Let’s fight the enemy, not each other

There is an old joke about a tourist lost in New England who asks a farmer how to get to Pooter’s Corners. “Well,” opines the old Yankee, “to begin with, I wouldn’t start from here.”

And that about sums up the venomous exchange of charges and countercharges in Washington about whether the Bush administration misled Congress and the public so it could invade Iraq. The question is interesting but increasingly belongs to the historians. As a practical matter, it’s beside the point. We’re there. We can’t go back and start from somewhere else.

The nation’s leadership should be focused on winning the war, not arguing about how we got into it, but the urge to score political points is overwhelming. Vice President Cheney called the accusation “one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.” And that, shot back Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, is “a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war.”

Instead of fighting the war, the two sides seem more interested in refighting the 2004 election, a point underscored when the Democratic candidate in that campaign, Sen. John Kerry, came roaring into the debate, announcing, “I won’t stand for the Swift-Boating of Jack Murtha.”

Murtha, a Democratic congressman of 31 years’ standing from central Pennsylvania, is an ex-Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, a respected House expert on military issues and close enough to the leadership of the uniformed military that he is believed to often speak for them in Congress. He is not a grandstander or even considered particularly partisan.

That is why he stunned Washington _ and quite possibly changed the Iraq debate for the better _ when he called for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and listed his reasons for doing so.

After the shock and awe had passed, House Republicans reacted in drearily predictable fashion, accusing Murtha _ two Purple Hearts, Bronze Star _ of cowardice and treason. (Murtha’s reply: He has been to war; his critics have not.)

Speaking on behalf of the president, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, “Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America.” He should have stopped there. Instead, came the inevitable partisan dig. “So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”

Murtha cannot be brushed off as some zealot from the far left. If support for the war is not to erode further, his proposal and his reasons for offering must be addressed soberly and rationally. We’ve tried name-calling and it hasn’t worked; now let’s try actually thinking about where we are going.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)