Murtha and Cronkite

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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans says that domestic political pressure to significantly reduce American troop strength in Iraq is gaining strength.

(SEAMANS) John Murtha has added a new dimension to his urging that our troops be brought home from Iraq sooner than the promises of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika. He said on “60 Minutes” that he thinks “the vast majority” of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year regardless of what President Bush is saying about staying there until an undefined “victory.”

Murtha adds a new dimension to his assessment – that over the holiday recess the people told their homecoming congresspersons that they were tired of claims of success in Iraq while our casualty toll keeps climbing as does the cost of the war. Their discontent is adding a new pressure on the midterm elections upcoming in November.

Murtha suggests the public’s critical mood is superseding military reasons for how long our troops are deployed in Iraq. Murtha said in plain language, “I think the political people who give President Bush advice will say to him: You do not want a Democratic Congress. You want to keep a Republican majority and the only way you’re going to keep it is by reducing, substantially, the troops in Iraq.”

And now Murtha is not alone. Former CBS Anchorman Walter Cronkite, once known as “the most trusted man in America,” also said he thought we should get out of Iraq now. We recall that back in 1968 Cronkite said after reporting in Vietnam that he thought the war was not winnable and that we should get out. That statement is said to have helped influence public opinion against the Vietnam war and caused President Johnson to say, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Although Cronkite left his TV news bully pulpit twenty-five years ago the parallel he draws with his Vietnam experience is striking for those of us old enough to remember.

If we are to agree with Murtha’s perspective then Donald Rumsfeld’s December announcement that the number of our combat troops in Iraq would be reduced by seven thousand early next year is really not a big dent in the 150,000 or more we have there now. A skeptic could say that Rumsfeld was talking about a token troop withdrawal intended to make favorable Republican November election campaign talking points, thus was more of a domestic political statement than a strategic military one.

Before the recent Iraq election we had 138,000 troops there and that force was increased to at least 150,000 to, according to Rumsfeld, protect the election from disruption by insurgents. Well now the election is well over and the question is why is Rumsfeld promising that only seven thousand troops will be coming home early next year instead of more quickly reducing our forces back at least to the pre-election force level of 138,000?

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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