Video: Democrats Push Back

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updated 12/15/2005 5:07:09 PM ET 2005-12-15T22:07:09

President Bush has a dream, a theme, a strategy.  He will use the invasion of Iraq, he says, to transform the Middle East and protect American people from terrorism worldwide.  This is where Bush stands.  Is it a smart move?  Is it worth the cost and the risk? 

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) played Hardball with Chris Matthews on Wednesday to give his reaction to the president’s  vision. 

To read an excerpt, continue on to the text below.  To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, ‘HARDBALL’: Senator Levin, the president is getting clearer and clearer about his philosophy.  It sounds more and more like classic neoconservative philosophy, that we can change the shape of the Middle East by use of American military prowess by giving the Iraqis a democracy by force more or less. 

That we'll give democracy to the Middle East, and we will begin a chain reaction of democracy in that region.  It will reduce or eliminate the terrorist threat to the United States.  What is your counter assessment? 

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D) RANKING MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES CMTE.:  Well, that's much too optimistic an assessment.  It is an exaggerated view of what we are able to achieve if we're lucky. 

We can make some progress in Iraq if—and this is a big if, Chris—if the Iraqis come together politically after the election and amend their constitution to do what they have not done so far, which is to come up with a constitution which all three of the major participants in Iraq can sign up to. 

And our military leaders have told us repeatedly there is no military victory possible unless there is a political coming together by the Iraqis.  And number two, they tell us that the Iraqi Constitution, as it now stands, unless amended is a divisive instead of a unifying document, and it's up to the Iraqis to change this document to bring the Sunni Arabs on board. 

And what the president has not said so far, despite urging by many us to him to say this, he has got to tell the Iraqis they must make the changes in the constitution that are essential to bringing the Sunni Arabs on board not that they possibly can, not that he hopes they will, not that the structure is there for them to do it, although that structure is there they have got four months to consider these changes.

But that they need to.  They must make those changes to put their political house in order.  That's what's missing. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, you and I are part of the majority in this country.  But if you're a minority in this country like African-Americans, you have to live with the fact that you're always going to be basically, at least for the foreseeable future, a minority. 

Do you think the Sunnis will ever accept—having been the bosses over in that part of the world—minority status in their society no matter how many deals are cut? 

LEVIN:  Some will.  But I think some won't.  And we're going to have to face that situation that they're going to be divided.

But what needs to happen, according to our military leaders, is that the constitution needs to be amended to bring at least most of the Sunnis on board, and unless the president makes a clear statement that this constitution needs to be amended—we can't write the constitution for them.  We can't say what the new constitution should say in terms of sharing power, sharing resources, so that the minority is protected.

But what we can say is we got 150,000 troops there.  We have done our thing.  We have made our contribution.  Now it is up to the Iraqis to get their political house in order.  That is something only they can do, but only the president can tell them that is what they need to do.

MATTHEWS:  Aren't you saying that the Sunni minority over there, 27 percent of the country at the most, has a veto on whether the constitution can be acceptable? 

LEVIN:  No, I wouldn't give them a veto. 

What I would, however, is to tell the Shia and the Kurds that they've got to share power and share resources in a way which they have not done. 

Our own ambassador will say, at least privately he'll say as our secretary of state said today privately, that there need to be changes in this constitution. 

But they have not given that message clearly to the only people who can make those changes, the only people who can provide the Sunnis enough power, not majority power, but enough participation so that they can finally unify against the insurgency.  Without that unity this insurgency will not be beaten military.  That's not me saying it.  That's our military leaders saying it.

MATTHEWS:  Well place your bets Senator.  Do you think the Sunnis will ever be comfortable in a Shia dominated government?

LEVIN:  I think many Sunnis, most Sunnis, will be providing their sharing or oil resources.  Right now this constitution says that the north and the south regions can control those resources.  That means the center part where the Sunnis are can be locked out of those resources.

If they get a fair share of the future oil resources, I think, that they can sign on to this, but that's the best hope we've got.  It's going to take pressure from us on the Shia and the Kurds to give up some power so that there is this kind of a participation and partnership. 

MATTHEWS:  The president said today two things that might be in contradiction.  Let me ask you that.

He said, first of all, he was wrong about Intel used to justify the war with Iraq, and then he said but the war with Iraq was justified.  How do you put those together? 

Video: Republican Response

LEVIN:  He'd have to put those together.  The Intel was clearly wrong.  We went to war on the premise that he sold to the American people where the intelligence was right that somehow or another Saddam Hussein was linked to bin Laden.  That's not what the intelligence said.  That's where the intelligence was right.

But where the administration manipulated, exaggerated, distorted correct intelligence to give the American people the belief that somehow or other the attackers of 9/11 were connected with Saddam Hussein.  That is what the American people believed before the war.  That is not what the intelligence provided to us.  And it seems to me that is what the administration has still not owned up to. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, that shell game that the hustlers play on the street corner?  You can't find the little pea under the shell because they keep flipping it around. 

When I listened to the president again today sometimes he talks about Iraq as a country we are trying to change.  And then he says justification for going into Iraq is that al Qaeda struck us in '93 and 2001 in the middle there at the USS Cole, as if al Qaeda is Iraq.

Why do you think he keeps doing that, flipping from one to the other until you are almost dizzy trying keep up with him?  If we were going to attack al Qaeda, we did it in Afghanistan, but he keeps saying we attacked Iraq because al Qaeda came after us. 

Anyway I don't follow it. 

LEVIN:  Well, the reason that they are continuing to do this is that they want to keep that linkage in the public mind, which is not the reality, that somehow or other that the 9/11 attackers al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were somehow linked. 

That is not what the intelligence said, but that's what the president, the vice president, Condi Rice, and everybody linked together in a way that the majority of the American people, according to the public opinion polls, believed. 

When we went to war it was because somehow or other Saddam Hussein had participated in the 9/11 attack with us.  That is why he puts them in the same paragraph is to keep that linkage in the public mind.  Although the intelligence does not support that linkage.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, he admitted he had bad intelligence and then continued to use the bad intelligence today? 

LEVIN:  Well, there was bad intelligence over weapons of mass destruction.  They were completely wrong on that in the intelligence community.  But they were right when they said that Saddam Hussein was not collaborating with the al Qaeda terrorists, that there was no collaboration or cooperation between them. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that where they stand right now?  In other words, he's doing cognitive dissonance.  He's saying on the one hand, we've got to watch the pattern of terrorism against this country.  Therefore, we had to go to Iraq.  And at the same time, you're saying he's repudiated the argument there was a connection between al Qaeda and our attack on Iraq.

LEVIN:  He's not repudiated at all.  He hasn't addressed the issue where that linkage was created in the public mind.  He has not clearly said what he should say, which is that the intelligence community did not find collaboration or cooperation between the two. 

And the few very, very minute links they found like there was a member of al Qaeda who got some kind of medical treatment in Baghdad, that kind of thing, has been discounted ever since then, but they still like to keep that linkage in the public mind between Saddam Hussein and terrorism. 

The truth of the matter is that the right target that we should have gone after and stayed after was al Qaeda in Afghanistan where all of us voted to go after al Qaeda, but he changed his target from Afghanistan and al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  Why?  You've been watching this for two years now and Senator, why did this president take us into Iraq if it wasn't for Intel, if it wasn't for a connection to 9/11?  Why did he do it?

LEVIN:  I can't analyze the president in this regard.  He said he did it at the time because he was afraid that they may hand—that Saddam might give weapons of mass destruction to the terrorists, but the intelligence community said there that was no way he would give ...

MATTHEWS:  Is he now a full-fledged neoconservative, someone who believes that we can transform the world in an almost Napoleonic fashion?  You can go in by force in another country and convert it into a democracy by force of our weaponry and our political and economic power.

LEVIN:  Well, I don't know if he holds that kind of a belief, but I'll tell you this, that the only chance we have for success in Iraq is now that we're there, and I thought it was a mistake to go and I think it's been mishandled, but now that we're there, the only chance we have is if this president will now tell the Iraqis they need to come together politically.  That much I'm confident of.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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