What Murtha Meant
We're leaving Iraq anyway. At least he's got a plan.
Everyone in Washington seems to agree that Rep. John Murtha's proposal for getting out of Iraq is a bad idea. But everyone is wrong in describing just what it is that he proposes.
Take a close look at Murtha's now-infamous statement of Nov. 17. You will not find the words "withdrawal," "pullout," or their myriad synonyms. Instead, he calls for a "redeployment" of U.S. troops—which may seem like a euphemism for withdrawal but in fact is very different. Toward the end of his statement, Murtha lays out the elements of what he calls his "plan":
To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.
He doesn't elaborate on any of these ideas, but it's clear they don't add up to "cut and run." True, his final line reads, "It is time to bring them home," but his plan suggests he wants to bring, at most, only some of them home. The others are to be "redeployed" in the quick-reaction forces hovering just offshore.
Murtha stressed this point Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, saying he wanted to "redeploy the troops to the periphery." He used that phrase—"to the periphery," meaning just offshore or across the border from Iraq, not all the way home—three times during the interview.
Host Tim Russert never asked—nor did Murtha explain—what these forces will be doing offshore, or under what circumstances they might re-enter the conflict. But we can fill in the blanks by looking at a study, published last month by the Center for American Progress, titled Strategic Redeployment: A Progressive Plan for Iraq and the Struggle Against Violent Extremists, written by Lawrence Korb (an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration) and Brian Katulis.
Korb and Katulis begin with the same premises that Murtha does: that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is inflaming the insurgency, uniting nationalists with Islamo-fundamentalists, and bolstering America's terrorist enemies worldwide; that the Iraqi government is using U.S. troops as a crutch; that maintaining 140,000 troops for another year will destroy the U.S. Army; and that, therefore, on several grounds, it is best for all that we get out.
They call for a phased, two-year plan, drawing the troops down to 80,000 by the end of next year and dispensing with most of the rest by the end of 2007. However, they don't call for a total withdrawal. By their plan, all 46,000 members of the Guard and Reserve will go home next year, but most of the active-duty soldiers and Marines will be "redeployed" to Kuwait or Afghanistan. Even after that, many American troops will remain to train, advise, help secure the borders, and provide logistical and air support to the Iraqi regime.
It may be no coincidence that their study reads like a fleshed-out version of Murtha's proposal. One staffer on the House Armed Services Committee told Korb last month that Murtha had read and liked the study. In a phone conversation today, Korb told me that he personally discussed the study with Murtha two weeks ago and that Murtha seemed to agree with its points—except that he wanted to speed up the redeployment considerably.
Korb also said, however, that Murtha seemed to have headed in this direction quite independently from his own study. On Meet the Press, Murtha made clear his other influences:
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.