updated 3/21/2006 11:32:05 AM ET 2006-03-21T16:32:05

Guests: Bernard Trainor, Stephen Cleghorn, Kristinn Taylor, Anna Eshoo, Kay Granger, Anne Kornblutt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL":  An anniversary that wasn’t supposed to happen.  Here we are starting our fourth year in Iraq and a military campaign that was sold to us as a cake walk.  March 20, 2006, mission unaccomplished.  Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews. 

Tonight, HARDBALL comes to you direct from San Francisco, a city with strong sentiments against the war in Iraq.  Unlike the 1960’s, however, San Francisco is more typical of the country today on a war issue than not. 

President Bush spoke in the heartland of Ohio today, restating his position that removing Saddam Hussein was worth it.  But new polls show that most Americans disagree.  Fifty-one percent of the country says removing Saddam was not worth it.  Sixty-one percent disapprove of the president’s handling of the war, compared to 35 percent who approve.  That’s a nine point reversal since the beginning of the year. 

Iraq has taken an unmistakable toll on the president’s job approval overall.  A new Pew Research poll shows that only 33 percent, a third of the country, approve of the job that George Bush is doing as president.  Fifty-seven percent disapprove.  That’s a 12 point switch in one month. 

More on this later.

But first the latest developments on the ground in Iraq from NBC’s Richard Engel in Baghdad. 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS, BAGHDAD:  Chris, a roadside bomb that was hidden in a manhole exploded as an Iraqi police patrol was passing about 100 yards from here, the NBC News Bureau in Baghdad.  From my office window, I was able to watch this hail of gunfire that was going on as Iraqi police, other officers, came into assist to try and evacuate the wounded officers and take away the dead. 

I could see that at least two police officers were killed.  Several others, including one detainee were wounded.  It was quite a chaotic scene and although the vehicle, a police pickup truck, was badly damaged by shrapnel, the driver himself wounded managed to open the door, get out, even as bullets were flying and drag himself to the relative safety across the road. 

This is just one attack that we happened to see today because it happened right in front of us, but these kinds of attacks are happening all the time across the country.  Iraqi police said they found eight bodies here in Baghdad, including one of those bodies of a 13-year-old girl.  It’s all part of this underground sectarian war that’s going on, a war that has Iraqis terribly frightened and many questioning whether three years of U.S. military intervention has in fact made their lives any better

Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Great.  Thank you, Richard Engel.  What a great guy he is. 

And with a mounting casualty toll and a rising price tag, the war in Iraq has been costly on many fronts.

MSNBC Chief Washington correspondent Norah O’Donnell has more on the cost of the war in Iraq—Norah. 

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, today the vice president and the president were upbeat about the war, arguing in speeches that the administration is pursuing a strategy that will lead to victory. 

Mr. Cheney has specifically rejected growing concern that this wave of sectarian violence will push Iraq into civil war.  Mr. Cheney said it’s not going to happen, even as former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warned, the country is nearing a, quote, “point of no return.” 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O’DONNELL (voice over):  The blood in the streets of Baghdad after a series of roadside bombs was another grim reminder of the cost of war.  The president in Cleveland, Ohio, argued pictures of violence on TV obscure real progress.  Still, he acknowledged Americans’ growing doubts. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The situation on the ground remains tense.  And in the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken. 

O’DONNELL:  Mr. Bush highlighted the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar as a success story, but as America begins its 4th year in Iraq, Democratic Senator Joe Biden said the outcome looks increasingly dismal. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  But this administration has been as, a phrase used lately, tone deaf.  They have just been flat deaf in terms of any suggestions that were made as to how to change the failures on the ground. 

O’DONNELL:  Already the costs of war are starting to pile up.  The Defense Department estimates the total cost to taxpayers for Iraq alone has topped $200 billion.  Congress is set to approve billions more, and one study says the total price tag could surpass $1 trillion. 

LINDA BILMES, HARVARD UNIVERSITY:  If we stay there until 2015, it will exceed $2 trillion. 

O’DONNELL:  Another cost is the service and sacrifice of America’s men and women in the military.  More than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed, more than 17,000 wounded.  Experts estimate at least 30,000 Iraqis have died. 

“USA Today” reports U.S. military deaths in the past month have dropped to an average of one a day, approaching the lowest level in two years.  Another good sign, more Iraqi soldiers are trained and commanders seem to be hinting at an exit strategy. 

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I think you’ll see a substantial withdrawal and redeployment of troops this year. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)            

O’DONNELL:  Chris, there is also growing concern from Republican and Democratic senators that one of the unintended costs of this war is that it has destabilized the Middle East and enhanced the strategic position of Iran. 

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said this weekend he wants the president to engage other Middle Eastern countries to help with the political process.  Senator Biden has said the president must do everything in his power to personally engage world leaders to insist and help these Iraqi factions come together and finally create a constitution and a unity government—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it hard getting these numbers out of the administration as a reporter, Norah?  These numbers about battle deaths are pretty obvious, but the number killed on the other side, the cost of the war.  They seem to range pretty far and wide. 

O’DONNELL:  They are and particularly it’s hard to nail down the costs of the Iraq war, because they have been lumped together with the cost of the war in Afghanistan.  That number, $200 billion is what the Department of Defense estimated today is being spent alone in Iraq. 

But if you add it to Afghanistan, and what’s been spent there, we’re talking about over $300 billion, maybe $400 billion and what many of the lawmakers are concerned about is they don’t know exactly how much is being spent because most of it is being approved in emergency supplemental spending requests, so it’s very fluid.  The money can flow through different accounts in the Defense Department.

But bottom line, this is an extraordinarily expensive war, and with estimates that it could reach over a trillion dollars, that number not just including the military operations on the ground but what it’s going to cost to take care of our veterans in the years to come—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And that’s quite a cost too. 

Thank you very much, Norah O’Donnell.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor is the author of a new book on the Iraq war called “Cobra II,” and retired General Barry McCaffrey committed to 24th infantry division during Desert Storm.  He’s now a MSNBC military analyst. 

General Trainor, I have to ask you about this comment—both of you gentlemen—by Rumsfeld today, an astounding comment.  He said if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe that Saddam—Saddamist he calls them—and terrorists will fill the vacuum and the free world might not have the will to face them again. 

After all this warfare of three years, we recognize or mark the anniversary the other day, yesterday, but you first, General Trainor.  In other words, three years of war have left us in a situation where if we leave, they go back to Saddam. 

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.), CO-AUTHOR, “COBRA II”:  Well, Chris, that’s a little bit of Chicken Little and the sky falling.  Right from the outset, after the fall of Saddam, this has been an internal power struggle.  Who at the end of the day is going to run Iraq?  And in that sense, and only in that sense, the Americans are relevant. 

There is a battle going on, and it’s not quite civil war, although it could go into that, but clearly there’s a sectarian battle going on between the Shias and the Sunnis in trying to gain control at the end of the day.  But the solution to this thing, whenever it comes, and in what form it comes, it will be imperfect, but it will be an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, General McCaffrey.  This claim that we’re so tenuous over there that after three years of blood shed, almost 3,000 people killed on our side, 30,000 on the other and it’s almost like we’re back to square one.  If we leave, the Saddam people take over again.  That’s what Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think Trainor was entirely correct and summarized it quite nicely.  What we are seeing—personally, I’ve been calling this a civil war for the last year or more, low grade civil war.  It’s a struggle for who’s going to govern Iraq. 

The Sunnis had the generals, the intelligence people, the business leadership.  They’re very tough fighters.  There’s clearly a risk until we get some form of federal government that this could turn into a Sunni instigated open war where they try and regain power.  You know, the next six months are crucial.  It’s not clear to me how it’s going to come out.  I still remain an optimist that they’ll hammer out some kind of solution. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, you and I have had this conversation a couple of times, General McCaffrey.  Explain if you can—because a lot of people are trying to figure this out.  We have a hard time.  You know, we understand our own civil war looking back on it, the horror of it, 600,000 guys dead altogether.

But here’s a war where you’ve got have 20 percent of the country we know is Sunni and they were running the show under Saddam, and 60 percent the Shia who look like they will run any Democratic government.  Why do you think if it gets away from democracy it becomes a fight in the streets that this minority 20 percent can beat up and take over from this 60 percent?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I am not sure they can.  I think there is an equal chance that, you know, the Kurds and the Shia try and repay 35 years of unbelievable brutality by running the Sunni out of all the mixed areas, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul.  It could turn into a blood bath.

Now, again, Chris, I think there is a strong argument that with the emergence of very powerful security forces, primarily Shia, 240,000 police and army, and if they get some kind of consensus government, then we may well see a successful largely, you know, Shia and Kurd government, with some Sunni participation.  And clearly what we’re going to see in the coming year, by Christmas we’re going to see 80,000 U.S. troops or lower in Iraq, in my judgment.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, General Trainor, you’ve written about this in this hell of a new book, this “Cobra II.”  But let me ask you here, why is this war going into its fourth year? 

People like Ken Adelman said the initial war would be like a cake walk.  Vice President Cheney has said that the insurgency was in its last throes six months ago.  This constant good times are coming guys, mentality of this administration, why has it been so off, or have they been B.S.’ing us?  What is it?

TRAINOR:  Well, Chris, it was flawed from the beginning.  There were erroneous assumptions made that had consequences and there were judgments made, political and military judgments made, that backfired on us.

There was a short period after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a window of opportunity, that if it had been handled properly, which allowed us to stop the looting, to restore security and stability and get the electricity running and the water running and so forth, that there probably would have been some sort of an insurgency.  But it probably would have been manageable.

But we didn’t, and the principal reason we didn’t is we didn’t have enough boots on the ground and that can go back directly to General Franks, who was the theater commander, and to Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

And then that era was compounded by disbanding the Iraqi army, so you put 300,000 people out of work, they’re all armed with A.K.-47’s and they’re kind of mad at you, you’re creating a situation for yourself that is going to be insufferable.  And then the whole thing started to grow because we responded with lack of forces and in some instances, with the wrong techniques.

MATTHEWS:  Well General Barry McCaffrey, my question again, why wasn’t this predictable?  I mean, regular people, myself included, just journalists, saw that after the initial encounter of us going in there three years ago, that those people were going to fight us in the streets—that the Sunnis weren’t going to take this laying down, they were going to fight us.  It was going to become a constabulary effort, a really rough occupation.

Did the army see that coming?  Did the whole military see this coming?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I certainly think General Trainor again summarized this thing.  The Shia, the Kurds, were initially joyful that they had been freed from this monster and the government that oppressed them for more than a generation.

But there was a tip over point here.  The Sunnis were allowed to walk away with their guns, their leadership, their money intact.  They organized themselves and they’re trying to regain control of Iraq.  I think it was predictable.  I think many of us—I said that in a “Wall Street Journal” article during the war, that we had made a monumental blunder of going in there.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the use of an unfortunate phrase from “All in the Family,” that thought that was a good idea, to let the army disband, slink back into the cities with their guns and ammo in tact?  Who thought that was a good idea?

MCCAFFREY:  I personally think that again, by law, you go back to the secretary of defense.  That’s who’s in charge of our nine joint combatant commanders.  It’s he and Steve Cambone and Doug Feith and a very small group of people that are patriotic, intelligent, hard-working men, they just happened to be wrong.

MATTHEWS:  I remember Tommy Franks, the general who carried our troops into Baghdad said that he thought that Doug Feith was the dumbest man he ever met.  We’ll be right back with General Barry McCaffrey and General Bernard Trainor, who’s the co-author of the new book, “Cobra II.” 

And when we return, the hard cost of this war, three years on and we’re in our fourth now.  Plus, is Congress working to protect your pension or your company?  Big question we’re going to try to answer.  You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We’re back with General Bernard Trainor and General Barry McCaffrey.  Here’s what President Bush said today when asked about the implications by his administration in the past, that the Iraq war was involved—Iraq, rather was itself somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I don’t think we ever said, at least I know I didn’t say, that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein.  We did say that he was the state sponsor of terror.  I don’t want to be argumentative, but I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, General Trainor and General McCaffrey, that’s something he never said out loud when we were on the way to war.  He never clearly distinguished the campaign in Iraq to bring down Saddam from the campaign to eradicate al Qaeda.  Did he?  I never heard him make that distinction before.  Generals, did either of you?

TRAINOR:  Well, I don’t think we should be too hard on the president here.

MATTHEWS:  No just on this point, not in general.

TRAINOR:  There was the assumption that there was some sort of a connection with terrorists, al Qaeda, and so forth.  The mindset that existed at that particular time of a 9/11, you know, led to all sorts of conspiracy theories. 

He had things in mind, he had three things in mind when he went into Iraq.  No. 1, was to break the back of terrorism, which he connected with Saddam Hussein.  No. 2, to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime, because of the WMD potential.  And No. 3, to kind of rearrange the deck chairs out there in the Middle East.  And going in, it seemed like it made sense from his perspective, but he didn’t realize it was going to backfire because of the way it was mishandled.

MATTHEWS:  General McCaffrey, in the latest poll, shows the American people do not believe the war in Iraq is connected or is part of a war on terror.  They see them has two separate goals.  At the time he went into Iraq, I remember very clearly that this war was sold as part of the war on terror. 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, to be blunt, Chris, I still think it did do some enormous good.  You know, General Trainor captured the notion again quite nicely, but looking forward, let’s just determine, two years from now, if this very talented team, Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey and 130,000 troops in 240,000 Iraqi security forces.  If they pull off putting together a nation that sort of works under the rule of law, doesn’t threaten its neighbors, doesn’t build WMD, many of us will argue the 19,000 dead and $250 billion were worth it.  So I think the question is premature, what happens in the coming year with Iraqi political leadership.  The jury is still out on this whole issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the wars.  You know, General Trainor and General McCaffrey, World War II was very different than the Cold War.  World War II had to end up probably in a war with Hitler and with Tojo.  World War III was avoided because of smart diplomacy and containment and engagement with the enemy, a very smart diplomatic policy, it included terrible aspects like Vietnam and Korea, but we didn’t have to go to war with Russia. 

When we thought about this war up front, with the military expertise you two command, in going after this war with terrorism, was it smart to go to Iraq? 

TRAINOR:  Well, I think we’re going to have to wait for history to make a judgment on that.  I supported going into Iraq because, I think most American and certainly most in Congress because they voted for it, was that the true picture was presented to us that this man had WMD, there was a connection to terrorism from their point of view.  The United States, with open borders, subject to another terrorist attack, the president decided the thing to do is to preempt and go after the arrow shooter and not just the arrow.

I think he did it in good conscience and I think he did it in keeping with his responsibilities as he saw it for defending the United States.  So I don’t think we can—

MATTHEWS:  A different question, though.  Objectively, is it still open to the military historians to decide whether this was smart for the United States? 

TRAINOR:  I think so, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Still an open question, General McCaffrey? 

MCCAFFREY:  We have to pull this off.  If we don’t, it will be 20 year disaster, another Vietnam bobbing in our wake for generations. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the historians say this was a smart move on our part to go to war in Iraq or not?  Do you already have the answer?

MCCAFFREY:  I personally supported going to war in Iraq before we went to war.  I still feel that way.  I thought knocking this guy down before he went back to a WMD program, broke the oil embargo.  So I think it was the right thing to do.  The execution was somewhat flawed.  Now probably we’re going to pull this off if the country gives the administration the latitude to work it for two or three years at some significant cost in people and dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that’s an open question too.  Thank you very much, generals.  It’s great of to the expertise.  General Bernard Trainor, author of “Cobra II.”  It’s just out now in your bookstore.  And General Barry McCaffrey. 

Up next, is Congress going to change pension laws to help you or help your company.  And three years later, the debate over the Iraq war continues here between the people closest to the front lines, the family members of America’s brave fighting men and women.  They’re coming here to talk about it on this third anniversary. 

It’s not a time to celebrate, but it sure is a time to think.  You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Bush administration and Congress have been trying to reform pension plans, whatever that means.  But are they working to protect your pension or protect your company? 

HARDBALL Correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was an idea designed to help American workers that critics say may in the end cause more harm than good.  Fifteen months ago the president concluded an economic conference at the White House, with a pledge to push lawmakers on economic issues, including pension reform. 

BUSH:  And I intend to work with members of the Congress and members here in this audience, in the beginning of a new term to address the problems. 

SHUSTER:  The central problem with the pension system is that many companies have not set enough money aside to cover promises to retiring workers, and the federal funds available as a backup are already $23 billion in the red.  So a year ago Labor Secretary Elaine Chao responded with a proposal for new requirements. 

But then, a wide swathe of corporate America, from the airlines to Wall Street firms to manufacturing companies, started flexing their lobbying power in Congress.  They told lawmakers the proposals were too tough and would hurt business profits.  Several top Republicans agreed, including John Boehner, the new House Majority Leader and chairman of the committee that oversaw the bill.

And The New York Times reports that several key senators were lobbied by corporations that have a lot at stake.  Georgia-based Delta Airlines called on Senator Johnny Isakson, retired pilots from several airlines spoke with Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, Prudential Insurance lobbied New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg.  Smithfield Farms, based in Ohio, pressed home state Senator Mike DeWine.

And the bill, still in negotiations, now has much of what the corporations want.  Airlines, many of which are facing bankruptcy, would get a pension escape clause.  Other corporations will be given more time, not less, to cover pension shortfalls.  And companies could even assume the workers will die younger than the rest of the population, so the companies can justify putting away less pension money. 

Altogether, according to an analysis by the federal government’s own pension agency, the proposed legislation would lower contributions to the already under financed system by up to $160 billion over the next three years.  White House officials are already suggesting the president may issue his first ever veto, and some Democrats say there needs to be more government oversight of pension reform, not less. 

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  We want real pension reform and the corporate community has shown they cannot be trusted to manage pensions. 

SHUSTER:  Supporters of the proposed legislation argue that it does close some of the loopholes and funding shortfalls of the current law and they say that with companies, including Verizon and IBM already freezing pension plans to stay financially competitive, this is not the time, they argue, to put heavy burdens on companies barely staying afloat. 

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER:  What we need to do is to help those industries that have legacy costs, have a large number of retirees, relative to the active workers, to see if we can help them work their way out of their problem. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  If the companies can work their way out of the financial problems, it means the federal government would not have to assume their pension liabilities.  Still the legislation that is emerging appears to say is as much about the lobbying power of corporate America as it does about their pension problems. 

Final negotiations between lawmakers and White House officials are expected in the next few weeks.  I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL at the White House. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David.  Up next, debating the Iraq war with family members of two American servicemen.  You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I’m Chris Matthews here in San Francisco. 

Three years ago after the start of the war in Iraq, Americans are more divided than ever.  Over the weekend here and across the country, thousands of anti-war protesters came out to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the war. 

Later tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eschew and Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger will be here to debate where we think the war should go now. 

But first to the anti-war protests over the weekend and today.  Thousands rallied worldwide against the war.  Still turnout was lower than in 2003 and 2004.  So where is the anti-war movement now?  And who are the voices supporting the war?

Stephen Cleghorn is with Military Families Speak Out, a group that advocates for the pullout of the troops from Iraq, immediately, right now he wants them out.  He marched today at the Pentagon.  His stepson recently served in Iraq. 

And Kristinn Taylor is the spokesman for freerepublic.com.  He organizes rallies in support of the war.  His nephew is serving in Afghanistan. 

Let me start with Kristinn Taylor.  Sir, what do you make of this statement yesterday on this week with George Stephanopoulos by Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska, quote, “I think it’s important that we stop this talk about we’re not going to leave until we achieve victory.  Well, what is victory?  We achieved victory.  Saddam is gone.  The Iraqis have a constitution.  They’ve had an election.  And now it’s up to them.” 

What do you make of that as a father of a serving person? 

KRISTINN TAYLOR, FREEREPUBLIC.COM:  Well, I’m an uncle of two people serving right now, one in Afghanistan, one at the Horn of Africa, who was involved in that incident with the pirate ship.  Senator Hagel, I don’t know if he remembers we’ve made a promise to the Iraqi people that we would not leave until the job was finished, until the country was secure, until they had a functioning government.  They’ve had three free elections in the first time in the history of their civilization. 

MATTHEWS:  But aren’t they fighting themselves? 

TAYLOR:  They’re fighting some of themselves and they’re also fighting outside influences from Iran, from Syria, from Saudi Arabia.  The Iraqi people are in a tough spot, but they are standing up.  You know, we’ve been talking quagmire for three years now, and it still hasn’t been a quagmire yet.  The Iraqi people...

MATTHEWS:  If the Shiites win these elections because they outnumber everybody else 60-40, they’re going to form the government.  This is the winning side of an election.  This would be a definition I think of victory of a Democratic government elected.  Aren’t they the ones heavily influenced by Iran?  Isn’t that the threat we face that the winners of a Democratic movement will be allied with Iran? 

TAYLOR:  Yes, but you have also got the Sunnis that are participating in the government.  The Sunnis turned out in the huge numbers in the last election because they recognize they have a stake in the future of Iraq too.

And that’s what we’re working for, to recognize that Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, they all have a future in a stable Democratic Iraq.  I don’t think any of them but the hardcore Baathists want to go back to the old days. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how long do you think the American people will support this military engagement of over 100,000 troops over there? 

TAYLOR:  I think they’ll continue to support it, because the alternative is worse.  The alternative is to, you know, give Iraq as a gift to the terrorists. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who are terrorists?  Explain that term.  Do you include by terrorists the people in Iraq who just don’t want to be ruled by the Shia? 

TAYLOR:  The terrorists are the ones who are car bombing children, who are blowing up police recruits. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but who are they?  We know what they’re doing, that’s call terrorism, but who are they?  What I hear from every serviceman who comes on this program, everybody we talk to, every reporter we talk to, 95 percent of them are Iraq Sunnis. 

TAYLOR:  Yes.  Sunnis do have a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they’re going to give up? 

TAYLOR:  Yes, they are.  They’ve been starting to turn against the foreign fighters in the Anbar Province.  They’re talking with the Iraqi government, with the coalition forces.  Iraqi people are getting tired of all the violence over there.  Three years is a long time to live like that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Fair enough. 

Let’s go right now to Stephen Cleghorn. 

Sir, what do you believe we should do right now, dump it? 

STEPHEN CLEGHORN, MEMBER, MILITARY FAMILIES SPEAK OUT:  Well, I wouldn’t put it as dump it, Chris.  I think that we need to get out, and we need to get out very soon.  My...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the questions raised by Kristin? 

CLEGHORN:  Well, you know, Kristinn and I are not going to decide exactly what the future holds over there.  The Iraqi people are going to decide that, and as to the two generals that you just had on a while ago indicated it’s really hard to tell even for experts exactly what’s going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think our presence over there is worse than our non-presence?  In other words, have we done more damage in the last three years than we would have done had we stayed out of that country? 

CLEGHORN:  Definitely.  Leaving aside issues of incompetence that the generals raised, my son who was over there said to me a year and a half ago, dad, we need to get out of there and we need to get out of there soon, because a lot of bad things are going to happen but they’re all going to be worse if we stay. 

The American troops are an occupying force in the eyes of many of the people over there, and they are not only, you know, drawing some fire against themselves, but keeping the reason for being of the terrorism in that country, which even our experts have told us has become a breeding ground for terrorism and a training ground for the kind of terrorism that could be applied to us here in the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Kristinn, I want to go to you on that larger point and give you both a minutes on this.  Because this is a profound question.  Obviously we’re all Americans and our primary concern is America’s role in the world, going through the rest of our lives and our kids’ lives and our grandkids’ lives. 

Where is the United States going to be sitting when all of this is over with?  And it is not going to be pretty either way.  Do you when you look at that large region of a billion people over there who are Islamic and have some kind of—a lot of them have some kind of gripe against us, do you think we will be better off in terms of our relationship with those people, some of them, a small percentage are terrorists? 

Do you think we will have a better relationship with them for having gone to Iraq?

TAYLOR:  Yes I believe we will, because eventually we will have a stable democracy in Iraq, and that’s what billions of Muslims are looking for.  You know, they’re tired of the dictatorships that they live under. 

They want to say and their government and how they live, and many Muslims in the Middle East don’t have that opportunity.  The United States is bringing that opportunity.

MATTHEWS:  Why don’t we see that in any of the international polling that they’re glad we’re there?

TAYLOR:  You got me, you know, anybody can put a poll out.  But you know, the poll that matters is the poll in the streets.  And if you remember, there have been all these predictions of, you know, great uprisings in the Arab street if we went into Iraq.  Three years ago, the Arab street still pretty calm.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I’m confounded sir, as well as you are, by kids wearing—when I meet them in East Africa, wearing bin Laden T-shirts and baseball hats and having big posters of the guy on store fronts.  I’m confounded too.

TAYLOR:  We...

MATTHEWS:  ... Because the only thing we know about him is he bombed us.

TAYLOR:  We have kids that wear Che Guevara shirts here in the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they’re kind of cute at this point, aren’t they?  They’re not about somebody out to get us now.  I think there’s a difference.  I mean, that’s kind of camp almost, isn’t it?

TAYLOR:  No, bin Laden is the ultimate, you know, symbol of sticking it to authority. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but is Che Guevara the symbol of hate in the United States anymore?

TAYLOR:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I don’t think so.  I mean, a lot of our kids wear them.  I see kids wearing them all the time, even my kids wear them.  It’s like a Robert Marley T-shirt at this point. 

But I do know that bin Laden is known for one thing, blowing up 3,000 people in New York and then in Washington.  Let me go back to Stephen.  What do you think is going to be the result in the region of our fighting there a couple more years?

CLEGHORN:  I think it’s going to be pretty bad but I tell you when the president said in the State of the Union speech that we didn’t bring any of this on ourselves, I just about jumped out of my seat with frustration. 

Because going all the way back to 1953 when our country overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran, we sowed the seeds of some of the radical Islamic governments that are over there now.  And we’ve had a very checkered history, mostly because of our insatiable appetite for oil in that area.

I really think we owe the Iraqi people and many of the people in that region of the world a deep apology right now.  And I think it would be very good, it would be an act of great political courage on the part of the president, to offer such an apology and say, “We need to start over again and recognize that we had something to do with putting Saddam Hussein in there.  We used Saddam Hussein as a proxy for the United States.” 

Secretary Rumsfeld shook his hand, we all know that.  An apology is in order, reparations are in order, and I think if we made a sincere effort in that direction, then we won’t have a chaotic horrible future over there that will threaten as you said, Chris, our grandchildren.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Stephen Cleghorn and Kristinn Taylor.  Up next, President Bush and Vice President Cheney defend the war on Iraq, even as a former Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, says his country is already in a civil war.  How long will U.S. troops stay there then?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It’s now been three years and one day since the Iraq war started and the fight in Congress about the war and how long it will be there, goes on. 

Representative Anna Eshoo is a California Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and Representative Kay Granger is a Texas Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  Congressman Eshoo, you first, then Congresswoman Granger, same question, were we smart to go into Iraq as part of the war on terror?

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, we now know that it didn’t really have anything to do with the terror, the act of terror that was inflicted on our country and so we are now struggling, I think, a mighty struggle, with the mistake that has been made, along with how the war is being conducted.  And I think one of the great tragedies of this is that it has taken place, and that we don’t really know how to stay there, and we’re having trouble coming up with the answer of how to get out.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Granger, same question, were we smart to go into Iraq three years ago, yesterday, as part of the war on terror?

REP. KAY GRANGER ®, TEXAS:  I don’t know whether smart’s the right word.  It was the right thing to do.  I call it the battle.  It’s a battle in the war on terror, and the president said when we started this war that it was going to be a long and a tough one, and of course it has been a long and a tough one, the war on terror. 

What we’re in right now I think you’re seeing, we’re fighting terrorists, we’re fighting insurgents.  It’s success in this battle, in Iraq, could mean a major difference in that part of the world, and a major difference in the lives, certainly of the people of Iraq.

About a week ago, I hosted Iraqi women in Washington for International Women’s Day and those women and some of them elected leaders, there was a minister of public works and she said, “Thank you for hanging in there and for giving us a chance, frankly, what you all have had in the United States.”

MATTHEWS:  Why do you flinch on the word smart, as a question?  Because the president has said, many times, this was a war of choice.  He decided when to go and if to go, and that was his decision.  He will go down in history as the president who made that decision.  It’s a decision.  Was it a smart decision? 

GRANGER:  It was the right decision.  I don’t know when you’re talking about going to war, using the word smart. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, was it smart or not to have gone and to have pursued al Qaeda and put all our resource into a worldwide effort where the world would have been united behind us as they were right after 9/11, or to break with the rest of the world, have them rooting against us, including all the Arab and Islamic countries of the world who were for us after 9/11.

I’m just asking do you think it was a smart decision or not to do what he did, because other presidents, like I don’t believe Clinton, I don’t believe Reagan, I don’t George Bush Sr. made a decision like that and he did.  Do you think it is a smart decision? 

GRANGER:  I think it was the right decision.  I think perhaps had Clinton made some decisions when he had the ability, we might not have been in the situation there perhaps.  But I think it was the principled thing to do, so smart is right, yes, smart, right, principled. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Congresswoman Eshoo another question of fact.  This doesn’t require any analysis.  Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, promised the American people before we went into this three year war and counting that the Iraqi oil would pay for the war. 

We’re now talking about a trillion dollar war going to two trillion. 

Did Wolfowitz tell the truth or simply sell a war that he favored? 

ESHOO:  It may be both of the above, Chris.  This is turning out to be a tragedy because of the way the administration has executed the war, not enough troops on the ground to keep the peace after we invaded, a reluctance of the administration to owe up to mistakes that have been made, and move in another direction to correct them. 

Now who’s caught in this?  Our troops are caught in it.  That’s why there’s so many of us, 100 Democrats in the House of Representatives now are co-sponsors of Congressman John Murtha’s resolution.  And there’s a very good reason for that.  It’s because there are 25,000 Iraqis now that are at war amongst one another. 

And so, you know, the administration, the president said today, for an hour and a half, essentially things are going well, we have to stay the course.  Stay the course is not a policy.  So do I think that this is a mistaken effort?  Absolutely. 

We need courage in the White House to owe up to the mistakes so that the policy can be reshaped and we can redeploy our troops and bring them home. 

And it’s going to be time for the Iraqis.  Time for the Iraqis with their new government to take over the security of their country and we can say to our troops, well done.  The mistakes are not on the part of the military.  It’s the commander-in-chief, this is his war and his mistakes.  I think that history is going to judge this administration very harshly, because it wasn’t right and it wasn’t smart. 

MATTHEWS:  Representative Kay Granger of Texas, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  We’re just out of time.  I’d love you to come back very soon.  And Anne Eshoo, thank you for joining us. 

Much more on the politics of the Iraq war coming up.  If you can keep up with all the action, in fact you can do it and the hot political races this year and the presidential race, which seems to be coming faster and faster in 2008.  Check out the biographies of the presidential wannabes and cast your ballot in our virtual Republican straw poll.  Go to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.  Last I saw, McCain was leading.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Three years into the war in Iraq and President Bush has faced a devastating loss of support; 51 percent of the country speaks removing Saddam was not worth it compared to 39 percent who still say it was.  The president’s job proving has taken a beating.  That is down to 33 percent.  That’s the lowest I think I’ve ever seen; 57 percent disapprove of the work. 

Here to dig into these numbers as we enter the fourth year of the Iraq war is Anne Kornblutt of The New York Times.  Anne, a couple things.  One, just basic reporting on the White House.  How long does the president intend to get out on the road and stay there?  He did a bit of this before the holidays and it worked.  It stopped the drop in the polls.  Maybe a notch up.  Will he keep doing this now to pick them up? 

ANNE KORNBLUTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  He’ll be out here this week doing it.  It is not just the president.  It is the vice president, the members of the military.  We saw yesterday on the anniversary, they tried to counter what would be three years worth of memorials by doing the media blitz. 

This is the first time when he’s not actually on the ballot again.  When we saw him do it before the holidays, or two years ago, he actually was.  Now it is about the rest of the Republican Party.  And so there is a delicate dance going on here.  On the one hand, they want to bring up his popularity.  Popularity for the war.  But they need to worry about their Republican members getting reelected in November. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of his big admission that the war in Iraq really wasn’t the attack on 9/11 and he never said it was. 

KORNBLUTT:  This has been a shifting message for a couple years now.  If you went back and pulled the tape from some “Meet the Press”'s three years ago, you would hear a very different implication from the vice president that somehow, Saddam Hussein, Iraq, had something perhaps, maybe we don’t know, to do with 9/11. 

They’ve been backing away from that.  This isn’t the first time the president has said, I never said there was a connection, but they’re going a lot further now that time has passed to say that they never said that. 

MATTHEWS:  That was always a bit of the far out fringe that said there was a clear connection.  There was also so much of the culture at the time that said we had to get even.  We had to show them, them being terrorists.  The word terrorists is used very fungibly to include insurgents who don’t like foreign intervention in their country, don’t want the Sunnis out of power, and also these terrible people that did what they did to us. 

KORNBLUTT:  It has become a really complicated word now.  Now that there’s an insurgency, but Allawi says there is a civil war.  This has been a definitional problem for them for over three years now. 

MATTHEWS:  My feeling, if they wanted to clean it up, they could have done it three years ago.  They’re waiting until the war is well into it to explain the war was not fought on the terms a lot of people thought it was.

Thank you Anne Kornblutt of The New York Times.

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it’s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,