Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon's surprising op-ed in the New York Times on improvements in Iraq may have been ignored by NBC Nightly News on Monday , but CNN's John Roberts thought it was worthy enough to mention the article in an interview of Representative John Murtha on Tuesday morning. Murtha, a frequent guest on CNN when the subject of discussion is the Iraq war, dismissed the Pollack/O'Hanlon assessment. "I dismiss it at as rhetoric. I dismiss it as -- you know, in my estimation, the things that I measure are not -- oil production, electricity production, water. Only two hours of electricity. I don't know where they were staying. I don't know what they saw. But I know this, that it's not getting better. It's rhetorical is what is getting better. It's over-optimist. It's an illusion."
Roberts's first two questions to Murtha dealt with criticisms the Pennsylvania Democrat has received from the Left concerning his amendment that calls for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
JOHN ROBERTS: So, this amendment that you're going to introduce today, to try to attach to the 2008 defense appropriations bill, would call for U.S. troops to start coming home within 60 days, be home within the course of about a year. I find it very interesting that you're taking heat from the Left on this amendment, because you don't have clear deadlines. Are you planning to change the language in this amendment?
MURTHA: Well, what we're trying to do is make sure the Administration knows we're serious. Now, they've always disagreed with the deadline in the end. But the troops have to start coming home. We've got a tale of two families here, John. We have the families who are going about their business, their kids are in college, and so forth. But the families I visit, the families I see are burned out by this war, the ones that are participating in the war, the families of the war. You know, this is individuals. When you say casualties go up or down, the members are clamoring for a redeployment.
We can't win this militarily. The rhetoric doesn't win this. The Iraqi parliament went on vacation. They're not serious. They're not taking up the things they need to take up. So, you know, this is the time that we have to start to redeploy, and regain the confidence of the American people. There's all kinds of corruption in Iraq with the money that's being spent. So we...
ROBERTS: Congressman, what do you say to critics on the Left who claim you're going soft on this by not having a firm deadline?
MURTHA: Well, we're trying to work it out. In the end, we may have to have a deadline. But let me say this. September is the real date. There's no money for Iraq in this defense bill. This is the basic defense bill. The next step is the supplemental. That's when all of the money for Iraq is -- that's when the $12 billion a month is in the bill. So, this comes together, and we're going to put the supplemental in with the regular bill in September. So, October 1st, when money runs out, is the real time. It's going to be a historic time. There's going to be a confrontation between Congress, the American public, and the White House about redeployment from Iraq. Rhetoric of the generals, rhetoric of the White House is over. People know it's not going well and they're ready to redeploy.
Roberts then brought up Pollack/O'Hanlon's op-ed that was printed in "The New York Times" yesterday.
ROBERTS: Now, on that front, Congressman, two fierce critics of the Bush administration's prosecution of this war, Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, both from the Brookings Institution, just returned from Iraq. They wrote an op-ed in yesterday's 'New York Times' in which they said there were some signs of improvement. Anbar province is getting safer, morale among the troops is getting better. Here is what they said. 'As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw. There was enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.'
What do you think about that?
MURTHA: Well, John, they were there for seven days. These troops have been extended. In order to sustain this deployment through March or April, just to sustain this deployment, you would have to extend the troops from 15 months to 18 months.
ROBERTS: So, you just dismiss that then?
MURTHA: I dismiss it at as rhetoric. I dismiss it as -- you know, in my estimation, the things that I measure are not -- oil production, electricity production, water. Only two hours of electricity. I don't know where they were staying. I don't know what they saw. But I know this, that it's not getting better. It's rhetorical is what is getting better. It's over-optimist. It's an illusion. And the American public is saying $12 billion a month in Afghanistan and Iraq is too much. The Europeans aren't helping, and now we're looking into trying to buy our allies by giving them a lot of money so they'll do more in this war.
In his final question to Murtha, Roberts played Newt Gingrich's comments on the possible result of a U.S. troop pullout.
ROBERTS: Congressman, there's also the big question of, what then? What happens after U.S. troops come out of Iraq? Here is what Newt Gingrich said that about that over the weekend.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Millions of Iraqis have sided with the United States. They are known in their neighborhoods. They are known in their cities. If we abandon them, they are going to be massacred.
ROBERTS: So, Congressman, what do you do after you pull out U.S. troops to make sure that those Iraqis who did side with the United States, who supported the campaign there, don't fall prey to insurgents and terrorists?
MURTHA: John, the only people that can solve this are the Iraqis. We can't solve it for them. We are considered occupiers. Even the fellow who kicked the goal in the winning soccer game, he says the Americans should be out of there. We have become occupiers in the minds of the Iraqis. We're the ones causing the problem. We're inciting the Sunnis and some of the Shias to say, get them out of there, they're the ones causing all of the problems. They'll have to solve this themselves, John.
So, Roberts asked two questions from the "get us out of Iraq now" Left, and two questions from commentators who are to the right of Murtha. Not too bad for a CNN co-host.