Sunday, November 20, 2005

Murtha on Meet the Press Today

"MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Why did this man, a 16-term congressman, a decorated Vietnam veteran, who spent 37 years in the Marine Corps and who in 2002 voted for the war in Iraq, now change his mind and say this?


REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D-PA): Our military has done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: We will ask him. An exclusive Sunday morning interview with the Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, John Murtha.
MR. RUSSERT: By now the entire world has heard about your speech and proposals to redeploy the troops from Iraq. President Bush this morning in China said, "Your proposal would strengthen the terrorists' hand in Iraq." How do you respond?

REP. MURTHA: Well, Tim, I would hope--I saw he couldn't get out the door there in Beijing. I hoped we'd open the door for him to start a dialogue about how we change the course. We need to change the direction of Iraq. I said a year ago--and you remember me saying this--we can't win this militarily. The military has done everything they can do, so now it's up to the politicians, up to us in Congress. Only we can send people to war and it's up to us to find a way to solve this very difficult problem.

I've got an outpouring of people crying on the phone or looking for a solution to this very difficult problem. So I'm very hopeful that my proposal is something he'll take seriously, that he'll get a few of us to the White House and talk to us about this very difficult problem, which the whole nation wants to solve with a bipartisan manner.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, according to our military experts, there are only 700 Iraqi troops who are fully independent and combat ready. That being the case, if we withdraw our troops quickly from Iraq, won't the Iraqi citizens be overwhelmed by the al-Qaeda and Saddam loyalists? Are the Iraqis capable of defending themselves without the U.S.?

REP. MURTHA: Tim, I'm absolutely convinced that we're making no progress at all, and I've been complaining for two years that there's an overly optimistic--an illusionary process going on here. They keep trying to measure Iraqi troops by our standards. They don't need to meet our standard. And until we turn it over to the Iraqis, we're going to continue to do the fighting. Our young men and women are going to continue to suffer.

I go to the hospitals almost every week. I'm going to go out there again this week, and I see these young people doing the fighting and it's time to turn it over to Iraq. Give them the incentive to do the fighting themselves. They'll have to work this out themselves. This is their country. We've become the enemy. Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out of there. Forty-five percent say it's justified to attack Americans. It's time to change direction.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, this is a profound change in your own thinking. Last year in the epilogue to your paperback book, you wrote this: "A war initiated on faulty intelligence must not be followed by a premature withdrawal of our troops based on a political timetable. An untimely exit could rapidly devolve into a civil war, which would leave America's foreign policy in disarray as countries question not only America's judgment but also its perseverance." And this: "It would be an international disaster I think if we pulled out." Civil war, questioning America's perseverance, international disaster-- why is it any different now than it was a year ago?

REP. MURTHA: I'll tell you why it's different. It's different because there's no progress at all. When I went to Iraq about two months ago, I talked to the commanders. Now, I--the commanders say what they're supposed to say, but I can tell how discouraged they are. And this all started from the illusion it was going to be easy. For instance, in the first stage of it, they didn't have enough troops. You remember they fired General Shinseki because he complained, and then when they didn't have enough troops, they had people in the specialties they weren't supposed to be in. I found 40,000 troops without body armor when I went over the first time. I found unarmored Humvees. I found jammers that they needed and I came back and complained about it. It took us too much time to get that done. So the country got out of control.

So I'm convinced that we have to give the incentives to the Iraqis. We have to redeploy our troops to the periphery, and I've sat down with the former secretary of the Army, four distinguished officers who served in combat, and we've come up with a plan which we think will work. Since we've become the enemy, I don't think it'll work. Since they're attacking our troops and we've destabilized the area, I have changed my mind and have come to the conclusion now is the time to start to redeploy our troops to the periphery and let the Iraqis take over.

MR. RUSSERT: But if we did withdraw quickly, it could result in a civil war or a bloodbath.

REP. MURTHA: Well, I'm not sure of that. At one time I thought that, and at one time I thought Iran would have undue influence. But I tell you something, I've come to the conclusion these Iraqis are very proud people. They can run the country themselves. They've had a history of civilization that goes back much further than ours. And I think we just have to give them the incentive to take it over. They're going to let us do the fighting, as long as we're there, and, until we turn it over to them, they're not going to be up to standard. So I'm convinced that they can take over this battle and we could move our people to the periphery, out of danger. Here's the people being killed. They're--in the logistics, in supporting the troops who are out in the field, they--the convoys are being attacked every single day. And, of course, we lost six people yesterday. The troops don't complain. Members of Congress are the ones that can only send people to war and we have to be the ones to stand up, and we have to have a bipartisan approach to this thing. This can't be Republican and Democrat. It can't be recrimination. We got to work this thing out so that we come up with an equitable solution.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, have you heard privately from people at the Pentagon who are supportive and encouraging of you?

REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's nobody that talks to the people in the Pentagon more than I do. And they publicly--they have to say what the administration--and that's the way it should be. Soldiers in the field--I'll tell you how bad it's gotten in the field. I talk to sergeants who said to me "We're afraid to say anything because we'll stand to be recriminated by our superiors." I know we had a young captain come to see me that was complaining because the Geneva Convention was not being followed. And that's another point.

One of the problems with the lack of troops and the lack of trained troops was they put people into prison that weren't trained, and consequently we had Abu Ghraib. And if you look at the casualties, they have doubled. The incidents went--now we got more troops than we had last year at this time. We had--the incidents were 150 a week last year; there are 700 this year. So the people in the military are--they know that it's not possible to win a military victory. General Casey just said to me in a hearing, he said to the committee, he said, "We've become occupiers and we're looked at this way." And General Abizaid said, "And part of our strategy is to get out." We're going to get out, Tim; there's no question about it. We just have to work out a bipartisan way to let the Iraqis take over their own destiny.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, the response on the House floor was extraordinary. Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio said that she had talked to a state representative in Ohio, also a former Marine, and she relayed the following message. Let's watch.

(Videotape, November 18, 2005):

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT, (R-OH): He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body...

Unidentified Man: Gentlemen...

REP. SCHMIDT: ...that we will see this through.

Unidentified Man: The House will...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, when you heard those words, "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," how did you feel?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I really wasn't on the floor when that happened. And I try to not put this in a personal basis, and I would hope the people would take this suggestion as a responsible recommendation, and then read the resolution that I put forward, redeploy the troops on the periphery as quickly as within the safety of the troops. You know, this is a new member, and sometimes they give her something to say that--they get out of hand. I try not to take this stuff personal.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Congressman, Jeff Davis of Kentucky said you were emboldening our enemies. The speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and the White House press secretary both said this is "surrendering to the terrorists," and on Wednesday night the vice president of the United States, speaking about criticism about prewar intelligence, had this to say about members of Congress.

(Videotape, November 16, 2005):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone. But we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: "Losing your memory or your backbone." What would you say to the vice president?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I tell you, Cheney's a friend of mine. We work very closely together. He was a good secretary of Defense, but he's wrong. They should have fired people. The president should be furious with this--the people that work for him giving him bad intelligence. We spend more on intelligence than any country in the world. We spend more on intelligence than the whole world spends together and our intelligence was wrong. There's no question we're going in the wrong direction and we're not winning. The incidents have increased and the economic indicators--oil, which was supposed to pay for all of this, is below prewar levels. There's nothing that's happening that shows any sign of success.

And the biggest problem is this illusion that--I remember going to Iraq a month or so after the invasion when they said it was all over. And one of the members said to Ambassador Bremer, "What do you think about this cleric named Sistani?" And he turned to his expert, and you know what she said? She said, "Oh, he's just a minor cleric." Now, two weeks later that guy had 100,000 people in the street. That's the kind of information they were acting on. They've been overly optimistic and illusionary about their policy. We got to--this is not a war of words, this is a real war where people are getting killed. Fifteen thousand people have been wounded, and half of them are desperately wounded, blinded, without their arms.

I mean, it breaks my heart when I go out there and see these kids. I see wives who can't look at their husbands because they've been so disfigured. I saw a young fella that was paralyzed from the neck down and his three children were standing there crying with his wife and his mother. So this is a real war, which--we have to find a solution. We--and since there's no progress, we've got to find a way to let the Iraqis take over.

MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said he's given the troops, the commanders on the ground, everything they've requested, including troop levels.

REP. MURTHA: Tim, Tim, come on. They fired Shinseki when he said they needed 200,000 troops. They had 44,000 shortage of armored vests. They had no--one brigade had one jammer in it. They had no--I mean, that's what the troops told me. I came back and they started to come up with that stuff. People had to buy their own armor. I mean, we had a young fella, and this is a tragic story. He's blinded and lost his foot. Walter Reed did everything and they're doing a marvelous job rehabilitating people there. But they put him out in the early stages of the war, and he went home and nobody was home. His father was in jail and there was nobody at home, he was by himself. But they sent him to John Hopkins to see--maybe he could see because they're one of the best in the world. They started sending him bills. And then they sent a collection agency. Well, you know, we obviously got that worked out. But the point I'm making is this has been mishandled and we should be firing people and going in another direction.

MR. RUSSERT: Should...

REP. MURTHA: The troops did not have what they needed. And...

MR. RUSSERT: Excuse me, sir. Should the president fire secretary of Defense Rumsfeld?

REP. MURTHA: Well, he's got to decide who he fires. I mean, he's got to make up his mind about who he fires. I recommend that Wolfowitz ought to be fired a long time ago because he was a professor, not an administrator and of course, they promoted him to the World Bank. But, you know, I'm convinced that the people--I have never seen such an outpouring in the 32 years I've been in Congress, of support and people with tears in their eyes, people walking along clapping when I'm walking through the halls of Congress, saying something needed to be said. So they're thirsting for a solution to this and the president can't hide behind rhetoric and neither can the vice president.

And members--Republican members of Congress can't say because I'm a Democrat--I led the fight to go to war in '91 with President Bush I. He knew what he was doing. But $60 billion was paid by our allies and we had a coalition, a real coalition of forces and he had an exit strategy and he didn't go into Iraq. And why didn't he go into Iraq? Because he said, "I don't want to occupy it. I don't want to reconstruct it." And he knew what he was doing. He was a an experienced president. He's got to get some experienced people to give him some advice and ask for some bipartisan support. President Bush I did this continually. He asked--he didn't like what we said sometimes but he listened to what we were saying.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you straight, do you have confidence in Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I'll put it this way: There have been an awful lot of mistakes made, and I don't know whether it's his fault, but when he forced the military--now this is what I hear from the military. He forced them to go in with inadequate forces. Then he thought we were going to be able to go through Turkey. You remember we had the best division, the most technologically advanced division, sitting off Turkey. And so, fortunately, we had enough troops to get through. But then for the transition where he completely miscalculated the transition--and so the president has to look at that and--and then Abu Ghraib. They had inexperienced people without super vision in Abu Ghraib and that caused us--that's when the tide turned. The casualties have gone from one a day to two a day to the last month, four a day casualties, and that's happened because you got to win the hearts and minds of the people. We are not winning the hearts and minds of the people. Even the military operations, Tim, when we throw people out of their homes, cause us tremendous problems. Inadvertently, that's the way that the military operates.
MR. RUSSERT: The Democrats have been somewhat tepid in their response to you, however. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House, said, "I think that Mr. Murtha speaks for himself..." Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate: "I don't support immediate withdrawal." John Kerry, the Democratic standard-bearer in 2004: "I respectfully disagree with John Murtha." So you have some work to do with your own party.

REP. MURTHA: Well, it's not--this is not a party issue, Tim. This is something that I'm offering as an individual, and it's only been out there for two or three days. Let me predict this: We're going to be out of there, we're going to be out of there very quickly, and it's going to be close to the plan that I'm presenting right now.

MR. RUSSERT: You think we'll be out of Iraq by the end of 2006?

REP. MURTHA: I think we'll be out of there; if not completely out of there, we'll be very close to being out of there. I think we could be out--yeah, I predict we'll be out of there--it'll be 2006.

MR. RUSSERT: By Election Day 2006?

REP. MURTHA: You--you have hit it on the head.

MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, do you now believe your vote for the war in Iraq in 2002 was a mistake?

REP. MURTHA: Obviously, it was a mistake. I mean, all of us were misled by the information that we had. I remember going to Iraq right before--or going to Kuwait right before the war started, and they drew a line, a red line, around Baghdad, and they said, "They're going to attack us with weapons of mass destruction." I believed that, and so did the military, and they thought they could put up with that. But when they didn't use those weapons of mass destruction, when we didn't find them, and they kept saying "We're going to find them" till the very end, I knew we had made a mistake. We have increased terrorism in the Middle East, is what we've done.

MR. RUSSERT: Well...

REP. MURTHA: And since we're the target, we've increased instability in the Middle East. So the only way to do this is redeploy our forces outside and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.

MR. RUSSERT: Last question: Was the intelligence provided by the administration deliberately misleading?

REP. MURTHA: I wouldn't say that. I don't think any president would mislead the public on the intelligence. They certainly exaggerated, but I don't think they deliberately misled us.

MR. RUSSERT: How has your life changed in the last 72 hours?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I would say--you know, people said when I said this it would be an earth- shaking event. I didn't believe it, but it's not me. It's the public that's thirsting for an answer to this thing. They want us to solve this problem. They don't recriminations. They don't want a war of words. This is a real war where people are being hurt, and they want a solution to this very difficult problem.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman John Murtha, we thank you for sharing your views, and have a good Thanksgiving.

REP. MURTHA: Thanks, Tim. Nice talking to you."-from MSNBC. Here's some video from Crooks and Liars. Not surprisingly, Murtha is The Talk of the Town on Kos.

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