Dicks’ Murtha moment

The significance of the U.S. House firestorm over Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, a generally hawkish Democrat who has proposed a six-month pullout from Iraq, hits home in today’s Seattle Times piece on Norm Dicks.

Norm DicksDicks, who has been representing a southwest Puget Sound area (roughly centered on Kitsap County) in the House since 1976, has long fit much of the same description as Murtha: A liberal out of the old Henry Jackson mold, strongly pro-military and not particularly averse to approving military action. His district, packed with military installations, is a match. He is one of those Democrats respected by Republicans, and who has long worked smoothly with Republican as well as Democratic administrations (like not only Jackson but also his old boss, Senator Warren Magnuson); he long has been one of the most keenly effective, if headline-quiet, members of the Northwest delegation.

He is a long stretch from a Democrat like Representative Jim McDermott, the Seattle liberal who opposed the Iraq war before it began; Dicks’ friends are people like Murtha, and Dicks voted to authorize the war. The Times piece recounts how, as the House exploded in anger over stands on the war, Dicks sat with Murtha in the clockroom, and reflected on how things had come to this.

Near midnight, he drove to his D.C. home, poured a drink and wondered how defense hawks like he and Murtha had gotten lumped in with peaceniks by their colleagues and the administration.

And he thought about all that had happened over the past couple of years to change his mind about the war in Iraq.

Dicks and Murtha are still not of exactly the same mind on Iraq, but they have been walking similar paths.

Dicks now says it was all a mistake — his vote, the invasion, and the way the United States is waging the war.

While he disagrees with Murtha’s conclusion that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within six months, Dicks said, “He may well be right if this insurgency goes much further.”

“The insurgency has gotten worse and worse,” he said. “That’s where Murtha’s rationale is pretty strong — we’re talking a lot of casualties with no success in sight. The American people obviously know that this war is a mistake.”

Dicks, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says he’s particularly angry about the intelligence that supported going to war.

Without the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), he said, he would “absolutely not” have voted for the war.

The McDermotts are often, and easily, dismissed by many on the right as simply ideologically driven. The Dicks (and the Murthas) are much harder to dismiss: These are people who really would rather not believe Iraq is a bad mistake, but have been dragged to the conclusion by facts, and past regret and sorrow.

Those polls showing most Americans now think the invasion of Iraq is a mistake does not mean that most Americans have joined the ranks of the McDermotts. It probably means, rather, that there are a whole lot of John Murthas and Norm Dicks out there.

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