Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday brushed aside a House Democrat's call to begin pulling troops from Iraq, saying such talk encourages the terrorists and sends the wrong message to the Iraqis.
"Think of the enemy listening to an argument that we should withdraw immediately, or soon," he said. "All they would say to themselves is, 'Fair enough. All we have to do is wait 'em out.'"
"Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqis, the Iraqi people, who risked their lives to run for public office and to go out and vote to ratify a constitution, and who are getting prepared to have an election," Mr. Rumsfeld told CBS' "Face the Nation."
Appearing on several Sunday political talk shows, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about statements last week by Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and a retired Marine Corps colonel who has long been critical of the war. He wants to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said debate during wartime is part of the democratic process. "Picture turning over Iraq to [terrorist Abu Musab] Zarqawi, the person who beheads people, the person who is out killing innocent men and women -- Iraqis and men, women and children -- turning that country, with its oil, with its water, with its population into a haven for terrorists."
"Murtha's a fine man; I know him personally. And it's perfectly proper to have a debate over these things and have a public debate. We had debates during World War II ... And we're going to have debates during this war. The important thing is to recognize that there's a consequence for what you say."
Mr. Murtha appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and predicted that American troops would be gone from Iraq by the November 2006 congressional elections.
"I'm absolutely convinced that we're making no progress at all," he said. "And I've been complaining for two years that there's an illusionary process going on here. They keep trying to measure Iraqi troops by our standards.
"Let me predict this: We're going to be out of there, and we're going to be out of there very quickly, and it's going to be very close to the plan that I'm presenting right now. I predict we'll be out of there by 2006."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon expects to begin withdrawing troops after the Dec. 15 Iraqi parliamentary elections, from 159,000 to 138,000.
"As we keep passing off responsibility to the Iraqi security forces, we have the prospect of bringing down the numbers of coalition forces," he said.
Asked whether polls that show as many as 60 percent of Americans think the war is not worth fighting, Mr. Rumsfeld said if the president and his administration "started chasing polls, they would get seasick, because they go up and down and up and down."
"On big issues, the American people find a way to right decisions. And they're going to find their way to the right decision here. And they're going to be supportive."