updated 1/10/2007 11:37:20 AM ET 2007-01-10T16:37:20

Guests: Edward Kennedy, Ken Duberstein, Duncan Hunter, Kit Bond, Ben Nelson, Mike Duffy, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Leading the charge, Senator Kennedy blows the bugle against the Bush surge, saying the Constitution is at stake.  He calls for Congress to stop escalating the war now before it‘s too late.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

Tonight, selling the surge.  His political capital spent, his approval ratings in the basement, the president tomorrow night will put his legacy on the line and try to convince the American public to do something they, frankly, don‘t want to do: escalate a failing war. 

In an attempt at damage control, today the president met with Democratic House members to quell their rebellion against his plan to send more troops to Iraq.  Democrats are united against sending in more troops but divided on how to thwart the president‘s plan. 

The American people aren‘t divided.  According to a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll, just 12 percent want to send in more troops, and confidence in President Bush on Iraq has sunk to an all-time low of 26 percent.  Will Democrats live up to their campaign promise to really push for an end to this war?  Can President Bush change public opinion tomorrow night or is it too late? 

In a moment, Senator Ted Kennedy talks about his new bill to stop the president from sending in more troops but first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As White House officials put the final touches on President Bush‘s speech, there were more signs today of just how much the public and members of the president‘s party oppose an escalation. 

A new poll from “USA Today”/Gallup found that only 12 percent of Americans support sending more troops to Iraq.  And when respondents were asked about increasing troops temporarily to stabilize the situation, support rose to just 36 percent with 61 percent still opposed. 

Meanwhile, four Republican senators, Minnesota‘s Norm Coleman, Maine‘s Susan Collins, Nebraska‘s Chuck Hagel, and Oregon‘s Gordon Smith, have now publicly criticized an escalation, saying the sectarian tensions in Iraq cannot be soothed by Americans. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My own sense is that these are Iraqi questions that Iraqis must settle.  Whether they settle them peacefully or violently, I don‘t want American men and women caught in the middle of that. 

SHUSTER:  On the Democratic side of the aisle today, Senator Edward Kennedy, a long-time critic of the war, gave a speech proposing that Congress vote on the billions of dollars needed for the troop increase. 

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Our bill will say that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation unless and until Congress approves the president‘s plan. 

SHUSTER:  Kennedy spoke passionately about Vietnam.  It was during that war when the Johnson administration grew obsessed with victory, became divorced from public will, and kept promising that each new escalation would be the last. 

KENNEDY:  Echoes of that disaster are all around us today.  Iraq is George Bush‘s Vietnam. 

SHUSTER:  Many Democrats agree, but the party now in control of Congress is split over whether to take the politically risky step of using their control of the budget to stop the president‘s plan. 

Democratic House Leader Steny Hoyer off camera today expressed reservations, and said that under the Constitution, it‘s not clear if President Bush would need to come back to Congress for a troop escalation. 

Quote, “I think there‘s a question as to whether he has that authority in prosecuting the war as commander in chief.  My own view is he probably does.  But having said that, I agree with Senator Kennedy that the Congress needs to be involved.”

But being involved through hearings and oversight is very different from actually voting.  And the internal Democratic debate over how to react to the Bush administration‘s Iraq strategy even extends to the Wednesday night presidential speech. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Good evening. 

SHUSTER:  Some lawmakers believe a Democrat should give a televised response, similar to what happens following the State of the Union Address, to take advantage of the attention and focus by the broadcast and cable networks. 

But Democratic leaders have not requested airtime to make a formal response.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believe it is the president alone who must articulate and implement a new policy for Iraq. 

Against all of this, U.S. military planners have reportedly concluded that a large and lengthy troop build-up in Iraq will require a reversal in Pentagon policy.  As it stands, National Guard and reserve units have been limited to two years of mobilization for the Iraq war.  That means most reserve units that have already served in Iraq are ineligible to return. 

But according to the “Los Angeles Times” today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that a significant build-up would require Guard and reserve units to serve additional year-long tours. 

(on camera):  Ordering Guard units to serve again in Iraq could bring America‘s governors into the debate, because governors share authority over the Guard. 

In any case, administration officials said today the first wave of additional troops could move into Iraq by the end of the month.  It means that in the struggle between a president set on escalating the war and a Congress trying to stop him, the race is on. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

It seems as though the Democrats have a strategy out there.  It‘s to let the people who are really anti-war, like Senator Ted Kennedy and Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, get out there and speak without committing their main forces. 

The main leadership of the Democratic Party, as David just said, are not going to put out an official response by the party to the president tomorrow night because they want to cover their rear ends.  They‘re going to let the left go out there and make the fight so they can protect themselves for 2008.  This afternoon, Senator Ted Kennedy told me his plan to force a vote on the Iraq surge. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, are you trying to stop this surge in troops to Iraq? 

KENNEDY:  Yes.  Yes, I am.  The overarching issue of our time is the Iraq war.  It was the overarching issue in the elections.  The president of the United States understood that he had to change course, but the change of course that he has taken is to escalate the number of American troops that are going to be there that are going to be put into a civil war. 

That is against the advice of General Abizaid, General Dempsey, the ones that have testified before the Armed Services Committee.  The resolution and the legislation I offer says you, Mr. President, have to come to Congress to get authorization to do that. 

We will not send additional American troops into a civil war, we will not expend additional taxpayers‘ money until the Congress of the United States, the Senate of the United States votes in favor of it.  There will be those members that will vote in favor of it.  I will not because I believe that we are involved—putting—this will put more American servicemen in harm‘s way in the civil war. 

But I do believe that we—the country is demanding accountability.  They want to know where their members of Congress are.  They want their members of Congress to do more than just make speeches.  They want action. 

And this gives an opportunity for action.  We have done it in the past.  We did it in times of Lebanon and limiting the increased number of American troops in Lebanon.  We have done it in Vietnam.  We should do it now in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  How many more casualties do you think we‘re going to take over there if we surge? 

KENNEDY:  Well, it‘s just...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve lost 3,000 guys already.

KENNEDY:  That‘s right.  The numbers—I mean, when you talk to families, as I have, just one family, the real issue is, are we getting in the right direction or the wrong direction, and this is a major step in the wrong direction.  It‘s going to mean increasing loss of American lives. 

We ought to rotate—we ought to rotate American troops out.  That will send a clear message to the Iraqis that we mean business.  They will not understand we mean business until they understand that we‘re going to have a redeployment, and I think that is what we ought to do. 

If we put more troops in there, this will, I think, serve as a crutch for the Iraqis not to make the hard decisions, the hard judgments to demobilize the militias and to take the steps which are necessary to establish an accountable government. 

MATTHEWS:  This is what President Kennedy was trying to do back in the fall of 1963.  You were familiar with that.  He tried to put the pressure on the South Vietnamese government to do the fighting.  Do you think that would have stopped the Vietnam War, if we just said you do the fighting? 

KENNEDY:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in that situation now. 

KENNEDY:  The similarities between the Vietnam War and the Iraq war is that we had military leaders, primarily President Johnson, that believes that there was a military solution to the Vietnamese War, and we have—now we have a president believe that there is just a military solution to the age-old strife that has been going on for 1,300 years between the Sunnis, primarily, and the Shia. 

It has got additional kinds of complications with influences of al Qaeda and increasing conflicts from divisions within the Shia and other factors, and movements for a nationalist movement there, but nonetheless, the idea that you‘re going to have a military solution rather than a political solution is wrong. 

Finally, our troops have been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II.  They have been there for four years.  This is a country of 25 million people, and we defeated them 10 years ago.  And we have—we had occupation of the northern third of the country, the southern third.  Their total military budget was $3 billion or $4 billion a year. 

We have been—the military have done everything they have been asked to do, and those fighting men and women have done it with extraordinary courage.  But we are asking them to do things which they are not prepared to do, and that is to try to resolve a civil war.  That is wrong to ask them to do it, and the—it‘s perpetuating American involvement. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president believes in this policy, as you say, that we can win a military victory in the streets of Baghdad or is just his last, desperate move? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I think you have to accept what he has said.  I think the—contrary to the military—Abizaid and Casey, who are the two military leaders that have led the whole movement for the last—basically three years, the most knowledgeable ones.  They had testified before the Armed Services Committee against this proposal.  Colin Powell, who had led this country to success in the first Gulf War, has testified against this proposal. 

So those who have been most involved do not believe that this is right militarily.  And I think when you understand that what this cries out for is a political resolution rather than a military resolution, and you see the president taking a major step towards a military resolution of it, the Congress should step in.  And the Congress should have a debate.  And the Congress should vote on this authorization. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re on Armed Services.  Has Carl Levin, the incoming—the new chairman, the Democratic chairman of that committee, said he‘s with you on this?  Will he help bring this to a vote on the floor? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I‘ve spoken with Carl Levin.  I‘ve spoken with the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, with Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.  I‘ve talked to our leader, Harry Reid, Jack Reed, who‘s an expert.  We‘ve got many people that have spent a lot of time on this issue.  A number of them have resolutions of their own, basically to achieve similar kind of objectives.  I talked to Jack Murtha as well, who‘s got a resolution of his own that is trying to deal with these issues. 

I think what is important for the American people to understand is that there are many of us who are working to try and insist on accountability and are opposed to an increased military surge. 

But we need to get action taken.  If we don‘t take action in the short term, this president will go ahead and order these troops over to Iraq and then it will be too late because they‘ll be in place, they‘ll be out in the field.  And...

MATTHEWS:  When do you have to have a vote, senator? 

KENNEDY:  I think it has to be within the—probably the next two to three weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you get the vote on the floor?  Do you have to bring it up as an amendment?  Or—how do you have to do it?

KENNEDY:  We have to take this up as amendment to Appropriations.  But my sense, if the American people are concerned, they are going to let their members of Congress and the leadership know that they want action rather than a lot of rhetoric. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with the president about constitutional authority of Congress?  I mean, I want to ask you a general question.  He obviously doesn‘t think he needs any more authority.  He doesn‘t want any more resolutions.  He hasn‘t asked for any more, right?

KENNEDY:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  He thinks he‘s got what he needs. 

KENNEDY:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he would go attack Iran right now without an authorization?  How broad are the powers he assumes here? 

KENNEDY:  Well, he—he is allegedly relying on the 2000 -- October, 2002 resolution that passed the House and the Senate, which I voted in opposition to—But that was primarily focused on the fact that Saddam presented an imminent threat to the United States militarily.  Saddam is no longer there; about the alliances between Saddam and al Qaeda, which the 9/11 Commission dismissed; and about the weapons of mass destruction, which weren‘t there. 

So all of the tenets of that authorization have effectually—have left.  Now, the president says even though they have left, he thinks he still has the right to continue on the conflict. 

What I am saying, given the fact that these have left, we are looking at a new departure in Iraq and sending new troops.  He ought to come back to the Congress for an authorization.  That is consistent with our constitutional responsibilities.  He has the constitutional responsibilities as the commander-in-chief.  We have it as the holders of the purse and also the war-making power in the United States Senate.  So we have a role as well. 

And it seems to me that the American people are entitled to know who‘s on their side.  The American people do not support a surge, do not believe that we need more American servicemen involved in a civil war.  They know the result is going to be increased causalities, increased wounded and it‘s going to be—make it even more complicated down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve talked to some other senators, Republicans.  People like John Warner have spoken out, saying he thinks the president perhaps needs a new resolution.  Gordon Smith of Oregon has said these kinds of things.  Of course, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska—do you think you‘ll get any Republicans behind this vote when it comes up? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I think—I‘m hopeful that we will.  A number of the

ones have expressed concerns about the direction of the administration‘s

policy.  I think—I would just hope that the members of the Senate and

House are going to listen to the American people because it was very clear

I found in the course of this campaign the message they were sending. 

It was very loud and very clear.  And they do not want additional American troops put into harm‘s way.  They do not want American troops involved in civil war.  They oppose that concept. 

It makes no sense in terms of securing in Iraq.  It‘s putting these soldiers at risk.  It‘s the wrong policy, the wrong idea.  And we, the Congress, under the leadership of the Democrats should not let that happen. 

MATTHEWS:  A political question, a Massachusetts question, a Commonwealth of Massachusetts question.  Who will you endorse for president in 2008 in the Democratic Party? 

KENNEDY:  Well, we have to find out who is going to run.  Isn‘t that the circumstance?  My colleague and friend John Kerry is taking a look at it.  He‘s going to make his mind up very soon... 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a deadline for your support?  It‘s been said that you have a deadline. 

KENNEDY:  Is that said? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s been said in the world out there that you want him to make a decision here. 

KENNEDY:  I think John understands that you have to make one earlier than later.  And I expect that he will...

MATTHEWS:  Will you back him? 

KENNEDY:  I think it‘s—I will back him.  But I think that the—in the meantime, we‘ve got a superb new governor.  Deval Patrick‘s doing an outstanding job. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the last governor, the last question, the governor who just left office, Mitt Romney.  When he ran against you, people noticed that he was moving to the center, if not to the left.  He was for a woman‘s right to choose on an abortion.  He was for gay rights generally.  Now he‘s out there running to the right, saying he‘s against any kind of gay union of any kind, he‘s against any kind of abortion rights.  Which is the real Mitt Romney that you‘ve gotten to know? 

KENNEDY:  He‘ll have to explain it.  In our—even in our debate we had it.  He was—had moved back and forth on the choice issue.  I said he isn‘t pro-choice or anti-choice.  He‘s multiple choice.  And I think he‘s going to have to probably respond to that as he gets across the countryside.  And we‘ll wish him luck. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Kennedy. 

KENNEDY:  Good to see you.

Thanks a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Multiple choice. 

Coming up, Congressman Duncan Hunter, who‘s running for president himself, on whether President Bush should be sending more troops into Iraq. 

And later, selling the surge: former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein on what the president must do to make his case tommorrow night. 

And MSNBC will have all day coverage tomorrow of what‘s next on Iraq leading up to the president‘s speech tomorrow night at 9:00. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  California Congressman Duncan Hunter is the top Republican in the House Armed Services Committee.  He is also a candidate for president.  He just returned from a few days in New Hampshire where he was thinking politics.  And this afternoon he met with President Bush at the White House.

Mr. Hunter, do you think the president‘s authority to make war is unlimited or what are the limitations?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, ® CA:  This is a full service operation, Chris.  I did just get back from New Hampshire and had a good chance to sit down, talk with the president, with a number of other members.

You know, the president has laid out a plan that with the Iraqi soldiers in the lead, goes in, attempts to settle down Baghdad and also importantly provides an additional 4,000 marines for Anbar Province, or an additional 4,000 soldiers.  I think that‘s necessary.  He‘s the commander in chief.  The generals on the ground agree with that.  I have talked to the marines myself.  They said they need more folks out there in Anbar.

I have looked at the plan.  It does involve bringing in something that I have advocated to the president which is an additional nine battalions of Iraqi soldiers that are trained and equipped that are in the quiet areas right now, and they haven‘t been engaging because they are in areas that average less than one attack a day.

Nine of those battalions are going to be moving into Baghdad.  They are going to sector this Baghdad off into a series of areas of operation and side by side with the Iraqis we‘re going to be moving through that city.

I think it‘s a sensible plan, it‘s a logical plan.  I‘m going to support the president.

MATTHEWS:  Who are we fighting?

HUNTER:  Right now we have got, Chris, the idea isn‘t to kill Iraqis in Baghdad.  It‘s simply to make sure that insurgents, whether they are Sunni insurgents that are hitting Shiite neighborhoods or some of the folks coming in, the foreign fighters that are coming in, to try and settle—set down or dampen that sectarian violence, but there aren‘t armored columns coming into Iraq obviously.  This isn‘t a conventional war.  This is an opportunity for the Iraqis to stabilize their own major city with the Americans in a supporting role.  Not in the front, not going through the neighborhoods, not going through the houses.  Iraqis will be doing this.

We‘re going to be basically standing on our leverage.  That is our special operations capability, our intel capability, our logistics capability.  And you know the president is the commander in chief here.  He has looked at a lot of plans.  He has spent a lot of time in the Pentagon.  This is one that his generals agree on.  I think that our policy right now, Chris, should go from our shores with one voice, and the fact that Democrats are all over the place, already tearing the plan up before they really even know what‘s involved.

For example, the idea that a member of Congress should say the marines may want more people in Anbar Province.  I say stop them.  Don‘t give the marines any help because I want to make a political point.  I think that‘s a bad thing for this country.  I‘d like to see us come together.  Let‘s give the president a chance.  He is the commander in chief.  He is a guy that has been elected by all of us.  These are tough decisions.  I‘m going to support him.

MATTHEWS:  Under what authority is the president acting right now?  Is he acting as you understand under the resolution of 2002 that gave him the authority to overthrow Saddam?  Is that the legislative authority he has?  Or don‘t you think he needs any?

HUNTER:  As you know, Chris, there is this long time struggle between the War Powers Act and those who feel that the president has a constitutional power as commander in chief that intrudes to a great deal on the War Powers Act.  I think the president has the power as the commander in chief, especially once this war is engaged and we‘re operating in a war right now, we‘re engaged in battle, and the idea that we‘re halfway up this hill and you have got politicians who want now to change the number of soldiers, to keep the president from adding or subtracting, to keep him from making what are really almost tactical decisions is a real disservice, not only to the country but to his commander-in-chief powers under the Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a big matter of principle, not tactics.  If the president tomorrow morning were to decide to bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran, would he have to get authority to do that or do you believe he could do that as commander in chief?  Just do it because he believes we have to do it?

HUNTER:  I think if this was an imminent danger because you know ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he calls it an imminent danger.  Does he have any limits on his authority, congressman, or can he do anything he wants if he calls it imminent?  He called this war imminent.

HUNTER:  Chris, if there were a missile—to answer your question directly.  If there were a missile ready to launch, I would say the president could do that without convening Congress.  And under the War Powers Act, obviously he could, because the critics of the War Powers Act on the left said that it gave too much power to the president because he could act for a certain number of days.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not talking about that, congressman.  We‘re talking about a preventative strike on Iran.  Do you believe the president has the right to knock out their nuclear facilities before they are able to launch a weapon?

HUNTER:  I think in a ...

MATTHEWS:  Without approval from you guys on the Hill, from the Congress of the United States?

HUNTER:  And Chris, I think that the question is if it‘s an imminent threat, that is an immediate threat, missile ready to launch, yes.  If it‘s a long-term thing, I think he‘s got to get permission for an activity like that.  If it‘s a long-planned preemptive strike, one that takes a matter of months in which time is not—is not the priority, then I think that he would need to have under my analysis an agreement from Congress.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much for coming on.  I wanted to know where that line was.  It‘s whether he is always allowed to protect the country in imminent danger, but if it‘s a long-term strategic decision, he has got to go through the Congress.

HUNTER:  That‘s the age of missiles, Chris.  You have a missile that can cross an ocean mighty fast.  It‘s pretty tough to bring the reasonable boys back in Washington, DC.

MATTHEWS:  The only reason I‘m skeptical is those guys sold us on the fact a lot of people on Capitol Hill believed they have a nuclear weapon in Iraq, and had a delivery vehicle that was going to come to the continental United States.  They sold the whole mushroom argument as if it was an imminent threat to the United States, not to Israel, not to Saudi, but to us.  And I think they way oversold that imminent threat.  That‘s why I‘m a little tough here.

HUNTER:  Well, Chris, let me just tell you.

I held hearings before the vote by Congress to empower the president to move in Iraq.  I brought in all of our intelligence agencies, and I let every member including all the Democrat members ask any question they wanted to ask, and they got varying opinions, but I wanted to make sure they were informed.  There were no White House handlers at those hearings.  They got to ask every question they wanted.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir.  It‘s great having you on.  Good luck in the campaign.  Thank you.  Congressman Duncan Hunter ...

HUNTER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Who is running for president.  Up next, can the president, President Bush sell skeptics on more troops for Iraq tomorrow night?  Former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein is going to tell us how he has to do it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Ken Duberstein was Ronald Reagan‘s chief of staff late in his term.  He thinks President Bush‘s speech tomorrow night is the biggest of Bush‘s career.  So how does the president convince the country that this war needs more troops?  Ken Duberstein?

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF:  The first thing he has to do is demonstrate that he has learned some lessons.  Not from the November 7 election, but from the thee years in Iraq.  He needs to demonstrate to the American people the credibility of saying not that I made mistakes but I have learned a whole bunch of lessons.

If he doesn‘t do that, I think the American people will by and large say hit the remote control, flip the channel.  Before you even get to the plan ...

MATTHEWS:  What he can say is it was a mistake going to Iraq.

DUBERSTEIN:  No he can say I have learned some lessons.

MATTHEWS:  He may be should but he isn‘t going to say that.

DUBERSTEIN:  But he‘s not going to say that.  But lessons he has learned in dealing with the Iraqi situation for the last three years.  And then lay out this plan.  But in order for him to be credible, he has to say this is why this one is achievable.

MATTHEWS:  But Ken, obviously, you‘re not carrying a brief for the White House.  Because I have never heard the president admit he was wrong about anything significant.

DUBERSTEIN:  I didn‘t say wrong.  I said lessons learned.  They have learned some lessons from the three years in Iraq.  Wish we had done some things differently.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s start with the big one.  General Shinseki said several years ago the general said we need several hundred thousand troops to win the battle to stabilize that country.  He was shouted down by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, told you‘re all wet, we can do this on the cheap.  Is the president going to say I made a mistake, I have learned a lesson or we need more troops?

DUBERSTEIN:  He is going to say that we have learned a lesson, that we can‘t do it on the cheap, that we may have to put in more troops.  But we have to do that as part of an overall package so that the Iraqis are also building up, so that we are spending more money on reconstruction.  It‘s not just so-called surge.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You can make a person do something but you can‘t make them want to do it.  If the Iraqis don‘t want to go into the streets of Baghdad and fight the Sunnis who are fighting for their lives basically because they are about to be finished over there, would you if you were a Kurd soldier go into Baghdad and fight the Sunni?

Or would you stay in Kurdistan where you want to stay?  These troops know what they‘re doing.  These units don‘t want to go fight in the streets.

DUBERSTEIN:  And Maliki, I think what Bush will argue has had a change of heart.  Who is willing to go into some of the tough areas of Baghdad and say we‘re going to do it with more troops, we‘re going to do it with Iraqi soldiers and we‘re going to work this thing out.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Maliki looking at this guy has the stuff to tell troops in this country that don‘t want to do something like leave their neighborhoods and go into the worst neighborhood in Iraq and fight for their lives, do you think he can make him do it?

DUBERSTEIN:  I don‘t think you can make that judgment and I can‘t make that judgment.

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, if this president is optimistic about Maliki and those Kurds fighting in downtown Baghdad, I‘m amazed.

DUBERSTEIN:  But from everything that I hear, everything that I see, everything I read, Bush feels it has been a change of heart, and Maliki sees the handwriting on the wall.

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you afraid that the united states soldier, mostly men, some women, are being asked to do the job that Iraqis should have been doing for a long time now, which is to patrol their own streets for crime, basically?  That‘s what we‘re talking about.

DUBERSTEIN:  And maybe this is lessons learned, that he has to put the Iraqis first front and center, rather than the U.S. soldiers.  And therefore use it as combined with the U.S. being ...

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you afraid—we‘re watching some stock footage here.  Fairly new.  But what we will be seeing in the weeks ahead perhaps at the end of this month, according to the latest schedule we‘re getting from Reuters, that the troops will be moving in there.

We‘ll be seeing American GIs, 19-year-old guys from Arkansas, Puerto Rico, whatever, kicking down doors, looking for troublemakers without being able to speak Arabic, without knowing the local neighborhood, relying on interpreters, and really right there in the firing line?  Does that make you happy that role for American soldiers?

DUBERSTEIN:  Of course not.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why are we doing it?

DUBERSTEIN:  But the reality is that we can‘t leave Iraq.  We have to figure out a way to achieve some of the goals as far as stability in the region and stability in Iraq.  That has to be the objective.

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  Sooner or later we‘re coming home.  I would like to hear an argument that later is going to be better.  Where five years from now if we stay there five more years, will there be less violence over there, will that war between the Sunnis and the Shia be over or will it never end?

DUBERSTEIN:  And let‘s make that judgment after the speech tomorrow night rather than ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I would be glad to do it except the White House is leaking this thing like the Titanic.  We now know it‘s 20,000 troops.  We know it‘s going to be mainly—the troops were going mainly to Baghdad but also to Anbar province.  Overwhelmingly going to what I just described, kicking down doors in Baghdad.

Anyway, thank you, Ken Duberstein.  It‘s like going into tough neighborhoods in New York, you know what I‘m talking about.

DUBERSTEIN:  Absolutely.  Or Philadelphia.

MATTHEWS:  Philly.  That‘s true.

The neighborhoods are getting tougher.  Up next, will the president‘s call for up to 20,000 more troops to Iraq sell the American people tomorrow night when they are all watching?  Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Florida, and Kit Bond, Republican of Missouri will be here.

And tomorrow, all-day coverage of what‘s next in Iraq, begins tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on MSNBC.  Among the guests throughout the day, Henry Kissinger, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson and Senator John McCain.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One day before the president‘s announcement to send tens of thousands more troops to Iraq, what kind of support will he get from his own party and how much of a fight can he expect from the Democrats?  We have got one of each here tonight. 

Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, sits on the Armed Services Committee and he met with President Bush and pressed the administration to outline a clear mission for our troops to deploy to Iraq.  And Senator Kit Bond, Republican from Missouri, also met with the president.  Well, this is a big eight sort of thing here.  We‘ve got Missouri and Nebraska.  Let me start with...

SEN. KIT BOND ®, MISSOURI:  And Texas A&M. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me start with Senator Nelson of Nebraska. 

Are you going to support the president‘s call for another 20,000 troops?  In fact, he‘s just going to do it, 20,000 more troops, mainly to Baghdad.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), NEBRASKA:  Well, I told him that it was a matter of deciding what they were going to do, and it was going to be a difficult sell but it was a sell that he would have to make as to a winning strategy so that at the end of the day, we don‘t have what we have in June, a failed effort.  This sort of seems like it‘s just the last major opportunity to get it right. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

NELSON:  And that‘s what the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s right that we put our soldiers on the frontline in door to door fighting in Baghdad? 

NELSON:  Not for sectarian violence I don‘t.  Now, it‘s my hope that the president is planning to do this to quell the violence, to bring it down to the level so that Prime Minister Maliki can bring about a political resolution, because we can‘t win this going door to door anywhere. 

Once you go through the area, how do you sustain it and how do you continue to provide the level of support that it‘s going to require for calm in Baghdad or in Anbar province? 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Bond, how do you see this mission being carried out, 20,000 more troops, apparently assigned mainly to Baghdad, some to Anbar Province, another troubled area? 

BOND:  Well, first, I agree with all of what my friend Ben Nelson said, but I think it‘s clear that there is a totally new mission because as you may have heard earlier, Prime Minister al-Maliki came to President Bush with a plan for the Iraqis to take control and assume ownership of the effort. 

Now, the troops, as I understand—and we don‘t have the full plans yet—will be over to support the troops, a ratio much heavier involving Iraqis than American troops and the American troops will be there to assist, serve as embedded supervisors and advisors in the Al Anbar Province where there are problems with al Qaeda and others. 

The American troops will be available to go after the international jihadists and help perform a protective shield for the Iraqis to take control. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Senator Bond, how do we know or anyone could know that the Iraqis are actually going to commit those brigades?  Last time around, last summer or the summer before, they said they were going to send eight brigades to Baghdad.  They never showed up.  Two showed up.

We hear that people who are fighting in the army, Kurds who are fighting up north, have no desire whatever to come down and work and fight for their lives in Baghdad.  How do we know he can deliver troops from these safer areas into the worst part of the country? 

BOND:  Well, Prime Minister al-Maliki is there; you and I are not.  So we can‘t second-guess him.  But he committed to the president that they would make that effort, that they would assume control. 

And in Baghdad, you were worried about kicking in doors.  I talked the day before yesterday—or yesterday with a high-ranking M.P. official who has been there, and he said that not only are the Iraqi policemen doing a better job policing the neighborhoods, but they are having a tip-line which has gone from 4,000 to 8,000 to 16,000 tips. 

So the people of Baghdad apparently want security, and the Sunni tribal sheiks in Anbar Province want security.  They understand that it is in their interests to make that country safe.  We‘re going to be there to back them up and provide protection against international jihadists. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Nelson, same question to you.  How do we get any confirmation up front when we send our troops in?  Because we know the American soldiers are going.  They are under orders and they‘re disciplined and they will go with the right morale and guts. 

But what happens if they show up and the Iraqis don‘t show up, and we‘re left there fighting the Iraqis in the streets, door to door again? 

NELSON:  Well, that‘s what we don‘t want to have happen.  And I don‘t know that we can have the assurance necessary to believe that they will show up or that they will all show up.  I think we expect them to show up, but there is no guarantee that they will.  And so that‘s a factor that has to be weighed, but I‘m sure the president is considering that in connection with his decision to bring about 20,000 troops, if that‘s the number. 

We‘re all speculating.  It‘s going to be clear, I hope, tomorrow night when he sets out the conditions for staying, that Prime Minister Maliki has to meet certain conditions, he has to do certain things, deliver the troops. 

We want conditions for staying, we want measurable goals, and we want to have the metrics, if you will, to know whether we‘re 50 percent successful, 75 percent successful.  What does it take to stand up and how many Iraqi troops have to be there after this is all over for this to be successful? 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you very much, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat, and Senator Kit Bond, a Republican, of Missouri. 

Up next, what, if anything, can the Democratic-dominated Congress do to stop the president‘s plans or change them toward sending in troops to Iraq?  Can they risk opposing—the Democrats risk opposing the president‘s plan, the commander in chief, and still be for the troops? 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Bush wants to escalate the war in Iraq.  What is Congress going to do about it, what can they do about it, and what are they willing to do?  Here to dig into Iraq politics, now that we got rid of these politicians who have to get re-elected, real journalists.  We‘ve got Susan Page.  She‘s from “USA Today.”  Michael Duffy is assistant managing editor, AME, of “Time” magazine. 

Nice issue this week.  I thought it was really great.  I stayed up Saturday night and basically read everything before I fell asleep.  It‘s a good magazine, I like it.  Too many neo-cons, though, too, too many.  Anyway, are you going to reduce that number? 

Anyway, seriously, let‘s just check these guys, these politicians.  And let‘s make an assumption it‘s not all on the level.  Is it possible that the president doesn‘t have any firm belief that sending 20,000 more troops into the streets of Baghdad and Anbar Province is going to end this war?  The war‘s going to continue because it‘s been going on for 1,300 years.  He‘s doing this as a sign of robust commitment to his existing policy.  And it‘s really, basically public relations—Mike Duffy?

MIKE DUFFY, “TIME” ASST. MANAGING EDITOR:  It looks like in some ways just mobilization.  A lot of military officials have said to us, you know, this is either a serious attempt to do something, or it‘s just a signal to the American people that we did our damnedest before we actually pulled out...

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s the exit strategy?

DUFFY:  Well, it could be an exit strategy.  Bush doesn‘t look like someone who believes in exit strategies.  He tends to be a guy who does what he says. He makes the point that...

MATTHEWS:  Is this a P.R. push or is this a real strategic epiphany, a realization, “Hey, we finally figured out what the real situation is here and we can end this civil war and get out of this with peace?” 

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”  Well, I don‘t think it‘s a huge change in direction.  I think it‘s a movement in the same direction with 20,000 more troops...

MATTHEWS:  With racing stripes. 

PAGE:  But, you know, I think it‘s not an exit strategy.  I mean, there have been no signs at all from President Bush he‘s looking for an exit strategy.  If anything, it looks to me like an attempt to buy time for his current policy in the hopes that things turn around. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Back when we went into Lebanon in 1983, I was sitting in a meeting up on the Hill, when I was working for the leadership, the Democratic leadership, and Tom Foley said, when they were putting troops into Lebanon—which—nobody could figure out what they were going to do there—he said the only difference between whether we put them in, keep them in for six months or don‘t do that is the number of causalities we‘re going to take because we‘re not going to change anything over there because these people want to fight with each other.  You know, Hezbollah and the rest of them.  We had the barracks get blown up right after that. 

Is it possible that the only thing we‘re doing over there is exposing Americans to fire, that we‘re not going to change that civil war‘s direction, that Sunnis will still be fighting for their lives because they‘re about to be made irrelevant, the Shia are still going to be writing (ph) -- basically, trying to do ethnic cleansing.  And the minute we leave after taking all the blood and fire we‘re going to take, they‘ll go back to doing what they were doing the minute we went in there. 

PAGE:  And look at the pain...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the question, is it possible that we‘re serving absolutely no value?  That the lives lost from here on out are good money after bad, good lives after more lives? 

PAGE:  It‘s certainly possible.  But let‘s go back to your example of Lebanon.  Look at the pivot that President Reagan made then.  You know, he said, “OK, enough...”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember how he said, “Redeploy to the sea,” in other words, get the hell out there.  But that‘s the way he phrased it.

PAGE:  And you know what?  He paid a small price, I think.  But not a big price and the Americans said...

MATTHEWS:  Where did he pay a price? 

PAGE:  Well, I think some people said, “Hey, you were—you committed there...”

DUFFY:  But then he invaded Grenada a few days later...

PAGE:  It was a very exciting weekend... 

DUFFY:  It was a very busy week. 

I also think that they have—don‘t forget if a surge lasts 18 to 24 months, which some proponents have said—this administration is done in 18 to 24 months.  And then it‘s someone else‘s problem. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  When we get back, I want to talk about the Democrats because I have a sense they‘re putting—that‘s Teddy‘s out there all alone today.  On the other side, you‘ve got Murtha apparently coming out tomorrow night, perhaps.  Are they just letting the most militant anti-war people do their speaking while they protect their main body of troops, Steny Hoyer, Hillary Clinton, the moderates in the middle, even Joe Biden?  Are they holding them and protecting them by just letting the people on the left go out there and talk? 

We‘ll be right back with Susan Page, the answer to that question and Mike Duffy.  Is this a game on the Democrats‘ side?  And is it a game on the Republicans‘ side?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re back with “USA Today‘s” Susan Page and “Time Magazine‘s” Mike Duffy.

We start on the Republicans and the possibility that the president may be inclined to do this upsurge of troops, this 20,000 more troops going to Iraq, into Baghdad and Anbar province, basically to show his commitment to this ongoing war. 

Now, the Democrats.  We had Ted Kennedy on tonight, very strong, very militant against this war.  But he‘s been that way from the beginning.  He doesn‘t speak for the middle troops, you know, the Hillary Clintons of this world, the Steny Hoyers of this world. 

Are the Democrats protecting the main body of their forces right now, by letting the left go out there? 

DUFFY:  Well, I think they‘ve been caught off guard once again.  They came back last week to talk about domestic policy and the things they wanted to do.  And they discovered they had war protesters in all of their press conferences. 

And so they kind of ginned up a whole bunch of things really quickly.  They accelerated those hearings.  I think they put some of those people out.  They got forward over their skis I think because they recognized that it‘s going to be kind of odd, if you come out and first and say, “You just can‘t do this.”  They have no vehicle, really, for stopping it.  And the people who are going to act—and the leadership doesn‘t really want to lead the way on this. 

So I suspect that the people who will do the most influential talking over the next week about the surge are the Republicans, who are really made uncomfortable and do not want to be for this...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to be listening to Gordon Smith of Oregon. 

And we‘re going to be listening, perhaps Ben Nelson, we just heard.  We‘re

going to be hearing from them

Let me ask you this about the Democrats.  Are the Democrats protecting their main body of troops by letting the real anti-war warriors, the usual suspects go out there? 

PAGE:  You know, I think they have to be out there against the surge.  Eighty-five percent of Democrats in the U.S. in the “USA Today”-Gallup poll out today said they were against the surge.  So it‘s necessary for them to have people Kennedy and Murtha out there.

But there‘s a big risk for Democrats if they‘re too far forward on opposing it or even blocking it.  I don‘t think this proposal by Kennedy, for instance, is going to actually come to a vote?

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the risk of opposing an unpopular war?

PAGE:  Because—you know, the war‘s unpopular, but there‘s no really consensus on exactly how to extricate ourselves and there are big risks involved in pulling out.  I mean, one of the problems...

MATTHEWS:  How come there‘s no risk in incurring more American casualties?  There‘s 50 or a 100 guys to get killed every week over there, and that‘s not considered a political risk?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... but a political risk is saying, “I don‘t want those guys to get killed.” 

PAGE:  ... but if the extrication was easy and not risky, we would have done it already. 

DUFFY:  And I think what the Democrats are going to do is find some way in the next week or so to ask as many questions as they can about what the mission it, how many troops for how long, you know, how will we know when we have succeeded?

They‘ve got to come up with some sort of framework for having these questions asked of this policy, whatever it looks like tomorrow night, and then have that answered.  And I think what the leadership is going to do is say, “Here are some questions”—I think Pelosi said this.  “Here are some questions that we need the answers to...”

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think?  The person who runs against the war in Iraq strongly and militantly in the Democratic primaries next year will win. 

Thank you, Susan Page.

Thank you, Mike Duffy.

Tomorrow on MSNBC, all-day coverage on what‘s next in Iraq beginning at 9:00 a.m., 12 hours before the president with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell as we gear up for the president‘s prime time address tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m.

See you then.

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

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