CNN's Henry reported that Murtha said "surge is working," ignored his continued call for Iraq withdrawal

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

On CNN, Ed Henry reported that "Democrats ... like Congressman John Murtha ... are now saying that the surge is working," and suggested that, as a result of such comments, it "is going to be more and more difficult for Democrats" to argue that President Bush should sign a war funding bill that includes a provision for troop redeployment. But Murtha, who voted in favor of the bill, actually said, "I think the surge is working, I think -- but that's only one element. ... [T]he thing that has to happen, the Iraqis have to do this themselves." In a subsequent statement, Murtha added: "The fact remains that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily, and that we must begin an orderly redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as practicable."

On the December 2 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry reported that "Democrats ... like Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, are now saying that the surge is working," referring to President Bush's troop increase strategy in Iraq. Henry further suggested that, as a result of such comments, it "is going to be more and more difficult for Democrats" to argue that Bush should sign a war funding bill that includes a provision for troop redeployment. But Murtha did not broadly assert that the troop increase strategy "is working," as Henry suggested. In fact, during his November 29 press conference -- video of which is available online -- Murtha said: "I think the surge is working, I think -- but that's only one element. ... There's no question in my mind that if you put more forces in ... it's going to work out. But the thing that has to happen, the Iraqis have to do this themselves." Murtha went on to state that, according to Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, "the impression was, that I got from all of them, [was] that the central government is pretty close to dysfunctional." Moreover, in a statement released the next day, Murtha reaffirmed his support for the very legislation that Henry cited -- a $50 billion war funding bill passed by the House, which Murtha voted for, that mandates that the United States begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, "[w]ithin 30 days after enactment of this Act." Murtha added that "[t]he fact remains that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily, and that we must begin an orderly redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as practicable."

As Media Matters for America has noted, when announcing his troop increase strategy in January, Bush specifically stated that "[a] successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations" and will include a political component: "hold[ing] the Iraqi government to the benchmarks [the United States] has announced." Indeed, during a July 12 press conference, Bush asserted that his troop increase strategy "seeks to open space for Iraq's political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability":

BUSH: The strategy I announced in January is designed to seize the initiative and create those conditions. It's aimed at helping the Iraqis strengthen their government so that it can function even amid violence. It seeks to open space for Iraq's political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability. It is focused on applying sustained military pressure to rout out terrorist networks in Baghdad and surrounding areas. It is committed to using diplomacy to strengthen regional and international support for Iraq's democratic government.

Reporting on Bush's criticism of Congress for not passing war funding legislation, Henry noted that "House and Senate Democratic leaders fired back at the president and said that if he really wants to help out U.S. troops and he wants the money, he should sign a bill that also will start bringing them home in large numbers by the end of 2008." Henry then quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) statement that "Bush Republicans have indefinitely committed our military to a civil war that has taken a tremendous toll on our troops." Henry concluded: "But that argument is going to be more and more difficult for Democrats to make, especially now that some of their own, like Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, are now saying that the surge is working."

However, as Huffington Post political reporter Sam Stein reported on November 30, Murtha acknowledged military successes in Iraq during his November 29 press conference, but "the congressman's statement was far more nuanced than what is being reported and echoed his previous statements praising the U.S. military's efforts":

War proponents have seized on the words of Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, who said Thursday, following a visit to Iraq, that the troop surge is working -- a seeming contradiction from earlier criticism.

But the congressman's statement was far more nuanced than what is being reported and echoes his previous statements praising the U.S. military's efforts.

Speaking via teleconference to reporters in four different cities, Murtha did acknowledge that the surge, which he had firmly criticized, has led to military successes. But he also warned repeatedly that the Iraqis were not doing enough to capitalize on those gains.

"I think the surge is working but that's only one element. It's working because of the increase in troops," he said, "but the thing that has to happen is that the Iraqis have to do this themselves..."

(The caveat was all but ignored by some conservative critics, one of whom described Murtha's claim as the equivalent of "hell freezing over.")

Since expressing skepticism over the war in November 2005, Murtha has consistently applauded the capabilities of the troops but also emphasized that, in the absence of political progress among the Iraqi government; their work would be for naught. When President Bush rolled out his surge proposal in the winter of 2007, he opposed the idea, according to the Wall Street Journal, because "it meant depleting readiness at home or extending the tours of troops [currently] in the war zone."

On Thursday, the congressman took a softer but similar stance. Murtha harped on the lack of political and diplomatic progress in Iraq. "The impression I got was that the central government was pretty close to dysfunctional," he said. "They hope the 2008 budget will be passed by 2007 but there are still 17 ministerial seats unfilled."

And he spoke worrisomely about the status of America's armed forces: "I keep stressing we can no longer afford to spend 14 billion a month on the war and let our readiness slip in other parts of the country."

Moreover, Murtha continues to support redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq, as he made clear in his November 30 statement:

The military surge has created a window of opportunity for the Iraqi Government. Unfortunately, the sacrifice of our troops has not been met by the Iraqi Government and they have failed to capitalize on the political and diplomatic steps that the surge was designed to provide.

The fact remains that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily, and that we must begin an orderly redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as practicable.

The House of Representatives has passed a $50 billion funding bill that provides the President, our troops, and our nation with a responsible plan for bringing our troops home. The President should heed the advice of the American people and allow this funding bill to become law.

From Murtha's November 29 press conference:

MURTHA: I think the surge is working, I think -- but that's only one element. And the surge is working for a couple different reasons: one is because of the increase in troops. I sent a letter to the president three or four years ago saying, "We need 100,000 more troops" at one point. They went in with inadequate forces. There's no question in my mind that if you put more forces in, you're going to have -- it's going to work out.

But the thing that has to happen, the Iraqis have to do this themselves. We can't win it for them. In Afghanistan or Iraq, they've got to take over themselves. And in the provinces where they've taken over, we've made progress. Anbar Province is a perfect example of that. Now, we've had to pay some of the folks, but the point is, when they get into the whole thing, we start making progress.

[...]

MURTHA: In Iraq and meeting with General Crocker, or Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, they stated -- or the impression was, that I got from all of them, that the central government is pretty close to dysfunctional -- that's the central government.

From the December 2 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week:

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. President Bush warning Congress this week of the dire consequences of its failure to fund our military. It is one of his strongest challenges yet to the Democratic leadership in Congress. The president said Congress should approve a spending bill without any strings attached before it leaves town for the Christmas recess. Ed Henry has our report from the White House -- Ed.

HENRY: Lou, the president this week will be on a collision course with congressional Democrats returning from their Thanksgiving break. Mr. Bush already ripping into them for dragging their feet on getting him more war funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- essentially declaring now that American lives are at risk. The president last week making a trip to the Pentagon and saying, defense officials are trying to stop what he called "another day of destruction on American soil, a terror attack."

Democrats, as you know, have been pushing a plan that would give the president another $50 billion in war funding, but it comes with a big catch. That war funding would only come if the president agreed to a provision to bring home most U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2008. That plan blocked by Senate Republicans because the president is not on board. Mr. Bush saying at the Pentagon, it's time to get this money to U.S. troops before Christmas without any strings attached. He said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates can only move money around into different accounts for so long, then, eventually, the Defense Department will have to start laying off some civilian employees and freezing defense contracts.

BUSH [video clip]: Pentagon officials have warned Congress that the continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of this department. The warning has been laid out for the United States Congress to hear.

HENRY: Now, House and Senate Democratic leaders fired back at the president and said that if he really wants to help out U.S. troops and he wants the money, he should sign a bill that also will start bringing them home in large numbers by the end of 2008. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid saying, quote, "Bush Republicans have indefinitely committed our military to a civil war that has taken a tremendous toll on our troops."

But that argument is going to be more and more difficult for Democrats to make, especially now that some of their own, like Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, are now saying that the surge is working -- Lou.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
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CNN
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Ed Henry
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