WASHINGTON – Rep. John Murtha's call to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq within six months continued to draw emotional comment from Republicans, Democrats and members of the military Friday.
Republicans in general were highly critical of the Pennsylvania Democrat's position, saying U.S. troops must finish the job. Democrats largely defended the Vietnam War veteran's patriotism but declined to support his call for a quick withdrawal.
"Here on the ground, our job's not done," Army Col. James Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, said Friday. "We have to finish the job that we began here. It's important for the security of this region and certainly it's important and in the vital interests of the United States of America."
Brown spoke to Pentagon reporters from a U.S. logistics base at Balad, north of Baghdad, via a video link.
The traditionally hawkish Murtha has introduced a resolution in Congress that would require Bush to order the withdrawal of all 153,000 troops; he thinks they can be out of Iraq within six months. The GOP-run House was expected to vote Friday to reject the amendment before Congress breaks for Thanksgiving.
"We'll let the members debate it and then let them vote on it," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the acting majority leader.
"We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," added Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "We will not retreat."
The GOP-led Senate this week defeated a Democratic proposal to require President Bush to offer a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. The Senate eventually passed a statement saying 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" to offer the phased withdrawal.
Murtha, who voted to give Bush authority to use force against Saddam Hussein in 2002, has in recent months grown increasingly troubled with the direction of the war and with the administration's handling of it.
"We cannot continue on the present course," Murtha said Thursday. "Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. It's time to bring them home."
Murtha holds a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 after 37 years as a Marine. The 30-year lawmaker has long held key positions dealing with military issues as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
"Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty," Murtha said Thursday. "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."
A 'Swift-Boating' of Murtha?
The White House responded to Murtha's call by praising him as a decorated war veteran but said the administration does not agree with his position.
"We have nothing but respect for Congressman Murtha's service to his country," White House communications director Nicolle Wallace said Friday on NBC. "And I think he spoke from the heart yesterday. We happen to have a real serious policy disagreement with him."
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said: "On this issue, the president believes he's [Murtha] wrong."
But one day earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan made a parallel between Murtha and anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore.
"Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party," McClellan said.
Democrats Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island on Friday blasted McClellan's comparison.
Leving, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called it "totally inappropriate" for the White House to "try to smear Jack Murtha" and went on to say that every veteran and family member of veterans should "resent that comment ... there's no excuse for attacking Jack Murtha like that."
Republicans and others, however, say the Democrats shouldn't run when the going gets tough.
"We cannot unilaterally cut and run," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told FOX News on Friday. "We must come together with the Iraqi people, make sure they're secure, make sure their government is ongoing. They have made huge progress. The idea that we would set a timetable would put our troops in jeopardy there — it would make them an even bigger target for insurgents."
She added: "The president wants us to leave Iraq, but he wants us to leave honorably. He does not want us to leave the Iraqi Security Forces untrained to protect the Iraqi people. If we did that, the government that's in the beginning stages of being structured in a self-governing democracy would fall. We can't do that."
"We've got to support our troops to the hilt and see this mission through," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, a 29-year Air Force veteran who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly seven years.
Winston S. Churchill, grandson of Winston Churchill, who was Britain's prime minister during World War II, said his elder would have said, "never give in."
"Once a great station gives its course, we should see it through," Churchill told FOX News. "If the rug were to be pulled from the feet of our troops, all the casualties and all the deaths we've suffered up to now would be totally in vain, they would have died for nothing. Secondly, the war will be several more steps closer to our doorstep ... it would be a huge encouragement to our enemy."
Good leaders, he said, can't just "lick their fingers to see what way the wind of public opinion is blowing" when making decisions such as this.
But Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who also served in Vietnam, said Friday that Murtha shouldn't be flogged for his view.
"I won't stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha," Kerry said, referring to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group that dogged him during his campaign for the presidency in 2004 by challenging his war record. "There is no sterner stuff than the backbone and courage that defines Jack Murtha's character and conscience."
Kerry has proposed a phased exit from Iraq, starting with the withdrawal of 20,000 troops after elections next month. A Kerry spokesman said "he has his own plan" when asked if Kerry agreed with immediate withdrawal.
Bush and other administration officials have recently fired back at critics who say the White House distorted or withheld intelligence leading up to the war. Some Democrats who voted in favor of ousting Saddam and agreed the former Iraqi president posed a threat are now saying they didn't have all the facts in making that decision.
Earlier this week, Vice President Dick Cheney called Democrats' criticism "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
On that Murtha said: "I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
Cheney had five deferments in the Vietnam era and did not serve in the military.
"The administration's strategy of keeping our troops in Iraq for 'as long as it takes' is the wrong strategy. Who knows how long it will take for the Iraqi government to institute order in that fractured country?" asked Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., on Friday.
"Unfortunately, the questions that the American people are asking about the missteps and mistakes in the war in Iraq are not being answered by the administration. Vice President Cheney has dismissed these important questions as 'making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war.'"
Bush, who is on an eight-day visit to Asia, is scheduled to speak to U.S. troops at Osan Air Base in Korea on Saturday and likely will continue the counter-offensive that he launched against his critics on Veterans Day.
But Republicans aren't the only ones who disagreed with Murtha's call.
"I think it would not be responsible for us just to pull our troops out at this point," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who voted against the use of force in Iraq, told FOX News. "I do think it's appropriate we begin to hold the administration accountable, to tell us how they're going to get us out of Iraq, and give us a timetable and begin meeting certain conditions."
FOX News' Melissa Drosjack, Molly Henneberg, Molly Hooper and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.