updated 12/7/2005 10:16:04 AM ET 2005-12-07T15:16:04

Guests: Howard Fineman, Michael Ware, Paul Schroeder, Rosemary Palmer, Richard Cohen, Terry Jeffrey, Robert Baer

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Mono y mono, Jack Murtha, decorated Vietnam Veteran from Johnstown, PA, versus Dick Cheney, tough political infighter from Casper, Wyoming, debate the war. 

Two tough contenders in a battle royal over the battle in Baghdad.  Do we declare the job done and bring the forces home or fight for American influence for years on end?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to a real fight night in American politics.  Jack Murtha, working class hero, long time champion of the soldier, wants the troops home from Iraq in six months. 

Vice President Dick Cheney wounded in the polls show most Americans believe that he deliberately misled most Americans, wants our troops to defend, permanently, what he calls American influence in Arabia . 

The stakes could not be higher.  War.  A war that will end or a war that will not?  Today the vice president gave a strong speech before troops at Fort Drum up in New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree.  The only way the terrorists can win if is we lose our nerve and abandon our mission. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This morning on MSNBC, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha renewed his call for redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  I say we can get out of there in six months.  The sooner we get out, the better.  But that would be up to how we could do it with the military stability.  It might take a little bit longer. 

CHENEY:  I realize that some have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq.  This would be unwise in the extreme.  A victory for terrorists, bad for the Iraqi people and bad for the United States. 

MURTHA:  We have become the enemy.  Fifty percent of the people in Iraq, 45 percent, say that it is justified to kill Americans.  Eighty percent say they want us out of there.  What I‘m saying is, our Americans are the target and have done everything they could do. 

CHENEY:  To leave that country before the job is done would be to hand Iraq over to car bombers and assassins. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So whose plan for Iraq is winning here at home, Cheney‘s or Murtha‘s? 

A new “Time” magazine show that 47 percent of Americans now want U.S.  troops out of Iraq in 12 months, that‘s a year from now, regardless of conditions over there.  40 percent of Americans want U.S. troops to stay until there is a stable Iraqi government.

Howard Fineman reports for “Newsweek” magazine and is the MSNBC political contributor.  Howard, it‘s close, 47-40 with the scales tipping towards come on home. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  I think that‘s where the country is headed, slowly but surely.  I think the administration realizes that and that‘s why they are in the middle of a three-week roll out to try to seize the counteroffensive. 

First, they argued with speeches last week that we are winning in Iraq and that we have a strategy to win.  Now this week, comes the other side of the argument, which is if you cut and run, Democrats, you are going to undercut the progress we have made here. 

That‘s what Cheney is saying today and that‘s what President Bush will say that tomorrow. 

They don‘t, by the way, go after Murtha by name. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

MURTHA:  Because he is a war hero and he has credibility and he knows the Pentagon from inside out. 

MATTHEWS:  I heard—I watched the vice president and I listened attentively to his speech at Fort Drum.  I heard something different than just we are building a democracy over there. 

I heard we are fighting for American influence.  It was a much more traditional position about geopolitics.  We are over there.  And he went through all the cases that they, the terrorists, tried to knock us out of being over there. 

Lebanon in ‘83, Somalia later on, he went through each case and said, what they are trying to do, the Arabs over there, are throw us out of Arabia.  He says we have a right to be there in force; we‘re going to stay there. 

I thought he was staking a claim to the oil fields of Arabia, saying, we‘re staying there, we belong there like we belong in Texas and Wyoming. 

FINEMAN:  And he is also staking a claim to this emotional side of this argument.  Because, when you accuse the Democrats of cut and run, when you say it would be a grave mistake to pull out, you are talking about American credibility, American influence.  These are emotional things with the American people and I agree he is making an emotional—and, I agree,a geopolitical argument. 

Also about emotion and strength, the Bush administration which is under fire for its lack of credibility, lack of honesty, lack of a plan is going to the one last bastion they‘ve got, which is the idea of military strength in the Republican party.  It‘s another daddy party, mommy party thing they are trying to do the Democrats here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the daddy party.  You wait until your father comes home sort of attitude.  Is Cheney, who is so unpopular in the polling we have here—I mean, these numbers. 

I guess he sleeps all right because he is a tough customer.  But I wouldn‘t like to have my job approval of 32 percent.  “Newsweek,” 29 percent think he is honest.  That‘s all.  Fifty-two percent of the American people think he deliberately misused pre-war intelligence.  And yet they have him out there on point as their poster boy for the war. 

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s amazing.  To some extent, any vice president is out there to take the heat and get the bad numbers, like a heat shield to protect the president.  This goes beyond that, every time they put Cheney out there, I think George Bush‘s own numbers wobble again.  This administration has never thought of—

MATTHEWS:  I was thinking fire hydrant more than a heat shield. 

FINEMAN:  This administration has never cared about unity in the American people, and it seems like they are not going for 50 percent anymore. 

They are going for the 40 plus one that they need to maintain their plan in Iraq for long enough to get through the elections there which are happening next week, and I think that is a big parts of the thinking here.  Talk tough and say the Democrats are the cut and run party while they, the Republicans, begin slowly but surely to withdraw troops after the beginning of the year.  All the time accusing Democrats of weakness while they do what they do.

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a fright factor here.  What happens if we have a vote in Iraq next week, the 15th, which is Thursday I believe. 

Out of that comes a very strong Shia dominated government, run by the mullahs, very strong in orthodoxy, very threatening to the Sunni minority that ran that country for so many years under Saddam Hussein, and you really do see an earthquake of difference between the winners and losers, and the losers saying, to hell with this, we are going to war. 

FINEMAN:  I think that is the dread possibility that they are trying to avoid here.  I think a lot of the rhetoric here is aimed at the Sunnis and the Sunni politicians who are actually risking their lives to try to take part in this election and if they win some seats, to take part of the government. 

If the Sunnis don‘t take part, if all we‘ve done in Iraq is create a Shia client state for Iran, it will all have been for naught.  And that is what the Bush administration is desperately trying to avoid. 

I really do think a lot of this rhetoric is aimed at Iraq as much as it‘s aimed here.  If what happens happens, as you say it, then we‘ve got an even bigger nightmare on our hands. 

I think George Bush is looking for enough peace and credibility there in the new government to begin starting withdrawing the troops.  And to some extent I take Cheney‘s rhetoric with a grain of salt.  There is a lot of woofing going on.  There‘s a lot of tough talk going on here as they guard their rear and get ready to get out. 

MATTHEWS:  They win every tactical battle politically here at home.  Every time they can make the issue do we can bug out tomorrow morning, nobody wants to do it.  Every morning, henceforth in our lives, is another morning.  At what point is that morning arriving when we say, OK, we are going to get out?  That‘s the question. 

FINEMAN:  You are never going to hear him say it, per se, is my view of it.  You‘re never going to hear them say that in so many words.  What‘s going to happen after the first of the year, if the elections go at all plausibly well, they are going to announce that in the early Spring or late Winter, you know what, we had extra troops in there to guard the country for the elections.  Those quote, extra troops, are going to be coming out. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll click it down from 160 to 138. 

FINEMAN:  They‘ll click it down from 160 to 138.  The big argument is going to come after that.  That‘s where Jack Murtha says enough already. 

MATTHEWS:  You are very good at the political landscape.  Watching it, not just here in Washington, but looking around and sniffing around.  Is there a Pete McClusky out there?  Is there an anti-war candidate emerging in the next year on the republican side?  We know we have them on the Democratic side.  Any republican?  We have Russell Feingold, for example, on the Democratic side. 

FINEMAN:  I think you‘re right to assume that there will still be enough troops in there to make that a political possibility.  And who that is going to be on the republican‘s side, I don‘t know.  The usual maverick you look for in the Bush landscape is John McCain.  But John McCain is more of a hawk on the war than some of the planners in the Pentagon. 

MATTHEWS:  He is synchronized swimming out there with Bill Kristol. 

He‘s as far out as you can get.

FINEMAN:  That‘s his route to the nomination, he thinks.  Who else it‘s going to be, I don‘t know.  But I bet you there will be one.  There is going to have to be one.  Look at the heat on the other side that Hillary Clinton is getting for trying to modulate her positions on the war.

MATTHEWS:  My reading about the speech at Annapolis was that the president was saying last week, I‘m going to win this war.  You republicans out there, you get re-elected to the Senate.  You hold those six seats you have to hold.  You hold those 15 seats you have to hold in the house.  My job is to win this war.  Are they going to let him get away with that? 

I love the way both the president and the vice president, elected politicians, are now referring to quote, politicians in Washington, as if they are anointed by God or some other form of government.  They are politicians, too.  But they are now looking down on these lower forms of life as politicians.  Can they get away with it? 

FINEMAN:  I think the president does has a rather grim view of his last three years in Washington here.  And they always have had a contemptuous attitude towards the Congress.  George Bush does understand he needs majorities there.  But he is going to push his position.  And if he draws down the troops enough and creates enough momentum for Republicans to survive, fine.  If he doesn‘t, fine.  I think it is a come and get me Copper kind of attitude.

MATTHEWS:  So you haven‘t seen the president hanging out at Nathan‘s on the weekends?  He‘s not joined the Georgetown crowd.

FINEMAN:  There are some members around him.  He‘s not talking to them.  He‘s not calling them.  He‘s not talking to them.  He doesn‘t answer any of their letters. 

One of the reasons Murtha is so angry is that he wrote letters to the president saying, answer a few questions for me.  Never heard back from the president.  This is like the leading Democratic expert on defense policy in the House.  Never heard back from him.  And that‘s just a small example of the sort of attitude of contempt that the White House has had for the Hill.  And that‘s going to have an effect eventually.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing if our foreign policy is dictated by bad manners.  But thank you very much, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”

When we return, we‘ll get the view from Baghdad, directly from the field today.  And “TIME Magazine‘s” Michael Ware.  He is an Aussie with an amazing insight, I think, into what‘s going on over there.  And it‘s not all bad, by any means.

And later, former CIA officer Bob Baer says the war in Iraq isn‘t winnable.  He says it‘s all bad.  He‘ll tell you what he thinks we should do instead. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, it‘s a big debate tonight, fight night.  The war, to stay a year or so, or to stay a long time.  That‘s the fight on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Michael Ware has been in Baghdad for “TIME Magazine” now, on and off, for three years now.  Michael, from your perspective on the ground, is the mission being accomplished of converting an Arab country into a democracy?

MICHAEL WARE, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, TIME MAGAZINE:  No, Chris, I think we‘re a long way from that.  And what early signs we had seen, the formation of this political nascent process here is so deeply flawed that, in fact, it‘s hard not to argue that you‘re sowing further seeds of division here in this country.

Even this election that‘s coming up now promises to be divisive.  I mean, what could result is a situation akin to the Italian or German parliaments.  Such a pluralism within the parliament, that no one can control without trading off.

So there will be no real sense of stability from a firm hand of government.  There will be compromises made.  And all the parties here are compromised in one way or another.  U.S. military intelligence has just been telling me that they actually believe that should this current government, dominated by the political parties backed by Iran, return to power, that could be a problem. 

They said that this would see a furtherance of the sectarianism that is dividing this country.  So as a nascent democracy, we are really not seeing any of the benefits, and all we‘re seeing is a sowing of the complexities and the division.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when South Africa went to majority rule a decade ago, they had a deal in the Constitution that allowed the minority, the whites in that case, to keep some power for several years as a transition.  Is there any effort to give the Sunni minority some kind of role, larger than the proportions would justify, in order to smooth the way for a democracy there?

WARE:  Well, there has been considerable Sunni outreach, particularly by the U.S. mission here, trying to contact Sunni community leaders, tribal leaders, sheiks, the opinion makers, to try and get them to bring their people to participate in this process.

America, to some agree, went to bat for the Sunnis in the constitutional process.  Yet by in large, it was to very little avail.  The people who hold the ranks of power kept a tight hold on those ranks.

Strangely, what we‘re seeing now is an enormous shift, an evolution in U.S. strategy.  They‘ve always had engagement with the Sunni, even with the insurgents.  We‘re seeing that ramped up. 

The U.S. mission here has recognized that the war cannot be won

militarily in the time available, that is being given it by the American

public.  So they‘re looking for a political solution, they‘re looking for

their allies.  What are they doing?  They‘re bringing back the new Baath

party.  The new Baath, not the Baath of Saddam, but a Baath as military

intelligence said, “expresses Sunni nationalism”

MATTHEWS:  Will it work?  Can we bring together Sunni nationalism and Shia nationalism to form a new coalition?  A new government?  A new deal? 

WARE:  Listen.  Politically there a ripe middle ground here in Iraq that‘s waiting to be captured.  Right now, those who are benefiting from the system, as it stands, are the extremists on both ends. 

Al Qaeda is being empowered, as are the Islamic extremists from the Sunni side.  On the other side, the institutions of the central government, as Ambassador Khalilzad says, under the control or penetrated by Tehran, are at the other end of the extreme, with the Shia Islamic militants.

There‘s a middle ground, a nationalist ground, Iraqis-for-Iraqis, that is there to be seized.  To some degree, the Baath represents this.  To some degree, other moderate Shia leaders represent this.  Who can pull them together?  America was hoping it can be Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister.  However, a lot of questions remain whether he can pull the deal together, and whether he‘s going to going to get the backing that he needs from his sponsors.

MATTHEWS:  What horse are you betting on right now, the coming together of a new government or the situation it‘s so bad, that we just can‘t deal with it much longer?

WARE:  Well, put it this way.  I‘m certainly—I‘ll bet the house that American troops cannot leave this country any time soon.  The ones who are winning from this war are America‘s enemies, Iran and al Qaeda.  They‘re the ones who are getting stronger, not weaker. 

You can‘t go anywhere, you‘ve got no choice.  It‘s time to look around and identify within Iraq, who America‘s friends really are, and support those people.  We‘re starting to see signs of this, outreach to the Baath. 

We‘re seeing U.S. military standing up to the Ministry of Interior, a ministry that is under the sway of Tehran.  We‘re about to get into, as military intelligence said, bare-knuckle politics.  And after the election they promise me, watch out, this is for real.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s a very positive assessment, Michael.  Thank you very much.  It‘s what we‘re hearing from people back here, that the president of the United States is pushing our influence over there to try to bring the Sunnis into the government, even if the Shias don‘t like it, because it‘s our interest to have a peaceful settlement.  Thank you very much, Michael Ware of “TIME Magazine,” the bureau chief in Baghdad.

What a report.  Up next, Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic National Committee, has touched off another debate, this time by saying the U.S. won‘t win in Iraq.

And a reminder, Hardblogger, HARDBALL‘s political blog Web site, is on fire this week with our special series on exit strategies from Iraq.  Today, the HARDBALL war council.  Top generals and foreign policy experts tell us what they would do in the war. 

And we want to know what you think about ending the war in Iraq.  Send in your thoughts.  Just go to our Web site, hardblogger.MSNBC.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In the debate over Iraq this week, Republicans have been given something of a gift.  Democratic Party leader Howard Dean, he spoke out yesterday delighting Republicans and infuriating Democrats who see their party leader on this issue of Iraq as something of a cartoon.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It began on a Texas radio station on Monday when Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean argued that U.S. troops should begin to withdraw from Iraq. 

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  “I remember going through this in Vietnam, and everybody kept saying, ‘oh just another year.  Yeah we‘re going to have a victory.‘  Well, we didn‘t have a victory then, and it cost us 25,000 more American troops because people were too stubborn to be truthful.”

SHUSTER:  Dean said that with Saddam Hussein facing a trial and out of power, the U.S. occupation no longer has much purpose except as a target for insurgents.  And, Dean added, “the idea that we‘re going to win this war is an idea that, unfortunately, is just plain wrong.” 

For 24 hours, Dean‘s remarks rattled through the Washington echo chamber, with Republicans delighted to make the one-time fire brand presidential candidate the face of war critics.  And today, President Bush answered a question about Dean by suggesting the Dean crowd is undermining U.S. troops. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know we are going to win and our troops need to hear not only are they supportive, but that we have got a strategy that will win.  Oh, there‘s pessimists, you know, and politicians who try to score points but our strategy is one that is—will lead us to victory. 

SHUSTER:  In front of troops at Fort Drum, New York, Vice President Cheney referred to war critics.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I realize that some have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  Then the vice president painted a picture of spinelessness. 

CHENEY:  The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission.  But the world can have confidence in the resolve of the United States. 

SHUSTER:  Despite the shots at Dean, Democrats on Capitol Hill maintain that the substance of Dean‘s argument make sense.  The Iraq occupation, they argue, is hurting the military in places like Afghanistan and draining the federal budget. 

But the Democrats also said it is a huge mistake for Dean to be front and center in this debate, and that it only helps Republicans when Dean takes the spotlight away from war critic John Murtha, a Vietnam combat veteran who voted to give President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq and a man the White House truly fears.. 

(on camera):  Regardless of whether it is John Murtha or Howard Dean arguing for a withdrawal from Iraq, polls show Americans are increasingly moving towards that position and away from the Bush administration‘s argument to stay the course.  So while attacking the messenger may help Republicans in the short-term, that may not solve the long-term political problem the White House is now facing. 

I‘m David Shuster, for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

Coming up, the parents of a marine killed in Iraq say America needs an exit strategy now.  They are coming here to make their case, and respond to Vice President Cheney‘s speech today.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. Paul Schroeder and his wife Rosemary Palmer lost their son, Lance Corporal Edward “Auggy” Schroeder, last August in a roadside explosion in Iraq. 

What was at first anger turned into activism and now they‘ve started a Web site called “Families of the Fallen for Change,” which advocates having a plan with specific benchmarks to get the troops out of Iraq responsibly. 

Welcome very much, welcome very much to have you on the program.  Let me start with Paul.  What do you have in mind as a position for what the United States should be with regard to our troops in Iraq?

PAUL SCHROEDER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  Well, our initial reaction, our initial position, is that both the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress and with the administration, need to put aside their partisan bickering and sit down and come up with a bipartisan plan with clear benchmarks on how best to get us out of Iraq.  And how best to do that so we don‘t have to go back to some wider conflict down the road.  That‘s the whole point of “Families of the Fallen for Change.”

MATTHEWS:  What is the key thing you want to see done before we leave? 

What‘s the main accomplishment that says, “OK, now we can leave?”

SCHROEDER:  Well, I would say security for the Iraqi people.  And Iraq not falling into the throes of a civil war.

MATTHEWS:  How do you prevent that as an outsider?  Let me go to Rosemary.  How do we prevent—if the Sunnis want to fight with the Shia because they don‘t want to the Shia running the country, how do we stop them from fighting?

ROSEMARY PALMER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  We can‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Well then how can we ever get to leave, if that‘s the condition? 

PALMER:  Well no, the condition is that we set them up so that they can defend themselves.  And if they want to use their defense capabilities to fight among themselves, we can‘t really do anything about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that gets down to the nub of the problem here.  If you have a government over there that‘s composed of the long disenfranchised majority, the Shia, and they get control of the place and the Sunni don‘t like it because they once enjoyed power under Saddam Hussein. 

And they keep shooting at the people elected to the government, whether they are lawyers, or judges or police men or police academy students or whatever, do we leave at that point, or when do we say, settle it among yourselves?  Paul.

SCHROEDER:  Well, they‘re going to have to settle that among themselves.  If that‘s the situation that they have, that‘s their problem.  Our problem is that we walked into that hornet‘s nest willie-nilly, without any kind of a plan for this, without any kind of preparation, and it‘s costing Americans their lives.  It‘s costing $200 billion, at the last estimate.  All resources that tragically belong here. 

So what we are saying is we cannot continue staying where we are, staying the course.  There is no course to stay there, other than to see troops being blown up by IED‘s.  And there is no way that we can willie-nilly, just leave immediately and leave the thing the way it is.

What we‘re advocating is some plan that has to be thrashed out by responsible people, a bipartisan plan that would allow us to leave Iraq as soon as possible, but leave Iraq in the best state that we could possibly leave it.

MATTHEWS:  Where do you get the confidence, Paul, that the vice president of the United States or the president of the United States is interested in your proposal that we leave, you know, sometime in the next several years even?  It sounds to me, listening to the vice president today, like he‘s in for the—not just the duration, I mean, he‘s in to ensure the perseverance, the continuation of American influence in that part of the world.  If that‘s the goal, American influence in Arabia, why would we ever leave?

SCHROEDER:  Well, whether or not we ever leave the Middle East is...

MATTHEWS:  .... well, he means that...

SCHROEDER:  ... go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Well I mean, I just—you said politicians should stop bickering.  Well, bickering, that‘s what they do for a living.  Why would Murtha say, “OK, we‘ll stay two years” or the president says, “OK, we‘ll be out in two years, or we‘ll be out in some timetable that leads us to leave in two years.”  When in fact, they‘re so different in their points of view?

SCHROEDER:  Well, our position is simple.  We lost a son.  And a lot of other people have lost sons and daughters over there.  We have talked to a lot of American people.  In fact, our organization now has more than 500 members who have signed up in the last couple of days.  We are only two weeks old. 

These Americans are angry, they are angry that we are there.  They are angry that no one in Congress or in the administration seems willing to sit down together, put aside their political differences and come up with some kind of a benchmark that would allow us to leave.  The vice president said today: we are making progress.  He never defines what progress means. 

They talk about victory.  They have never defined for us, the public, what victory means.  So, who is to say?  But we cannot continue this ongoing death of American troops there, who are clearly outnumbered against IED‘s. 

We do not have the troops on the ground to secure these cities that they keep sweeping over and over again.  The death of the 10 Marines last week in Fallujah happened to be in a city that the president the day before said was relatively safe.  The public is not—doesn‘t have the solutions.  We don‘t have the solutions, but we do have one solution and that is, stop arguing amongst yourselves.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is an argument, Sir.  The problem is, it‘s an argument, and people disagree.  Let me go to Rosemary.  The problem is that the president has very ambitious plans.  He took us into Iraq, and so did the vice president, to create an enduring democracy that‘s defensible over there. 

That‘s a profoundly huge bit of business.  Its never been done before.  And the Democrats, some of the Democrats on the other side, like Howard Dean today and Jack Murtha say, “it‘s not working.  What the president had in mind is not working.”

How do you find common ground between people who say what we‘re doing there isn‘t working and those who want to do it for years to come?

PALMER:  Well part of thing is that people are pretty dug into their positions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they are.

PALMER:  The part of the thing is, people have to back off a little bit and start looking for the solutions.  You know, what they have in common, what they can give on and this sort of thing, and negotiate a little bit before they can make any progress at all. 

As it is now, all over the country, you say, well I believe in—but you‘re wrong.  Not, let‘s talk about this, you‘re wrong.  And so we have to  try to say, beyond having differences, what do we have in common and find the commonalities and work out from there.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe if we stay there a couple more years, just assuming that some kind of compromise would lead to a couple more years, do you think that the deaths of the American soldiers to persevere two more years would achieve a goal worthy of that sacrifice, those two years we stay there?

PALMER:  It‘s difficult to say, but part of the thing is, we have to define what victory is.  We have to have the benchmarks there.  If people see that there is a reason for staying and that they see that there‘s a plan to get out, and that our grandchildren are not going to be over there fighting, I think it would make a difference.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I‘m sorry to be so tough.  I just—your sacrifice is unimaginable.  I watched this argument.  We do it here every night.

It‘s so hard to try to square this circle.  There are people who have this philosophy that led to this war, that we can go to the Middle East, we can find a country like Iraq and turn it around into some other different kind of culture.  And then there are other people who say, that‘s the craziest idea I‘ve ever heard of.

And it‘s very hard to find sanity somewhere between these two totally different views of what can be done.  But, you know, good luck.  Please keep it up, because I think you‘re right.  Sometimes it looks like just cheap partisanship.  I think there‘s larger issues here, as well.  But you‘re going to discover them. 

Congratulations on getting so many Americans together behind your effort.  And of course, thank you.  It‘s a small word, but thank you for your sacrifice.  Paul Schroeder, Rosemary Palmer, thank you for coming on HARDBALL.

Up next, the debate continues on torture tactics used in a fight against terrorism, including the CIA‘s use of locations around the world to interrogate suspects we don‘t even know about.  We will talk to Bob Baer, a former CIA field officer, who‘s story is the basis for that new movie “Syriana” with George Clooney.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This week, we‘re talking about President Bush‘s plan for Iraq and whether the war is winnable or not.  Bob Baer is one of the foremost experts on covert operations in Iraq.  He was a CIA field officer in Iraq and the Middle East for 20 years.  His book, “See No Evil: The True Story Of A Ground Soldier and the CIA‘s War On Terrorism,” has now been made into a movie, “Syriana,” starring George Clooney.  Let‘s take a look at a clip.

s              (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

                GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  Will you get some information about

(INAUDIBLE)? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Moussawi (ph). 

CLOONEY:  OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s traveling in Beirut.  It‘s dangerous to travel.  He‘ll disappear. 

CLOONEY:  I want you to take him from his hotel, drug him, put him in the front of a car and run a truck into him at 50 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s good that I get back in town, Bob.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Where was that shot?  That‘s an amazing place.

BOB BAER, FORMER COVERT CIA OFFICER:  That‘s supposed to be Beirut, the Corniche, but it was shot in Morocco. 

MATTHEWS:  At another Corniche.

BAER:  Another Corniche.  It looks almost the same.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘ve been to the one in Morocco.  Here is what President Bush said about torture and renditions.  That is when we send one of the prisoners we‘re holding to a really tough country like Egypt.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We abide by the law of the United States and we do not torture and two, we will try to do everything we can to protect this within the law.  We are facing an enemy that would like to hit America again, and the American people expect us to, within our laws, do everything we can to protect them.  And that‘s exactly what the United States was doing.  We do not render to countries to torture.  That has been our policy and that policy will remain the same. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes?  Bob Baer, is that true? 

BAER:  No, I mean, we know it‘s not true.  They have more or less confessed to sending one of the Hamburg cell guys to Syria.  I mean, if you want to be tortured, that‘s where you send people. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would a country that is hostile to us do our bidding in terms of torture? 

BAER:  They wanted to ingratiate themselves, at that time. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s one thing we know they‘re good at.

BAER:  Yes, is outsourcing torture.  I mean, fine, Syrians might say

...

MATTHEWS:  What do they do with people after they torture them?  Do they kill them?  Do they let them go or what?

BAER:  They kill them.  They burn the bodies. 

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable.

BAER:  You know, you‘ll never see a trace of them.  I don‘t know what‘s happened to Simar (ph).  This is the Syrian in question which we sent to Damascus.  I have no idea.  But he is probably dead. 

MATTHEWS:  The president of the United States last week, for the first time, laid out what he said was the nature of our enemy in the field in Iraq.  He said that mainly they are—the large body of the people we are fighting, the insurgents, are simply Sunnis who don‘t want the Shias to run the country.  We‘ve been through this a million times.  I thought it was very honest.

He also said there are some Baathists among those people, among the Sunnis, who benefited from the old regime, and a very small number—a smaller number that are actual terrorists, people that come in from the outside.  They are loyal to Zarqawi?  Is that your reading of who we‘re fighting over there.

BAER:  That‘s pretty good for the time being.  Right now we are fighting the Sunni Arabs, which are 20 percent of the population.  That‘s why we‘re not able to stop this, because there are so many of them.  They have got local support. 

MATTHEWS:  If there is an election held successfully next Thursday and the result is Shia winning their proportion of the vote and Sunni getting something less than their proportion because of failure to fully participate, what will that do to bring peace, anything? 

BAER:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ll have—let‘s be clear than that the Shia—are they going to be the dominant force for perpetuity and the Sunnis are cut out of power?  Is that what you‘re saying?

BAER:  I think, Chris, we are going to see worse problems after the election, because the Shia are going to say we are the legitimate rulers, we are taking the oil, we‘re taking the power and oh, by the way, you Americans, thanks a lot, now leave.  And it‘s—you‘re going to have a radical government ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be interesting.  Do you really believe that the Shia would feel themselves confident enough to hold the place once we leave? 

BAER:  With Iran‘s backing, why not?  Muqtada al-Sadr was put in by Hezbollah.  He‘s been told to back off until after the 15th.  I think pretty well the best prediction after the 15th, he is going to say all right, thank you very much. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve never heard this before.  You believe, Bob Baer, based upon your knowledge, that the government they elect in Iraq and we supervise next Thursday will have enough self confidence to say we can leave? 

BAER:  I think they will.  And I think their plan will be—is to go into Ramadi and Fallujah and take care of business. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they have the firepower and the toughness to take on Sunnis?  Because Sunnis have ran that country for all these years, because it seems to me they‘re tougher than the Shia.  Why are the Shia all of a sudden tougher than them? 

BAER:  Because there is a lot more of them.  You know, they are ...

MATTHEWS:  They always have been.

BAER:  But they‘re going to have arms.  That is who we are training now, Chris, are the Shia.  The Shia are the guys joining the army.

MATTHEWS:  All I know—but do you think those armies look like armies?  When you see them on TV they don‘t like armies.

BAER:  They don‘t have tanks.  But the Iranians, what are the Iranians going to do?  The Iranians are obligated to go into Iraq and back up the Shia.  I was in Tehran this spring, and all the ayatollahs said the same thing.  We are going to go in and we‘re going to back up and we‘re going to teach the Sunnis a lesson. 

MATTHEWS:  What—you know, let‘s go back to the year 2002, going into the spring of 2003.  We had a government in Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, who is now on trial.  What threat did he pose to us Americans? 

BAER:  He posed no threat other than he was crazy.  He could have gone into Saudi Arabia, it was always a possibility.  But we didn‘t know that.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t we have 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia? 

BAER:  We could have stopped him.  No question about it, we were worried about the man‘s—you know, his sanity at the point ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, are we better off where we are now with a Shia-dominated Iraq allied closely, if not almost like conjoined twins, with Iran, than we were with an adversary relationship between and Iran like we had before, in 2003.

BAER:  We‘re worse off.  We had Saddam in a box in 2001-2002.  He wasn‘t moving anywhere.  He wasn‘t a problem.  This is the Clinton administration‘s policy, keep him in a box where he is, he‘s not a threat.

Now, we are much worst off because we‘ve created this division between the Sunni and the Shia.  And the potential for a regional war is higher than it has ever been in the Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the future look like? 

BAER:  I‘ll tell you what the Saudis are doing.  They are building a fence to keep the chaos in Iraq from moving south, and so are the Jordanians.  They‘ve put out contracts.

MATTHEWS:  If you had to choose now between Americans forces staying in that country for two more years or getting out now, what is better? 

BAER:  Chris, the problem is oil.  Muslims sit on 70 percent of oil.  We cannot afford to see Saudi Arabia destabilized.  We‘re going to have to keep troops in the area.  I don‘t know where you are going to keep them, on the border, in the rear bases, but we cannot let the chaos in Iraq spread. 

MATTHEWS:  It would? 

BAER:  Absolutely.  Look at the bombings in Jordan.  That came directly from Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  You say we have to stay, but when can we come home, ever? 

The vice president today sounded like we‘re never really coming home. 

That we have to fight for American influence in that part of the world.   

BAER:  We have to come home one day, it‘s $5 billion a day.  We‘re going to run out of money.  And we‘re going to run out of soldiers and run out of tolerance from the American people. 

We have to find a way to remain the policemen of the Gulf and however you do that, leave that up to the military.  But we cannot keep our troops as they are deployed now in Iraq forever. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Bob Baer.  You know you‘re stuff.  Are you going to make any money off of this movie? 

BAER:  Little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  When we return, falling support for the war and those who took us to war.  And a Web site note , we are putting together our list of the best HARDBALL moments of 2005. 

We are producing a year-end special on those moments.  We want to hear from you, get you on the payroll maybe, although you won‘t be paid.  Vote for the biggest HARDBALL moment of the year on our Web site.  Just go to hardblogger.MSNBC.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  There was movement today on several of the stories we cover here on HARDBALL.  Here to talk about it are Richard Cohen, who is a syndicated columnist based with The Washington Post, and Terry Jeffrey, the editor of “Human Events” magazine. 

Richard, the vice president of the United States was on parade today.  Let‘s take a look at some of the polling data we have.  The latest “Time” magazine poll shows that 45 percent of America disapprove of his job performance, only 32 percent approve. 

A November poll by “Newsweek” found 29 percent of the people think he is honest and ethical.  The “Newsweek” poll also found that 52 percent, a majority of people, think Vice President Cheney misled the country deliberately on prewar intelligence. 

That was tough stuff there.  Is he the best witness for this war? 

RICHARD COHEN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  No, he‘s not.  The speech today was just typical of Cheney.  It was an intellectually dishonest speech in pursuit of an intellectually dishonest policy. 

What amazes me about this is that if Cheney wants to keep troops in Iraq, if he thinks it‘s a good policy, come out and make the argument honestly.  But don‘t talk about this huge threat, of the purported threat, of an Islamic radical empire that goes all the way from Iraq to Indonesia.  It‘s preposterous.  That raises—

MATTHEWS:  I think he said from Spain to Indonesia. 

COHEN:  Well, it isn‘t going to happen.  Indonesia is not a radical Islamic state, and Spain not since Toledo was liberated.  I mean it‘s ridiculous. 

And the second thing he talks about, once again, this purported link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  No link was ever established.  And to continue to talk this way seems to me to insult the intelligence of the American people.  If you want our troops to stay, if there is an argument to be made for it, then make it honestly or shut up. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you accept the vice president El Cid role today, that he‘s defending Spain from Islamic takeover?  

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS:  I‘m at a little disadvantage because I didn‘t see the speech.  I did read the A.P. report on it, which led off with, as I understand is the vice president‘s key point, that if we were to precipitously leave Iraq now, we would create a power vacuum that would be exploited by terrorists.  I think that‘s a correct point.

It‘s the exact same point that Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is making, that Steny Hoyer, one of the democratic leaders in the house.  It‘s a point that has to be made.  The question Americans have now is if we leave Iraq, what is going to happen?  More importantly—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Most Americans recognize, 90 percent of us, that we are not walking out of Iraq in 15 minutes or six months. 

So the debate is, or should be, over is a year or two worth it in terms of the lives that are going to be lost?  Can something really get done, on a marginal basis, over a couple of years?  What do you think?   You think we should stay a couple more years? 

JEFFREY:  I did read the 35-page strategy document the White House put out last week and the president‘s speech at Annapolis.  The president made a key point, Chris. 

There are three enemies we‘re fighting over there.  The smallest one, but the most lethal, is Zarqawi and al Qaeda terrorists, those you have to capture or kill.  There are Saddammists which is also a small group.  They need to be marginalized or brought in.

But the key point I thought he made, our major adversary there are Sunni rejectionists.  And he believes we need to bring those people into the political process with the Shias, where they can form some sort of political accommodation on the ground in Iraq that establishes a stable regime that doesn‘t threaten us, doesn‘t threaten its neighbors. 

That is a political reality that the president has laid out and we have to achieve, whether we are Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives.  That has to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard, is that a reasonable prospect, they bring the Sunnis in? 

COHEN:  No, I think this is a total fantasy.  This is applying American politics to Iraq.  The idea that you win elections and therefore, you are going to have democracy, just doesn‘t translate. 

This is not a democracy, never been a democracy.  People don‘t play by these rules.  It will take several generations before they accept the results of the election.  It is quite possible for somebody to vote in the morning and return to terrorism in the afternoon. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to do one last thing before we leave, because we promised ourselves.  Tom DeLay, a new poll from his congressional district, 49 percent of the people say they‘re likely to vote for any Democrat who runs against him.  He‘s only got 36 percent in the polls.

Is that something to worry about if you are Tom DeLay or do you say Brand X is easy to beat in the end? 

JEFFREY:  Sure, it‘s something to worry about, Chris.  I believe when Tom DeLay has his trial he will absolutely be able to prove his innocence.  I think this indictment against him is going to prove to be a fraud.  I think it‘s just going to be proven a fraud and that Tom DeLay will come back because he will in fact—he won‘t just prove he‘s not guilty, I believe he will prove that he is innocent.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Richard Cohen.  Thank you Terry Jeffrey.

Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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