Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Murtha commands spotlight over Iraq policy

Murtha commands spotlight over Iraq policy

A veteran backbencher becomes an anti-war movement darling

Monday, December 26, 2005

By Maeve Reston, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Amid the media frenzy over U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha's proposal to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq at the earliest practical date, the Pennsylvania Democrat got an interview request from an unusual source.

He told an aide that he'd just gotten off the phone with Rolling Rock.

"The beer company, Congressman?" the puzzled aide asked.

"No, that magazine all the kids read," he replied.

The magazine, of course, was Rolling Stone.

Few of his colleagues would have made that mistake in a town where most politicians covet press attention. And for some, the story spoke to the authenticity of a congressman who has long preferred a backstage role.

That changed Nov. 18, when the Johnstown Democrat, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and legislative hawk, moved debate over the war in Iraq to the top of Washington's agenda by saying it was time for the United States to start pulling out.

The man described by another top Democrat, U.S. Rep. David Obey, of Wisconsin, as someone "who likes to get things done with virtually no spoken words," has become a regular on the news talk shows.

He has become a celebrity in blogosphere. One blogger recently dubbed him as the "anti-war movement's new darling," while others have begun picking apart the millions of dollars he has channeled back to his district.

Mr. Murtha's media omnipresence has opened him up to sometimes unmerciful ribbing from friends such as U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale. They have chuckled over his adjustments to prime time, most recently, his horror when a television producer tried to coax him into wearing makeup, and warned him about overexposure.

But this very public role is one Mr. Murtha is taking seriously.

"It's not about me, but I've become the spokesperson," he said in an interview last week during a break from negotiations over defense spending legislation. "There wasn't even a debate before, they just went blindly on. ... But we're starting to get the attention of the thoughtful people."

Todd Berkley, Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, AP

U.S. Rep. John Murtha: "You really get an awful lot done when you work behind the scenes."

Click photo for larger image.

Before this winter, Mr. Murtha was better known for making deals in the back halls of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Philadelphia, said that, if you counted the minutes Mr. Murtha had spoken on the House floor, "they'd probably add up to less than an hour during any given year of service."

"He has stepped out in a very unconventional role for himself ... and he's in the middle of a fairly serious fight," Mr. Fattah said. "Beyond the smiles and the joking, there's a real admiration for him taking a very courageous position."

As a young member in the mid-1970s, Mr. Murtha sought the advice of a senior member who told him he would maximize his impact in Congress by following two rules: Specialize in one area and always keep your word.

Mr. Murtha, a Marine who became the first Vietnam veteran in Congress, plunged into military matters and soon won a coveted seat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, where he is now the ranking Democrat overseeing billions of dollars in defense spending each year.

He gained gravitas through his advice to Republican and Democratic presidents. One year after he was elected, he went to Vietnam and Cambodia to assess the need for military aid. He led a delegation to the Philippines to observe their presidential elections at the behest of President Ronald Reagan.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush asked Mr. Murtha to chair a delegation to observe the elections in Panama, which were fraudulent and ultimately led to the invasion by U.S. forces. And in the early 1990s, Mr. Bush once again summoned Mr. Murtha to the White House for advice before launching the Persian Gulf War; Mr. Murtha led a House delegation to survey the region, traveling 13,000 miles across three countries in 100 hours.

In the House, the Johnstown Democrat built his power from the corner seat in the back row of the chamber, where he still sits today during votes, nearly obscured from the prying eyes in the press gallery above.

"People line up there in the corner to see him," said Mr. Doyle, one of at least a half-dozen Pennsylvania lawmakers who congregate near Mr. Murtha's chair during votes. "It's funny sometimes. We're standing there like we're almost selling admission tickets."

Mr. Murtha acknowledges that his quieter approach and his seat on the defense appropriations subcommittee had led to major successes for his district. One needs to look no further than the example of National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown. It was on the administration's list to be closed this year, but instead got $39 million in the defense spending bill Congress just completed.

"You really get an awful lot done when you work behind the scenes," Mr. Murtha said.

While he shows a bit of wistfulness for that time when he wasn't turning down seven or eight interview requests for each one he agrees to, he says he plans to stay in his new role until he sees substantive changes.

He's worried about what programs might be cut to support the $100 billion he expects the administration to request for Iraq and Afghanistan next year. And he intends to force attention to what he sees as the military's weakened state of recruiting, its shortages in specialists such as translators and bomb demolition experts, and the lower level of readiness because of the U.S. commitment in Iraq.

"Until they get the message where the withdrawal is significant," he said, "then I'll be satisfied and I'll certainly back down."

In the meantime, he'll be trying to get his message out while not getting snared by those who'd like to make him a symbol.

After the initial interview, the photographer for Rolling Stone showed up for the shoot and tried to wrap him in an American flag.

Mr. Murtha's aide nearly jumped out of her chair at the request, but the congressman quietly said, no, he wasn't going to do that.

(Maeve Reston can be reached at mreston@nationalpress.com or 202-488-3479.)

Murtha commands spotlight over Iraq policy
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Thursday, December 8, 2005

the Revolt of the Generals

December 3/4, 2005

"Broken, Worn Out" and "Living Hand to Mouth"

The Revolt of the Generals


The immense significance of Rep John Murtha's November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the US senior officer corps, seeing the institution they lead as "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth", to use the biting words of their spokesman, John Murtha, as he reiterated on December his denunciation of Bush's destruction of the Army.

A CounterPuncher with nearly 40 years experience working in and around the Pentagon told me this week that "The Four Star Generals picked Murtha to make this speech because he has maximum credibility." It's true. Even in the US Senate there's no one with quite Murtha's standing to deliver the message, except maybe for Byrd, but the venerable senator from West Virginia was a vehement opponent of the war from the outset , whereas Murtha voted for it and only recently has turned around.

So the Four-Star Generals briefed Murtha and gave him the state-of-the-art data which made his speech so deadly, stinging the White House into panic-stricken and foolish denunciations of Murtha as a clone of Michael Moore.

It cannot have taken vice president Cheney, a former US Defense Secretary, more than a moment to scan Murtha's speech and realize the import of Murtha's speech as an announcement that the generals have had enough.

Listen once more to what the generals want the country to know:

"The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

"Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared.

"The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I've been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq.

"Much of our ground equipment is worn out.

"Most importantly -- this is the most important point -- incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revolution at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled."

read more at Alexander Cockburn: the Revolt of the Generals
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Friday, December 2, 2005

Murtha on Hardball: Generals tell him 25 years to train troops in Iraq

reposted from poster at DU

Last night I watched Rep. Murtha on Hardball; the man's sincerity and real concern, not politically correct concern, for the troops just shines through. He is a great American. What he said has not received any play in the "lib'rul media" so I thought I would post here too.

I think he told Matthews some things that he did not want to hear. One of the issues they discussed was what Bush meant when he said we would stay "until the job is done." Murtha, almost in horror, said that that was not a plan, and that according to generals he has spoken to in closed meetings that preparing the Iraqi troops for a stable Iraq may take twenty five years.

Twenty five years. Think about it. My youngest child will be 36 years old, technically old enough to have one of her children drafted. My God. What has Bush done?

Here is what he said:

MURTHA: So we've got a position where if we won't redeploy, as I'm suggesting, and let the Iraqis change their own destiny, let them handle their own destiny, we're going to be there for 100 years. I remember one time in the closed hearing, one of the top generals said, "we'll be there for 25 years." I said you saying 25 years? A lot of people think it would take that long.

Please go read this if you missed the show; it is a very worthwhile read:

Another quote showing that he thinks the casualties we have suffered thus far may be just the tip of the iceberg:

MATTHEWS: What are the military folks you get access to saying about how long it will take if we continue on the president's course, to have an Iraqi army that can defend that government?

MURTHA: I've heard estimates up to 25 years. Now we've already spent $277 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me give you a figure from Vietnam. Secretary McNamara said in 1963 that it would take us two years to win the war in Vietnam, two years.

In 1965, we had lost 2,100 people in Vietnam. From 1965 until 1972, we lost 55,000 Americans. What I'm saying is, we've lost 2,100 people now and we have become the enemy. Our troops are the targets for the insurgents.

Democratic Underground
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Thursday, December 1, 2005

Cpl Jeffrey Starr letter; there was more not included in President's speech yesterday

Bush discussed a letter found on the laptop of Corporal Jeffrey B. Starr: see at link

Bush left out, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story at NY Times

Another member of the 1/5, Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, rejected a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist. Corporal Starr believed strongly in the war, his father said, but was tired of the harsh life and nearness of death in Iraq. So he enrolled at Everett Community College near his parents' home in Snohomish, Wash., planning to study psychology after his enlistment ended in August.

But he died in a firefight in Ramadi on April 30 during his third tour in Iraq. He was 22.

Sifting through Corporal Starr's laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine's girlfriend. "I kind of predicted this," Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. "A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances."

The President of the United States should have respected his memory by being honest about Cpl. Starr's story. He was not.

Daily Kos: State of the Nation
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