updated 1/9/2007 12:03:06 PM ET 2007-01-09T17:03:06

Guests: John Murtha, Howard Fineman, Lynn Sweet, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  President Bush is set to escalate the Iraq war, sending at least 20,000 more troops to the war-weary country and spend another billion dollars on the kind of “make Work” government projects that gotten such a bad name here at home. 

If you want fast cash from Uncle Sam, is it better being an Iraqi? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

President Bush will unveil his plan to escalate the Iraq war in a prime time address Wednesday night.  The president is expected to announce an increase of up to 20,000 more U.S. troops and likely recommend spending up to a billion dollars more in economic aid. 

The plan is attracting criticism from Democrats who oppose on increase in troops and have planned several hearings this week to grill the Bush top aides. 

The question is this: is there anything the president could say Wednesday night that would sell the country on an escalation in the war in Iraq? 

Over 3,000 American troops have been killed in Iraq already.  And most polls now show that a majority of Americans want to begin withdrawing U.S.  troops, not adding more. 

Tonight, one of the toughest war critics, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania weighs in.  And later, war-weary Iraqis are using their cell phones now and the Internet to warn each other of violence and, in many cases, to actually wage violence.  The high-tech war is on in Iraq. 

Plus, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan gives us his red-hot preview of the president‘s speech Wednesday night. 

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  White House officials said today President Bush will announce his plans in a speech to the nation at 9:00 Eastern Wednesday night.  Most Democrats, as well as many Republicans, oppose an increase in troops and now Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is threatening to blunt funding. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER:  If the president chooses to escalate the war in his budget request, we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now.  The American people and the Congress support the troops.  We will not abandon them.  But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. 

SHUSTER:  Pelosi‘s pledge to have lawmakers scrutinize and possibly vote on the additional money marks the first time since the war began that a congressional leader has threatened to reign in the Bush administration by using control of the budget. 

But on “Meet the Press,” Democrat Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested it may not be politically smart or practically feasible for Congress to exercise its authority over the country‘s finances to stop the president‘s plans. 

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE:  He‘s commander in chief.  If he surges another 20, 30, whatever number he‘s going to into Baghdad, it‘ll be a tragic mistake in my view.  But as a practical matter, there is no way to say, “Mr. President, stop.” 

SHUSTER:  Democratic leaders had hoped to kick off the new Congress by emphasizing their domestic agenda.  And House lawmakers are planning to vote this week on increasing the minimum age, expanding stem cell research and implementing security recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

But in an acknowledgement that Iraq is going to dominate the news, congressional leaders have changed their P.R. strategy and are pushing up a series of aggressive hearings on the war.  A House committee session with Defense Secretary Bob Gates was abruptly moved up a week to this Thursday.  Gates will then testify in the Senate side on Friday.

And this week, Senator Biden‘s committee will question Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

The congressional confrontation on Iraq appears to be exactly what the public wants.  In a recent “CBS News” poll, Americans were asked what the top priority should be for the new Congress.  Forty-five percent the war in Iraq.  Only seven percent said the economy and jobs.  And only seven percent said health-care.  The poll found that the president‘s overall approval rating now stands at just 30 percent. 

But Mr. Bush‘s approval rating on handling the Iraq war is down to 23 percent.  And even Republicans in Congress who support the president‘s new tactics in Iraq say the war has been a failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In all honesty, are we losing, though? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SOUTH CAROLINA:  In all honesty, we are not wining.  And if you‘re not winning, you‘re losing.  And now is the time to come up with a strategy to win. 

SHUSTER:  In his speech to the nation, President Bush is expected to ask for an additional 20,000 troops in Iraq.  Administration officials say the president will also unveil a new reconstruction and jobs program for Iraqis and will support Prime Minister Maliki but demand his government reach specific benchmarks for reducing violence. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tony, is the president going to discuss how we get out of Iraq? 

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, let me put it this way, if you take a look, ultimately, the goal is to have an Iraq that does, in fact, to stand up for itself. 

SHUSTER:  but the question was, “Will the president discuss how we get out of Iraq?”

Snow eventually said, “Wait for the details on Wednesday.” 

Meanwhile, the new operational commander in Iraq says that even with the additional American troops, under President Bush‘s new war strategy it may take, quote, “two or three years”.

(on camera):  Will Congress keep the war going for another two or three years?  President Bush will make case on Wednesday.  The president‘s address comes nearly two months after the Baker-Hamilton Commission said the only bipartisan plan for Iraq would be to announce an eventual decrease in combat troops, not an escalation. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

How will Democrats stop President Bush‘s plans to escalate the war in Iraq?  Will they be able to prevent the administration from spending more money on more troops? 

Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha is chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Mr. Murtha, I keep reminding myself of 1983 when President Reagan put our troops in Lebanon and the Marines got wiped out there because they had no mission except to be there as a signal.  Is this so-called surge in the troops in Iraq a symbolic gesture of resolve?  Or is there a real strategy behind it? 

REP. JACK MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, so far, I haven‘t seen the strategy, Chris.  For instance, we put 10,000 troops—the president ordered 10,000 troops increased in Baghdad.  And since that time—that was two or three months ago—and since that time, we have an increase in violence, we had more Iraqis killed and more Americans killed in the last couple of months.

And here‘s the problem that we face.  If he‘s able to try to increase the number of troops, he won‘t be able to send the 20,000 in altogether.  And even then, he‘ll have to extend people who are there and he‘ll have to send people back before their year is up at home.  And that means they won‘t have completed their cycle of training that they need and their families, of course, are suffering.  And so a piecemeal approach is not the answer to this.  And I think it‘s a real mistake for him to increase the number of troops.  It‘s more targets.  It‘s people without a mission.  I have not seen a mission yet to work.  He has to say at some point, “We‘re going to redeploy the troops, give the Iraqis the incentive.”

Now, here‘s one other point that I make: there‘s no strategic reserve in the United States at this time because of the war itself.  That means we can nobody we can deploy and sustain deployment in Iran, or North Korea or China.  So if something happened in any of those countries, we wouldn‘t be able to deploy, just like right now, we can only deploy piecemeal, which is the worst to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the neocons, who are pushing this and have pushed the war from the beginning—and to be fair to them, they‘ve pushed for more troops than we‘ve put in the.  They think the mission is—they‘ve suggested it to the president.  Jack Keane, the former general, has put it to the president, “Put the troops in there, have them go door-to-door in Baghdad, kicking down doors, looking for Sunni insurgents.”

Is that a mission that you a military man think makes sense?

MURTHA:  Well, this is the problem that we‘ve had right along.  In order to try to get the place in Baghdad under control, you have to have a lot more troops.  We had in Kosovo, two million people.  We had 40,000 troops there.  Here we have 140,000 troops.  We have 26 million people.  There‘s no way an extra three or four brigades is going to make any difference.  I think they‘re putting them in harm‘s way unnecessarily.  They‘re putting tremendous pressure on the families and they‘re sending them back before their training cycle is finished. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s that pressure going to do on a guy who‘s been over there for a year and he‘s got as much fatigue from battle as you—I don‘t call it battle fatigue—just worn out as a soldier, putting him back into the front, sending him into Baghdad, right where he‘s facing who knows what coming out of those doors?

MURTHA:  Well, and the thing is there‘s no mission.  You have to use overwhelming force.  When you use overwhelming force, then you create enemies because you kill people even though it‘s inadvertent in many case.  And then the pressure is so tremendous on these young people because they never know when something‘s going to happen.

So, there‘s no good solution as I see it in this regard.  I‘ve seen nothing that the president has said so far that makes me feel comfortable with what he is trying today. 

And let me tell you, the Congress has certainly a way—if this is going to be extended over a three or four month period, the supplemental he asking for, if it has money in there to surge the troops, we‘ll certainly take a hard look at that.  He‘s going to have to justify every cent.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about your responsibilities as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.  You‘ve got this supplemental coming your way sometime after the budget, sometime in mid-February.  Congressman, can you use that as choke point?

MURTHA:  Yes.  I‘ve asked Steve Hadley, who‘s the National Security Adviser, to send it up with the budget resolution—or the budget itself, the proposed budget because we need two months of extensive hearings.  We‘re going to start up on the 17th with readiness hearings, going to get the military over. 

Military, most of them agree with what I am saying.  They know the tremendous strain.  I said the Army was broken six months ago.  I said they were in civil war.  And most people are beginning to believe that.  There‘s just—the Iraqis have to settle this themselves.  And sending brigades in piecemeal, month-by-month is not going the problem, if that‘s what the president‘s plan is.

MATTHEWS:  What—who do you think, knowing what you know, and you know a lot of inside stuff in Washington, who‘s in the room with the president when he makes this decision?  He‘s apparently made it that he‘s going to go with 20,000 more troops, into Baghdad with the mission of cleaning up Baghdad, stabilizing it, killing Sunnis basically.  Who is telling him that‘s a smart idea?  Is it Condi Rice, is it Gates, the new secretary of defense?  Is it Cheney?

MURTHA:  I know it‘s not the military leaders.  There is no military leader that I‘ve talked to that thinks this is a good idea.  First place, one of the major premises in going to war is you send overwhelming force in when you‘re going to do it.  We made that mistake in the first place, and now we‘re doing the same thing over again.  So I don‘t know who‘s giving him this advice.  I don‘t know who he‘s listening to, but the military commander is not the one he‘s listening to.

MATTHEWS:  Well I keep thinking of the old Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia belief was if you have some trouble on a street corner, somebody, a cop does something, a police does something, there‘s a police action, you fill the rooftop with snipers and you‘ve got as many people, even—he wanted an artillery, he wanted an armored vehicle to help him do this because that stops the problem at the moment.  You believe if we had gone in there with say, 100,000 more troops, it would do the job?

MURTHA:  Well, there‘s no question or initially that may have worked.  But we have lost so much credibility, this can‘t be won militarily.  It has to be a tremendous diplomatic effort, it has to be a political effort, it has to be the Shias and the Sunnis getting together.  It has to—Maliki has to settle this himself.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the president putting up with Muqtada al-Sadr, the guy whose praises were being sung at the execution of Saddam Hussein?  Why is he allowed to run free as the strongest military force in that country?

MURTHA:  Well several military commanders told me that there was a time when they could have taken him out and they were stopped by the political decision.  I don‘t know enough about it be able to comment on that, but I know one thing.  That the militia are certainly ruling what‘s going on and some of the people think that is what is protecting them. 

So there are so many problem there that the United States doesn‘t understand.  I‘ve been studying this problem for the last two or three years.  And even I can‘t understand exactly what it is that we can do now.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we fought the Nazis, you fought in Vietnam.  Americans have been pretty darn good when we know who the enemy is.  It got murky in Vietnam.  The V.C. and all that.

But now, I find it fascinating in the worst possible way, we don‘t know who is shooting at us.  We don‘t know who we‘re shooting back at.  Is our enemy the Sunni insurgents?  The people are holding out because they don‘t want to be ruled by the majority Shia, or is it the Shia militia people led by that scary looking guy we just saw?  Who is our enemy over there?  Who are we shooting at?  Who should a G.I. be prepared to have around the next corner?

MURTHA:  Well, that‘s the problem they face.  And that‘s why the mission is so difficult for them.  I go to the hospitals all the time and the pressure is tremendous on these young folks.  They‘re doing a heck of a job.  There‘s no military better than us when it‘s a conventional type war.  This kind of a guerrilla war, this kind of a war where you knock down a house and you‘re not sure who‘s inside, you have to take overwhelming force, you make enemies.

And then when we have to send people back, they haven‘t finished their cycle of training, and we extend people who have been over there for over a year, there‘s tremendous pressure on them.  So they go to extremes in some cases.  We have some real problems and the only answer in my estimation is to redeploy our troops just like the 9/11 commission recommended and get them out there and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Mr. Jack Murtha, Congressman Murtha of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on military matters.

We‘ll be right back with you with the big question, can you do what you want to do?  Can you stop this war?  And later, how many Republicans support the president‘s plan for Iraq?  Republicans, do they still want to keep Bush‘s war going?  You‘re hearing a lot of noise from those people, a lot of chatter and noise out there from Republican senators who aren‘t happy, including Trent Lott, who said last week on this show he might vote against the surge.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, who‘s the chairman of the House Appropriates on defense matters.  Mr. Murtha, the other day, in fact yesterday, time travels that we had Joe Biden on, I think it was on “Meet the Press.”  Yes, it was “Meet the Press” yesterday and he was saying that Congress doesn‘t have the ability to cut off the spending for the war.  I don‘t think that‘s true, is it?

MURTHA:  No, that‘s not true at all.  If they have a request for additional funds in the supplemental, and it‘s going to take them two or three months for them to get these troops out in the field, we have every ability.

But here‘s the thing that I‘m going to look at and I‘m going to recommend to the committee.  We shouldn‘t send people back if they have less than a year and they‘re not trained to go back into Iraq.  We shouldn‘t send—we shouldn‘t extend people.

Then, we should get the United States up to speed before we do anything else.  Those are the things that will make sure funding is done in the United States.  And then this money for building projects in Iraq, I said before that one of the most important things that we do, but if they use it the way they‘ve been using it with all the corruption and so forth involved in it, that won‘t be worth anything at all.  So we certainly have the ability to cut off the funds of these.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mr. Murtha, years ago, the conservative Republicans dumped all over the idea of creating economic development by jobs programs, by public works, by infrastructure in this country.  There are cities all across Pennsylvania, maybe Johnstown, that could use this kind of economic aid, creating jobs, infrastructure, spurs to economic activity by private business. 

All this would help in America in so much of our deindustrialized Midwest and Northeast.  Why are we spending money in Iraq to buy their hearts and minds in a way we would never do it at home?

MATTHEWS:  Well not only that, but the $8 billion that we‘re spending a month, Chris, this is the big problem.  There‘s so many things that could be done, whether it‘s Medicare, whether it‘s education, and whether it‘s road sewage and water, basic things like that, that‘s what we can spend it on.  But to throw it down, you know, it‘s important to us to make sure that Iraq is stable if possible, but we have gone beyond that.  That‘s the thing that the administration doesn‘t seem to understand.

MURTHA:  Why do they think they can buy people with pork barrel?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well I don‘t think it will work because they don‘t have the security in the first place.  There‘s no way I see that this administration‘s plan is achievable. 

And one the military always asks is give me an achievable plan, give me a definitive plan that I can live with.  That‘s the thing—I talked to the troops—I saw a poll the other day, Chris, that showed that only 42 percent of the troops in Iraq support this president and what he is doing.  And only 23 percent of the people—you can‘t sustain a war if you only have 23 percent of the public supporting you.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that you, as an influential member of the House, can stop the spending for this war or put the chokepoints on so the president has to meet certain conditions.  Do you think you can do that?

MURTHA:  Well, I believe that we have to have hearings and force them to justify every cent.  Then in addition to that, we have to say, OK, what the achievable plan, for instance, we sent in 10,000 troops two and a half, three months ago.  Those 10,000 troops didn‘t do any good at all.  There is more problems today than there were then.  More people killed.

So now, we are going to send in another brigade, another brigade, piecemeal?  That is not going to solve the problem.  I have not seen anything that assures me there is going to be any progress made in Iraq.

Then the Iraqis have no incentive.  They say they are going to have benchmarks.  What are they benchmarks.  What are we going to do if they don‘t meet these benchmarks.  The problem is .

MATTHEWS:  I can hear you, congressman, I can imagine you giving the same statement in a Democratic whip meeting or at the leadership meeting.  Who is on the other side, without giving away the name, you won‘t, but who is on the other side of your argument?  There must be somebody in this Democratic Caucus up on the Hill, the majority now of the Congress.  Somebody is up there waging an argument against Nancy Pelosi and Steny and the rest of the leaders against taking this strong stand.  What is their argument?

MURTHA:  I‘ll tell you, it‘s all political.  And that‘s the problem.

MATTHEWS:  You mean they are worried about the conservative contributors or what?

MURTHA:  They‘re only worried—No.  They are worried about the political ramifications.  Remember when I spoke out a year ago a number of Democrats .

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MURTHA:  . said, “Oh my God, this will be a tragedy for the

Democrats.”  That is not the point.  We have to do is what the right thing

We want to work with this president.  We want to stabilize Iraq, but it is not going to happen with a plan where there has been no consultation at all.

For instance, consulting is not just talking to members privately.  It‘s meeting with the people that have the authority and responsibility in Congress in explaining what he wants to do and then listening to the recommendation.  That hasn‘t happened.  It happened under every other president.  It has not happened with this president.

MATTHEWS:  I just heard that Susan Collins came back, she is a Republican, senator from Maine, she comes back from Iraq and she goes to tell the president I want to talk to about what I saw in Iraq.  The president escorts her down the hall to the West Wing to some deputy and says talk to this guy.  He is not interested, apparently, in hearing from you folks, Republicans or Democrats.

Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha, the man in charge of the funds for this war.

Coming up next, the Iraqis are using their cell phones now and the Internet to warn each other of violence.  That‘s some of them.  The other Iraqis are using the Internet and their cell phones to actually wage violence.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  If it wasn‘t scary already, catch this.  To see how scary the war in Iraq has gotten already tonight we look at how Iraqis, these are civilian Iraqis, are using cell phones and the Internet to warn each other of violence.  Of course, some of them are using those technologies, the cell phone and Internet, to plan attacks on people like us.

HARDBALL‘s Jeremy Bronson has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY BRONSON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The same digital technologies that are transforming campaign politics here at home, are also being used for a very different purpose in a very different place.

In Iraq, where sectarian violence continues to get worse, Sunnis and Shia are both using cell phones and the Internet to organize their people.  Ordinary citizens are increasingly relying on text messages to disseminate messages of danger on the horizon.  In some cases, Iraqis have texted each other with information about the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr‘s militias.

In recent days in Iraq Sunnis have spread cell phone messages which said the following according to a “Washington Post” translation.  “Very big armed groups are being formed in Sadr City, backed up by the Interior Ministry to kill great numbers of the citizens of Baghdad once the curfew is lifted.  Spread the word among our people.”

Web sites have also fueled the recent spike in tensions.  Some Sunni Web sites are offering advice on how to kill members of Shiite militias.  On the Iraq Rubiyah site, Sunnis are warned, “The curfew will not affect the sectarian killing missions.  The Americans will not rush to help you.  So rush to your weapons and defend yourselves and use this page to inform us what is going on in your areas and launch rescue calls.”

The site also features detailed advice on protecting neighborhoods and launching guerrilla impacts.

P.J. CROWLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT:  The technological development in Iraq has certainly expanded since 2003 but it‘s a twin-edged sword.  On the one hand it gives Iraqis capabilities that we take for granted but on the other hand it gives them technological capabilities that can be used by the insurgents against U.S. forces to plan, to execute or even to document attacks so the impact of the attack is felt not only in Iraq but outside.

BRONSON:  And most recently, Iraqis used text messages to spread word of Saddam Hussein‘s execution.  That news sparked outrage among Sunnis after cell phone video of Saddam‘s hanging became public.

Just one year ago Iraqis were using these same digital strategies in the country‘s first legislative elections.  At that time, Shiite Islamist parties sent countless text messages urging voters to show up at the polls.  One particular party even sent text messages promising Iraqis a place in heaven in return for their vote.

(on camera):  This is really a reminder of how all of this digital technologies can be used in so many different ways, even violent ones.

Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s our resident genius, Jeremy Bronson.

Up next, what will President Bush say about Iraq on Wednesday night?  Will his prime time pitch fall flat?  MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson are coming here to bat that one around and tomorrow on HARDBALL my guests will include himself, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  With the president just 48 hours away right now from announcing his new Iraq policy, an escalation, it is going to be Wednesday night at 9:00 Eastern.  How will he sell his new push for this unpopular war?

Let‘s turn to our experts.  MSNBC‘s political contributor Pat Buchanan and Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”

Pat, I want to start with you.  Are we headed towards more of a war in Iraq and a war in Iran?  How big does this guy want the war to get?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  I don‘t think George Bush and Dick Cheney are going to go home with two lost wars upon their legacy.  I think they are not going to let Iraq fall while they are in power and I think they have not ruled out the option of going home as the team that took down the Iranian nuclear option and preserved Israel and the United States from terror attacks for the seven years they were in office and go down that way as a success.  I think that‘s what they have got in mind.

MATTHEWS:  Somebody in the Israeli operation leaked this weekend to the “Times of London,” it was on the front page.  I saw it out here in Chevy Chase.  They were selling the “Times of London.”

And apparently Israel is talking about dropping some sort of a local small-yield nuclear weapon in Iran to blow up those nuclear facilities, but it looked to me like they were teasing us saying if you don‘t do it conventionally, we‘ll go in there with nuclear power.  Is that what is going on here?

BUCHANAN:  Right.  The Sunday report said they were going to drop nuclear buster bunkers on Iraq and the hexafluoride facility, the Natanz facility .

MATTHEWS:  In Iran.

BUCHANAN:  Three facilities in Iran.  Israel angrily denied it but you have got Netanyahu and you have got an Israeli general right at the new year saying, we have got to get the Americans to do this war for us.  If they don‘t do it, we will have to do it ourselves.  There is going to be a drive .

MATTHEWS:  If they have that technology, Pat, why would we be better at it than they are?  If they have the technology.

BUCHANAN:  Well, the United States has - we have thousands of planes where they‘ve got a long distance to go.  We‘ve got refueling capacity they don‘t have.

MATTHEWS:  But we don‘t have the national interest in the region that they do, we don‘t have the reason to blow up facilities in another country like Israel does because Israel faces a regional threat not like we face.

BUCHANAN:  Now look.  Iran has no air force to threaten us, no navy to threaten us.  It has no nuclear weapon right now.  It hasn‘t launched a single war since the revolution started, it has got a loud mouth in the presidency, but he doesn‘t have control of nuclear weapons.  They have not built a bomb and they may not be able to build one in 10 years.

MATTHEWS:  What makes you think Bush will do this?  That he will attack Iran.

BUCHANAN:  Because I think that because we are started down the road, you have 60-day sanctions at the UN.  They are weak but they come back in February for renewal.

I think Bush is starting down that road.  Secondly, Chris, let me say this.  The neocons will be for it.  Many Christian conservatives will be for it.  You‘ve got the majority leader Steny Hoyer saying military options on the table.

MATTHEWS:  Will Hillary Clinton salute after this if it happens?

BUCHANAN:  Well this is what the Israelis say, they have got to go work on Hillary Clinton to get her to back the president up.  I think they have got enormous power to do this and nobody is up there saying no.

MATTHEWS:  So the bottom line.  Eugene, what do you think.  You agree with this?  The president will leave us after two years of his presidency will have elapsed and he will leave with us with his full complement of troops, 160 some thousand, in the field in Iraq and he will have begun war action against Iran before he leaves office.  Do you buy this?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I certainly buy that we will have 160,000 troops in Iraq.  I don‘t see how they go down.  Iran, I don‘t know.  I think there will be pushback not as much from the Hill as there will be actually from the public, I think.

MATTHEWS:  You know what this administration realizes the ramifications of an active war against Iran, what they are capable of doing to our oil supplies, what they are capable of doing to Israel and whoever else in that region they want to go after?

ROBINSON:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know if they do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know, Pat?  I sense they seem to know the price.

BUCHANAN:  I think they know it could be a real disaster but I tell you this, Gene.  I think the American public is probably more in favor of air strikes on Iran than it is of continuing the war in Iraq?

MATTHEWS:  Has the American public been educated to what Iran can do to us?

BUCHANAN:  No.  It has not.  I think—you say nuclear to the American people.  That‘s when they tipped over both in Gulf War and in the Iraq War.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why it was used that way.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  That‘s why they always go to the nuclear card, because it works.

ROBINSON:  I‘m just not sure.

MATTHEWS:  Just remember, last time around, they put out the word that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, not only was approaching getting a nuclear weapon but he had a delivery vehicle, some sort of balsa wood plane, that was going to come over the Continental United States and blow us up.  As ludicrous as that sounds .

BUCHANAN:  That was it for the chemical and biological weapons.  The balsa wood plane.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you.  They did everything they could to get us in that war.  Go ahead.

ROBINSON:  I just wonder if he gets another blank check on the war.

MATTHEWS:  From the Dems?

ROBINSON:  From the people.  From the public.  From the Dems, the Dems are going .

MATTHEWS:  They are going to position themselves as a person who can be seen as a hawk?

ROBINSON:  Yeah.  They are going to feel like they are in a tricky position and they can‘t say go ahead and blow up Israel .

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton in ‘92, he was able to be elected president as a hawk.

ROBINSON:  I think that‘s her story, she‘s going to stick to it.

BUCHANAN:  The question is, does the president of the United States right now have the authority to launch air strikes an Iran?  That is an open question.

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t the Democratic Party since it now controls Congress thanks to an election, issue a resolution saying the president cannot commit an active war against any country without coming to us first.

BUCHANAN:  Or without an act of war against us.  That‘s exactly what they ought to do with regard to Iran then you will see who has got real courage in the Congress.  They didn‘t stop this war but they can stop the next one, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And you know they won‘t.  They won‘t.

BUCHANAN:  If some courageous guy puts in there, let‘s let him be counted.

MATTHEWS:  Eugene, you know they‘ll want that option, won‘t they.

ROBINSON:  Yeah.  Who is the courageous one?

BUCHANAN:  Jim Webb might do it.  Jim Webb might do it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the situation right now.  Mitt Romney is going to announce for the Republican nomination.  It will be soon now.  Pat, can he win the nomination?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think he - there is a possibility.  Here is the reason.

MATTHEWS:  Can he beat McCain and beat Giuliani.

BUCHANAN:  Well, Giuliani is not going to run, I don‘t think.  Yes, he could beat Giuliani.  Secondly, yes he could beat McCain.  His problem is that you go back into his record and he is more liberal than they are in the ‘90s so that‘s .

MATTHEWS:  On issues like gay marriage.

BUCHANAN:  Gay marriage and abortion, and it looks like he has flipped completely.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he has.  Let‘s be honest.  He has.

BUCHANAN:  Look.  McCain can be beaten.  McCain can be beaten and I think Romney might be able to, from the material I am getting from conservative, they say Pat, he doesn‘t have it.

MATTHEWS:  Who doesn‘t have it?

BUCHANAN:  Romney.  That Romney is basically a flipper.  He is coming over and playing conservative.

MATTHEWS:  Why would the Republican Party, Eugene, not run a guy who beats Hillary by a good, solid seven points or so?  I just saw a poll.  I think it was a Fox poll.  Pretty reliable from the conservative point of view.

Why wouldn‘t they run the strongest candidate they have got, McCain?

ROBINSON:  They don‘t like him.  A lot of Republicans don‘t like him, number one.  Number two, he has positioned himself on the fringe in terms of Iraq.  He is saying, no, I didn‘t say 20,000 troops.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he‘s on the—the president is on the fringe, too.

ROBINSON:  Well he didn‘t say 20,000 more troops, he said 50,000 more or 100,000 more.

MATTHEWS:  The irony is as you get further on the war criticism, which we just had Jack Murtha on, he says it wasn‘t a bad idea to have a show of force, a powerful force when we first went in.  In other words, a huge number of soldiers would have neutralized the situation, but it‘s not going to work now.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I agree with that, but let me say with regard to McCain, why don‘t they want McCain?  Why didn‘t they want Nelson Rockefeller?  Chris, a lot of Republicans don‘t like him.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think McCain is a liberal, a pay as you go guy like Rockefeller?

BUCHANAN:  No, I think he‘s a media candidate.  I think he moves—the media is his basic core constituency and he‘ll go with them in a contest between them and the conservatives.  Don‘t you?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s kind of a damning statement, isn‘t it?

BUCHANAN:  No, he‘s with you, Chris. 

ROBINSON:  So are you going to run then?

MATTHEWS:  You know, I keep hearing about the power of the press and I don‘t deny that anything said in this meeting has power, but just remember the press‘s favorite candidate a few weeks ago was Mario Cuomo and their favorite candidate even more recently was Colin Powell.  So the people that the media seem to like don‘t seem to want to run.

BUCHANAN:  Powell was a terrific candidate, but the trouble is he‘s wrong on the social issues.  But if he were right on the social issues, he could have won that nomination in ‘96, he could have beaten Bob Dole.

MATTHEWS:  Old Dominion, where you‘re from?

BUCHANAN:  Oh sure, I think he could have.  Look, if Doug Wilder could do it, why not Colin Powell, who‘s a military man?

MATTHEWS:  Touche.  Isn‘t it tough?  The liberal state of Virginia?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When are you going to run for the Senate?  I thought you were going to do that once.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I was going to do it at once until I heard a story about Harry Bird having to ride on a pony from one town to another at noon or something in some parade, and I told my wife, I said, I can‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t like parades?

ROBINSON:  You don‘t like ponies?

BUCHANAN:  Not for the state of Virginia.  For the presidency, maybe.

MATTHEWS:  I can see you Pat, in the middle of the night, it‘s 11:00 at night, and some county chairman or mayor calls you up and says, “There‘s a problem with my water main here.  I want you to get the federal money in here to fix that water main.”

BUCHANAN:  Call your congressman.  How did you get my number?

MATTHEWS:  OK, bottom line tonight, will the Democrats be able to squeeze off in some way the spending on this war, Eugene Robinson?

ROBINSON:  I doubt it.

MATTHEWS:  Or is it just all talk?

ROBINSON:  I think it‘s talk at this point.  I cannot imagine them actually taking a vote to not fund the next.

BUCHANAN:  They‘ll gripe and complain and they‘ll do nothing.  They‘ll give him the money he wants.  If they want to stop the war, they could get the $100 billion to $50 billion, say get the troops out.  They aren‘t going to do that because they don‘t want responsibility for what is going to happen and they know what is going to happen when we come out.

MATTHEWS:  Incisive.  Thank you Pat Buchanan, thank you Eugene Robinson.  Up next, can Democrats cut off funding for the war, my very question?  Joe Biden says no, is he right?  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC, I‘m going to keep asking this question.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As President Bush gets set to unveil a new plan for Iraq, Democrats are getting organized to mount the opposition, or are they?  Can they actually prevent the president from sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq, spending another billion dollars to win the hearts and minds with economic aid?

We‘re joined by “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Chicago Sun-Times” Lynn Sweet.  There‘s my question.  Can they stop it, or is it all talk?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Well, I think the more interesting question is whether they really want to stop.  I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  ... That‘s a trumper.  You mean in other words, they really don‘t want—they don‘t believe in the policy, or they don‘t want to fight the politics?

FINEMAN:  I think both.  I think they don‘t believe in the policy, but they also want to take advantage of that politically.  I hate to seem so cynical, but having spent all day up there on the first day talking to lots of senators and House members, I came to the conclusion that much of the leadership and maybe even including Nancy Pelosi, but let‘s leave her aside for a second.

A lot of the Democratic leadership says, look, we can‘t really effect the war policy anyway.  He is commander in chief, we are not.  We don‘t want to stop money for the troops because we‘re going to get blasted politically, Rove will try to paint us into a corner again.  It‘s George Bush‘s war.  Let‘s let it remain George Bush‘s war and by the way, it‘s a great wedge issue to divide the Republican Party because they‘re 21 Republican senators up.

MATTHEWS:  That makes sense to me, except Lynn, whey did they go out and ask people to vote Democrat in the last election in November if they intended to do nothing about this war, when they used the words, their No.  1 selling point?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO-SUN TIMES:  I disagree in part with what Howard said, not in the big view, but they can‘t not do anything.  I‘m going to give you three words that can sum up what‘s happening and I borrowed them from Tony Snow.  I‘m taking them, what he said in the briefing today, and that is “budget is policy.”  That‘s what you‘re going to see on the Hill.  That‘s what you need to watch for.  It‘s going to be hard to untangle a supplemental spending on the war from regular spending.  It‘s going to be very difficult, but budget is policy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Nancy Pelosi has said they want, as if I read her this weekend, she said “I want there to be a distinction made between old money, money for the troops already there and new money for this new surge.”  Can she get a budget written that way, or appropriate a supplemental writ that way?

SWEET:  That is going to be potentially possible, very difficult without the Republicans saying, Chris, the money that you say is for escalation, they say is for just maintaining the troops as is. 

That‘s part of what the problem will be, and by the way, watch in the use of the word to Democrats, I think they‘re going to be talking about escalation and re-increase in troops, far more than just the use of the word “surge.”

MATTHEWS:  I think surge is a P.R. word by the way, because Howard, we have no indication so far, I‘ll be wrong and I‘ll say so Wednesday night.  If the president says anything about a limited string for this—if he says I want 20,000 extra troops for three to six months, that‘s a surge.  If he doesn‘t say three to six months, if he just says I want an extra 30,000 troops, that‘s an increase, that‘s an escalation.

FINEMAN:  If he says three to six months, he undercuts the reason why they‘re going to begin with.  So you‘re right.  He can‘t do that.  But the problem is going to be for the Democrats.  The administration is going to package that so-called emergency supplemental of $100 billion in such a way that the Democrats can‘t untangle what is new and what is old money.  That‘s what the gain...

MATTHEWS:  ... But there are sharpies like Jack Murtha up there who know how to do this.

SWEET:  But just listening to what he was saying, they could take, and this is why we‘re in new waters and it‘s fascinating—the supplemental could be sent up with just asking for additional money that they have outside the budget, and they‘re going to deconstruct it and put it back together and because they have the power of hearings, to try and somehow separate it.

MATTHEWS:  I have faith in those guys who still use No. 2 pencils up there on the staffs of these appropriations committees and I‘ve worked with these guys when I was in the Budget Committee.  When they sit down and they figure out how to do it. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

SWEET:  Or at least they‘ll be able to do enough to have some...

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line for people watching: they‘re not interested in the green eyeshade boys.  Can we have a vote this late winter on whether to escalate the war or not, Lynne?

SWEET:  You could have it because there could be a resolution because the Democrats are in charge...

MATTHEWS:  A resolution meaning one of these...

SWEET:  Does it have teeth?  I don‘t know because you still have the commander-in-chief.  It‘s uncharted waters as to how we‘re going... 

FINEMAN:  I‘m willing to bet that in the end, there will be no such discrete vote in both chambers of the Congress.

MATTHEWS:  Up or down.  We will not have an up or down on the war?

FINEMAN:  We‘re not going to have a clear, clean up or down vote on that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What will be the result of all these hearings?  Biden will have the hearings.  Murtha will have the hearings.  The House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton will have the hearings.  I‘m sure the Senate under Carl Levin will have the hearings.  All these hearings, all this TV time on CSPAN and NBC on everywhere else, will it matter?

FINEMAN:  It‘s going to matter in the sense that it‘s going to dig George Bush and the Republican Party in deeper into the political hole of Iraq.  And then the Democratic strategy, I think, is then to have the divided Republican Party tell George W. Bush, “You know what?  You‘re not going to get anything else you want.  You‘re not going to get Social Security.  You‘re not going to keep your taxes, you‘re not going to get Medicare.  Your presidency is completely done unless you move on.”

MATTHEWS:  Let me move on to something I mentioned before.  Susan Collins of Maine apparently went to the White House.  And I now derive that it came from your reporting.  So tell me what happened at the White House.  She goes to the White House.  She said, “I—Mr. President, I just got back from Iraq.”

And what did he say?

FINEMAN:  Well, she was with the delegation that went over there.  Her idea is not for a surge in all of the country, but only to focus it on the Anbar Province, where the Sunni rebels are.  She wanted—was at a signing ceremony on a different matter.  She took the president aside and said, “Mr. President, I‘d love to talk to you about what I saw in Iraq.”

And he says, “Well, I‘ll tell you what.  Follow me.”  And he takes her by the arm and takes her down the hall or elsewhere in the West Wing and says, “Here, talk to my deputy national security adviser.  See you later.”

And...

MATTHEWS:  So this is like Martin Sheen taking somebody down to Josh, one of those staffers on the Hill.  “Talk to them.”

FINEMAN:  Well, maybe the president was busy. 

But the interesting thing politically is that Susan Collins is one of these swing figures.  She‘s a moderate Republican.  If you‘re George Bush, you want to work the Hill at like another Texan like Lyndon Johnson worked the Hill.  He would say, “Susan—hold my calls for fifteen minutes, everybody.  Come on in and tell me what you think.”

He would have gotten more good will out of that and information from a different source than sending it to the bureaucracy so it comes back to him in a one-page memo.  To me, it says everything you need to know both about the way George Bush operates in the White House and about how I think he really doesn‘t want to hear bad information—from what he views as all—you know, bad information about the war. 

SWEET:  Also, he should—you know, ignoring someone like Senator Susan Collins, who is the—was the chairman of a key committee is only at your own panel...

FINEMAN:  Homeland Security. 

SWEET:  ... and that Senator Lieberman‘s in charge, they work as a partnership, a lot of big...

FINEMAN:  ... he didn‘t ignore her... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... you are here for—you are besides the big stuff—I love the little pictures. 

We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman, who looks at this with a jeweler‘s eye.  He knows the inside as well as the outside.  And Lynne Sweet.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Lynne Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times”. 

Let‘s listen to what Joe Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had to say on “Meet the Press”. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC HOST:  You said the other day that this is President Bush‘s war and there‘s really little Democrats can do.  Why not cut off funding for the war? 

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE:  I‘ve been there, Tim.  You can‘t do it. 

RUSSERT:  Why? 

BIDEN:  You can‘t do it because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off when you had no standing army.  We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars.  You can‘t go in and—like a Tinker-Toy and play around and say, “You can‘t spend the money on this piece and this piece.” 

He‘ll be able to keep the troops there forever, constitutionally. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, on the other side of the aisle—we just got a memo sent to me.  It turns out that after meeting be President Bush today at the White House, Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon has said he will not support the surge.  Lynne, so there‘s a crack in the concrete here on the Republican side?

SWEET:  It wasn‘t concrete you‘re going to have.  It‘s splinters. 

There‘s going to be... 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t mix my metaphors.  We‘re talking about cement here.

OK, I‘m sorry.

SWEET:  Look, what you‘re going to have in a few days, especially with these Democratic hearings, that‘s one of the things that they‘re going to do.  The Democrats are uniting...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the hearings serve a purpose in terms of the debate? 

SWEET:  Yes, in terms of—it will erode further public support for President Bush.  That gives the Democrats all kind of leverage as we‘ve discussed in other ways.

And also, it may—even though there is this constitutional issue that Biden‘s talking  about—I think he or his people used to word “micro-manage” as to how much the Congress can do and actually switching around troop strength, the message is sent very powerfully to the White House—and you‘ll see it probably in his approval ratings—that you‘ve got to do something to switch the troops off. 

MATTHEWS:  As much as I believe that this rationale that was given us for the war in Iraq in 2002 and ‘03 was fracacta (ph) -- OK, you like that term?

SWEET:  It‘s a good word.

FINEMAN:  Technical term.

MATTHEWS:  I do believe that this guy, Fred Kagan, has a logical point.  Fred Kagan is a neoconservative.  He believes in the war.  But from the beginning—we checked it out today.  He has pushed for more troops.  He has said, like Bill Kristol and others have said, like John McCain, that we needed more troops to go in there properly. 

Now, they were wrong about a lot of things, de-Baathification and all other kinds of problems, disbanding the Iraqi army.  But they do have a consistent message: Had we gone in there with a big army, taken over Baghdad, established who‘s boss, we could have won this war. 

Do they deserve credit now to come back and say, “Mr. President, it‘s not too late to do what we should have done in the beginning?”

Is that a valid argument?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s an argument they‘re going to make.  I don‘t know enough about the facts on the ground.  And that‘s one of the things that Joe Biden‘s hearings and Carl Levin‘s hearings and all these other hearings are presumably going to look at.  In other words, has the split, has the semi-civil war become unbridgeable?  That‘s the question...

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, Gordon Smith—as part of that report, I‘m just hearing through my ear—now it‘s official.  The president will increase our complement of troops by 20,000.  He will announce it Wednesday night.  He told Gordon Smith, “Gordon Smith, if you touch that, I‘m not going to back you, Mr. President.”

Thank you from Oregon. 

Anyway, Howard Fineman, Lynne Sweet, thank you for joining us.

Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday.  Our guests will include—that‘s tomorrow—Massachusetts‘ Senator Ted Kennedy, who‘s going to give a big speech tomorrow about Iraq right here in Washington.

See you then.

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. (www.voxant.com) 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 purposes or in any fashion that may 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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