Video: War of words on Iraq

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updated 11/18/2005 4:06:26 PM ET 2005-11-18T21:06:26

Big drama unfolded yesterday in Washington as a Democratic Congressman called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. 

Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha said, "Our military is suffering.  The future of our country is at risk.  We cannot continue on the present course.  It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region." 

This statement was significant because Murtha is particularly well-respected on military matters.

MSNBC-TV's Joe Scarborough gets analysis on these comments from an all-star panel: Republican Representative Joe Wilson, Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner and Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary to President Clinton.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY HOST: Anthony, let me begin with you. 

A lot of people out there are going to be saying, if we‘re chased out of Iraq by Muslim radicals, aren‘t we allowing them to win? 

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, the real question is, what is in our best interests?

And, you know, someone like Jack Murtha, as you well know, he is respected on both sides of the aisle as assessing what‘s good for our military, what‘s good for our country.  We have to reach the decision point at some point when we have done all that we can do, when we have achieved our military goal.  And there are political goals that we can pursue in other ways. 

When Jack Murtha stands up, he was one of the people that persuaded me to vote in favor of the war.  When he stands up and says we have reached the point that now we should allow our military to leave with honor, I agree with him.  I think that we have reached a sea change in that part of the world. 

SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, though, Congressman, it seems like our enemy‘s strategy is basically limited to blowing themselves up.  Is the United States military so weak that it can‘t confront these suicide bombers? 

WEINER: You know, it wasn‘t Iraqi militants who said that our presence there was adding to the insurrection.  It was our military in testifying before Congress said on more than one occasion one of the ways you eliminate the violence is by reducing our troop presence there. 

That‘s something that‘s virtual consensus now, that it‘s creating a lot of problems, our occupation of that region.  We need to start thinking about when the military objective has been achieved and how we achieve the political objective.  I think the military there is frankly a two-edged sword right now. 

SCARBOROUGH: Congressman Wilson, let me bring you in here.  You were so angry by the statements today made by Congressman Murtha, you called your own press conference.

But a lot of Americans out there are asking tonight, why should our kids, from Birmingham to Boston, be getting killed in Iraq, when you have got people in Basra and Baghdad that don‘t seem to be engaged in this war?  Why not let their troops die, instead of ours?  It‘s their country, isn‘t it? 

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And, Joe, they are. 

And it‘s really impressive to me that we have trained nearly 200,000 troops and police officers.  In fact, when you read the number of Iraqi military casualties are extraordinarily high, and the reason they are is because they have become effective.  The terrorists, al Qaeda, are going after them because they are effective.

So I know firsthand.  I served 31 years in the Army National Guard...

SCARBOROUGH: I think we lost his microphone for a second.  Let‘s go back to him in a bit. 

My staff spent the day poring over old speeches.  I want you to take a look at what Democrats said before and after the war.  These are Democrats from Massachusetts.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. 

As I said more than a year ago, knowing what we know now, I would not have chosen to go to war in Iraq. 

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. 

150,000 American troops are bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq because the Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the intelligence to justify a war that America never should have fought. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Congressman, forget about the David Bowie music in the background. 

It‘s what you‘re hearing Dick Cheney and George Bush, a lot of Republicans, saying, that Democrats said one thing before the war, said the same thing that George Bush said with the intel that they saw.  And, now that things are going badly, they have changed their mind.  What do you say to that charge? 

WEINER: Well, frankly, you could have added a tape of me on the floor of House of Representatives talking about the information I had been shown. 

Just about every single thing I was shown and told as a matter of near fact by the administration turned out to have been wrong.  And it wasn‘t just me.  It was Colin Powell as well.  It was so many world leaders.  Frankly, now is the time that the administration, rather than hanging on and digging in with their teeth, the way Dick Cheney did yesterday, to the idea that everything is just fine, and rather than pointing at their opponents, they should think about the ways that we can protect our troops overseas and protect our dignity, and, frankly, allow our objectives to be achieved. 

SCARBOROUGH: Congressman Wilson, though, let me ask you this, though.  I want to go back to the befores and afters that we showed. 

The thing is, you said that you got information from the administration.  It‘s not like George Bush was cooking the books and giving you and other people on Capitol Hill this information.  George Tenet, you remember that part of the Woodward book where Bush said, “Is this all we have?”  And George Tenet, the CIA director, stands up, waves his arms, and says, “Mr. President, it‘s a slam-dunk.”

If you were duped, wasn‘t the president also duped? 

WEINER: Well, you know, Joe, here‘s the problem. 

You do a great job on your show of saying people should take accountability and responsibility for what happens.  The Bush administration has done the opposite of that.  First, they deny that anything was wrong.  Then, when it became they were dead to rights that the facts clearly were wrong, now they are pointing at their opponents and saying, 'oh, yes, well, the information we had, you had as well'.  Let‘s get past that.  Let‘s talk about the idea...

SCARBOROUGH: But that‘s right, though, isn‘t it?  I just want to nail that down first.

And I agree with you.  There has to be accountability.  This administration screwed up since April 9 of ‘03, when they took over.  But, again, just on this point that Washington is at war over right now, it seems that everybody got bad intel, right? 

WEINER: Well, the executive branch, and, in this case, they oversee the largest single intelligence infrastructure the world has ever seen, either got it wrong or, in some cases, as it turns out with Vice President Cheney, were saying things that they knew at the time were dubious, things about the tubes being used for nuclear weapons. 

Later on, it learned out they knew at the time that that was wrong.  So, there are many cases where, OK, you can parse whether it was intentional or everyone got it wrong.  The executive branch of this country desperately got something wrong that now thousands of Americans are dying for.  Well, what do we do?  According to Jack Murtha and so many others today, the answer is get out and allow the Iraqis to defend themselves. 

SCARBOROUGH: Let me bring in Dee Dee Myers.  She‘s former press secretary to President Clinton, of course.

Dee Dee, obviously, this administration has waited a long time to fight back.  Did they wait too long to make these charges, to bring up these quotes that Democrats made in 2003?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think, in many ways, they did wait too long, because I think they have lost so much credibility. 

I think a lot of the Democrats, including former President Clinton, have answered back and said you have taken my quotes out of content.  And the administration quite frankly isn‘t all that credible at this point. 

Their strategy for most of the last five years has been to hunker down, don‘t explain, don‘t defend, just plow ahead.  And all that has caught up with them.  And they are in a very tough situation, in terms of convincing the country that what they are saying is in fact credible. 

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Dee Dee, you talk about President Clinton.

I was always, always impressed by the fact that, when he went overseas, especially into Arab areas, Middle East, he would always say that he supported the efforts of the troops, he supported the president‘s decision to go in after Saddam Hussein.  And yet he made a speech yesterday.  He got a standing ovation where he said going in was a mistake. 

Why do you think the president is saying that?  And I say the president, President Clinton, the man you worked for.

MYERS: Well, I don‘t know.  I haven‘t spoken to him about that.  I think he does think that the war was a mistake. 

He clearly defended the administration‘s early policy, which was his policy, which was regime change.  It‘s time to get rid of Saddam Hussein.  But there were a lot of avenues to do that, Joe.  And there was a lot of debate at the time about whether not only was invading the right thing to do, but was invading at the time the right thing to do.

And I think President Clinton certainly hinted at the time that he thought that diplomacy should have been given more of an opportunity to work.  I think there‘s also the question that a lot of people who knew the region were warning at that time, at the time of the invasion, that putting Iraq back together was going to be a very difficult proposition.

The administration sort of pooh-poohed that notion and said we‘re going to go in there.  We are going to bring democracy.  We will be in and out of there in 90 days.  And, if you recall, at one point, Secretary Rumsfeld said that. 

So I think from this vantage point a lot of people feel like they were ignored, that their advice wasn‘t taken, that there should have been a more thoughtful discussion.  There‘s plenty of people to blame for the lack of a more thoughtful discussion, by the way.  But here we are, and the question is — and I think the conversation that you have been having is — where do we go from here?

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. 

WEINER: Well, and, Joe, President Clinton I think speaks for an overwhelming consensus in this country among people who thought based on what they were told it was a good idea to go in at the time, now learn that just about everything we were told turned out to be wrong, agree that it‘s messed up there and something needs to change. 

If Dick Cheney would not be attacking his opponents and President Bush wouldn‘t be digging in every day with the same exact speech, but do what Dee Dee Myers says, say, listen, let‘s take a step back, let‘s figure out how we make this thing work — Jack Murtha and others have come to the conclusion — and he is, as you know, a hawkish guy.

SCARBOROUGH: He is.

WEINER: Come to the conclusion, the way we make this work is by saying to those 220,000-some-odd troops that have now been stood up, Iraqi soldiers, you start to do the work to defending yourself.  Maybe the way we get peace in that region is also by saving American lives, which means bringing the troops home.

SCARBOROUGH: All right.  All right.  Thank you so much.  Greatly appreciate it, Congressman Weiner, Congressman Wilson, and Dee Dee Myers. 

And you know what?  All I can say is this.  There are a lot of Americans right now that have turned against this war.  They have turned against the war I believe because the administration didn‘t get out forcefully enough early on.  They are getting out there now. 

The question is, as Dee Dee Myers said — and she made a great point — the question is, have they waited too late?  Is their credibility now too low with the American people?  We will wait and see. 

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