President Bush was resolute in his State of the Union about the ability of U.S. forces to both democratize and pacify the world. Representative Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania is the ranking member and former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee who has expressed strong opposition to troops remaining in Iraq.
Congressman Murtha joined Chris Matthews on Hardball to discuss whether the president's address provided him with any encouragement that we are winning in Iraq and winning the war on terror.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': The president said last night, we‘re winning the war in Iraq. Is that true?
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It‘s not true. We‘re caught in a civil war, and I keep saying this administration is mischaracterizing what‘s going on in Iraq. Iraq is a civil war between two factions inside the country. Our troops are the targets, and they‘re unifying Iraq against us. There‘s a very small al Qaeda competition in there, and in Iran, everybody else wants us in Iraq because we‘re spending so many resources, human and monetary resources, in Iraq itself.
So what we‘re into is nation building. You cannot nation build inside an insurgency. So we‘re not only not winning, we‘re spreading hatred towards the United States. Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out of there. Forty-seven percent of the people in Iraq say it‘s justified to kill Americans. Eighty percent of the people in the periphery of Iraq say that we‘ll be better off. Once we get out of there, it will be more stable in Iraq. And that‘s what all of us—we want to help this president, but he‘s hard to help.
MATTHEWS: This president would use the word defeatist for you, Congressman. He seems to have used that word last night to anyone who says we should not be fighting in Iraq.
MURTHA: He answers substantive recommendations with rhetoric. This is the thing that‘s so frustrating. This war has been going on longer than our war against Germany in World War II. World War I went on for less time than this war, and the Korean War was less time than this war. So we‘ve been there a long time. It‘s time to change direction. Our troops are the targets of an insurgency, and there‘s no way that we can get out it.
The longest—the most vulnerable part of this insurgency is when our troops in this 8,000 mile logistics train from the United States, the last 12 hours are from Kuwait to Baghdad. That‘s where the IEDs -- 10,000 IEDs, which cripple these young people, and we‘ve had 16,000 of them wounded in this war in Iraq.
We‘re—it‘s time for us to change direction, redeploy to the periphery so that if our troops need to go back in to respond to something that‘s a national security interest, we can. I‘m not talking about interfering in the civil war. And what I‘m trying to do is show the difference between terrorism, which they have diverted themselves from. We spend $334 billion in Iraq.
This should be diverted and changed to spend against terrorism. But Osama bin Laden is still out there, and now he‘s got a world communications network. So I‘m convinced that we‘re spending the money in the wrong way. We‘re better off getting our troops away from what‘s going on Iraq, and then starting to fight the real war in terrorism.
MATTHEWS: Last night the president said something I‘ve never heard an American say before, an American president or anyone else. He said, quote, “Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world.” Where in the Constitution, where in any resolution you‘ve ever seen, Congressman, has the United States committed itself to fighting tyrannies in the world?
MURTHA: Well, and this is the problem. I mean, there‘s tyranny in China, there‘s tyranny in North Korea, there‘s tyranny in Iran, there‘s tyranny in Russia. I mean, we aren‘t police of the world. We can not police the world and we can‘t nation build.
Our military has limitations and right now they‘re really hurting. As a matter of fact, it‘s starting to cut the budget—imagine this, right in the middle of a war, in the last defense budget, they cut $8 billion out of the base defense bill. They cut $31 billion, they‘re going to propose, for the next four or five years and they‘re cutting $11 billion out of the army, which is hurting desperately and got all kinds of problems with equipment, ground equipment, being repaired.
So we‘re hurting ourselves here and we have the whole world is against what we‘re doing in Iraq. That‘s the problem that we have. You can‘t win these things militarily. You have to win them diplomatically.
For instance, Iran is three times as big geographically and almost as big population-wise as Iraq. Now imagine, we can‘t even sustain the operation in Iraq, let alone go into Iran, so we‘re limiting our resources, we‘re allowing countries to miscalculate and we‘re vulnerable to attack down the road if we don‘t do something to make sure our military is well-prepared. It‘s not going to be well-prepared if we continue to fight this war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—the president takes a totally different view. He says that the reason we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan is because the people who attacked us on 9/11 somehow came from those countries.
The president said our nation is committed to an historic, long term goal. The president said, "Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away can bring murder and destruction throughout our country."
Mr. Murtha, do you think the president‘s consciously trying to confuse the American people as to who attacked us on 9/11? He doesn‘t name the country there. We can assume he means Afghanistan.
But the people who led the attacks on us on 9/11, as everyone who reads the newspapers know, came from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and they were based in Europe, many of them.
What does he mean to say that somehow this war in Iraq is connected to 9/11 and what is he up to in making this kind of connection?
MURTHA: Chris, this is the very thing that I‘ve been so concerned about and it‘s the thing that worries me the most. He keeps mischaracterizing where this war on terrorism is from. This is a civil war in Iraq. What he said—one time a statement about the brutal enemy in Iraq. The brutal enemy is the Iraqis. The Iraqis have an election now and 80 percent of them want us out of there.
We have caused more problems, more terrorism in Iraq. There was no terrorism in Iraq, there was no connection with al Qaeda in Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction. We didn‘t go to war to get rid of tyranny. We went to war because we felt that weapons of mass destruction -at least I did, personally, weapons of mass destruction threatened the vicinity, the area and that Saddam Hussein would dominate that area.
Instead, we find no weapons of mass destruction, no al Qaeda connection. We find all kinds of terrorism which was not there before. So he‘s mischaracterizing this war in order to talk about terrorism. Terrorism is not Iraq. They‘re using terrorist tactics, but al Qaeda‘s a very small proportion and the Iraqis will get rid of them themselves once we‘re out of there.
MATTHEWS: Has he succeeded, Congressman, among regular people, in convincing them somehow that Iraq attacked us first and we‘re attacking them back? I‘ve seen numbers that support that among a minority of people, maybe 40 percent out there, think we‘re attacking back at Iraq for what they did to us on 9/11.
MURTHA: He has not convinced the public. The public is way ahead. The public, matter of fact, think this president is lying. The public polls show—and this is something that is almost unbelievable—that this president of the United States is lying to the public about why they went to war. I don‘t necessarily believe that, but that‘s the point that the public is making, because he‘s mischaracterized it.
They have finally caught onto this; it took a while. It took a while for the news media to catch onto it.
But the thing that worries me is, every time we make a substantive recommendation like redeployment of the troops to the periphery, so that our troops are out of danger, and do it as quickly as possible, we get rhetoric of defeatism.
I mean, when he says “a plan for victory”—what is the plan? We‘ve got to give the Iraqis an incentive to take over. They‘ve had their election, they‘ve got a democratic government there. The Sunnis are not too happy about it, it‘s going to be very difficult. But they‘ve got to fight for it themselves, just like we had to fight for our own democracy in the United States.
MATTHEWS: How do we avoid being humiliated like—many people believe—everybody does—that we were humiliated when we had to evacuate our diplomatic staff from the embassy in Saigon back in ‘75. How do we avoid that kind of end to this horrible campaign, this difficult campaign?
MURTHA: I think the results of redeployment are much more important than the humiliation that we may see. For instance, I think if we get out of there, there‘ll be a lot less turmoil, the Iraqis will handle it themselves. The other Arab countries will start to come to the table.
Many of these things should only be done diplomatically. We certainly are not going to be able to do something militarily in Iran. When you look at a country that‘s three times as big as Iraq geographically and populationwise, you can understand how difficult it would be. And the public is completely against any other foreign engagement.
Now, I‘m not talking about isolationism. I‘m talking about only going to war when it hurts our national interest. That‘s the reason we go to war. And if you go to war, you go to war with overwhelming force, which we didn‘t do. And then you have an exit strategy. We have no exit strategy. That‘s the thing that‘s the most worrisome to me.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, if you look at all the polls, the NBC polls, the other ones, the Gallup—four out of five Democrats take your point of view you just expressed with great passion. They believe this is not part of the war on terror. We shouldn‘t be in Iraq. We never should have gone there in the first place. How come your party, how come you, weren‘t on television last night challenging the president‘s claim that we should be there?
MURTHA: Well, as you know, Chris, I try to do this behind the scenes as much as I can. I‘ve tried to work with the president. I worked with President Bush I in the Gulf War, the first Gulf War. I worked with President Reagan, I worked with President Ford. But, you know, it‘s—I‘d rather do it behind the scenes ...
MATTHEWS: But last night, your party, the Democratic Party, put on the governor of Virginia who hardly even mentioned Iraq, and the toughest statement he came out with was, well, maybe we should reconsider our policy in Iraq. That‘s your party—that‘s not your party‘s position. I can read the polls. The polls are, your party‘s position—four out of five members of your party—say we shouldn‘t be in Iraq. Why don‘t you say so if that‘s your party‘s position?
MURTHA: Well, I think they‘re coming around to that position. Once we went home and got—for instance, every place I go, people stop me in the airplanes. They stop me in Home Depot. They stop me when I go—anyplace I go, a restaurant. And they compliment me about what I‘m saying.
I don‘t know whether they‘re Democrats or Republicans, but I‘ve seen the same polls, and I think that Democrats will come around. It‘s just they don‘t like the criticism. They don‘t like to be called defeatists and some of them don‘t think they have the credentials to withstand that kind of criticism.
MATTHEWS: How about Hillary Clinton? How about Bill Clinton? How about Chuck Schumer? They‘re all supporting the war. They have not come back off their support for the authorization as you have.
MURTHA: Yes, well I ...
MATTHEWS: They‘re pretty strong people. They‘re pretty big shot in this country, but why don‘t they say we shouldn‘t be in Iraq if they believe that? Maybe they don‘t agree with you.
MURTHA: Well, maybe they don‘t. I‘ve talked to Senator Clinton and I‘ve talked to a couple of others, and I‘ve told them. I said this is a critical time for you if you‘re going to run for president, some of these other candidates also. And I think John Kerry came out with a pretty strong—I think they‘ll eventually work there way to the—this is tough position to take.
You have got to really understand what‘s going on, and you have to understand the stakes. This is the future of the country. There‘s two things I‘m worried about, not only changing the war on terrorism in Iraq—
I mean, changing from the civil war, but also the future of the military. And most people don‘t focus on that. They think, well, we‘ll take care of that down the road.
The minute this thing‘s over, there will be no money for the military. And I keep talking to an industry and I keep talking to the military and saying you folks are going to have a real problem once this is over, because the military is in bad shape, the Army and the Marine Corps in particular. The ground equipment we figure it will take $50 billion to get it back in shape.
MURTHA: And they‘re not going to have the money to rehabilitate this.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I want to point to you a worse scenario, even than the one we‘re in right now. Right after we went into Iraq—and I know you know what happened there—the real gung-ho hawks, and I mean by that the neo-conservative intellectuals, said oh great, now we can go into Syria. Now we can go into Iran.
And they were hoping we could make quick work of Iraq and move onto these other target countries. Do you think they‘ve learned their lesson or are they still hawkish about our ability to just go in any Arab country we want to, knock down the leadership, hold elections and have people on our side?
MURTHA: Chris, what I say to them, you sit back here in your air-conditioned offices and you want to send those troops out there to the desert, to a place that hardly a very small proportion of this country is fighting this war. The American soldier, the American Marine, the American serviceperson, plus the families—they‘re the only ones making this sacrifice.
We‘re giving big tax cuts. We‘re doing everything else. We‘re sacrificing actually in this country, cutting back on all kinds of things in order to fund the war in Iraq which is a civil war which we‘re caught in. So this is much more serious than most people realize, and at some point, these folks are going to come to that conclusion, and they‘re going to agree with me.
In the end, there‘s only two solutions. One is, you either stick with the president—which is not a policy, it‘s open-ended—or you take my policy which is redeploy and reduce the expenditures there and start spending on that war against terrorism.
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