,” Webb said. “And it would have been happening if there wasn’t a surge.”

The increasing sense of security in Iraq has allowed Iraqi refugees to begin returning to the war-torn country, according to recent news reports. But Webb described the troop surge, as he did from its inception this year, as a “tactical adjustment” that “didn’t change the over-arching strategy of what we are trying to do.”

Webb, a freshman Democrat who has won outsized attention in Congress on the Iraq war because of his military background, said several positive factors on the ground in Iraq have conspired to create “a very important interval” for the United States.

With the easing of tensions in Anbar, restraint from an influential Shiite leader in Baghdad and interest by Turkey in avoiding a Kurdish guerrilla war on its border, Webb said the time is right to launch an intensive round of diplomacy.

“That’s the only way that we’re going to be able to take advantage of the quality of the work that our military people have done,” Webb said. “And we’re still waiting.”

As the Iraq war debate ebbs and flows, we must keep the pressure on so that Congress stays focused on the most important goal—withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.

Categories: Iraq