Rep. Murtha Holds a News Conference to Respond to President Bush's Speech
Wednesday, December 7, 2005; 2:46 PM
DECEMBER 7, 2005
SPEAKER: U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MURTHA (D-PA)
MURTHA: Let me start by going through a timeline and then get to what the president said.
In May 1, 2003, the president declared it was a major -- end of major operations. Then he sent John Hamre to Iraq. John Hamre was undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration. And he found all kinds of problems. He said: You got three months, three critical months to get this thing under control if you want to control the security; 12 months at the most, but three months are crucial, the first three months.
He said small things like sewage and water and things that a lot of people don't pay attention to -- I pay attention, because in my district that's important. But a lot of people paid no attention to that report.
MURTHA: I went there -- now this was July that Hamre made his report and it was a very prescient report. I mean, it was a very accurate report about the predictions of what was going to happen. And we have a copy of it here for you.
In August 16th, I went to Iraq, from August 16th to the 20th. When I came back, I said to Secretary Rumsfeld: We require immediate attention of body armor. They said they were prepared. They said they had what they needed.
Forty thousand troops didn't have body armor. They needed armored Humvees. They needed jammers and Kevlar blankets they asked for. This was all levels of people in Iraq at the time.
And then I wrote to the president on September 4th and I said, "I believe you have miscalculated the magnitude of the effort we are facing. We should energize, Iraqitize and internationalize this effort."
And we have copies of that letter in there.
Then we had the $87 billion supplemental in October of 2003.
I said on the floor that I felt the most important part of that supplemental was the construction money. A lot of people voted against it because they didn't think we should be spending money in Iraq for construction when Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary Wolfowitz, had said: It's going to be paid for by oil money.
So a lot of people opposed it on the floor, but it passed handily.
Then I went back to Iraq and I told Ambassador Bremer, General Sanchez and General Odierno and the young general that was their public relations guy, "You guys are way too optimistic about this."
MURTHA: "You're not being honest with the American people."
They took umbrage. I got some nasty letters, as I usually do when I say something like this.
Now, you remember, I wrote to the president in September 4th of 2003. I got a letter back in April 6th, 2004. The president didn't write back. I received a response from a deputy undersecretary -- paints a totally rosy, unrealistic picture, saying 200,000 Iraqis -- now, hear what I'm saying -- 200,000 Iraqis under arms, reconstruction projects and 70 percent of Iraqis feel -- or 2,200 reconstruction projects -- 70 percent of Iraqis feel life is good.
The irony is that this was the month with the most U.S. deaths; 137 were killed. But that's what they wrote to me.
Then we have Abu Ghraib that very year.
Now I said to the secretary of defense: You have got a shortage of people in specialty, MOS specialties, that's a military specialist. We had truck drivers who couldn't back up a truck. We had security guards who weren't trained in security at all. We had National Guard security people without radios -- couldn't talk to the front, the back of the convoy, endangering their lives.
We got radios over there and we tried to address this very problem. And we had a press conference. Nancy Pelosi and I did. We said, "the military's overstretched and there's poor planning." And I said at that time I did not think we could win this militarily.
I got a lot of criticism. DeLay got up on the floor and said I was a traitor. What I said to him, publicly, I won't tell you.
Now, here's the way I measure progress. The president said we got slow progress. We want to help the government of Iraq -- this is the State Department -- provide essential services, crude oil production.
MURTHA: Now, the green line you see here is the goal -- and they got charts here that you can get copies of. This is what we actually had in oil production.
Now, you remember, Secretary Wolfowitz said, we're going to have oil -- going to pay for this. And this is all we've gotten. We didn't get up to prewar level in oil production.
Today they said we're making progress.
I can only measure progress by what I see and the things that I can actually measure, not by what they say are brigades and so forth and so on.
Now, water production: We put $2.1 billion into water production. They're short of water all over the country. And they have only spent $581 billion -- or $581 million.
Now, that's why Hamre's report was so important. You had to get this insurgency under control immediately. You had to win the hearts and minds of the people. That's the key in a guerrilla-type war.
This is electricity overview. This is the demand. The yellow line is the demand. The red line is the prewar level. And you can see that occasionally you got up to prewar level. That's the way I measure progress.
Now, there's one other area where I measure progress, and that's incidents. Incidents have increased fivefold in the period of time that -- well, a year ago. A year ago there were five times less than today.
And at Abu Ghraib -- now, again, we didn't have the right people in the right kind of specialties. We didn't have them trained. So at Abu Ghraib, we had people untrained that were taking care of prisoners. And you see the result of that.
The secretary offered to resign at that time. I would have accepted his resignation, because I think this was a Defense Department responsibility. And we had many other (inaudible).
Right now, GAO says in a report of November -- November? -- November -- we have 112,000 shortages in critical MOSs. Now, what are those shortages?
MURTHA: Number one, they're in demolition experts; number two, special forces people; number three, intelligence experts, which are absolutely essential; and fourth is translators.
Now could there be any more important specialties than that? And we're short in every one of those fields.
And you know what? We're paying someone to go into the Army. When I was in, they paid $72 a day. I volunteered in the middle of the Korean War. They are now paying $150,000 for somebody that's in special forces, in one of the specialties, in order to get them to re- enlist.
They missed their goal. And one of the biggest reasons that I'm so concerned about this -- and I talk to the military all the time -- is the future of the military. They missed their goal in recruiting by 6,600 this last time.
But you have to look at that, because there's a retention, there's a stop-loss, plus the problem that we had with the people not in the right specialties. And they enlisted people in the higher levels who were probably going to enlist anyway that they wouldn't normally have re-enlisted.
They have lowered the standards. They're accepting 20 percent last year in category four. Now, this is a highly technical service we're dealing with, And yet they lowered the standards to category four, which they said when we had the volunteer army, that would eliminate all the category four.
Now, let me tell you the major problem we have. You heard the president talk today about terrorism. Every other word was "terrorism."
Let me separate terrorism from insurgency. When I was in Iraq in 1991, president -- or King Fahd said to me -- this was an early morning meeting, like two or three o'clock in the morning, when he normally met with people during the air war.
And he said: Get your troops out of Saudi Arabia the minute this war's over. You're on sacred ground. You're destabilizing the whole region. I reported that back to the State Department and, as you know, we didn't get our troops out of there. We left our troops there.
Bin Laden said he attacked the United States because of the troops in Saudi Arabia. That's terrorism. Terrorism was in London. Terrorism was in Spain. Terrorism was, obviously, in the United States.
MURTHA: That's completely separate from what's going on in Iraq. Iraq is an insurgency. At one of the hearings early on, Secretary Rumsfeld denied there was an insurgency. He said it was a gang of something or another. But they wouldn't admit that they were having real problems over there. They kept being unrealistic, illusionary about what was going on in Iraq.
One of the major problems we have in fighting an insurgency is the military and the way they fight. And I adhere to the way they fight. They send in massive force. They use artillery, they use air and mortars. And they kill a lot of people in order to suppress fire and protect our military. I'm for that.
But it doesn't make you any friends. That's part of the problem. For instance, in Fallujah, which happened about the same time -- the first Fallujah happened about the same time as Abu Ghraib -- we put 150,000 people outside their homes in Fallujah.
If you remember in Jordan, the bomber said that the reason she became a bomber was because two of her relatives were killed in Fallujah. We lost the hearts and minds of the people.
Hamre said: You've got three months to win the hearts and minds of the people, to get this under control, to get the looting and so forth under control.
We didn't do that. There's been poor planning from the start by the Defense Department. The Defense Department fought to keep this planning under their control. State Department had entirely different reasons for wanting it. And we even voted in the House to give it to the State Department.
And finally, in conference, we had to agree to let the president make the decision. He made the decision to give it to the Defense Department.
Now, in an insurgency and nation-building -- what did President Bush say when he ran for office the first time? "We are not into nation-building. And we're not into nation-building because of the way our military has to operate." It's that simple. We've got to go in and level the place, destroy a place. And when we destroy a place, we lose the very thing that's absolutely essential to winning the insurgency.
MURTHA: Now, let's talk about terrorism versus insurgency in Iraq itself. We think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent -- might be a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion of the people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or how I would interpret them as terrorists.
And we don't have enough troops to guard against the border. The generals in charge of that part of Anbar said, "I don't have enough troops. They've given me a mission to protect against the Syrian border. I don't have enough troops to do that."
They have never had enough troops to get it under control. They didn't have enough troops for the looters. And they haven't had enough troops ever since then to get the place under control.
But the key elements, as I see it -- you heard him say that 70 percent of the Iraqis were satisfied, in that paper they sent me. Now, you'll see a document that's in this package here that told me six months before -- well, in the victory document he says we have 212,000 people trained now, Iraqi security people. Last year, we had 96,000.
Yet, they wrote to me six months before the last year's statement that said they had 200,000. Now, why don't I believe them when they say anything? They said we got weapons of mass destruction. They said we got an Al Qaida connection. They said we got nuclear weapons. They said we cross this red line which surrounds Baghdad and we're going to have a war with them.
Eighty percent of the people, according to a British poll reported by the Washington Times, says we want the United States out; 77 percent of the people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt say there's a better chance of democracy if the United States is not there because we're considered occupiers; 45 percent of the people in Iraq think that it's justified to kill Americans. They even had an official communique that says it's justified to attack Americans.
So in this country, when I made my initial proposal to redeploy the troops and to make a diplomat effort and the only way I think this will work -- I don't think you can continue to draw down the way they're talking about. They're going to withdraw. There's no question they're going to withdraw. I predict a big proportion of the troops will be out by next year.
MURTHA: But the problem is they're just as vulnerable. The biggest vulnerability we have in Iraq is the convoys. Every convoy is attacked. When I was in Anbar, at Haditha, every single convoy was attacked that goes there to bring the logistics and supplies that they need. That's the most vulnerable part of our deployment.
And if you have half the troops there, you're going to still have to supply them, resupply them on the ground and they're going to be attacked.
When I said we can't win a military victory, it's because the Iraqis have turned against us. They throw a hand grenade or a rocket into American forces and the people run into the crowd and they -- nobody tells them where they are.
I am convinced, and everything that I've read, the conclusion I've reached is there will be less terrorism, there will be less danger to the United States and it'll be less insurgency once we're out.
I think the Iraqis themselves will turn against this very small group of Al Qaida.
They keep saying the terrorists are going to control Iraq -- no way. Al Qaida's only 7 percent of the people in Iraq and doing this fighting. The terrorists -- there's several factions, but let's say Al Qaida is 7 percent at the very most.
Iraq will get rid of them because they'll tell the Iraqis where they are and it will be the end of the terrorist activity.
Now, my plan says redeploy to the periphery, to Kuwait, to Okinawa, and if there's a terrorist activity that affects our allies or affects the United States' national security, we can then go back in.
I'm not talking about going back in if there's civil war, because we're in a civil war right now. We're caught in between a civil war right now.
MURTHA: And with that I'll end and answer any questions you may have.
QUESTION: Congressman, when you talk about a quick reaction U.S. force, an over-the-horizon presence of Marines, under what circumstances would you send them back into Iraq? And if they're going to get back and be in combat, how is that better than the current situation?
MURTHA: I would only risk their lives if there was a danger to our national security. In other words, there was a terrorist camp which our intelligence -- which hasn't been very good -- but if our intelligence told us that they were training to attack the United States or our allies and that was important to us, only reason I'd send them back.
QUESTION: Would we continue to have intelligence assets within the country to keep track of such things?
MURTHA: Absolutely. Our presence would be the embassy and the intelligence assets in the embassy.
I think the Iraqis would be glad to tell us if there's terrorism going on inside their country once we're out of there. We're the occupiers, and that's the way we're envisioned.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, you had a chance this morning to outline your plan for the Democratic Caucus. Can you tell us how the plan was received, how much support you think you have within the caucus for it?
MURTHA: Well, I don't have any idea yet. I proposed this as not a Democratic plan necessarily. I just proposed this as my plan -- my long experience -- as an American plan.
And the response I've been getting has been overwhelming. I got 16,000 letters, faxes and e-mails overwhelmingly supporting. I'll tell you this, my staff heard some vitriolic opposition in the 20 percent that called against me. I told them, "Hang up." And, of course, they were trying to convince them that I had a (inaudible).
The only thing probably worse is when I was in boot camp in the Marine Corps. I probably heard worse words. But some of those folks working with me had never heard words like they heard before in the 20 percent that called in.
But, you know, a lot of people have attacked me. But it's not about Jack Murtha. The American public is thirsting for a plan. They don't see a plan, a way out.
I had one of the generals tell us in closed hearing, what was it, 10 years or 25 years, Dave, to settle this thing?
STAFF: (OFF-MIKE) going to be several decades, sir.
MURTHA: Twenty years it's going to take to settle this thing. The American people is not going to put up with it; can't afford it. We have spent $277 billion. That's what's been appropriated for this operation. We have $50 billion sitting on the table right now in our supplemental, or bridge fund we call it, in the Appropriations Committee. They're going to ask for another $100 billion next year.
MURTHA: And yet the National Guard commander called me and said we need a billion dollars in the budget to take care of activities like Katrina. They didn't have radios, today, at four years after the attack of 9/11, didn't have radios to talk to the regular Army in the United States.
I visited four bases, or three bases earlier this year -- Fort Bragg, Hood, and Stewart. The commanders told me the troops going to Iraq, because of lack of ground equipment, were the lowest level of readiness. And now when they got over there, they'd get more equipment.
We have a $50 billion backlog of equipment that has to be recapitalized and rehabilitated. So you can see, I'm so concerned.
The Army that talks to me all the time about their concern about the future.
The other thing that concerns me, could the United States react to another threat some place else? I don't think we could. We couldn't sustain the threat, that's for sure.
QUESTION: Congressman, you said that back when Secretary Rumsfeld offered his resignation, you would have accepted it. Is it time for him to offer that resignation again? And should he step down?
MURTHA: Well, as I said before, that's up to the White House.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, has anything you've heard -- since you first spoke on November 17th -- from the administration given you any hope or any indication that they are moving in the right direction?
MURTHA: I heard the national security adviser, Hadley, start to talk about withdrawal. I thought I heard Vice President Cheney talk about withdrawal.
But the plan is that there will be troops there -- they'd let it depend on the Iraqi readiness. They'd let the Iraqis decide when we come out. We've got to give the Iraqis the incentive to take over. The United States -- every candidate we've had, that we've been for, they've rejected. The Iraqis don't want us there. Eighty percent want us out of there, and 45 percent say it's OK to attack Americans. And the whole periphery say there's more chance of democracy if we get out of there. So the sooner we get out, in my estimation, the better off we'd be.
MURTHA: The time limit that I set is my own estimation. When somebody asks me -- and some of you were there when they asked the question -- I said, "I think six months is a reasonable time." And I think we could get out in six months.
QUESTION: So bottom line: You haven't heard much?
MURTHA: I haven't heard anything, no.
MURTHA: Pardon me? I couldn't hear you.
QUESTION: The treatment of detainees, the negotiations the detainees...
MURTHA: Well, I've not been part of the negotiations. They have not reached out to me. They've been talking, apparently, to McCain. McCain's called me several times.
And I see no exceptions in my estimate. I see no reason -- I think the worse possible thing to happen to me -- a young captain came to see me. His name was Fishback (ph). He came months ago.
And he said, "I don't think we're handling prisoners right. I think it's terrible. We have no regulations." And he thought the Congress was part of this. He thought the Congress was winking and saying that this is all right to have torture and he thought we were misusing the prisoners that they were capturing. These are official prisoners captured by the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served.
And I told him where we could go to the inspector general -- I'd set it up -- or he could go to the press, whatever. So he went to Senator McCain later on.
But his statement was very clear, that he didn't think we should lower our standards to the Al Qaida level and we should adhere to the Geneva Convention and the Army Field Manual. And I agree with that.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, what do you say to Senator Lieberman whom yesterday said Democrats need to acknowledge that this president is commander in chief for three more years, that undermining his credibility...
MURTHA: Undermining his credibility? What has he said that would give him credibility?
He said there was Al Qaida connection. He said there was a connection with nuclear weapons. He said there's biological, chemical weapons there. He said there's progress now. I'm showing you that I don't see the kind of progress he sees.
I'll tell you what they're saying to me when they call. It's refreshing. We're seeing some honesty about this thing.
Now, I don't know that you could call them dishonest but it certainly is not -- the public is not buying it and they've changed their mind, I think, because they feel that they've been misled.
QUESTION: Some of your colleagues have said that your resolution has been misconstrued, that it's not calling for immediate withdrawal, that it's as early as practical. Yet, when you introduced the resolution, you used the word "immediate" about 17 (ph) times. Could you clarify that? Is that...
MURTHA: What I've said, and I've tried to clarify this as best I could, redeployment is my goal. And I think we should redeploy as quickly as possible and then diplomatically go to work.
MURTHA: See, I don't think that -- I think our credibility went up from 90 percent against us in foreign countries to 82 percent against us. So we gained some credibility in the last few months.
But the point is they don't believe us. Until we get out of there they're not going to believe us -- till they make something (inaudible). I said you ought to fire half the people.
Instead, my good friend, George Tenet -- and he was a good friend of mine; he is a good friend of mine -- they gave him a Medal of Freedom. I figure (inaudible) cost him $5 million, because he told me he's going to write a book.
But the point is that the public doesn't believe them. And if the public doesn't believe them and the allies don't believe them, how are we going to have an international coalition to be able to have a significant influence on what goes on inside Iraq?
So I'd fire somebody. I'd fire two or three people. I'd fire a number of people who are involved in this thing. And then I would go forward with the international community, trying to get support from them in a diplomatic efforts, as our troops move out of there.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about the caucus this morning and why Congress was not able to come up with a unified position today?
MURTHA: Well, let me tell you, I don't know how many thousand people they have working for the administration, but each of us has a small staff. They've been home. They're listening. I think there's 34, 35 that have signed on so far.
It'll take some time for them to digest this. And I originally never asked them to sign onto it. I want them to think about this a little bit. I want to think of this -- when I go by Arlington Cemetery, and I go about every day, I look over there, I don't see Democrat or Republican on those gravestones. I see Americans on those gravestones.
And that's the way I want to look at this -- as an American dialogue.
MURTHA: Remember when George Bush went to China? He turned around and started to leave a press conference, couldn't get the door open. I'm trying to kick the door open. I'm trying to give him opportunity to find a solution, a bipartisan solution to this thing.
QUESTION: Logistically speaking, and maybe I'm not clear, but is it realistic to take all of our troops out in six months? Or how long would that process physically take?
MURTHA: Well, it could be done in six months or even less than that depending on what the circumstances were.
Most of our bases are in Kuwait and outside of -- it took us over a year to get them out of Desert I, but Desert I had 500,000 troops. And, you know, our ammunition -- it took over a year to get the ammunition out.
But it could be done very easily in six months.
QUESTION: Some of your critics are saying that the use of the word "redeploy" just makes it sound like the troops are going somewhere -- you mentioned Kuwait -- is simply a code word, a recipe for allowing the pullout to (OFF-MIKE)
MURTHA: Well, why would I say "collapse"? I mean, who told you "collapse"? The Bush administration tell you "collapse"?
MURTHA: Well, it's observation by who?
You see, this is the problem. They got all these thousands of people out there talking this way and they say there's going to be a collapse, they say there's going to be more insurgencies, they say there's terrorist activity. That doesn't mean it's so.
I've seen damn little things that they have said was true turned out to be true. That's my problem.
I'm basing this on information I have from the military, based on information of the people I talk to, not only the hospitals I visit but the generals I talk to, the retired generals I talk to. And they're as frustration as I am about what's going on.
QUESTION: Would you support a resolution that said unless the administration redeploys, the funding will be cut off on June 1st, 2006?
MURTHA: I'd never support a resolution that cuts -- undercuts the troops when they're out in the field and fighting a war.
I'm hopeful we'll be able to negotiate something here. I'm hopeful we'll be able to convince them that every person that's lost now -- I am convinced we can't win militarily. The military has said we can't win militarily. Nation building, which we're in now, Bush was against himself. And if you're nation building, the way go in -- the very way you operate dictates against you winning because the people are against you.
So I'm not to the point where I'd support something like that.
QUESTION: There are some who have said the ultimate solution to the situation is by bringing the other countries in the area in some form of security discussion, and that includes openings to Iraq, to Iran, as well as to Syria.
QUESTION: I was wondering, how do you view the situation? If the U.S. would pull out, what do we do then?
MURTHA: Well, I think we have to do it. I think once we pull out, we'll be able to talk to them. I think until we pull out, we won't be able to, because of our credibility.
In the first place, the way we went in, and then the fact that we aren't taking any blame for going in.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, you said 34 to 35 Democrats have signed on to your original proposal on troop withdrawal. Was that today at a caucus meeting or has that been over the last week?
MURTHA: Where's Debbie? That's all I know of, as of today. I don't think anybody signed on for it today.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, just a follow-on on the question before about this morning's meeting. A number of plans were discussed, and Democrats couldn't come to agreement...
MURTHA: Let me tell you, there's only two plans. One plan is the president's plan. And that's stay the course and hope. And there's a plan that I'm proposing which calls for immediate redeployment.
QUESTION: But why can't Democrats seem to coalesce around...
MURTHA: We're not in charge. They're in charge. Listen, the first time I asked anybody to sign on was this morning. I felt this was my personal proposal. And so I would hope that they would see, after they look at this thing, that this is the right direction to go.
And I think you'll see a lot more on it.
QUESTION: Can we come back to the $100 million? You said that you expect the military to ask for $100 million (OFF-MIKE). Where are you getting that figure?
MURTHA: Where I get all my figures: the military.
Let me tell you -- they didn't ask for this $50 billion. We put it in. We talked to them about where it ought to be.
When I visited the three bases that I talk about, which were down south, I came back and I said to the military: Go to Iraq and tell me what shortage you have there.
They sent the Marine Corps over, the highest level people in the Army over, they came back with -- what was it, $8 billion?
STAFF: Yes, sir.
MURTHA: $8 billion in requests for equipment they need today. Our equipment is absolutely run out. We're running our Bradleys a thousand miles a month, where it used to be a thousand miles a year. So there's substantial rehabilitation that has to be done.
They didn't ask for the 30,000 troops, as you know. We authorized it. They couldn't meet that quota. They couldn't meet -- they're 10,000 short of the extra people, 6,000 of what we have. National Guard and Reserve are between 80 percent and 84 percent of their goal in recruiting.
We are stretched thin. Some of these folks have been deployed three and four and five times. And it's unfair that such a small proportion -- you know, a lot of people say they support the war, but don't send my child.
I was for the draft. I said we ought to have more troops there early on. And I was for the draft. Do you know how many people voted for the draft? Two.
So when I go to a college campus and they say to me: Is there going to be a draft? I say, "Well, I'm for a draft, but it's not likely."
QUESTION: Congressman, are you convinced that Democrats who go back to their districts advocating your position will be (OFF-MIKE).
MURTHA: Well, what I've heard -- what I've heard from the people that have called us, the 16,000 -- now, you know the negatives try to get through first.
MURTHA: It's been 14,000 and some in favor of my position. And what the members have told me today, I'm a household name in their district.
Well, you know, that's not what this is all about. But that's what they say and they're asking why you're not on that resolution. And we just have to work our way through it. I'm sure the more they look at it, the more they study the alternatives, the more people we'll have involved in my resolution.
Thank you very much, folks.
QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, do you expect that resolution to come up in any form or shape before the Congress?
QUESTION: No. Why not?
MURTHA: If you remember, it came up already, remember?
MURTHA: Not exactly the same form.
MURTHA: No, I don't expect it will come up.
QUESTION: Why not?
MURTHA: I don't know.
QUESTION: What about the Senate? Do you have any (inaudible)?
MURTHA: I have had 12 senators call me -- mostly calling about information.
MURTHA: One senator, I said -- you know, they're all running for president -- but to one senator I said, "This is a watershed event for you, Senator. You'd better get off the middle ground, because what your position is is in between and it's nothing."
And that senator did not like what I said.
QUESTION: Was he a Democrat or was he...
MURTHA: Well, he was obviously a Democrat.
QUESTION: Were they all Democrats that called you?
MURTHA: No, no. They weren't all Democrats.
But one of the other things I said to this one Republican senator, I said, "You know, I shouldn't have criticized Cheney. He's a good friend of mine." He said, "My wife loved it."