Nearly two-thirds of the American people now disapprove of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.
U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha, long acknowledged as the voice of the military in Congress, has become the name of the disapproval.
But the American people have also been critical of Bush's leadership overall. In predicting the president's approval number, the best indicator now is simply the number of months that have passed since the high mark of just after 9/11. It's been steadily downhill since then.
Wednesday morning at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the president gave his response to his critics. Bush vowed to stay in Iraq until that country can defend itself.
On Wednesday afternoon, MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews spoke with Rep. Murtha in his office in Johnstown, Pa. to get his reaction to the president's speech.
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Mr. Murtha, why do you think there's something wrong with the president's plan to stay in democracy with full force of our fighting people there, until they have a democracy that can defend itself?
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Chris, that's not a plan, staying in Iraq until there is democracy. In the first place, this has been mishandled so badly, that we need to rethink our policy. For instance, when we went in with inadequate forces and for the transition to peace.
And then, we didn't have the appropriate people and the right jobs, and consequently, we lost the support of the Iraqi people. When you lose the support in a guerrilla war, you can't win it. Mao Tse-tung said years ago, "you've got to have the will of the people in order to win a guerrilla war."
Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out, 45 percent say it's justified to kill Americans. They even had an official communicate from the Arab world that said it's all right to kill Americans. We have lost the support of the Iraqi people.
For instance, if you throw a hand grenade at an American and they disappear in a crowd, the Iraqi disappears in the crowd, the Iraqis don't tell us about it. This is the problem we face.
But let me tell you something that's even more touching. I'm getting an overwhelming support, 14,000 calls I've received in four or five days, supporting the position that I've got. Now 20 percent are against it, but 80 percent are for it.
Let me tell you about one call in particular which is so important. A young — not a young woman, but a woman sends me her Purple Heart, her husband's Purple Heart. Her husband gave her this Purple Heart in 1943. And she said if anybody in those hospitals that you visit need a Purple Heart, I'm sending this to you. I got another letter from a lady who sent me $5, five $1 bills, and she says, "I want to support you." That's outpouring.
The public wants a direction. They want some leadership. And they want honesty. We're not getting honesty from this White House.
Somebody is misleading this president to tell him that things are going well. Sixty percent unemployment, electricity is below pre-war level, energy supplies below pre-war level, oil production below pre-war level.
There's nothing that's going the way that they say it. And they've been saying it for so long. And I say, just because they say it doesn't make it so.
MATTHEWS: Well the president said, Mr. Murtha, that he's going to stay there until we have a trained Iraqi army that can defend the country that practices democracy and we're going to keep training those guys over there until they can do the job. That doesn't seem complicated as a goal.
MURTHA: Well, let me tell you why it's complicated. He's allowing Iraqis to set the timetable. You think they want to do the fighting? They're going to let us do the fighting. The Iraqi government is going to let us do the fighting even though they've said they want us out, and that the ones that support the United States don't get elected.
So we've got a position where if we won't redeploy, as I'm suggesting, and let the Iraqis change their own destiny, let them handle their own destiny, we're going to be there for 100 years. I remember one time in the closed hearing, one of the top generals said, "we'll be there for 25 years." I said you saying 25 years? A lot of people think it would take that long.
The American public is not going to put it with that. It's not progressing, it's not getting better. We've got to let the Iraqis handle this themselves. We've got to let them handle their own destiny. Now there's one other thing that I need to say. This is not terrorism in Iraq. This is insurgency in Iraq. You have to separate. They keep trying to wrap them together. We had terrorism in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: I know. But didn't the president separate them today, though Mr. Murtha? Didn't the president do a decent job of laying out the fact that there are rejectionists, people who are Sunnis, just people who think they'll be overrun in a new government? He said there's some Baathists from the old regime? And he said a small number of people are actually terrorists. Wasn't it the first time he was honest and really did lay out that distinction?
MURTHA: No, now let me just tell you. He's trying to tie terrorism to the worldwide network and that's not the way it works. Only seven percent of the people are al Qaeda in Iraq, from everything we can see. When we capture people, most of them are Iraqis themselves.
We're in a country who can settle their own problems. When you look at what's happened in Iraq, you realize it's the Iraqis fighting among themselves. Can you imagine if the French stayed in the United States after they helped us win the Revolutionary War? We would have thrown them out. And we had to have a Civil War to straighten it out.
We have gotten to the point where you not only lost the support of the world, because of Abu Ghraib — you look at the timeline up to Abu Ghraib. You had one casualty per day, now it's three and four casualties per day.
You look at Abu Ghraib, and then you look at Fallujah and the way that we operate. Now the reason I say you can't win it militarily — here's the way we go in. We go into a town, we drive everybody out of town, we blow up the building. That's the way the military operates, and I agree with that. That's the way they should because they protect Americans.
But that also makes enemies for us. And as long as we're making enemies, they're not going to tell us where the enemy is. They know who the Iraqi insurgents are. But they won't tell us. So we're continually getting from them, rhetoric -- and this is not a war of words, this is a real war.
MATTHEWS: OK, let's look at Mr. Murtha, let's listen to the president of the United States for a minute here. Here is this morning at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy. When the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens. And when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What are the military folks you get access to saying about how long it will take if we continue on the president's course, to have an Iraqi army that can defend that government?
MURTHA: I've heard estimates up to 25 years. Now we've already spent $277 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me give you a figure from Vietnam. Secretary McNamara said in 1963 that it would take us two years to win the war in Vietnam, two years.
In 1965, we had lost 2,100 people in Vietnam. From 1965 until 1972, we lost 55,000 Americans. What I'm saying is, we've lost 2,100 people now and we have become the enemy. Our troops are the targets for the insurgents.
And we're not making progress from every measurement that I see. What I hear the president say is not something you can measure. What I'm looking at is the things you can measure. And that's the unemployment, the energy supplies and so forth. So, we have gotten to the place where we've got to stop the rhetoric. We've got to sit down and figure out a new
strategy. Now let me tell you the four strategies that...
MATTHEWS: OK, when we come back — we have to come back and talk
about that after the break, Congressman.
I have a short question for you. The president seems like he's setting a mousetrap for the Democrats on the Hill today. He says all I want is $3.9 billion more in this supplemental to pay for reconstruction over there.
Would you vote for that, or is that an attempt to get you back aboard again, get other Democrats back aboard, or else force you guys on the other side to say, "we have an alternative plan?" In other words, will you back more money for this war?
MURTHA: Chris, they haven't even spent the $18 billion that we already appropriated, they only spent $9 billion of the $18 billion. And they reprogrammed part of that money into military security.
MATTHEWS: Why does he want more money? Is he trying to test your will on the Hill? Why does he ask for $3.9 billion, which seems like a small number compared to the numbers you're talking about?
MURTHA: I can't imagine what he wants it for. I have to take a look at it. But the point is, I believe that could be the most important money that we vote for. I said on the floor, the $18 billion was the most important money because it put people to work. But they've only spent $9 billion because of the military security. So I don't know what he has in mind here, asking for the $3 billion.
Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.