As the Iraq War moved into its second year of active combat in early 2004, Congressional Democrats grew increasingly critical of the manner in which the Bush administration was prosecuting the war. At a May 2004 news conference, for instance, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) asserted that the Bush strategy in Iraq had effectively made the war "unwinnable." At the same time, Murtha spoke for many fellow Democrats when he acknowledged that "[i]t would be devastating [for the U.S.] to pull out now."
But as casualties to American troops and Iraqi civilians continued to mount through 2004 and 2005, the Democrats began calling, in ever-growing numbers, for a swift “redeployment” (i.e., withdrawal) of troops out of Iraq. On June 16, 2005, forty-one Democratic members of the House of Representatives formally established the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus (OICC) to lobby for precisely this course of action. Alleging that the American invasion in 2003 had been launched on a pretext of lies and deliberately manipulated intelligence, the nominal co-founders of OICC were Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, John Conyers, Charles Rangel, Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky, William Delahunt, and John R. Lewis. By September 2006, OICC's membership had grown to 73 House members, all Democrats. Forty-two of those 73 members also belonged to the Progressive Caucus, the Democratic Party's socialist wing.
In a November 2005 statement, John Murtha reversed his earlier position. Describing the military as "stretched thin," the congressman alleged that "the Army is broken"; that the "future of our military is at risk"; and that "the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq" was not only "impeding … progress" there, but was acting as a "catalyst for violence." “It's time to bring them home,” he said.
In May 2006 Murtha reacted swiftly and angrily to unsubstantiated allegations that a squad of eight U.S. Marines had killed, without cause, up to two-dozen unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. The congressman appeared on ABC's This Week program, where he said that the Marines had "overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood." On the basis of that assessment, which would eventually be proven wholly inaccurate, Murtha continued to endorse a troop withdrawal.
In October 2006, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said: "If we [the U.S. military] leave Iraq, then the insurgents will leave Iraq, the terrorists will leave Iraq." On another occasion, she elaborated: "If the President wants to say the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, he's not right…The war on terror is the war in Afganistan…. The jihadists in Iraq [will] stay there as long as we're there. They're there because we're there."
In December 2006, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said that a U.S. troop "redeployment" would motivate the Iraqis to work more actively to bring the war to an end. "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves," Levin explained. "We've been told repeatedly by our top uniformed military leaders that there is no purely military solution in Iraq; there is only a political solution in Iraq."
In early 2007, numerous Democrats spoke out against the Bush administration's planned troop "surge" -- where an additional 21,500 soldiers would be deployed to Iraq in an effort to quell the insurgency there. John Murtha, for one, stated: "To think that a surge will work is, in my estimation, false thinking." Instead, he argued, "we have to turn this [war effort] over to the Iraqis." Other leading Democrats who opposed the surge and advocated a U.S. troop withdrawal were:
Hillary Clinton: "I think that the reports that you [General David Petraeus] provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief. In any of the metrics that have been referenced in your many hours of testimony, any fair reading of the advantages and disadvantages accruing post-surge, in my view, end up on the downside."
Howard Dean: "[The] idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."
Christopher Dodd: "We don't need a surge of troops in Iraq; we need a surge of diplomacy and politics. Every knowledgeable person who has examined the Iraq situation for the past several years ... has drawn the same conclusion -- there is no military solution in Iraq. To insist upon a surge is wrong."
Barack Obama: "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think [the surge] takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president's proposal."
Ted Kennedy: "An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake."
In the early stages of the surge, which would ultimately turn the tide of the war in America's favor, numerous leading Democrats characterized the effort as a failed one, and continued to counsel for U.S. withdrawal:
Dick Durbin: "By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working. Even if the figures were right, the conclusion is wrong."
John Kerry: "We owe our troops a strategy that is worthy of their sacrifice, and it's clear that the current strategy – the President's escalation – has failed to achieve its goal of bringing about a resolution of the fundamental conflict between Sunni and Shia."
John Murtha: "I'm absolutely convinced right now the surge isn't working, and I'm convinced that if they don't pay attention to what I'm saying and a lot of other members of Congress are saying they're going to have a disaster on their hands..."
Nancy Pelosi: "The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. [This surge] is a failure. This is a failure."
Harry Reid: “I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything.”
Iin 2006 and 2007, the Senate voted against bills calling for arbitrary timetables to be set for the prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Both measures lost by wide margins (13-86 and 24-71, respectively), and received only Democratic support.