Friday, February 17, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in his first public faceoff with Rep. John P. Murtha since the Pennsylvania Democrat called for a quick U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, rejected yesterday the congressman’s charge that the U.S. cannot win the war.

At a hearing on the Pentagon budget before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense, Mr. Murtha, the panel’s top Democrat, renewed his November call for a pullout.

“Where I disagree is fighting terrorism in Iraq,” Mr. Murtha said. “I think that we’re inciting terrorism, and that’s my personal opinion. … When you go in … with the tactics we have to use to protect American lives, you’re going to create enemies. And that’s what we’ve done.”

“I just think that we need to withdraw, redeploy as quickly as possible, and then, in addition to that, we need to continue the fight on terrorism,” he said.

Mr. Murtha listed various polls that he said show that Iraqis want the U.S. out and approve of attacks on Americans. More than 2,000 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq amid waves of violence that also have killed thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Mr. Rumsfeld listened as Mr. Murtha leveled his pessimistic assessment and then heard a second round of attacks from Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

The defense secretary then suspended his rehearsed opening statement and responded.

“The idea that you should paint a picture and hang crepe over it, that everything’s horrible in Iraq, is not true,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, citing three elections last year that created an Iraqi constitution and parliament.

“Now, is it a pretty picture? Has it been done instantaneously? No. Is there a lot of tugging and hauling and politicking? You bet there is over there,” he said. “And are we gong to end up with something that we stand back and look at it and say, ‘Gee, that’s a pretty picture?’ No. It’s going to be an Iraqi picture. It’s not going to be an American picture. But it’s going to get done.”

The Bush administration has admitted that its prewar planning failed to predict a foreign and homegrown insurgency.

Once a supporter of the war, Mr. Murtha broke with the administration in November, calling the war unwinnable. The stance from a decorated Marine combat veteran made Mr. Murtha an instant hit with the political left and liberal press.

He went further, accusing President Bush of misleading the country about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which the dictator used and possessed in the 1980s and ‘90s, but did not have when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003

Mr. Murtha also told a group in his Pennsylvania district that the Army “is broken,” creating a further clash with the Pentagon, which said the service is stressed, but relatively healthy.

Mr. Obey revived Democratic attacks on poor prewar planning.

“Let me simply express my deep and profound reservations about what’s happening in Iraq and my deep skepticism that this administration has a clue about what to do about it,” Mr. Obey said.

“Given all the faulty intelligence, the poor planning, the misjudgments, the mismanagement that we’ve seen in this effort over the past number of years, why should we believe that the administration’s plan for Iraq is any more likely to produce success than the plan offered by Mr. Murtha?” he asked.

Mr. Rumsfeld tried to impress on lawmakers the challenge of turning a police state into a democracy while in the cross hairs of relentless al Qaeda and Iraqi terrorists.

“When we get up in the morning, there’s no road map how to do this,” he said. “There’s no guidebook that says, ‘Gee, today you do this.’ It is tough stuff.”

Mr. Rumsfeld won endorsements from subcommittee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, California Republican.

“I don’t agree with a lot of the things that have just been said by Mr. Obey and Mr. Murtha,” Mr. Young said. “We’re not fighting a war against Iraq. We’re fighting a global war on terror. Iraq and Afghanistan are just two of the battlefields where we’re fighting terrorists.”

Mr. Lewis added: “Mr. Secretary, that was a fabulous statement.”

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