updated 12/18/2006 11:12:35 AM ET 2006-12-18T16:12:35

Guests: Jack Reed, Kate O‘Beirne, Bob Shrum, Thomas Ricks, Mike Murphy, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, Rummy is out but the game hasn‘t changed.  When will the president set his new course in Iraq?  When will the Democrats step up to the plate and set theirs?  Are we headed for more troops in Iraq with less unity at home?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Today, Donald Rumsfeld served his last day as Secretary of Defense. 

But will dumping Rumsfeld change the policy?

Meanwhile, Washington is still focused on the health of Democratic senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota who underwent brain surgery and remains hospitalized tonight.  Control of the Senate could be at stake.  We will talk to Democratic senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island who met with the senator‘s wife at the hospital today. 

We begin tonight, however, with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster who has the latest. 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well Chris, late this afternoon, Senator Johnson‘s office, along with his doctors, issued a statement saying that the senator remains in intensive care unit in stable but critical condition.  However the doctors are causing his surgery to relieve some of the pressure on his brain a success. 

They say considering his initial presentation, his progress is encouraging.  They say he has stabilized, continues to show signs of responsiveness.  I suppose that statement is testament to just how serious his condition was some 36 hours ago. 

But now, according to the family, the senator is at least able to respond to them, move his eyes, follow them around the room.  He is able to touch—respond to stimuli like touch. 

The doctors say the key question over the next couple of days is that it will be a few more days before they know whether the bleeding in his brain caused long-lasting damage that might hurt his cognitive abilities.

The immediate focus right now is that any time there is brain surgery, there tends to be some swelling, so the doctors say he is undergoing CAT scans periodically.

But at the moment, they say the progress that he is making is good. 

And they are all hoping for the best. 

Against all of this, Chris, Democrats and Republicans say that they are simply not talking about any sort of reorganization of the Senate. 

The Democrats, on January 4, they will essentially pass a resolution that gives them control of the Senate, gives them committee chairs, Republicans say that at this moment, there are no plans, there‘s no discussion to even challenge that.  They‘re simply praying for the recovery of Senator Johnson.  And early next year, early in January they make a decision about how the Senate should be organized. 

One final point, Chris, and that is on the very big issue of Iraq that is going to be confronting both the House and the Senate, we are starting to get indications now that the bush White House is going to announce some of their decisions in early January. 

They‘re floating a number of trial balloons, the latest is that it appears that the administration is seriously considering a surge in the number of troops -- 15,000 to 20,000 extra troops that would be sent to Baghdad to try to restore some stability there.  However, the trial balloons also indicate the Bush administration is going to flat out reject the initiatives of diplomacy suggested by the Baker-Hamilton—the idea that there should be any sort of talks with Syria and Iran—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, David Shuster.

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is a friend of Senator Tim Johnson‘s.

You met with his wife today, right? 

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  I did.  I went down to the hospital.  And Barb and his children are there.  They are a remarkable family.  And they are generally optimistic about the course events over the last several hours. 

It was about 10 or 15 minutes meeting.  And I just want to emphasize what Bob says, that they are really optimistic. 

Tim Johnson is one of the great gentlemen of the Senate.  He‘s an outstanding senator.  And we‘re all—we all should be concerned about his welfare and that should be the most important thing.  But I think there‘s reason for...

MATTHEWS:  He is going to make it through.

REED:  I hope so.  He is one of the good guys. 

And you know, also, I think—not only in terms of the family, but all the people of South Dakota, he is won a place in their heart back in South Dakota.  Well deserved.  And he is a real gentlemen, a friend.  And I feel better today than I did yesterday, certainly. 

MATTHEWS:  Great.  Well, thanks for that. 

Let me ask you about the big question about the president.  There‘s lots of rumors floating around the city that we are sending more troops to Iraq.  You‘re reaction?

REED:  Well, I think the chief of staff of the army said it very well, General Schoomaker, you can‘t surge without purpose.  What‘s the purpose?  Will these troops go in and take on these militias?  Or will they simply go in and add a little more to what we have now—the presence?

And without a well defined mission, clearly identifying necessary resources, I think it is just more of the same.  And we have got to do something more fundamental than that. 

I think also, too, in terms of the surge notion, the adversaries out there are pretty clever.  If we‘re going to send 15,000 troops for 30 or 40 days or even five months, they divert their resources, they play around them.  Baghdad is a city of 6 million people, 15,000 additional American soldiers is not all that decisive.  So, for all these reasons, I‘m very dubious about this surge notion. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens if we surge and we fight and we kill a bunch of Sunni—or Shia, rather, militia people, and then we leave.  And then they come right back and regroup and take over the country.  Why do we assume we can change the history of Iraq in a short-term operation? 

REED:  Well, that is in my view not the appropriate assumption.  The critical decisions that have to be made in Iraq are not so much the size of our forces, it‘s political decision that the Maliki  government has to make.  Are they convinced that they will really bring in the Sunnis into their government?  Will they go after the militias—not with our troops but with their own troops?  Will they provide the public services?

One of the things about our strategy in Iraq is that we talked about clearing and holding and building.  Well, our military forces can clear and hold an area, but if we can‘t follow up immediately with building, employment, social services, governmental presence—not ours, but the Iraqi government, than military points served, but the objective is not obtained.

MATTHEWS:  Who do you want to see our American soldiers fighting over there?  Are we going to be over there fighting on one side of civil war against the militia, the Shia—the majority people—on the other side against the Sunni insurgents who don‘t like the majority rule, and then going after al-Qaeda?  How many fronts can we fight on  and win? 

REED:  Well, the most critical front is the front against the

international terrorists, those thousand or so people that have some

connection to al Qaeda

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of the problem is that? 

REED:  It‘s a very small percentage in numbers, certainly, but they are very provocative in terms of some of their actions.  They deliberately try to provoke sectarian violence.  So, it‘s a force that has to be reckoned with.

But this is a primary mission, not only in Iraq, but any place there are these insurgents groups, these cells or terrorists running loose.  We have to go and preempt them. 

Now, as far as the rest of the battle, that battle should be shifted as much as possible an as quickly as possible to Iraqi security forces. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So we leave the civil war with those guys, right?  But then how do you fight the 5 percent or of what they are, the al-Qaeda, operating in the country.  We walk around in full military gear, right?  We‘re marching around in units, how do you find the house that they happen to be worked out of? 

REED:  Well, we have major units, combat brigades, that are providing the conventional support to the Iraqis that are in many cases conducting the search and clear operations, these road blocks.  But we also have a large special operations contingent.  And these are our...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s with a you used to do, right?

REED:  Well, I was qualified as a Ranger and I was a paratrooper in the 82nd.  But these folks are part of the special operations command—the SEALs, Delta, Army Rangers, very skilled.  Operate in small groups together with special forces.  And they are generally—they‘re target are what they call these high-valued personnel.  They are going out looking for those.  What types of systems do we have?  You know, we have UAVs, this is all public knowledge—unmanned aerial vehicles that have cameras on it.  They can go search.

We are using every technique that we can to identify these terrorists and take them out. 

MATTHEWS:  As military guy, do you believe that‘s feasible that we can stay out of the civil war, don‘t take sides with Sunni and Shia, stay out of the whole Maliki business, the Muqtada al Sadr problem, the problem with the Sunni side—stay out of all that fighting, avoid the crossfire, the IEDs, the suicide bombings, get out of all that and somehow surgically just move through that country looking for our particular enemy, the al Qaeda types.  Do you think that‘s doable?

REED:  Well, what we have right now is a significant military presence, about 140,000 American personnel.  To change that, and this is what Senator Levin and I have been talked about, is some type of phased redeployment.  Which would I think initially begin to take our forces away from the major centers of confrontation.  There are critical missions that we can perform to make sure that the nation of Iraq is not overwhelmed by its neighbors or undermined significantly by these insurgents forces.  And we can do that I think in a very calculated way. 

The last thing we want to do is get caught up in a crossfire of a civil war...

MATTHEWS:  So you believe, so just to get back to my question, do you believe that we can play this surgical role, minimize it—in other words, don‘t have the big 140,000 troops over there, something less of a deployment.  And that deployment is focused on the mission of fighting al Qaeda.  Do you think we can do that? 

REED:  Well, I think it‘s never surgical.  This is a—that‘s one of the mistakes I think that was made by the administration, thinking that this stuff is easy, predictable, scientific...

MATTHEWS:  No.  But that it could be limited to that mission.

REED:  I think we have to start adjusting the mission there to such a role. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the president accept this? 

REED:  I hope so.  I mean, we will see.  He has the opportunity with the Iraqi study group, with many other individual weighing in to make a significant change in course.  And also to recognize that this is a regional problem.  It‘s not just within Iraq, that there are regional consequences, international consequences. 

I hope he does.  And I hope he is also able to rally the American people to a strategy that makes sense.  I think personally, after spending time thinking about it and worked closely with my colleagues, that it involves this notion of a phased redeployment, not with a timetable or a deadline, training the Iraqi security forces, increasing our training effort and getting the Iraqi government—and this is probably the key and most decisive factor—getting them to take actions which are necessary in their own right so that they can have an effective government that the people of Iraq want.

MATTHEWS:  Why do I get the feeling, Senator, that the Maliki government is never going to go after Muqtada al-Sadr because he is one of their backers and they‘re never going to give a break to the Sunnis because it‘s winner-take-all in that part of the world. 

When the Shia win and they‘re 3-1 over the Sunnis, they are going to run the place.  The Sunni people know that their best bet is to fight like hell and do whatever they can to avoid being taken over.

Why do we assume it‘s going to be kumbaya over there and there‘s going to be an even split among the oil resources and they‘re all going to get together in some big grand coalition.  Why do we keep operating on the assumption that‘s never come true in third-world countries. 

Countries in that part of the world fight for keeps.  One side wins—the Sunni for years.  This time the Shia are going to win.  They don‘t want in us in there as referees, do they?  Does anybody want us in that country? 

REED:  Chris, I think you have described very accurately the dynamic is that is at work today. 

MATTHEWS:  Then why don‘t we get out? 

REED:  Well, one thing is a precipitous withdrawal I think—and it‘s my opinion—would have consequences throughout the region and they were serious consequences.  I think also there‘s just some basic logistical issues instead of suddenly turning around and saying we‘re taking everybody out tomorrow.  But the bottom...

MATTHEWS:  Two years from now we will be sitting here—I hope you come over.

REED:  I will.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m hope I‘m here, and the same argument we can‘t leave precipitously—at some point, don‘t you have to leave precipitously?  Next year at this time?  Five years from now?  When are we going to ever leave if we keep saying we‘re afraid to leave now? 

REED:  No, I think what I‘ve tried to say, and I think it makes sense both on the ground and in terms of the regional consequences, is that we have to declare right now we are staging a phased redeployment.  The direction of our military forces is out, not in.

MATTHEWS:  You are confident that the president will go along with that? 

REED:  I hope he does.  That‘s essentially what the Iraqi Study Group is. 

MATTHEWS:  He looks like Mr. Stay The Course Plus right now.

REED:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  And you and McCain are going to double down, is looks to me.  Don‘t you think that‘s what they are doing to do? 

REED:  Well, you know, they might try to do that but the Army is so stretched and the Marine Corps that an increment of 15,000, 25,000 troops in a city of six million people with the violence that is spiraling out of control, see, I think most Americans will see that as something that is sort of a halfway measure, not a change in course. 

MATTHEWS:  Your state is really anti-war, isn‘t it?

REED:  My state, I think, has been very concerned since the beginning. 

That‘s one of the many reasons why I thought this policy back in 2002 didn‘t make sense in terms of... 

MATTHEWS:  You voted against the authorization? 

REED:  I did because many...

MATTHEWS:  Bless you. 

REED:  Well, many of the reasons...

MATTHEWS:  Bless you because so many people have had so much obfuscation sense about oh, they didn‘t vote for the war, they voted sort of to allow some sort of negotiations.  They voted for the war. 

REED:  Well, I thought that would happen if we authorized it and it did.  But the other...

MATTHEWS:  You were dead right.  You knew if you gave him the leash, he was going to run. 

REED:  And, in fact, what one of the problems is today is now we are in a situation where what you described as these intractable forces, this built-up resentment over many years in a culture that‘s not identical to ours, it‘s very difficult to take the steps we need to take.  And it‘s very difficult for Maliki to take those steps. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve learned two lessons in the world.  One is, people don‘t like being invaded and occupied.  And number two, in third word countries they fight for keeps.  There is no deal.  One side wins, the other side loses. 

Anyway, thank you.  You‘re great.

REED:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You are a real patriot, obviously, as a military guy and as a senator.  You are very reasonable.  I‘m more passionate.  Anyway, thank you, Senator Reed. 

Coming up, Don Rumsfeld says goodbye finally.  How long will the honeymoon last for the new guy, Bob Gates? 

And on Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern, what a show this is going to be.  You don‘t want to miss it.  The HARDBALL College Tour with Robert De Niro—“Meet the Parents” himself, Mr. “Godfather”—and Matt Damon.  Boy, does he speaks out.  Here is a piece of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR:  I don‘t think that it‘s fair, as I said before, that it seems like we have a fighting class in our country that is comprised of people who have to go for either financial reasons—you know, I don‘t think that that is fair. 

And you are going to send people to war, if we all get together and decide we need to go to war, then that needs to be shared by everybody, you know?  And if the president has daughters who are of age, then maybe they should go too. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said goodbye today to the Pentagon.  On Monday, Bob Gates is going to be sworn in to replace him, and the debate over Iraq will continue, obviously. 

When will the president say something about his plans for Iraq?  Maybe sometime next year.  When will the Democrats say something?

Kate O‘Beirne is a HARDBALL political analyst and Washington editor—that used to be John McLaughlin‘s job—of the “National Review.”  Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst up in New York.  Bob, it‘s nice to hear from you. 

Let me ask you, Kate, do you think the presence of gold-bricking a bit, as they say, wasting time, hanging out when he should be developing and presenting a strong Iraq policy? 

KATE O‘BEIRNE, “NATIONAL REVIEW”:  No, I don‘t think that‘s the case.  As you watch on a daily basis, it seems he is talking to somebody new, getting more ideas.  I‘m assuming what he is doing now is bouncing off other experts what he has already heard. 

My—because they had wanted to make an announcement before Christmas.  That had been what their plan had been.  The fact that it‘s postponed tells me that there are complicated, more moving parts to what he might eventually be telling us than permitted them to lay something out before Christmas. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, Bob, I want you to answer the same question about the Democrats‘ position on Iraq, but let‘s take a look at it.  To me, a still intriguing interview I had with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld several months ago—in fact, more than a year ago—in which I asked him did the president of United States ever ask you if you thought it was good U.S. policy to invade Iraq? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Yes, he did not ask me is the question.  And to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise you as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.  He clearly asked us could we win and I said, obviously, that the military or—are assured that they can prevail in that conflict in terms of the changing of regime. 

He asked if they had everything they needed.  He must have asked 5,000 questions over a period of the year about this, that and the other thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Shrummy, I have to ask you, he is the secretary of defense.  He is chief of defense of this country, and his job is to say what we are capable of doing, what we should be doing with our military, what‘s the appropriate use of the military and the president never asked him should we go to war.  I just find that, in the chain of command of our government, unimaginable.  What do you think of it? 

BOB SHRUM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, look, the president—this is the president who said that he never consulted with his farther who ran one of the more successful wars in modern history on the part of the United States.  He consulted with his heavenly father.

Look, I don‘t mourn the departure of Donald Rumsfeld, but what‘s really happening here is the rearrangement of deck hand on the Titanic.  We heard, we heard Secretary Gates at his confirmation hearing, you have one blunt answer.

We saw the president sit there for a few minutes with the people from the Iraq Study Group.  It is absolutely clear as we watch this process played out and as more and more kids die why we wait for the president to come up with a policy, that that policy is going to be an attempt to vindicate this administration.  We cannot ...

MATTHEWS:  Will the Democrats as a party, as a congressional leadership, it looks look the party will control both Houses, offer up at the beginning of year, a Democratic proposal on how we fight this war and end it? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t know whether they will, but they should.  I think first of all, the Democrats should have the courage to introduce a piece of legislation that says we are not going to pay for sending more troops to Iraq.  That doesn‘t take money away from the people who are already there.  But it says there is no money to send additional people and it stops additional deployment. 

MATTHEWS:  You recommend that they take that strong step, a la Vietnam, just say no more money. 

SHRUM:  No, no.  I‘d say no more money to add troops to the troops that are already there.  And number two, let‘s—you know Jim Baker is not a radical.  Let‘s enact as Democrats, as Americans, let‘s decide that in the next year, we are going to get out of Iraq and at the end of that year, the money for combat operations is going to end. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Kate because I think that may be the Shrum proposal, maybe the Democrats‘ proposal but we are hearing a lot of soundings that the president is prepared to offer an increase in the number of troops, at least in the short run, maybe 30,000 more troops and the question is should he do it or will that just incite riots at home and if so should those troops job be to fight for the city of Baghdad, to focus on al-Qaeda or what?  What should we do with the extra 30,000 men and women going over there if with send them. 

O‘BEIRNE:  I will be very interested to see what the proposal is with respect to what these additional troops might do.  It might be that they dramatically increase the number of troops in Baghdad.  I guess we have some 10,000 resurged in order to try to stabilize things in Baghdad.  It hasn‘t been enough.

What happens is they clear neighborhoods and move on.  So many of them might be committed to Baghdad.  Others of course might be, which is something people seem to agree on, we should at least redouble our efforts with respect to training—putting American advisers into Iraqi troops.  I think there could be increases with respect to handling the al-Qaeda fighters in the Anbar province.  We will see when he—which is why I think it‘s taking a little time.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you grew up in New York, Bob is up in New York right now.  The interesting thing—we checked today—that‘s about the number of policemen in New York, 30 some thousand. 

And the question is in a city that which is, you know has crime

obviously, like most big cities but it‘s basically our country.  Now, do we

is 30,000 more troops in a city of the size of Baghdad really going to change anything in a country that‘s at war with itself and doesn‘t want us there.  Would it do the job, Bob?

SHRUM:  Well, my neighborhood on 15th Street or my colleagues at NYU are not an armed coalition attempting to overthrow the city government.  What the military always does in a situation like this is recommend more troops.  Everything else has failed, they recommend more troops.  It happened in Vietnam over and over again. 

Finally in 1968 Lyndon Johnson said no.  General Casey apparently by the way, the person who has been in charge in Iraq, is against this because he thinks it‘s going to let the Iraq government off the hook.  I said it months ago and I believe it now—for America in Iraq, it‘s all over, but the dying and we need to face up to the reality. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, an awful lot of people appreciate that the mistakes and failure are so enormous that it‘s important to do anything now possible and the options of course are reduced from what they may have been two or three years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Just remember, we left Vietnam four years after we could‘ve had the deal we got at the end.  All those 38,000 guys who were killed after we got the deal we got at the end of the.  We could have left in ‘69 with the same deal we got in ‘73.  What did we accomplish and that‘s the question I‘m going to keep asking.  What will one more day of fighting and 10 more people dying do to improve the situation the day we eventually leave?  Bob Shrum, Kate O‘Beirne...

O‘BEIRNE:  That‘s a legitimate question.

MATTHEWS: ... stay with us.  We‘ll be right back.  We‘re going to talk some politics about Rudy looking like he is really running and whether McCain or Mitt Romney is the establishment Republican candidate.  By the way, we have Tom Ricks of the “Washington Post” combing in to talk more about the military over in Iraq.  HARDBALL coming back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with HARDBALL political analysts, Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Shrum.

Kate, what do you think about your party—is Rudy Giuliani, a New Yorker going to run or not?  There‘s indications he just hired some bigshot telemarketer type, is he going to run? 

O‘BEIRNE:  I don‘t think it‘s clear yet Chris.  When you talk to people in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina—they are choosing up sides already.  They are signing up with candidates.  They tell me Rudy Giuliani has not been doing what other candidates have been in those states.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s a flirtation, just to raise his profile for money for speeches? 

O‘BEIRNE:  No, I don‘t think that‘s clear yet either.  I think it‘s actually an open question.

MATTHEWS:  So he hasn‘t made the point of decision yet? 

O‘BEIRNE:  It certainly doesn‘t look as though he has.

MATTHEWS:  Shrum—do you think he‘s going in or not going in?

SHRUM:  It certainly not about money Chris because he makes a lot of money as a corporate consultant, makes a lot of money speaking.  I think he has no chance to be nominated.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I‘m asking you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, please.  Is he going to run or not? 

SHRUM:  If he runs he will stumble and fall. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to run? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s what I want—your answer.  Let‘s talk to your side of the aisle—the Democrats right now.  Obama has had a hell of a week.  He‘s clearly gone beyond flirtation.  He‘s courting the Democrats, he went to New Hampshire and had an extraordinary reaction up there, to just his arrival. 

Is he—he‘s already number two in the polling, one of the big polls to Hillary.  Can he proceed from near 20 up to 30 and catch Hillary by end of the year? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t think we know that yet.  I think it all depends what substance he puts underneath this initial appeal.  We saw this with J.F.K., Chris.  You have written about this, you‘ll remember it. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember how he came up.

SHRUM:  Busting on the scene in ‘56, but he put a lot of substance under that by the time of the ‘60 campaign.  That‘s the real test for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Are you waiting for Obama to give his Algeria speech?

SHRUM:  Well, you know, that was actually a very brave, smart and sensible speech. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, right.  So you think he has to get substantive, he can‘t go with the flash. 

SHRUM:  Oh, I think there is a ‘where‘s the beef‘ question that he has to answer and I think that he may very well answer it, but I don‘t think we know yet what‘s going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Bob that the Democrats will be thinking about electability when they pick the candidate or just think about who they think is hot? 

SHRUM:  I think they‘ll be thinking about electability, but I think you‘re going to have to be very, very careful with all these Republicans who say please bring on Hillary Clinton—they remind me of all the Democrats who kept saying please bring on Ronald Reagan. 

MATTHEWS:  Kate, last question, who is the establishment Republican candidate?  Who is Mr. Inside, McCain or Mitt Romney right now at the end of this week?

O‘BEIRNE:  I think John McCain is the establishment candidate now.

MATTHEWS:  I love to hear that from you.  I love to know the answer. 

Bob Shrum, thank you.  Kate O‘Beirne—two pros. 

Up next, the Washington Post‘s Tom Ricks will be here to talk about the continuing fight over Iraq.  Does a new defense secretary mean real change?  Does it mean the U.S. troops will leave any sooner?  Are we going to have more troops over there?  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Today it should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative as well.  A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Those were Donald Rumsfeld‘s parting words on his last day as secretary of Defense.  And as the man who championed a lighter, leaner military leaves the Pentagon, top military commanders are now considering whether to send an additional 30,000 troops from here to Iraq.  And they‘re also advocating an overall expansion of the U.S. armed forces generally. 

Thomas Ricks is the military correspondent for The Washington Post.

He‘s author of “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” 

Will this be more or less of a fiasco, Tom, if we put 30,000 more troops over there? 

THOMAS RICKS, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It could easily be more.  The U.S.  military chiefs, that is the joint chiefs of staff, have been arguing against it because they done see what the reason is. 

They are not saying done do it at all, but they are saying we don‘t see the payoff here.  We already put 8,000 troops into Baghdad last summer.  Not only did it not help, Baghdad fell apart in September and October. 

So they say why would two or three times that number make much more of a difference? 

MATTHEWS:  Is this an ideological thing?  When I hear something coming out of the American Enterprise Institute, I immediately assume it‘s coming from the neoconservative bastion that this is the thinking of people like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, the people who loved the war in the beginning.  Is this what we are hearing, an ideological push, a la John McCain, for more troops because it‘s ideological, or is it really military thinking here.

RICKS:  I think it is not military thinking.  And I think it‘s even more Machiavellian than you may suspect.  I suspect what is going on here is an excuse is being built here.  You didn‘t put in more troops and you gave up. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, so they are hoping that the Democratic congress will rejection the call for 30,000 more troops for Iraq? 

RICKS:  Well, I actually think the joint chiefs have already rejected it.  And I think it will be unlikely that the president actually does it.  I think the White House is pushing the Join Chiefs to do it and they are pushing back hard. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I get you.  So the ideologues at the AEI are pushing the idea because it looks like they would say, if you had only do done what we told you to do, which by the way is what every ideologue I have ever met left and right, always says—if you only did it all the way, you would have won.

RICKS:  The funny thing is we already did what the American Enterprise asked us to do several years ago, we invaded Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Exactly.  Let me ask you about the advantage to having more troops, assuming we‘re going to get a surge, as it‘s called.  Is the message—is the mission going to be put more guys door to door, kicking down doors in the city of Baghdad to fight for the security of that city?  Is it going to be to focus on the mission of tracked down where we can al Qaeda and outside terrorists?  What is the mission if we have more troops? 

RICKS:  You would make a good chairman of the joint chiefs, those are exactly the questions they are asking.  And they‘re not hearing answers that they find persuasive. 

Where everybody, I think, in the military would like to see more troops is in the advisory effort right now.  They disagree with the Iraq study group about pulling out troops while you increase the advisory effort.  But everybody agreed if you could get advisers down to the company level, rather than battalion or brigade, the higher echelons, you can do things like have American officers present at checkpoints.  And you can ensure that Shiite troops done shoot every Sunni who comes through. 

MATTHEWS:  Will those officers have a facility with Arabic? 

RICKS:  Well, no, they don‘t.  That‘s a big problem for the U.S.  military and the U.S. government generally. 

What you do have is interpreters.  Unfortunately, some of the interpreters don‘t speak English very well.  Also, interpreters have really been targeted by the insurgency.  and their casualty rate is extraordinarily high. 

MATTHEWS:  What I‘m worried about, just as a guy who would be worried about it happening to him, is we put guys out, women out I guess, but mostly men, we deploy them, we embed them into Iraqi units.  A kid, a 20-year-old kid is writing home to his parents dad, mom, I get the feeling that there are militia people in this unit, I get the feeling this group is more loyal to sectarian—to the Shia crowd than they are to the central government.  The next thing you know the kid is captive and being tortured. 

I mean, if we let troops be separated from their units, how do we protect them?  Our guys.

RICKS:  Well, we have had 4,000 advisors out there for some time.  And keep your fingers crossed, so far we haven‘t had those sort of things happening. 

But yeah, it is a real worry.  What happens if the politics of Iraq collapse so much that Iraqi units are though longer even carrying out the pretense of being loyal to the central government and instead say, no, we are actually Shiite, we are loyal to Muqtada al Sadr?  What happens if they turn on their advisors.  That‘s a huge worry.

MATTHEWS:  And also worry that if we reduce our deployment from 140 down to below 100, we get weaker, and we begin to move out—as we leave behind embedded advisers, they become more vulnerable. 

RICKS:  That‘s why the military is going against the Iraqi Study Group recommendation of drawing down troops while boosting advisers.  What you hear General Chiarelli planning for out in Baghdad is increase the number of advisers, but keep the current number of troops out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Why do you think that the secretary of defense when I interviewed him over at the Pentagon two years ago said that the president never asked him if we should invade Iraq? 

RICKS:  I‘m not sure they ever had a meeting.  I can‘t figure this out.  It‘s sort of great white whale of all of us who have written Iraq books.  Where was the decision actually made?  It seems to have occurred through osmosis as best as I can tell. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it just Dick Cheney and Wolfie talking to the president and they decided in a very small circle?  Is that how it was done?

RICKS:  I actually think it was done on August 26, 2002 in plain view when Dick Cheney stood up at the VFW convention in Nashville and said flatly, there is no doubt—and I‘m quoting—there is no doubt about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.  That was the signal for the U.S.  military and the rest of the government, we‘re going to war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  So much for the trustworthiness of Dick Cheney.  Thank you very much Tom Ricks.  The book is great, it‘s called “Fiasco” and I think he‘s got the right name for what‘s going on. 

Up next, Hardballers Mike Murphy, of California fame and McCain fame, and Steve McMahon, a Democrat.  We‘ll dig into what the 2008 contenders are saying right now about Iraq and what they‘re not saying.  And coming up this Sunday on NBC‘s “MEET THE PRESS,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is by the way, number three in the NBC poll for Republican candidates for president this coming election. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s try and make sense of all the news this week with our hardballers this Friday.  It‘s Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.  By the way -- all Irish tonight.

He wrote an op-ed Mike, you did this week, calling for President Bush, I love you‘re—having been a seasoned politician and a kick-butt kind of guy, here you are out there saying let‘s get together, kumbaya, can‘t we all get along, let‘s have a bipartisan war council composed of the Democrats security experts, the president‘s security team, what makes you think that George W. Bush, the man who seems to get his ideas from God, is going to listen to Democrats? 

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, yes, I try to place the op-ed in the Irony Times first but I didn‘t couldn‘t find such a newspaper.  Look, I don‘t know what he‘ll do.  It‘s his job to figure that out.  I wanted to make a somewhat radical suggestion based on the following theory -- you can‘t fight a partisan war, it‘s impossible.  And I believe the president now, and this is bad for Americans, is boxed in between the Baker commission‘s kind of shot-gun marriage advise on one hand and a miserable failing status quo on the other. 

So, what do you do?  Well, if you look at history, you have to have national unit and purpose to have the president have the support to move around and the only way he‘s going to get that is to get Democratic support and they only way he is going to get that is to have some power sharing.

MATTHEWS:  Are you talking about joining with mainstream Democrats or picking up—cherry picking people like Lieberman, the hawks?

MURPHY:  Well, as much as I agree with and like Joe Lieberman, I think to have the credibility to have to go to the committee chairman like Biden and Levin, who don‘t agree with his policy, but are adults and understand the situation.  Jane Harman too, if Pelosi hasn‘t purged her.  And a ... 

MATTHEWS:  Jane Harman is not—Jane Harman is much closer to Hillary on the war in Iraq than she is to Murtha and Pelosi, obviously. 

MURPHY:  But the point is a president has to ...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s closer to you on the war that‘s why you like her.  Let me ask you, Steve, can you imagine Carl Levin who has been against the this war since day one, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, coming in, sitting down with the president, and actually coming up where they agree on something.  I don‘t get it? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I actually could imagine that a lot more than I could imagine the president actually listening to somebody that doesn‘t share his point of view.  I mean, you now have got the Baker commission report, you‘ve got the generals and the people on the ground.  You‘ve got everybody calling for a change of strategy, many of them calling for a reduction in troops by 2008.

Clearly that‘s what the voters were asking for on November 7 and the president just is stiff-arming everyone, now listening to anyone.  Even many of the people that are his closest advisers and the people on ground who he once said ought to be making these decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact, Mike, that you‘ve got Senator Bill Nelson, a moderate Democrat from Florida, just got reelected over there, talking to Bashir Assad over in Syria, against the president‘s orders and defiance of his policy of not talking to those governments in Syria and Iran.

Now you‘ve got Kerry.  I think you‘ve got Dodd and Senator Specter, a ranking Republican, all heading over to meet with Assad.  Is this a Logan Act violation or what?  What‘s going on here?

MURPHY:  Yes, I think it‘s disgraceful.  Every American, both parties who is a leader in winning the Cold War from George Kennon to Dean Acheson are spinning in their graves right now. 

But only the president can solve this problem.  He is seen as weak abroad, which is a bad situation for America and the vacuum is being filled by these lone rangers who are going out there trying to conduct their own American diplomacy.  It‘s crazy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY:  Well movie stars are in a different category.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody seems to be freelancing.  I‘ve got pre-ignition with my car, it won‘t go off here.

Actor George Clooney spoke on the crisis in Darfur, let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  Our call today is that priorities be linked to human survival, not political processing.  because someday this will end.  Whether its soon or years from now, whether it‘s 50,000 new dead or 2 million. 

There will come a time when it‘s all sorted out and justice is handed down.  And the question then will be asked, where did the nations of these United Nations stand? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We also had the other night, I got a show right now where we heard from last night on the program—when we were taping it actually.  It‘s going to be on on Monday.  This incredible interview with Matt Damon, we don‘t have it—we were supposed to have it, we‘re going to have that when we come back. 

An amazing conversation and we‘re going to preview for Monday‘s HARDBALL where Matt Damon, the star of this new movie “The Good Shepherd,” along with Robert De Niro express their views. 

Anyway, we will be right back with more—oh here it is right now, let‘s take a look at it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, give me your one, two, three.  Who would you most like to see as the next president?  Number two, number three?  Something like that.  You don‘t have to nail it down—go for win, place, show. 

DAMON:  Who do I think will be or who do I want?

MATTHEWS:  Who do you want?

DAMON:  Barak Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. De Niro—your personal pick for ‘08?  Do you have one?

DE NIRO:  Well, I think of two people—Hillary Clinton and Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have heard the slogan, haven‘t you? 

DE NIRO:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t tell mama, I‘m for Obama? 

DE NIRO:  Somewhere in there. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you somewhere between them, would you like to see that ticket, maybe? 

DE NIRO:  Possibly.

MATTHEWS:  Or is that too far out.

DE NIRO:  No, I done think it‘s far out. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we ready for an African-American president?  It that‘s a fair question.

DE NIRO:  I think we are.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with the HARDBALLers—Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

Mike Murphy, I have to ask you, you‘re right in the middle of this mall, everybody wants you to work for them—who is the established Republican candidate to succeed the president?  Is it Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or is it John McCain? 

MURPHY:  I‘m neutral.  But I would say right now Senator McCain is, to the extent there is a frontrunner of the establishment, it would be he. 

MATTHEWS:  Are the Bushies getting begin him?  The big name Bushies?

MURPHY:  No.  I think McCain is getting a lot of them, I think Mitt Romney is getting some too.  I think, you know, this is the first presidential thing we have had in a while with no vice president running.  It‘s going to be a wide open brawl.

But I think McCain is, to the extent there‘s a frontrunning, he would be it.  But I think Romney is coming on strong too.  It‘s going to be quite a race.  And Rudy could get in as well.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, I know.  But don‘t Republicans always say it‘s whose turn it is, and isn‘t it McCain‘s turn is what I‘m asking? 

MURPHY:  Yeah.  No.  I think McCain has that slot a year out.  And that‘s good ground to hold.  Romney has got the outside Washington problem solver persona which is an attractive thing.  But McCain has the edge right now.  We‘ll see what happens.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask the Democrat question to you, Steve McMahon. Hillary is around 30 something, high 30‘s, Barack is closing on 20 percent and moving up.  I‘m just asking you this, wide open question, does he have a greater opportunity to increase his number than she does?  Can he close on her by the end of year? 

MCMAHON:  I would say yes.  And I think the reason for that is simply because most people know Senator Clinton well, feel like they do.  They have made a judgment about her—I‘m not suggesting she can‘t get to 50 or 60 percent of the Democratic vote.  She is not there yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me blunt about it.  You assume that African-Americans are going to root like hell for a first shot they really have at the presidency, which I think makes perfect sense.  It always happens with any ethnic group.

Are white guys, not Hillary, not Obama, are they likely to say to Obama—yeah, I‘m going to take a look at that guy, I might vote for this guy, rather than Hillary, they‘ve already closed their mind to her, some of them? 

MCMAHON:  I think he has an opportunity on three fronts: African-Americans who are obviously excited about his candidacy, people who are looking for something new—and there‘s always this desire in the Democratic primary process, you saw it with Howard Dean, for something new. 

MATTHEWS: Something enlivening. 

MCMAHON:  Enlivening.  And then also he is a very hopeful guy.  And he tells a story of hope. 

MATTHEWS:  What does Hillary stand for.  If he stand for hope...

MCMAHON:  Well, I think she is a pragmatist.  She‘s somebody who says here‘s the problem and here is what I would do about it.  And he sits there and says we‘re the greatest country in the world, we can tackle any challenge. He‘s actually a little bit, perhaps, more rhetorical and she‘s a little more substantive.

But you know what, it‘s working for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Does she say eat your carrots and he says eat your dessert

MCMAHON:  Pretty much.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Looking over from your side of things, Mike, who do you think looks like the kind of person the Democrats will fall love with and marry? 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think a lot of love is going to be about Obama.  He is now standing between Hillary and the nomination.  So if I were Obama, I‘d get a food tester in, quick.

The other loose end here is Al Gore.  I think if Al Gore got into this race, he would be a big, big deal. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I can tell you a ticket that would scare the ages, and your Republicans, would be Gore 40 pounds lighter, sharper, with a sense of human and Obama as his futurist vice president. 

MURPHY:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think..

MURPHY:  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  But we don‘t have it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember Mario Cuomo, the press‘ favorite candidate?  Remember Colin Powell, the press‘ favorite candidate?  Every time the press falls in love with a candidate, they don‘t even run.

MURPHY:  The two loose ends here are, I think, are does Gore run?  And are peep in love with the idea of Obama, which they are now, will the reality of Obama keep up with that a year from now should he run?  Which is likely but not certain. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re running out of time.  But Bob Shrum said the key to Obama is to begin to do what Jack Kennedy did and other frontiersman back in the late ‘50‘s—don‘t just look good, don‘t just be charming an charismatic, begin to issue strong policy statements that show you have the weight for the job. 

MCMAHON:  He‘s right.

MURPHY:  He is right.  Really, he—his second act is the story and that‘s unwritten. 

MCMAHON:  Yeah.  Shrum‘s actually—Bob is absolutely right. 

MATTHEWS:  Shrum is absolutely right.

MCMAHON:  He has done this more often and more successfully than any other Democrat.  And he‘s absolutely right.  And I think Mike‘s right about what the big questions out there are: Does Al Gore get in?  Because Al Gore has a story, a great story.

MATTHEWS:  Would you work for him? 

MCMAHON:  I would love to work with him.  I‘d work for any nominee in the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  Have you had lunch or breakfast with him, to lure him into this thing?

You could do it!

MCMAHON:  He is going it make his own decision.  He talks to people he trusts.  And I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  But he is so bitter, I think, at the way the press treated him, the way I treated him.  Because so many people were so tough to Gore last time around, does he really want to get back into the maul? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I don‘t know if he does or he doesn‘t, but if he did want to get back into the maul, then he would be a very strong candidate, because he could organize the net roots instantly.  He would raise a ton of money.  He was against the war.  He was right on global warming.  And he was part of the most successful Democratic administration in the last 40 years.

MATTHEWS   I think Gore is the hot hand if he gets in. 

Let me ask you this, Mike, I trust your instincts.  Do you think Rudy in the end will go or fade?  Will he run for president?  Because he is a frontrunner in every poll I have seen. 

MURPHY:  Right.  I think he will run.  I‘m guessing, but I think he will run.  I think he will be huge when he gets in.  He‘ll be in front of the polls.  There will be a big Rudy boom, and people are underestimating it.  And then I think he will not get nominated. 

MATTHEWS:  Because? 

MURPHY:  On the other hand I think Gore if he runs will win the Democratic nomination.

MATTHEWS:  What will stop Rudy?

MURPHY:  What will stop Rudy is that he is ideologically too far to the left of the average Republican primary voter.  It‘s about delegates, not votes, and Rudy isn‘t a good fit in the primaries despite all his other sterling qualities.

MATTHEWS:  So all this—suburbanite, Irish-Italian ethnic guys that look up to Rudy, all those big-city people that moved to the burbs, all those Republicans guys, you don‘t think they can get him the nomination?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...all the religious people will say no to him.

MURPHY:  Well, no, the ethnics you were talking about, they‘d make him governor of Pennsylvania.  He‘d win those kind of swing votes.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right, you‘re right.  You nailed it.

MURPHY:  That‘s what I‘m talking about.

MATTHEWS:  You got me.  Mike Murphy, Steve McMahon.

Watch HARDBALL on Monday.  We‘ve got Robert De Niro, who else—we‘ve got the other guy Matt—back with more.

By the way, 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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