W.H. Fires Back At Iraq Critic

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. gestures during a Capitol Hill news conference, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005, to discuss the Iraq War.
AP
Raising the temperature in Congress over U.S. policy in Iraq, a pro-military Democrat who once voted to back the war now says it is time to bring the troops home. In return, the White House called the turnabout by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., "baffling" and an endorsement of the "extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party."

"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency," Rep. John Murtha said Thursday. "They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

While calling Murtha a great leader in Congress, White House National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said the congressman is just wrong about Iraq.

"We do not see how an immediate pullout contributes to winning the war on terror or bringing stability to Iraq," Hadley said Friday while traveling with the president in South Korea.

CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Hadley's remarks were decidedly more gentle than a White House statement Thursday that called Murtha's position baffling and likened his stand to that of Bush-bashing filmmaker Michael Moore.

President Bush, 7,000 miles from home attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Busan, South Korea, had no comment about Murtha's statements, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante.

The South Koreans had a more polite protest of their own, blindsiding the U.S. with a plan to pull about a third of their country's 3200 troops out of Iraq, a decision the White House insisted wasn't final.

What made this such a bombshell is that Murtha is no peacenik, reports CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss. He's one of the most pro-defense Democrats in congress, tight with the pentagon brass and an early supporter of the Iraq war.

As a Vietnam veteran and top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, the 30-year Pennsylvania lawmaker carries more credibility with his colleagues on the issue than a number of other Democrats who have opposed the war from the start.

"Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty," Murtha told reporters at news conference with a half-dozen American flags arrayed behind him.

"It's time to bring them home," he said.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, a 29-year Air Force veteran who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly seven years, called Murtha's position unconscionable and irresponsible. "We've got to support our troops to the hilt and see this mission through," he said.

"They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Referring to President Bush, Murtha said, "I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them."

"Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan, with Mr. Bush in South Korea for a meeting with Asian leaders. "So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

"The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists," McClellan said. "After seeing his statement, we remain baffled — nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer."

The GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday defeated a Democratic push for President Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Spotlighting mushrooming questions from both parties about the war, though, the chamber then approved a statement that 2006 should be a significant year in which conditions are created for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Murtha estimated that all U.S. troops could be pulled out within six months. He introduced a resolution Thursday that would force the president to call back the military, but it was unclear when, or if, either GOP-run chamber of Congress would vote on it.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called on the president and the White House to stop what he called an orchestrated attack campaign.

"It's a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war," said Reid, who spoke while Bush was in Asia.

With a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Murtha retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 after 37 years as a Marine, only a few years longer than he's been in Congress. Elected in 1974, Murtha has become known as an authority on national security whose advice was sought out by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

Murtha's shift from an early war backer to a critic advocating withdrawal reflects plummeting public support for a war that has cost more than $200 billion and led to the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops.