From GOP, Zero Tolerance For Democratic War Critics

Republicans have adopted a scorched-earth strategy toward Democrats who challenge the wisdom of the way the war in Iraq is being conducted. Such critics, GOP officials say, are not merely misguided but are craven cut-and-runners who help the enemy and put politics ahead of U.S. troops' safety.

Democrats say the Republicans are twisting facts and trying to stifle debate through intimidation. Not so, say the Republicans, who insist they are not questioning Democrats' patriotism, only their judgment and resolve. If accuracy and nuance sometimes fall victim to all this rhetoric, well, there's a war on, folks.

The ruckus began May 6, when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) -- a hawkish, longtime defender of the Pentagon -- told reporters he believed the war in Iraq could not be won without sending in significantly more troops and equipment, which he advocated. "Our failure to surge in terms of troop level and resources needed to prevail in this war" has resulted in "what appear to be unattainable goals in our current path," Murtha said at the news conference, hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

House Republicans responded within minutes. "This morning, in a calculated and craven political stunt, the national Democrat Party declared its surrender in the war on terror," said Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "Out of sheer, brazen partisanship," House Democrats have "undermined our troops." Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) said Democrats "are basically giving aid and comfort to our enemies."

Reporters pointed out that Murtha has consistently said the war was unsustainable only under the current policies, and that he urged massive troop buildups as a remedy. DeLay was unmoved. "If you don't give solutions," he said, "that is saying, 'Cut and run.' "

The focus turned to presidential politics Monday, when Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie accused Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) of using the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq -- and a mass e-mail calling for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation -- as a fundraising vehicle.

Kerry campaign spokesmen said the online invitation to donate was a link in virtually all campaign e-mails and similar to one on the "national security" page on President Bush's campaign Web site.

On Wednesday, Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot said Kerry had suggested all U.S. troops in Iraq are "somehow universally responsible" for the Abu Ghraib prisoner mistreatment. Kerry had said essentially the opposite. The reported abuse, Kerry had said, "is not the behavior of 99.9 percent of our troops."

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), noting that DeLay sharply criticized the Clinton administration's military intervention in Kosovo, said Friday: "The hypocritical attacks on legitimate calls for an inquiry [into the prison abuses] and thoughtful critiques of the administration's Iraq policy . . . represent a purely political calculation designed to silence debate and undercut Democrats." Pelosi, picking up the theme, said Republicans "will not silence us with these personal attacks."