Murtha on Meet the Press

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Rep. John Murtha has been taking some hits in the blogosphere for his performance on Meet the Press Sunday. Here's an interesting excerpt:

When we went to Beirut, I said to President Reagan, "Get out." Now, the other day we were doing a debate, and they said, "Well, Beirut was a different situation. We cut and run." We didn't cut and run. President Reagan made the decision to change direction because he knew he couldn't win it. Even in Somalia, President Clinton made the decision, "We have to, we have to change direction. Even with tax cuts. When we had a tax cut under Reagan, we then had a tax increase because he had to change direction. We need to change direction. We can't win a war like this.

But the "change in direction" that took us out of Somalia turned out to have consequences: It inspired Osama bin Laden to target the United States. As he told us himself:

After leaving Afghanistan, the Muslim fighters headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians. The youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat. And America forgot all the hoopla and media propaganda ... about being the world leader and the leader of the New World Order, and after a few blows they forgot about this title and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Murtha then opined that we can operate effectively in Iraq with forces deployed in, among other places, Okinawa:

MURTHA: Kuwait's one that will take us. Qatar, we already have bases in Qatar. So Bahrain. All those countries are willing to take the United States. Now, Saudi Arabia won't because they wanted us out of there in the first place. So—and we don't have to be right there. We can go to Okinawa. We, we don't have—we can redeploy there almost instantly. So that's not—that's, that's a fallacy. That's just a statement to rile up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.

TIM RUSSERT: But it'd be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.

MURTHA: Well, it—you know, they—when I say Okinawa, I'm saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly. Andwhen they don't know we're coming. There's no question about it. And where those airplanes won't—came from I can't tell you, but, but I'll tell you one thing, it doesn't take very long for them to get in with cruise missiles or with, with fighter aircraft or, or attack aircraft, it doesn't take any time at all. So we, we have done—this one particular operation, to say that that couldn't have done, done—it was done from the outside, for heaven's sakes.

But Okinawa is a long way away from Iraq—some 4,200 nautical miles, with most of the flight path over Chinese and Iranian territory.

For many years Murtha was one of the quiet insiders in the House, standing at the back rail where some of the old-timers liked to smoke and swap stories, working on the defense appropriations subcommittee on which he is now the ranking minority member. On Meet the Press he seemed most impassioned when he described the plight of our troops in Iraq; as I have written before, his main concern seems to be the welfare of the troops. Of course, as I wrote then, if the welfare of the troops were our only concern in war, we never would have gone into Normandy, where more Americans died on D-Day than have died in more than three years of conflict in Iraq. The Democrats have embraced Murtha as a spokesman, as they accepted John Kerry as their presidential nominee, for his military record; Murtha served in the Marine Corps and returned to duty when he was well past 30 in Vietnam. But I'm afraid he's turned out to be a less than ideal spokesman, just as Kerry proved to be a less than ideal presidential nominee. His citing as precedent our "changing direction" in Somalia was a particularly bad mistake, as that retreat turned out to invite the terrorism of Osama bin Laden—and because Somalia once again seems to have become a haven for terrorists. He served his party better as a quiet insider.

Murtha has been re-elected for years by wide margins. His district was designed by Republican redistricters to be safe for him; they made sure to put heavily Republican precincts in nearby districts, including a newly created Republican suburban Pittsburgh district. But George W. Bush ran pretty well in the coal-and-steel country of western Pennsylvania (much better, vis-à-vis historic norms, than in eastern Pennsylvania), and John Kerry carried the district by only 51 to 49 percent, down from Al Gore's 55 to 45 percent in the same territory. Fox News ran an interview of Murtha's Republican opponent, Diana Irey, who made sure to get in the name of her website before the anchor moved to the next segment.