Washington (CNSNews.com) - Amid cheers, whistles and two standing ovations, U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) took fellow Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) and the U.S. media behind the proverbial woodshed for a verbal walloping.
"Most of you know, at the end of last year, a liberal congressman from Pennsylvania insisted we immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq," Johnson told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. "When I heard this, it made my blood boil."
Johnson was referring to Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, who has been quoted as saying that the U.S. Army is "broken, worn out" and may not be able to meet future military threats to the nation.
"It hurt to think what the men and women in harm's way would believe when they heard the news that someone in Congress was not behind America's mission," Johnson said. "It hurt to think what the military families here at home would believe when they learned that people in Washington did not support the troops. And it hurt me to think that some people would just give up on our men and women in uniform.
"What would Iraq be like if the United States pulled out?" Johnson asked. "What would Iraq be like if we left and allowed dangerous people like the head of al Qaeda, (Abu Musab al-)Zarqawi, to run the country?"
Johnson, without naming Murtha, compared criticism of the war and demands for withdrawal with his own experience during the Vietnam War. A 29-year Air Force veteran and highly decorated pilot, Johnson fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. After being shot down over North Vietnam, Johnson spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, half of that in solitary confinement.
"I do know what it's like to be far from home, serving your country, risking your life and hearing that America doesn't care about you," Johnson said, choking back tears.
"[Hearing] your Congress doesn't care about you. Your Congress just cut off all funding for your war. They're packing up and going home and leaving you." Johnson added he was "scared to death" by such talk because years ago, he was afraid he would be left in Vietnam "forever."
"I know what it does to the mission," said Johnson, "and so help me God, I will never, ever let our nation make those mistakes again."
Johnson told the packed hall that Congress needs to give U.S. troops "the tools for ultimate success," including "the best armored trucks they can drive, the best weapons they can fire, and the best ammunition they can use."
The troops need something else though, Johnson said -- "[F]ull faith that a few naysayers in Washington won't cut and run and leave them high and dry." Knowing they are fully supported by Congress, is "mandatory for mission success and troop morale," Johnson argued.
"Any talk, even so much as a murmur, of leaving now or political timelines just emboldens the enemy and weakens the resolve of our troops in the field."
Johnson accused the U.S. media of predicting "gloom and doom" and ignoring or giving inadequate coverage to successes in Iraq. "What makes me angry at the critics is that we are making great progress in Iraq," said Johnson. He listed last January's election in Iraq and the December vote on the Iraqi Constitution.
"Remember the December vote on the constitution," Johnson asked, "when people came out in droves to make their voice heard? You wouldn't have known about it because there was so little mention of it here in the American press."
War on terror
Johnson also connected the Iraq mission to both 9/11 and the wider war on terror. "We were attacked. We are at war against terrorists. We need to stay there for as long as it takes if we want democracy to take root in tyranny's back yard."
The Republican congressman picked up an earlier theme from President Bush's second presidential campaign: "We must fight the bad guys over there, not over here."
Johnson told the crowd that there are confirmed reports of al Qaeda cells "plotting here on U.S. soil."
"What part of al Qaeda do you want operating here in America?" he asked.
Insisting withdrawal was not an option, Johnson called criticism of the war "Democratic nonsense" and compared it to the "peaceniks and people in Congress and America" who "started saying bad things about what was going on [in Vietnam].
"The people of Iraq are thirsting for something more. They are risking their lives in the name of a new government. We must stay the course if we want to foster a stable Iraq and create hope for millions in the Middle East," Johnson said.
Last November Murtha told reporters, "It is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering; the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region.
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," Murtha added, according to the A.P. report on his comments. "It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.
Last December the Associated Press also reported that Murtha, who is the top Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, predicted President Bush would "make it look like we're 'staying the course'" but that troops would be "withdrawn within a year anyway."
Murtha was also the subject of a recent Cybercast News Service investigation of his political and military record.
See Earlier Story:
Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question
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