View Full Version : Little letup in war of words over Iraq

11-28-05, 06:07 AM
Little letup in war of words over Iraq
Kerry, Hastert aides stoke fire on who said what to whom
By Jill Zuckman
Washington Bureau
Published November 28, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The already ugly debate over the war in Iraq has gotten uglier.

In a written appeal to supporters, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) accused House Speaker Dennis Hastert of calling Democratic Rep. John Murtha a coward.

Ever since Murtha, a decorated Marine and longtime supporter of the military, called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Republicans and Democrats have engaged in a verbal war, questioning each other's patriotism, support for the troops and right to criticize.

Writing to supporters the day after Murtha's Nov. 17 announcement, Kerry said, "You and I have to make it absolutely clear that we won't stand for Republican `Swift Boat' style attacks on Jack Murtha."

Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 who was savaged by a conservative political group that questioned his Vietnam War service, said the Republican attack machine had set its sights on Murtha and noted: "Dennis Hastert--the Speaker of the House who never served--accused Jack Murtha of being a coward."

However, Hastert's first response to Murtha (D-Pa.), while blistering, never explicitly called Murtha a coward. Neither did a subsequent Internet blog, in which Hastert (R-Ill.) softened his remarks considerably.

`Utmost respect'

"I need everyone to understand that I have known Congressman [John] Murtha a long time," Hastert wrote just before Thanksgiving. "He's a good man. I have the utmost respect for him. In fact, I'm pretty sure he knows that. I disagreed with the pullout plan he announced last week."

But Hastert's initial response to Murtha's withdrawal announcement accused him and the Democratic Party of adopting a policy of "cut and run."

Furthermore, Hastert said Murtha and the Democrats "want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." And he said, "We must not cower like European nations who are now fighting terrorists on their soil."

A spokeswoman for Kerry said the senator was reacting to Hastert's use of the word "cower" and said that the speaker and other Republican Party leaders "were all calling [Murtha] a coward."

"That was the implication," said Jenny Backus, the spokeswoman for Kerry's political action committee, which sent out the letter urging people to complain about "these vicious smear tactics" to their elected representatives, local talk radio shows and local newspapers.

"John Kerry will stand up and defend the right of any American to speak out about what is happening in Iraq without having their patriotism attacked by the White House and the Republican Party, especially when those who did not serve dare to attack the patriotism of those who have," Backus said Sunday.

While Hastert never called Murtha a coward, freshman Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) seemed to during a debate on the House floor.

"Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," said Schmidt, setting off a chorus of catcalls and hisses that forced her to withdraw her remarks. Later she said she hadn't known that Murtha was a decorated Marine who saw combat in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

White House counteroffensive

The White House similarly launched a scorching attack against Murtha, comparing him to left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore and labeling his call for a withdrawal from Iraq "baffling."

But the high-octane grenades against Murtha seemed to backfire, and eventually President Bush called the congressman a good person with whom he simply disagreed.

A representative for Hastert was less forgiving of Kerry, however, and used the opportunity to make the case for American troops to stay the course.

"Sen. Kerry's comments used for campaign fundraising purposes are simply over the top, extremely inappropriate and factually incorrect," Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for Hastert, said Sunday.

"As he has said, the speaker has the utmost respect for Rep. Murtha. However, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted against and most of America disagrees with Sen. Kerry and Rep. Murtha's policy of immediate withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq," Bonjean said. "One does not have to serve in the military to recognize that the policy of retreat and defeat is the wrong approach."



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