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William Rivers Pitt: Iraq and the Democrats

Iraq and the Democrats

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 08 December 2005

There is a tactic in the art of debate and argument known as "Rejecting the premise." To wit: when someone tosses a straw-man into a debate, you are wise to point it out as such, instead of validating its existence by arguing against it. A perfect example of where this can apply comes in the latest round of nonsense from the far Right about a so-called "War on Christmas."

Person #1: "Do you think the liberal elite are aiding in the war against Christmas?"

Person #2: "I reject the premise. There is no war against Christmas. Christmas is doing just fine."

Here's another good one. Vice President Cheney was speaking on Tuesday to troops at Fort Drum, NY.

Cheney: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq, and the terrorists hit us anyway."

Me: "I reject the premise. The fact that we had not invaded Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. As Richard Cohen said of Cheney's comments in Thursday's Washington Post, 'Yes, and the crowing of the rooster makes the sun come up. Cause and effect is being mocked here.'"

See? It's that simple. By the way, when did you stop beating your wife?

There is a cluster of Democrats who could learn about rejecting the premise, especially when it comes to the occupation of Iraq. The most recent and galling example came after Congressman John Murtha made his courageous demand for a withdrawal from Iraq. Murtha is the guy the generals talk to, because the generals know they are wasting their breath trying to talk to Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush. Murtha knows exactly how bad things are in Iraq. His call for withdrawal specifically said that such an action should come "at the earliest practicable date."

Nowhere but nowhere in the text of Murtha's resolution were the words "immediate withdrawal" to be found. The reaction of congressional Republicans, however, was to paint Murtha's call as exactly that, a "cut-and-run" demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The "immediate withdrawal" GOP talking point was broadbanded across the media spectrum, and was used in a farcical legislative attempt to derail the conversation. Congressional Republicans tossed up a resolution demanding "immediate withdrawal," daring the Democrats to vote for it.

Scott Shields, writing on the MyDD blog, pegged it perfectly. "My advice to the entire Democratic caucus," wrote Shields when this garbage GOP resolution was introduced, "is to not take the bait. Theentire caucus should abstain from voting altogether. And the Republicans should be called out for their bullying tactics. The Democrats must make it clear to anyone who will listen that this 'Murtha vote' is not a vote on the Murtha resolution at all, but rather a caricature of his resolution, thrown together by hot headed Republicans, eager to jam up the opposition."

Was this advice heeded? Did we hear, "I reject the premise that Murtha's resolution called for immediate withdrawal" and expose the GOP's scurrilous actions for what they were? Hardly. A bunch of dumb Democrats instead took the bait and threw Rep. Murtha under the bus. They knocked over furniture and old people in their rush to the microphones, where they validated the GOP talking point about "immediate withdrawal" by defending themselves against it.

Senator Clinton got up and said immediate withdrawal would be a "big mistake" before beginning a hare-brained crusade against flag-burning.

Senator Biden echoed Clinton by saying immediate withdrawal would be a mistake, never bothering to point out that "immediate withdrawal" was not part of Murtha's resolution.

Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, in rejecting Murtha's non-existent call for immediate withdrawal, said, "This Democrat doesn't think we need to re-fight how we got into the Iraq war. I think we need to focus more on how to finish it." Great work, Governor. Rather than call this administration to account for the manner in which we were dragged into this disaster, let's give them a pass and trust them to do the right thing in the future. Brilliant. Oh, psssst, Murtha never said "immediate withdrawal" in his resolution. Pass it on.

Senator Lieberman, whose pandering to Republican extremism has reached an extraordinary level of sublime hilarity, outstripped his fellow Democrats by orders of magnitude. On top of dismissing "immediate withdrawal," he went on to say, "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years. We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril."

It should be noted that Murtha thumped Lieberman's defense of Bush but good. "Undermining his credibility?" asked Murtha. "What has he said that would give him credibility?" That, friends and neighbors, is a golden example of rejecting the premise.

Joementum wants us to do as we are told, shut up, and accept the Bush/Cheney view of things. Criticism of the administration is tantamount to treason. Let the word go forth from this time and place that silence is golden and critics are aiding terrorism. Even for Joe, this was a spectacular statement. One wonders if the word on the street about him replacing Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense has anything to do with this gibberish. From the sound of things, he already believes himself to be a member of Bush's Cabinet.

Sadly, four Democratic ninnies cuddled right up to it, validating a GOP talking point intended to destroy debate on the signal issue of our day. Clinton, Biden, Warner, Lieberman ... what do these four have in common? As far as can be seen, they share one common characteristic: they all think they will be President after 2008.

Wesley Clark, another Democrat who hopes to be redecorating the Oval in 2009, took the whole thing one big step further with an editorial in Tuesday's New York Times titled "The Next Iraq Offensive." The article detailed a series of troop maneuvers that would redeploy American and Iraqi forces along the borders with Syria and Iran. Clark warned that Iraq was becoming a Shia-dominated buffer state that serves to protect Iran, and that a radical shift in tactics must be undertaken to avoid the creation of an Iran/Iraq superstate. At bottom, Clark said the United States must remain in Iraq, and that his plan was one that could achieve victory in this conflict.

It was a cogent and effective argument centered around an undeniable fact: this occupation has empowered Shia fundamentalism in Iraq, said fundamentalism being deeply tied to Shia fundamentalism in Iran. This union poses a danger to the Mideast region and, in the long run, a danger to the United States both at home and abroad. There is one significant dent in Clark's thinking, however. In making his argument, he accepted a number of premises that should be rejected as deeply flawed.

Here's the deal: we invaded Iraq to establish a permanent, muscular military presence in the Middle East; we invaded Iraq to take control of their petroleum reserves for the next hundred years, a pretty little piggy bank in a world where oil is becoming harder to find; we invaded Iraq so we could use our military presence there to attack and invade several other countries in the region; we invaded Iraq to establish strategic positioning for any economic and/or resource struggles with China and Russia; we invaded Iraq because administration officials who think they are members of the Likud Party believed this war would serve to protect and defend the state of Israel; we invaded Iraq so a bunch of military contractors with umbilical ties to the administration could get paid.

All of this is enshrined in the codicils of the Project for a New American Century, the organization whose membership rolls include Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams, Libby and a pile of others who have crafted our insane foreign policy and thrown us into this mess. This is what they wanted. They've been planning it for years, well before they ever got into the White House with Bush. For them, victory had nothing to do with defeating Hussein or fighting terrorism or establishing democracy. Victory means we stay in Iraq forever.

Period. End of file.

When Wesley Clark and these other Democratic aspirants talk about "winning" in Iraq before we get out, they accept a premise that should be rejected out of hand. For the architects of this war, victory has already been achieved, and all arguments in favor of remaining in Iraq until impossible goals are reached strengthen that victory. There is no democracy at the end of this tunnel, only more tunnel.

When Wesley Clark and these other Democratic aspirants talk about "winning" in Iraq, they buy into the fantasy that there is anything to win. The invasion and occupation created a breeding ground for terrorism, immeasurably strengthened the resolve of Islamic fanaticism, ravaged the US treasury, and has seriously weakened our ability to defend ourselves against other global threats.

We cannot stay in Iraq. Were we to withdraw tomorrow, we would sow the seeds of future bloodshed and risk an all-out civil war. We would compound the crime already committed against the Iraqi people. But if we stay, if we buy into the idea that remaining in Iraq will cure these problems, we do exactly the same thing.

Rep. Murtha was right. It is the presence of American troops in Iraq that inspires the violence today. The solution, therefore, is beyond sloganeering or open-ended promises that cannot be fulfilled. We have to exit Iraq, but we must do so far more responsibly than the manner in which we first arrived there. We need a plan that involves international cooperation with organizations like NATO and the Arab League. The Iraqi people must be given the help they need to take over the security and economy of their own country, but this help cannot be provided by the United States. We do no good there, but only harm.

We absolutely need a timetable established for this to happen. Some have argued that the "terrorists" will use a timetable for withdrawal against us. This may be true, but such statements blue-sky right past a glaring reality: they are presently using the lack of a timetable for withdrawal against us, they are doing so effectively, and the body count continues to rise because of it.

An exit from Iraq is the only rational course of action. How and when we do it must become the central point of discussion in American politics. Timetables for that withdrawal must be established, and a real plan must be agreed upon. This administration, which has no interest in withdrawal for its own nefarious reasons, must be forced to accept this.

Democrats who aspire to higher office must not derail this process by accepting GOP talking points, talking points which serve to do little more than ensure that we will still be in Iraq when our great-grandchildren are old enough to vote.

Take all the rhetoric you've heard from Republicans and Democrats alike regarding "winning" in Iraq, wad it up, throw it into a metal wastecan, and set it on fire. Put all the talk about weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda alliances and Hussein was a bad man and bringing democracy to the torch. Give this nonsense a good, old-fashioned Viking funeral, which provides far more of a dignified departure from this world than it deserves. Cast the ashes to the wind. Salt the earth where the ashes fall so that nothing so pestilently wrong can grow there.

We can win nothing in Iraq. We can only hope to survive the incredible disaster that has been foisted upon us. Rejecting the premise of "winning" is the first step toward that survival. Rejecting wrong-headed, deliberately misleading GOP talking points would be a good idea, as well. Getting out of Iraq is the only sane, sensible, responsible course of action. Any Democrats who hope to be President should heed this. They are ten steps behind the rest of the country, and when they buy into the nonsense, they only ensure their electoral doom.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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