updated 11/21/2006 10:30:49 AM ET 2006-11-21T15:30:49

Guests: Seymour Hersh, Ed Rogers, Steve McMahon, Terry Jeffrey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Do hawks still fly? 

Is Vice President Cheney‘s office, which sold us the war in Iraq, now planning to push for war with Iran? 

Let‘s hear from investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL. 

Are we getting any closer to ending this war in Iraq?

While Congressional Democrats sit back and wait for James Baker to recommend a course of action, the “Washington Post” reports today that the Pentagon is working on a plan for more U.S. troops in Iraq.  Will Congressional Democrats stand for it, or will they buck their responsibility to challenge the war?  More on that later.

We begin with the “New Yorkers‘s” investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and his big piece about the push inside the vice president‘s office for an attack on Iran. 

I know you‘ve got a lot in this big piece.  Sy, first question:  who‘s pushing for an attack, if the disaster, or the catastrophe, of this war with Iraq, who‘s pushing for another war in the Middle East? 

SEYMOUR HERSH, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Well, Cheney‘s the leader, obviously.  He—I wouldn‘t say he‘s pushing for another war.  What I would say is that his office has been sort of a point—the point for continuing to look very hard at Iran, and thinking one solution to resolving your problems inside Iraq is to do something about Iran, to get them to stop meddling. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s not jump over that.  Who is David Wurmser, and what does he want?  He works for the vice president.  Describe his role here? 

HERSH:  He‘s assistant to the vice president.  But he‘s sort of their main guy on issues about Iran.  He‘s out of the American Enterprise Institute.  He‘s a very bright, very nice guy.  He worked with Richard Perle back in those days.  I guess you‘d call him a classic neoconservative.

MATTHEWS:  He was pushing the war in Iraq, regime change against Saddam Hussein.  I mean the project for the new American century, the clean break recommendation to beat Netanyahu.  He‘s been on this trail for a long time of aggressive action by us in the Middle East. 

HERSH:  Yes, absolutely, for ten years.

MATTHEWS:  And is he now pushing within the vice president‘s office for the vice president to endorse an attack? 

HERSH:  Well, there‘s a lot of people who believe that the Israelis are basically right, and when they say this is an existential threat that we must deal with, with Iran, we cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon.  And the question is, will George Bush leave office without doing something about Iran?  Whether he can get them—he‘s not going to get them to talk, not at the way he‘s going.  The price is too high, there‘s no reason—in this article, I make the point that, why should Iran talk to us?  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re not the only one—if it is David Wurmser, you‘re certainly not the only American pushing for an attack on Iraq‘s nuclear facilities.  But I think he might be one, according to your article, who recognizes the dimensions of that attack.

You can‘t just surgically attack.  You‘ve got to go after their triple A, you‘ve got to go after all the defensive capability, and you have to recognize that they could well respond with an all-out declaration of war against us and take all kinds of steps against the oil lanes and everything else. 

Do they know that in the vice president‘s office, that war means war? 

HERSH:  They think that—you know, what the Air Force would call a thousand points of light.  There‘s a lot of targets in there that you have light up.  But they think they can handle it.  There‘s been a lot of very good studies done.  I should say the military‘s—they think they can suppress the Iranian missiles, there‘s a lot of classified stuff that they‘ve looked at.  We‘ve done a lot of—we have a lot of technical intelligence we‘ve collected on Iran.  We know where everything moves there.  We have people inside, the Israelis have people inside.  We‘re not dark about it.  We have a lot of insight.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Now the vice president has been overruled in his attempt to try to keep Rumsfeld and in his attempt to prevent Gates from coming in.  That‘s a fair assessment, isn‘t it?  He‘s been overruled? 

HERSH:  He was pretty much—I think—the reading I get, and I write about this, too—is he was pretty much—he went along. 

MATTHEWS:  He went along.  Was he overruled? 

HERSH:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.  Does anybody really know what goes on between Bush...

MATTHEWS:  The reason I asked that is about the future, not what happened here.  But is the vice president still strong enough with the president that he could push with an attack on Iran before the two of them leave office? 

HERSH:  Scowcroft, Baker and 41, the old president, there‘s no question that the Gates move was orchestrated, in part, to neutralize Cheney.  This is something I did write about. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s in the article.

HERSH:  The goal is to figure out some way to stop—Cheney‘s very powerful.  He‘s very, very bright.  He‘s very competent.  He runs everything.  He knows everything.  The president, as much as I can tell from talking to the few people that I talked to around him, the president defers often on such... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you don‘t defer the question of whether to attack Iran or not.  He‘s going to have to—the question is, you‘ve got some neoconservatives, people like Robert Kagan, who have openly written columns within the last couple of months, saying this president, to fulfill his doctrine, has to attack Iran before he leaves office and get rid of those nuclear capabilities, or else he will have failed his presidency.  They‘re very stark about it. 

And in your piece, you talk about Wurmser having something of that view.  I just wonder will the same pressures that took us into regime change with Iraq, with all the questions that were still out there, we‘ll do it again.  Hard to say, or what? 

HERSH:  Well, nobody can tell.  I mean, it‘s ridiculous to predict the future.  But—it is, you just can‘t do it.  But you can do one thing.  You can say one thing.  There is a pattern emerging which is really scary.  Again, in this article, I write the CIA has done an assessment that doesn‘t say about Iran‘s intentions.  They may have dreams about a bomb.  What the CIA says is we‘ve looked hard, we can‘t find any evidence of a significant weapons program. 

But they also say—the CIA also says, what‘s the rush?  They also suggest that if you do go to war with Iran now, you‘re going to be kicking off the can into something very, very big that you don‘t really understand.  You could drive Sunnis and Shia together into another caliphate.  This is in the report.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

HERSH:  Meanwhile, the CIA...

MATTHEWS:  Unite the—certainly unite the Iranians against us.  The new breed secular, pro-Western crowd will hate us for this. 

HERSH:  Why not? 

And also drive the price of oil up for here, too. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, I‘ve always wondered the limits of nuclear—of military power.  You could blow up whatever facility you thought they had.  And they‘d rebuild.  We bombed strategically against Germany and they kept rebuilding underground.  They just proliferated even further.  They were building and building right until the end of the war.  What stops Iran, it‘s a modern country, from just rebuilding whatever we blow up? 

HERSH:  Well, not only that.  Despite the fact that I say we know everything we think we know, it‘s a country that has been digging holes for a thousand centuries, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  And they have duplicate facilities, right? 

HERSH:  Well, you just don‘t know.  The CIA says no.  But here‘s what makes it interesting.  The White House hated that intelligence, did not like it, sort of kicked it out. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the White House? 

HERSH:  Cheney‘s office, basically. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Pat Moynihan would never take a letter from the White House.  He said, that‘s a building, who‘s sending me the letter?  Well, who is Dick Cheney?  David Addington? 

HERSH:  No. No.

MATTHEWS:  Is it Wurmser?

HERSH:  Elliott Abrams would certainly be involved, although he‘s not directly in the office.  He‘d certainly be involved, because he‘s very powerful.

MATTHEWS:  So the gang‘s still here? 

HERSH:  Oh, my god.  You know what‘s amazing about this gang?

MATTHEWS:  The gang that got us into the war with Iraq, the intellectual people around the president and vice president who thought it was, you know, just gang busters‘s idea to go to Iraq.  They‘re still there calling the shots on Iran? 

HERSH:  What‘s amazing about it is that, when you think about it, the intellectual leaders, Wolfowitz, Libby, Douglas Feith. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Libby‘s busy.  Doug‘s trying to get a table in the Georgetown Faculty Club for lunch.

But what‘s his name?  Libby‘s busy, as I said, and Wolfie‘s off doing the McNamara business of saving the world again.

HERSH:  And Perle‘s no longer the defense policy voice.  And yet...

MATTHEWS:  Perle‘s out there complaining.   But so is Ken (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

HERSH:  I‘ve never felt more sympathy for Rumsfeld than to listen to Adelman complain about how tough Rumsfeld was in their meetings.  I‘ve never had—my heart went out to Rumsfeld. 

MATTHEWS:  This has got to be a play someday.  This is Broadway, these guys. 

HERSH:  No, this is slapstick.  It‘s strictly slapstick. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a piece of work, these guys.

HERSH:  But here‘s the point I want to make.  With these powerful leaders, Wolfowitz, Perle, et cetera, the neocons are still dominant.  It‘s amazing.  They‘ve sort of seated themselves.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Your writing has once again elicited a response from the White House.  And I have to read this, because it‘s appropriate.  Here‘s the White House response to what Sy Hersh wrote today in “The New Yorker”.

“Sy Hersh”—Seymour Hersh, they call him --  “is unfortunately continuing his series of inaccuracy-riddled articles about the Bush Administration with another error-filled piece about the Administration‘s policy toward Iran.  The White House is not going to dignify the work of an author who has viciously degraded our troops”—I want you to respond to that part—“and whose articles consistently rely on outright falsehoods to justify his own radical views.”

HERSH:  What about the story?  That‘s all...

MATTHEWS:  What about—have you viciously attacked...

(CROSSTALK)

HERSH:  No, what happened is a couple of weeks ago, I gave a speech in Montreal at McGill University and the editor picked a line out at random.  What I do—and let me tell you something...

MATTHEWS:  What did you say? 

HERSH:  I said there‘s been never a war as violent and murderous as this one.  There really—and that‘s true.  It‘s a very violent war.  But the point I‘ve always made in forty years of reporting: responsibility always goes to the top.  And the kids who do the shooting are as much victims—in the next speech I did... 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe honestly, when you gave that speech, that you were talking about the commander-in-chief and his civilian leaders at the Pentagon? 

HERSH:  That‘s what the speech said.  It was just a line taken at random that was put out as a headline.  And that‘s what the White House went...

MATTHEWS:  To make it look like you‘re anti-soldier. 

HERSH:  It happened right after the day—this all blew up after John Kerry‘s thing.  It was right before the election and everybody was grabbing every story.  You know, the White House can read exit polls, too.  They knew...

MATTHEWS:  Can I give you some advice?  When you‘re critical of our military—not of our military, but of our military establishment, of our president, do it here.  The problem with doing it overseas is people don‘t like the sound of it. 

HERSH:  You know, that‘s so interesting.  It‘s a speech I‘ve made.  I was critical of the policy.  And it was a speech I‘ve made everything, because of that byte having to come in Canada—I‘ve made that speech for two years, the same line.  You‘re right.  I got an amazing amount of criticism—what kind of a coward he is go to Canada and give this speech? 

MATTHEWS:  Because George McGovern did it right after losing the race to Nixon.  He went over an trashed American policy in Vietnam and everybody thought he was a skunk for doing it. 

HERSH:  Well, you know, it‘s an interesting point, because—for me, I would say—I didn‘t trash the troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Save it for home. 

HERSH:  No, it‘s not that.  You can be critical.  We‘re a big country. 

We can take a little criticism. 

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s easy to turn your words against you overseas. 

HERSH:  I once said in Canada—in Toronto, I said we‘ve got to understand out enemy, not just hate them.  Understand them, figure out what we‘re up against.  That was turned into the soft-line.  I thought it was the hardline.  I think being smart‘s the hardline.

Anyway, Hersh, you‘re unbelievable.  You got them roused up again. 

HERSH:  That‘s my job.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s my job to try to figure out what you know and really can figure out and what might not be true, because I do want to know what Wurmser‘s up to. 

Anyway, thank you, Sy, in the vice president‘s office.

Coming up, General Barry McCaffrey on the options being considered for Iraq.  We‘re talking about this from a general‘s point of view.  And HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will be here to take a look at the similarities and the differences between Iraq and Vietnam.  And that‘s always an interesting question. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that military victory in Iraq is no longer possible.  And in light of President Bush‘s trip to Vietnam last week, comparisons are being made all over the place between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Vietnam, it was the war that has dominated America‘s consciousness for generations.  Now the war in Iraq is following a similar arc.  Once again, the U.S. seems stuck in a quagmire.  Most Americans believe the invasion itself was a mistake and the consequences already have been huge.  Last week in Vietnam, President Bush was asked about the lessons learned.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One lesson is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and that the task in Iraq is going to take a while.

SHUSTER:  That assumes the war in Iraq will eventually be a success.  The tragedy and irony that Vietnam only became a land of peace, civility and prosperity after the U.S. departed. 

In any case, what are the similarities between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam?  Both wars were based on false information.  In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing military force in Vietnam after the Johnson administration told us that a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by North Vietnamese.  That later proved to be untrue.  Leading up to the war against Iraq, the false charges were about WMD and Saddam Hussein‘s links to 9/11.

BUSH:  The war on terror, you can‘t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He is in fact actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

BUSH:  We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

SHUSTER:  In Iraq, like Vietnam, U.S. troops are battling an unconventional enemy.  In Baghdad, there are street battles and IEDs.  In Vietnam, it was jungle warfare and guerrilla tactics.  Vietnam produced the U.S. slaughter of women and children at My Lai, an atrocity that ratcheted up international anger over the war.  In Iraq, the U.S. humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib fanned the flames of Muslim hatred towards the U.S. around the world.  In both Iraq and Vietnam, the U.S. president declared the war was part of a larger fight and that leaving early would spark catastrophe.

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Over many years, we have made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its independence.  And I intend to keep that promise.

BUSH:  We‘re not leaving so long as I‘m the president.  That would be a huge mistake.  It would send a terrible signal to reformers across the region.  It would say we have abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror.

SHUSTER:  In Iraq, the debate rages over whether there is an exit strategy.  In Vietnam, the strategy for success also seemed elusive and eventually U.S. troops conducted a hasty withdrawal. 

Still, there are also some clear differences.  In southeast Asia, the number of U.S. troop casualties totalled more than 58,000.  In Iraq, the number stands at nearly 2,900.  During Vietnam, there was a military draft.  Today the U.S. forces are all volunteer, though some members of Congress have proposed changing that. 

During Vietnam, anti-war rallies began a few years into the conflict.  Still the demonstrations were massive.  The rallies against the Iraq war started before the war began, but demonstrations have remained relatively small. 

Finally, many U.S. soldiers returning home from Vietnam were shunned and forgotten.  Today U.S. soldiers returning home from Iraq are treated as heroes. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  But most of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq are staying there, at least for now, because even though Vietnam brought down a presidency and Iraq has already cost the president‘s party control of Congress, the change of course in Iraq remains a subject of debate.  The war, however, drags on, and like Vietnam one generation ago, there does not appear to be an end in sight.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Is Iraq looking more like Vietnam and did the Bush administration ignore the lessons of Vietnam?  Retired general Barry McCaffrey is an MSNBC military analyst. 

General, I am struck by watching that report to recall that we didn‘t lose the war in Iraq.  American soldiers never really lost the big battle.  They held their ground, in Vietnam.  When we left, we left under a timetable that our government had established.  It was later that the forces fell due to a lack of support from us, but we didn‘t actually lose. 

Is Iraq similar in that regard, meaning we are unlikely to get blown out of any position?  We are probably going to hold, but in the end it will be a war of attrition and we‘ll have to come home without meeting our objectives?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well of course, the statement you made is the hypothesis.  How will this turn out?  We don‘t know yet.  It depends on what we do, what our allies do, what the Iraqis are capable of doing.

The comparison between Vietnam and Iraq are eerie in the sense of domestic opposition of some governmental incompetence Rumsfeld versus McNamara.  You can certainly argue, Chris, I sure do that Iraq is much more important than Vietnam.

We have an immediate, important economic and political stake in the outcome of the struggle.  Certainly the execution of it has been incredibly flawed.  We are in trouble and seeing our way clear now is and generating the bipartisan support to make it happen is going to be a very tricky situation.

MATTHEWS:  Well explain that, because back in the ‘60s, we were afraid that if we looked at the world as kind of a game board, if you will, a tragic game board where the Soviets and the Chinese, the communist powers were gradually extending their red coloration or pink coloration, in some cases, around the globe through Africa, through Latin America.  And we saw Vietnam as part of that growing control of the war and that was the argument for the war. 

This time, how is it more tragic and more frightening than that?

MCCAFFREY:  There is oil.  There is something worth fighting over. 

There‘s access.  You know, if you look at Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Persian Gulf states, Iraq, Iran, much of the world‘s known energy supplies are there. 

And so our allies, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, are at risk.  A failed state in Iraq may bring in the six surrounding neighbors. 

So the outcome, if it‘s a disaster, I would argue, would do more damage to the American people than the end game in Vietnam.

MATTHEWS: You know, if you had said that, General, as we were going into war, that this war was largely over oil, you would have been ridiculed by the administration for  reducing their moral advantage here.

They would have said it‘s, of course, more—it‘s not about Israel, it‘s not about oil, it‘s about democratizing in that region or protecting us against a mushroom cloud.  

Do you understand?  I mean, what you‘re saying is probably common sense, but it has been denied that this was about oil, the way that the last Persian Gulf war, where Jim Baker admitted it was about jobs, jobs, jobs.

This time, for whatever reason, they wanted to sterilize the war   and make it look like it was about some higher mission. 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think a lot of the democracy argument has crept in once the WMD evaporated with the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines entering Baghdad.  So I think we‘ve actually had replacement arguments for why we‘re in Iraq. 

And I don‘t mean to be, you know, critical of them in that  sense, but we went in there because of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, a threat to their neighbors.  That‘s why we went in.  And now the argument has morphed into different rationales.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get to the particulars of the options apparently being discussed at the colonel level at the Pentagon.  More troops, maybe 20 to 30,000 now for the short term, for training in the long term.  No real option there of an immediate pullout and no dramatic doubling of forces or anything like that.

What do you think of this proposal that we bring in another 20 to 30,000 troops for a short term to begin a long training period?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, first of all, I‘m adamantly opposed to reinforcing the current troop strength in Iraq.  I think it‘s a big mistake.

If you put an inconsequential increase, you know, 20-30,000 troops, three, four, five brigades, it won‘t make any major change in the tactical situation.   And then you‘ll be asking commanders six months from now, with the situation very likely to be worse, not better, to agree that it‘s a great idea to send them home.

And, by the way, we‘re going to have to take this tiny Army and Marine Corps, tell them to extend their tours, accelerate the deployment, call up the National Guard for involuntary second deployments of the brigade, this is a bad idea. 

By the way, Chris, neither the Baker commission nor the leaks out of the JCS make one comment on the disastrous shortfall and   resources, $61 billion to the Army, our National Guard has a third of their equipment, generators, trucks, helicopters, we better fix the   Army and Marine Corps before we start talking about options to fix Iraq.  

MATTHEWS:  So John McCain‘s proposal for a substantial increase in  forces over in the area is just not credible.

MCCAFFREY:  No.  North Koreans invade South Korea, we could surge a

quarter of a million troops in 90 days.   We call up the entire National

Guard, the Army reserves, Marine reserves, we could do that, but not

steady-state for a war that the American people have walked away from

One way or the other, it‘s $7 billion a month.  That money is coming out of Air Force and Navy modernization.  We‘ve got sailors and airmen filling ground combat roles all over Afghanistan and Iraq.

We simply, the Congress, Article 1 of the Constitution, has to fix the resource shortfall before they willy-nilly talk about   extending the tours of the combat forces now in country. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, General McCaffrey staying with us.  We‘ll be right back.  And, later, Pelosi meets with Hoyer, Rumsfeld meets with Gates.   Will the new leaders meet expectations?

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with General Barry McCaffrey. 

I have to ask you, General, about this story we just talked a moment ago.  It‘s Seymour Hersh of “The New Yorker.”  Without getting into all the details, do you think it is feasible for the United States to take out Iran‘s nuclear facilities such as they are?

MCCAFFREY:  No, I think our rhetoric has been ill advised.  The notion that we can use conventional air power to go after Iranian nuclear facilities is preposterous.  

We probably know where three-fourths of them are.  With a six-month air campaign, we could probably degrade or knock out half of them. 

We‘d set the entire world against us and, oh, by the way, they close the Persian Gulf and try and close our lines of communication from Kuwait, up to 150,000 troops stuck in the middle of Iraq.

It is absolutely a senseless idea.  We‘re not going to do it.

MATTHEWS:  If we did so, maybe this is more of a technological question than a military one, what would stop the Iranians, with the wealth they have, from rebuilding everything we destroy, only this time with the entire world playing them as victim?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I don‘t think it would go that far.  I mean, if we attack—if we took two carrier battle groups and ran a bunch of good, vigorous strikes against Iranian nuke facilities at Bushehr and places like that, we‘d have an immediate reaction.

They would close the Persian Gulf.  The Navy would have to withdraw out to sea.  They‘d go out 200-300 miles.  You‘d see a huge insurgent effort against our 400 kilometer supply lines.

We‘d be in a crisis mode within a week of the first air strikes.

MATTHEWS:  So they have retaliatory ability against us.  It wouldn‘t just be a clean strike and walk away?

MCCAFFREY:  Sure.  My first platoon sergeant said, “Don‘t ever threaten people in public and, by the way, when you do it, make sure you can carry out your threat.”

We‘re threatening people in public and we can‘t carry out the threat.

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.  Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey.

Up next, Democratic  strategist Steve McMahon and former Bush 41 adviser, Ed Rogers are going to be here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As President Bush enters the   final two years of his presidency, how will he get along with the Democratic leadership of Congress?

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist and Ed Rogers is a former adviser to the first President Bush and is a Republican strategist.

Ed, how do you see the president maneuvering with a Congress that‘s in the other party, in terms of the war, first of all?

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, on so many things, the Congress has to go first.  What‘s going to be their posture?  What‘s going to be their orientation?

I don‘t think they‘re talking points fit their obligation to lead. 

They‘re not going to pull out quick.  They‘re not going to cut out funding.

So already you‘re seeing the Democrats back off a little bit, beginning to crawfish, as we say down in Alabama, that we‘re going to give Mr. Gates some time we‘re going to let the Baker-Hamilton commission run its course.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to hide behind the shell.

ROGERS:  They‘re kind of stuck.  So they‘re going to complain and card, but they‘re not going to use their authority to do anything.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the charge against the Democrats that I think may be valid. What do you think?  That they‘re going to wait and let the Republicans settle this among themselves, basically.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Right.  I think the first primary that has to occur is within the Republican Party, because, you‘re right, the president is still the commander in chief and he‘s the person who runs the war.

Now, the democrats have the responsibility to conduct oversight and you‘re going to see Congress finally fulfill its constitutional obligation.

MATTHEWS:  But that a slow-mo.  That could take months to do oversight.  Isn‘t it the purpose of the opposition to oppose?   When are they going to offer—I think, in reality, what they offered in the campaign, they‘re going to change the course of the war.

ROGERS:  They‘re not going to.

MCMAHON:  Well, they‘re going to change the course of the war, I think, by exposing the fact that there‘s no plan, there‘s no strategy to win.

The administration, at this point, can‘t even define what a win is and there‘s no way the strategy...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s going to do this work? 

MCMAHON:  I think the committees are going to be calling...

MATTHEWS:  Who am I going to watch for the next two months?  I want to know where this story is going.  Is it going to be Biden and the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate?  Is it going to be Carl Levin and the Armed Services Committee?

Is it going to be somebody like Henry Waxman over there in the House doing long-term reform of what they‘re up to?  Who‘s going to take this on?  Is it Jack Murtha on defense appropriation?  Who‘s going to do this?

MCMAHON:  You‘ll see Biden, you‘ll see Levin, and I think you‘ll see Murtha.  I don‘t know if you‘ll see Waxman or not.  But you‘re going to see a number of Democratic leaders begin to lead and begin to actually do what the Republican Congress didn‘t do, which is to provide oversight.

MATTHEWS:  When will we see the first clear statement coming in the Democrat Party‘s position on the war in Iraq?  When that will come?  When can I count on that?  When can I pencil that in?

When are they going to say what they believe?  A lot of people went in those voting booths all across the country, voted Democrat for change, and I‘m just asking when they‘re going to get their money‘s worth.

MCMAHON:   They‘ve said what they believe and, you know, for the president and Dick Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  What did they say?

MCMAHON:  The president and Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney came out the week before the election, didn‘t do the Republicans any favor, and said, “It‘s really nice we‘re having these elections and democracy‘s a really cool thing, in principle, but we‘re going to do exactly what we intended to do from the beginning in Iraq.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s move on.  We‘re not going to sit around waiting for the Democrats‘ response.

Let me ask you this.  A lot of talk today about—the “Washington Post” broke a story broke a story, Tom Ricks‘ piece, I guess, about what they‘re thinking at the Pentagon.  Now they‘re making recommendations to the Joint Chiefs.

And it comes down to this.  They‘re going to recommend 20,000 to 30,000 more troops in the short term, with the mission of a long-term instructive role with the troops over there, helping the Iraqis build up an army.

Is that going to start with the Democrats?

MCMAHON:  No.  And it‘s sort of like your stock‘s going down, what do you do?  Do you buy more stock or do you say, “Wait a minute, let‘s just see how this is going to go and we‘ll take our time and we‘ll be judicious.”

I think you‘re going to see the Democrats, again, provide constitutional oversight, ask the tough questions, hold some people accountable.

MATTHEWS:  Would you say they would reject any push to increase the troops over there, even in the short run?

MCMAHON:  I think so.

ROGERS:  Republicans, we‘ve expunged ourselves over the term “stay the course,” but from a military and from a political standpoint, we‘re still in the same policy.

I think we‘re hoping for relief from the Baker-Hamilton commission that creates a road map that tells us where to go.  And 20,000 troops, that‘s a 10 to 15 percent increase, is incrementally more of the same.  Commonsensically, it‘s destined for failure.

MATTHEWS:  General Barry McCaffrey said on this program a few minutes ago it won‘t do any good.  He said it won‘t do much good.

ROGERS:  He‘s qualified to say so.  We should be respectful of that.

MCMAHON:  We don‘t have the troops to send over there without bringing the National Guard back in, and I don‘t think that‘s going to go over very well in most states where these National Guardsmen live.

And, secondly, it‘s not clear to me that the president is going to listen to anybody, because his view is we‘re staying the course, we‘re not going to do anything differently.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the Democratic view?

MCMAHON:  The Democratic view is we have to do something differently, because it‘s not working yet.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:   2007 is the year to pull down troops, not add troops.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... increase them by 20,000-30,000, the Democrats will oppose it.

But suppose he does just stay the course, sticks with 140,000 in perpetuity, forever.  What is your party going to do?

MCMAHON:  That‘s a very good question, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a far more scary thing.  You hear this in the columns in the “Washington Post,” people like Robert Kagan or (inaudible) people pushing for an attack on Iran before Bush leaves office.

Is that the party‘s thinking or is that the real Hawk‘s thinking?  Do you hear it among your fellows?

ROGERS:  To some degree.  There‘s a difference between an attack and an invasion.  An invasion is ludicrous, it‘s folly, it won‘t happen.

MATTHEWS:  General McCaffrey says you attack, you‘re...

ROGERS:  It‘s a very real question and I‘m worried about it.

MATTHEWS:  General McCaffrey says, and I‘ve read this other places, we pick this up, what happens if you bomb a couple of sites, hoping that...

ROGERS:  They‘ll respond.  They are a big country.  They will respond. 

MCMAHON:  This is not bombing Iraq.  This is not knocking over a statue.  This is none of that.  And, by the way, I would remind you that there‘s still a pretty significant war on terror going on that, frankly, we could probably do a little bit better at.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because I want to know whether you‘re going to defend Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh, the two hawks of the Democratic party, who, everything suggests, would be OK with an attack on Iran.

They‘re not ready to say they‘re opposed to it.

MCMAHON:   The president should negotiate.  This president has ignored...

MATTHEWS:  With who?

MCMAHON:  With anybody who poses a threat to this country.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Salute. The minute the president says we‘re going to attack on Iraq, they saluted, yes, sir.

How do we know they won‘t do it again in Iran?

MCMAHON:  Here‘s what the president did last time.  You‘ll remember this.  You‘ll remember this.

David Shuster‘s piece played all the clips.  The president said the attack on Iraq was a war on terror.  He said you couldn‘t separate  Saddam and Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here we are.  The day after the president attacks Iran, Hillary Clinton will be saluting.

MCMAHON:  I don‘t know what she‘ll be doing, but I‘ve got to tell you, I don‘t think that there‘s any Democrat right now who thinks the president should just send bombs and not send negotiators, and this president might be inclined to send bombs.

That‘s the problem from the beginning with this guy.

MATTHEWS:  So they‘re willing to negotiate with Iran and have a hearing.

MCMAHON:  No, no, no, Ed, we‘re ready to get control of America‘s policy.

MATTHEWS:  See how he moves to satire when he loses power?  You are the voice of the Republican Party.  It‘s so much easier to be in opposition. 

ROGERS:  It‘s so liberating.

MATTHEWS:  Satire is the godsend of the losers.

MCMAHON:  The American people voted for change, they‘re going to get it.

MATTHEWS:  OK thank you Ed Rogers, always great to have you, very informative this debate, it basically illuminates the situation.  If the president doesn‘t do anything, stays the course, you guys don‘t do anything either.

MCMAHON:  No no, the president is the commander in chief, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I know, I know.  I appreciate the civics aspect of this.  Anyway, thank you Steve McMahon.  Up next, MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan and “Human Events” Terry Jeffrey is going to dig into the fight over Iraq.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Bush is on his way home from Asia right now, but in the last leg of his trip, a short stop in Indonesia, he was met by large demonstrations against wart in Iraq.  NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory is traveling with the president and has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Thousands of angry protesters filled the streets of Bogor, Indonesia today denouncing the invasion of Iraq in this, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, anti-U.S. hostilities is a sign that the Bush administration has made little head way justifying its policies in the Middle East. 

With Islamic extremists a growing threat in Indonesia, security was tight for the visit.  The White House limiting the president‘s stay to six hours.  The president‘s meeting with Indonesian leader Yudhoyono at the secluded Bogor Palace centered on Iraq, a debate no commitment about U.S.  troop presence there.

BUSH:  I haven‘t made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases and won‘t until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military.

GREGORY:  And the president brushed off the street protest as a sign of a healthy society.

BUSH:  Indonesia is an example of how democracy and modernization can provide an alternative to extremism.

GREGORY (on camera):  Indonesia is the final Asian stop of the president‘s trip, a tour designed in large part to keep up pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. 

(voice-over):  Pacific rim leaders ended their Vietnam summit by expressing unanimous concern about North Korea, but the U.S. is still struggling to rally support for a tougher stand against Pyongyang.  Before leaving Vietnam, Mr. Bush quickly toured Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.  But the president avoided any focus on America‘s failed war here, stressing instead the symbols of a capitalist boom in this communist country.  Mr.  Bush opened trading at the city‘s security center.  Tonight, the president left Indonesia to visit troops in Hawaii before returning to Washington and the tense debate over the war.  David Gregory, NBC News, Bogor, Indonesia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That was David Gregory of NBC, chief White House correspondent traveling with the president.

The Pentagon is reviewing strategy in Iraq right now.  Do we go big—this is how they phrase it.  Go big, it‘s like football—go big, go long or go home? 

Henry Kissinger says victory in Iraq is now impossible and some neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney‘s office are suggesting we hit Iran militarily. 

Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers, MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan and Terry Jeffrey of “Human Events.”  Let‘s talk about the discussions that are coming out today because of Tom Ricks‘ big piece in the “Washington Post.”

Ron Reagan, 20,000 to 30,000 more troops in Iraq immediately to help with the long-term training program.  Will it sell with the Democrats?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, I don‘t think so.  And it does tend to sound a little like stay the course light or something.  As Barry McCaffrey was saying earlier, the 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops really aren‘t going to get the job done, but they will on the other hand place an enormous burden on the military here.  Guys that are 20-years-old going back for their third tours of duty, calling up more national guards reserves, it‘s not a good idea.

MATTHEWS:  Terry?

TERRY JEFFREY, HUMAN EVENTS:  Well, you know, I don‘t even think all Republicans agree with that, Chris.  Duncan Hunter, who as of now is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he‘s a Republican from southern California, sent a letter to President Bush before the election advocating that some of these Iraqi security forces that we‘ve trained that are sitting in Shiite southern Iraq, where there is no activity be moved into the hot zone in Baghdad so they get actual combat experience and so we can see whether the civilian government in Baghdad actually has command and control of these troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Well how do we order the troops of an Iraqi government anywhere?

JEFFREY:  Well, that‘s the thing.  I mean, I think that we definitely need to pressure Maliki and his government to do these things.  I mean, if they won‘t do these things, I don‘t see how our military can solve it for them.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the boss in Iraq?

JEFFREY:  Well, that‘s a very good question. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this an independent government that we‘re serving or are they a puppet?

JEFFREY:  Well, I think there‘s a question of whether we have sufficient influence over the Shiite government that we‘ve essentially put in place to bring about a peace.  For example, the biggest question there is whether the Shiites are going to make sufficient concessions to the Sunnis, including giving them oil money, including giving them real power so the Sunni insurgency will lay down their arms.  Can we actually influence Maliki and his government to do that?  They actually have the power to deliver on that level.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when I was pushing that Terry, just me, but I was pushing that back after we got in there and I said, look, you‘ve got to cut a deal that is more favorable to the Sunnis or they‘re going to keep fighting the majority rule.  And at the time, people in the neocon crowd were saying how can you tell them what to do?  It‘s an independent country.  Well, because we‘re paying for it in blood and treasure and we have a lot of reason they exist.  We‘re the reason there is a new Iraqi government.  So you‘re saying today it‘s OK for United States policymakers to kick a little butt over there?

JEFFREY:  Well, they absolutely have to, Chris.  Listen, Karl von Clausewitz, a famous Prussian strategist said that war is the continuation of politics by other means.  People fight because they have a political end. 

The Sunni insurgency is fighting for political ends.  The Shia government is fighting for its own political ends.  If we can‘t get them to make an accommodation on their political ends, so they get enough of what they want to stop fighting, there will not be peace there.  But they key to it is the politics on the ground in Iraq, it‘s not the military element.

MATTHEWS:  That sounds right to me.  What do you think of that, Ron?

REAGAN:  Well, I don‘t see how the Maliki government is really going to tell, let‘s say, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army what to do.  I mean, they just don‘t seem to be able to get that under control.  He seems to be more a puppet not so much of the United States but of Muqtada al-Sadr.  Why should the Sunnis, on the other hand, make any concessions to the Shia?  Why should the Shia make concessions make to the Sunnis?  They‘re busy killing each other‘s children over there right now, and once you start doing that, you know, you know where that ends up.  And it ends up in a civil war, and that‘s what we‘re seeing now. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, this reminds me of the Irish situation.  For years the IRA would be out there doing their dirty deeds.  They have calmed down, thank God for everybody, they‘ve stopped doing the bad stuff.  But they would always—the Sinn Fein, their political side, would always deny a connection with them.  And you and I know, Terry, they were always tied together.  I whether this guy, Muqtada al-Sadr over there, who claims to be this legitimate, democratic leader, isn‘t working hand and glove every night on the telephone with conference calling, the people running Muqtada al-Sadr‘s operation. 

JEFFREY:  Well, look, there‘s no doubt that the two main Shiite militia that are a problem, the Badr Brigades that are connected to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Mahdi Army, which is the Sadr militias...

MATTHEWS:  The Sadr militia.

JEFFREY:  They are backed and armed by the Iranian government. 

MATTHEWS:  So who are we fighting?  Who‘s on our side over there?

JEFFREY:  Well, there‘s a real question here.  I mean, I think one question is, who really has more influence over the Shiite government?  Do we have more influence?  Are we ready to leverage them more?  Can we leverage more? 

MATTHEWS:  Who are we fighting for? 

JEFFREY:  Well, we‘re fighting for our own interests, Chris.  We cannot afford...

MATTHEWS:  Who is our ally in the field over there?  Who is our strong ally, like we had—I said this earlier in the show, earlier today.  We had the Turks on our side in Korea.  We had the fabulous South Koreans fighting on out side, who were fighters as good as we were, and they cared about our goal.  Who‘s on our side in this war? 

JEFFREY:  Well, here‘s who we do have on our side.  And if you‘ve watched the diplomatic game over the couple of months, you‘ve seen it unfolding.  We have the Sunni Arab regimes in the Middle East that have historically been our friends, who are trying to work with us to get the Sunni insurgency lined up.  I‘m talking about Saudi Arabia...

MATTHEWS:  But they‘d hate to see (INAUDIBLE) taking over.

JEFFREY:  Well, that‘s exactly why.  They see potentially an Iranian-backed Shiite regime controlling in Baghdad.  Or they see a civil war that could leak into their own countries, which have significant Shiite populations. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they opposed the war in Iraq. 

JEFFREY:  Well, obviously from their perspective.  But they are working with us now.  Condoleezza Rice has been over there.  That‘s one of the places we‘re moving.  And we have to hope that that works out well. 

REAGAN:  Chris, it‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Even if we tell the Sunnis to lay down their arms, they may well get shot tomorrow morning by the Shia militia.  So we‘re asking people to give up and take what‘s coming to them.  And it‘s going to come from our so-called, you know, Shia winners over there, in the election.  It‘s scary.  I don‘t know who we can protect.  And what I don‘t see is a strong ally over there.

We‘ll be right back with Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan and Terry Jeffrey of “Human Events” for an in-depth look at some of the top political stories of the day. 

Let me start with you, Ron.  What looks to be the fight for the presidency on the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani has thrown his hat in the ring with an exploratory committee.  So has John McCain.  And so, Mitt Romney‘s also in the field now.  Is that the royal three from which will be drawn the next president of the United States from the Republican side? 

REAGAN:  Yes, I think so, although, I don‘t think that Rudy Giuliani has a real chance.  I don‘t think he plays that well out of the Northeast.  McCain, of course, is the front runner, but he‘s got problems, too.  Age and health are one of them, but also, the far right, the social conservatives, the religious right, they know that he‘s not one of them.  And they‘re going to be disinclined to vote for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Somebody has to win.  Somebody has to win. 

REAGAN:  Well, Mitt Romney is playing now to the religious right.  And he would be the dark horse for this race.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So he wants to get Massachusetts to pass an anti-gay marriage resolution or law.  He‘s playing that card.  He‘s also against taxes, which is an easy one.  But is that enough to convince everybody that somebody—he‘s LDS?  That‘s going to be a question mark down the road for the Baptists down South, evangelicals.  They‘re going to wonder what that‘s about.

REAGAN:  And they will.

MATTHEWS:  So who‘s got the high step here?  Who‘s doing well?  It sounds like nobody‘s doing well.

REAGAN:  Well, no.  But McCain, as I said, remains the front runner, and he will be the front runner, unless he stumbles, unless he has a macaca moment or something, which I don‘t really think he‘ll do.  But, again, I would say McCain, front runner, Romney, coming up. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your sense of it, Terry?

JEFFREY:  Well, I think there‘s no doubt...

MATTHEWS:  Coldly.  With cold calculation, fierce independence. 

JEFFREY:  There‘s no doubt that John McCain is the front runner.  But there‘s also no doubt that John McCain and the things he‘s done in the last six years has opened up significant running room to his right, which is room that Romney‘s trying to fill. 

And Romney has a little bit of a problem there.  He‘s been governor in Massachusetts.  He ran, basically, as a social liberal, but he was elected there.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a pro-choicer.

JEFFREY:  He also ran that way when he ran against Ted Kennedy in the Senate.  But Romney‘s been doing a pretty good job of trying to heal those wounds.  But can some...

MATTHEWS:  But can he confect an identity that‘s so obviously opportunistic?

JEFFREY:  I don‘t know, Chris.  I honestly don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  You know he‘s cultivating himself.  He‘s grooming himself for an opportunity on the right of McCain. 

JEFFREY:  Honestly, you talk to a lot of conservative activists around the country, and they‘ll look at the potential Republican field and basically they‘ll tell you, I don‘t really like any of these.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That‘s what I was thinking.

JEFFREY:  But they want—they do not want Hillary Clinton to be elected president.  And they realize you need a president to really drive your agenda, and they want to see real commitment.  You can‘t really into someone‘s soul and say, I know what‘s really written on that guy‘s heart, necessarily. 

But you can get real commitments from what they say when they go out and campaign.  If George Herbert Walker Bush says, read my lips, no new taxes, you can expect that guy not to raise taxes.  George Herbert Walker Bush paid the supreme price for violating that commitment. 

You‘re going to see conservatives in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, asking these candidates to commit on the core conservative issues.  And because John McCain‘s moved a little bit to the left over the last six years, he definitely has opened up that space on the right for somebody to get around him and get the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about—but Romney‘s also going to the right on a couple of issues.  He‘s very close, if not further on the war than the president is.  he‘s more hawkish.  And he did do that round of—the kissing booth number with the president of Liberty University and some of the conservatives.

REAGAN:  Yes, he did.  And McCain seems to be setting himself up to be able to say, look, if I had been in charge, we could have done Iraq and it would have been done right, but nobody listened to me, so it‘s now a big mess. 

The thing with Romney too, to keep in mind, is that he‘s unknown throughout most of the country, and that does give him an opportunity to essentially re-create himself for most people.  So he does have some leeway there, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you civilized folk here on this, as we get closer to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. 

Thank you, Ron Reagan.

Thank you, Terry Jeffrey.

Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday.  We‘re going to have the latest on the fight over Iraq and what the Democrats, boy this is true, may be planning to do in Congress on the war. 

Right now it‘s time for Tucker. 

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

END   

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