Just Above Sunset
November 20, 2005 - More than a Nasty, Sometimes Personal Debate

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As mentioned in this week's Things Coming to a Head, in third volume of the CS Lewis "Perelandra" trilogy, That Hideous Strength (1945), one of the characters says this –


If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family - anything you like - at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.


And that's where we are now. The week ended with an extraordinary house session, full of anger and shouting, as "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality" just about disappeared.

Oh, a minor note, in the upcoming New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, that fellow who wrote Paris to the Moon, has a detailed assessment of CS Lewis. There's a lot out there on Lewis right now, due no doubt to the upcoming release of the Disney film version of the Narnia books.

But that's beside the point.

The news shows had all the clips, and anyone could watch on C-SPAN the house session that was "spirited" far beyond anything Tony Blair faces at Question Time in the House of Commons, and only just a bit shy of the fistfights and chair-throwing you see now and then in the Taiwanese legislature. And it was so early nineteenth century.

This was the setting, as Associated Press reports it -

House GOP Seeks Quick Veto of Iraq Pullout
Liz Sidoti, Friday, November 18, 2005


House Republicans maneuvered for swift rejection Friday of any notion of immediately pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, sparking a nasty, sometimes personal debate over the war following a Democratic lawmaker's own call for withdrawal.

Just a day after Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., stoked the surging political firestorm over President Bush's Iraq policies by calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Republicans brought a measure to the House floor urging that the pullout begin immediately.

With the symbolic vote, Republicans were hoping to place Democrats in an unappealing position - either supporting a withdrawal that critics said would be precipitous or opposing it and angering voters who want an end to the conflict. They were also hoping the vote could restore GOP momentum on an issue - the war - that has seen plummeting public support in recent weeks.

"We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will not retreat," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said of the nonbinding resolution.

Furious Democrats accused the GOP of orchestrating a political stunt and changing the meaning of the proposal by Murtha, who has said a smooth withdrawal would take six months. Democrats said they planned to counter by voting against the GOP provision en masse.


In short, Murtha offered a proposal for getting out, as soon as "practicable" (six months, he figured), with a plan for assuring stability in the area and this and that. The Republicans took his proposal, rewrote it to say we get out immediately, and said, okay; let's vote on THAT!

The Democrats said that wasn't the same thing at all. The Republicans said yes, it was, or what Murtha "really" meant.

No he didn't! Yes he did!

Shouting and much gavel-banging followed, with folks jumping out their seats and rushing around.

Who are YOU to rewrite what he proposed and call it his! Well, that's what her REALLY proposed! No it isn't! Yes it IS!

Here's the difference. You decide.

Murtha's resolution:


Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";

Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.


Here is the "rewrite" - the full and complete Republican version of the Murtha resolution:



Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.


The Republican position is, of course, their rewrite is what all Americans knew Murtha really meant, and what all the opponents of Bush were really, really saying all along, no matter what the actual words here were - and they'd call this guy's bluff and force all these critics of Bush and the war either to admit that is what they really wanted, by voting for this, or by voting against it give their full support to a war that may go on for as long as it goes on, or until the commander-in-chief, not anyone else, says we've won. They'd force them to call for immediate withdrawal, and expose them as cowards, or force them into a vote of complete and unquestioning confidence in the president.

It's one or the other. There's no middle ground.

The Democrats said it was a false choice, and voting for something no one proposed. The Republicans said, no, it wasn't - this is what you really are saying even if you won't admit it - so say either Bush has always been right and made no mistakes, ever, or that you want to give up like cowardly dogs - there are only two alternatives, either vote for what we know you are really saying, or for against it, admitting Bush has always been right. Put up or shut up.

One Democrat in a clip - they didn't identify him - asked why the Republicans were doing this. We just want to talk about what we should do about this war. It's our job.

He was shouted down.

Now this all may strike you as cheap, theatrical, and rather stupid. It may offend your sense of logic. You may think it's childish. But the Republicans are counting on most Americans saying, "AH HA! - Now we see who is cowardly and hates America and hates our troops - This reveals ALL!"

We'll see if that happens. Glancing at the immediate reaction on the web, the right side is saying this is brilliant and exposes the cowards for what they are, and the left side is pretty pissed.

Were any minds changed? Probably not.

But people on both sides are pretty angry.

This was an interesting house session.

There was Jean Schmidt, Republican from Ohio, the newest member of the house, having just narrowly won her seat in a nasty fight with Paul Hackett, a fellow who fought in Iraq and is, of all things, a Democrat.  (That race was discussed in these pages here and here - she's a nasty piece of work.)

At one point in this whole mess she told the house of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.

"He asked me to send Congress a message - stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message - that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Martha was a Marine for thirty-seven years. He reenlisted to fight in Vietnam. He has two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Three years ago, he won the Semper Fidelis Award of the Marine Corps Foundation, the highest honor the Marines can confer.

She called him a coward and not much of a Marine.

She's the daughter of a well-known local banker - a guy who owned Indianapolis racecar teams on the side. She's married to an investment counselor. She has a twenty-seven-year-old daughter. She's a leader of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. She should know?

But that's when it got good. A bunch of Democrats booed and shouted her down. Harold Ford (Tennessee) charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making an uncalled-for personal attack. Marty Meehan (Massachusetts) was yelling, "You guys are pathetic. Pathetic!" Everything came to a standstill. They turned off the microphones for ten minutes after this


The Speaker Pro Tempore: The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The gentlelady will suspend. And the clerk will report her words. All members will suspend. The gentleman from Arkansas has demanded that the gentlelady's words be taken down. The clerk will report the gentlelady's words.
The Speaker Pro Tempore: The house will be in order. Members, please take seats. The gentlelady from Ohio.

Ms. Schmidt: Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member. Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. I therefore ask for unanimous consent that my words be withdrawn.

The Speaker Pro Tempore: Without objection. The gentlelady's words will be withdrawn.


Well, she didn't want to be censured.  House rules do not allow members "to impugn the integrity" of any other members.

She's new.  She doesn't need that.  So she took it back.

But one assumes she got a kick out of being referred to as "the gentlelady from Ohio." That's a laugh.

Conservative but perpetually cantankerous pro-war pundit Andrew Sullivan adds this


She later withdrew her remarks from the record. But those words linger as a reminder of what these Republicans have become. ... Every time you think these Republicans can sink no lower, even after their vile smears against Kerry's service last year, they keep going. They make me sick to my stomach.

Why not the Murtha proposal? Here's what strikes me as the salient question right now. Why won't the Republicans force a vote on the Murtha proposal - a phased withdrawal over six months - rather than "immediate" withdrawal? If the GOP wants to demonstrate a backbone on the war, let them force that vote. I'd passionately vote it down, if I were a Congressman.

But the GOP's proposal is again not a sign of strength. It's a straw man: as cheap and tawdry as the current GOP leadership.

Let me add something more. How pathetic is the credibility of a commander-in-chief that while he is abroad, all hell breaks loose on the war he is allegedly waging?

Bush has lost the country on this.

It's not the media's fault, not the Democrats', not the military's. It's Bush's, and his sad excuse for a defense secretary.


Yeah, that's about it.

And by late evening the Democratic leader, Pelosi, was suggested everyone on their side vote for the damned fake proposal. It doesn't matter. One suspect she knows they've won something big here. There's a sort of "stench of desperation" on the Bush side now. Let it ripen.

Heck, you might as well be the adult in the situation.


The vote, late Friday night, was 403-3 against the sham proposal.  It was a big... whatever.


The right is now saying everyone, except those three oddballs, fully supports the president and all his decisions.


Many on the left and in the middle know the Bush crowd just jumped the shark.


And readers might want to check out this in the latest Newsweek from Christopher Dickey, on why Murtha may just be right.

It opens with Dickey chatting with Paul Wolfowitz in Paris, "over a glass of Champagne and under the eyes of raging priests on a vast Old Testament tapestry." Where's that? A venue out of my league, of course - and later he says they chatted again at the cocktail party after a World Bank conference in the ornate reception room of a grand palais, which he doesn't identify.

But once you get past the settings you learn the prime theorist who gave us this war doesn't have much to say about it now. He pulls an Edith Piaf - no regrets - but also he won't talk about things now, other that to say, "I think there shouldn't have been an occupation."

What? It seems Wolfowitz always thought that Ahmad Chalabi should run post-invasion Iraq. And he may yet. Whatever.

Dickey –


So the big mistake in Mesopotamia, it would seem, was not following the grand plans of the best and the brightest who took us to war there in 2003. Others failed, not they. And maybe the armchair war-lovers of the Bush administration really believe this. Ideologues see the world through different lenses than ordinary people. From their perches in government or academe, they like to imagine themselves riding the waves of great historical forces. Faced with criticism, they point fingers at their enemies like Old Testament prophets and call down the wrath of heaven.

But there's no reason the rest of us should delude ourselves, which is one reason, I suspect, that Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a retired Marine colonel and long-time friend of the U.S. military on the Hill, spoke yesterday with such unfettered outrage. ...


The discussion of Murtha that follows is detailed, and leads to this –


The Bush administration no longer sets the agenda in Iraq, in fact, and hasn't for at least two years. The watershed came in November 2003 when there was a dramatic spike in U.S. casualties and Washington suddenly scrambled together a policy for transferring sovereignty back to Iraqis instead of pocketing it indefinitely for the Pentagon and the oil companies, as originally intended. The American invasion, which was supposed to be proactive, has led to an occupation that is entirely reactive, and it's clear - or ought to be - that the castles in the air constructed by Wolfowitz and his friends have been blown away by facts on the ground.

President Bush showed hopeful signs of pragmatism earlier this year, but no longer. His speeches over the last week, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld singing backup, attack critics for rewriting the history that they have tried to invent. What's the bottom line of what Bush is saying now? That we are now in Iraq and have to stay the course because ? the terrorists want us there. As the White House transcript puts it, "Our goal is to defeat the terrorists and their allies at the heart of their power, so we will defeat the enemy in Iraq." But - the terrorists we're fighting now didn't have any power in Iraq until our invasion. Ideologues like to fight ideologues, so they tend to miss details like that.


So we stay, and we stay because we went there?

It like you decide to walk down this road, to get somewhere you really want to be. But after a long, long time you discover you've been walking down the wrong road. You cannot get there on this road. But you've walked for so very many miles on this particular road, and pressed on through the blisters and pain and all the rest. You've put so much into it. Going back to where you started would be really hard - retracing your steps would take as much time and effort as you've spent already. And if you go back, what if the next road you choose is also the wrong one? And maybe, just maybe, by some miracle, on this wrong road you'll get to where you wanted to be. You never know. It could happen. Or maybe you'll get to someplace that will be, maybe, something like where you wanted to be - not exactly where you wanted to be, but something like it. So you keep walking. You keep a positive attitude - can't be a defeatist after all.

This is all something like that, not the Beckett play about waiting, but the one about walking he didn't get around to writing. This time Tom Stoppard can write the dialog.

  • "We've traveled too far, and our momentum has taken over; we move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation"
  • "All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it's like being ambushed by a grotesque."
  • "Life is a gamble, at terrible odds - if it was a bet you wouldn't take it."

Something like that...


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....