Archived Opinion

Playing politics at the expense of our soldiers

By Major Gen. Geoffrey B. Higginbotham

In 1998, while serving as a Marine Corps Bases Commander in Japan, I had the opportunity to brief Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, on Pacific Rim political and military issues. I was very impressed with Congressman Murtha because of his Marine Corps background as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, where he received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He has the distinction of being the first Vietnam War veteran to be elected to Congress. He is also the ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and is considered to be a conservative Democrat.

With such an impressive background, his recent statement calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq proved to be a stunning comment that quickly made the headlines throughout the world. Rep. Murtha went on to say Islamic forces “are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. It’s time to bring them home.”

During this past week, I have given considerable thought to why Congressman Murtha was motivated to make such comments, and have come to certain conclusions.

A few weeks before Rep. Murtha made his statement, the Democrats and the elite media attempted to convince the American people that President Bush deliberately deceived them in order to invade Iraq, thereby substituting failure for success.

The Republicans countered this offensive by addressing successes such as the elimination of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical and murderous dictatorship/threat to his neighbors and the establishment of a democratic government under a new constitution that still needs our help in fighting the insurgency. At the present time, U.S. presence is the glue holding the Shiites, Sunni’s and Kurds together; otherwise, there would likely be civil war.

While this bantering was going on, out came Congressman Murtha to call for the removal of American troops in Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind this was a dangerous political stunt because there was no discussion about the implications of immediately removing our forces. When Congress voted on the withdrawal of troops, even Congressman Murtha voted against it. The final vote was 403 against the motion and 3 for it.

Whether you supported or were against the invasion of Iraq is not the issue at this point. We are there and now we must do the right thing for this nation and the world. But, what are the implications should we immediately remove out troops from Iraq?

A civil war between the Shiites and Sunni’s would likely occur, as the Baathist Party would try to put in power another dictator like Saddam Hussein, and the country would be split up. Iraq would become a terrorist haven and it would have unlimited funds from oil revenues. While this is occurring, terrorists’ short-term goals would be to create Islamic fundamentalist governments like the Taliban throughout the Middle East while taking control of oil fields from countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Terrorist long-term goals would likely be to severely damage or destroy Western economies through their control of oil and continued terrorist acts, which will become even more sophisticated due to their wealth and ability to buy technology and weapons of mass destruction. The CIA reports that 50 percent of Russian nuclear weapons are not secured! If you have enough money you could probably buy or even produce nuclear weapons, which will likely occur in Iran soon.

Our borders are porous, and it is just a matter of time before such a catastrophic event will occur in this country unless we continue our efforts to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan while defeating Islamic fundamentalists throughout the world. Iraq is the center of gravity for defeating terrorists. Democracies don’t fight each other, which is why it is important to create such governments throughout the Middle East.

Unfortunately, since Vietnam our nation has a reputation for running from a fight. After our departure from Vietnam, Congress cut off all funding for the South Vietnamese government, which left them vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. This was done contrary to the peace accord, and on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese Army captured South Vietnam and the communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos killed millions and interned thousands more. In the end, this didn’t impact Americans because they could not bring their destruction to our shores.

This is totally unlike Iraq, where we will clearly become an even bigger target if we do not finish the job. In 1983 we left Beirut when 241 Marines and Navy Corpsman were killed in the bombing of their barracks, and the same occurred in Somalia when U.S. soldiers were killed. The terrorists chased us out of one place after another because we would not retaliate. Our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are a clear setback and surprise to the likes of Osama and other fundamentalist terrorists.

Congressman Murtha’s withdrawal comments are disingenuous because he clearly knows about the significant successes in Iraq. There is a laundry list of success stories but the most significant is the Iraqi people jeopardizing their lives twice to vote and will do so again next month for a permanent government. It is understandable that the American people want to know when our troops are coming home, but you cannot announce such events or the terrorists will wait you out. Troop withdrawal must be event-driven, such as the election of the formal government and sufficient Iraqi military and police forces trained to go it alone. I predict forces will begin coming home in 2006, but it will be a gradual drawdown based on critical events.

Congressman Murtha has done a lot to embolden the terrorists to continue the fight, which might also encourage them to use more lethality, resulting in our government pulling our forces out sooner. His comments may very well result in more of our soldiers and civilian Iraqis being killed.

Congressman Murtha took off his Marine warrior hat and put on his politician’s hat to benefit his colleagues during the mid-term election. He is also exchanging selflessness for selfishness. I’m very disappointed in him!

(Major Gen. Geoffrey B. Higginbotham is retired from the Marine Corps. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with combat “V,” Navy Achievement Medal, and Combat Action Ribbon. He moved to Cashiers after retiring from the military and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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