MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, March 19, 2003: The war in Iraq
begins with shock and awe. Exactly three years later, millions have voted in free elections and a parliament have been seated. But 2,300 Americans have been killed, more than 17,000 wounded and injured. The war is costing $150 million dollars a day and there are still 130,000 Americans on the ground. Where do we go from here? With us: the top American commander in Iraq, General George Casey.
Then, an outspoken critic of the war.
REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D-Pa.): This is flawed policy wrapped in illusion.
MR. RUSSERT: Joining us, Congressman John Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania.
But first, on Thursday, north of Baghdad, the military launched an air assault called Operation Swarmer, as seen here in this Department of Defense video. With us, the senior U.S. commander there in Iraq, General George Casey.
General, good morning and welcome. What can you tell us about Operation Swarmer?
GEN. GEORGE CASEY: Well, good morning, Tim. Operation Swarmer is one of a series of ongoing operations that we have to keep the pressure on al-Qaida and to keep foreign fighters and Iraqis that are supporting them from forming safe havens in lesser inhabited areas of Iraq. This operation was put together with the Iraqi security forces; it continues to this day. They’ve had pretty good success there in terms of weapons caches that they’ve found and people that they’ve, they’ve detained. So again, one of a continuing series of operations that we will continue to run here to keep the pressure on al-Qaida.
MR. RUSSERT: Time magazine is running an article written by a journalist over there in Iraq, and the headline is: “How operation Swarmer Fizzled. Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing.” Is that an accurate appraisal?
GEN. CASEY: I haven’t seen the article, Tim. I don’t think it’s an accurate appraisal. They actually have picked up one or two of the high-value folks that they were, that they were looking for. But again, this will—this operation here will have a very disruptive effect on the terrorist and insurgent groups that were attempting to use that area there as a safe haven and base area from which to plan and operate.
MR. RUSSERT: Will there be any more major combat operations in Iraq?
GEN. CASEY: It’s hard to say, Tim. And I take by “major combat operations,” you’re talking along the lines that we saw in Fallujah, for example. And I will tell you that we really haven’t seen anything the size or scope of Fallujah since then. Probably the next closest operation was the operation that we conducted up in, up in Tal Afar here in September. So it really depends on where the enemy goes and whether they mass to meet us. And I think what we’ve seen is after their sound defeat by the coalition forces in Fallujah, they’ve learned that they cannot gather together in large groupings or they pay the consequences.
MR. RUSSERT: I think what’s of concern to the American people is that we see what happened in Fallujah, we watch Operation Swarmer, and people remember that almost three years ago, the president assured the nation that all major combat operations in Iraq were—have ended.
(Videotape, May 1, 2003):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s just not the case, is it?
GEN. CASEY: Tim, I, I wouldn’t categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation. It was an operation to go out into a almost uninhabited area. So it was certainly nothing like the operation in Fallujah. I think, frankly, it got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there. It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was.
MR. RUSSERT: But you do not rule out major combat operations in the future?
GEN. CASEY: Tim, we—the enemy has a vote here, and we will take the fight—we and the Iraqi security forces—will continue to take the fight to the enemy wherever he goes. And if he is dumb enough to mass again like he, like he did in Fallujah, then, you know, he’ll have to bear the consequences.
MR. RUSSERT: People are quite interested in getting a reality check of what is happening on the ground in Iraq. Do you believe that there has been positive progress with the political process, including the Sunnis, and has there been positive progress in training the Iraqi troops?
GEN. CASEY: Tim, my answer to both those questions is yes. And I think people need to, to put this in a little bit more perspective and not think so much about what they’ve seen on television over the last three weeks, and think about what’s been going on here over the last three years. When I’ve been thinking about this, you know, three years ago, Saddam Hussein was still in charge of Iraq. Today, he’s on trial and he will be held accountable by the Iraqi people and the leaders of the new Iraq are sitting down and meeting and discussing how they’re going to institute a form of government that will respect the human rights and all the rights of all the different ethnic and sectarian groups here in Iraq. And they have gone through three national polls in a year and in each one, the levels of participation increased, the levels of violence decreased, and each time the terrorists and the foreign fighters—the same groups that are trying to foment sectarian strife right now—failed to stop the election, the referendum and the, and the election in December.
Now to your question on the Iraqi security forces. We, we continue to make great progress with the Iraqi security forces. I think General Chiarelli—just came back, he was gone for a little less than a year—and he said, he remarked the other day that when he left, there was one Iraqi brigade and two Iraqi battalions that were actually in charge of areas of Iraq and in the lead. Today, Tim, there are two Iraqi divisions, 13 Iraqi brigades and almost 60 Iraqi army and special police battalions that are in charge, in the lead, occupying in battle space and conducting counterinsurgency operations across Iraq. And I will tell you that their performance in this period after the, the bombing of the Samarra Mosque in, on the 22nd, has been generally very good. Not uniformly good, we did have some problems with the police and in their relationships with the militia, but it was the Iraqi military and the police that were the dominant force, forces on the ground here in the—supported by the coalition in the aftermath of this Samarra bombing. So, yes we’re making good political progress and yes, we continue to make good progress with the Iraqi security forces.
MR. RUSSERT: That being the case, general, I want to take you back to something you said almost exactly a year ago. “By this time next year - you know, you base all of your planning on assumptions. Assuming that the political process continues to go positively, and the Sunni are included in the political process, and the Iraqi army continues to progress and develop as we think it will, we should be able to take some fairly substantial reductions in the size of our forces.” So you said the process is positive, the troop development is positive. Has been, this is a year ago, and you said therefore we could reduce our troop levels.
GEN. CASEY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: That has not happened. So what is the problem?
GEN. CASEY: It has happened, Tim. We—right after—right before Christmas we off-ramped two brigades. We did not, we chose not to bring two additional brigades into Iraq, and our, our forces are 7,000 to 10,000 less as a result of that. And so we have started that process. And that process is a process that—again, go back to your base assumptions, as long as those two things continue to hold—that process is going to continue, I expect through 2006 and into 2007. So the process has begun.
MR. RUSSERT: So when you say substantial reductions, you’re talking 10,000, 15,000 troops?
GEN. CASEY: I use the world “fairly substantial.” I don’t think we’re done it and I didn’t put a time, time frame on it. But we, we’ve made one, one decision and as—when we announce that decision, what I said was that I would review the situation periodically and I’d make recommendations to the secretary of defense and to the president on what I need here to get my job done. And I do expect, again, assumptions holding, that we will continue this process through 2006.
MR. RUSSERT: Former Prime Minister Allawi said yesterday that Iraq is in civil war. Is he correct?
GEN. CASEY: The prime minister’s been out of, the former prime minister’s been out of the country, Tim. I haven’t talked to him about the security situation in, in a while, frankly. But I don’t, I don’t think he’s correct. As you can imagine, we look at this very closely, and I, I do not believe, one, that we are in a civil war right now; two, nor do I believe that a civil war is imminent or necessarily inevitable.
Now, is the situation here fragile because of the increased tensions and sectarian tensions and increased levels of violence that are sectarian—of a sectarian nature and because of the forming of the government? That’s absolutely right and I don’t want to, I don’t want to sugar-coat it, the situation here is fragile and I suspect it will remain fragile here until we get a new government, a government of national unity formed. But I don’t think—and that is—I said publicly previously, I don’t think we’re at, at the point of civil war yet.
MR. RUSSERT: But you also said, General, when asked whether or not Iraq could fall into civil war, “Anything can happen.” You still have that view?
GEN. CASEY: Sure, Tim. I mean, we’re, we’re at war here, and in war anything can happen. And so while there’s always a possibility of that. Again, I don’t, I don’t see it happening certainly anytime, anytime in, in the near term here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the Los Angeles Times. “The top U.S. envoy to Iraq said that the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime had opened a ‘Pandora’s box’ of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions that could engulf the region in all-out war if America pulled out of the country too soon. In remarks that were among the frankest and bleakest public assessments of the Iraq situation by a high-level American official, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the ‘potential is there’ for sectarian violence to become full-blown civil war.” Seems to be quite blunt.
GEN. CASEY: I think, I think it’s right, but I think it’s pretty much the same thing I said. Certainly there is, there is sectarian violence and tensions here in Iraq, and anything is possible. And, and so I, I think we’re both, we’re both saying the same thing. The, the other thing, I think it’s clear that, as, as I mentioned, the leaders of Iraq are now discussing how to form a government that will represent the interests and, and rights of all the different ethnic and sectarian groups in Iraq. And that’s something they haven’t had to do before. It’s something that, for 35 years under Saddam Hussein, he ran the show. And so they’re, they’re wrestling with some pretty difficult issues that, that I’m—my sense is that they will resolve, but it’s just going to take some time.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday, “President Bush vowed for the first time to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year, setting a specific benchmark as he kicked off a fresh drive to reassure Americans alarmed by the recent burst of sectarian violence. ... As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006.”
When the Democrats suggested last year setting a timetable, the president and others said that would send the wrong message to the enemy. Why have things changed?
GEN. CASEY: Tim, I don’t, I don’t see what the president said about passing off parts of Iraq to the Iraqi security forces as a timetable. What the president said has, has been our strategy all along. And what we’re starting to see now as these forces develop and we, we start getting our monthly assessment, and we continue to get our monthly assessments into their progress, they are getting more and more capable. And for example, I would estimate that, that three quarters of the Iraqi army brigades would be capable of assuming the lead in, in an area of Iraq by the end of the summer. And I think probably eight of 10 of the Iraqi divisions, army divisions, will be there by end of the year. And, and we have shifted some resources and some focus to the police so that we can enhance the capabilities of the local police. So you have Iraqi local police backed up by Iraqi national police and Iraqi army forces that will be responsible for maintaining domestic order and denying Iraq for a safe haven for terror. That’s always been the strategy. I think he’s putting a, a, a benchmark out there for us—and it certainly is a very achievable benchmark—but I don’t see it as a timetable at all.
MR. RUSSERT: Well—but the whole purpose of turning over the territory to the Iraqis is so that American troops can go home, correct?
GEN. CASEY: It is, Tim, but I think it’s, it’s very—it’s important here that we understand the distinction. When we put them in the lead, they are in the lead with—still with our transition team, teams, and still with some enabling support from us—medical evacuation, some, some logistical support for a period of time, intelligence, indirect fire support, those, those types of things. So, so they’re not to the point where they are completely independent and completely able to conduct the counterinsurgency operations by themselves. We still will provide them some level of support as they’re doing this. And so what you will see is a gradual reduction in the coalition forces as the Iraqi security forces take more and more of the security responsibilities.
MR. RUSSERT: General, in November of 2005, you said this: “What the Iraqis need is time. They need a few more years to work through their differences. Our presence here gives them that time. It’s the gradual nature of this that will allow the process to stay on track and not degenerate.” In all honesty, it will take several more years of major American presence in order for this to happen, correct?
GEN. CASEY: It, it depends how you define major American presence. I see a couple more years of this, with a gradually reducing coalition presence here in Iraq as, as I said, as the Iraqi security forces step forward. What the, the long term nature of our presence here might be is a subject for a discussion with the new government of Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: When the war was being planned, it was thought that Americans could go into Iraq, change the government and largely get out. A new book, “Cobra II,” says that in April of 2003, General Tommy Franks said to draw up plans to have just 30,000 American troops on the ground at the end of 2003. Did you ever imagine that three years into the war there would still be 130,000 Americans on the ground after sustaining 2300 American deaths and 17,000 American injuries?
GEN. CASEY: Did I ever imagine? I, I certainly couldn’t come up with a number of 130,000, but did I think that there would be a fairly substantial U.S. presence here for a period of time after the war ended? I have some experience in Bosnia, in the, in Kosovo, and my sense was that we would be here in a fairly good number for a period of time. But I, I wouldn’t want to—I couldn’t put a specific number on it for you.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you imagine that the insurgency would be as bloody and robust as it is?
GEN. CASEY: My, my general sense, Tim, is, is probably it—I did not think it would be as, as robust as it has been. And it’s something that obviously, with my time here on the ground, my thinking on that has gained much greater clarity and insight.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the insurgency is in its last throes, on its last legs?
GEN. CASEY: We’re seeing some interesting shifts in the insurgency, Tim. And there seems to be a greater willingness to come forward and talk about things, and talk about how they may want to work with the Iraqis to start building down this insurgency. And so I, I think that we, we will continue to make progress here with the insurgency over the course of, of this year.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re having negotiations with the insurgents?
GEN. CASEY: No, I said we are, we are seeing people coming forward and being more willing to talk. I’m, I’m not negotiating with any insurgents.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re having conversations with the insurgents?
GEN. CASEY: I’m, I’m not having any conversations with insurgents, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Then who are they talking to?
GEN. CASEY: They’re talking to political folks, people who, who talk to us, and passing messages.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you some polling data before you go about the American people’s attitudes towards Iraq, and get your sense there on the ground in Iraq. When asked whether U.S. troops in Iraq should maintain current level, 31 percent say yes; reduce the number, 61 percent. When asked whether there’ll be a successful conclusion on the war in Iraq, 32 percent say they are more confident that’ll be the case; 57 percent say they are less confident. And when asked whether the war in Iraq strengthened U.S. standing as a world leader, 28 percent say yes, but 50 percent say it has, the war has weakened U.S. standing as a world leader. As someone on the ground in Iraq, seeing those attitudes back home, what do you do about it? What do you think about it?
GEN. CASEY: Obviously, that’s not the way we feel here on the ground in Iraq. I do believe that we will be successful here. I do believe that when we are successful here, Iraq will emerge as a safe country here in the region that will deny itself as a, as a base for terrorism. I believe the region will be safer and I believe the United States of America will be safer when we succeed here, and we will.
I’ll tell you, just those, those numbers, I believe, come from perceptions of what they see on the ground here. And that’s—it’s a difficult nut to crack. Last week, I went out and drove around Baghdad for three hours, just to get my own sense of what’s, what the people of Baghdad were feeling. There’s a lot of bustle here, Tim, in Baghdad. There’s a lot of economic activity, storefronts crowded, goods stacked up on the street. And, and the traffic cops are wearing white shirts and neckties, not armored vests. So there’s a lot here that I don’t think people back in the United States get to see. And it’s, it’s probably difficult for them to feel the optimists—optimism that myself and my subordinate leaders and my members of the armed forces feel about the possibilities here in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you continue to conduct a war without the support of the American people?
GEN. CASEY: Well, that’s—obviously, Tim, that’s a, that’s a political judgment there. I think the president spoke Monday and was very, very straightforward in his commitment to the success of this mission. And we, we find that here very heartening.
MR. RUSSERT: General George Casey, we wish the very best for you and for the very brave men and women on the ground there in Iraq.
GEN. CASEY: Tim, thank you very much. Nice to talk to you.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you, sir.
Coming next, another view from an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq: Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He is here next on MEET THE PRESS, marking the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: The views of Democratic war critic Congressman John Murtha after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Congressman John Murtha, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D-Pa.): Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in today’s Washington Post has written an article, “What We’ve Gained in Three Years in Iraq.” What do you, John Murtha, believe we have gained after three years in Iraq?
REP. MURTHA: Well, let me say first, Tim, this is President Bush’s war. When he went into the war, he, he went against the advice of his father and the whole administration. He went against the advice of many of his military commanders. He went in without—with inadequate force for the transition to peace and then he had no exit strategy, so it’s their war. And what, what they’re trying to do is paint it as if there’s progress in order to be able to get out. What I see is not enough electricity, only 10 hours a day. I see not enough water, only 30 percent of the people have clean water. I, I see inadequate oil production. All those things were supposed to be part of, of getting this war under control. They have mishandled it, mischaracterized it.
Now, for instance, they said not long we’re going to have 75 percent of the country controlled by Iraqis. Well, I, I flew for an hour and 15 minutes over desert, wasn’t a soul—and that’s, that’s the territory I guess they’re talking about because in the Sunni Triangle, which is 40 percent of, of the country, the incidents have increased, unemployment’s 60 percent; in Anbar Province, the province that I visited, unemployment is 90 percent. So I don’t see the progress that they’re portraying and I don’t understand how they can continue to say that and the American public understands that and we understand it.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary Rumsfeld in his article says this: “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”
REP. MURTHA: Let me, let me tell you how they mischaracterize these kinds of things. For instance, we’re caught in a civil war. What, however you want to look at it, first of all, they said there was no insurgency. Then they said it’s not a civil war. It is a civil war. Twenty-five thousand insurgents are fighting with each other inside the country for supremacy. That’s the definition of a civil war. There’s less than a thousand al-Qaida. And when he says turning it over to al-Qaida—and that’s what he means, he, he’s inferring it’ll be turned over to al-Qaida—I don’t believe that for a minute. The Iraqis will get rid of al-Qaida the minute that we get out of there. And 60 percent of the people in Iraq belive the sooner we get out, the more stable Iraq will be, and that’s what all of us want.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the president made some fundamental misjudgments about Iraq?
REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
REP. MURTHA: First of all, the intelligence that, that he used and mischaracterized got us into war. There was no threat to our national security. And then they didn’t have near enough troops to get it under control afterwards. The transition to peace—and they disbanded the army, all those mistakes were made.
And now, now let’s look at it politically, let’s look right today politically, OK? They supported Chalabi, you know, that’s the Defense Department, that’s their great, great guy. He got 1 percent of the vote. Allawi, which all of us think is a good guy, but that’s not the point, he got 8 percent of the vote. They have made mistake after mistake militarily and politically, and they’re trying to blame the military for their mistakes.
MR. RUSSERT: All that being said, John Murtha has also gone through an evolution in his thinking.
REP. MURTHA: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: You voted for the war, and two years ago in your book you wrote this, congressman: “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.”
REP. MURTHA: Yeah. And, and I absolutely believed that at the time. And I suggested to the president at the time we should have 500,000 troops there. I suggest—a number of us wrote to the president, said, “We need 500,000 troops.” But as it evolved, I saw that, that there was no chance of this happening.
For instance, I’ll give you an example: In, in 1967, I came back from Vietnam. There was an election in Vietnam right after that, and the president of the United States said, “This is it, we legitimized the government. From now on, the, the Vietnamese can take it with their own government.” We lost 38,000 people after that. When I look at that experience, then I look at the mistakes and the mishandling and the mischaracterizations in this war, I changed my mind. I said to myself, “There’s no, there’s no way—six years from now, we could still be there, lose a lot of troops.” The, the troops themselves don’t understand what their mission is, the people in the periphery say we ought to be out of there, we’ve lost international support. At some point, you have to change direction. What I’m saying is we need to redeploy our troops because they’re caught in a civil war.
When I visit the hospitals and see these young people who’ve been damaged so badly, and for 8500 of them will not be returned to duty, I realize that, that we need to change course. And that—so I changed my mind, I said to myself, “This, this is a terrible, tragic thing. This is the president’s war and he’s got to change his mind. We’ve got to reduce our—redeploy our troops out of there.” They can go back in anytime they have to, but, but there’s no reason for them to be caught in--10,000 IEDs, and this is part of the problem that we have.
MR. RUSSERT: So your vote for the war was a mistake?
REP. MURTHA: It was a mistake. It was a bad mistake. And, and most of us believed that—and the first war with—the ‘91 war, I led the fight to go to war. President Bush understood, “I’m not going to go into Iraq.” He got a coalition together, the coalition paid for the war, and, and everything worked out as the way it should have worked out. We’d have lost that coalition if he’d gone into Iraq. He said, “I want a reconstruction—I want to rebuild it.”
Now, this, this president, we thought, “OK, we continue an inspection process, we give him a club.” And, and I, I believed we had a threat to our national security. When I found out we didn’t have a threat to our national security, we violated one of the principles I’ve always adhered to: You’ve got to have a national threat to our security before you go to war; then you’ve got to have overwhelming force, which we didn’t have; and then second, you’ve got to—third, you’ve got to have an exit strategy. We violated all those principles. So we have gotten to the point where we lost the hearts and minds of the people--80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there, 47 percent say it’s OK to kill Americans. When it comes to that stage, it’s time for us to give them the incentive to take over their own country.
MR. RUSSERT: Professor Victor Davis Hanson write in the National Review, “Especially troubling are those who even before 9/11 demanded that President Clinton or Bush remove Saddam Hussein, but now consider such a move an abject blunder of the first order. Their advocacy helped us get in when there were dubious reasons to go, and their vehement criticism may well get us out when there are now better reasons to stay until Iraq is secure.” Is that you?
REP. MURTHA: Well, well, I, I, I, I, I take a lot of criticism. They usually don’t use my name, but they usually direct their criticisms to me. But, but, but the point is, there’s a time when you have to change direction, and this is the time to change direction. There’s no purpose. Even General Casey, who we just saw, said we’re occupiers, and that’s part of the problem. General Abizaid said part of our strategy is to withdraw from Iraq. Everybody realizes that we’re occupiers, we’re, we’re unifying them.
You know who wants us in Iraq, Tim? Iran wants us in Iraq, China wants us in Iraq, al-Qaida wants us in Iraq. Why? Because of our human resources that are being, being hurt so badly, and our financial resources. We will have spent $450 billion dollars in the war in Iraq and, and Afghanistan by the end of this year. And, and Afghanistan’s starting to slip because of the poppy-growing and because of the drug-growing. So we have diverted ourself away from terrorism by, by getting involved in a civil war. We made a mistake in trying to topple Saddam Hussein, and, and that—we should not go into a war unless it’s absolutely threatened our national security.
MR. RUSSERT: Would the world be safer with Saddam still there?
REP. MURTHA: The world would be safer if we kept him under control as we were keeping him under control all during the Clinton administration. And, and to use that as an excuse to go to war, we got, we got dictators in North Korea, we got dictators in, in a lot of different countries in, in parts of Africa. We can’t police the world, and we can’t nation build anymore. We cannot afford to do that. We discredit ourself and we destroy our credibility and our resources trying to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: When did you first write the president about your misgivings?
REP. MURTHA: Well, it was two and a half years ago I wrote to him, and I said, “Mr. President, you only have a few months to get things straightened out. We need more troops over there and, and you need to train the Iraqis sooner. You, you need to energize,” meaning you need to start the process of getting people working, “and, and you need to internationalize. You need to go to, to the other countries and get them to support us.” Seven months later, I got a reply back from the assistant secretary of defense. Now that’s frustrating that, that I would get an answer back that long. The last letter I sent to him, saying that I was disappointed in, in what was going on, two weeks later I got a letter back from another assistant secretary of defense.
So, so I’m, I’m disappointed the way this war has been run, I, I—the biggest thing is the rhetoric. They keep saying we’re going, we’re going to have victory, we’re going to stay for the end. It’s, it’s open-ended. They can’t be open-ended. We have to give the Iraqis the incentive. They met the other day for a half-hour. I, I mean you got to say to them, “OK, Iraqis, this is your country, you got your elections, you didn’t elect the people we like but you elected who you want. What—you’ve got to take over your country.”
MR. RUSSERT: The president picks up the phone and calls you up, and says “Jack, come on down. You voted for this war, you now think it was a mistake, but we’re in a fix. And if I get out right away, we could leave behind a civil war, we could leave behind a haven for terrorism. Tell me specifically Mr. Murtha, what should I do today?”
REP. MURTHA: Here, here’s what you should do, Mr. President. First of all, you should fire all the people who are responsible for that, which gives you international credibility.
MR. RUSSERT: Including his secretary of defense?
REP. MURTHA: Well, he, he should—well, let’s say he should offer his resignation, because he certainly...
MR. RUSSERT: And it’s sure to be accepted?
REP. MURTHA: I would accept it, that’s exactly right.
MR. RUSSERT: What about the vice president?
REP. MURTHA: Well, you can’t fire the vice president, so I think he’ll, he’ll have to handle this himself.
MR. RUSSERT: Should he offer his resignation?
REP. MURTHA: Yeah. Well, certainly the vice president has been the primary force in running, running this war, and many of the mischaracterizations have come about. You and I talked before the show about some of the things he said on your show, right before the war started. None of them turned out to be true. This is why the American public is so upset.
OK, I say fire some people, that’s the first thing.
MR. RUSSERT: Who should he fire?
REP. MURTHA: Well, he, he, he’s got to make that decision himself. Anybody that’s been responsible, first of all, for the intelligence-gathering; second of all, for the characterization; and third of all, for the maintaining and running the war. For instance, from the national security office down to the secretary of defense’s office. I mean he’s got to make that decision.
But then, then, then we go to, to how do we get our troops out of there? You redeploy to the periphery so that we, if we have to, we can go back in. The terrorism—there was no terrorism in Iraq before we went there. None. There was no connection with al-Qaida, there was no connection with, with terrorism in Iraq itself. So we went in and they keep saying terrorism, and, and we’re diverting ourself away from terrorism. That’s the thing that probably worries me the most.
Mr. President, let’s go back to fighting the war on terrorism. Let, let’s reduce our presence in Iraq, let’s start to rebuild the Army, because the Army’s broken as far as I’m concerned. And the military commanders know this.
I talk to the military commanders all the time. I know what’s going on in the military. And, and most of the military in Iraq, 70 percent of our troops say we want out of there, and 42 percent say they don’t know what their mission is for heaven’s sake.
MR. RUSSERT: Does the Pentagon support what you’re saying?
REP. MURTHA: Well, the Pentagon doesn’t support it publicly, obviously, because of what happened to General Shinseki.
MR. RUSSERT: Have they told you privately?
REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, so many of them have said, “Keep saying the truth, keep telling the truth.” All kinds of military commanders have said that to—they know. They don’t even have to tell me.
And the troops in the field are the ones that I feel so confident—I go to the hospitals, I see—I saw this one young fellow the other day who had been in a coma for almost a year, and his mother’s sitting beside him, and I thought of the long-lasting impact on these, these young people who have been involved in this war and how it’ll impact at least 8500 of them, and, and emotionally maybe 50,000 of these troops will be affected. So the price of this war has been very high, and, and we’ve gotten to a point where there’s no alternative.
At first, if we’d acted quickly—it’s just like Katrina. If he’d have acted quickly, he’d have made some progress. If he’d have kept the, the military, the Sunni military there, he, he had been all right to get it under control. But when he didn’t do that, he lost control. We, we weren’t liberators anymore, we became occupiers, and so 80 percent of the people want us out of there. That, that’s the simple answer.
MR. RUSSERT: The administration will say yes, maybe there’s no direct link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, but there were contacts between the Iraqis and al-Qaida.
REP. MURTHA: Oh, well, come on. I mean, that, that’s just an excuse to try to justify the war. They’ve changed their position six times on, on this war, why we went to war, and the public’s not buying it any longer. The public doesn’t want rhetoric. They want this president to go back to the White House, they want this president to sit down with the leaders of the world and the leaders in the United States, some of the former commanders, not call the secretaries of defense—and you know, after I made my statement, they called in 13 or 14 former secretaries of defense and, and, and state and so forth. They gave them each a minute or two to talk to them. That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve got to get some people in that know what they’re talking about and let them get some advice privately about what’s going on and what should be done. They’ve got thousands of people in the White House, hundreds of thousands of people in the Pentagon. In the Congress, we’ve got a small staff where we have an obligation if we disagree with the president—my, my obligation is not to the president of the United States. My obligation is to the public, my obligation is to the Constitution and to the country and to the troops.
MR. RUSSERT: If we got out quickly and left behind a blood bath, what would we do? Just watch the slaughter?
REP. MURTHA: Look, what, what happens if we stay there? Let, let me tell you, a year from now, just like I said when I got—when I came back from Vietnam. A month later—now imagine this—a month later they have an election and, and we lose 38,000 people seven years later. I mean, the six-year interim, interim period between 1967 and 1972 we lose 38,000 people. So a year from now, you can be sit—you’ve heard what they’ve said, over and over again, how well it’s going. Incidents have increased, unemployment is 60 percent, oil production—all the things that I measure. When they say on, on the television or send us a letter telling us how well things are going, I said to the staff, go look at the economics statistics, tell me what the unemployment level, tell me the water production, tell me the oil production, tell me the electricity production, tell me the unemployment figures, and then we’ll know whether we’re making progress. Tell me the incidents. I mean, they—their measurement of the brigades is back and forth. They’ll say the brigades one month is 90 people, now there’s less than one brigade that can operate independently.
Let’s take Operation Swarmer. Now, they said a lot of Iraqis, more than half of them were Iraqis. American helicopters, American planning, American logistics, American artillery, American medical evacuation—everything was American. I mean, they don’t—the American people see it. They see these American helicopters. Do you think they fool the Americans when they say that? And one of the commanders said 75 percent of the country is going to be under control of the Iraqis and 75 percent of it is desert? I mean, give me a break. That’s part of the problem.
MR. RUSSERT: Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican Party, gave a speech last week, and this is what he said: “And do these Democrat leaders really think we would be safer by cutting and running in Iraq? Of course, they don’t call it cutting and running. They call it, ‘strategic redeployment,’” talking about your phrase. “The Democrats are great at this game. Before it was ‘strategic redeployment,’ it was ‘exit strategy.’ ... Would you buy a used car from this party? They say one thing come election time, but their records show that they mean—and will do—another. They were for the Iraq war before they were against it.”
REP. MURTHA: The majority of Democrats voted against the Iraq war.
MR. RUSSERT: In the House, but not in the Senate.
REP. MURTHA: In the House, in the House, 120 voted against it. But now, the, the, the problem is, that doesn’t win the war. That, that’s what happens. Every time—when I spoke out, the American public was for this war when I first spoke out. The majority of the public was for it. They were ahead of us, but, but they began to recognize this was rhetoric. You can’t win this with rhetoric. What the Republican chairman has no impact on me or anybody else as far as I’m concerned. This should not be political. When I go by the graveyard over there at Arlington, it doesn’t say Democrat or Republican, it says American. When I look at the graveyards, the veterans graveyards all over the world, it doesn’t say Democrat or Republican, it says American. That’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at the mission for America, trying to get our troops redeployed so that they can live a normal life.
MR. RUSSERT: David Ignatius of The Washington Post has written a few columns from Iraq and here’s his latest. “There has been so much bad news out of Iraq lately that you have to pinch yourself when good things seem to be happening. But there are unmistakable signs here this week that Iraq’s political leaders are taking the first tentative steps toward forming a broad government of national unity that could reverse the country’s downward slide. ... For a change, pessimism isn’t necessarily the right bet for Iraq.” What if we got out quickly, prematurely, and in fact, you were wrong. The Iraqis did get it together and by the end of this year, had a national government, had a robust military, was able to take on the insurgency, and emerged as a forceful democracy?
REP. MURTHA: Tim, I haven’t been wrong yet. I, I put—take that back, when I voted for this war I was wrong. After that, I recognized I had to make a change in direction. I had, I had to make some, some strategic and tactical decisions which were entirely contrary to the way I normally operate. Normally, behind the scenes, you can get these kind of things straightened out. But when you have an, an administration that’s so isolated, insulated from the public, insulated from reality—this is not a rhetorical war, you have to make progress, and none of the things that I measure are progress. So our troops are caught in a civil war. Forty-two percent of them don’t even know what their mission is, and 70 percent want out of there.
Now, is it going to be a civil war? It’s already a civil war. Twenty-five thousand Iraqis are fighting with each other inside the country, the best estimates I see, less than 1,000 al-Qaida. The minute it’s over, they’ll, they’ll fight with each other, somebody will win, just like we did in our civil war, and they’ll lose a lot less people than we did in our civil war, and they’ll settle it themselves. I, I would like to be optimistic about it, but the figures don’t show it that way.
MR. RUSSERT: Some in the administration say the media is distorting the good news that’s coming out of Iraq.
REP. MURTHA: Well, they said the same thing about Vietnam. They said the same thing over and over and over about Vietnam. They said, “We’re winning the war in Vietnam.” That—you could go back and get quotes from Vietnam, and you’d see the same kind of, of, of reports, “The media’s the one that’s distorting; everything’s going fine in Vietnam.” Well, everything’s not going fine in Iraq. They have to realize that. When the whole world is against you, when our, our international reputation has been diminished so substantially, when all the countries in the, in the region say, “We’d be better off without us being in Iraq,” when the people themselves in Iraq say it, and American people say it, I mean who is right?
MR. RUSSERT: Despite all this, all these difficulties, look how the American people view the two parties. Which party do you trust to do a better job with Iraq? In January, 47 percent said the Democrats; 40 percent said the Republicans. Now it’s 42/42. And this: Who has a clear plan for handling Iraq? Yes, Bush administration has a clear plan, 34; no, 65. Democrats in Congress: 24 yes; 70 no. Why are the Democrats at a lower trust level than Republicans on the war?
REP. MURTHA: Well, let me tell you this, Tim. He’ll find out in November where the trust level is. He’ll find out if he doesn’t change course, if he doesn’t change direction, the Republicans in Congress will get a rude awakening and they know it. They see the unhappiness of the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Will these midterm elections be a referendum on the war?
REP. MURTHA: It will be a referendum on the war and Katrina and the medical—the drug problem in, in Medicare, all those things, but mainly the war itself, because the rhetoric has not matched the outcome of the war.
MR. RUSSERT: Would the Democrats recapture control of both Houses?
REP. MURTHA: I, I think definitely the House. Now, whether they will in the Senate or not—but if you go back to ‘74, you’ll see a big change in what happened there.
MR. RUSSERT: After Watergate.
REP. MURTHA: After Watergate. I was one of the first ones elected during a special election. That fall, there were 43 incumbents got defeated; 36 were Republicans. There were 13 Republicans retired. We won every single seat. The American public is not going to be fooled by, by what, what’s happening in Iraq, and the rhetoric will not—he’s got to get back in his office and start to talk to people and find out what’s going on. It’s not—to go out and make speeches to the American public’s not going to win this war.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you expect an October surprise from the administration dealing with the war?
REP. MURTHA: I’ll tell you what they’re going to try to do. They’re trying to do this right now. They’re trying to blame the military, they’re trying, they’re trying to put the whole onus on the military for what happened in Iraq, and then they’re going to say, “Well, we’re, we’re going to have a plan for withdrawal.” You heard it already, you’ve heard them say, “OK, here’s the goal for withdrawal.” A benchmark, they call it. Just like they called the insurgency “dead end kids,” then they call it sectarian violence—it’s a civil war. And, and they—they’re trying to find—“The brigades are going to be better, they can take over 75 percent of the country, we can start the withdrawal.”
Now, I don’t know how many they’ll withdraw, but here’s the problem with the plan they have vs. my plan. My plan is redeploy as quickly as possible to protect our troops. Their plan is you draw out the withdrawal, which means you’ve got less troops on the ground that are more vulnerable to attack, because the IEDs and the convoys are the ones where—are being attacked. So I’m, I’m convinced that, that my, my plan is the only plan that, that will work and protect the American troops.
MR. RUSSERT: But you expect by November there’ll be significant troop withdrawals?
REP. MURTHA: I expect them to announce significant withdrawals. And I think—I, I say there’ll be withdrawals. But there’ll be—for instance, you’ll see in the spring they’ll start to announce withdrawal and you will see what they call benchmarks, what everybody else calls a timetable. But I tell you, we have to convince the Iraqis—we have to say to the Iraqis, “This is your war, this is no longer our war. This—you’ve got an elected government, this is up to you now to settle this thing.” And then we’ve got to say, say to them, “You start to work this out yourself. We’re going to, we’re going to redeploy our troops as quickly as possible.”
MR. RUSSERT: Americans are overwhelmingly against immediate withdrawal; 30 say yes; 66 say no.
REP. MURTHA: Well, it depends on what you mean by immediate withdrawal. I, I say we, we should say to them, “OK, Iraqi government, here—here’s your incentive. We’re going to start to redeploy our troops as quickly as we can.” And when I say as quickly as we can, I, I don’t know what the timetable should be. Six months, seven months, something like—we could do it in six months. And I think we’d be better off, the troops would be better off, the country’d be better off, we better off financially and human resourcewise.
MR. RUSSERT: If the president decided that military action in Iran was necessary, should he come to Congress first?
REP. MURTHA: He—there’s no way he’s going to take military action in Iran.
Iran is, is three times as big geographically, there’s 58 million people vs. 26 million people in, in Iraq, and, and there’s no way. A fanatical government—I mean, the, the president of the United States does not have a military option. He can say he has a military option; he does not have a military option.
MR. RUSSERT: But he should come to Congress if he is...
REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, we, we have allowed our, our influence, our, our separation from, from the president to be—in the last couple of presidents when it goes to war. The, the Congress is the only one that can authorize to go to war. He has to come to Congress before he does anything, let alone go to war.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat from Wisconsin, said the president should be censured for eavesdropping on telephone and computers of—by Americans. Would you support such a censure?
REP. MURTHA: Well, if it were illegal, it, it’s certainly something we have to look at. I, I think there’s—I, I don’t know enough about the issue. Even though we have complete responsibility for, for oversight and, and funding, funding it. I had a briefing the other day, I’m satisfied the safeguards that are in place are significant, but we have to look at whether it’s illegal or not. I, I’m hesitant to say the president ought to be censured before a committee looks at it and really investigates it and comes up with some real conclusions.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman John Murtha, we thank you for sharing your views.
REP. MURTHA: Nice to be here, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
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That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.
And how about those Boston College Eagles? On to the Sweet 16. Go Eagles!