support for the Iraq war at low ebb, the White House is more eager than
ever to conflate Iraq's insurgency with terrorism. But last week, just after
President Bush gave yet another speech repeatedly depicting the U.S. war effort
in Iraq as a battle against terrorists, Rep.
John Murtha debunked the claim. His refutation deserved much more news coverage
than it got.
"You heard the president talk today about terrorism," Murtha told
reporters at a Dec. 7 news conference. "Every other word was
'terrorism.'" Speaking as a lawmaker in close touch with the
Pentagon's top military leaders, he went on to confront the core of
the administration's current argument for keeping American soldiers
"Let's talk about terrorism versus insurgency in Iraq itself,"
said. "We think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent – might be
a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion of the
people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or how I
would interpret them as terrorists."
Murtha threw cold water on the storyline that presents U.S. troops as
defenders of Iraqis. He cited a recent poll, commissioned by
Britain's Ministry of Defense, indicating that four-fifths of Iraqis
now want the American and British forces out of their country. "When
I said we can't win a military victory, it's because the Iraqis have
turned against us," Murtha said.
Contrary to what countless pundits still contend, Murtha sees the U.S. presence
in Iraq as a boon, not an impediment, to terrorism. "I am convinced, and
everything that I've read, the conclusion I've reached is there will be less
terrorism, there will be less danger to the United States and it'll be less
insurgency once we're out," he said. "I think the Iraqis themselves
will turn against this very small group of al-Qaeda. They keep saying the terrorists
are going to control Iraq. No way."
The relatively small number of al-Qaeda forces in Iraq will become isolated
when the deeply resented occupiers leave Iraq, he predicted, and actual terrorists
will no longer find a haven among most Iraqis.
During his presentation about the importance of distinguishing
between terrorism and insurgency, Murtha was directly admonishing the
White House. But what he said could also serve as a reality check for
news media. All too often – without attribution to any source –
reporters have asserted that the U.S. military actions in Iraq are
part of a "war on terror." And journalists have routinely failed to
include any perspectives that challenge the view, avidly promoted by
the Bush administration, that the fighters doing battle with American
forces in Iraq are, by definition, terrorists.
In a typical news report from Baghdad, airing on All Things Considered
early this month, NPR correspondent Anne Garrels presented the U.S. government
line as the only one worth mentioning. During the Dec. 2 broadcast, she described
recent American offensives and then told listeners: "The military says
its actions have resulted in numerous terrorists killed or detained, as well
as the discovery of a large number of weapons caches."
The Bush administration is glad to define a "terrorist" as anyone
who uses violence against occupation troops. And many U.S. news outlets parrot
the claim. But that is flagrant manipulation of language.