updated 1/3/2007 12:16:54 PM ET 2007-01-03T17:16:54

Guests: Judd Legum, Mort Zuckerman

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: Saddam‘s execution dissolves into amateur hour as Shi‘ite thugs make the dead dictator look like a martyred statesman.  Is it another embarrassment for Americans in Iraq?  That straight ahead.

But first, NBC has learned that President Bush will soon unleash a, quote, “surge and accelerate” strategy.  He‘s going to send at least another 20,000 additional troops into Iraq.  And the BBC is reporting the plan will focus on security, not the training of Iraqi forces, and will have the central theme of sacrifice.

That surprising news was leaked the day after the 3,000th American died in Iraq in a war that fewer and fewer Americans are believing in, and in a war that includes fewer and fewer of our brave men and women in uniform supporting the war, according to a new poll by “The Military Times.”  Now, with the president‘s approval rating dropping among Americans and our troops on the ground, what exactly is the logic behind escalating a war that most troops now believe we will not win?

To give us insight on this and other important issues, Craig Crawford, a columnist for “Congressional Quarterly” and also an MSNBC political analyst, Judd Legum—he‘s research director for The Center for American Progress—and Mort Zuckerman—he‘s editor-in-chief of “U.S. News & World Report.”

Craig, take a look at these numbers, if you will, from the military.  This is from “The Military Times.”  Right now, only 35 percent of troops believe that the president‘s doing a good job with his strategy in Iraq, 42 percent of the troops disapprove.  Obviously, that‘s very bad news.  And also, of course, we have another poll up here that says that the United States is not very likely to succeed in Iraq.  Only 13 percent believe that we are very likely to succeed.  And what a great change from the poll in 2005, when 31 percent believed we were likely to succeed.

Craig, what kind of impact does it have when you have the men and women on the ground in Iraq believing that this war cannot be won and believing that the commander-in-chief is not leading them in the right direction?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

It is tough to look away from a poll that looks at the folks who have the skin in the game.  You know, one of the interesting things about war-making in modern America is most Americans don‘t have any skin in the game.  They don‘t have family members in the military and in harm‘s way.  That‘s one consequence of the volunteer army.  It actually makes it a little easier for politicians to do this.

But when you see numbers like that, you see what the Americans who have family members or themselves are in harm‘s way are beginning to think about this war.  You know, the president once said he‘d support this war even if it came down to just Laura and his dog, Barney.  I‘m beginning to wonder about Barney.  Bob Woodward might need to do an expose interview of him.

SCARBOROUGH:  See where Barney‘s on this.  Well, Mort Zuckerman, you know, a lot times, politicians will say, I don‘t look at polls.  But when you start talking about polls that are taken of the troops that are actually on the ground over there, and we have a president who said all along he‘s going to be listening to what his military men and women are telling him in Iraq, suddenly, it becomes deadly serious when only 13 percent believe it‘s very likely we‘re going to win that war.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Well, there‘s no doubt that this is just one part of the overall political problem that the president faces in terms of the loss of public support for the war.  On the other hand, I also don‘t believe that wars are going to be—of this nature are going to be decided by the president exclusively on the basis of polls.  He‘s got two years to go in his term.  He‘s not running again.  He really believes that this is an essential mission of the United States, that if going into the war was a war of choice, staying in the war is a war of necessity.

And I think, on that basis, I don‘t think that this is going to affect the president‘s basic decisions on what he‘s going to do in the war.  It may affect the Congress, but I don‘t think it‘s going to affect the president‘s basic decision-making, either his conclusions or his process.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, you talk about the Congress.  Judd Legum, Robert Novak‘s now reporting that the president is being abandoned by his own party on the Hill.  And let me show you what he wrote.  Quote, “I checked with prominent Republicans around the country and found them confused and disturbed about the surge.”  And Novak went on to say, “He will have trouble finding support from more than 12 out of 49 Republican senators.

Judd, Nixon didn‘t even have it that badly during Watergate.  Is the president going to face a major rebellion in his own party with this surge talk?

JUDD LEGUM, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, I think there‘s a good reason why you see what Novak reported, and that‘s because the military generals, Abizaid and others, went to Congress, and it was just a couple of weeks ago, and said, Look, we‘ve talked to everyone and no one supports this surge, none of the military generals.  So Mort mentions that while the president isn‘t going to listen to the polls, well, in this case, he‘s also not listening to the military leaders and the generals on the ground who are telling him this isn‘t going to solve the problem.

SCARBOROUGH:  Mort, isn‘t that a problem?  I mean, you‘ve got, again, the generals on the ground saying the surge isn‘t going to work.  You‘ve got troops that are opposing the president‘s strategy.  You‘ve got the GOP Senate, 12 out of 49?  Again, that—those are Nixonian numbers.  The president stands alone here, doesn‘t he?

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, he stands virtually alone.  I‘m not sure the issue of the “surge,” quote, unquote, is being framed properly.  What is -- 85 percent of the violence takes place within a 35-mile radius of Baghdad.  That‘s the critical part of the country.  If we don‘t get security into Baghdad, this war will be lost.  I don‘t think that there‘s a belief here that you can defeat the insurgents.  What you can do is contain the violence to a degree where it may be possible to organize the country politically.  And I think that‘s all that they are speaking of.

Some of the generals may be opposed to this, but some of them clearly are in favor of it.  Senator McCain has long believed that we didn‘t have enough troops.  Shinseki was in that group, as well.  So I think what we‘re trying to do is to just contain the violence in the capital city of Baghdad.  And if we don‘t do that, we do lose everything.  And I think everybody knows that, politically, it is necessary to contain the violence, and this may be the only way that we know that it can be done, and we can‘t even be sure of that.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Craig...

(CROSSTALK)

LEGUM:  Well, I think, you know, this is like deja vu.  We heard the same thing in August.  We said, Well, we‘ve got to secure Baghdad.  We sent 9,000 more troops into the city, and the violence got worse.  So what we‘re doing is we‘re having a repeat of the same arguments that were advanced six months ago and proven incorrect.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, “the way forward” is looking a lot like “stay the course,” I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Craig, I was going to ask you, I mean, what does the president do when you‘ve got the generals against you, when you‘ve got the troops on the ground against you?  Of course, Mort‘s talking about the fact that if we don‘t do this, then all is lost.  But it seems to me that at this point in the war, almost four years into it, the president‘s already got generals and troops on the ground and most Americans who believe that this war already is over, that we have lost and it‘s time to bring our troops home.

CRAWFORD:  Well, if he throws the gauntlet down in this way next week, talking about a surge in troops, then the ball‘s in the Democrats‘ court, Joe.  They are going to take over Congress here in a few days, and they‘re going to have to respond.  And also, I think a lot of Republicans who are senators and congressmen first and then members of their party second might actually come along with Democrats, if they can find a vehicle for getting a handle on this president and his warm-making powers.  Congress for a long time has ceded too much authority to the executive branch in war-making, and we‘re now seeing the result of it.

SCARBOROUGH:  So do you think, Craig, that Democrats may consider de-funding the war or parts of the war in Iraq?

CRAWFORD:  There are plenty of legal tools available to them.  They authorized this war, they could de-authorize it, they could de-fund it.  The question is, Do they have the political will to take on the president, who obviously is not going to back down, if these reports are true about him calling for a surge next week?  He is throwing a chit at the Congress there in a grand stakes poker game that the Democrats are going to have to respond.  They can‘t just hide behind their coronation and taking over power.  They‘re going to have to do something with it, and maybe pretty soon.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I‘ve got to say, I do not think the Democrats are going to have the political will to stand up to the president and so anything dramatic to stop this, but we‘ll see if they prove me wrong a week from now.

Mort, “The New York Times” wrote a 3,000-word front-page screamer this morning, where they said, Senior officials say the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department had failed to take seriously warnings, including some from its own ambassador in Baghdad, that sectarian violence could rip the country apart.  And of course, that reminds me, Mort, of reading in Woodward‘s book about the president being told at the end of 2003 there was a growing insurgency, and ordered that nobody use the word insurgency.

Now, I talk to Republicans, I talk to conservatives who, like me, supported this war from the very beginning, but right now, they don‘t want to invest more political capital in this war because they believe that their man, George Bush, has so badly mishandled the war that they just don‘t see it getting better until he leaves office.  Are you hearing some of those similar complaints?

ZUCKERMAN:  Absolutely.  And they‘re not just complaints.  There‘s a great deal of validity to the charge that this war has been run ineffectively, I mean, beginning, after all, with Jerry Bremer literally unraveling the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and the Ba‘ath Party against the advice of the chief of station of the CIA there.  This was an absolutely disastrous mistake that we made.  And you could—the list of mistakes, we could go on forever.  We wouldn‘t have enough time in this program to cover it.

Nevertheless, we are where we are.  This country cannot afford to abandon Iraq the way we did, frankly, in 1991.  We‘d undermine all the Arab moderate countries.  We would give a great deal of support for the extremists.  We have to find a way to contain the violence.  The sectarian violence was built into the picture, and we contributed to it in the way we mismanaged the war, but that doesn‘t mean we can just walk away just because of political difficulties at home.  It will have tremendous consequences for the United States all around the world, but particularly in the region that is dominated, after all, by the oil-producing countries.  We would lose the support of many of those countries if we just walked.

CRAWFORD:  Joe, that‘s a good—that‘s a good logical argument, and I can follow it, but I don‘t think it‘s enough to make a case to a mother in Alabama to sacrifice her son in the next phase in Iraq.  Just because the politicians can‘t figure out a way out, we‘re stuck there.  I mean, that is not a much of a call to arms for the American armed forces to get over there and risk their lives.

SCARBOROUGH:  Judd Legum, I‘ve got to ask you, though, I mean, when Democrats take control of Congress in less than 48 hours—they have not stated what they want to do in Iraq—what do they do?  How do they respond to Mort‘s argument that if we get out of Iraq, more chaos will spread, not only across Iraq but into Saudi Arabia, into Syria, possibly into Lebanon, all across the Middle East, causing a regional war?

LEGUM:  Well, I think...

ZUCKERMAN:  It‘ll expand the influence of Iran, too.

LEGUM:  I think many...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead, Judd.

LEGUM:  I think many Democrats have indicated that—where they stand, and they stand on beginning the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.  And I think what you have to recognize here is...

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, but what do they do when George Bush talks about sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq?  Do they not provide the president the funds to do that?  What do they do to stop that?

LEGUM:  I mean, I think there‘s a middle ground here between completely de-funding the war and giving the president a blank check to send 20,000 more troops into the crossfire of what really is a civil war in Iraq.  For instance, you can say, Well, we‘ll fund the 150,000 that are there, but until we see a plan and hear exactly what you‘re going to do with the 20,000 more troops, we‘re not going to fund that.  So I think that‘s something that people will certainly look at.  And I think the real question is, when you have a situation where there‘s a Shi‘ite shooting against a Sunni and a Sunni shooting back at a Shi‘ite, what does a United States troop do in that situation?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and you know, Judd, that‘s the biggest problem.  Again, as a guy that supported this war from the very beginning, what you do to stop Sunni insurgents from going into a police training camp and detonating a bomb, killing themselves and 100 Shi‘ites?  And what do you do to stop Shi‘ite death squads sweeping through Sunni neighborhoods in the middle of the night in Baghdad and killing families, as they‘ve been doing for too long?

Craig, thanks a lot.  Judd, greatly appreciate you being here also.  Mort, stay with us, because coming up next: President Ford wins over the Democrats in death.  We‘re going to take a look at why the opposing party is quick to praise the dead and go after the living.  Plus, the killing of a brutal dictator turns in to a public relations nightmare for the Bush administration.  Why American troops may end up paying the price for Saddam‘s sloppy execution.  And later, the Crimson Tide‘s $40-million-man.  A different kind of football record is in the works at my alma mater.  But what‘s going on in Alabama and who‘s worth $40 million—other than me?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re looking at live pictures out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Americans continue to pay their final respects to Gerald Ford at his presidential library tonight.  Now, earlier today, the 38th president managed to once again pull off what he‘s best known for, bringing Democrats and Republicans together, as politicians from both sides of the aisle said good-bye to the man historians have called the accidental president.  In a minute, we‘re going to talk about how it‘s no accident that Democrats are taking the opportunity to look back fondly at Gerald Ford.

But first, here‘s how four people tapped by the Ford family to speak at his funeral remember the 38th president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  History has a way of meshing man and moment.  And just as President Lincoln‘s stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the union together during the Civil War, so too can we say that Jerry Ford‘s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Early in his administration, Gerald Ford said to me, I get mad as hell, but I don‘t show it, when I don‘t do as well as I should.  If you don‘t strive for the best, you will never make it.  Jerry Ford always did his best.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  In many ways, I believe football was a metaphor for his life in politics and after.  He played in the middle of the line.  He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise, but he had his hands on the ball for every play and no play could start without him.  And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn‘t whine or whimper.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility, and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids.  President Ford‘s time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, it wasn‘t just Republicans honoring Gerald Ford today.  Democrats came out to the National Cathedral to mourn the loss, also.  Of course, in 1974, when Ford pardoned Nixon, it was a different story.  Back then, only a third of Americans approved of that decision, and Democratic Senator Kennedy was appalled, calling it, quote, “a betrayal of trust.”  Well, yesterday, Senator Kennedy stood next to Ford‘s casket to pay him respects after calling him, quote, “an uncommonly good and decent man.”  And that, certainly, he was.

But why do Democrats seem to love Republicans only when they‘re gone?  Mort Zuckerman‘s still with us.  Mort, you know, I‘m reminded of Republicans that always were mocked by Democrats because you‘d always have Republicans running for president talking about FDR or talking about JFK.  And Democrats would laugh and say, Why do you guys only love us when we‘re dead?  Well, now, if you remember the Reagan funeral and the Ford funeral, it seems that there were a lot of people that were bashing these guys 20, 30 years ago who now seem to love him.  Why is that?

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, there‘s an old saying that eulogies are not delivered under oath.

(LAUGHTER)

ZUCKERMAN:  People really do—people really do, when people die, and particularly public figures, they really speak of the best of what they did.  And I think that‘s what we saw, and you saw it from both sides of the aisle.  The fact is, though, that Jerry Ford was an uncommonly decent man and a man who followed a very, very, very, very difficult and divisive president in Richard Nixon and an impeachment process that really was tearing the country apart and diminishing the respect for the government of this country.  And Jerry Ford, in his own way, really was able to rebuild some of that.  He wasn‘t the strongest president we ever had, but he did a very, very good job, a very decent job, appointed good people and really did restore the general respect of the country for the government, the federal government.  And for that, he deserves praise from both sides of the aisle.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and he certainly does.  But he did, though, Mort -

I mean, the guy just got absolutely pounded back when he was president of the United States.  And some of the same people that I‘m hearing talking, you know, that wrote for “The Washington Post” or “The New York Times” that are saying nice things about him now were just tearing this guy apart every day.  Nobody was talking about what a great guy he was or the civility that he showed the other side.  It just seemed that, you know, they were whacking him until he was gone.

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, his poll numbers were actually pretty good until he pardoned Richard Nixon.  I mean, that was really the turning point.  I think he must have dropped over 20 points on that single incident, and it probably did cost him the election when he ran subsequently.  But in fact, he believed that this was necessary to get this whole issue off of the front pages of the country and to get the country back to focusing on the business of government.  And he did it.  He believed in what he was doing.  And over time, I think more and more people have come to believe that that was a wise and a correct decision.  So in the sense historically, he looks a lot better than he looked at that time, even to “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s listen to what Tim Russert said about seeing Ted Kennedy at Ford‘s funeral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Teddy Kennedy was there, the foremost critic of the pardon.  He said, This is a continuation of the Watergate cover-up, and then 25 years later, he said, You know, I was wrong.  President Ford was right.  And to see Teddy Kennedy kneeling at that coffin was such symbolism of the unity of the country regarding Jerry Ford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, the Kennedys also awarded him a Profile in Courage award, which really—probably, that was the beginning of this big turnaround, wasn‘t it.

ZUCKERMAN:  Yes, and rightly so.  I mean, look, you know, he really took a decision that was against popular opinion in a wide—by a wide margin because he believed it was right for the country.  And for that he deserves praise and respect.  It doesn‘t always appear wise at the time that the decision is made, but in retrospect, it certainly was a wise decision, and I think he rightfully earned the respect and the praise of both sides of the aisle.

SCARBOROUGH:  And it may have cost him the presidency, but he certainly is beloved now by people on both sides and will be beloved in the history books.  Thanks a lot, Mort.  Greatly appreciate you being with us tonight.

And still ahead: Iraq launches an investigation into Saddam‘s hanging as Iraqis grow increasingly angry over how the execution went down.  We‘ll take a look at why even the death of a brutal dictator is turning into bad news for this country.  But first, what President Bush will miss the most about the holidays.  “Must See S.C.” coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” some video you just got to see.  First up: Now that the holiday season‘s over, a lot of people are turning to television for their shopping needs.  Craig Ferguson shows us why some products on QVC sell better than others.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I got to tell you something.  I have this ladder, and it‘s awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, now...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Everybody wants this ladder.  I live in an apartment with vaulted ceilings—OK, we‘re going to make sure that Chris is OK.  (INAUDIBLE) it‘s a very slippery floor up there in front of our door sometimes, so we‘re going to make sure (INAUDIBLE) He‘s moving.  He is OK (INAUDIBLE)

CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, “LATE LATE SHOW”:  Now, let me just tell you something you may not know.  He‘s moving, he‘s OK, is not necessarily medically accurate.  He may just be twitching.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, Jay Leno gives us a peek into Bush‘s brain and shows us why the president misses the Christmas season more than anybody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Wonka‘s one lucky dude.  He gets to eat chocolate and sing all day.  I wonder what it‘s like to have an important job like running a chocolate factory?  I‘d eat about a gazillion pounds of chocolate.  I‘d get all sick and stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, that is (INAUDIBLE)!

Coming up—oh, OK, hold on.  Got to do a segue here.  Is the Saddam hanging bad news for America and this administration?  Some are saying the brutal dictator has a new role—martyr.  And will U.S. troops be paying the price?  And later, a bad night for Britney.  The pop tart rings in the new year asleep.  Was she really just tired or did the pop tart pass out?  We have the latest on that later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, Britney Spears collapses in a club on New Year‘s.  Her publicist says she just stayed up past her bedtime.  But, come on, we in “Hollyweird” know better.  Can the train wreck pop tart turn her image around in the new year?  We‘ll see that story and a lot more, straight ahead.

But first, a P.R. nightmare over Saddam‘s execution.  Today, the Iraqi government announced that it‘s going to be investigating who leaked this cell phone video of Saddam Hussein‘s execution. 

Officials also want to know which witnesses taunted the former Iraqi leader in his final minutes of life.  Saddam‘s hanging has become an embarrassment for the Iraqi government, the United States government, and President Bush, with one prominent Iraqi blogger saying, quote, “America, the savior.  After nearly four years and Bush‘s biggest achievement in Iraq has been a lynching.  Bravo, Americans.”

And it wasn‘t really a well-performed lynching.  But NBC‘s Richard Engel shows us how that leaked video of Saddam Hussein‘s final moments is creating big problems for this White House. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For Iraqis, Saddam‘s final minutes have not brought closure, but opened old wounds.  Like shock and awe, the toppling of Saddam‘s statue, and Abu Ghraib, Saddam on the gallows has quickly become one of the iconic images of this war. 

But the execution, captured on cell phone video and leaked to the press, has been a P.R. disaster for the U.S. and Iraqi administrations.  On the video, witnesses and guards insult Saddam. 

“Go to Hell,” they say.  More provocatively, a guard calls out the name of Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.  The guard apparently wants Saddam to know his hanging is Shiite revenge. 

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, AL-QUDS NEWSPAPER EDITOR:  That political slogans which was raised by the witnesses of this executions was indications that it was a shamble. 

ENGEL:  What happened?  U.S. officials were pushing to delay the execution until after a Muslim holiday this week, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, rushed it through. 

Many Sunnis were outraged.  Saddam‘s supporters protested in Iraq, Jordan, and the West Bank.  They say Saddam died with dignity, while his executioners looked like a lynch mob. 

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks so much to Richard. 

Now, to make matters worse for the United States, the gallows used to hang Saddam were located on an American military base in Baghdad.  So many in the region are now blaming America for letting it happen. 

With us now to talk about it, Michael Crowley.  He‘s the senior editor for “The New Republic.”  Michael, I supported this war, as I say every night.  I think Saddam Hussein was the biggest thug in Middle East history.  He‘s killed more Arabs than anybody else that‘s ever lived, and yet Saddam Hussein looked like a statesman on the morning of his hanging because of all the thugs around him. 

How did we allow this to happen? 

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Well, Joe, you know, I think the fact is that the only thing worse than what did happen would have been for American executioners to kill Saddam.  That would have been very bad.

So I think the feeling was, you have to let the Iraqi government do it.  Unfortunately, this was sort of representative of what we have—the kind of government we have created in Iraq. 

It‘s thuggish.  There‘s no rule of law.  It‘s sectarian.  It‘s Shiites who are feeling bloodlust after years of being trampled by Saddam‘s Sunni regime.  And it‘s really an ugly, hateful, violent, frightening thing to watch.  And we saw it all in this one Web shot.

SCARBOROUGH:  We have no more control, though, Michael, over what‘s going in Iraq than to allow some of Muqtada al-Sadr‘s thugs to act as guards in the execution of Saddam Hussein?  That is inexplicable to me. 

CROWLEY:  Joe, it‘s totally inexplicable, I mean, except that it happens to be true.  It happens to be the explanation for everything that‘s happening in Iraq now.  We‘ve created—it‘s a Frankenstein monster.  We‘ve created this beast, which now is revolting for us to watch.

And, you know, it‘s kind of a metaphor for our whole expedition there.  The one thing that most people could agree on, the one good that came out of going there, was that this guy was deposed.  I think most people felt that the world was a better-off place with him dead. 

But his execution turns out to be this terrible thing that turns our stomachs and probably reinforces everyone‘s feelings that this is just a big catastrophe and, incidentally, only makes things worse over there, only inflames sectarian hatred and division. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, there‘s no doubt about it.  And if I‘m watching it, and when I watch it, if I—I gasped, not at the hanging, but actually by the bedlam that was going on in there, I was stunned.  It really did look like, you know, we were overseeing a third-world lynching.  It was just terrible. 

And, of course, Saddam‘s hanging has created a new round of criticism for President Bush.  The latest issue of “Newsweek” says this, quote:  “The saga of Saddam‘s end, his capture, trial and execution, is a sad metaphor for America‘s occupation in Iraq.  What might have gone right went so wrong, it‘s now seen by Iraq‘s Sunnis and much of the Arab world as a farce, reflecting only the victor‘s vengeance.”

And you know what?  Unfortunately, Michael, I‘ve got to agree.  I mean, I don‘t see how this does anything but inflame Sunnis, whether they‘re in Saudi Arabia or whether they‘re in Syria or whether they‘re in Lebanon.  This is a nightmare for us, right? 

CROWLEY:  No, absolutely.  And, you know, I think, again, it shows that we just don‘t really have that much control over the government there, and they don‘t really seem to care that much about what we do.  Evidently, I saw that they wanted—Khalilzad wanted more control over the process, and they just couldn‘t even confiscate cell phones at the door.  It was a fiasco. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Unbelievable.  Yes, how you let a cell phone into that execution in such a small area is beyond me.  Hey, Michael Crowley, thank you so much.  Greatly appreciate it. 

CROWLEY:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, if more Americans missed the Saddam execution, and they did, it may have been because of the timing.  New Year‘s brings Dick Clark, late-night parties, and college football. 

Late last night, Boise State shocked the football world by beating powerhouse Oklahoma with the old statue of liberty play.  Look at that.  There he goes.  The play sealed the deal in overtime against Oklahoma and its head coach, Bob Stoops, who‘s currently the highest paid coach in college football. 

But that, my friends, could all change if the University of Alabama gets its way.  Now, they‘ve reportedly offered Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban a whopping $40 million to take the reins of the Crimson Tide football program.  It‘s an astronomical figure for a public school to be shelling out. 

But here now to talk about it, Paul Finebaum.  He‘s a sports talk radio host down in Birmingham and writes a column.  Paul, give us the breathless details of this offer.  Could Nick Saban become the $40 million man tomorrow? 

PAUL FINEBAUM, SPORTS TALK SHOW HOST:  Joe, I think he very well will.  And tonight, in Miami, he is thinking about it.  I don‘t know what‘s there to think about, $40 million.  That‘s a lot of money.  It‘s $25 million more than he‘s making right now.

And I‘ll tell you something.  He‘s going to tell Wayne Huizenga tomorrow morning, the owner, that he‘s probably coming to Alabama.  And you know who he has to thank for it?  Joe Scarborough.  You wrote an op-ed piece here, and you were on our show, and you said Alabama needs to get serious.  And I think they listened to you, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I appreciate that, Paul.  Well, you know, the thing is, Alabama has such a storied program.  Of course, and Alabama—some say a pervert, somebody that likes sex more than football.  But isn‘t it true, with Alabama‘s storied program, that Saban‘s return to college football could mean national championships for the Crimson Tide, which will actually pay off this massive investment?  Talk about how big of a business football is, not only to Alabama, but USC, Notre Dame, those type of colleges. 

FINEBAUM:  Well, it‘s a way of life.  And you can certainly raise money very easily with a successful season.  You can raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and that‘s why the money is worth it. 

A bad coach, people don‘t want to go to the game.  They don‘t want to spend $100,000 on the luxury boxes.  With a successful coach like at USC, Ohio State, and hopefully down here at Alabama and Auburn, and schools like that, you can really turn it on.  And that‘s why Alabama is swinging for the fences.

And I think that‘s why they‘re going to name Saban tomorrow and pay him $40 million bucks.  Yes, that‘s a lot of money, but not if he wins. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course, you know, Bear Bryant used to say—and this is obviously, Paul, going to make a lot of people angry, and probably make me angry if it happened to the college, other than my alma mater, but I think it‘s a grand idea now.  But Bear Bryant had that saying, “It‘s kind of hard to rally a school around a math class.” 

And maybe that‘s why they‘re willing to shell out this type of money. 

Does this money actually come from taxpayers or...

FINEBAUM:  No. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... do you have—or is it a lot of rich guys in Alabama and around the country that love the team, that will shell the money out?

FINEBAUM:  A lot of rich guys who are paying those luxury boxes and who are buying tickets, and there‘s also some television money that comes into play.  But, no, this is not taxpayer money.  And anyone who says that is a fool. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, Paul, thank you so much for being with us.  We will hold our breath.  Let‘s hope it happens.  And hopefully, I‘ll see you next season with Coach Saban on the sidelines, and I‘ll go to one of those rich guy‘s boxes and eat a hotdog and mooch off of them.

FINEBAUM:  They‘ll rename the stadium after you, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  God bless you.  I‘ll take the credit.  Thanks a lot, Paul.  Greatly appreciate you being here with us.

FINEBAUM:  My pleasure.

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, banning Brangelina and toppling TomKat, E!‘s Chelsea Handler joins us with “Hollyweird‘s” latest name game.

But first, Britney Spears rings in the new year passed out at a night club.  Why wasn‘t I at that night club?  Was she sleeping or partying too hard?  And can the pop tart turn her life around in 2007?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  New year, same old Britney.  The pop tart said good bye to both husband, Kevin Federline, and her underwear, but not to her hard-partying ways.  The “New York Post” reporting that Spears passed out while partying in Las Vegas New Year‘s Eve.  Britney‘s people deny she drank too much.  Her manager claimed she was just tired and taking a nap.  Here she is just moments before allegedly zonking out. 

So, can Britney turn it around this year?  Or will she continue to be a train wreck in 2007?  Here now to talk about it, “OK” magazine senior reporter Courtney Hazlett and “Star” magazine‘s deputy New York bureau chief David Caplan. 

David, what happened? 

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  Britney basically drank too much.  At about 1:00 in the morning, Pure night club in Las Vegas had its security guards escort Britney out because she passed out.  But what do you expect?  This girl began her evening drinking Dom Perignon, glass after glass after glass, then switched, I hear, to Gray Goose vodka mixed with soda. 

So she was on a mission, and that was to have a good time.  Unfortunately, she drank too much.  And the funny thing here is, to give you an idea of how much she drank, is that she had a huge dinner before she went out.  She went to this restaurant called Social House, had Kobe beef burgers, lobster salad, chicken fried rice.  So she wasn‘t even drinking on an empty stomach, which—everyone knows that‘s the first rule, if you‘re going to get wasted on New Year‘s Eve, especially for (INAUDIBLE) people, you eat. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Is that the first rule, Courtney?  If that‘s the first rule, why didn‘t it work for Britney?  What happened here?

COURTNEY HAZLETT, “OK” MAGAZINE:  I don‘t know what rules Dave is looking at.  No, all kidding aside, what‘s funny here is they‘re parading this “she fell asleep” excuse, as if that makes it normal somehow, as if falling asleep at a night club on New Year‘s Eve when you‘re 25 years old is normal behavior. 

The whole thing here is that Britney really needs to look at what happened and say, “OK, I‘ve got to clean up my act.  This is not a good thing to be putting out there, especially if I want to stage a comeback.”

SCARBOROUGH:  But, I mean, this keeps happening, though.  I mean, doesn‘t she have anybody around her, Courtney, that can bring her into line? 

HAZLETT:  You know, curiously, up until the divorce, her mom, Lynne Spears, was really close to Britney, that she was by her side all the time.  A lot of times Lynne would camp out, literally, at Britney‘s house and help out with the kids. 

And it‘s strange that, ever since the divorce, Lynne Spears has really been nowhere to be found.  This is a girl who obviously needs some of mom‘s influence right now if she‘s going to clean things up, and I think everyone is starting to scratch their heads and say, “OK, now that she‘s gotten rid of Kevin, why hasn‘t mom been around at all?”

SCARBOROUGH:  David, what‘s happening there?  Why doesn‘t she have anybody around her, controlling her? 

CAPLAN:  I mean, she has really—all the people around her have abandoned her.  She had a longtime publicist, Leslie Sloan, based out of New York here.  You know, those two parted ways.  There‘s really no one telling Britney when, like when to stop, what to do.  She currently has this manager, Larry Rudolph, who‘s really letting her run wild. 

Britney is a handful.  And not many people want to work with her, let alone be her minder, be her publicist, be her assistant.  So she has a really difficult road ahead of her trying to get people to work with her and to just say, “Hey, stop,” because really Britney needs to be focusing on her comeback. 

2007 was supposed to be the year of Britney‘s comeback.  And the way she started the new year, it doesn‘t look it‘s going to happen. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Or how she ended 2006.  Courtney, so is there any belief among industry types that she actually could have a comeback?  Or do they think she‘s just going to be tabloid fodder for the rest of her life? 

HAZLETT:  The night that she announced her divorce and she went ice skating in Rockefeller Center, it was totally pure activity, her hair looked great, her outfit was fantastic, people were really thinking, “Wow, she has her act together.”  Ever since then, it‘s not even one step forward, two steps back.  It‘s really a train wreck. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is a train wreck.  And, you know, I‘m reminded of what Michael Beaver always said about Britney:  Let her Britney be Britney. 

Hey, David Caplan, Courtney Hazlett, thank you so much for being with us.  Coming up, is hotel heiress Paris Hilton playing dine and dash?  E!‘s Chelsea Handler has the scoop, and she‘s coming up next, live from Miami.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell your agent this is the year you want to win that Oscar, and it‘s his job to get it for you, it‘s time for “Hollyweird.”  First up, Paris Hilton, she may be worth millions, but the “New York Post” is reporting she ran out on an $8 check in a restaurant in Australia.  Here now to talk about that and so much more, the host of the “Chelsea Handler Show” on E!, Chelsea Handler.  She‘s also the author of “My Horizontal Life.”

Chelsea, what about poor Paris, can‘t even afford an $8 tab? 

CHELSEA HANDLER, “THE CHELSEA HANDLER SHOW”:  Well, Joe, before we talk about Paris, I would like to talk about her girlfriend, Britney Spears, because I think it‘s unfair that the media keeps attacking her like this incessantly, when the girl obviously decided to put herself down for a nap.  There‘s nothing wrong with taking a nap in the middle of the bar.  We‘d much prefer to see that than seeing her face down on a bar stool with her “vageen” flying in the wind. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, thank you so much for that, Chelsea.  And now we move on to have you say some gentle things about Paris Hilton.  What about Paris dining and running? 

HANDLER:  Well, I mean, I think that‘s a woman that—I mean, if you‘ve got that much talent in your back pocket, I think that‘s a lot to bear, you know?  I mean, she‘s an artist, a singer, a painter, a vaginal rejuvenation consultant.  That‘s a lot to carry on your shoulders. 

I mean, she doesn‘t have time to be paying an $8 bill, Joe, OK?  She‘s got to go visit sick children in the hospital and just look at them from a distance. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, a VRC, OK.  I‘m going to have to look that up on the Internet tonight and see exactly what that type of consultant is...

(CROSSTALK)  

HANDLER:  It‘s actually on my Web site, so just go straight to Chelsea-Handler.hotmess.com, or something like that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, OK, I‘ll do that tonight.  Let‘s move on.  Also in Australia, the “News Weekly” down there reports that Jessica Simpson is still buying presents for ex-husband Nick Lachey.  What‘s going on here?  Is Jessica finding that Nick is a hard habit to break? 

HANDLER:  I guess.  I guess she is.  I mean, what she‘s buying him are actually things that he probably doesn‘t need that much.  She‘s buying him like shirts, shoes, you know, jackets, instead of getting what he actually could really benefit from, which is a charisma transplant. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, but you‘re not knocking Nick, are you?  He seems like such a nice, young, clean-cut man. 

HANDLER:  Right, and so dynamic and full of personality. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He fills up a TV screen, a lot like I do. 

Another guy who does, of course, probably your favorite boy band singer, Justin Timberlake.  Now, Justin is refusing to take acting lessons for his new film, “Alpha Dogs.”  I guess, what, the “Mickey Mouse Club” stuff was all he needed?

HANDLER:  Well, he said he did take acting classes during “Mickey Mouse Club,” which was when he was in his most formative years, I think, 4 or 5.  And once you get that covered at that age, why would you ever go back?  You don‘t need to. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  And I mean, and he‘d like put the sex back in sexy or something.  I mean, this guy thinks a little bit too much about himself, doesn‘t he? 

HANDLER:  I think that the important thing is that he can dance, Joe.  And coming from somebody that can‘t dance, I have a lot of respect for that.  I know you‘re not a really big dancer, right? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I‘m a terrible dancer.  And also I fall asleep at New Year‘s Eve parties.  Fortunately, they are in other people‘s homes, so no photographers there.

HANDLER:  That you don‘t get invited to. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly, and therein lies the biggest problem. 

They wake up and say, “Who‘s the fat guy on the couch?”

HANDLER:  Joe, not a lot can happen from Pensacola. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly.  I know.  Well, that‘s at least my story, and I‘m sticking to it.  I want to talk about one of your favorite women in the world...

HANDLER:  Rosie O‘Donnell?

SCARBOROUGH:  No, Heather Mills.  We‘re not getting into Rosie. 

Heather Mills gave Paul McCartney a list of what she wants when they get divorced, including cars, clothes, vacations and helicopter rides.  What do you think about that, Chelsea? 

HANDLER:  Listen, if you‘re married to somebody that‘s 27 years older than you, you deserve a little bit more than a helicopter ride.  You deserve a pony ride, a piggyback ride, a hot air balloon ride, and a shot to the side of the head. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Chelsea, you enjoying Miami? 

HANDLER:  I am, Joe.  I am very much, thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Great to have you in my home state.  Thanks for being with us.  We‘ll see you soon.  And we‘ll see you tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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