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White House plays chicken with a war hero

THE WHITE House is so deluded, it actually believes it can turn a soaring hawk into a scrounging chicken. Stung by the call by US Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania to pull out of Iraq, Scott McClellan, President Bush's press secretary, said this week, ''It is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Talk about playing the chicken-hawk card. A White House where most of the architects of war avoided combat in their own lives dared to associate two people who are worlds apart in world views. Moore made the anti-Bush ''Fahrenheit 9/11," which infuriated the right wing by breaking box office records for a documentary film. Moore was booed at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Murtha is the 73-year-old recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for combat duty in Vietnam. He is a Democrat whose three decades in office are marked by support of President Reagan's policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Murtha was a top Democratic supporter of the 1991 Gulf War. He wants a constitutional ban on burning the American flag.

In a 2002 press briefing, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz termed the support of politicians like Murtha for the Pentagon as ''wonderful." In the 2004 vice presidential debate, incumbent Dick Cheney said, ''One of my strongest allies in Congress when I was secretary of defense was Jack Murtha."

For all those shows of patriotism, Murtha was skeptical about the rush to invade Iraq in 2003 of Iraq even though he voted to give President Bush the authorization to go to war. He publicly said Bush beat the war drums before building an international coalition. Murtha said he had not seen anything in intelligence reports that indicated an imminent threat. Murtha said Bush ''has put the country in such a box. He can say, 'You'll undercut me if you don't vote for this resolution.' "

One month after the invasion, when no weapons of mass destruction had yet been found, Murtha warned that American credibility was at risk. By the September, the absence of weapons of mass destruction made him join the much more liberal House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, in calling for Bush to fire the planners of the invasion. Despite the proclamation that ''we achieved a marvelous military victory," Murtha became increasingly frustrated with the chaos of the occupation. This summer, Murtha said administration officials were ''not honest in their assessment" that they were winning the ongoing battle.

Finally, this week, Murtha unleased a scathing attack on Bush's Iraq policy. He called it ''a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." He said he believed military officials when he visited Kuwait just before the war and they showed him where American forces would be attacked by weapons of mass destruction when they approach Baghdad. But now, with no end to the killing in sight, he said, ''The US cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home. . .They have become the enemy."

Murtha talked about soldier after soldier he has visited in hospitals, wounded and maimed by the invasion. Yet, there's more terrorism now than there ever was and it's because of what? Is it because of our policy? I would say it's a big part."

In perhaps the most humble admission of his press conference, Murtha said, ''The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress."

This came the day after Cheney threw mud in the direction of critics who gave Bush his war authorization. Cheney accused them of making ''irresponsible comments." He accused them issuing ''cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to make ''a play for political advantage."

He said, ''The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory -- or their backbone."

This was the same Cheney who gave us some of the greatest falsehoods of this generation with ''There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction . . . We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," and that we would be ''welcomed as liberators."

Murtha clobbered Cheney's words the next day, saying, ''I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

This hawk still soars, above the scrounging chicken hawks.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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