The aggressive White House campaign to re-sell the Iraq war to the American public appears to be dead on arrival. As President Bush delivered his Nov. 30 “strategy for victory in Iraq” speech, a Time poll showed 60 percent disapproved of his handling of the situation in Iraq, and the same percent said the war was wrong in the first place. The latest polls continued months of unfavorable ratings of Bush’s war policy.
National peace groups held a “national call-in to Congress day,” Dec. 6, to bring the troops home from Iraq, and a wide range of peace groups has issued a call for opponents of the occupation to organize local public meetings or smaller gatherings on Jan. 7, on ending the war. The groups include Progressive Democrats of America, Cities for Peace, United for Peace and Justice, Hip Hop Caucus, Gold Star Families for Peace, Global Exchange, Bring Them Home Campaign, Peace Action and others. Event listings and information will be posted at www.afterdowningstreet.org/event.
“It’s a really important time for people who care about ending the occupation to be loud and clear with Congress,” Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, told the World. Most members of Congress are “putting their fingers in the air,” checking public opinion before venturing to take a stand, he said.
Former warhawk Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) continued his calls for a rapid U.S. pullout from Iraq, saying on NBC’s Today show, Dec. 6, “We’ve lost the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.
Speaking to community and business leaders in Latrobe, Pa., the same day Bush made his speech, Murtha predicted the U.S. would pull most troops out of Iraq within a year, The Associated Press reported. “I predict he’ll make it look like we’re staying the course,” Murtha said of Bush. “Staying the course is not a policy.”
Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is known as having close ties with U.S. military leaders. In his scathing remarks a few weeks ago that sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill and the White House, Murtha said, “It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region.” The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, he said, is “impeding” progress toward peace there.
In comments believed to be echoing the concerns of sections of the military, Murtha said continued involvement in Iraq, with troops on their third deployment, mounting casualties, recruitment plummeting and costs skyrocketing, has put “the future of our military … at risk.”
Journalist Seymour Hersh, who has his own Pentagon sources, told Democracy Now, “Murtha’s message is a message … from a lot of generals on active duty today. This is what they think, at least a significant percentage of them.” According to Hersh, the generals don’t think Iraq is “doable.”
In an apparent attempt to sidetrack the growing clamor for a real end to the occupation, some administration officials are starting to talk of troop “drawdowns” next year.
The UK Times reported Dec. 1 that the U.S. National Guard is planning to cut its troops in Iraq by 75 percent over the next year. Guard troops make up an unprecedented 65,000 of the 159,000 troops in Iraq and have suffered 318 deaths there. In contrast, only 10,000 Guards served in Vietnam, with about 100 killed.
The Times cites “growing evidence that the National Guard’s supply of equipment is becoming exhausted, leaving it unable to cope with domestic emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina.” The report also notes speculation that the Guard is running out of troops for deployment, with recruitment declining.
The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 5 the Pentagon is floating talk of cutting active and reserve personnel, or slowing plans for troop growth, to save money for weapons programs in the face of recruiting shortfalls and the ballooning costs of the Iraq war. That jibes with Hersh’s prediction, in a New Yorker article titled “Up in the Air,” that the U.S. will pull out troops from Iraq next year, but “a key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the president’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower.” The scenario envisions “quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes,” but according to Hersh “a lot of people” in the Pentagon are worried about the big risks of such a strategy. Deadly U.S. air strikes in Iraq have already caused wide devastation and civilian casualties.