During the November 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews repeatedly suggested that Rep. John P. Murtha's (D-PA) call for a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq was inconsistent with his record of being “known as the soldiers' friend” and “pro-Pentagon, pro-soldier.” The suggestion echoed recent news reports that described Murtha as being “usually pro-military,” implying that his current position is not, and a “pro-military” Democrat, suggesting that the typical Democrat is not. In a separate November 22 CNN.com article concerning reactions to the proposal among Murtha's Pennsylvania constituents, political editor Mark Preston wrote that Murtha has been “a hawk on military matters, reflecting the strong patriotic nature of this southwestern corner of the state,” implying that any position other than support for war is unpatriotic.
While interviewing Murtha on Hardball, Matthews said: “Mr. Murtha, I've known you for years, I really like you, but you've always been a hawk. You've always been a defense defender, big defense spending, big support for the Pentagon, known as the soldiers' friend. Why are you against the war in Iraq now?”
During a lengthy response, Murtha said: “These troops have done a hell of a job. Chris, I go out to the hospital almost every week and I see these young men and women who suffer. I see them asking for nothing. I see them not complaining. I see them actually bearing up very well under the burden. ... Only the Congress of the United States can speak for the soldiers. I think we need to change direction in Iraq.”
Nevertheless, later during the same broadcast, in a discussion with Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, Matthews again implied that Murtha's call for redeployment was noteworthy at least in part because "[Murtha is] normally seen as ... pro-soldier." Matthews never explained how Murtha's assertion -- echoing a previous statement he made when announcing his resolution that "[b]ecause we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our obligation to speak out for them" -- conflicts with the record of a “pro-soldier” legislator.
As the media criticism weblog Presstitutes noted, CNN.com's Preston also pointed to Murtha's military background as the basis for stating that Murtha reflects “the strong patriotic nature” of Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District. In making that assertion, Preston implied that in order to reflect patriotism, a legislator necessarily must take a hawkish position on the use of military force.
From the November 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Mr. Murtha, I've known you for years, I really like you, but you've always been a hawk. You've always been a defense defender, big defense spending, big support for the Pentagon, known as the soldiers' friend. Why are you against this war in Iraq now?
MURTHA: Well, I've come to the conclusion, Chris, after visiting Iraq two months ago and listening to the commanders who say obviously what the White House wants them to say -- but they don't say it with the enthusiasm. And they talk about the problems they have -- for instance, they told me that every convoy is attacked that goes to Haditha. And I was in Anbar province, which has Fallujah and Ramadi and the areas where they're highly contested.
He doesn't have enough troops to protect the border, so he can't complete his mission because he doesn't have enough people. He told me none of the Iraqis were up to where they should be. All of them were C-3, which is the lowest state of readiness for the Iraqi units. And he says they only work three weeks out of the month and they go home for one week.Then I came home and I looked at the report which we required in the Appropriations Committee, and that showed no significant progress at all. For instance, unemployment is 60 percent. The energy supply -- energy is below prewar level.
Oil production is below prewar level. And we've become the enemy. I saw a British poll reported in The Washington Times that said 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. Then I saw a poll, which was confirmed by the Defense Department, 45 percent think it's justified to attack Americans. Now I'm convinced, until we turn this over to the Iraqis, we're not going to have the success we need. I'm convinced since we've become the enemy, I'm convinced since the U.S. is doing all the fighting or doing most of the fighting, that we're not going to be successful.
The Iraqis are not going to tell the U.S. people where the insurgents are. There's not a great number of insurgents there. There was no terrorism before we went there. And I'm convinced terrorism will be reduced if we redeploy our forces. Now, a lot of people are saying, “Pull out.” They've got a resolution on the floor today -- a ridiculous resolution -- which calls for an immediate pullout. No Democrat is going to vote for that. That's not what we're saying. We have what I feel is a very constructive resolution which gives a good proposal about how this war can be ended in a favorable way. These troops have done a hell of a job. Chris, I go out to the hospital almost every week and I see these young men and women who suffer. I see them asking for nothing. I see them not complaining. I see them actually bearing up very well under the burden.
One young woman from Notre Dame, a basketball player, lost her right hand. She is worried about her husband, because her husband was losing weight worrying about her. Another young fellow that lost both his hands and was blinded, and the only thing the family asked for is that he get a Purple Heart. And the reason he wasn't getting a Purple Heart, because this happened with friendly ammunition. He got his Purple Heart.
But I find out a lot from the troops that are in the hospitals. I find out what's needed. They don't complain. Only the Congress of the United States can speak for the soldiers. I think we need to change direction in Iraq. I think we need to redeploy our troops beyond the horizon. This resolution they're going to introduce today calls for immediate withdrawal. That's not what anybody is saying. We need a thoughtful suggestion, a thoughtful resolution, which concludes this war as quickly as possible.
I see no progress at all that's being made. So I came to the conclusion, after almost a year of thought, that it had to be changed. Now, we provide everything the troops needed. We've made sure they had all the equipment they needed. Even though they went into this war with not enough people for the transition to peace, they come into it with less than the number of people they needed, and also they came in without the body armor they needed, the up-armored Humvee.
They completely miscalculated the degree of resistance they would run into. State Department told them, CIA told them -- they ignored that. The former plan called for a lot more troops and they whittled it down because they thought they could win this thing on the cheap. They said oil would pay for this. Now let's compare this with his father. His father had a legitimate coalition. He had 500,000 with 100,000 coalition troops. $60 billion -- and I was chairman of the committee at the time -- went through our committee, was paid for by the international community. Japan, Germany, France -- all of these other countries helped pay for it. He decided not to go into Iraq. He liberated Kuwait with the U.N. resolution and he decided, “I'm not going to go into Iraq.” Why? He didn't want to rebuild it, he didn't want to reconstruct it, and he didn't want to occupy it. He had an exit strategy. There is no exit strategy. The path to victory -- victory is not a strategy. I sent a letter to the White House, Chris, in September of last year and I got an answer in May, saying what I suggested they ought to do. They don't reach out. His dad reached out to everybody, reached out to Republicans and Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Bob Shrum. Your view, Jack Murtha is a pretty traditional Democrat, a bread-and-butter, working-wages Democrat from western Pennsylvania. He's normally seen as a hawk, pro-Pentagon, pro-soldier. He's called now for almost immediate withdrawal. He calls it a redeployment, but it's definitely get our troops out of Iraq. Where does that take us now, Bob?
From Preston's November 22 CNN.com article:
Since his arrival in Congress more than 30 years ago, Murtha has helped blunt the loss of the steel industry by pumping federal dollars into his district as a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee. He has also been a hawk on military matters, reflecting the strong patriotic nature of this southwestern corner of the state.
That changed last week when Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq over a six-month period.
Murtha's comments initially drew a strong rebuke from the White House with Bush spokesman Scott McClellan linking Murtha to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.