US Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Committee and an Iraq war critic, was the guest at last Friday's Monitor breakfast.
Murtha left college at the end of the Korean War to join the Marine Corps, becoming a Marine drill instructor and later an officer. After leaving the Marines and graduating from college, he volunteered for service in Vietnam where he won the Bronze Star and two purple hearts.
In 1974 Murtha became the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. Long an influential behind-the-scenes player in Congress, his November 2005 call for the withdrawl of American troops in Iraq triggered a ferocious response - pro and con. As recently as last Monday, Vice President Cheney singled out Rep. Murtha for criticism in a speech in Iowa.
Here are excerpts from Murtha's remarks:
On his view of US policy in Iraq:
"We have become occupiers. We cannot win this militarily. I decided this over a year ago. But I hesitated to say anything. I waited probably too long. The way we operate militarily is a problem.... We go into a place, we have to blow it up to protect American lives. I agree with that. That's the way we operate to protect Americans. But that makes enemies and when you make enemies then you have the problem of how do you recover..."
On US ability to cope with threats from Iran and North Korea:
"We have no strategic reserve. Our forces in the United States, 70 percent of them, are below deployable level overseas.... The army is struggling every day to meet their bills. They reprogram, they try to find places where they can come up with money. It is a disaster."
On how much the Army will need to rebuild after the war in Iraq:
"It is going to take $60 billion to get the Army back in shape. And let me tell you, the money is not going to be there. The minute this [war] is over, the money will dry up just like that. The supplementals will be gone and the Army knows it, and that is why the high-level officials agreed with what I am saying ... $60 billion over a five year period."
On what would change if the Democrats retook control of the House:
"Accountability is going to be the key. Corruption, talk about corruption ... there [are] billions of dollars that disappeared and we don't know where it is. We have all kinds of stories which haven't been followed up.... The biggest deficiency among all the other mistakes is no accountability in this administration ... I think checks and balances have gotten out of kilter."
On why he is running for House majority leader:
"I think I can help because I am more conservative.... There is an idea that [the Democrats'] leadership is very liberal and I think I bring some balance to that leadership."
On whether the press has been an active enough watchdog during the war in Iraq:
"I blame some of you guys, too. You guys knew this wasn't going well. You didn't say a damn word, either. You just sat back and were afraid to speak out. I don't know whether it was access or what. But you sat back and did nothing either. So I blame us all. The public, man, they were ahead of us."