WASHINGTON – On the heels of President Bush's speech Monday on political successes in Iraq, a leading critic of the president continued to call for a draw down of U.S. troops there and to make way for political resolution for peace in Iraq, not a military one.
"There's no way you can win a war when not only have you lost the hearts and minds of people, when you have become their enemy," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during a press conference at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia.
Murtha has emerged as the leading Democratic voice demanding redeployment of troops from Iraq. His November call to begin drawing down troop levels immediately jump-started debate on the direction of U.S. efforts there.
While Bush in his speech pointed to the adversity that Iraqi people have faced in going to the polls and meeting tough deadlines, Murtha said public opinion surveys in Iraq show they want Americans out, and he said the U.S. military cannot sustain its efforts there.
"I'm concerned the Army is broken. We can't meet our recruitment goal," Murtha said, appearing at a reception sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. He said that budget constraints also raise concerns.
"It's not only hurting us today, it's hurting us down the road. ... If something happens in Korea, if something happens in Iran, we couldn't deploy and stay over there for any length of time because we don't have the troops," he said.
"We've got to use every diplomatic resource we have," Murtha said. "If we don't redeploy, there's no country in the world that's going to say, 'We're going to help you.'"
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the president has not put forth a plan that states the political, military and economic objectives needed for success.
"Until the president achieves that goal, Democrats will continue to ask the hard questions and demand a strategy for success that will successfully complete the mission and bring our troops home," Reid said.
"We need to be doing things better, regardless of where you stand on this issue [of withdrawal]," former Sept. 11 Commission member Timothy Roemer, also a former Democratic Indiana congressman, told FOX News.
"I think it's a jump-ball right now whether we are safe or not. The way the administration has conducted this war, there'd be many that would say we are not safer yet," Roemer said.
Shortly after Bush’s speech, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, panned the president for calling for a “flexible timetable” for withdrawal.
"With only three days remaining until the Iraqis return to the polls to elect their national Parliament, President Bush missed a critical opportunity today to signal U.S. support for an autonomous, independent, and self-sustaining Iraqi government by making clear that the U.S. military mission in Iraq is not permanent,” Feingold said in a statement.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said that while he shares Bush's hope for successful elections, "I also share the frustration felt by most Americans who are anxious to hear more about the specific, measurable benchmarks we expect to achieve in Iraq, and when we expect to achieve them.
"The American people know that our brave men and women in the military are performing an outstanding job every day. They deserve a policy worthy of their efforts."
The president's speech at the World Affairs Council is a lead-up to this week's elections in Iraq that would choose a full-term government. It is Bush's third speech in the last week outlining his National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.
An estimated 1.5 million Iraqi expatriates already started voting on Monday in 15 countries. Vote organizers estimate that as many as 240,000 Iraqis living in the United States will cast absentee ballots in Pomona, San Francisco and San Diego, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Chicago; Dearborn and Farmington Hills, Mich.; and McLean, Va.
As many as 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote on election day in Iraq this Thursday.
The voting is the third time Iraqis have gone to the polls this year. In January, Iraqis chose an interim Parliament to draft a constitution. That work was completed in August, and voters approved it in October. The parliamentary leaders chosen this week for four-year terms will likely revisit the constitution that emerged from fierce negotiations among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Despite the democratic negotiations in Iraq, Democratic Party members in the United States have lambasted the president, saying he has erred on nearly every aspect of Iraq's turnaround since the beginning of the war.
“We’ve been unified on the ground on one important point: That this president went with too few resources, and has made too few good decisions since we’ve been in,” Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Likening the division between the president’s supporters and his opponents to a baseball game, Biden said, “It’s the difference between those of us who think this is the bottom of the eighth inning and those who think it’s the bottom of the ninth inning.
“A lot of Democrats — because they have no faith in the president’s ability to adapt and to change — have concluded that, ‘game over. It’s bottom of the ninth.’”
Republicans have responded fiercely that Democrats are ruining American troop morale with their defeatist messages. The Republican Party has started airing a new Internet video highlighting inflammatory remarks made by top Democrats party chairman Howard Dean — who said that the coalition's ability to win the war is an idea that "is just plain wrong" — Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.
"We’re at war, and we’re talking about safety and security of you, you’re children, all of your listeners today. We’ve got to win this war. We will win this war. There is no question in my mind,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told FOX News Sunday.
Several Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have said they support Murtha's proposal to begin withdrawing troops, but not all Democrats are behind the idea. Notably, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said he believes withdrawal would doom Iraq to lose the gains it has made.
Leon Panetta, President Clinton's chief of staff, told FOX News on Monday that establishing good security in Iraq will be the key to both troop withdrawal and "victory."
“My hope is that ultimately we can find a very clear strategy here to ultimately establish the security that’s necessary there so that we can begin to bring our boys home,” Panetta said.
"I’ve always felt that [troop withdrawal] had to be tied to security there in Iraq. I think it’s a false choice that either we have to engage in an unending war that goes on forever or that we have to cut and run … I think the real choice is how do we ensure that the Iraqis establish sufficient security for that country, sufficient security for their forces so that we can gradually withdraw.”
FOX News' Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.