November 17, 2005
Influential House Democrat Wants Immediate Iraq Withdrawal
By DAVID STOUT
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 – An influential House Democrat called the Iraq campaign “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion” today as he called for the immediate withdrawal of United States troops.
“It is time for a change in direction,” Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, said as the debate over the war intensified by the hour. “Our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk.”
Mr. Murtha, a conservative who voted in 2002 for the resolution authorizing use of force in Iraq and who supported the Persian Gulf war in 1991, called for “the immediate redeployment of American forces.”
“It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region,” Mr. Murtha said during an emotional news conference on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Murtha, a 73-year-old Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam combat, lashed back at Vice President Dick Cheney, who in a speech to a conservative group on Wednesday night condemned critics of the Iraq war. “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,” Mr. Cheney said in an address to the group, Frontiers of Freedom, in Washington.
Mr. Murtha was disdainful of the vice president’s remarks, saying that “people with five deferments” had no right to make such remarks. Mr. Cheney, like millions of other young men of the era, avoided military service during the Vietnam war.
Mr. Murtha’s remarks were termed “reprehensible and irresponsible” by a Republican member of the Appropriation’s defense subcommittee, Representative Kay Granger of Texas.
“It shows the Democratic Party has chosen a policy of retreat and defeatism which will only encourage the terrorists and threaten the stability of Iraq,” she said, according to The Associated Press.
House Republicans were expected to issue a general denunciation of Mr. Murtha this afternoon.
Mr. Murtha’s demeanor and personal history as well as his status on the Appropriations Committee may lend extra weight to his words. He generally shuns publicity and does not often speak on the House floor.
After serving in the Marines in the early 1950′s, he re-enlisted in 1966, at the age of 34, and served in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, according to The Almanac of American Politics. When he won his House seat in a special election in February 1974 he became the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress.
Mr. Cheney’s speech came a day after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the Bush administration to make regular progress reports on the war and for 2006 to be a “transition year” in which the Iraqis will assume responsibility for security of their own country.
The vice president’s assertions that some politicians want to rewrite history was aimed at those who voted in 2002 to authorize force against Saddam Hussein but have more recently become critics of Iraq campaign, charging that the Bush administration manipulated pre-war intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by the old Baghdad regime.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said Mr. Cheney’s speech of Wednesday night as well as President Bush’s recent remarks on Iraq show that they have “shamlessly decided to play politics.”
“We’re at war,” Mr. Reid said. “We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief.”
At his Capitol news conference, Mr. Murtha became emotional as he spoke of hospital visits to wounded troops. “What demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace,” he said.
“Our troops have become the primary target for the insurgency,” Mr. Murtha said. Insurgents, he said, “are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.” He went on to say that, before the Iraqi elections in December, the country’s people and its emerging government “must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy.”
“All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free,” he said. “Free from United States occupation.”
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company