updated 12/8/2006 12:06:52 PM ET 2006-12-08T17:06:52

Guests: Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dianne Feinstein, Kate O‘Beirne, Eugene Robinson

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC HOST:  From Washington one day after the Baker Commission says the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, will Bush change his Iraq policy?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to

HARDBALL. 

Tonight, a somber mood in the nation‘s capital after a sober assessment from the Iraq Study Group of the grim situation in Iraq.  Just weeks before the nation takes pause for the holidays, today President Bush met with his top ally in the war, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and held a press conference. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is a tough time and it is a difficult moment for America and Great Britain, and the task before us is daunting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  But while the wise man in suits discussed the options in Iraq, our men in uniform are paying the ultimate price.  On Wednesday, 11 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, making it the deadliest day for American forces in 2006. 

We are also watching a politically poignant day on Capitol Hill, as this could well be the last day of the 109th Congress, marking the end of Republicans‘ 12-year reign.  Last month, voters sent a clear message about the war when they voted out Republicans.  It remains to be seen whether Democrats deserve the faith Americans placed in them this last election. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on today‘s events. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A day after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group said his policies had failed and time was running out, President Bush met today with his closest foreign ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  At a news conference, the president spoke about the need for victory in Iraq and then raised the stakes. 

BUSH:  Britain and America aren‘t standing together in this war because of friendship.  We‘re standing together because two nations face an unprecedented threat to civilization. 

SHUSTER:  Historians disagree about whether Muslim extremism is as big a threat to civilization as, say, the Cold War, but Iraq threatens to permanently stain President Bush‘s legacy and hurt America‘s standing for years.  Today, from the start, the president and prime minister acknowledged Iraq‘s instability and chaos. 

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  Yes, it is immensely tough at the moment and very challenging and everybody knows that. 

BUSH:  And it is a difficult moment for America and Great Britain and the task before us is daunting. 

SHUSTER:  When a British reporter asked, though, about the specific terminology, the president bristled. 

NICK ROBINSON, BBC:  You said that the increase in attacks is “unsettling.”  That will convince many people that you‘re still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq and question your sincerity about changing course. 

BUSH:  It is bad in Iraq.  Does that help? 

SHUSTER:  When the reporter then followed up and asked why it took other officials to say it first, the president became visibly angry. 

BUSH:  Make no mistake about it.  I understand how tough it is, sir. 

I talked to the families who die.  I understand there‘s sectarian violence.  I understand what long deployments mean to wives and husbands and mothers and fathers, particularly as we come into a holiday season.  I understand. 

SHUSTER:  It was just this past weekend when the “Washington Post” editorial section infuriated the Bush White House by asking several columnists to weigh in on whether President Bush is the worst president ever. 

Today, the president aggressively defended the Iraq war by going back to an argument that helped sell the invasion to the American people nearly four years ago, the idea that without action now, rogue states and terrorist groups will someday blackmail the West with a nuclear weapon. 

BUSH:  Historians will look back and say how come Bush and Blair couldn‘t see the threat?  That‘s what they‘ll be asking, and I want to tell you, I see the threat. 

SHUSTER:  The president said he is waiting for reviews from his own Pentagon and State Department before making decisions on any of the 79 policy recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton Commission. 

BUSH:  Should they agree to verifiably suspend their enrichment, the United States will be at the table with our partners. 

SHUSTER:  But already, there is one major proposal the president rejects.  The president said today the U.S. should not talk to Iran about Iraq until Iran stops seeking nuclear weapons. 

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP:  I don‘t know that we lose anything by saying to them you want to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.  If they say no, fine.  Everybody in the world knows the attitude that they take and we haven‘t lost a thing. 

SHUSTER:  During testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, commission co-chair James Baker said Iran‘s nuclear program should not stop the U.S. from seeing what Iran can do about Iraq. 

BAKER:  I don‘t know that we lose anything by saying to them you want to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.  If they say no, fine.  Everybody in the world knows the attitude that they take and we haven‘t lost a thing. 

SHUSTER:  The president and Jim Baker also seemed at odds today over how many of the bipartisan recommendations should be embraced. 

BUSH:  I don‘t think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation.  I think—I know they expect us to consider every recommendation. 

BAKER:  I hope we don‘t treat this like a fruit salad and say I like this but I don‘t like that, I like this but I don‘t like that.  This is a comprehensive strategy designed to deal with this problem we are facing in Iraq. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The words fruit salad could be construed as a

reference to cherry-picking and to questions about the Bush

administration‘s cherry-picking of prewar intelligence.  Now, however, everybody, including President Bush, seems to agree the U.S. needs a new approach to Iraq.  The question is, what will the president do and when. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Thank you, David. 

NBC‘s Jane Arraf is in Baghdad—Jane.

JANE ARRAF, NBC NEWS:  Mike, I don‘t think anyone here that we‘ve talked to disputes that the situation is grave, and a lot of officials would say, yes, it is deteriorating. 

And we spoke this morning to Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.  He is due to visit the White House next week and he says what he‘ll tell President Bush is that, yes, there needs to be a timetable, a plan to withdraw the troops, but that it shouldn‘t happen too quickly. 

Now, he is the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the government and he, like many, are afraid that if U.S. troops pull out, then the Shias will take over even more—Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Jane, as you know, here in the United States, there is some consternation over the rhetoric as described in the media, including NBC News, of the war in Iraq as a civil war. 

So my question to you is, after having spoken today to the vice president in Baghdad and being there and knowing of the situation on the ground, is it a fair assessment to call what goes on in Baghdad a government?  Is it a government? 

ARRAF:  It is a government.  I think there is no disputing that it is a government.  And when I asked the Iraqi—the vice president whether he believed this was civil war—because he has personally suffered.  His brother was assassinated, an assassination that led to a crisis in government with the cancellation of national reconciliation talks. 

Now, it is a government Iraqi-style.  One of the things that‘s happening here is a crisis in parliament with followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the major blocs, boycotting parliament, six cabinet ministers not showing up to their ministries. 

So, perhaps, it is a government in crisis, but it certainly is a government.  Not the one that we envisioned, but it is there and for now, it‘s holding even if only by its fingernails—Mike. 

BARNICLE:  You used the phrase national reconciliation.  Former Secretary of State Baker used the same phrase in the report issued here in America yesterday.  National reconciliation in Iraq—how likely is that to happen over the next six months or a year? 

ARRAF:  I think you can look at this way: either it happens or the situation here gets much, much worse.  And as bad as it is, everyone here recognizes it could get so much worse that this looks like a picnic. 

Now, national reconciliation is really just a fancy way of saying you have to bring everybody to the table, including people who can exert some influence on those people, those insurgents, those militias that have sent this country—parts of this country into a tailspin with sectarian violence. 

So, essentially, what we‘re talking about is first of all, getting those major players, particularly the Sunnis, to sit down at the table and getting the Shias and those who have power to make some concessions, whether it‘s with militias or sharing power or oil revenue. 

They are working towards that.  It is not a done deal by any means, but I think everyone recognizes that unless that happens, it really is going to get worse—Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks very much. 

Tim Russert is moderator of “Meet The Press” and NBC‘s Washington bureau chief.  He is also author of the book “Wisdom Of Our Fathers,” now available in paperback for the holidays.

And he‘s here because we want the wisdom of our bureau chief, Tim.  Today the president of the United States, standing alongside Prime Minister Blair, called for the need for a new approach to the war in Iraq.  How did that resonate with you when you heard the president using those words, “a new approach”? 

TIME RUSSERT, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Well, it‘s quite striking, Mike, based on people I‘ve talked to today, Democrats and Republican, what a difference a midterm election makes when the president was out in the countryside saying we‘re making progress, we‘re winning the war, we don‘t want to do anything that the Democrats are suggesting in terms of a timetables or benchmarks because that is cutting and running.

And now, a full-borne acknowledgement that things must change.  Standing there with Tony Blair, his principal ally in this war, I think was a very poignant setting, that here are these two men, Blair‘s career short-circuited by the war, in effect, the president hovering with very low favorable rating because of Iraq, both betting their presidencies and their prime ministerships on the war in Iraq, now, publicly confessing that things have to change, status quo is not acceptable, we need to chart a new course. 

The question is what will it be? 

BARNICLE:  Tim, you mentioned the language that the president and

others used—other Republican candidates used during the fall campaign

that just ended.  And as you pointed out, a lot of it had to do with a vote

for the Democrats means a vote, in a sense, for terrorism and we‘re not

going to cut and run like the Democrats want to.  And now the president‘s

party is in the minority in the House and the Senate.  And getting back to

language, he again used the word today “victory” in Iraq.  What does this -

the use of words like that, what has it done to his natural base in the House and Senate, now that it‘s a minority?  Is anyone in his party beginning to wonder, can this guy really lead us for the next two years? 

RUSSERT:  Well, it‘s quite striking to me, talking to some very senior Republicans senators, people who supported the war, who support George W.  Bush—one said to me, Mike, very simply, it‘s over.  We have to recognize that this dream we had of creating this democratic state in the Middle East that will be a model, that would emulate American values and ideals is not going to happen.  And we have to work with the Democrats, the senator said, and we have to bring the president along to that realization. 

When the president says he wants an Iraq that can secure itself and protect its borders and be able to grow and develop and also be an ally on the United States in the war on terror, they‘re a long way from being a secure country.  But they‘re for being an ally with the U.S. 

Richard Engel of NBC, who has reported brilliantly on this war, has told chapter and verse about the Iranian influence on Iraq, and how much stronger the Iranian connection is than the American connection. 

When you have the prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Maliki, refusing to acknowledge that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization or that Hezbollah should be condemned, or the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament saying that Israel and Jewish agents are responsible for the violence, that‘s how far away we are from having an ally in terms of Iraq. 

All hope is not lost, according to Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton, the co-chairs of the Iraq Study Group.  But I listened to Mr. Hamilton very carefully today, Mike, and he added something new.  He said we have months, weeks, maybe only days. 

People are petrified that the Maliki government in Iraq may fall.  You heard Jane talking to you from Iraq, saying it‘s hanging by its fingertips.  If that government falls, then what replaces it?  A vacuum filled with chaos and anarchy, that‘s what I‘m hearing from Republican and Democratic senators. 

BARNICLE:  Well, Lee Hamilton also said today, Tim, I believe we‘re paraphrasing him, that part of the Iraq issue resolves around the inaction or the inactivity of the Congress of the United States, the House and the Senate, to paying attention or asking enough questions about what was going on with Iraq, in Iraq, while it was going on. 

RUSSERT:  There will be some people who will dispute whether or not Congress engaged in oversight.  There were some amazing hearings leading up to the war, particularly with Senator Lugar and Senator Biden. 

But by and large, the Bush administration has had cart blanche to conduct this war the way they wanted to, at the cost they wanted to.  I note that one of the recommendations in the Iraq Study Group book is that the public be made aware through the budgetary process exactly how much the war costs. 

Mike, there was a comment by Commander Thurman on the ground, the ranking American on the ground, J.D. Thurman, the other—a couple of weeks ago, who said the question is, do we want this more than the Iraqis?  And that‘s now what is at stake. 

Are these young Iraqi men and women willing to step up and die and shed their blood for this government as much as these brave American men and women have done?

BARNICLE:  Tim Russert is staying with us. 

Coming up later, we‘ll talk about the Baker commission‘s advice with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed.  I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Tim Russert, NBC Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press”. 

Tim, off of that presidential soundbyte that we just heard from this morning‘s press conference with Tony Blair, you read the Baker-Hamilton commission report—and any progress that is going to be made, it would seem to an outsider, someone like me, would depend on bipartisan—a bipartisan effort.  And this town, at least to me—and I‘m sure you‘ll correct me if I‘m wrong—seems polarized and rattled by the rapid decline of the situation in Iraq.  Yesterday the “Washington Post” reports that Vernon Jordan, legendary Washington lawyer and a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission, had the commission members to his home for dinner and at the end of the dinner he announced that—he said exactly, “civility has been rediscovered here with the commission.” 

Can that type of civility exist in the political system that is the House and the Senate, as it is today?  What do you think? 

RUSSERT:  I‘s going to be very, very difficult, Mike.  The atmosphere in—leading up to these midterm elections was poisonous.  People went after each other hammer and tong because they were Democrat or Republican.  The rhetoric was very, very harsh.  I remember the Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth out in Illinois, who lost both her legs in Iraq, was accused by her opponent of cutting and running.  That‘s how bad it got. 

I believe that if, the president does embrace these changes recommended by the Iraq Study Group, incorporates the studies from the Pentagon and the State Department, and truly brings people into the Oval Office and says, “We are on the precipice of losing Iraq, and I need your help, and I‘m willing to acknowledge some big mistakes, and I‘m willing to stop attacking, and saying cutting and running, if you will step across the divide and do likewise,” they may be able to imitate the example of the Iraq Study Group. 

But it is going to be extremely difficult, because, frankly, they just don‘t trust each other. 

BARNICLE:  Well, you know, Tim, it—it—it is sad to hear you say that, because—and this is not a shameless plug for your book, “Wisdom of Our Fathers,” but, reading the book, there is a lot of wisdom in it, because it is the wisdom given to us by the men and—and the women, actually, of the World War II generation. 

Today is December 7.  It is the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  On the morning of December 8 -- you have heard the stories—I have heard the stories—long lines of people standing outside recruiting offices joined together as a nation to fight a war on two fronts. 

Today, 65 years later, we have this commission report.  What is your sense, not only of what—what—what the concept of history is in the Congress of the United States, but the sense of bipartisanship, the spirit that provided us strength through World War II?  Can it ever exist again in this type of a culture? 

RUSSERT:  I see so much of this through the eyes of my dad, Big Russ, Mike.

He told me about Pearl Harbor, what he watched, what he witnessed, what he felt, what he experienced that day.  And he was one of those young boys in that line in that recruiting office, and then went down with his B-24 Liberator, and spent six months in a military hospital. 

But he told me, first and foremost, about the sacrifice, about Rosie the Riveter, and Jimmy Doolittle, and women giving up nylons, and people giving up condiments on their dinner table, because they had to help feed and support the soldiers. 

They all came together, common good, common enterprise.  You don‘t send an army to war.  You take a country to war.  And, right now, we are terribly divided.  And there is only one person that can try to put this back together, or at least take the first step.  I think it is the president of the United States. 

The Iraq Study Group has given him the opportunity.  The thought that you could get 10 people of two different political parties, serving four different administrations, to agree unanimously on these facts, that it‘s a grave, deteriorating situation that needed an immediate response, is indeed sobering, but important, and—and actually very positive. 

And, now, the president, I think, has to seize on that, and reach out to the Democrats.  They will be a bit reluctant.  And he is going to have to work on it.  But he has said, repeatedly, he is a uniter, not a divider.  And this is now the time to show it. 

BARNICLE:  Tim Russert is staying with us. 

And, later, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kay Bailey Hutchison will be here to talk about what will happen with Iraq. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Tim Russert is here, NBC Washington bureau chief, moderator of “Meet the Press.”

And, Tim, we are going to go right to ‘08, to the presidential contenders, some of whom are expected to announce their candidacies next year.  And I would like you to put your scout‘s hat on, because I‘m sitting in the box seats, and I want you to tell me about these candidates, their strengths, their weaknesses, who is hitting to right, and who is hitting to left, OK?

We will...

RUSSERT:  Yes, sir. 

BARNICLE:  We will start off with Senator Hillary Clinton. 

RUSSERT:  Mike, it is amazing how much she has had to accelerate her campaign.  Why?  Because Barack Obama, in late October, said that he is thinking about running for president as early as the 2008 election. 

She is someone who voted for the war, which has created great distress with anti-war segments of the Democratic Party.  But she has enormous resources, a considerable organization, and one huge asset, the last Democratic president ever elected, William Jefferson Clinton. 

BARNICLE:  All right.  And now let‘s go to the young cleanup hitter from Chicago, Barack Obama, the aforementioned Barack Obama.

RUSSERT:  Barack Obama, who was right on the war, according to many members, elements, of the Democratic Party, which is very much against the war.  In 2002, as a state senator, he gave a speech against the war. 

He was able to unite the state of Illinois behind his candidate for the U.S. Senate, gave an electrifying keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 2004.  He is someone who is untested, in terms of national politics, but the only candidate, Mike, of either party who is drawing huge crowds and generating interest and enthusiasm. 

We will see how long he can play that out and take advantage of the notoriety and uniqueness, because he will be tested on his grasp of the subject matter. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s go over to the other dugout, Tim, and tell me about the old right-hander from Arizona, John McCain.

RUSSERT:  John McCain, who beat George Bush by 18 points in New Hampshire in 2000, then to lose in South Carolina, and lose—eventually lose the nomination to George W. Bush, running then as Straight Talk Express maverick, he believes that you have to engage the Republican base.

And that‘s what he has spent the last several years doing, Mike, really working, state by state, chairman by chairman, pioneer by pioneer of the fund-raising efforts.  He has become the establishment candidate, in many ways, within the Republican Party. 

His biggest opposition, Mitt Romney, a governor of your home state of Massachusetts, and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. 

Then, at the lower level, Mike, at this point, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, two conservative candidates appealing to the Christian right.  That‘s going to be an interesting field to watch. 

BARNICLE:  Brief thumbnail description, number one, from New York, Rudy Giuliani, the aforementioned Giuliani. 

RUSSERT:  Interesting with Rudy Giuliani, known as the mayor after September 11 who was the voice all through that morning, as we saw him walking through all the—the various disaster that had been left by that horrible attack. 

It is interesting, Mike, how someone who is pro-gun-control, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights will deal with that conservative primary base in the Republican primary.  He is confident he can do that, that security will be the dominant issue.

BARNICLE:  Tim Russert, as always, thanks very much. 

We will get to Mitt Romney out in the bullpen at a later date.

Be sure to tune into your NBC station on Sunday for “Meet the Press.”

Coming up next, we will ask Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Senator Dianne Feinstein about the Iraq Study Group‘s report. 

And, later, more on the fight over Iraq with “The National Review”‘s Kate O‘Beirne and “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Now that the Iraq Study Group has released its recommendations, what is President Bush going to do about it? 

Dianne Feinstein is the senior senator from California.  Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior senator from Texas. 

Senators, welcome.  Thank you very much for being here. 

Senator Feinstein, what does your instinct tell you, what the White House will do and might not do with regard to this report? 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, my instinct tells me that my hopes may not be realized.

But let—let me just lay out a couple of things.  The insurgency is not getting better.  It is getting worse.  Many people believe Iraq is effectively in civil war. 

Two, there are no signs that the insurgency is going to be abated any time soon or that the Maliki government can control it.  Ergo, there needs to be a change in strategy. 

What this report does is offer a bipartisan formula, so to speak, of many different components, 79 of them, for the president to look at, and refashion his strategy with respect to Iraq. 

I‘m afraid that, unless we make some changes, that we will effectively lose our edge in Iraq, that we will end up in a major confrontation, that we will possibly end up in a regional war.  And I think that this is the president‘s big chance.  And I hope he takes it. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Hutchison, we just have been through a campaign.  The country has been through a campaign where the rhetoric was pretty harsh, especially with regard to the war in Iraq, especially from the White House.

And, yet, today, with Prime Minister Blair, President Bush indicated that it was time for a fresh approach to the war in Iraq.  Did this surprise you? 

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  No, not at all. 

I think that he has been moving in that direction, starting with the appointment of a new secretary of defense.  I think that he received the report from the commission in that spirit.  And I think that he is going to have a fresh approach. 

I particularly think that the—bringing the Arab nations into the mix is very important.  The neighboring countries can have a huge influence, much stronger than any outside group or country.  And I think that is the—the—the nugget that is important in this report. 

BARNICLE:  Let me ask both—both of you senators about something that former Congressman Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the commission, said this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

He said: “The Congress is a co-equal branch of government.  I, frankly, am not that impressed with what the Congress has been able to do.  I think the Congress has been extraordinary timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities on the question of war-making and conducting war.”

Senator Feinstein, do you agree with that? 

FEINSTEIN:  Well, the Constitution does give us certain powers. 

The greatest power, of course, is the power of the purse.  Yes, the Congress could cut off the funds.  But the Congress will not do that, because our men and women are in harm‘s way. 

The Congress can, I suppose, pass a resolution, which the president can either pay attention to or not.  There are many pieces of legislation he has simply disregarded, in whole or in part.  So, it is very, very difficult.  And there are many different views, still, in the Congress. 

However, I do think that the—the Congress is also changing.  And I

think you‘re going to see, hopefully, a new consensus emerge.  And that

consensus—and I agree with—with what Senator Hutchison just said.  I

I think you are going to see people begin to come together around a policy that encompasses many of the points in this Iraq Study Group. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Hutchison, Senator Feinstein just mentioned, you know, the—the budget for the war in Iraq, and—and—and cutting off funds, which would never be done as long as our people are still in the field in Iraq.

And, yet, part of the Hamilton—Baker-Hamilton commission report cites the vagueness about the budget authority, including, it—it raised the question that—that seemed to be unanswerable.  What amount of money did President Bush want to fight this war?  And they indicated, in the report, that the arcane process of the budget was so arcane, that it was difficult to find out how much money was being spent on Iraq. 

So, what about congressional oversight of the moneys being spent for Iraq in Iraq?  Where has the Congress been on that? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I do think that we should have a budget for the war, rather than continuing to have supplementals, because we know what kind of situation we‘re in now and what it is going to take. 

We have fully funded the war, but it has been in supplementals.  And the—the figures are there.  It is transparent.  I‘m not worried that you can‘t find out how much the war costs. 

But I would just say to Congressman Hamilton that of course Congress is equal, but that doesn‘t mean that we have the same responsibilities as the president.  The president is the commander and chief. 

What I think this report can do, and what I think the president is now open to, is to work with Congress and the advice that members of Congress have.  Many of us have been to Iraq.  We have been to Afghanistan.  We have talked to people in the region.  There‘s a lot of information and opinion that could help the president in making his decisions as commander and chief.  And I think he seems to be more open to listening to the differing views as he goes forward.  And I think that is a positive outcome. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Feinstein, no matter how much the president intends to listen going forward with regard to Iraq, there is another—this report is filled with little nuggets.  One of the nuggets I‘d like to ask you about right now—in terms of going forward in Iraq, the Shiite government in Baghdad turns off the electricity in Sunni neighborhoods because they hate the Sunnis. 

So no matter how much the president listens, no matter how much we want Iraq to come together, little nuggets like this would lead someone to believe that there‘s never going to be any reconciliation in Iraq.  What is your thought? 

FEINSTEIN:  well, I‘ve never seen hatred like this.  I mean, this is a tribal mentality and it‘s extraordinarily difficult.  The Sunni have been the ruling class.  They believe they should be the rulers.  They don‘t want to give this up.  The Shia, I think, respond in kind.  The Shia militias, particularly the ones under Moqtada al-Sadr are devastating.  Very—I mean, just terrible.  The numbers of people murdered, tortured are astounding and I think this is—this is the problem.  How do you bring these warring factions together?  How do you solve this problem? 

You have to have a strong—a strong government to be able to do it.  And you have to have laws that can be followed.  And you have to have police that can make the arrests and put people who commit these crimes out of action.  And that‘s been very difficult to do. 

Into this mix, you have Anbar province, which is largely Sunni.  You do have an al Qaeda presence.  And al Qaeda brings in foreign fighters and it‘s become a morass, if you will.  And it‘s getting worse by the day.  And that‘s why I believe very strongly that a new strategy must be taken care of. 

I want to just respond to one other quick thing, and that is I too believe that the budget should be regular order, that we should stop the supplementals.  It‘s now three and a half years into the war.  And this should be funded through the regular budget process. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Hutchison, a fellow Texan, former Secretary of State James Baker, of course, co-chair of this commission—is there anything in the report that surprised you? 

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, ® TEXAS:  Well, there‘s one thing that we haven‘t brought up.  And it really speaks, Mike, to what you mentioned earlier.  And that is in the report, it says that they sort of looked at and rejected the idea of semi-autonomous regions. 

But I think that‘s been rejected too quickly.  Yes, the Sunni neighbors don‘t like it and the Turks don‘t like it.  But I think you would have an incentive to keep Iraq as a whole country because of the oil revenues. 

However, I think you wouldn‘t—if you had more local governments or state-type governments, where you had the ability for Sunnis and Shias and Kurds to govern themselves, have their own security forces, you‘d have a short-term stability that I think would help settle things down and strengthen the economy and the country and the employment situation. 

And I think that should be something that is an option looked at more carefully than the report suggests or that the president has said. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Dianne Feinstein, thanks both very much. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Can Iraq still be saved? 

Despite all the recommendations, do James Baker and Lee Hamilton believe success of some sort is really possible? 

And what are Democrats going to do to put pressure on the president?

Here to talk about it are the Hardballers: “National Review‘s” Kate O‘Beirne, the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson. 

Glad to see both of you here. 

Kate...

KATE O‘BEIRNE, “NATIONAL REVIEW”:  Thanks, Mike.  Nice to be with you. 

BARNICLE:  Kate, the rhetoric of the campaign just concluded included some unbelievable verbal assaults from the Republicans on Democrats and Democrats on Republicans.  But stuff like, you know, a vote for a Democrat is really, you know, a vote for terrorism or terrorists, you know, we‘re not going to cut and run. 

And now, today, alongside Tony Blair, we have the president of the United States coming out on the stage and saying he realizes—or he thinks it‘s time for a fresh approach. 

What is going on within—within this circle? 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, I think prior to the election, the president was using a euphemism.  He would say, things are really tough in Iraq, I recognize things are tough, we really have a tough job on our hands. 

He wasn‘t saying, things are really going poorly, the situation‘s bad in Iraq.  Now, that‘s something, of course, voters recognized.  And I think Republicans paid a price because it appeared the White House didn‘t share that recognition.  And it‘s something, obviously, that the Baker-Hamilton commission confronted: things are really going poorly, you know.  There is a fair chance we could lose this without a change in direction. 

The president has now changed his own rhetoric.  He no longer just says, things are tough.  He said, today things are bad and I do need a new approach. 

BARNICLE:  What do you think he means...

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST:  This is my question.  What does he mean when he talks about a new approach, acknowledges that things are bad?  I think voters—what voters were saying, is we need to do something different. 

And what the—what the Iraq Study Group said we need to do these 79 new things... 

BARNICLE:  What does he mean when he says...

ROBINSON:  ... we need to something different.  I don‘t know what he means.

BARNICLE: ... victory.  He used the word victory today.

ROBINSON:  Well, that‘s the question.  I mean, what is victory?  How do you define victory? 

And, you know, I think a consensus seems to be developing that victory as he traditionally described it, you know, leaving a democratic Iraq behind that can defend itself, that getting—has not al Qaeda, that‘s an ally of the United States and presumably is not a Shiite theocracy in bed with Iran, that‘s not attainable.  It seems to be the developing consensus here in Washington that you can‘t get that. 

O‘BEIRNE:  When the president uses the word he still thinks that is attainable, as does Tony Blair, which he said today.  The only time the word victory appears in the Baker-Hamilton report is when it talks about what a victory it would be for al Qaeda if we were to leave prematurely, because they did, of course, agree that we couldn‘t pull out. 

BARNICLE:  One of the—one of the major recommendations in the report coming from both Baker and Hamilton and—well, it was unanimous, so all the commissioners—is that there should be some dialogue with Iran and Syria, and yet the administration seems to be intent on never sitting down with Iran and talking with Iran so long as they have got this nuclear deal going. 

So my question to both of you, coming in here from the hinterlands, you know, out—you know, in places apart from where politics is the 24-hour a day deal which it is here, it is highly unlikely that by late tomorrow afternoon Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and yet it is highly likely, sadly, that by tomorrow afternoon, another United States Marine will be killed or a soldier will be killed in Iraq.  So what is wrong with talking with Iran? 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, Mike, the point that both Tony Blair and George Bush made today is that they are perfectly willing to sit down with people who share the same aims and objectives, and the point of sitting down is to figure out how we can all get together and achieve those objectives. 

Iran and Syria do not fall into that camp.  What the White House has said is Iran knows exactly what it has to do to sit down with us, which is just stop enriching uranium.  That is the price of admission. 

Now, it strikes me as awfully ironic that the Baker-Hamilton Commission flies under the flag of realism when what they say about both Syria and Iran is Syria should control its borders and stop fomenting the kind of violence they are in Iraq, and that Iran should be doing the same thing.  Well, of course they should, but neither has shown any inclination to do so. 

They also tell Syria and Iran that it‘s not in their interest to have chaos in Iraq, but Syria and Iran seem to agree that, yes, it is in their interest to have chaos in Iraq.   

ROBINSON:  It is these two different theories of diplomacy, really.  I mean, the Bush administration has always been—has basically said we won‘t talk to our bitterest enemies.  And Baker always did. 

BARNICLE:  Well, we‘ll be right back to talk with the both of you.  Kate O‘Beirne and Eugene Robinson are staying with us.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL with the “National Review‘s” Kate O‘Beirne and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson. 

Secretary Robert Gates, the new secretary of defense—I guess he is going to the Middle East and Iraq December 18th, it‘s indicated.  Does he make any difference in this thing? 

ROBINSON:  You know, yes, I think that he does in that he has certainly established some new credibility on Capitol Hill with his acknowledgment the other day that it does not appear, the way things are going, we‘re winning the war.  I think that makes a difference. 

And he seems to believe that some of Don Rumsfeld‘s reforms, which—you know, this leaner, faster, smaller military were perhaps wrong—you know, hitting in the wrong direction.  So I think he will get a pretty good reception from the officers. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Let me include the atmospherics on Capitol Hill.  He doesn‘t seem quite as contemptuous of people on Capitol Hill and I think... 

ROBINSON:  He answers their questions, for one. 

O‘BEIRNE:  ... that helps.  Ironically, again, though, the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations looked an awful lot like Don Rumsfeld‘s memo that we‘ve now seen leaked out that he wrote a couple of days before the election that...

BARNICLE:  Do you really believe he wrote it a couple days before the election? 

O‘BEIRNE:  However, it was written, ironically...

BARNICLE:  It was post-dated. 

O‘BEIRNE:  ...their basic recommendations are something that seems very much in line with Secretary Rumsfeld‘s approach. 

BARNICLE:  You know, you mentioned atmospherics—we only have, like, a minute left, so let me ask you a completely unanswerable question about atmospherics in terms of the change of direction, the tone of voice, the bipartisanship that everybody seeks. 

The president today, his language, his behavior, his body language, he was very, very intent.  He used words like victory and he seemed to be the president of a month ago.  What do you think? 

O‘BEIRNE:  When it comes to commissions, Mike, the reason why they do what they do and Republicans and Democrats get together and agree is because they split the difference and fudge the details.  Some of us argue that what Iraq needs is bold, new thinking, not the split the difference and fudge things in order to all get along. 

I think that‘s going to be George Bush‘s responsibility.  If this calls for bold, new thinking, it‘s got to come from a commission.  It‘s got to come from the commander in chief. 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think the president has changed his mind about Iraq.  I think he believes in it with all his heart and soul.  He believes in what he‘s been doing and, frankly, I think he‘s going to do more of it.  I don‘t think he really wants a dramatically different direction for policy. 

BARNICLE:  How annoyed do you figure he was by Jim Baker? 

ROBINSON:  Pretty darn annoyed, I think. 

O‘BEIRNE:  I am not so sure that is the case after I talked to people at the White House.  They think that there‘s enough to work for with this, which is always the case, Mike, when it‘s bipartisan.  There‘s enough for both sides to work with.  You know, and so they adopt it, they‘ll throw it in the mix with their other recommendations.  They can live with the Baker-Hamilton Commission, I think. 

BARNICLE:  Pretty harsh indictment of the conduct of this administration in terms of foreign policy.

ROBINSON:  That whole kind of preamble to the report, you know, was in effect, putting the White House in a box and saying it‘s really bad.  You can‘t tell anybody that it‘s not really bad. 

BARNICLE:  Katie O‘Beirne, Eugene Robinson, thanks very much. 

Play HARDBALL with us Friday.  We‘ll talk with General Barry McCaffrey about what President Bush and Congress can do about Iraq. 

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.

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