Congress Reacts Swiftly to Iraq Speech
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Mr. Bush's speech today fit with his strategy of praising supporters and attacking critics. The administration's Iraq policy has split Capitol Hill, and the president had kind words for supportive Democrats and a harsher assessment of Congressman John Murtha. The Pennsylvania congressman has been one of Mr. Bush's highest-profile critics in recent weeks. As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, Murtha was among many in Congress to swiftly react to the president's speech.
ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:
Murtha is one of the most hawkish Democrats in the House, a retired Marine who fought in Vietnam, the kind of Democrat the Bush administration used to count among its supporters on Iraq. Not any longer. Murtha is angry as a hornet, and today's speech didn't help.
Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): The American public is thirsting for a plan. They don't see a plan, a way out.
SEABROOK: Murtha says US troops are now in between two sides of a bloody civil war in Iraq and have become the target. His plan would redeploy troops to surrounding countries in the region while the Iraqi government and military take over their country. President Bush says this would hand a victory to terrorists operating in Iraq, but Murtha thinks not.
Rep. MURTHA: You heard the president talk today about terrorism. Every other word was `terrorist.' Let me separate terrorism from insurgency.
SEABROOK: Only a small percentage of those fighting the US in Iraq--under 10 percent according to Murtha--are linked to terrorist groups. He contends that if the US left Iraq and was no longer seen by regular Iraqis as an occupier, the terrorists would have no advantage there. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said security on the ground in Iraq is not getting better, despite what the president says.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): This is at the president's doorstep. From day one, he has misled the American people. He either didn't know what he was getting into or didn't know how to go about it. He wanted to go to Iraq in the worst possible way, and he did.
SEABROOK: But these Democrats' comments could not be more different than the reaction of Bush loyalists among congressional Republicans. Florida's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was exuberant.
Representative ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (Republican, Florida): Well, hoo-rah! I think it's wonderful that the president once again is going on the offensive to talk about the good news about what's going on in Iraq.
SEABROOK: Ros-Lehtinen says she's seen the progress in Iraq in infrastructure projects and slowly increasing security. And she rejects the idea that some Democrats have put forth that the Iraq War is unwinnable.
Rep. ROS-LEHTINEN: Of course, we can win in Iraq. How we could lose, though, is if we lose it here, in Washington, if we lose our political will to stay the course and be victorious.
SEABROOK: Moderate Republicans also stated their support for the Bush administration and its ongoing strategy, though with somewhat less enthusiasm. New Hampshire's Charles Bass said the US must remain steady in its effort, though he said he thinks the military's strategy will change a lot in the coming year.
Representative CHARLES BASS (Republican, New Hampshire): I believe that the president in 2006 will redefine the Iraqi mission. He's not going to be told how to do it or when--or what parameters he needs to use. And I support that because I think that for us in Congress to define what the military field commanders think is in the best interest of this country is probably a mistake.
SEABROOK: And many in Congress, on all sides of the Iraq question, say they're hearing more every day from constituents angry about the war. And as public support keeps sinking, the White House is likely to get increasing pressure from members of both parties to make progress or change its Iraq strategy. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.