Review: Support for Iraq and a Tweak to a Leak
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Our military's done everything that had been asked of them. The US cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.
SIMON: Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Mr. Murtha introduced a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as quickly as possible. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.
DAN SCHORR reporting:
SIMON: And this was a surprise to a great many people. Congressman Murtha, while a Democrat, is a pro-war Democrat, who voted in favor of the US involvement in Iraq. How significant do you find his enunciated withdrawal of that support this week and the public reaction it caused?
SCHORR: Well, he's having an enormous impact. His resolution led to a very angry debate on the floor of the House in which people all but accused each other of treason or maybe something worse. It reminds me of back in 1973 and 1974 when the turning point on Nixon became one congressman introducing a resolution calling for impeachment. It seemed right strange at the time, but then when people look back on it, they say, `That's where it began.' I have to say that the way things are going, should there be some decision at some point to withdraw the troops, however slowly or whatever, people will look back and say, `Murtha started this.'
SIMON: Meanwhile, this week, the Senate voted 79-to-19 to adopt a resolution that requires the White House to submit a report to Congress every 90 days, and this all--the phrase is--it sets out 2006 as, what it calls, quote, "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty." How do we read that phrase?
SCHORR: Well, you know--and it's very--everybody today is very busy working out what position to take in a very tense situation. Until now, it has been, the position is, support the troops, support the war, support everything. Now maybe with the help of Congressman Murtha, things are changing a little bit, and people now want to be on both sides or on all sides of this issue. So the Senate had a Democratic resolution calling for withdrawal of troops and it phased out and all of that, and that was defeated. And then they introduced a Republican resolution. But, in compromise with the Democrats, which would say, `We want you to report to us every three months how things are going and sort of begin to think where you're--about getting out,' this is the beginning, I think, of what's going to be a very, very strange debate for the next weeks or months, in which people in Congress are going to say, `I'm not sure where I ought to be on this. What's--where's a good place to be?' There won't be any.
SIMON: US troops in Iraq made a horrifying discovery this week, an underground detention center where 173 men and boys were being held. The prisoners showed signs of malnutrition and some showed signs of torture. The US ambassador to Iraq immediately stormed in and called this reprehensible, I believe.
SCHORR: That's right.
SIMON: What do you make of this discovery?
SCHORR: Well, I think it's very interesting. The people who now today control the young government in Iraq are mainly Shiites. The Shiites have, for a long, long time, been oppressed by Sunnis. Now it looks as though they want to get their own back and now you'll find Shiites oppressing Sunnis. The most important part of the government is Shiite. The people who were in that detention center were mostly Sunnis and that is why the ambassador has to go in and try to stop this if there's ever going to be a unified government with all three groups there. This is about the time to try to enforce that.
SIMON: President Bush, of course, has been traveling through several nations in Asia this weekend, arriving finally in China. What themes has he been trying to drive home?
SCHORR: Well, his favorite themes are--`Everything will be better if you have free trade,' except that we don't have too much free trade with China because we need to keep a little control over how much they can send to us, but he may think he's traveling in China, traveling in South Korea and so on, but the fact is that this story of Iraq is following him there. The press corps doesn't ask him, `What did you and the Chinese president agree on?' It's `Mr. President, what do you think of the Murtha resolution? Has anything changed?,' waiting for them to use that word `irresponsible,' as the president now likes to use, for Democrats who introduce these things. The president might as well have stay homed for all the changes that he can make in Asia with what's happening in this country.
SIMON: A new twist into the investigation in the leak of Valerie Plame's name as a CIA agent. Bob Woodward of The Washington Post said this week that a White House official told him the name of Valerie Plame more than two years ago. That's a month before Robert Novak wrote about Valerie Plame in his column. How does this affect in your mind the investigation and the public clamor over the investigation into that leak?
SCHORR: Well, it's very strange. Bob Woodward waited two years to tell his own executive editor, Len Downie, what had happened. Then he apologized for that. When asked why he had kept it secret all this time, he said, `Because'--well, he was writing a book and he didn't want to be subpoenaed. That's rather odd because he said that he got word about this in June 2003. The investigation and the subpoena business didn't start until much later. It was in--I think not before December of that year...
SIMON: That's when Patrick Fitzgerald was named, you know?
SCHORR: ...when Patrick Fitzgerald then--so how could he have been worried about a subpoena six months before anybody was there to issue any?
SIMON: Len Downie, the editor of The Washington Post, says it was a mistake, these things happen. Let me put you on the spot a bit. Did one of the most esteemed names in American journalism, Bob Woodward, in your estimation, do anything wrong?
SCHORR: I don't like talking about what's right and wrong, especially about my colleagues. I don't think, however, that Bob acted in what I would consider to be the highest ethics of the journalistic profession. All right. I've said it.
SIMON: Indeed, you did. Judge Samuel Alito--they unearthed a job application from 1985. He was trying to get a job in the Reagan White House in which he said on his application that he does not believe abortion rights are protected by the US Constitution. This something he's going to have to answer when his confirmation hearings begin in January?
SCHORR: Well, yes, of course.. I mean, most--every candidate for federal judiciaries asked these days, `What do you think about abortion? What do you think about Roe vs. Wade?' And two ways of attacking it; one way is, `I will not comment on that,' and the other is to say, `Well, those are things that I said when I was looking for a job back in 1985. You don't take that seriously, do you?'
SIMON: FEMA announced this week that it's going to stop paying the hotel rate for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on December 1. After that, the evacuees will have to find new housing or start paying for their own rooms.
SCHORR: It's really quite remarkable the way FEMA--I thought FEMA, having gotten itself a new head, would begin to act better now, but they still act in a most peculiar way, in a way in which you get the people down there in Louisiana and the neighboring states simply feel that they're being abandoned by their government. Television show after television show, people saying, `I have--where am I supposed to go? If I get out of this hotel room, where am I supposed to go?' You know, apparently there's been enough fuss made, enough electrical bolts loosed against FEMA and the US government in general that they now say that they're going to reconsider and they'll find some place for these people to go at long last.
SIMON: Dan, thanks very much.
SCHORR: Sure thing.
SIMON: Daniel Schorr.