Reps. Murtha & Pence on "Hardball"

Reps. Murtha & Pence on "Hardball"

By Hardball - December 2, 2009

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Now to President Obama and the criticism he's facing from both the left and the right. A few minutes ago, I spoke with Democratic congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the subcommittee on defense appropriations.


Mr. Murtha, the president wants 30,000 more troops to go to Afghanistan and basically get the job done and begin to withdraw them a year-and-a-half from now. Does that make sense to you?

REP. JACK MURTHA (D-PA), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, what I'm concerned about is not the strategy, because I was just in Afghanistan over the weekend and I think it's probably the reverse of what we did in Iraq. They're trying to help people. They're trying to not kill people.

But what I worry about is contractors. I worry about the cost. And I worry about the fact that I'm not sure that there's as much a threat to our national security as they're indicating. So we're going to look into that before we-we're going to have hearings on the money. You know, our debt, our national debt, Chris, is going to be $800 billion, the interest on the debt. So you know, we've got a lot of concerns here and we're-and the president said last night in a little meeting we had before he made his TV appearance, he said we're going to work something out on the pay. So I'm looking forward to trying to work that out.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Murtha, you're a combat veteran of Vietnam. Do you think it makes sense to send our forces over there to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan so that that will somehow help defeat the al Qaeda forces that are in Pakistan? It strikes me as a kind of a Rubik's cube, how this works. How does it work, as you see it?

MURTHA: Well, this is the very thing that we're worried about. The al Qaeda is not only in Pakistan, they're all over the world. And the Taliban are actually people that are-worked with the al Qaeda. But I just-I worry that there's not that threat to us.

You know, all of us want to make sure there's no threat to the United

States. All of us realize that we're in Afghanistan in the first place

because of a threat to the United States. But I'm not convinced the threat

in Afghanistan is the key. And if we can't get to Pakistan-and I think

I hope the president is going to address this-is make sure that the Pakistanis are doing everything they can. And then you got to work with India to reduce some of the pressure on the Pakistanis.

So this is a very complicated thing and very costly operation. It costs, we estimate, $400 for a gallon of fuel. And there's only 10 percent literacy rate in Afghanistan. So you know, we got a lot of problems facing us, 104,000 contractors already in Afghanistan, in addition to the 68,000 troops. We're going to have more troops, Chris, than the Russians had in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people should be taxed more to pay for this war, this surge?

MURTHA: I think we should have been paying for the war the whole time. I voted against every one of Bush's tax cuts because I felt we should have been paying for the last war. The deficit is a real concern to me, the fact we're losing our economic edge all over the world because of the money we're spending overseas when we've got so many needs in this country. So we've got a ways to go. There's a lot of consternation on the floor. There are a lot of people that are concerned about the direction it's going.

As I told Rahm Emanuel last night as I left that little meeting, I said, Rahm, the president did a good a job as he could do, but I'm still not convinced that we need to send these troops and that there's an achievable goal. And how do we measure that goal? Those are the things that worry me.

MATTHEWS: Well, when you read the newspaper articles that leaks out, you hear that the vice president, Joe Biden, and Rahm Emanuel are on one side, and you hear that the former first lady, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, and the military are on the other side, would you have been with Biden in arguing for a different course here, had you been on the inside?

MURTHA: One of the things that they're doing in talking to General McChrystal, they're putting much more emphasis on training the Afghans. And this is something that Joe Biden was interested in, in the first place. But-and they hadn't been doing that. They only had 50 percent of the people that they needed to train the Afghans. So I'm convinced that is a crucial part of it.

The other part that's just as important is how they treat the Afghans, how they treat them in order to win their respect, and so forth. But I said General McChrystal, General, there's no way you can do this. You're not going to have three years. You have a lot less time. And this was before the president made his decision. I said, If the president makes this decision to increase the troops, you've got a lot less time. The British general understood that. He was a two star working for General McChrystal.


MURTHA: He said, We've got until the spring and we've got to show some progress.

MATTHEWS: Are you concerned that the more troops we've send to

Afghanistan, the higher the casualty rate? In fact, it's as high as it's -

it's higher than it's ever been. Could we be just creating, to put it bluntly, more targets over there for the Taliban and the IEDs?

MURTHA: Chris, historically, the British were forced out, the Russians were forced out. And there's more targets-the more troops you put out there, the more targets there are going to be.

But the main thing is, Is this essential to our national security? Is al Qaeda so dangerous that are affecting our national security? We're going to have hearings next week with the intelligence people and with the secretary of state and secretary of defense. So we're trying to make sure we cross every T. And then the cost of it-we're going to be careful about approving the money until we see exactly how much money the president is going to spend.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania. Thank you, sir.

MURTHA: Nice talking to you, Chris.


MATTHEWS: Let's bring in right now Republican congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. You just heard Jack Murtha on the appropriations subcommittee.


MATTHEWS: What do you make, Congressman, of the charge-well, he made a pretty strong surmise, maybe, that he wonders whether Afghanistan's really in our essential national interest with regard to what we have to do in Pakistan. Do we essentially have to fight this war to its conclusion over there?

PENCE: Well, you know, let me say, you know, I thought one of the high points of the president's speech last night is that he did take the time to walk the American people back through the story of our military engagement in Afghanistan. The president said last year Afghanistan is a war of necessity. He took us all the way back to September the 11th, when we were attacked from that country. And you know, I don't think too many Americans are confused about whether or not al Qaeda or their previous hosts, the Taliban, represent a serious threat to the United States of America. And it's one of the reasons why, you know, Yesterday, despite my concern about the talk about timelines, and you know, artificial dates for withdrawal and war surtaxes, I commended the president for calling for reinforcements, and I'm grateful that he did so.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that basic arc of 30,000 more troops, speedily brought over there to serve the cause in the current counterinsurgency strategy of General McChrystal, but then already the word we are going to begin to draw down in the summer-in fact, in July of 2011? I mean, it doesn't-we all are in the Internet age. We can only assume that the Taliban learned about that within seconds.

PENCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they're going, Hoopla, we just have to hold out until, you know, some time in the summer of '11, and then it's ours. Are you worried about that?

PENCE: Yes. Well, I think-I think it's-I think it's-it's very problematic any time in a field of battle to tell the enemy when you will quit the fight. And I raised that issue with Secretary Gates today at the Foreign Affairs hearing.


PENCE: He himself, Chris, as I'm sure you know, as recently as September, spoke against timelines and exit strategies. I rather liked your characterization last night if-if-you know, that the Taliban would put up, I think you said, a Post-it note and say, Well, if their surge is beginning now, then our surge will begin in July of 2011.


PENCE: What we ought to do, what Secretary Gates said as recently as September, is we ought to-we ought to make a commitment to win, provide our soldiers the reinforcements that they need and send an unambiguous message that we are going to achieve a decisive victory and get our troops home safe as soon as possible.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, along that lines, here is John McCain, Senator John McCain, at that hearing you talked about with Secretary Gates. Let's listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: You either have a winning strategy and do as we did in Iraq and then once it succeeded, then we withdraw or we-as the president said, we will have a date of beginning withdrawal of July 2011. Which is it? It's got be one or the other. It's got to be the appropriate conditions or an arbitrary date. You can't have both.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: As I suggested, we will have a thorough review in December 2010. If it appears that the strategy's not working and that we are not going be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself.


MATTHEWS: Congressman, I said something else last night-I want to know if you agree with that-I don't think you will, which is that you can't repot (ph) Afghanistan. It is in that part of the world. You know, we all grew up with reading about the Khyber Pass and we know about the Pashtuns and...

PENCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and their attitude towards the West. They're very war-like. They're very independent. They're renegades. It's not a unified country, really. Do we really have a chance of changing the nature of that country in the reasonable near term, like five years even? Can we do it over that period or can we even-Jack Murtha was raising the question, we might be able to make a change in 10 years, but the American people will not submit to a 10-year war plan. Your view.

PENCE: Well-well, I think-I-you know what? I think-I think we are talking about an extraordinary people when we talk about the Afghan people. You know, I've been to Afghanistan several times. I've been to the Khyber Pass. This is a proud and independent nation.

And I don't think we really need to change the character of Afghanistan. Rather, what we need to do is-is-and the president alluded to this-we need to stand up the civilian and domestic security forces sufficient to protect themselves, and we need to do everything possible on the front end to defeat the Taliban and to defeat al Qaeda before we head home.

I just-I really do believe that the lessons of September the 11th, and frankly, the lessons of "Charlie Wilson's War" is that...


PENCE: ... that we need to finish the job there. We need to give our soldiers first and then the Afghan people the resources to stand up against the extremists of the Taliban and al Qaeda. I'm believing that the counterinsurgency strategy the president embraced last night will work if we give it a chance in Afghanistan every bit as much, Chris, as it worked in Iraq.


PENCE: We're employing the basic surge strategy that did turn things around in Iraq in 2007. And I appreciate the president for embracing that. I just hope we give it a chance to succeed.

MATTHEWS: I appreciate you for coming on tonight, U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.

PENCE: Thanks, Chris.


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