Ever since Gen. David Petraeus was placed in command of U.S. forces in Iraq in February, President Bush and administration officials have repeatedly used him to deflect criticism of their escalation policy. During his Iraq speech yesterday, Bush mentioned Petraeus by name no less than 12 times; at one point he even acknowledged, “the best messenger, by the way, for us is David Petraeus.”
During an appearance on Hardball, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) slammed the White House for using Petraeus as a political prop. He said the decision to bring Petraeus back to the U.S. for a rare visit last week, days before Congress voted on its Iraq timeline legislation, was “purely a political move,” pointing out that Petraeus made numerous media appearances but did not testify before Congress’ armed services committees.
“I’m saying he came back here at the White House’s request to purely make political statements,” Murtha said. “That’s what I’m saying. There’s no question in my mind about it.” Watch it:
Murtha said he was particularly angered by Petraeus’ claim that al Qaeda, not sectarian civil war, is the greatest threat in Iraq, and that he complained to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace. “I said, General, these comments that General Petraeus made are absolutely inaccurate, according to the intelligence we have.”
MATTHEWS: Do you think he’d actually sign that bill, or he would consider that hobbling him?
MURTHA: Well, I am not sure. He made up his mind so early, I’m not sure he even read the bill. I mean, this is the problem with this spinning that goes on. They bring Petraeus back, purely a political move. Petraeus comes back here, doesn’t talk to any of us. He only talks to the news media, and so forth, trying to sell this program. Bush was 64 percent when his mission — mission possible, and today he’s 34 percent, so he’s just turned the opposite. And this bill’s not going to make any difference, just like what we say here makes little difference. What’s going to count is what happens on the ground. The Iraqis are going to have to decide it themselves.
MATTHEWS: You know, when you read Petraeus statements to the press corps — and I know you said he didn’t talk to Congress, but they put out this statement. I read it in “The Weekly Standard” this week, which does have Petraeus’s remarks in there. He does say that we`re fighting the central front against al Qaeda in Iraq. Is that true?
MURTHA: That’s absolutely not true. That’s an exaggeration…
MATTHEWS: That`s Petraeus saying that.
MURTHA: That`s Petraeus saying it. I just gave those comments to General Pace. I said, General — just 5, 10 minutes ago I gave them to General Pace. I said, General, these comments that General Petraeus made are absolutely inaccurate, according to the intelligence we have. Now, that’s the kind of stuff he’s saying, and that’s why I say it was purely political.
Now, when I say he didn`t talk to Congress, he talked to a group of members. He didn`t talk to the committees that have jurisdiction over this legislation.
MATTHEWS: Well, why wouldn`t he tell the truth? If his troops are over there getting killed — as you point out, we lost 100 guys this month, one of the worst months — worst month of the year — getting killed by Sunni insurgents and by militia people on the Shia side — why is he blaming it on al Qaeda?
MATTHEWS: The people who blew up the World Trade Center. Why`s he doing that?
MURTHA: This whole — whole war, ever since it diverted the attention away from where al Qaeda started, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the war in Afghanistan, where we should have stayed, ever since that time, they`ve been trying to tie this into terrorism. All of us know there`s terrorism all over the world…
MATTHEWS: But he`s not — but Congressman, he`s not a PR man. He`s not a flack for the White House. He`s a general in the field. Why would he be…
MURTHA: Hey, wait a minute.
MATTHEWS: You`re saying he`s singing the song of the ideologues.
MURTHA: I`m saying — I’m saying he came back here at the White House`s request to purely make political statements. That`s what I`m saying. There`s no question in my mind about it.