WASHINGTON – Rep. Jack Murtha, who re-ignited the debate over Iraq with a proposal last month to begin a fast drawdown of troops in Iraq, said Wednesday that President Bush has lost credibility with the public over his Iraq policy.
"I'm showing you that I don't see the kind of progress he sees. ... I don't know that you can call him dishonest, but certainly, the public is not buying it," Murtha, D-Pa., said just hours after Bush delivered a speech on economic progress in Iraq.
Murtha renewed his call for redeployment of troops, laying out what he said was another option for victory in Iraq. He said he's convinced that the United States cannot win the war militarily, and prefers their fast removal and the use of diplomatic means to support rebuilding in Iraq.
Murtha is among a number Democratic critics who continue to meet the president's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq with a point-for-point opposition that has helped solidify opposition to the U.S. presence there. Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led criticism of the president's plan.
"From day one, [Bush] has misled the American people," Pelosi said after a Democratic caucus meeting that preceded the president's speech.
"He didn't know what he was getting into or didn't know how to go about it. He wanted to go to Iraq in the worst possible way, and he did. Just because he says things are improving there doesn't make it so," she said, adding that statements about economic measures, oil production and electric power improvements are suspect.
"It is not happening. We are not succeeding. ... Nothing that has transpired so far has made Iraq more stable," Pelosi, D-Calif. said.
Other critics have questioned whether the administration is inflating the progress in Iraq or if the president's plan for stabilizing the nation is clear enough. Still others wonder aloud if progress includes reducing unemployment and improving basic services like electricity and oil production, objectives that could win over Iraqis to American efforts.
"There's no doubt there are a lot of good things happening economically, but to conclude, therefore, that the economy is fundamentally healthy or that it's improving fast enough to really help us with the war, I think goes too far," said Michael O'Hanlon, foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington.
On Wednesday, the president said U.S. economic objectives in Iraq aim to create a strong economy by restoring the country's infrastructure, establishing market-based reforms and improving Iraqi institutions to the point where they are self-sustaining and able to join the international economic community. Today's remarks followed a speech one week ago in which Bush began rolling out his victory strategy.
"On the economic side, we're helping Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure and reform their economy, build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq," Bush said.
"With help from our military and civilian personnel, the Iraqi government can then work with local leaders and residents to begin reconstruction, with Iraqis leading the building efforts and our coalition in a supporting role. This approach is working."
In contrast to the president's claims, Senate Democrats issued a report Wednesday questioning Iraq reconstruction, saying "the simple fact is that basic needs — jobs, essential services, health care — remain unmet."
Click here to read the Democrats' report on reconstruction in Iraq (pdf).
Borrowing largely from the Democrat's reconstruction report, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island called Bush's speech a "missed opportunity" to present a more detailed plan and said the president didn't address how to improve key problem areas such as the Sunni Triangle.
"The American people were eager to hear the president's plan for the economic reconstruction of Iraq, instead we again heard vague generalities, no specifics about what needs to be done and the time and resources necessary to accomplish it," Reed said in an afternoon press conference.
Reed said little progress has been made in moving Iraq from "a highly subsidized economy" to a market economy. Reed said one quarter of Iraq reconstruction funding pays for security, which delays construction projects; more than 50 percent of Iraqis are unemployed or underemployed, making them easy targets for insurgency recruiting; almost half of the $20.9 billion appropriated in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 for Iraqi reconstruction is still unspent; and the international community has provided only 5 percent of the $13.3 billion in promises for assistance.
"Americans have paid an enormous price as a result of the administration's mistakes in Iraq. Democrats firmly believe that the U.S. can and must succeed, but the president's open-ended, ill-defined policy will not get us there," Reed said, adding that it's the president's duty to provide a plan.
"This isn't about politics, this is about how we protect the American people," Pelosi said.
Pelosi said she is also signing on as a cosponsor of a House resolution introduced by Murtha, who last month sponsored a measure to immediately withdraw U.S. forces in Iraq. Pelosi then suggested that the president host a bipartisan summit on bringing the troops home.
"I call upon the president to have a bipartisan summit on Iraq. Let's talk about this. Let's think of what our options are there. I think that after Mr. Murtha did, it won't be long before the president will be talking about redeployment and bringing troops home, because that's the only thing that's going to make us safer, make our troops — our military stronger, and bring more stability to the region," she said.
But William Kristol, a FOX News contributor and editor of The Weekly Standard, said the president's speeches are framing the Iraq debate in a way that will put the public on his side.
"The president has come out strongly in the last two weeks ... and I think he's stabilized his own political situation and has framed the debate here at home with a way that ultimately, he can win, which is, are we going to stay the course and prevail, or are we going to cut and run?" Kristol said.
"The key to winning that argument is having people believe that we can win, that victory is achievable, and I think he's done a pretty good job of laying that out in the last two speeches," Kristol said.
Oil Production Key to Iraq's Economic Future
Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, said Bush faces more difficulties on the economic front than on the military one.
"In the economy and the reconstruction, there really is sort of a gap ... between what had been projected by the administration to go on there economically in Iraq and what has actually been achieved. And while it's heading in the right direction, they haven't achieved as much as they had hoped by this time," he said. One thing Bush can do, Barnes said, is tout projections from organizations like the International Monetary Fund, which he said is projecting 18 percent economic growth in 2006.
One area where the administration also hasn't met its goals is in expectations for oil production, Barnes said. The administration has set an oil-production goal of 5 million barrels per day, but the president's numbers show that production decreased slightly in 2005 over 2004 from 2.2 million gallons per day to 2.1 million gallons per day. The administration claims that oil production, however, is up from 2003, when oil was produced at 1.58 million barrels per day.
Iraqi analysts have argued that the administration's measures are misleading because the war began in 2003, which pushed production numbers lower than they normally would have been.
"They are way off of their original projections" for where oil production would be now, said Rick Barton, an expert on Iraqi reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's basically gone nowhere in the entire time we've been there. Of course, they haven't been able to protect the pipelines. You just can't be rebuilding a country during an active war."
Former Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg, a FOX News analyst, said that contrary to the president's rosy projections on economic progress, polling suggests Iraqis are not nearly as optimistic.
"Most Iraqis do not necessarily ... agree with the president that this image of progress has been so across the board as to give them a sense of comfort," Ginsberg said. "There's too many interruptions in the power and water supplies in the major cities."
"The president's problem is that while he talks about the progress we've made in reconstruction, the Iraqi people still need the security in order to benefit from the elements of reconstruction," he said.
Fighting Back Word for Word
Some of the week's most inflammatory remarks on the war came from Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, who drew a rebuke from the president over his comments given to a Texas radio station on Monday.
"The idea that the United States is going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong," Dean said during an interview in San Antonio.
Bush responded Tuesday after meeting with a Chinese official, saying, "I know we're going to win ... There's pessimists, you know, and politicians who try to score points, but our strategy is one that is — will lead us to victory."
Despite the chairman's comments, Democrats are not unified in their outlook on Iraq. Last week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said he believes that prematurely withdrawing from Iraq would prevent that nation from fully developing into a modern, self-governing country. The president cited Lieberman's remarks on Wednesday, saying "Senator Lieberman is right."
He also quoted Murtha's suggestion that an immediate withdrawal would make the American people safer. "That's the wrong policy for our government. Withdrawing on an artificial deadline would endanger the American people, would harm our military and make the Middle East less stable," Bush said.
But Murtha insisted on Wednesday that officials have inflated claims over troop readiness, the size of Iraqi security forces, the strength and scope of the insurgency and improvements in oil production, electrical system and clean water supplies.
He said the only way to ensure success in Iraq is to redeploy troops to places like Kuwait and Japan "and if there's a terrorist activity that affects our allies or affects the United States' national security, we can then go back in. I'm not talking about going back in if there's civil war, because we're in a civil war right now. We're caught in between a civil war right now."
Murtha also said the administration was incorrectly labeling the vast majority of the insurgency as terrorists, saying that rather the terrorists — foreign Al Qaeda fighters — represent 7 percent or fewer of those opposing U.S. forces.
"When I said we can't win a military victory, it's because the Iraqis have turned against us. They throw a hand grenade or a rocket into American forces, and the people run into the crowd and they — nobody tells them where they are," he said..
"I am convinced, and everything that I've read, the conclusion I've reached is there will be less terrorism, there will be less danger to the United States, and it'll be less insurgency once we're out. I think the Iraqis themselves will turn against this very small group of Al Qaeda."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.