Murtha-Schmidt Smackdown

In this corner, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania — Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder reports that many of Murtha’s constituents support his Iraq withdrawal proposal.

… mostly people in Murtha’s blue-collar, coal-and-steel country district in west Pennsylvania signaled weariness for the war. They endorse the man who has represented them since he became the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress in 1974.

The support suggested that attacks on Murtha in Washington as a coward will gain no traction in his district. …

…”I agree with him wholeheartedly,” said Robert Bender, a World War II veteran and retired steel worker who serves as the adjutant of American Legion Post 294. “We shouldn’t have been involved in the first place. Now that they have a Constitution, we should get out.”

The blue-collar Democrats who live and work in the small towns of Murtha’s district are culturally conservative. Like him, they’re pro-gun and pro-life. And like him, they’re proudly patriotic.

Except for a few Pittsburgh Steelers posters, the Legion Hall’s dark-paneled walls are a billboard of support for the U.S. military. “Operation Desert Storm, U.S. military at its finest,” says one poster. “9-11-01. We will never forget,” says another.

“It’s a conservative area. But we don’t support this particular war,” said Bender. “Most of the people around here are in accord with him on this,” he added.

In the other corner, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio — Jason DeParle writes in the New York Times that Mrs. Schmidt’s constituents are not surprised.

…when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, created a furor on her 75th day in Congress by lobbing the word “coward” toward a Democratic war hero, those who know her best were anything but surprised.

Just this week, a profile in The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress, labeled her “gloriously uncensored.” Back home in her suburban Cincinnati district, the Whistleblower, an online newsletter that tracks local politics, rushed out a special I-told-you-so issue calling the speech “vintage Jean Schmidt.”

“We have said innumerable times that she would go to Washington and open her mouth and create an embarrassment,” said Jim Schifrin, the newsletter’s publisher. “She will say things that turn people off like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

I made an attempt to find The Whistleblower , but the only link that looked promising wasn’t working. If anyone can provide a link, I’d appreciate it.

Mrs. Schmidt’s Republican colleagues made excuses for her shameless weasel insult of Congressman Murtha:

Several Republicans who were on the House floor said afterward that Ms. Schmidt did not appear to know she was referring to a much-decorated veteran.

“The poor lady didn’t know Jack Murtha was a Marine – she really just ran into a hornet’s nest,” said Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia.

Representative David Dreier of California said, “Very clearly, she did not know that Jack Murtha was a Marine.”

Sure she didn’t. Clearly, she intended to insult some generic Marine, not Murtha specifically.

So what does Mean Jean say for herself?

Ms. Schmidt could not be reached for comment on Saturday, with voice mailboxes full at all three of her offices. Her campaign manager did not return a phone call.

Well, OK. But it’s likely her supporters still support her.

The 100-proof speech on the House floor may shore up Ms. Schmidt’s standing inside her party’s right flank.

“I was listening to talk radio today, and people were calling in and praising her,” said Chris Finney, a Cincinnati Republican allied with Ms. Schmidt’s local rivals. “They like that jingoistic thinking.”

But Thomma of Knight Ridder says Murtha’s constituents see things differently.

Her words didn’t sit well in the Legion bar.

“We’re proud of him. We don’t like it when people attack him,” said Barry Sirko of Johnstown, sipping a beer after his shift washing buses.

“We’ve lost more than 2000 troops so far. Murtha thinks the Iraqis should be fighting on their own. Murtha’s right. It’s gone on and on and on. They’re all nuts over there and we should get out.”

Asked whether Murtha was surrendering to terrorists, several patrons jumped in at once to say that the Iraq war was a distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which they considered more important.

“We were supposed to be hunting terrorists. We dropped that to get into this war,” said Bender.

“They should have kept going after bin Laden. What the heck are we doing in Iraq?” said Ray Telgarsky, a retired autoworker from Johnstown.

Even if they disagree, many of Murtha’s constituents still like and respect him. They know his record in the Marines – Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry. And they know his clout in Congress has helped them weather the lost jobs in the mines and steel mills. Among the bounty he’s brought home: the National Drug Intelligence Center and plants or offices set up by defense contractors including Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Kuchera Defense Systems and Concurrent Technologies Corp.

At Murtha’s district office, calls, e-mails and faxes ran about 2-1 in support, though aides didn’t know how many came from within the district. An unscientific poll taken by a local television station found about the same.

I lived in the Ohio Second District for five years. It was a while back, but from what I’ve read it’s still a mix of small towns, farms, and upscale Cincinnati suburbs. I’m betting those Clermont County Country Clubbers wouldn’t last long in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, American Legion bar.

See also–Howard Fineman on Murtha and the Bush “war room”

Rumsfeld Didn’t Advocate Invasion

Rummy just told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” that he didn’t advocate the invasion of Iraq. However, he agreed with it. Now he’s denying torture; “anything that was done that was not humane has been prosecuted.” He says the President “from the outset” required humane treatment. He’s tap dancing around Bush’s threatened veto of the McCain Amendment.

I can’t stand it.

Germany: About That Intelligence …

While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. (Applause.) Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. — President George W. Bush, November 11, 2005

We’ve already discussed the reason the bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure regarding WMDs — they weren’t looking for it. That’s why the Senate Dems closed the Senate down a few days ago. They were trying to pressure the Republicans in charge to get off their butts and start looking.

As they say … duh.

Now, let’s go on to the part about the world intelligence community agreeing with Bush’s assessment. Bob Drogin and John Goetz write in today’s Los Angeles Times that Germany tried to warn the U.S. about funky intelligence before the Iraq invasion.

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Five senior officials from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball’s information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball’s accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

Mischaracterized. Nice.

Curveball was the chief source of inaccurate prewar U.S. accusations that Baghdad had biological weapons, a commission appointed by Bush reported this year. The commission did not interview Curveball, who still insists his story was true, or the German officials who handled his case.

Sounds like the commission missed some spots.

An investigation by The Times based on interviews since May with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the U.S., Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that U.S. bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed.

The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball’s account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq’s biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.

At the Central Intelligence Agency, officials embraced Curveball’s account even though they could not confirm it or interview him until a year after the invasion. They ignored multiple warnings about his reliability before the war, punished in-house critics who provided proof that he had lied and refused to admit error until May 2004, 14 months after the invasion.

The Germans say Curveball is mentally and emotionally unstable. And they say they told the U.S. that his stories about WMDs in Iraq were, at the very least, dubious.

The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball’s case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball’s claims as a justification for war.

“We were shocked,” the official said. “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence.”

This is a long story that I haven’t read all the way through yet, but I ‘spect we’ll be hearing more about this in the next few days.

Related link: “What I Knew Before the Invasion” by Bob Graham