updated 12/21/2006 11:22:58 AM ET 2006-12-21T16:22:58

Guests: Richard Haass, Ron Christie, Joe Trippi, Jonathan Alter, Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza, Melanie Sloan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  On the same day President Bush says a bigger army would be a good idea, he tells America, to go shopping.  Is this the way to win the war?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Today President Bush stood before the press as Defense Secretary Gates stood with military commanders in Baghdad.  Both looking for a new course in Iraq.  And the president in a nod to the skeptical joint chief says there has got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished before sending more troops into a chaotic Baghdad.  It has been quite a day for the Bush administration.  And with more on the president‘s news conference today, HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us—David?

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well Chris, in the face of the tough news coming out of Iraq, President Bush today tried to take control of the storyline by underscoring his resolve and confidence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen—

SHUSTER (voice-over):  In his last scheduled news conference of the year, President Bush today played the role of cheerleader in chief.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will succeed in Iraq.  And there we will help young democracies when we find them.

SHUSTER:  Then on the U.S. economy—

BUSH:  A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country.  And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

SHUSTER:  The comment was jarring, given that Iraq is dominating all of the news and given that the developments in Iraq continue to be bad.  This week, the Pentagon said the number of attacks each day on U.S. forces is now the highest since the war began. 

And the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is now nearly equal to the total number of people killed on 9/11, an attack Iraq had nothing to do with.  Two months ago, when President Bush was asked whether the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq, he said—

BUSH:  Absolutely we‘re winning.  People now understand the stakes. 

We‘re winning and we will win.

SHUSTER:  Yesterday, however, the president told the “Washington Post,” quote, “We‘re not winning, we‘re not losing.”

BUSH:  My comments yesterday reflected fact that we‘re not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted when I said it the time, and that the conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.

SHUSTER:  The president also suggested his comments six weeks before the congressional elections was based on boosting the morale of the U.S.  military.

BUSH:  I also want our troops to understand that we support them.  That I believe that the tough mission I‘ve asked them to do is going to be accomplished and that they‘re doing good work and necessary work.

SHUSTER:  The president said today he is looking for ways to increase the size of both the army and the marine corps.  And has asked for recommendations from Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

BUSH:  We have an obligation to ensure our military is capable of sustaining this war over the long haul and performing the many tasks that we ask of them.

SHUSTER:  But enlarging the size of the military will take a few years.  In the meantime, the president is considering a variety of options in yet another attempt to ratchet down the growing sectarian violence in Baghdad.

BUSH:  I will tell you, we‘re looking at all options and one of those options of course is increasing more troops.  But in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops.

SHUSTER:  That‘s exactly what President Bush has been hearing from the joint chiefs of staff, who oppose the surge in U.S. troops in Iraq.  Their argument that the mission needs to be crystal clear now appears to be having an impact on the president.

BUSH:  I agree with them, that there has got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before I agree.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  The president was also asked today about the pregnancy of the vice president‘s openly gay daughter.  President Bush said she will make a good mother.  Although the president made no reference to Mary Cheney‘s partner.  Mr. Bush also said that he sees an opportunity early next year to work with Democrats on key issues like Social Security reform and the president promised a sprint to the finish of his presidency over the next two years. 

But this was a news conference dominated by Iraq and Chris, the president suggested today, he will have some decisions to announce early next year.

MATTHEWS:  I think there were two big news items in the president‘s presentation today in his last press conference.  One is he‘s not really sure we‘re going to send more troops into Baghdad.  He is skeptical to that to some extent. 

But this other comment you started with, with the president saying, we should go out there and shop more.  I mean, I wonder if he is in touch with the critics out there like Matt Damon, the actor who was on this program Monday, who actually mocked the president.  He ridiculed the president for saying to the people of America, don‘t share the burden of our fighting forces over there.  Go have a good time and go shopping.

SHUSTER:  Well and the timing was simply unbelievable.  In fact, let‘s play those two clips.  First Matt Damon and then President Bush back to back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR:  To me, what bothers me the most about the state we‘re in right now is I don‘t feel there is a shared consciousness and a share sense of sacrifice and we have these young men and women who are fighting a war in our name.  And our president tells us to go shopping.

BUSH:  I encourage you all to go shopping more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Again, the timing there is unbelievable.  And of course what Matt Damon is getting at is this sense of sacrifice.  The president‘s supporters will say, wait a second.  The president was talking about the economy. 

But at the same time at a news conference, Chris, and these were prepared remarks when the president made this comment about going shopping -- a news conference to try to take control of the storyline from Iraq and to have that get in there.  A lot of people I think are going to suggest that was a mistake.

MATTHEWS:  I guess in fairness to the president, I don‘t think he realizes how that sounds a bit cavalier at a time people are sacrificing.  We‘re about to lose as many soldiers over there as we did on 9/11.  It is Christmas time, the holiday season, not a good time to be saying go out and spend your money and have fun when people are dying over there.

Anyway, Matt Damon turns out to be I guess prophetic about what the president been saying.  Because it wasn‘t until today, I heard him say go shopping as some sort of national call to arms.

Anyway, by the way, we‘re going to play that program we showed on Sunday with Robert DeNiro and Matt Damon on tomorrow again.  If you want to see it—Friday, rather.  We‘ll be back here live tomorrow.  On Friday, we‘ll be showing that.  If you want to take a look, it is one of you our really exciting college tour programs done at George Mason University. 

Anyway, I want to thank David Shuster.  For more analysis on what President Bush said today, and he said a lot, let‘s go to Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Richard, thank you for joining us on this big day.  The president started off today, it seemed to me by trying to climb out of a hole.  He said the other day to the “Washington Post,” “we‘re not winning, we‘re not losing.”  Well admitting we‘re not winning was a bad one for him.  He seemed to try to finesse that today.  What did you make of that?

RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  I think you‘ve got that right, Chris.  He was trying to finesse it.  On one hand, yes, we‘re not winning.  On the other hand, no, we‘re not losing.

But then where I thought he did more than finesse it so to speak was when he made a very strong commitment that we‘re going to stay until the United States succeeds.  So whatever his analysis, what he is essentially saying though is we‘re there for the long haul and that again the bar is set very high, because by success, traditionally, he has meant things like democracy and a normal, functioning country. 

Quite honestly, most analysts think that is beyond reach.  So in no way has he prepared the American people or anyone else to the idea that at the end of the day, we may have to settle for half a loaf at most.

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s listen to the president this morning at his last press conference of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I believe that we‘re going to win.  I believe that—by the way, if I didn‘t think that, I wouldn‘t have our troops there.  And I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task.  But they can‘t run us out of the Middle East.  That they can‘t intimidate America.  They think they can.  They think it is just a matter of time before America grows weary and leaves, abandons the people of Iraq, for example.  And that‘s not going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well is that what it‘s about now?  First it was about WMD, then it was about spreading democracy.  Now it is about not being run out of the Middle East?

HAASS:  The bottom line Chris is yes.  At some point, an investment.  And by investment, I mean everything we‘ve done over the last three, four years.  At some point, the investment becomes the rationale itself.  And the argument will increasingly be, we can‘t just leave.  We can‘t do what the Hamilton/Baker group called a precipitate withdrawal because it would raise fundamental questions in the region and around the world about U.S.  reliability and U.S. staying power. 

So this is now going to become increasingly part of the debate.  It is not simply what we can achieve in Iraq, but it‘s cost we can avoid if and when we have to leave.  And that‘s a really complicated foreign policy question.  How we begin to scale down or cut our losses if indeed it does turn out that staying simply doesn‘t make a lot of sense?

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your advice?

HAASS:  My advice would be to do something the administration seem to be rejecting, which is to set up a regional conference involving such countries as Iran and Syria, to see if we can prevent a civil war from also becoming and spreading into a regional war.

I do think we have to reorient the mission of our troops away from war fighting, much more into training.  And I also think we have to start speaking to the American people to lower expectations.  I don‘t think the president does himself any favors when he uses words like success and victory.  It he would be a lot wiser to begin to prepare people for some of the limits to what we can accomplish.

MATTHEWS:  Well what do you say to critics who say there is nothing we have to talk to the Iranians about?  They want a nuclear weapon.  We don‘t want them to have one.  Why do we want to talk to them?

HAASS:  Well they may be right at the end of the day, that talks would not succeed.  But I don‘t see what we lose by trying.  I grew up in a school of thought where diplomacy is not a favor we do for others.  It is simply an instrument of foreign policy that we use.  Iran does have a stake in an Iraq that doesn‘t fail, that doesn‘t spin apart.  They have their own minority populations. They don‘t want to see attracted to somehow join up with it.  They don‘t want to see massive refugee flows. 

There‘s ways of dealing with the nuclear problem outside of Iraq when it comes to Iran, perhaps, with a separate negotiation with Iran dealing with all of our concern. 

But, again, I‘m not going to is it here saying to you or anyone else, I can guarantee that diplomacy is going to succeed.  But, quite honestly, I don‘t see what we have to lose.  I don‘t see what we lose by trying. 

And if, at the end of the day it doesn‘t succeed, then we‘ve demonstrated that we‘ve been reasonable.  It is the Iranians who aren‘t, and that should make it less difficult to gather or galvanize domestic or international support for some form of escalation. 

Again, diplomacy is useful sometimes, not simply when it succeeds but when it fails, if it demonstrates that you made a good faith effort and you have no alternative but to escalate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about military force right now.  And the question is on the table, is the president going to put 20,000 or 30,000 more troops into Baghdad?  Today he seemed to damp down that prospect by saying he wants to see a specific mission for a new complement of troop over there before he approves it. 

HAASS:  Yes, I agree with you, Chris.  If you would have asked me this question three or four days ago, I would have said for sure the administration is moving in the direction of a so-called surge of 20,000 to 30,000 troops for a couple months. 

I think when Colin Powell spoke on Sunday and then when you had the story in the “Washington Post” the other day, I think that idea has been somewhat pushed back.  If we do surge troops, it is more likely now to be for training, to accelerate getting the Iraqis up to speed than it would be for war fighting. 

Because I simply think it will be extraordinarily hard for the president or anyone else to make the argument that if we somehow send 20,000 or 30,000 troops for three or four months, that will turn around the security situation in Baghdad.  I just don‘t see that happening.  So I think the mission would have to be one linked to training or advising rather than war fighting. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Colin Powell‘s outspoken criticism of the policy? 

HAASS:  Well, what I see this is in some ways the traditional pushing back, not just from him—what you call Republican moderates, moderates or traditionalists—but also from people who wear the uniform, who are essentially saying, we have got to be really careful whenever we put American young men and women in danger.  And if we are thinking, for example, about increasing the troops, it has got to be for a mission that‘s defined. 

Remember, the Powell Doctrine always had two parts to it.  One was yes, use a lot of force; but two—and people often overlook this—only put people in situations where military force makes sense, where you can show the connection between what it is—why you send them and what it is that military force can reasonably accomplish. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, why didn‘t General Powell say that when it mattered, when he was secretary of state? 

HAASS:  Well, I think if you asked him what he would say is the president understood full well his concerns, his questions.  And at the end of the day, Chris, as you know also full well, the balance of power in this administration did not favor those who had questions. 

The balance of power, beginning with the president but including the vice president, then the national security advisor, now the secretary of state, the former secretary of defense, the balance of power, the consensus in this administration was clearly to go to war. 

People thought this was not simply going to be fairly easy but they thought this was going to transform the region.  The president was essentially told this would mainly mean upsides at very little cost. 

Those who questioned it, those who basically said this could be extraordinarily difficult and, by the way, it will get in the way of the rest of U.S. foreign policy, people who argued that, including myself, were in a clear minority. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much for joining us.  The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. 

When we come back, HARDBALLers Joe Trippi and Ron Christie, a Democrat and a Republican will be here to talk about whether the president can convince our country right now, this Christmas season, that we can actually win the war, that we can find victory in Iraq in the midst of this civil war.  Can he make that case? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, President Bush is calling for an overall increase in the size of the U.S. military, not necessarily, however, more troops going to Iraq, a war he concedes we‘re not yet winning over there, by the way.  What about the politics of expanding an unpopular war? 

For answers, we go to our HARDBALLers. 

Are you a HARDBALLer, Ron? 

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I feel like a HARDBALLer today.

MATTHEWS:  You seem like too nice a guy.

Trippi, you‘re a HARDBALLer.  Anyway, Joe is a Republican—no, Joe is a Democrat.  Ron is a Republican. 

First question I have to get to is the politics of this war, and it is political.  Can the president get away with coming out, come January, State of the Union time, and say I want 30,000 more troops to go to Iraq, into Baghdad, frontline duty to fight the civil war.  Can he sell that? 

CHRISTIE:  I think he can sell it, but he has to make the case to the American people of why it is important to expand the size of the military and to send those brave men and women over to Baghdad, and what is their specific objective?  I think one of the things that Americans have criticized the president for in the past several months, is why do we have our folks over there?  What is the purpose?  Why are we there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t they just going to be more targets, Joe?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes, I think that‘s what the American people are afraid of.  And that‘s what the military thinks.  And I think, you know, Colin Powell, a lot of people come out from—former members of the administration come out and say they think this is a bad idea. 

So I think the president trying to sell it, particularly after the American people sent such a big signal in the 2006 elections that they want real change, I don‘t think the change they wanted of that they were thinking about at the time was to send more troops there.  I think they were talking about how do we get them out.  And the president, it seems that sort of stubbornly he is still sort of slogging towards...

MATTHEWS:  Why—OK, I‘ve been a critic of the war since day one.  I think it‘s been against American interests.  Fair enough.  But look at our situation over there now. 

Is it smart to have American soldiers committed to a big city like Baghdad to have the job of basically shooting and killing Iraqis?  And should the Iraqis have to do that to themselves?  Aren‘t we just going to be hated out of that country if we have the job of shooting down Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, Chris, I‘m not a military man, but look...

MATTHEWS:  But killing people is human interest here.  You can figure this one out. 

CHRISTIE:  Look—of course I can figure it out.  Look, if people are threatening American troops or people who are...

MATTHEWS:  No, we‘re putting more troop into Iraq with the purpose of patrolling the streets and shooting at people who break the rule. 

CHRISTIE:  We‘re putting more troops—well, wait a second.  First of all, the president hasn‘t announced whether or not we‘re going to put more troops in there.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m asking you.  Is it smart to do it? 

CHRISTIE:  The point is, it is smart to go over there if we have a clear objective and they‘re going in and working with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military for a clear objective. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, so you would not throw them on the frontline. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You would not put them on the frontline duty. 

CHRISTIE:  Chris, I would not put people in harm‘s way without a specific objective, an objective that they can achieve.  If it is an objective to go in there and put our troops in harm‘s way to bring about peace and stability in Iraq, yes I would.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re hiding from my question, then I‘ll give Joe a chance.  Do you think it‘s smart to put Americans on the frontlines in an urban warfare? 

CHRISTIE:  Americans are on the frontline in the urban warfare right now. 

TRIPPI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Another 30,000. 

TRIPPI:  Look, the fact is, any time you‘ve had a country with a strong man like Hussein, like Saddam, right, Tito in Yugoslavia, they‘re holding the country together that doesn‘t really want to be together.  The Kurds, the Shiites... 

MATTHEWS:  With fear.

TRIPPI:  Right.  And they‘re holding it together with fear.  To put our troops in there and try to hold it together, we can hold it together for six months.  We can hold it together for five years.  Our troops are going to die along the way. 

And when we leave, there‘s a damn good chance there‘s going to be civil war the day we leave, whether we go today or the next day. 

CHRISTIE:  Here‘s an evil question...

TRIPPI:  It‘s a dumb idea.

MATTHEWS:  Richard Nixon kept us fighting in Vietnam from 1969 to 1973.  People argue that the deal we got in 1973, which was the return of our POWs, we could have gotten in ‘69, that we got nothing more for it except the deaths of 30-some thousand Americans.  Was that smart?  Was that good for America, to just keep a war going if you know what the end‘s going to be? 

CHRISTIE:  Look, the president is not keeping a war going knowing what the end result is going to be.  The president has stated very clearly, Chris, that we are over there to try to help stabilize the democracy in Iraq.  We have 12 million people who went to the polls who voted.  They have a constitutional democracy, the first in the Middle East.  We are trying to help the Iraqi people help themselves. 

The one thing I would say that I‘m critical of their government, they need to assume more the role of putting their troops in harm‘s way, taking more of the reins of responsibility of power in that country and allowing American forces to come home. 

MATTHEWS:  Sounds good to me.

TRIPPI:  Democracy‘s a lot more than 12 million people voting.  It‘s tyranny of the majority over the minority.  It‘s having a court system.  They have a bunch of stuff that‘s just not working over there.  And, again, we‘re trying to stave off a civil war that‘s already going on and is likely to exacerbate the day we leave now matter what. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t more to the question, gentlemen, of whether—like, we fight for our country because America is a real country.  It took us 200 and something years to become a real country out of opposition to imperialism.  That‘s how we came.  We didn‘t like the Brits running our show in our country. 

Is Iraq a country, or are the Shia a tribe, a group of people with similar religious views, and the Sunni a group of people with religious views that are more important to them than their identity as Iraqis? 

In other words, would anybody fight and die for something called Iraq and kill their own people to do it? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I had President al-Maliki has said that.  He said that we are a country and we want to be free, and we want to be democratic.

MATTHEWS:  Will a Shia kill another Shia on behalf of something called Iraq? 

CHRISTIE:  That is an excellent question.  I don‘t know. 

TRIPPI:  I don‘t think so.  I maven, I think that‘s the whole problem right now...

MATTHEWS:  Will a Sunni kill a Sunni on behalf of...

TRIPPI:  I think that‘s the whole problem.  There‘s more hatred between two entities than with... 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder whether Iraq at this point, without a tyranny running it, is a country. 

TRIPPI:  That‘s the whole—it took a tyranny to hold it together all these years.  That‘s the...

MATTHEWS:  Yugoslavia, that was a few weeks after Tito was gone.

We‘ll be right back.  We‘re getting some agreement here in the holiday season.  Joe Trippi, Ron Christie.

And later, NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski—we call him Mick—Jim Miklaszewski with the latest from the Pentagon on how they‘re reacting over there to the president saying a bigger Army, but not necessarily a bigger Army in Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with HARDBALLers Ron Christie and Joe Trippi. 

Well, Ron and Joe, big news today out of Hawaii where Barack Obama is visiting his family.  His grandmother‘s still alive, on his mother‘s side.  And he, according to his sister—she must be now the press secretary for this fellow—has put out the word that he will decide this week, not come January, whether to run for president in 2008.  That is big news. 

CHRISTIE:  I think it is big news.  And if in fact, he throws his hat in the ring, I think it puts a lot of complications for Senator Clinton. 

I just think it‘s amazing that here we are at the start of the 21st century, and you‘re talking about either a woman running for president of the United States or an African-American running for the top job.  I think we‘ve come pretty far in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think that five or six of you African-Americans that are Republicans might be pulled over to Obama if he runs?   Won‘t that be kind of a pull? 

CHRISTIE:  Nice try there, Chris.  There are more than five or six of us.

MATTHEWS:  We will stand and fight. 

CHRISTIE:  We will stand and fight...

MATTHEWS:  ... some guy like Mitt Romney.  Can you really get excited about Mitt Romney against... 

TRIPPI:  Against Barack Obama? 

CHRISTIE:  I am excited about Mitt Romney.  I think he‘s going to be a formidable candidate.  But going back to Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the guy who‘s going to come in and clean up everything...

CHRISTIE:  But I think he‘s going to.  I think Rudolph Giuliani is a celebrity.  I think he‘s not going to make it past South Carolina and some of the conservative states. 

TRIPPI:  What about Obama versus Newt? 

CHRISTIE:  Oh, no.  That...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re a grassroots guy with the Dems.  Let me ask you about Obama.  He is up around the high teens now.  If he announces, I assume he‘ll shoot to about 25.  Hillary‘s at 30-something.  Will he close on Hillary by the end of the year?  The end of next year.

TRIPPI:  Definitely.  I think there‘s no doubt about it.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  No doubt about it?  You mean, he‘ll be as strong as Hillary?

TRIPPI:  I think he‘ll get very strong.  Yes.  I think Obama—the key thing about Obama is he starts to pull African-American votes, I believe, from Hillary day one.  That actually pulls her down into range where not just Obama has a shot to go by her, but Edwards or one of the other candidates has a shot.  If you‘re one of the other guys, you want him in, but you‘ve got to be desperately afraid that he might take some white votes away from you, too and go the whole way...

MATTHEWS:  ... to stay ethic.  We‘re so good at here, of course.

Charlie Rangel, senior member, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, New York, he‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s sticking with Hillary.  He‘s sticking with Hillary.  It‘s not going to get harder and harder for African-American leaders to not to stay with Obama, once he gets in this race? 

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  No.  Look, both Hillary and Bill Clinton have done amazing things, I think, in terms of policies that affected and have affinity with the African-American community.  I don‘t know if they can hold the vote but there‘s no problem with Charlie Rangel being there for her.  I think that‘s natural  I think the problem is the one candidate—there‘s no Bobby Kennedy in this race.  I mean the one candidate that could take...

MATTHEWS:  Hey.  How would you like to be a primary challenger in the Democratic Party and have Obama on your side?  I think that would be...

CHRISTIE:  Yes, I‘d take him. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see how long you stay with the troops here. 

Anyway, thanks. 

Just kidding.

Ron Christie, he‘s a great guest.

Merry Christmas, guys. 

Merry Christmas, Joe. 

Up next, President Bush wants more military personnel around the world, but not necessarily in Iraq.  He is skeptical about that one.  He wants to know what the mission.  We‘ll have the last from the Pentagon with Mick, Jim Miklaszewski.  He knows everything over there.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Bush want a new defense secretary—the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, to figure out how to make the U.S. military bigger.  Can Gates deliver? 

For more on all that, let go to NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski over at the Pentagon. 

Mik, it seems to me there are two things going on here.  The president says it is a good idea to increase the size of the military, yet he seemed to be throwing cold water on the idea of increasing the number of troops in Baghdad. 

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS:  Well, you know, I‘ve got to tell you that officials here at the Pentagon are taking—on that second point, are taking the opposite view.  They, in fact, believe that there is momentum gaining for the possibility of a surge of some 20,000 to 30,000 American troop into Baghdad. 

One of the reason, they view this sudden turnaround by the president and his offer to expand the U.S. military, Army and Marines specifically, as a payoff to the military in exchange for a possible decision on his part to order that surge in forces. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they make the deal?  Will they offer that back?  If he says a bigger military, will they cool their jets about opposing more troops in Iraq? 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  I don‘t think so privately but, publicly, we‘re already hearing some of those generals, Schoomaker, the chief of the Army, and of course, General Conway, the new commandant of the Marine Corps. 

They‘re both saying now that they could support a surge in force if there were a measurable goal that were achievable.  Now, that may seem as a high bar, but if you put that down on paper, it will all look pretty good. 

Interestingly enough, some White House officials actually agree with the military, Generals Casey and Abizaid, that one of the strategies that would work is to improve the Iraqi security forces, let them take over the fight and gradually have the U.S. forces withdraw from the urban areas like Baghdad. 

But they‘re telling us that that would take too long.  It is time, they say, that the president doesn‘t have because the Americans are losing patience with the war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  One last point.  Do you think the American people would support an infusion of lots of young American soldier into Baghdad where they will be shot at, where they‘ll be doing a lot of killing themselves? 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  I think it would be a very tough sell politically and the U.S. military would have to be clearly on board before the public is going to buy that argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much to Miklaszewski.  Merry Christmas over there. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  OK, thank you.  You too.

MATTHEWS:  And late today, former Ambassador Joe Wilson filed court papers seeking to have his subpoena to appear as a defense witness in the upcoming trial of Scooter Libby quashed.  That‘s a turnaround. 

Let bring in “The Hotline‘s” Chuck Todd, Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza, and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter. 

I‘ll tell you—nice to see you guys and happy holidays to everybody. 

But starting with you, Chuck, the man who has been out there most for the last couple of years raising the issue, whether it‘s Scooter Libby and the rest of the people around the president and the vice president leaked the identity of his wife and ruined her career and endangered her potentially was Joe Wilson.  And now he says he doesn‘t want to be called as a defense witness in that case.  Why? 

CHUCK TODD, “THE HOTLINE”:  I think he doesn‘t want any part of the Libby thing.  I mean, he‘s saying—his attorneys are saying, well, I don‘t know Scooter Libby.  What would I know?  What could I offer that somehow would defend what he did during the sequence of events?  And it could be he is just afraid to put his version of the story under oath and he doesn‘t want to have himself knock around. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Right, I mean, any time you subject yourself to what could be unfriendly or at least neutral at best, questioning, you open up the possibility that you yourself implicate yourself in some way that you apparently hadn‘t before. 

MATTHEWS:  But trying to quash the subpoena.  It would seem to me, as a non-lawyer—I say for the millionth time, an admission you have got something you don‘t want to talk about. 

CILLIZZA:  Well, as a non-lawyer, I respond to you as well that you know, I think, sure, could there be some sort of a legal reason why this is the case?  Sure.  But I mean, look, Chuck and I have been feeling the politics of it. 

And I think the politics of it, the reality is, why testify if you don‘t feel like you need to and you feel like nothing compels you to do so.  Now, the law may eventually compel him to do so.  But until then, I‘m sure he‘s just going to sort of stand by the wayside and say I don‘t know the guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon Alter, you have the vice president saying he would be willing—I‘m not sure it is his choice, but he said publicly the other day he is willing to testify on behalf of his chief of staff.  This could be a very hot story with the question, the vice president, what he has to say under oath, what Joe Wilson is probably now going to be forced to say now that he‘s playing hard to get. 

Do you do think this trial is going to sing in term of the media?  Is it going to be big or small? 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think it‘s going to only be big when Dick Cheney testifies.  I don‘t think anybody cares very much about Joe Wilson anymore and a lot of that is water under the dam, but that Cheney testimony is going to be absolutely fascinating and it‘s going to turn over Iraq, Chris, on all these questions of prewar intelligence, of what kind of eye gouging at the line of scrimmage the administration was doing to its critics and a lot of other things that are going to be very newsworthy. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to know why the vice president played a hand in those 16 words the president spoke about, a nuclear threat from Africa when it was so clear based upon CIA testimony that there was no threat, that that came back as a dry hole when Wilson went over there. 

Let me ask you about the bigger question in politics of today.  Jon, you first.  Obama, his sister is out there talking.  Maybe she is not supposed to, but what a news story.  The sister of Barack Obama said from Hawaii today that he‘s going to be out there this week and he‘s going to decide whether to run for president this week and announce it to his family. 

ALTER:  Yes.  You know, we‘ve got a cover story this week that basically says, hey, this thing is on.  And all systems are go on both sides, on the Clinton side and on the Obama side. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, that cover that has Hillary on one side and Obama on the other? 

ALTER:  Yes, yes.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just teasing.  Of course, you‘re promoting your magazine but... 

ALTER:  You know, of course it‘s on.  I mean, this thing is happening, so all his sister is doing is confirming what we‘ve all been hearing for weeks now.  There are so many interest dimensions to this, Chris.  It really cuts deeply into the psyche of the American public and what this country is ready for.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

ALTER:  And also, it is not just the abstract question of whether we‘re ready for a African-American or a woman, but the concrete question of whether we‘re ready for the generational change that Obama represents or we want to go back to the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Alter, you write a—Jon, you are a student of anthropology—in fact, a teacher because I read your column.  And I‘m going to ask you this before you file. Are white men more likely to be in play for Obama, an African-American, of kind of interesting background, or Hillary Clinton, who they know so well?  Is the gun toter in Michigan, in Pennsylvania, the deer hunter, if you will, more likely to say you know this guy Obama, I sort of like him.  Rather than to say, you know this Hillary Clinton, I‘ve decided I was wrong about her.  I really like her.  What‘s more logical to happen? 

ALTER:  Well I think, I have to say, my feeling is Obama has the edge. 

But it is very hard to war game the general election at this point.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going there yet.  I‘m just going to the Dems, the dreamers.

ALTER:  Oh, with the Dems, I think Obama definitely has the edge.  For instance about, about half of the voters in southern primaries, Chris, and those are pivotal on super Tuesday, are African-American.  Obama has personal experience registering 100,000 voter in 1992 in Chicago, mostly African-American. 

They‘re going to have a huge voter registration drive.  And he‘s going to get a lot of white voters through what I think of—you can almost call it the politics of personal validation.  People feel better when they can say to themselves, I‘m for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t blame me.  I‘ve solved my race problem today.  I voted for Obama.  Yes, you, Chris.  By the way, you heard the funny slogan, don‘t tell mama, I‘m for Obama.  Like there‘s this underground movement toward Obama that you‘re not supposed to tell Hillary about.

CILLIZZA:  Let me throw a wrench of cynicism in the works.

MATTHEWS:  OK, smart aleck.  Are you old enough to be a cynic?  I think you‘re a young, positive, wet behind the ears guy.

CILLIZZA:  I‘m now 30, I think you get your cynics license on Thursday.

MATTHEWS:  No, it comes later.

CILLIZZA:  I think that Barack Obama at the idea at the moment in peoples minds.

MATTHEWS:  A good idea though.

CILLIZZA:  I agree.  If and when he becomes a candidate, and I think he will.  I think Jonathan‘s right.  He will have to face, answer for the positions he took in the state Senate, some of the positions he took when he ran against Bobby Rush, the congressman from Chicago, the positions he took in the Democratic primary.  He hasn‘t had an answer for any of those things.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you a position he doesn‘t have to defend too hard.  He was against this war from day one.

CILLIZZA:  And that may be the only position.

MATTHEWS:  For the Democratic Party, that‘s probably a big plus.

CILLIZZA:  That may be the only one that matters because Hillary Clinton voted for the use of force.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, are you cynic or idealistic here?

TODD:  But the thing is, this is all about Hillary Clinton in this respect because I noticed the poll number in Iowa that have John Edwards 20 points ahead of Hillary.

MATTHEWS:  Well he is ahead, because I found out if look at what affected Bayh‘s decision to quit this race, it was Edwards numbers.

TODD:  But you don‘t want to get ahead.  The last anybody ran a negative ad on John Edwards was in North Carolina in 1998.  But the reason that Obama, there is this undercurrent is, I don‘t love Hillary yet.  I don‘t want to have to nominate her.

MATTHEWS:  I saw her on “The View” today.  Let‘s talk about that.  She apparently was dynamite on the “Today” show today.  Today, I wasn‘t so thrilled.  Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza, Jon Alter, you‘re all staying with us to talk more about this.  Let‘s talk about politics.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Breaking news tonight as I said, former ambassador Joe Wilson who brought about this big flap over the CIA leak has put in court papers seeking to have him a subpoena for him to appear as the defense witness in the Scooter Libby trial.  That‘s the vice president‘s chief of staff, to get that quashed.  He does not want to testify on behalf of Scooter Libby.  He‘s by the way—he had been subpoenaed as a witness for the defense.  He wants to avoid testifying.

We‘re back with the “Hotline‘s” Chuck Todd, “WashingtonPost.com‘s” Chris Cillizza and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter.

Jon, I want to ask you about cynical war politics.  It seems to me that if that if you listen to all the experts, including Jim Miklaszewski, just a minute ago from NBC, that we face a problem in Iraq, similar to the one we faced in ‘65 in Vietnam. 

Lyndon Johnson put in combat troops because he was told by his

military men, we‘ve got to defend the airbases there.  We can‘t even fire -

have an air campaign there because our bases are going to be overrun by the people on the ground.  Now we are told that we can‘t win the war of Iraq if we lose the battle of Baghdad. 

But in the price is sending in service people from this country, door to door fighting, kicking down doors, killing Iraqis, being shot at, targets on their backs, isn‘t there the worst horror story for most Americans?

ALTER:  It really is, Chris.  You know when the president today was talking about the enemy, and we have to fight the enemy, not only is the definition of victory now at issue, so is the definition of what the enemy is.

I mean, I was just out interviewing somebody for NBC yesterday, a mother, a gold star mother.  She lost her son in Iraq.  He was shot by Iraqi forces from the Iraqi army.  He was sent there to train by the trainees.  They flagged him. 

So who is the enemy?  We don‘t know who the enemy is.  To say it is al Qaeda and not the Sunni and Shiite factions, which is what the president was trying to indicate today, is to completely misrepresent the chaos that‘s underway there.  So I had that they still don‘t have the right frame on this as a problem.  And I don‘t think based on today that he‘s thought deeply enough about what the nature of this war is.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, is it dishonest for the president to call our enemies the terrorists when 95 percent of them are the Sunni fighting the Shia and the Shia fighting the Sunni for control of their own country?

TODD:  Well, he has no choice. 

MATTHEWS:  But why does he keep calling the terrorists and the enemies, as Jon said.  That‘s the term that applies to 9/11.

TODD:  Because who else is the enemy?  If he calls—if he take sides in the Sunnis and the Shia, that would be nuts.

MATTHEWS:  Well they‘re the enemy of each other and we‘re in the way. 

How about that one?

TODD:  And that‘s—look. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not going to come here.  The Sunni and Shias are fighting over their own country.

TODD:  But that isn‘t what the president is saying.  The president is saying he does believe they will eventually come here.

MATTHEWS:  Why would the Shia, who are trying to take over their country...

TODD:  ... I‘m just saying, I‘m saying what he believes, that is the whole point we‘re in there.

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t know what he believes at this point.

CILLIZZA:  The problem too, as Chuck pointed out, if you say that the Sunni and the Shia and we‘re in the middle—well, the logical solution there is well, let‘s just get out of the middle because it‘s not doing us any good.  And he clearly is not in favor of doing that.  So it‘s sort of a hard place.  What does he say?  I mean, we‘ve sort of seen him—he said, we‘re not winning.

MATTHEWS:  We can‘t get out for one reason.  If we get out, the Shia will take scalps, basically.  They‘re kill everybody, the al-Sadr types, the militia people will go in and kill every Sunni that‘s still around and causes any trouble. 

On the other hand, the Sunnis seeing them coming will fight to the last minute.  Wouldn‘t we?  If you knew you were going to be absolutely dominated by the other side that hates your guts?

There‘s a lot of logic to this war.  We keep acting like they‘re crazy over there and we‘re smart.  And we‘re going over to Iraq to show them how smart we are. Maybe the Sunni fighting for their lives.  And maybe the Shia are fighting a revenge war that they have a thousand year justification for.  And maybe these people have thought it through and they know what they‘re doing.  And we‘re the ones that haven‘t thought it through. 

Why do we keep assuming we have a higher IQ than everybody else in the world? 

TODD:  And not only that, it‘s—look, history shows that democracies are ugly when they‘re made.  And sometimes you need a civil war to decide who‘s in charge. 

MATTHEWS:  We did. 

TODD:  That‘s right.  I don‘t mean to—you know, you have to have a civil war to decide who‘s in charge. 

MATTHEWS:  John Alter, is this the issue?  Are we going too far in condemning the president‘s rhetoric? 

ALTER:  No.  I think this is the issue.  The point is there is no light at the end of the tunnel, to use the Vietnam analogy.  And I think we do have to, as Lincoln said, think and act anew.  That‘s what the country was trying to say in the mid-term elections.  That‘s what the Baker-Hamilton report was about, to really think in a new way about this. 

And even though I thought his rhetoric was fairly well measured today, you didn‘t get the sense that he was approaching this in a more subtle and sophisticated way that would involve diplomatic initiatives, that would involve, maybe, a big international conference, that would just involve reframing the whole subject. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you know, you can the old phrase in politics, is—and Jon, you know this well - is when you‘re in a hole, stop digging. 

ALTER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Unfortunately, he is in the hole.  And no one knows how to climb out of it. 

We‘ll be right back with another segment—it‘s going to be great—with Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek”.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Again, former Ambassador Joe Wilson is seeking to avoid testifying as a defense witness in the upcoming trial of former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby. 

We‘re joined now by phone by Melanie Sloan, attorney for Ambassador Wilson. 

Melanie, tell me why Joe Wilson and you do not wish him to testify in the Scooter Libby perjury trail. 

MELANIE SLOAN, ATTORNEY FOR JOE WILSON:  Well, for several reasons.  Mr. Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements.  Mr. Wilson has no information whether or not Mr. Libby lied to the grand jury or lied to FBI agents.  Neither does he have any information concerning Mr. Libby‘s defense, which seems to be that Mr.  Libby doesn‘t remember exactly what he said to reporters because he was so busy on matters of national security. 

Mr. Wilson has never met Mr. Libby and doesn‘t know anything about Mr.  Libby‘s work habits or what he was working on in the White House.  And the law requires defense witnesses—the defendants may call any witnesses, as long as they have relevant and material testimony.  And we believe Mr.  Wilson doesn‘t have relevant or material testimony. 

Plus, we believe he‘s being called simply to harass him because there is a pending civil case. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—what do you mean, a pending civil case?  Has he sued Scooter Libby? 

SLOAN:  Yes, Mr. Wilson has sued Scooter Libby.

MATTHEWS:  And has he gotten standing in a court yet, or not? 

SLOAN:  Yes.  We‘re right now in front of District Court of the District of Columbia and motions to dismiss have been filed.  It‘s a case against Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So it‘s still a question of whether you‘re going to get standing or not. 

SLOAN:  No, there‘s definitely standing.  It‘s just a question of whether or not—whether the case may get dismissed on certain legal grounds. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let me suggest a question.  A D.C. jury sitting in this case of Scooter Libby, if they were to learn that Joe Wilson had somehow put out the word that his wife was an undercover agent before Scooter Libby said anything to anyone, wouldn‘t that mitigate against his guilt? 

SLOAN:  No, because the issue isn‘t anymore what Mr. Libby may have said regarding Ms. Wilson.  It‘s that he lied in court, that he lied to the grand jury, that he lied to the FBI.  And that‘s what Mr. Libby‘s being charge with. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think a jury would still find him guilty if it was clear that he was not the first to leak? 

SLOAN:  I think a jury could easily still find him guilty without being the first to leak because that‘s not what he‘s been charged with.  He‘s not charge with leaking.  He‘s charged with making false statements. 

MATTHEWS:  What harm—you‘re a defense attorney, right?  You‘re defending Joe...

SLOAN:  I used to be a prosecutor, in fact. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But what harm could come to Joe Wilson if he were called to testify?  What‘s the harm here that could be done to your client? 

SLOAN:  Well, we also don‘t believe that Mr. Libby should have the opportunity to basically get the testimony of Joe Wilson in advance of the discovery stage of Mr. Wilson‘s civil case against Mr. Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?

SLOAN:  We‘re concerned that they might be trying to use this opportunity to get information that they couldn‘t otherwise get for use in their civil case, in the defense of the civil case. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, he might be grilled in preparation for this trial as a witness on whether—what he knows about Scooter Libby‘s behavior? 

SLOAN:  He might be grilled as to things that the defense thinks it might be able to use in the civil case that‘s going to be way down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Joe Wilson was harmed by Scooter Libby? 

SLOAN:  I absolutely believe that Joe Wilson was harmed by Scooter Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  How so? 

SLOAN:  I believe that Mr. Libby was engaged in a protracted effort in order to punish Mr. Wilson for having published an article, an op ed in the “New York Times” and Mr. Libby did this by publicizing information about Mr. Wilson‘s wife, namely that she was a CIA operative. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Mr. Libby operated in concert with the vice president in this regard? 

SLOAN:  Yes, we do believe that. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have evidence? 

SLOAN:  We‘ll be developing that evidence through discovery in the civil case down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  Why aren‘t you suing Cheney?  Why are you suing the number two guy? 

SLOAN:  We sued Cheney.  We sued Libby.  We sued Karl Rove.  And we sued Richard Armitage, all. 

MATTHEWS:  Really.  And you believe that Dick Cheney went out to hurt your client?

SLOAN:  Yes, we do. 

MATTHEWS:  How so? 

SLOAN:  We believe that Mr. Cheney was involved in a conspiracy with Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove in order to punish Joe Wilson for having written the op ed in the “New York Times” and then spoke publicly about what he learned about the yellow cake uranium in Niger, basically that Niger never sold yellow cake uranium to Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Scooter Libby and the vice president covered up the fact that there was no deal with Niger and allowed the president to continue to argue there was a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein? 

SLOAN:  It does appear that way, but we don‘t know yet the truth of that matter.  What we do know is that Mr. Libby and Mr.—and Vice President Cheney were involved in an effort to punish Joe and Valerie Wilson. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, best of luck out there.  Melanie Sloan, an attorney for Joe Wilson. 

And Chuck Todd, thank you. 

Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek”, thank you, sir. 

Play HARDBALL with us again and Thursday.  We‘ll have the latest on the fight over Iraq and more politics. 

Right now, it is 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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