Guests: Janice Schakowsky, Patrick McHenry, Al Sharpton, Michael Evans
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: So what the hell is going on? We went into Iraq, lost 2,500 soldiers, almost 10 times that many wounded. We have spent nearly $300 billion and are committed to doubling that. We changed regimes in Iraq, but what have we really accomplished? We‘ve toppled Saddam, but we‘ve let Iraq fall under the influence of Iran, which controls Hezbollah in Lebanon. We‘ve created a Shia crescent stretching from Tehran to Baghdad, to Beirut, a real Frankenstein‘s monster. Let‘s play HARDBALL. Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Today at a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, President Bush said he‘s redeploying more American G.I.‘s into Baghdad.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.
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MATTHEWS: Conditions on the ground in Iraq have deteriorated into sectarian violence where an estimated 100 people a day are now being killed. The plan now is to send American military police, M.P.‘s, to help patrol Baghdad. Maliki‘s appearance tomorrow before a joint meeting of Congress is triggering protests from Democrats who are upset about the prime minister‘s criticism of what he calls Israel‘s aggression. We‘ll have a debate about that issue later he in the program.
In another major story out of the Middle East, Israel resumed its bombing of Beirut with a vengeance today, targeting Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. Hezbollah hit back hard, launching rockets into Israel. The king of Saudi Arabia, one of America‘s strongest allies in the Mideast and the president of Iran, a real American foe, both warned that the Lebanese fighting could trigger a broader war in the region. NBC correspondents are in the regions tonight, covering this conflict.
And we begin in Beirut and our MSNBC colleague Tucker Carlson. Tucker, thank you very much for joining us over there. You look great over there, you‘ve gotten some sun, now to the substance. You have been skeptical since we‘ve talked about this over the months about the advisability of us going into Iraq. What we‘ve done is take the only check on power against Iran away from him. He‘s now free to move, to use Hezbollah. He‘s now got a Shia crescent extending in effect from Baghdad to Beirut up to Tehran, where he‘s from. Has this decision to go into Iraq helped what he‘s doing now?
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST: I don‘t think there‘s any question about it. I mean, look, the broader ramifications of the war in Iraq won‘t be known for decades and some of them will be good, others will be bad. In the meantime what you don‘t want is more Baghdads. You don‘t want Beirut more than anything to become Baghdad. That is the tragedy of the current conflict right now. One of the great unreported success stories of this entire region, the Middle East, is the city I‘m standing in, Beirut, really truly risen from the ashes. You‘d have to see it to believe it. Very close, the city reminds me of more than any other is Dubai, so the fear here is twofold. One and most immediately, that Israel‘s attacks on south Lebanon, which are understandable and I‘m not in any way assaulting Israel‘s right to defend itself or disagreeing with it, but the effect could be to drive Hezbollah north into this city, into Beirut. That has the residents here, some of them terrified.
There are many, many Christians living here, which is one of the things Americans tend to forget. This is a heavily-Christian city. We‘re in the Christian quarter right now.
The second thing and the broader and longer term fear here is this could wind up a failed state again. That the turmoil going on now could collapse this government, which let‘s not forget has been held up by the Bush administration as a model democratic government. I mean, this is a success story from the Bush administration‘s point of view. And it could all come tumbling down and this could become yet another mosquito swamp for al Qaeda and like-minded groups. That could be an effect of this war. That could be a terrifying possibility.
MATTHEWS: So the Beirut we all grew up with and a lot of us who went to Catholic school, know a lot of Maronite Christians. I still know a lot of them, socially and in church. They all came over to America from what was called the Paris of the Middle East. They‘re very European style part of the world. That Christian part, that part that‘s familiar to so many of us because of the immigration from Lebanon, you think that is in danger? CARLSON: Absolutely. Well, you know, it has been in danger since 1975 and of course, you know, people leaving this country permanently for United States and the west tend to be Christian. But there are still many Christians here. When we pulled in today on the ferry from Cyprus, the people meeting us, they were French soldiers and they were Maronite and other Christian priests, you know, wearing the robes. They were here. You know, it‘s a reminder that in the Middle East, which increasing is monochromatic, it‘s Muslim, this is an outpost of genuine diversity. So that means two things. It‘s a good thing, it‘s one of the reasons that this I think such a-has such a European flavor. But it also mean it‘s an inherently unstable situation.
And again, you would not want this city and this nation, because they are linked inextricably, to collapse. That would be a terrible, terrible thing and you‘ve got to hope-there‘s no evidence by the way, but you have to hope that the people running our foreign policy, the United States, are thinking this through and thinking about the fact that it can always be worse. That‘s the lesson of Iraq, it can always be worse, keep that in mind. And MI hope they‘re keeping that in mind.
MATTHEWS: I haven‘t seen any evidence that they‘ve got that in mind, but thank you very much, a very visionary view there. Thank you very much, Tucker Carlson.
Hundreds of Americans remain stranded in the port city of Tyre. NBC‘s Middle East bureau chief Richard Engel is in Tyre and joins us now. What is your take overall on the situation in Tyre, in that part of Lebanon, Richard?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC MIDDLE EAST BUREAU CHIEF: Tyre right now is receiving thousands if not hundreds of thousands of refugees who have passed through this city. South Lebanon-Israel says that it wants to create a buffer zone, perhaps even a no-go area. People we‘re talking to here say that Israel is trying to make the area so that no one can live there at all. All of the towns and villages right along the Israeli border have been hit very hard. There‘s fighting in that area, that is sending thousands of people into to city. So right now, we‘re seeing shelters filling up, the increase in communicable diseases according to local doctors who are treating some of these refugees. And some people in this area anyway are saying that Israel is trying to destroy south Lebanon, not only to create a buffer zone, but to create a parking lot where Hezbollah can‘t operate, can‘t live, can‘t survive at all and it is a heavily populated area. MATTHEWS: From what you can see, is this war destroying Lebanon? ENGEL: It is-there are villages along the border with Israel that according to people we‘re talking to, have been, if not completely destroyed, but made uninhabitable. We were talking to some of those American refugees. They are from one village right along the border with Israel and came here today. Some talked about desperate escapes from their homes. They were piling into cars, an 11-car convoy tried to leave this one particular village.
People were piling on the cars, begging them to get in. People were asking if they could get into the trunks of these vehicles, some relatives had to leave other crying relatives back in this village, which has again been pounded tonight. We‘ve been hearing airstrikes, very intense airstrikes in this entire area around Tyre, not in the downtown part of the city itself, where we are, but in the hilltops around the city.
This is where Hezbollah again today launched rockets into Israel. So there are parts according to the reports we‘re hearing from villagers, of south Lebanon that are being destroyed and made uninhabitable. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, NBC‘s Richard Engel. As always, take care my friend.
Hezbollah has fired dozens of rockets as we just heard, into northern Israel today, including the port city of Haifa, a big city. That‘s where NBC‘s Tom Aspell is standing by. Tom, first, the evidence eon the great. What are people in Israel, in that very sophisticated city, saying about the future of this war? Do they think it will be brief or extended? TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think they think it will be extended, Chris. Most people realizing as we‘ve seen again today that Hezbollah far from finished.
You know, ever since the first day of the war they launched more than 100 rockets every day into northern Israel. And in spite of all the air power going into the ground in southern Lebanon, around the southern suburbs of Beirut looking for command and control centers and even around the port city of Tyre, from where they believe the rockets had hit Haifa, we haven‘t seen them stop yet.
So Israelis are worried that not everything going according to plan. In fact, we know from the Israeli Air Force that they‘ve flown more than 1,500 sorties since the war began. They‘ve destroyed about 2,000 rockets and launchers, but they estimate Hezbollah still has some 6,000 left. On the ground in southern Lebanon, thousands of Israeli troops pushing forward, five mills to the town of Bint Jubail. If they are trying to establish a buffer zone, then it‘s hardly wide enough yet. So they have to keep going. The Israeli defense ministry saying we don‘t intend to take towns, we just intend to encircle them. But at this rate, it‘s going to take the Israelis quite a while to clear a decent size zone for an international force to come into. So most Israelis resigned to the fact this is not going to be over quickly. Chris?
MATTHEWS: We‘ve just gotten word over a wire report that four U.N. observers who were stationed in south Lebanon have been killed by Israeli bombers, clearly an accident-I hope it‘s an accident.
Let me ask you Tom, there‘s almost a religious belief in the Israeli Air Force on the part of Israelis and Americans too, they won the six-day war in heroic time, in heroic fashion. They can do the job against tank hoards coming in from Syria. The future security of the country is based upon that airforce, I believe. Have they not been able to do the job that the Israelis thought they could do in Lebanon?
ASPELL: Well, you know, the only good job they‘ve really managed to do is counter battery fire. They‘re most impressed with their own success on that. But as far as taking out command and control, as we‘ve seen in past conflicts where air power has been used, it has not been that successful. They‘ve tried to kill the leadership, yet we see Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah popping up time and again. But they are pleased with their own counter battery fire.
When they spot a missile launch, when they spot a rocket launch, then they go after it both with artillery and air power, and they say they‘ve had quite considerable success since the beginning of the war that, of course, in close consultation with the Americans on BDA, bomb damage assessment, and overhead imagery. They say they‘re quite successful at that. But air power doesn‘t win this really in the end, because as everybody here knows, you cannot really defeat a popular religious movement and that‘s what Hezbollah is, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a big picture assessment. Thank you very much, Tom Aspell in Haifa.
On the diplomatic front, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Rome tonight after meeting with the Israeli and the Palestinian prime ministers. NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell is traveling with Secretary Rice. She joins us now with more.
Andrea, I‘ve been waiting for this moment. What‘s happening? ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, everyone is waiting for this moment. This is a summit. The whole world is here. We see people coming through, the Lebanese already here, the head of the European Union, obviously, Condoleezza Rice, the Saudis, the Egyptians-everyone is going to be at this meeting.
And once again, United States is going to be alone, practically, with the exception of Great Britain, in saying that we do not want-this administration does not want an immediate cease-fire, and the reason is they really see this as a much bigger struggle.
They see Iran‘s hand behind Hezbollah, and that has been widely reported, but they see it as a deliberate provocation by Iran, encouraging Hezbollah to take on Israel, to provoke Israel in a way where Israel would logically and inevitably respond big time, and they think that a short-term cease-fire is not going to solve the problem.
They‘re hoping tomorrow out of this meeting to get some agreement on an international military force to prop up the Lebanese army so that Lebanon can begin to take control over its own southern territories and over its borders, but that‘s not an immediate solution.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the role the United States policy has played in this current confrontation. The United States policy was to effect a regime change in Iraq. We did that at the cost of 2,500 soldiers and 10 times that many wounded, and at a cost of almost $300 billion already spent, $300 billion to go, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
What did we accomplish? We knocked out it seems to me-let me ask you, you‘re the expert. Did we not knock out the only real regional threat to Iran? Did that create the hubris, perhaps, that led toward their testing the Israeli mettle here?
MITCHELL: Well, there is an argument to be made that out of all this, the unintended consequence is that Iran is stronger than ever. And you can question the intelligence on Iran and whether the U.S. is misreading that as we now know it misread Iraq. That‘s another issue. We should do a reality check on that sometime, but they really do see this as an Iranian adventure and that raises the stakes for this administration. That‘s why they go along with Israel. That‘s why, in fact, the Saudis, the Egyptians and others while they say they are upset about the level of destruction in Lebanon-and they are and they‘re hearing it politically at home, obviously, from their streets-they also want to get back at Hezbollah because they see this as a proxy war with Iran and this is Sunni versus Shia.
MATTHEWS: Well, I could spend a whole hour with you, Andrea, but we‘re going to have some arguments here instead. Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell in Rome where the action is right now.
Here in Washington, President Bush met today, as everyone knows by now, with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, who‘s been critical of what he calls Israel‘s “aggression” and calling for an immediate cease-fire. NBC News White House correspondent-chief White House correspondent David Gregory is with us. First, about this side war here. This handful of Democrats who are out there very upset about Maliki‘s comments, blaming the war on northern Israel against Lebanon, against the Hezbollah forces, as really the fault of Israel. Did the White House discount that this was going to come, that we put up a Shia leader of an Arab state? DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it‘s really very interesting, because I did some research last week on a speech that the president gave in 2003, and one of the points that he made is that invading Iraq would not only transform the region, create stability in a region that vitally needed it, but it would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace.
You know, Chris, we were led to believe all along that a new government in Iraq would be pro-Western, pro-American, would be an ally of Israel. Well, you wouldn‘t know it with this democracy that we‘ve helped stand up, and Maliki. And you mentioned it already.
Not only has he been critical of Israel, the speaker of the Parliament has been sharply critical of Israel, but today Prime Minister Maliki was asked his assessment of Hezbollah. He never mentions Israel. He mentions today repeatedly the damage done to the Lebanese civilians‘ infrastructure. Iraq, by the way, has pledged some $35 billion in aid, I understand-million perhaps, in humanitarian aid to Lebanon, and yet no condemnation of Hezbollah at all.
This was an issue that came up, they disagreed about it clearly, and now, you know, not a lot of fanfare for his first visit to Washington, because as Democrats on the Hill are saying, look, “Who‘s side are you on,” in the words of Senator Schumer of New York, “in this war on terror, when you don‘t condemn Hezbollah?”
So, you know, this is in part what this administration has wrought. We have a situation that‘s difficult to control in Iraq and, in fact, we‘ve got a leadership that‘s difficult to control, at least in the space of the wider Arab world, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Are they worried at the White House about the politics, maybe the ethnic politics, in this country of all those Democratic members? And, actually, it‘s a bipartisan thing, very concerned, not just about what Maliki said, but what that speaker of the House said in almost a stupid charge-I think that‘s an objective statement-that Jews are behind the beheadings in Iraq.
GREGORY: Well, and there have been other claims that, you know, Americans were butchers as they came into invade Iraq. This doesn‘t play very well at home, especially at a time with the president is struggling to turn around the fact that the public is opposed to the war. They know that. I spoke to White House officials today who said look, you know, what are we going to do? This, obviously, doesn‘t play well, but they‘ve got internal politics they have to deal with as well.
One of the things that I‘m told the president leaned on Maliki pretty hard on was this idea that look, if you want to control Baghdad, it‘s one thing to say it. You‘ve really got to start to do it and you‘ve got to prepare politically form the military onslaught that‘s going to come to make it happen-Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, it‘s a great report.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House. Coming up, we‘re going to debate-or two people are-whether the Iraqi prime minister should get to address Congress tomorrow. A handful of House Democrats want to cancel his address and we‘re coming back with that hot fight. It‘s about Israel, it‘s about sensitivities here in America to anti-Israeli shots. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Iraqi prime minister is scheduled to speak to Congress tomorrow in a joint meeting, but some Democrats want House Speak Hastert to cancel him. They say the prime minister and members of the Iraqi leadership, the freely-elected Iraqi leadership, are on the wrong side of the Israeli conflict. Because of that, Representative Janice Schakowsky of Illinois says the Iraqi P.M. should not address Congress. Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina disagrees.
You first with the proposal. Congresswoman, why shouldn‘t a leader of a country we‘re allied in a war speak to us?
REP. JANICE SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: A hundred and two people, heads of states, have spoken before the Congress. This is real privilege. We have now the leader of Iraq, who‘s reflecting views that are closer to those of Iran than to the United States of America, in singularly condemning Israel as opposed to even mentioning Hezbollah, who was the aggressor in this attack.
And we‘ve also had now the speaker of the Parliament in Iraq using blatantly anti-Semitic remarks, saying the Jews and sons of Jews are the problem of all the violence that‘s in Iraq. I think he should come here, I think we should have conversations, but addressing a joint session of Congress, no, I don‘t think that he should be offered that honored position.
MATTHEWS: Congressman McHenry, your view?
REP. PATRICK MCHENRY r, NORTH CAROLINA: Well I‘ll tell you, I completely disagree with what the prime minister said. I think it was wrong, horribly wrong, but having said that, we have 130,000 fighting men and women from the United States in Iraq today. If he shouldn‘t address the House of Representatives in a joint session, I don‘t know who should. But let me tell you, Chris, what the prime minister should have said, that we in the United States as well as Israel and as well as Iraqi people, have the same common enemy and those are Islamic extremists and that‘s what he should have said, rather than blaming Israel for this.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Schakowsky. Thanks for joining us. You haven‘t been on before. Do you think the Iraq war was a smart move for us or for Israel? One at a time. Was it smart for us to topple Saddam and allow the Shia-led government take office that‘s in office now, led by Maliki.
SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I was a very strong opponent of the war, in fact, one of those who went door to door to my colleagues and thus achieved 60 percent of the Democrats voting no against this war.
One of the rationales for this war-and Dick Cheney expressed it very clearly-was that regime change would empower the moderate forces, would work against the Jihad forces and, in fact, would help to establish Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. It couldn‘t be further from the truth, and I think ...
MATTHEWS: Why was he wrong? Why was Wolfowitz and the other smart guys, well educated, highly experienced foreign policy analysts and advocates, why were they dead wrong do you think?
SCHAKOWSKY: For some reason, they had this ideological view that we had the power-it was so arrogant-that we could somehow reshape the Middle East and its politics. In fact, now we‘re seeing the results of that. I think those who are saying what have we wrought, that‘s an appropriate question. Now we‘re seeing that the prime minister has condemned Israel, is tacitly, in some ways, supporting Hezbollah as a consequence, and expressing anti-Semitic remarks. It‘s completely unacceptable. Why is he coming tomorrow? Are we supposed to hear now the good news about Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, did you ever seen the movie “Frankenstein”?
SCHAKOWSKY: I have.
MATTHEWS: This guy was man-made. We created-you know, you talked right there about the old neoconservative argument that the road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad, that this was the way it had to be to bring out all those parties to the table.
But what has happened is we‘ve given Hezbollah basically a Shia crescent right across Iraq, and now they have got Hezbollah unleashed. They‘re a powerful country now and they have tentacles.
Let me ask Congressman McHenry your view. Has the Iraq war been good for the United States? Pause. Has it been good for Israel?
MCHENRY: I‘ll tell you, the Iraq war, when we succeed, will be a positive, a net plus for our foreign policy. Right now, it‘s not an easy war. This is not peaches and cream and the whole idea we could win this war overnight is a faulty premise, but it is a tough war that we have to win and when we win, it will be far better for the Middle East and for our internal security. Let me just add this, Chris ...
MATTHEWS: But you have to admit that it was premised upon a cake walk, a slam-dunk with regard to WMD being found there, the Iraqis would pay for the war according to the chairman of the economic advisors and that oil flowing into the United States cheaply. All those promises were made. None of them came true. This is the gang that couldn‘t shoot straight in this regard. Do you admit that?
MCHENRY: Look, Chris, I wasn‘t here for that in Congress, but let me tell you, there have been mistakes made, and I said that in the newspaper just last week. I think there have been mistakes made by the administration. However, we‘re there, we have to succeed, we have to win and the best way to do it is to have security on the ground.
It‘s a matter of choices, Chris. That‘s what this is all about. In a perfect world, the prime minister would not be my choice. However, I‘m not a voter of Iraq. Let me tell you, beyond that ...
MATTHEWS: But you did know that the Shia control had the most numbers of people in Iraq and that if there was going to be an election, a Shia would win. And if you look at the Shias in the Middle East and the way they‘ve behaved towards us and the West, running Hezbollah against us, having Iran as their capital, you must have expected if you studied this issue that we would face a very hostile country eventually if it was going to be led by the Iranian-led Shia, didn‘t you?
MCHENRY: Who is more hostile, though? Who is more hostile, Saddam Hussein or Maliki? I would tell you, a democratic government ...
MATTHEWS: I would argue that anybody in that region would say the Iranians are far greater of a threat to everyone in that region than that crazy Saddam was.
MCHENRY: But, Chris, what we‘re saying-what we‘re saying, Chris, is it‘s a choice.
MATTHEWS: And that is a judgment you have to make, and you made it. You thought Saddam was more of a threat. I think you were wrong. MCHENRY: Well, let me tell you this, Chris. Let me tell you this, Chris. Look, that was not my decision here, but let me tell you first of all, it‘s a choice. Who would you rather have, Saddam Hussein or a Democratically-elected government? What would be better for Israel, Maliki‘s horrible words or Saddam lobbing scuds at them, which they did during the Gulf War? MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Congresswoman.
SCHAKOWSKY: That was never the choice. It wasn‘t do nothing about Saddam Hussein or go in there and invade and overthrow his regime. There actually was an international protocol in place that actually could have isolated and defanged Saddam Hussein.
This has-now we don‘t know who the enemy is and now we don‘t even know who the good guy is, the head of the country taking a position very differently from the United States, and attacking-at least verbally-the only democracy really in the Middle East.
MCHENRY: Chris, let me just add one thing. This is a matter of ... MATTHEWS: You know, excuse me. I have got to break, Congressman. We have to break. I want to tell you, I want to salute you both. This is the kind of debate that America could have had in 2001 and 2002 and did not. I think it‘s the media‘s fault we didn‘t force this debate on the American people. I appreciate greatly your thoughts. They are both very clear and I appreciate both points of view. Thank you Congresswoman Schakowsky of Illinois ...
SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... and Congressman McHenry of North Carolina. Still ahead, President Bush dispatches more troops into Baghdad. Is the focus on Israel distracting from the big chaos facing us in Iraq? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel raged on today, President Bush turned his attention to the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and met with the Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. It made for intriguing political theater, both because of the differences between Iraq and the American government over Lebanon and because of the continued problems in Iraq. HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two months after forming a new government, Prime Minister al-Maliki met with President Bush today and acknowledged that the chaos and violence in Iraq is not diminishing. So at their news conference, President Bush announced a boost in the number of U.S. troops going into Baghdad.
BUSH: Obviously the violence in Baghdad is still terrible. And therefore there needs to be more troops.
SHUSTER: Democrats today called the move another sign of failure and noted that U.S. forces first entered Iraq‘s capital city three and a half years ago.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Unless we can produce tangible benefits in the daily lives of Iraqis, our military efforts will buy time, but not success.
SHUSTER: Administration officials say the additional U.S. troops in Baghdad will include 400 U.S. military police. Still, it was just six weeks ago when Iraqi officials with President Bush at their side announced a new security plan involving 7,000 U.S. troops working alongside 50,000 Iraqi security forces.
And yet violence in Baghdad is now claiming the lives on average of 100 Iraqi civilians every day, and attacks on U.S. troops are up by 40 percent. The prime minister today suggested his government is making progress. NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: The security plan for Baghdad has entered the second phase and it‘s achieving its objectives in hunting the terrorist networks and eliminating it.
SHUSTER: President Bush also tried to frame Iraq in the best possible light by drawing attention to one province where Iraqi forces are in control.
BUSH: It‘s a sign of progress. No question it‘s tough in Baghdad and no question it‘s tough in other parts of Iraq. But there are also places where progress is being made.
SHUSTER: But six week ago, President Bush himself suggested the focus should be on Baghdad.
BUSH: The capital city of a country sends important signals to the rest of the country, the security of the capital city, to the country and the world.
SHUSTER: The visit of Iraq‘s prime minister to Washington comes at a delicate time. Not just because of the violence in Iraq, but because congressional midterm elections here are drawing closer. In recent days, Prime Minister al-Maliki has repeatedly criticized the U.S. support for Israel‘s strategy against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it was apparently criticism that al-Maliki repeated today, to President Bush in private. BUSH: The prime minister and I spent time talking about Lebanon. And we had a frank exchange on-views on this situation. I listened closely to the prime minister and I value a chance to hear his perspective. SHUSTER: But Democrats believe al-Maliki should be falling in line behind the United States.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We have done everything the Iraqis could ever ask of us to give them their chance to be freed of a dictator and to govern themselves and now to ask them to join us in a chorus condemning terrorism is not too high a price.
SHUSTER: And Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said al-Maliki should not be greeted with diplomatic flourishes.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: America, our country, has expended over 2,500 lives, 18,000 wounded, $300 billion to fight the war on terror. Prime Minister al-Maliki owes his office to those American lives and those American dollars.
SHUSTER: Maliki will be addressing a joint meeting of Congress tomorrow, meaning the controversy over statements and visit here will intensify, but the controversy over the Iraq war itself may have now intensify as well. Because as recently as two months ago, Bush administration officials have been hoping al-Maliki would be bringing news of stability in Iraq and new potential for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Instead, the U.S. occupation still has no end in sight. I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
How does the continued violence in Iraq make President Bush look right now and should the Iraqi prime minister be allowed to criticize Israel and still get the treat of addressing the U.S. Congress tomorrow? The Reverend Al Sharpton is president of the National Action Network and Michael Evans is the founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team. He just got back from the Middle East.
Let me go to Reverend Sharpton. You know, I started this show by asking the question rather pointedly whether we‘ve created a Frankenstein‘s monster over there in Iraq and Iran. Before the war that we led against Saddam Hussein, Iraq and Iran were checking each other in terms of power, they had an eight-year war. We knocked out the Iraqi resistance to the Shia majority in Iraq, and now you have a Shia crescent, which extends from Baghdad to Tehran. And now as we‘ve seen with Hezbollah, down to what looks to be a possible takeover of Beirut by the Shia. Have we created a Frankenstein‘s monster by fighting the war in Iraq?
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, NATION ACTION NETWORK: I think that if we were going to fight any war on an honest level and not for things that ended up not being true, Iran certainly would have strategically been more in line with those that hold their point of view.
I‘m not one that would have wanted war in either, but I certainly don‘t see the rationale that we did in Iraq. The weapons were not there, but even more so now, you now have Iran, which is a greater threat, you have Iraq where we are actually debating on whether the prime minister of Iraq, a nation that we promised democracy, has the right to free speech. So in many ways, not only have we created a Frankenstein, we‘re reaping a lot of what we sowed, which is why a lot of us didn‘t want us to sow it in the first place, because when you reap it, you might not like what you planted.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask the same question to Michael.
MICHAEL EVANS, AUTHOR, “AMERICAN PROPHECIES”: Well, that‘s ridiculous. Number one, Iran is the proxy to this whole thing. The Hezbollah was founded by Khomeini. The Hezbollah is an Iran proxy. The majority of troops that are being killed in Iraq, according to Moshe Ya‘alon, the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, told me the IED, improvised explosive devices, are coming in from Iran.
Now, also the terrorists are coming in through Lebanon through Syria. Iran has got its fingers in this whole mess and this prime minister is a Shia prime minister. No, he shouldn‘t be addressing the joint session of Congress. This is a war. This is about moral clarity, and by the way, nation building is not the reason we were there.
OK. We screwed up the nation building. Let‘s forget about nation building. This is a war. We‘ve got a 911 crisis on our hands and if we don‘t wake up and see it as it is, and not condemn Israel when they‘ve absorbed 2,000 terrorist Hezbollah attacks-and I was there. I was on the northern border, and these poor people are in bunkers, and they‘re dying. This is tragic. We ought to have the moral clarity to stand up and say the right thing and do the right thing and especially Mr. Sharpton, the preacher.
MATTHEWS: Well let me ask you-OK, go ahead.
SHARPTON: I‘m not sure that we‘re on the same show, because I think what you said really agreed with Chris‘ point. If you‘re saying Iran is there, and his finger is in everything, then are you saying that we were wrong to go to at Iraq and not Iran? I mean, maybe I missed Chris‘ opening. I think what you said validated it.
EVANS: No, no, no. That‘s like getting 1,200 missiles in Harlem and then not wanting to deal with the Ku Klux Klan. Listen, the bottom line-the bottom line here is that we are fighting a war. If you‘re going to fight a war, you have to have a military base.
Now, I don‘t want to have a military base in Harlem or Brooklyn. I want a military base in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq and I want to look squarely in the face of a country that wants to go nuclear and these nutcases believe they‘re on a mission from God to kill Jews and kill Christians. They hate the infidels. This is serious stuff.
MATTHEWS: Are you on a mission from God, sir?
MATTHEWS: Yes, you.
EVANS: Listen, Chris, I just came ...
MATTHEWS: I‘m just asking an open question. Do you believe that you have a mission from God to say what you‘re saying right now? EVANS: No, I don‘t have a mission from God to say what I‘m saying. Here‘s what I believe. I just came from the home of a precious woman who has only been married nine months. Her husband was taken by hostages just around the time, coincidentally, that the president was drawing the line in the sand on the G-8 Summit, trying to get Iran to back down. This poor woman was preparing a meal for her husband. The guy is gone.
The parents haven‘t even seen the kid. I wept with his precious parents. It‘s tragic what these Israelis are facing. This is a heartbreaking situation.
When you see the-when you see what-it‘s the same stuff, Chris, that the suicide bombers use that they‘re putting in the missiles, and by the way, why are the civilians being killed? Because they‘re using them. They‘re using the homes and they‘re using them the same way Saddam Hussein-and the pimp media leftists in Haifa, wearing their flak jackets, aren‘t even out in the war, trying to make it ...
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, sir, those kind of phrases are useless and let me just tell you something.
MATTHEWS: If you do sympathize with human life and death-and I hope we all do on this show -- 50,000 people were killed so far in Iraq in that war. That was a war of choice, and we‘ve got to debate these policies and we‘ve got to debate who‘s right and who‘s wrong. And that‘s what do you in a democracy. And to refer to the pimp media, you can do that. It‘s a free country.
EVANS: Not the pimp media. Chris, I‘m not talking about all of the media.
MATTHEWS: But I don‘t have to respect people that use phrases like that.
Let me ask you a question.
EVANS: I‘m not referring ...
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to a bigger question. Do you believe that the Iraq war was good for the United States?
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the Iraq war, now that you‘ve seen the ramifications of a very empowered Iran, a very hubristic Iran, like Ahmadinejad being elected and all that and moving his tentacles into Lebanon again and into Israel, attempting it into Israel, do you believe that he would have that power today if he were checked by his strong neighbor, Iraq? Is he better off now that Iraq has been toppled and that that country has been taken over by his arm, another tentacle, Maliki? EVANS: You think Saddam Hussein would have done a better job? Is that your question?
MATTHEWS: No, no. I‘m saying this balance of power and politics is the way we live in this world. One bad guy upsets another bad guy. Stalin and Hitler go to war and it was probably good for us that Stalin was on the other side of that fight so that we could open a second front and win. But we would not have done as well, taking on Hitler ...
EVANS: Chris, Saddam Hussein ...
MATTHEWS: Just a minute. All I‘m saying is sometimes bad guys take care of each other more effectively than the good guys. That‘s all I‘m suggesting.
EVANS: Saddam Hussein would not allow us to establish a military presence to fight a war on terrorism. We‘ve got to do it.
SHARPTON: But now you have a prime minister that you are saying is just as wrong, just as bad, so what the results are, are what? I mean, the whole thing to me is what is the point? We‘re on the eve of the prime minister of Iraq addressing the House, addressing the Senate, and people are saying he shouldn‘t be allowed to speak.
Here is the man who is the prime minister for the state, sir, that you all advocated and said it was necessary to go in and present, so explain to the American people what we were doing.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to come back with a very particular question.
I‘m going to stay out of it. Michael, you take it over when we come back. Should this guy Maliki speak to the American Congress, should he get that platform? We‘ll be back with Michael Evans and Al Sharpton on that very particular question. The best stage in America, should we give it to Maliki?
This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Michael Evans. Mr. Evans, we haven‘t had you on before, so take a minute. I‘m not going to get in your way. I‘ll take that unusual step of giving you some air time, and then, Reverend Sharpton, jump in.
Why do you think or do you, that we should deny Maliki the chance to speak to the Congress because of his words lately?
EVANS: Chris, I was on before. I was on with Mike. But the holy grail of understanding is we‘ve got to maintain moral clarity. Now, to maintain moral clarity we‘ve got to say no, you cannot speak.
He cannot speak because he just condemned a democracy, an ally who was attacked by terrorists and is trying to defend its democracy. These people want to kill them. We‘ve got to maintain moral clarity. He should not speak, and the American people need to scream their heads off, no. Listen, this guy wants an amnesty-he wants amnesty for Iraqis-and by the way, a lot of them are not Iraqis, they‘re terrorists who have come into Middle East-that kill Americans. We have got to stand up and say no. Listen, you‘re the prime minister of Iraq, that‘s nice, we‘re happy for you, but this is America and we‘re going to maintain moral clarity. SHARPTON: Well, I think, Chris, that what is very interesting about his point is that Mike to me represents the same kind of inconsistency of the Bush foreign policy. At one hand, we say we must go into Iraq-not Iran, not North Korea, Iraq-because we‘ve got to preserve democracy. Then when they democratically select a prime minister, we for the point of clarity say, no, we‘re not going to let the guy that‘s a result of what we fought, what 50,000 people died for, which soldiers died for, we don‘t want him to speak now because we don‘t like what he said.
Now, if you‘re talking about being unclear, you‘re talking about giving mixed signals...
EVANS: No, no, no.
SHARPTON: You‘re talking about inconsistency, what Mike just said is the policy of this administration, and for them to even phrase the word clarity would be laughable if there wasn‘t so many lies.
EVANS: Al, now, let me talk.
SHARPTON: I listened to you talk, sir. In fact, I want you to talk. I wouldn‘t get in your way. If a man is on the edge of a cliff, I don‘t have to confuse a rhetorical suicide with a homicide.
MATTHEWS: OK, Michael, I have to ask you a particular question. When you say we shouldn‘t let him speak, should we censor him?
EVANS: The man is not an American. It‘s not about censorship. He‘s not an American. This is a prime minister that wants to speak to joint session of Congress-and by the way, I want to talk about the democracy issue. MATTHEWS: No, answer this question. You‘re saying I‘m not to think anti-Israeli. Are you telling him not to say anti-Israeli things? Which do you want him to do, pretend he likes Israel, or really like Israel? What do want to happen here?
EVANS: The man already drew the line in the sand. He already attacked a nation that is at war and has been attacked by terrorists. He‘s siding with a terrorist regime. If we aid, if we fund, if we support terrorists, it‘s an enemy of the United States. This man has already made his decision. We say no, no, thank you. You don‘t get the privilege, pal. SHARPTON: Should we not send our troops in?
SHARPTON: The president said today he‘s going to send more troops in. Should we not send more troops in that will aid this man, since he‘s taken this position?
EVANS: I want to answer your question about democracy, Al.
SHARPTON: I would like you to answer my question.
EVANS: OK, number one on the democracy question, I don‘t give a flip personally about Iraq‘s democracy. I care about 9/11. I care about a war on terrorism. And our troops are over there-they didn‘t come over there to do the plumbing and electricity. They came over there to fight a war on terrorism. And we‘ve got a heck of a lot of enemies in the Middle East. Hezbollah is an enemy that wants to kill you, Al, and wants to kill me and our families, and so does Iran, and they want to go nuclear if they can do it. These troops are fighting a war...
SHARPTON: I live in New York. I live in New York...
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come back. We have to take a break. We‘ll come back with-gentlemen, we want to hear from both of you-we‘ll be right back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Michael Evans. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Michael Evans. Let me get this straight, Michael Evans. The new freely elected president of the Iraq, the government we helped create at the cost of $100 billion a year and 2,500 serviceman‘s lives and perhaps 20,000 wounded, is not allowed to speak what he believes. He has to say what we believe. Is that right?
EVANS: I don‘t care what he says in Iraq. But we‘re fighting a war on terrorism. We‘ve got a country that wants to go nuclear, Iran. Ahmadinejad, he‘s a nut case. A nut case. He wrote a letter to Bush. He did a U.N. deal. He‘s completely a pathological nut case. We‘ve got Hezbollah, another nut case. We‘ve got a war we‘re fighting on terrorism, and this man can‘t come into this country and attack a precious ally of ours that‘s defending-listen, they‘re shedding Jewish blood to... (CROSSTALK)
MATTHEWS: What do you mean can‘t? He‘s already-what do you mean he can‘t?
He just did. What do you mean he can‘t?
EVANS: He did it! Chris, he did it. And now it‘s time to hold him accountable. Simply say, like Nancy said, say no.
MATTHEWS: He‘s going to speak tomorrow. It‘s going to happen, because he‘s a freely elected head of that government. You want to write talking points for somebody who we say is freely elected? Al Sharpton. SHARPTON: I mean, look, Chris, not only has he come here and done it, the man stood with the president of the United States today where the president assigned more troops to send to Baghdad under this man‘s administration. So what are we talking about? I mean, this is the kind of schizophrenia that I‘m saying we‘re seeing in foreign policy.
We‘re arguing about whether he‘s going to speak tomorrow when some mother watching this show, her son is on his way to uphold this man in Iraq. MATTHEWS: OK. I agree with you. Thank you, gentlemen. We‘re out of time. Wonderful debate. Al Sharpton, Michael Evans.
Right now, it‘s time for the Tucker show-“TUCKER” from Beirut. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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