updated 1/8/2007 11:37:56 AM ET 2007-01-08T16:37:56

Guests: Bob Shrum, Ron Christie, Rajiv Chandrasakaran, Rick Francona, Paul Rieckhoff, Al Sharpton, Ed Rogers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  And now the news, Democrats draw a line in the sand.  Pelosi and Reid say Bush cannot escalate the war in Iraq.  Iraqis, not Americans, should do the fighting.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, the political battle lines in the war in Iraq are being drawn here at home, just one day after the Democrats take control of Congress. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sent President Bush a letter today rejecting the reported troop surge going to Iraq. 

Tonight we‘ll talk about the politics of Iraq.  And later we‘ll re-examine of examine in detail tonight the financial cost of the war and what the cost could be down the road.  It‘s going to be big. 

But, first, with more on the political gauntlet that‘s now been thrown down by the Democratic leaders in Congress, HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us live—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well Chris, this afternoon, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to President Bush denouncing a possible Iraq escalation.

The letter itself was a bit of a surprise given that just yesterday, Pelosi said that the Democratic leaders wanted to wait and see what President Bush actually proposed next week.

But there was enormous pressure from mainline Democrats, as well as Democratic activists and so today Pelosi and Reid had a dramatic change of heart.

In their letter to President Bush, they said, quote, “Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed.  Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake.” 

Pelosi and Reid urged a phased redeployment of forces in the next four to six months and said that the combat mission should be shifted to training and force protection.  They said, “our troops and the American people have already suffered a great deal for the future of Iraq.  After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, and over $300 billion dollars it is time to bring the war to a close.”

Across town today at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, there was John McCain, the Republican presidential frontrunner for 2008 and Joe Lieberman, giving a speech embracing the idea of a troop escalation.  McCain and Lieberman said that more troops are needed now in a last-ditch effort to try to ratchet down the violence. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ):  We will need a large number of troops.  During our recent trip, commanders on the ground spoke of a surge of three to five additional brigades in Baghdad and at least an additional brigade in Anbar Province.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:  And again, a brigade is typically anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 troops.  McCain said today that American policy should not be dictated by military commanders who are concerned about troops being stretched too thin and President Bush appears to agree.  Because today at the Pentagon, the president‘s military leaders overseeing Iraq were essentially replaced.

The military top commander in Iraq, he is now gone, having been replaced.  And so is the top commander for the entire Middle East.  Both generals have been highly skeptical over the last couple of months over the idea of surging the number of troops being sent to the war-torn region. 

Against all of this, some crucial conservatives are now lining up against the president‘s plans to increase the number of troops.  And just today Oliver North and conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, who wrote in the “Washington Post” today, both said that an increase in the number of troops in Iraq now would be a mistake—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Shuster.  So, now that the new congressional leaders have warned President Bush not to escalate the Iraq war, what‘s next? 

President Bush is planning to announce his troop increase next week.  Will the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have the stomach to take the next step and threaten to cut off funding for the war. 

Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst and Republican strategist and former aide to President Bush and Vice President Cheney Ron Christie also joins.

Bob Shrum, it‘s to you.  Will the Democrats go all the way here and walk the walk, not just talk the talk?  Will they cut up the money and stop this war? 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Not in the immediate future, in my view.  I think they should, but I think they won‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  What‘s the stomach problem?  What is the failure here about?  If they believe they should end the war why don‘t they do it?

SHRUM:  I think it‘s the failure that goes back to the fact that so many Democrats were for the war in the first place.  I mean somehow we‘ve created this bright line that says you can‘t cut off the money because you‘d hurt the troops. 

The fact is if you set a deadline and you say no money can be spent after that deadline, let‘s say the end of this year, you‘d be helping the troops because you‘d be withdrawing them.  I think by the end of the year that will be the Democratic position and anybody who runs for the Democratic presidential nomination at least anybody who has a chance, will certainly be in favor of that.

MATTHEWS:  Is the Republican position, Ron Christie, escalation of the war in Iraq?  Is that your party‘s position? 

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think the president of the United States has not articulated his position on what we should do to move forward in Iraq. 

I would say just based on what Bob said, it is so irresponsible to talk about cutting off money when our troops are in harm‘s way in Iraq.  I think if the Democrats want to assume a policy where we should cut off the funding while our troops are in harm‘s way, they will lose the majority so fast it will make their head spin. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is it more dangerous to send more troops into Iraq or less dangerous than to take some out? 

CHRISTIE:  I think what we need to do is ...

MATTHEWS:  Now wait a minute.

(CROSSTALK) 

CHRISTIE:  No, I said it would be irresponsible to cut off funding while our troops are in the field.  I think the president of the United States and his top military advisers ...

MATTHEWS:  When could you cut it off then?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead Bob, your thoughts.

SHRUM:  Ron, you can repeat your talking points.

CHRISTIE:  Funny, I don‘t have talking points, Bob. 

SHRUM:  Set a deadline at the end of the year and say no money can be spent after that.  You‘re not telling me the president‘s then going to leave the troops there and let them get stranded 12 months from now. 

This is how we‘ve always ended wars.  We honored Gerald Ford last week for helping to end the war in Vietnam and that‘s how it was ended.  Funding was cut off. 

CHRISTIE:  Now you‘re going to tell me that how we end wars.  We actually end wars when we achieve our objectives that we set militarily, which the president ... 

SHRUM:  No, no, actually ...

CHRISTIE:  Oh, Bob, no, what the president has said what he wants to do is have stability in the country of Iraq and to have a system where those three parties that are fighting, the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds can have a government, where the Iraqi people can stand up their government without our military.  And I think that‘s what we all want.  We all want our military troops to come home. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to get beyond the principle of whether we continue the war, or escalate the war Bob.  I want to get to the mission.  From everything we understood—and nobody‘s shot this thing down yet.  The mission of this complement of troops, 20 to 40,000 new troops in Iraq, is to go into the streets of Baghdad, go door to door with M-16s, looking for Sunni insurgents and supposedly preventing the Shia militiamen, the death squads from going around killing people. 

Now do you believe that‘s a worthy mission for U.S. GI‘s, 19-year-old guys who don‘t speak Arabic, do you think that‘s a worthy for courageous young GIs? 

SHRUM:  Listen, after the surge, the lights always go out.  I think this policy‘s wrong and it won‘t work.  General Abizaid and General Casey and division commanders in Iraq said it won‘t work. 

Bush used to say, well we have to trust the military on the ground.  When they gave him the advice he didn‘t want to hear, he replaced them, went brass shopping.  We‘re going to put a lot more kids into harm‘s way in the name of a policy that they just hope might have some chance to work, but no real basis for believing that it will work. 

CHRISTIE:  That is so absolutely outrageous and silly, I can‘t believe that you would say that. 

SHRUM:  Why don‘t you argue with it—instead of throwing around words. 

CHRISTIE:  No actually I am going to argue with you, if you‘d listen to me.  You‘re suggest that the President of the United States would put men and women wearing the uniform of this country into harm‘s way and to hope that maybe, oh, maybe this will all work out and gee, oh, if they get shot or they get hurt ...

SHRUM:  Yes. 

CHRISTIE:  That is so absolutely irresponsible. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, Bob, cool it on the ad hominems, OK.  I don‘t know whether you have talking points or he does.  You have no way of knowing what—he has no notes in front of him, I can assure you of that.

Let me ask you this Ron.  Do you think it is a smart mission.  Last year, we were told by the Iraqi government that they were going to go through the streets of Baghdad and stabilize things.  They were going to do this job.

Apparently they showed up with two battalions instead of eight.  Now, we‘ve got to go in and do it.  Is this the role of an occupying force, a bunch of foreigners like us who don‘t speak Arabic to go door to door trying to figure out which families are the trouble makers, which people are really Sunni insurgents, who isn‘t, who are these militia people and what time of night do they come through?  Do you think that‘s something for outsiders to do? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, as a lawyer and not as a military man, I‘m not going to say what are strategy should be from a military perspective.

MATTHEWS:  Would you like that job?

CHRISTIE:  I‘m going to answer your question.  But if it were me, I would be very concerned about putting American men and women in the streets where you could have people who could be taking potshots at these kids, which they are right now and being put in a role—have they been properly trained for that specific mission and do they know how to carry out that mission?  That‘s what I want to know if our generals who are putting these troops out on the streets ...

MATTHEWS:  Good question.  Let‘s go to Barack Obama.  Here‘s what he said in a meeting today after meeting with the president and other Democrats. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  I personally indicated that a escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake and that we need a political accommodation rather than a military approach to the sectarian violence there.  Some shared my views, others just indicated wariness or concern. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, what do you make of this consultation whereby the president is listening to people like Senator Obama? 

SHRUM:  I think it‘s window dressing.  I think if you read the “New York Times” this morning, you know where this policy is headed.  And frankly Chris it‘s no more ad hominems to suggest that this policy is a result of desperation, not a rationale, that it is for you to suggest for example that the books were cooked on weapons of mass destruction.  That‘s what‘s happening here.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, Bob, my concern in this discussion is you don‘t accuse your adversary of coming in here with talking points.  I‘ve never seen Ron Christie use talking points.

CHRISTIE:  Because he doesn‘t.

SHRUM:  What I mean is, there‘s a basic Republican argument that‘s been going on for years that says we have to stay and here was the talking point—that I was suggesting that we cut money off for troops in the field.  That wasn‘t what I said.  You can go back and look at it.

CHRISTIE:  We can go back to the transcript.

SHRUM:  I said you set a deadline, and you say the money can‘t be spent after that deadline. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, let me ask you a corollary question.  We had an election last November. 

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  People voted against the war. 

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Shouldn‘t that be responded to?  Shouldn‘t elections matter? 

CHRISTIE:  Don‘t you think this is why the president of the United States has been a lot more aggressive in courting the opinion of members of Congress, talking to the leadership as he did today? 

MATTHEWS:  Is he acting on their information, or simply listening, as Bob says, window dressing. 

CHRISTIE:  We can find out when the president actually articulates his policy within the next week of what his new direction forward in Iraq is, but to suggest that—first, the Democrats were saying the president‘s not talking to the right people in Congress.  Now the president is talking to people in Congress and they‘re saying oh, it‘s just window dressing. 

You can‘t have it both ways.  The president is trying to be responsive.  He understands in the November election, and he wants to get resolution.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Bob and Ron, I‘ve been hearing a lot in the last two days of loose talk about what Congress can‘t do.  People use the word can‘t when they really mean won‘t. 

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The U.S. Congress controls all federal spending. 

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It used to, under the Constitution, control whether we went to war or not. 

Bob, do you believe if Congress really wanted to do it, it could stop this war? 

SHRUM:  Sure.  I think it could set a deadline.  It could say at the end of the year, it could say no money can be spent after that.  And the reason I think what the president is doing is window dressing is because all of his officials are quoted anonymously all over the “New York Times” and every other newspaper saying he‘s already decided what to do and that‘s to escalate the troops. 

CHRISTIE:  So, again, Bob, so...

SHRUM:  That was not the message last November.

CHRISTIE:  Oh, so you‘re just listening to these anonymous sources of people who claim what the president knows or what the president is going to do, and you take that as the gospel truth.  Give me a break. 

SHRUM:  I do not believe...

CHRISTIE:  And I will say one thing to you, Bob. 

SHRUM:  I don‘t believe the reporters from the “New York Times” are lying, Ron, when they say they‘re quoting a high State Department official. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, it‘s interesting what a great military strategist you are here saying, oh, we could just cut the funds off at the end of the year.  Gee, don‘t you think that might embolden some of the terrorists and some of the people who are waiting us out?  But you say, oh, let‘s just—

I mean, that‘s just ridiculous. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, we‘ve got to the come back.  I‘m out of time.  Please come back, Bob.  You‘ll get the—we‘re back with Bob then Ron Christie.  They‘re staying with us. 

I want to talk about the Republicans, because we‘re going to talk about John McCain over at that fountainhead of neoconservativism, the AEI.  He‘s over there at his home base.  Is he really getting in bed with the neocons?  I mean, Lieberman already but now him, too?  Is this going to be a battle between the more neoconservatives and the Democrats next time around? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with HARDBALL—and I mean HARDBALL—political analyst Bob Shrum and former Bush-Cheney White House adviser Ron Christie. 

Here‘s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late this afternoon in Baltimore where she was asked whether she thinks her letter to the president we just talked about will have any effect on his actual strategy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I would certainly hope so, because the president now knows that he does not have a blank check from Congress without any justification.  He also knows that we will do what we must do to support our troops.  The Democrats have removed all doubt about that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen over there. 

Let me ask you, Bob Shrum, about the Republicans.  It seems to me John McCain, who gets a pretty good ride from the media whenever he does anything, has really put his feet in cement in support of a larger war in Iraq. 

SHRUM:  Well, I absolutely.  That is absolutely the case.  I think he believes it.  I think that he‘ll face in 2008 a real challenge, maybe even from within the Republican Party, but certainly in a general election from a Democrat who‘s going to say this policy was wrong.

The one thing McCain is right about, by the way, is that this is ultimately a decision that ought to be made by the president and the Congress, exercising their Constitutional responsibilities.  I just make a different decision than he would. 

MATTHEWS:  Really, you think McCain as a senator should be a Barry Goldwater on this and say it‘s up to the Congress? 

SHRUM:  No.  John McCain doesn‘t ask me for advice.  I think that John McCain is going to get up and he‘s going to argue his position.  He‘s going to defend the president, which I think will help him a little in the Republican primaries.  But in the end, I think it‘s going to hurt him in the general election. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about your pal, John Edwards, referring to the troop increase, the surge, as the “McCain Doctrine”?  What do you think of that politics?  What‘s he up to? 

SHRUM:  I think he thinks McCain is going to be the Republican nominee.  So does McCain.  I think Edwards hopes to be the Democratic nominee and he‘s trying to draw the issue early on.

MATTHEWS:  And by fighting with McCain early does that sort of position him as a likely nominee that way?  He sort of subsumes that role? 

SHRUM:  Likely I don‘t know, but the one thing I‘m absolutely certain of is that at the end of this year we‘re in any situation like the one we‘re in right now, and you have troops on the ground dying and the surge and this thing isn‘t working, you‘re not going to be able to triangulate your way out of it, you‘re going to have to take a clear position. 

In the Democratic Party, it‘s going to be a position in favor of setting a deadline and getting out. 

CHRISTIE:  And, again, the cut and run position, these guys kill me. 

Oh, so the Democrat position is...

SHRUM:  How can you say you‘re not using talking points when you‘re saying cut and run? 

CHRISTIE:  Because, Bob, here‘s the real funny thing, my friend.  I‘m actually looking in the camera looking at you talking and saying what I believe, after having listened to the president of the United States, who is the commander in chief, talk about the threats to this country and trying to find a way forward.  You sound like you‘re the one talking with talking points.  But, again, it‘s the old Democratic cut and run strategy.

SHRUM:  I don‘t salute the commander in chief when he‘s wrong.  I don‘t salute him when he‘s wrong, and he‘s been wrong on this war for almost five years now.  And you‘re saying the same things he was saying two years, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago.  We need to move on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get the last word in.  George W. Bush doesn‘t need you when he‘s right.  Anyway thanks, guys. 

CHRISTIE:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum.

Thank you, Ron Christie.

Next, the staggering cost of war in Iraq in lives, of course, and in dollars, and what happen—if not more—when we send more troops there, how much more money it‘s going to cost, not even to talk about the more casualties.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now the cost of the war in Iraq.  The death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq is now over 3,000.  And 25,000 Americans have been wounded.  But there has been a huge financial cost in treasure in this war, an enormous lost opportunity to take that money and do dramatic things here at home.  Once again, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nearly four years into the Iraq war and the total cost according to the Congressional Research Service IS now over $350 billion.  And with 140,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, the tab is going up quickly. 

Every month in Iraq, costs the U.S. government another $7 billion. 

Every week is $1.6 billion.  Every day more than $250 million. 

MICHAEL O‘HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:  The fact that we can spend a billion dollars every few days is staggering.  In the past when we deployed 20,000, 30,000 troops, let‘s say in the Balkans, in Bosnia, some other place in the modern era, things have been very expensive.  But on a per capita basis, maybe half as costly as this mission. 

SHUSTER:  Military officials blame the high cost on working in the desert, using equipment so frequently that heavy maintenance is required.  And providing U.S. troops with massive bases in Iraq that have all the amenities of home. 

Critics complain that the war should be part of the regular budget instead of a separate supplemental that Congress considers only briefly before approving. 

To put the financial cost of the Iraq war into perspective, consider this—Congress is squabbling over whether to spend a billion dollars a year to screen all cargo in passenger airports.  For the Iraq war, the U.S.  government is spending a billion dollars every four days.

Want to add another 6,000 more border control agents to help keep terrorists from crossing the Mexican border?  The cost, $1.4 billion annually is what we‘re spending for the Iraq war every six days. 

Congress has refused to pass legislation that would pay for vaccinations for every American child.  But we are spending that amount in Iraq, $4 billion, every 16 days. 

O‘HANLON:  And in times when we‘re trying to balance the budget, obviously, every billion dollars counts, to paraphrase the old line.  On the other hand, these days, what we‘re doing is undercutting our longer-term fiscal health and our long-term economic strength. 

SHUSTER:  That‘s because the money for the war in Iraq is being borrowed by the U.S. government, thereby adding to the overall debt.  And the debt, which had been going down before the war, is now going up quickly and stands at $8.6 trillion, or about $26,000 for every American. 

Much of the U.s. debt is owned by foreign countries, including countries like China and Saudi Arabia.  The more debt we accumulate, the more fearful economists grow of the Saudis and Chinese possibly dumping the U.S. bonds and wrecking the American economy. 

Four years ago, the Bush administration suggested the cost of the Iraq war would be as low as $50 billion.  The cost, however, just for the past year has been twice that amount.  And military experts say, the overall price tag does not include the enormous expense that is coming just to replace military equipment. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Right now much of the equipment is broken that isn‘t already committed into combat.  So we‘ve got a backlog of more than $60 billion shortfall getting the army and the National Guard ready to fight or do homeland security missions. 

SHUSTER:  The other cost that has not been measured is the economic output loss from the deaths of more than 3,000 troops killed in Iraq.  25,000 other Americans have been wounded in Iraq, 10,000 so seriously they will need life long health care and financial assistance. 

Adding it all together combined with plans to sustain the current troop levels for at least another year—and experts predict the final cost will be more than what the federal government spends annually for every program in the federal budget. 

O‘HANLON:  I wouldn‘t be surprised if we wind up approaching close to a trillion dollars in direct costs alone.  If this mission continues well into the term of the next president. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  At the moment, there is no plan to bring the troops home any sooner.  And so the costs will keep adding up.  And the questions will loom even larger over a war that most Americans already consider a mistake. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

We now take a closer look at the human cost of the war in Iraq next week—in the report next week.  Rajiv Chandrasakaran is the former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post.  He wrote a great book “Imperial Life In The Emerald City.”  You wrote about the Green Zone and life over there. 

Let me ask you this, what has gotten so bad in Iraq, in the war effort over there, our war effort, that we‘ve got to send in 40,000 perhaps new troops into Baghdad? 

RAJIV CHANDRASAKARAN, FRM. WASHINGTON POST BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: 

Because the Iraqi security forces aren‘t stepping up to the challenge.  You know, this administration had hoped that these multi-ethnic, multi-religious security forces would be able to take charge of security in Baghdad and in much of the rest of the country, that they would be loyal to the central government. 

What has happened in many cases is that when the units have been called to fight, they‘ve gone AWOL, they‘ve found themselves more loyal to various religious groups or ethnic groups than to the central government.  and so this is a gamble the administration will take if they decide to go forward with this surge.

It‘s saying, look, these Iraqis aren‘t ready.  We‘ve got to send in our men and women to do this for perhaps six months or a year. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they have anywhere near the passion for this war that they did for the hanging Saddam Hussein.  That seems to be the only thing that got them giggling and excited, the Shia.  Oh great, we can execute a big Sunni leader who was bad to us.  That seemed to excite them.

They were chanting Muqtada, Muqtada as this guy‘s getting hanged.  Is that the reality over there?  That they‘re all just a bunch of tribalist Shia who can‘t wait to grab and destroy the other side of the country? 

CHANDRASAKARAN:  Well, each side wants to really go after the other here.  The secular moderate middle is fast disappearing in Iraq.  It‘s becoming a nation of extremists. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t—Muqtada al Sadr?

CHANDRASAKARAN:  No.  But he‘s beholden to him in many ways.  And so he can‘t turn the screws on him.

So all this talk about cracking down.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So we go into the streets of Baghdad kicking down door after door on national television.  Our guys getting shot at and killed, killing other Sunnis, are we at any time during that going to take on Muqtada al-Sadr? 

CHANDRASAKARAN:  If we do, we have to do it very carefully. 

(CROSSTALK)

CHANDRASAKARAN:  We‘re embroiled in a huge two front war.

MATTHEWS:  You have to say it‘s a friendly fire situation or else Maliki will come out against us? 

CHANDRASAKARAN:  Or disappear in the dark of the night.  But, you know, what‘s also worrisome here is that if Prime Minister Maliki comes forward with a security plan that we embrace that calls for U.S. troops to really be focused on going after the Sunnis—Sunni insurgents, which is what he wants, we could get drawn in to taking sides on this, which would be very dangerous. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my worry.  We go into the streets of Baghdad, everybody in that region watches television.  They watch us killing Sunnis.  President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, all those guys—the people in the Emirates look and say wait a minute, the United States government, our best friends in the world, are killing our people, our Sunni people. 

CHANDRASAKARAN:  It‘s going to have a blow back.  And because Prime Minister Maliki does not want these additional troops to come in to go after Shiites.  That much is clear.  He doesn‘t have a mandate from his coalition to have additional troops to go in and fight street battles. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...a lot of lingo for the president next Wednesday.  It‘s going to be about stabilization, pacification.  It‘s not going to cut to the reality of whose side are we on?  And what‘s the future really look like here.

Anyway, thank you, Rajiv Chandrasakaran.

Up next, Speaker Pelosi says no to President Bush‘s call for more troops in Iraq.  Can she get Congress to actually stop this war? 

And later, why are John McCain and Joe Lieberman hanging out at Dick Cheney‘s favorite neo-conservative hotbed, the fountainhead of neo-conservatism, the AEI.  Can these hawks convince any other Senators to send in more U.S troops to Iraq.  

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s get some more analysis on the war in Iraq and how to fix it.  Paul Rieckhoff is an Iraq war veteran, his experiences are documented in his book “Chasing Ghosts” and retired Lt.  Colonel Rick Francona is an MSNBC military analyst. 

Let me go to Paul Rieckhoff and Colonel Francona on a couple of things.  Let‘s talk about the big cabinet shakeup.  We‘re talking about the president asking for a surge of maybe 20 to 40 thousand more troops next week. 

But if he were happy with the way this war was running, I wonder if he‘d be making so many changes.  First of all, Donald Rumsfeld is out, John Bolton is out as U.N. Ambassador, Steve Cambone is out as one of the top guys, in fact he was in charge of intel and a lot of that interrogation effort over in both Guantanamo and over in Iraq.

What do those—what‘s the significance Rick of all those changes?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think the president understands what he‘s doing right now is not working and this looks like a clean sweep.  He‘s got rid of the top guy at the Pentagon.  he‘s bringing in Bob Gates to do that.  He‘s also removing John Negroponte as head of the DNI.  I think that‘s also significant.  So, he‘s starting with a clean slate. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that Paul, this clean slate?  If things were working, you don‘t usually dump the team. 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ WAR VETERAN:  Yes, I agree.  When your team is losing and losing over and over again, you fire the coach.  Try to bring some new blood in.  It‘s interesting that he‘s bringing in General Petraeus, who‘s got a pretty good record in Iraq.  He commanded the 101st and then led the training of the Iraqi troops.  He‘s a smart guy, he‘s got a Princeton PhD.  But he is not exactly new blood entirely, he‘s still coming from within the establishment, but he may be able to shake some things up. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think Petraeus can do?  he‘s going to be the commander on the ground over in Iraq and he‘ll be in charge of the surge, bringing more troops into the streets of Baghdad.  What do you think he‘ll bring to it in terms of his proven ability? 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I think to be honest with you, he understands how far the Iraqi troops have to go.  I mean, these folks aren‘t anywhere near being able to control the security situation.  And I bet in his heart of hearts he realizes that this surge isn‘t really going to make a profound difference on the security situation nation-wide.  It‘s really just more middling around the edges.  It‘s not really a military ... 

MATTHEWS:  You think he can think like that and get the president‘s approval? 

RIECKHOFF:  I hope so.  I mean what other choice do we have at this point?  I‘m hoping that he can get the president‘s ear and try to convince him how far the Iraqis have to go because they‘ve got a long way to go, Chris.  This isn‘t going to happen in months or even years. 

MATTHEWS:  I think, Paul makes an interesting point there Colonel Francona.  Because last summer, the Iraqis were supposed to do the work of cleaning up Baghdad—they were going to send in what, eight brigades, they sent in two.  The job didn‘t get done.  Now the Americans, the outsiders who don‘t speak Arabic and don‘t know the neighborhoods are being sent into the neighborhoods of Baghdad to look for Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, death squads.  What an assignment! 

FRANCONA:  Yes, what an assignment Chris.  What you‘re doing is you are interposing an American military force between two warring sides.  Both of which are going to try to kill you, so it‘s a very difficult problem. 

So I think, when these 40 thousand or 30 thousand, whatever the number turns out to be, show up—is General Petraeus going to put them in Baghdad or is he going to put them around Baghdad? 

This won‘t work unless we get some cooperation from the Iraqi government.  Those Iraqi troops have got to be involved, but more importantly, Maliki has to give us a commitment that he‘s going to go after these Shia militias. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he never shows any sign of wanting to do that.  Aren‘t the—isn‘t the worst of the militia guys, as we said in the last segment, Muqtada al-Sadr, the guy that they were saluting and singing praises to during the execution of Saddam, isn‘t he behind this current government? 

FRANCONA:  That‘s exactly right.  The relationship between Maliki and al-Sadr is so strong, it‘s almost inconceivable that he‘s going to be willing to take that step. So, if he‘s not willing to do that, interposing any number of U.S. forces into Baghdad, I think is really unwise. 

MATTHEWS:  You know I was just thinking, let me get back to Paul.  It seems to me that I—maybe I‘m getting old and I remember things and I remember echoes of bad decisions in the past. 

Ronald Reagan gets a lot of credit appropriately for ending the Cold War, but one of his big decisions as president was to put troops into Lebanon in 1983.  The second time he went in there sort of to play back-up for Begin‘s retreat, which was policy then. 

And we end up having no responsibility in there except for sort of guarding the airport.  We were in there for a symbolic reason.  If we‘re sending these troops into Baghdad as a symbolic thing, to show we‘re committed to that government over there, Maliki, it seems to me we‘re running the risk once again of having these guys attacked in a very dangerous situation. 

RIECKHOFF:  Yes, absolutely.  And I‘ve been one of those guys.  I‘ve kicked doors in and I worked with an infantry platoon in Baghdad for almost a year and I know hard it is.  You‘re not caught between two factions, you‘re caught between about four or five.  I think that‘s what the Iraq Study Group finally showed America is that it‘s not just two groups of enemies.  There are about four or five ... 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know, you‘ve been there, Paul.  How do you know when you go into the street corner, tough neighborhood and everybody‘s poor, everybody looks roughly alike.  How do you know who the Shia militia families, how do you know who the Sunni insurgents are? 

RIECKHOFF:  You don‘t.  You just wait to figure out which one is going to shoot at you. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s the point, you‘re dead by that ...

RIECKHOFF:  That‘s the enormity of the task we‘re asking our folks to do every single day.  They don‘t wear uniforms, they don‘t have ID cards.  You can‘t tell who‘s a Sunni and who‘s a Shia unless you know the neighborhood is 90 percent of one or the other.  I mean, this is not a hail Mary pass on the part of the president.  This is like calling a draw play when you‘re down big in the fourth quarter.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I keep thinking ...

RIECKHOFF:  This is not a real move.  It‘s really political, not military.

MATTHEWS:  Is that your judgment, Rick? 

FRANCONA:  Yes, I think without the commitment from the Iraqi government and a real plan, sending troops over there is not going to do any good. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Paul Rieckhoff and Colonel Rick Francona. 

Up next, John McCain and Hillary Clinton are both on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Will Hillary go along with this surge to get along with the presidency?  And the Reverend Al Sharpton is coming here and former Bush 41 adviser Ed Rogers.  They‘re going to be here to talk about the latest surge talk and Democrat rejection of that talk.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to President Bush rejecting his plan to send more troops to Iraq. 

NBC‘s Mike Viqueira is up there on Capitol Hill—Mike. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS:  Yes, Chris, one scheduling note that might be significant for all of us, and that is that Robert Gates is now scheduled to appear before the House Armed Services Committee, newly taken over, of course, by Democrats, and Ike Skelton of Missouri.  He is set to appear on January 11.  That‘s next Thursday. 

The next day we know that Gates will appear before the Senate.  That would lead us to one conclusion, and that is the president‘s speech could be on Wednesday night, although I do not have any definitive information about that, but that‘s generally the way these things go. 

And, Chris, we‘ve just heard from Speaker Pelosi.  She was up in Baltimore, her hometown, as you know, where they were naming the street where she grew up after her, Via Nancy D‘Alesandro Pelosi Way.  When she did speak to reporters afterwards, she was asked about this troop surge and her letter along with Harry Reid to the president.  And she said something interesting. 

She said there will be no blank check and, Chris, that‘s what it all boils down to.  As you know, Democrats have said that they will not defund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they do not want to undercut the troops in the field. 

The question is, what kind of conditions, what kind of stipulations, what kind of hearings will Jack Murtha and the rest of the Democrats on the House side and on the Senate side put on this new funding request that‘s going to come that‘s reported to be about $100 billion more to fund the war in 2007 -- Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we think—can you report that the conditions they set will have teeth or just generalized language like turn over more authority to the Iraqi forces? 

VIQUEIRA:  You know, I don‘t know.  And it‘s an interesting game of chicken.  The president, as we know—it‘s been said so many times—has the bully pulpit and he generally wins on these Congress—you know, of course, going back to the ‘90s when the Republicans closed down the government.  This is a different issue, obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VIQUEIRA:  But the president always wins these kinds of fights because he stares down Congress.  What‘s different this time is public sentiment, obviously, from November 7 so firmly behind the Democrats and their effort to do something to put a check on what the president‘s policies have been in Iraq. 

And, of course, the vast majority of Democrats and many Republicans have serious questions about this reported plan for a surge—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Mike Viqueira up on Capitol Hill. 

The Reverend Al Sharpton is president of the National Action Network.  And Ed Rogers who is sitting with me, is the former adviser to President Bush Senior. 

Let me ask you your reaction, gentlemen, starting with you, the Reverend Sharpton.  What do you make of the fact that Nancy Pelosi right out of the box, first day on the job full-time tells the president in a letter, along with Harry Reid, we‘re against your surge idea, don‘t do it? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think that it‘s exactly what people expected her to do that voted for the Democrats in November.  I think that Nancy Pelosi is clear on the fact that the reason that the Democratic Party took over the House and the Senate is largely because the American voting public does want to see a different direction in terms of this war. 

And for her to send any other signal, I think, would have betrayed the spirit of that vote.  I think she did the right thing and I think she did it at the right time, early, and she should hold her ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed Rogers, what‘s the significance?  First day the new speaker of the house says to the president, you‘re wrong, don‘t do what you‘re planning to do. 

ED ROGERS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  Its significance remains to be seen.  She was certainly within her rights to do the letter along the letter with Majority Leader Reid, but whether or not it was wise to do so remains to be seen. 

The Democrats aren‘t very good at thinking two or three moves down the board.  They should not have telegraphed this.  The president will now anticipate it, his people will anticipate it.  I don‘t pretend to suggest that he‘s going to call for that in the first place, but they should have waited. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think he‘s going to call for a surge? 

ROGERS:  They should have waited.  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  But if he—let me ask you about this chess game. 

ROGERS:  OK. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I love the chess game aspect of this.  By putting out the word now, creating a new fact, as Golda Meir used to say, creating a new fact, which is we don‘t want you to do this surge, doesn‘t that prevent the president from coming up to Capitol Hill on national television next Wednesday from the White House and acting as if this was going to be something the Democrats might go along with? 

ROGERS:  Well, it certainly suggests that the president has the burden, the administration has the burden to characterize whatever is coming in terms of the new plan as more than just a surge.  And there are three or four moves that are going to happen even before the speech. 

I would look for the Iraqi government to say something.  I would look for the Iraqi government to say can we send someone to these hearings, can we come to Washington and talk about the plans going forward.  And so I think the Democrats are being a little clumsy, maybe a little new to authority by telegraphing all of their movers. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, I always look at your fellow in New York, or the one out there, the big enchilada, Hillary Clinton, for which way the Democratic Party is going to go.  Do you believe this time around, as opposed to in 2002, she‘ll take a stand against this war? 

SHARPTON:  I think that every indication is that she will, particularly, I think, when you see now Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Pelosi on the record first day.  The choice that not only Senator Clinton, but anyone looking at 208 on the Democratic side has to look at...

ROGERS:  No question. 

SHARPTON:  ... is why would you go outside of the mainstream of your party?  She would not be perceived—any of them would not be perceived as taking on Bush.  They would be taking on their own party if they did not strongly come out against a surge. 

ROGERS:  Well, I agree with that. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you trying to work her now or do you really believe that she‘s not a bit of a hawk still? 

SHARPTON:  I mean, I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  I think she‘s a bit of hawk.  I don‘t thinks she‘s on the Democratic anti-war front.  I don‘t see her as a militant anti-war person. 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t...

ROGERS:  She has a history that‘s going to be hard to get away from. 

SHARPTON:  ... think that any of them have been, in my opinion, aggressively against the war, but I think that the landscape has changed.  I think a lot of us that molded public opinion against this war have succeeded.  And, although she may be a hawk, she‘s also a politician.  And she knows to fly with the doves even if you‘ve got a little hawk under your wing. 

MATTHEWS:  Now that you are looking at the field, now that I got you on the show right now Reverend Sharpton, you were quite a figure of interest in the last campaign.  Are you going to try again for president? 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t know.  I haven‘t decided.  There‘s no one that has caught my attention right now.  I‘ve talked to all of them.  There‘s nobody I‘m enthused about.  So we‘ll see. 

MATTHEWS:  No body at all, even Obama? 

SHARPTON:  Again, I‘m not hearing a lot of substance, I‘m not hearing a lot of aggression from any of them to the degree I want to hear.  I think all of them have a lot of action roots, they‘re so good about all of them, but no one has made me stand up and do a James Brown split in memory of him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the prospects, ethnically, in this country for an African-American.  Do you think about Obama might be able to beat the history, beat the rap on that one and go ahead and actually win the presidency?  Do you think it could be done given the climate of the country? 

SHARPTON:  I think that Obama could.  I think that Colin Powell could have.  I think that there are a lot of people that could.  The question becomes, though, what it will represent.  See I think what a lot has happened with African-Americans is after the experience with Clarence Thomas and even others now in the Bush administration, a lot of people are much more concerned about what kind of black..

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

SHARPTON:  Than just a black. 

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t want to load up that train so heavy you couldn‘t move. 

SHARPTON:  I wouldn‘t want to load it up where it couldn‘t move, but I also wouldn‘t want it so light that it rolls over me pulling into the station. 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t fight metaphors with you, Reverend Sharpton.  You are at home in the metaphor court. 

Let me ask you one last thing, is the president definitely going—you say no, Ed.  You‘re the only person...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Says he may not go with the surge. 

ROGERS:  I don‘t accept it as absolute fact.  And this White House has a history of floating things and pulling back. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

ROGERS:  So I don‘t presume to...

MATTHEWS:  Hell of a float.

Ed Rogers and Al Sharpton—the Reverend Al Sharpton, they‘re staying with us.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and former Bush 41 adviser Ed Rodgers.  Ed, you first, what is the significance of Cindy Sheehan and the other anti-war folks up on Capitol Hill this week?  Are they helping the cause of the anti-war movement or making a bit of a cartoon? 

ROGERS:  It‘s a bit of the cartoon.  The group that wants the lions and the lambs to lay down together.  And the kumbayah crowd has always got a foothold in the Democrat party.  But there is a lot of eye rolling among the American people and certainly on the Republican side. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  It‘s good that she‘s menacing and harassing them for a time and not camped out outside President Bush‘s first door—front door.

MATTHEWS:  What is a mother who lost a kid in one of these wars do, then, if she‘s against the war?

ROGERS:  Now, that‘s something everybody should be respectful of. 

Whether or not—she has sort of moved on and become a symbol in her own right, and a metaphor in her own right, is a different story.

But people that have lost a family member in Iraq, it‘s very different, very different. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, how does a protest succeed and how does it fail?  What is the dividing line between a successful protest and unsuccessful one? 

SHARPTON:  Well, a successful protest makes the public pay attention to an issue it would not have paid attention to.  A protest is not designed to solve a problem, it‘s there to expose a problem.  And I think Cindy Sheehan and many like her have been the reason this country has turned around.  Because they kept the issue alive. 

And in all due respect with my friend Ed there, the lion and the lamb crowd is the Christians in Revelations.  They kind of charged history...

ROGERS:  That‘s where the quote comes from, that‘s right. 

SHARPTON:  That‘s the crowd.

ROGERS:  But I‘m not sure they apply themselves to modern geopolitics. 

SHARPTON:  No.  And nor do I think they apply to themselves G.O.P.  right wing Christianity. 

ROGERS:  You‘re right.  Luckily they are a small group. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Reverend Sharpton, do you think Cindy Sheehan up on the hill or the people in POW costumes are—uniforms—do you think that is moving the Democratic center?  Has that, for example, been the factor that moved—the catalyst that moved Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to issue that letter today? 

SHARPTON:  I think it certainly is a level of consciousness, and it moves the center of the party a lot.  I mean, you have Terry McAuliffe‘s book out now where he admits he was glad that I disrupted the proceedings of the Democratic convention and spoke out.

ROGERS:  I was glad. 

SHARPTON:  So, I think a lot of people move because you people that may be perceived extreme that gives people room to move to the center and not look extreme. 

MATHEWS:  Do you think Hillary Clinton—I want to ask you one more time, because I disagree with you.  I think Hillary Clinton has positioned herself as a strong supporter of national security running as the first woman with a real shot at the presidency, she has to be a bit of a Margaret Thatcher.  She cannot afford to look like a Democrat liberal on the war issue.  You say she is willing to now move to the dovish side? 

SHARPTON:  I think that she may have to, because there‘s a little thing that she has to deal with before she gets to the generally elections, and that is primaries.  And she has got to be concerned whether a John Edwards or anyone like that clips her in those debates and upsets her movement. 

Does she go all the way to the right?  No.  Do I think she will join Cindy Sheehan?  No.  But I think that she is running a real risk if she come out too far to the right that she can not get through those primaries easily if it is her indention to run. 

ROGERS:  He‘s for Hillary.

MATTHEWS:  There she is swearing allegiance to Dick Cheney it looks like.  Just kidding. 

No, we‘re looking at a picture, Reverend Sharpton, her taking the oath of the Senate Dick Cheney.  Do you think if Hillary Clinton switches to an anti-war position your side of the aisle will begin to attack her as, oh, she is fickle.  She was for the war, now she‘s against it?  She‘s a headspinner here?

ROGERS:  We think she is going to be the nominee.  We are going to attack her no matter what she does.  And I think she has got to get away from her position...

MATTHEWS:  You think she‘ll win this thing?

ROGERS:  I think more likely than not she will win.  And that‘s who we are for.  It‘s no secret. 

MATTHEWS:  I think she has a 50 percent chance or more of winning the Democratic nomination.

ROGERS:  Yeah.  But nobody else has better than a 20 percent chance. 

MATTHEWS:  I think she has less than a 50 percent chance of winning the general.  Just a little bit...

ROGERS:  I think that‘s about right. 

MATTHEWS:  But I she has got a shot at being the next president of the United States, about a 25 percent shot if you did the math. 

Reverend Sharpton, it‘s always great, especially when you correct my metaphors and leap beyond me as always.  Thank you to Reverend Al Sharpton who won‘t say if he‘s running next time.

And Ed Rogers, who is back in the Republican. 

Play HARDBALL with us next week for complete coverage of the Senate hearings on the Iraq war led by Senator Joe Biden on the foreign relations committee.

We‘re also going to see Bob Gates, the new defense chief, testify in the House.

And the president is expected to make an announcement midweek next week on increasing the number of troops in Iraq.

Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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