Monday, January 16, 2006

Murtha Details His Exit Strategy
Murtha Details His Exit Strategy

Jan. 15, 2006(CBS) The vast majority of American troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this year. Who says so? Congressman John Murtha says so, and he explains his plan to make that happen to correspondent Mike Wallace.

The 73-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania is a much-decorated war hero from Vietnam and Korea; a heavyweight in military matters in the Congress who stunned the Bush White House last November by calling for the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq.

"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence," Rep. Murtha says. "My plan calls for an immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces."

And now he tells 60 Minutes the withdrawal is going to happen sooner than we think.

"I think the vast majority will be out by the end of the year. And I’m hopeful it’ll be out sooner than that," the congressman says.

And here’s how it will happen: Murtha tells 60 Minutes that mounting pressure from constituents in this election year will force Congress to pass his withdrawal plan, or something similar to bring troops home.

Asked if he is going to press for a new debate on Iraq during this session of Congress, Murtha says, "I think you’ll see not only debate, I think you’ll see some changes."

Does Murtha think Congress is going to insist upon a major withdrawal from Iraq before election day in November?

"Sure," he says. "You’re gonna see a plan for withdrawal."

And how does he think he will get that plan through the Congress and impose a withdrawal plan on President Bush?

"I think the political people who give him advice will say to him, 'You don’t want a Democratic congress. You want to keep the Republican majority. And the only way you’re gonna keep it, is by reducing substantially the troops in Iraq,'” Murtha explains.

Apparently, the president hasn’t gotten that message yet. This past week, here’s what he told a veterans group about future decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq:

"All of my decisions will be based upon conditions on the ground, not artificial timetables set by Washington politicians," President George W. Bush said on Jan. 10.

But it’s those conditions on the ground – most Iraqis wanting the U.S. occupation to end, and insurgents killing or maiming Americans – that has convinced the congressman that it’s now time to get troops out.

"Troops I talk to and they say to me, 'In the daytime, they wave at us. At nighttime, they throw hand grenades,'" says Murtha.

Asked who these insurgents are, Murtha says they are Iraqis. "Ninety-three percent of the insurgents are Iraqis. A very small percentage are foreign fighters. The Iraqis know who they are. Once we’re out of there, they’ll eliminate ‘em,” he says.

The White House isn’t as confident that Iraqis will drive out the foreign fighters, but Murtha says U.S. troops are now caught in the middle of an Iraqi civil war, not the fight against terrorists that the White House keeps talking about.

"They take Iraq and then they talk about terrorism," Murtha says. "We’re diverting ourselves away from the war, the war on terrorism, when we’re fighting an insurgency in Iraq."

Murtha’s criticism prompted the president to launch a series of speeches to regain public support.

The president says the congressman is wrong. Two days after Murtha's Nov. 17 speech, Mr. Bush said, "The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. If they’re not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I’m going to make you this commitment. This is not going to happen on my watch."

"He’s trying to fight this war with rhetoric," Murtha responds. "Iraq is not where the center of terrorism is. So when he says we’re fighting terrorism over there, we’re inciting terrorism over there. We’re encouraging terror. We’re destabilizing the area by being over there ‘cause we’re the targets. He said before there’s weapons of mass destruction. He said there’s an al Qaeda connection. There’s many things he said turned out not to be true. So why would I believe him when he says the things he just – made that statement.

Murtha believes that all along the White House has been long on spin and short on truth.

"They need to be honest with the public. They need to admit they’ve made mistakes," Murtha says. "The admin — the president himself - needs to be honest with the public. He’s getting bad information from somebody. And I’ve been arguing with him now for several months."

Asked if he has talked to Mr. Bush face-to-face, Murtha says no, saying he hasn't been invited.

Asked what he thinks of the president, Murtha says he is isolated. "The most isolated president that I’ve served with," he says.

Murtha has served with seven presidents starting with Richard Nixon. He has been in congress for 32 years representing Johnstown, Pa. Most of his constituents back the war, but the congressman is king there, so his stand has led a shift in some local opinion about Iraq.

Murtha, who has two purple hearts, tells 60 Minutes that if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld had been in combat themselves, they’d have been more reluctant to send young Americans into battle.

"War’s a nasty business. It sears the soul. The shadow of friends killed, the shadow of killing people lives with you the rest of your life. So there’s no experience like being in combat," says Murtha.

Murtha wants all the troops home within six months, except for a quick reaction force of about 20,000 who would be based nearby in Kuwait. But he admits that when the Americans leave, a civil war in Iraq will intensify.

"If we leave, it’s gonna continue and somebody will prevail, just like in our Civil War in the United States. Somebody’s gonna prevail. It’s up to them. They want democracy, they gotta fight for that democracy," says Murtha.

But President Bush believes U.S. troops can stop a civil war and implies that John Murtha is a defeatist.

"Now, there are only two options before our country: victory or defeat," the president has said. "To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor and I will not allow it."

"Victory versus defeat is not a policy at all. What is the definition of victory?" Murtha questions. "There’s two policies. The one policy is you stay with an open-ended policy and Iraqis determine when we leave. And the other policy, is my recommendation, where we redeploy as quickly as possible."

Why has his policy not been endorsed by potential Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or John Kerry?

"Because," says Murtha laughing, "they’re afraid. They’re afraid. They don’t understand it. They think there’s a safe way to work their way through this. And they’re afraid to get out there and make a statement that later on might come back to haunt ‘em."

But Murtha’s stand could come back to haunt him, if President Bush turns out to be right about Iraq.

Murtha, who left college to fight in the Korean War and stayed in the Marines for 37 years, said last week he would not have enlisted to fight in Iraq, and wouldn’t encourage others to enlist.

"Yeah, that’s because I disagree with the policy. I mean, when I was in college I remember vividly, I stood in my dormitory room and I looked down at - it was in the wintertime and I said I can’t stay here. This is not right, for me to be here. We’re fightin’ communism. And I oughta be in the military," Murtha recalls. "And I remember my mother cried. She was upset. My goodness, I left college. And after that three of my brothers joined the Marine Corps. My dad, three of his brothers served in World War II. So, you know, we know what it’s all about."

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Murtha's comments are damaging to recruiting and hurting the troops.

"It’s damaging the morale of the troops who are deployed and it’s damaging the morale of their families who believe in what they are doing to serve this country," Gen. Pace said.

Murtha says Pace is frustrated. "He’s frustrated because he can’t meet the goals. Here’s what hurts recruitment. They’re rotated four and five times. They have no clear mission. It’s not what I say that hurts morale. This is long before I said anything that their recruiting had a problem."

"One of the problems they have with enlistment is because they continually say how well things are going and the troops on the ground know better," Murtha adds.

To prove his point, he reads 60 Minutes a letter he received from a soldier in Iraq.

“I’m a soldier currently stationed in Talafar. It’s frustrating to me and many other soldiers to be fighting a war with no goal for victory, with no end in sight. Iraq is a country that’s never going to stand on its own until we leave and give them a chance to do so. Our presence is no longer beneficial to anyone,” Murtha reads. "Now this is an ordinary soldier that’s saying this," he says.

But while working on a story about soldiers wounded in Iraq, 60 Minutes heard from many of them with a very different opinion.

"In talking to these various people who have lost legs and arms and traumatic brain injury and so forth, I was astonished. They’re not taking any punches at the people who sent them there," Wallace says.

"Now, obviously the troops themselves have to believe in what they’re doing," Murtha replies.

"Why do the generals who speak publicly all say that the U.S. is on the right track in Iraq? And that you, in effect, are off your rocker?" Wallace asks.

"Well, they don’t say that to me privately, I’ll tell ya," Murtha says, laughing. "You know, they’re gonna be fired if they speak out."

Murtha tells 60 Minutes that 80 percent of his mail has been positive, but he also got this:

"Congratulations! You are now an honorary member of al Qaeda. Your words have emboldened the enemy and endangered our troops on the ground. You have become the new Hanoi Jane," the sender wrote.

But Murtha has a thick hide.

"When I don’t agree with a policy, I have to speak out," Murtha says.

But a year ago, Murtha argued against what he is arguing for now. “A premature withdrawal of our troops based on a political timetable 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,” he stated.

Murtha says he was wrong a year ago and that times have changed since that statement.

But the change Murtha wants, pulling all troops out, could embolden the terrorists. When President Bush announced he would withdraw just 20,000 troops after Iraq’s recent election, al Qaeda claimed victory.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two leader, said in a video message this month, “America’s plan to withdraw troops from Iraq proves the victory of Islam in Iraq.”

"I think they’re trying to get this administration to stay. I think they want us there. Because we have united the Iraqis against us. We’re spending all this money and diverting our resources away from the war on terrorism because we’re involved in a civil war in Iraq," says Murtha.

And al-Zawahiri also says al Qaeda is growing and increasing in strength.

"If it is increasing in strength, I think it’s because it actually helps terrorists to be in Iraq because it united the world against us," says Murtha.

"Hasn’t the occupation done a lot of good in Iraq? Look, Saddam’s dictatorial reign, over. Democracy has begun. Schools and factories are reopening. The economy’s coming back," Wallace says.

"That election of course is being trumpeted as being so important to democracy. When I came back from Vietnam in 1967, they had an election. It was supposed to set the stage. It was supposed to legitimize the government, if you remember. And we lost 38,000 people after that. Now, I don’t say that this has the same intensity and that we’re gonna lose 38,000 people. But I’m just saying there’s a lot more things have to be done if you’re going to have a democratic government," says Murtha.

Murtha says 13 of his constituents from Pennsylvania have been killed in Iraq. Do their families think Murtha is dishonoring their memory by speaking out against the war that they gave their lives for?

"Well I hope they understand it’s my job, my responsibility, to speak out when I disagree with the policy of the president of the United States. All of us want this president to succeed," Murtha says. "But you just can’t sit back and allow this war to continue on without a clear exit strategy. That’s the reason I’m so strong about this. I feel a mission here, with my experience, that, that I have to help the president find a way out of this thing."