Murtha’s dubious prediction

U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., made quite a splash recently when he declared “The United States cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring the troops home.” He was by no means the highest-ranking person to contribute to the Democrats’ reputation as the Bug-Out Party; that honor belongs to its national chairman, Howard Dean, and its leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. But Murtha was widely respected in the House as a longtime friend of the armed forces, and as the holder of a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his own service as a Marine in the Vietnam War. For him to call for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq was both a surprise and a serious blow to the war effort.

Murtha’s argument relied heavily on his contention that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq was actually fueling the insurgency, and thus damaging efforts to suppress it. “I have concluded,” he declared, “the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.”

And what would happen to Iraq if we bugged out? Murtha replied that, among other things, withdrawal of American forces would “incentivize” the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security.

It all sounds very reasonable, but it is based exclusively on the accuracy of Murtha’s prediction, and this is very much open to challenge. As the respected military historian Frederick W. Kagan writes in the Dec. 19 Weekly Standard, “(I)f American forces did begin to leave Iraq prematurely, the insurgency would grow… (M)any insurgents would believe that they had a greater chance of military success against the Iraqis than they have had against the Americans… (and) they would be right.”

How does one refute a prediction as serene, and as wrong, as Murtha’s? My mind went back to a televised argument I had with Rear Adm. Gene LaRocque (ret.) in March 1974, over whether the United States should end all military aid to South Vietnam, regardless of the military situation there. (America’s own military involvement had ended, of course, in 1973.) I insisted that failure to furnish Saigon with replacement materiel would quickly result in the military collapse of South Vietnam.

But LaRocque, whose military career had earned him only two stars, had retired and gone over to the “doves,” and he put forward a very different prediction:

LAROCQUE: I can’t see a Communist takeover of a nation of 18 million people who have fought valiantly for all of these years to preserve their own integrity as a nation. I don’t see it as even a possibility — couldn’t even speculate on it.

RUSHER: Whether they have weapons or not?

LAROCQUE: The people of South Vietnam were fighting the North long before we came. They’ll be fighting the North long after we leave, and the level of fighting and the type of fighting will probably change as we reduce our military support to South Vietnam.

RUSHER: What if I told you — or suggested to you — that American military and economic support to the Thieu government is absolutely crucial to prevent its collapse?

LAROCQUE: I wouldn’t buy it.

The Democrat-controlled Congress subsequently accepted LaRocque’s prediction and cut off all aid to South Vietnam. It collapsed within months, and the Communists swept to power.

So much for optimistic predictions by spokesmen of the Bug-Out Party.

  • William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.

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