Rep. John Murtha, the Democrat whose call for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq set off a furor last week, on Sunday predicted U.S. forces would leave Iraq before next year’s U.S. congressional elections.
The Pennsylvania lawmaker, a Vietnam veteran and respected authority on the military, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected more people to come around and share his views and that U.S. troops should be withdrawn in 2006.
Asked if that meant U.S. troops would be out of Iraq before November congressional elections, Murtha said, “You have hit it on the head.”
President George W. Bush’s approval ratings have been sinking in the polls in tandem with growing public disapproval of the Iraq war and even some Republicans have started to question aspects of the administration Iraq’s timetable and strategy.
The U.S. House, in an unusually raucous session on Friday, defeated a nonbinding resolution calling for an immediate troop withdrawal. Democrats denounced the vote as a political stunt meant to attack and isolate Murtha.
But Murtha predicted that more and more Americans, in government and private life, would come to the same conclusion he had, that U.S. military occupation was making the situation in Iraq worse and that a political solution was needed.
“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,” Murtha said.
“It’s not me. It’s the public that’s thirsting for an answer to this thing,” he added.”
Bush and top administration officials in the past few days lashed out sharply against critics of the Iraq policy. But the president, speaking in Beijing, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were both more muted about their opponents on Sunday although both strongly defended their Iraq policy.
Bush, dogged by questions about Iraq during a week-long Asia tour, said “Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a U.S. congressman.”
Rumsfeld, who appeared on four Sunday talk shows, said debate about war is and should be part of the democratic process, but that Murtha’s call for an immediate withdrawal would strengthen U.S. enemies and embolden terrorists.
“That would be a terrible thing for our country and for the safety of our people,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Rumsfeld depicted progress in Iraq in both the political and military arenas. “The Iraqi security forces are doing an excellent job. They’re well-respected by the Iraqi people. They’re engaged in the fight,” he said on FOX News Sunday.
Rumsfeld also reiterated his support for the war to topple Saddam Hussein, even knowing now that the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was flawed. But he said Bush had never directly asked him for his views on an invasion.
“I wasn’t asked,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m sure the president understood what my views were.”
While commending Murtha’s record as a veteran and lawmaker, Rumsfeld pointed out that neither Republicans nor Murtha’s fellow Democrats had rushed to embrace his ideas.