updated 1/11/2007 12:14:58 PM ET 2007-01-11T17:14:58

Guests: Michael Crowley, Joan Walsh, Judd Legum

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Welcome back to our special coverage of the president‘s address on Iraq. 

After all the study groups and reports, an electoral repudiation, and the death of more than 3,000 American soldiers, tonight, the president tells a skeptical nation that he plans to send more than 20,000 new troops to Iraq.  And he admits that he made mistakes in that troubled country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:     The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me.  Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely.  They have done everything we have asked them to do. 

Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Here with analysis and insight, Joan Walsh—she‘s editor in chief of Salon.com—Craig Crawford—he‘s columnist for “Congressional Quarterly” and an MSNBC political analyst—Michael Crowley -- he‘s senior editor for “The New Republic”—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, the president admits tonight that he made mistakes.  This is the same president, when he was running for reelection in 2004, said he couldn‘t think of anything he had done wrong. 

How dramatic three years have made on this president. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, that‘s right, Joe. 

The president of the United States simply cannot say mistakes weren‘t made here.  This is when, four years into a war, you have got an Army that, according to the chief of staff, is breaking.  We‘re not winning the war.  And the president himself says, and Colin Powell says, we‘re losing the war. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joan, what‘s—what was your response to the—the president‘s suggestion that we need to send 20,000 more troops into Iraq, that—that, after having them for a while, we will allow the Iraqis to take their country back over, and that we can leave, knowing that we have kept America safe? 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Joe, you know, every time I come onto your show, I really struggle beforehand to come up with a new synonym for delusional. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  And all I could think of tonight was kind of farcical. 

You know, Joe, he is playing a shell game with these troops.  Everybody knows it.  Twenty one thousand troops are not going to make any kind of difference.  I really expected him, at least a week ago, not—the speech was certainly leaked.

But he turned to his neocon friends at the American Enterprise Institute to cook up this plan.  And at least they had the decency, Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, to say it would take 40,000 troops, at minimum, in Baghdad alone, going house to house, for 18 to 24 months.  That‘s what they laid out.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Joan, we had—we had Colonel Jack Jacobs coming on, suggesting...

WALSH:  I saw...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  in no uncertain terms, that this is really a political move, and not a military move. 

WALSH:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I have heard the same thing from a lot of military analysts behind the scenes.

So, why is the president doing it?  What‘s the political upside of sending 20,00 more troops to a region, when his military men and women are saying it‘s not going to have any real impact? 

WALSH:  I think it‘s a very dangerous waiting game.  He does not want to lose Iraq on his watch. 

I don‘t—I don‘t even believe anymore—Pat thinks differently, but I don‘t believe anymore that he truly believes this could make a difference, because even the hawks, who he listens to—the generals don‘t think it will—and the hawks, who he listens to, don‘t think it will.

General Petraeus, who has now taken over, wrote the book, literally, on insurgency.  His formulas for combating insurgency made it sound more like a couple hundred thousand new troops. 

So, right.  Everyone knows this is not going to make any military difference.  It‘s a political maneuver.  And it‘s a terrible one.  We‘re paying attention to Hillary Clinton.  I‘m disappointed that it took her all day.  I really do think that those vulnerable Republican senators are the bellwether. 

BUCHANAN:  Joe...

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Joe—Joe, I just...

SCARBOROUGH:  We will see what happens with them.

And, of course—hey, Craig, I will come to you in a second.

I want you to hear, first, the president talking about his critics‘ plan.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Their solution is to scale back America‘s efforts in Baghdad or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. 

We carefully considered these proposals.  And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH: “Mass killings on an unimaginable scale”—it sounds, Craig, like the president is throwing down the gauntlet on his Democratic critics. 

How are they going to respond? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, there‘s one other consequence that he talked about with lawmakers today that he did not mention in the speech, a consequence that he sees...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... where he talked about the effect on Saudi Arabia. 

And he said that Saudi Arabia would become insecure about their situation in the region, and, if we weren‘t there to handle it, they would start looking to another world power to handle it for them. 

Now, I think that‘s very interesting and telling about the president‘s mind-set on what we‘re doing in Iraq, and how interesting that his own father conducted a war in Iraq, at the behest of Saudi Arabia. 

And I think it really does raise the question of, are we some sort of client state for Saudi Arabia, and are our men and women going over there to die for them? 

WALSH:  Excellent question. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Craig—and, Craig, we have heard this repeated time and again, that the Saudis have warned us, if we don‘t stay in Iraq, then, they will do all they can to help their Sunni brethren in this civil war...

CRAWFORD:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... that they will side with the Sunni...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  This is what is extraordinary, Craig.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  One more thing about Saudi Arabia is—is...

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead.

CRAWFORD:  One more thing to consider about Saudi Arabia and Iraq is, it is in their interests to keep Iraq oil off the market.  It was never part of OPEC.  They don‘t want it on the market.  It is a real hit on their economics...

BUCHANAN:  But, Joe...

CRAWFORD:  ... if Iraq oil got back on the market.  And both Bush presidents have done a very good job of keeping Iraq oil off the market. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Joe, you haven‘t gotten an answer to your question. 

You wanted to know, was the president right when he said, if we pull out troops now, this government goes down, and there will be a slaughterhouse in Iraq of all our friends?

Now that, I believe, is a truthful statement as to what‘s going to happen.  And the president asked, if anyone has a better idea of how to save this, they should come forward with it. 

CRAWFORD:  Sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  They‘re not getting that.  They‘re not getting that. 

CRAWFORD:  Democrats give you that.  I—I have had that conversation

with Democrats many times.  They talk about containment.  They talk about -

they‘re not talking about bringing those troops out, bringing them back here to the United States.  They‘re talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What do you mean, containment? 

CRAWFORD:  That‘s what redeployment—the same thing we did...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What is going to stop...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What will stop Iraq from falling apart in an all-out war? 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  Pat, if you want an answer, I will give you one.  Do you want an answer or not? 

I will tell you what they tell me when you ask—when I ask them that question.

BUCHANAN:  What?

CRAWFORD:  They tell me, it‘s the same thing with—with—with Saddam.  I mean, we had Saddam contained.  We contained that country.  And -- and that‘s what they‘re talking about when they talk about redeployment. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Well, let me ask you...

CRAWFORD:  It‘s—it‘s redeployment to the countries around the region.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

CRAWFORD:  Contain the violence within Iraq.  It is not...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  How do you contain the violence within Iraq by getting out of Iraq, when we can‘t contain it now? 

WALSH:  Well, we can‘t contain it now, exactly. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  We can‘t—we can‘t contain the—we can‘t—we can‘t control the violence within Iraq—in—within Iraq.  We can contain it from outside...

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

CRAWFORD:  ... so that it doesn‘t spread to other countries. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What do you do if...

CRAWFORD:  The president knows that is possible.

BUCHANAN:  What do you do if this place breaks up and the Iranians, as they would have every right to do, frankly, want to make sure they have a friendly state on their border, pro-Shia?  They go in, and send their boys in to try to save the Shia state.  The Saudis and the Jordanians aid the Sunnis.  The Turks go in and aid the Turkmens. 

What does the United States do in the periphery then?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR EDITOR, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  But, Pat, what makes you think all this is not going to happen eventually...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  What I don‘t understand, which no one has explained, is how this... 

SCARBOROUGH:  One—hey, one at a time.

BUCHANAN:  Michael, I‘m not sure.  But I do know...

CROWLEY:  OK.

BUCHANAN:  ... it will happen if you walk out now. 

CROWLEY:  But—but I think that...

BUCHANAN:  That‘s what the president is saying.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  OK.  But I—if I can just...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  I just want to redefine.  When we say walk out, we‘re not talking about pulling the troops out.  Redeployment is about redeploying in the area without—around Iraq...

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  And let me—let me stop everybody for a minute here, because, obviously...

CRAWFORD:  ... and maintaining an American military presence.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me stop—let me stop everybody for a minute here, because, obviously, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. 

Craig, you were suggesting tonight that redeployment doesn‘t mean bringing 130,000 or 140,000 troops home.  You were suggesting it means redeploying them, keeping them in the region...

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... making sure that you don‘t have the Iranians coming in from the east, making sure you don‘t have the Jordanians coming in from the—the west, or the Saudis from the south, or the Turks from the north. 

You‘re talking about a redeployment, just getting out of Baghdad? 

What are the Democrats suggesting, to—to avoid this worst-case scenario

that Pat is talking about, and a lot of other people have good reasons to -

to be concerned about? 

CRAWFORD:  I‘m that—that is—I‘m just—I‘m relaying to you what their explanation is when you put the question to them.  And I have heard them say it many times. 

And—and they‘re—but people always want to re-characterize what -

what they‘re trying to say as—as a withdrawal, as a pullout, as cut and run, and all that language.

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell me what you understand it as.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  This is—look, Joe, this is laughable. 

The president of the United States said tonight, Iranians are moving in there.  Syrians are letting infiltrators get in. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I will tell you one thing.

BUCHANAN:  And we‘re being told that, if we take all our troops out, then we can be the around the area, and stop this? 

CRAWFORD:  You—you—you don‘t think sending 20,000 more troops isn‘t going to produce—the Iranians can dial up a—a response to 20,000 troops tomorrow.  I mean, they—they can—they can ante up.

They—they can escalate this thing, even more than we can, any time they want. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me bring in—let me bring in Michael Crowley right now. 

Michael there is no question.  Again, I‘m not trying to paint you into any corner.  Let‘s just have some clarification here.

First of all, Democrats are not suggesting that we remove all of our troops right now out of—out of Iraq, correct? 

CROWLEY:  No, that‘s correct.  I mean, I don‘t speak for Democrats. 

But even the Murtha plan that got so much attention, and which Republicans tried to portray..

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

CROWLEY:  ... as cut and run, that was redeploy over the horizon, was the phrase he always used.  I think he often suggested Kuwait. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He said Okinawa.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Hold on a second.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.

I—I want to go—I want to go through a couple of these things and get some clarification.  Then, we will continue this debate. 

Michael, also, when you talk about Iran, no one is questioning, are they, tonight, nobody that‘s serious is questioning whether the Iranians are sending troops and forces and supplies to Shia death squads.  I mean, that is, without question, occurring right now, correct? 

CROWLEY:  Yes.  They are definitely—I don‘t know about—if troops is the word, but they‘re definitely aiding and abetting those people, sure, and training them, yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And what would you suggest would happen if we left Iraq, if we redeployed, got out of the region, as some suggest we should do?  Do you think that would increase the Iranians‘ influence in Iraq?

And, if that happened, do you think that would draw in Sunnis from Saudi Arabia in the south or from Jordan in the west? 

CROWLEY:  Joe, I think that‘s possible.  And I don‘t want to minimize the nightmarish consequences. 

The problem that I have is, I have yet to see anyone explain to me how we keep that stuff from happening one way or another.  I mean, there‘s only so long you can stand and try to hold together a house that—you know, that isn‘t nailed together.  I mean, these...

WALSH:  Right. 

CROWLEY:  I mean, these forces want to split apart.  We can keep our entire army there forever, and it will be great.  And—and our grandchildren will have an Iraq with 150,000 American troops in there, where all hell hasn‘t completely broken loose.  But how long are we willing to forestall that?

And at what point do the costs outweigh the benefits?

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joan...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  My favorite—my favorite line today was...

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, it seems like—that—that‘s the question, Joan, tonight, isn‘t it? 

I mean, the president, Democrats can say he‘s gotten in to this terrible situation, where we are damned if we do; we‘re damned if we don‘t.  And, as Pat Buchanan is suggesting, and I would think many people would suggest, if we leave, the possibility of a terrible situation getting worse is great, is it not? 

WALSH:  It‘s great.  It‘s very sobering. 

But my favorite line today came from another Republican senator, John Warner, who asked, very directly, who—what are our troops doing, and who are they shooting—shooting at, Sunni or Shia? 

And I think that we know the answer is mostly Sunni.  We are siding—the—the irony here, Joe, is that we are siding with the same side as the Iranians are siding with. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a very good point, Joe. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Maliki...

BUCHANAN:  That is a very good point.

WALSH:  Maliki cannot...

BUCHANAN:  And that‘s the key question. 

WALSH:  It‘s a key question.

BUCHANAN:  The key question is...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  He‘s beholden to the Shia militia.  And he‘s not going to...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on.  One at a time. 

I am going to play traffic cop. 

Joan, finish up. 

Then, we will go to Pat.

And, then we will go to you, Craig. 

WALSH:  Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead, Joan.

WALSH:  He‘s not—he cannot crack—he can—he can talk tough about the Mahdi army.  He‘s talked tough before. 

Today, in Salon, Tim Grieve went through the history of all the times Bush has praised him for talking about a robust effort to crack down on the Mahdi army.  And it never happens. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.

WALSH:  He needs those people to protect... 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Pat...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  We‘re siding with...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the key point.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Pat—Pat, hold on.

Hey, Pat, it seems to me—and I am going to tell you I—a lot of people think they know where I stand on Iraq.  They—they really don‘t, because I usually throw the questions out, and let you all knock it around. 

My issue right now with George Bush is the fact that he‘s not fighting this war like a war.  He‘s allowing Shia thugs, led by al-Sadr, to run across the country, and blow people up, cut their heads off, shoot them in the back of the head, the Sunnis.

It seems to me, if this president wants to fight this war and win this war, he needs to have the Shia and the Kurds on his side.  That‘s 80 percent of the population.  They had been oppressed for decades by Saddam Hussein‘s Sunnis.  But he can‘t do that as long as you have thugs, like al-Sadr, running the Shia forces, instead of Sistani.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, why doesn‘t the president go after these thugs, who are every bit as evil as Saddam Hussein ever was? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is exactly the—this is the acid test. 

We have seen yesterday, on Haifa Street, that—that the—that Maliki and the Americans will go after the Sunni thugs.  Maliki has said today that, we will go after Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army. 

The president says...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But how does he do that?

BUCHANAN:  I know it.

SCARBOROUGH:  He—he owes his position to al-Sadr.

BUCHANAN:  But hold it, Joe.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  When I say it‘s acid test, if he won‘t do it, and he doesn‘t do it, that is it. 

WALSH:  That should be it.

BUCHANAN:  He has said it this time.  The last test is right now. 

This is why I‘m saying, look, this is the last chance for Maliki, the last chance for the Americans.  The acid test is whether they go after the Mahdi army, which I think knows we will go after them.  And that‘s why I think it may very well run to earth for the next six months. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We have to—we have to do that.  We have to go after al-Sadr.  We have to go after the Mahdi army.  And, if we are, in fact, trying to start a democracy over there, and bring justice to Iraq, then, we have to arrest or kill al-Sadr.

On that light note, we will be right back. 

If the panel will stay with us, we will continue this discussion straight ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  President Bush says, America must succeed. 

But should success be built around a sizable troop increase? 

Let‘s go back to our panel. 

And I want start with you, Pat Buchanan.  There‘s talk in Washington right now, not just about Iraq, but also Iran, a coming war with Iran.  Is that possible? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen, let‘s—our Israeli friends are really pushing as hard as they can. 

Their generals are speaking openly.  Netanyahu says we have got to convince the Americans, we have got to convince the Democrats to support George Bush in taking out the Iranian nuclear facilities. 

You have got Cheney and Bush right now looking at a legacy of having gotten the United States into two wars, and maybe lost those wars, or  legacy where they have destroyed Iran‘s nuclear capacity, validated the Bush doctrine, saved Israel. 

I think there is a real temptation—there will be—and a real drive, in both parties, to get the United States, whatever it does, to go in from air and sea, and take out Iran‘s nuclear facilities.  I will bet you that is coming. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And...

BUCHANAN:  I will bet you the president and vice president are considering it, even as we speak. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Craig Crawford, I would bet just about any amount of money that I had available that George Bush will not leave office with a nuclear Iran. 

And I want you to take a listen to what the president said tonight about that country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops.  We will disrupt the attacks on our forces.  We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.  And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig, that tack a bit different from what the Baker commission suggested, which, of course, was diplomacy.

CRAWFORD:  A bit different.

I mean, one of the—of all the fascinating things that have been happening here in the last 24 or 48 hours, is—one is, we see that Dick Cheney won, and Jim Baker lost...

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  ... because I always thought...

WALSH:  Big time.

CRAWFORD:  ... there was a real tension there between those two for the president‘s heart and mind. 

I always was betting on Cheney.  But this is what Baker—you know, Baker‘s approach is one that I think the country needs to consider. 

And—and Pat‘s right.  It‘s a belligerent leadership in Iran.  But we keep talking about Iran as a monolith.  There are—there are moderate elements in Iran.  It—it—there are Westernized elements in Iran. 

I think our strategy of total military approach, belligerence, really precludes the opportunity that some of these moderate elements could eventually get back in to power in Iran. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... worries me about, you know, just a total military approach to Iran. 

WALSH:  Let‘s create another country that hates us.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joan Walsh, if you remember, back in 1986, though, you had the Reagan administration taking presents over to Iran, to the moderates in Iran. 

I think Pat Buchanan even baked a cake in the shape of a key for...

WALSH:  That was Pat.  You‘re right.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... for the—for—for Bud McFarlane to deliver, along with a Bible. 

My, how things have changed. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  But we keep hearing about these moderates in Iran.  Talk about that country.  I mean, I think 60, 70 percent of Iranians are under 30 years old, and fairly moderate. 

WALSH:  They love Western culture.

I mean, look, I‘m not pretending that there—that there aren‘t bad people in charge right now.  But the idea that our only answer is to—is a military one, to make enemies of this new generation of Iranians, who love the Internet, who love our music, who love our movies, the women who want our freedom, I mean, it‘s a ridiculous approach. 

And, even if I supported the approach, how are we going to open a new front in this war, when we cannot even win the war that we‘re in, when we cannot even come up with 21,000...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We don‘t even have the troops.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We do not have the troops.

WALSH:  Exactly. 

We don‘t have the—we can barely scrape together 21,000 troops.  It means that people are not going to have their leaves.  They‘re going to have their training cut short, just to get 21,000 troops.  That‘s pathetic.  And we‘re going to open another front? 

You know, Joe, if I came on your show night after night, and I lied to you, or I said things that just turned out to be demonstrably false, you would not have me back, I‘m sure. 

And the idea that we‘re supposed to listen to this president just talk in such a crazy, deluded way, again and again, and say, well, you know, maybe, maybe we can go in to Iran and we can do it—and, then, on top of everything else, the Nixonian “mistakes have been made” language, when we‘re supposed—we are told, oh, he is going to apologize.  He‘s going to say he made a mistake.  We didn‘t go in with enough troops.

He‘s been wrong from start to finish.  He‘s wrong about Iran.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  And we‘re sitting here, debating it? 

SCARBOROUGH:  And—and, Michael Crowley, in the end, the “whole mistakes were made” line, which I absolutely love—why don‘t you say, I screwed up?  I‘m sorry. 

But, when you talk about the mistakes, Michael, I—I still say, this president‘s downfall, political downfall, started with Katrina and the incompetence that was shown there.  That‘s when I started hearing my conservative friends turning on the president, saying, if he can‘t run a relief effort in Louisiana and Mississippi, how can we win a war over in Iraq? 

In the end, this has faint echoes of Mike Dukakis 1988.  It‘s not about ideology.  It‘s about competence.

WALSH:  Competence.

SCARBOROUGH:  And the mistake after mistake after mistake has lost the president‘s own base, correct? 

CROWLEY:  Yes, absolutely. 

I mean, you know, the interesting thing about Katrina, I think, was that there were so many parallels to the Iraq war, where people said, well, actually, maybe it wasn‘t just that this was—things had gone horribly wrong and it was bad luck.  It was actually, the people in charge don‘t know how to manage things, don‘t know how to run the government. 

And I think you are seeing a new emphasis on competence, understanding how government works, how to get things done.  I think, frankly, it will be an asset to someone like Hillary Clinton, who can say:  I have been around for a long time.  I know how these things work.  I know how to manage the government. 

Government has a maybe somewhat better name now or knowing how to run the government competently.  Bush came in with a—sort of a disdain for government:  We have to shrink it. 

And I think that‘s out.  So—so—and—and I think, generally, that we‘re down to the—to the—to the benefit of Democrats in general, and against people who are perceived as—as ideological, for instance, someone like John McCain, who has kind of pivoted in that direction at precisely the wrong time.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think there‘s a good point here about the death of ideology. 

Look, if the United States of America, the greatest power on Earth, can‘t rebuild a city of fewer than one million people on its own Gulf Coast, how can we rebuild a nation in the middle of the Arab and Islamic world...

WALSH:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  ... of 25 million?

WALSH:  Right...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s Wilsonian arrogance. 

Michael Crowley, thank you for being with us. 

And I want to ask the rest of our panel to stick around. 

When we come back—and—and that means Joan is going to have to be the referee in the next few segments.

When we come back, troops from the Army‘s 3rd Infantry Division gear up for their third tour of duty in Iraq.  We are going to be looking at how those soldiers and their families are getting ready to say goodbye all over again. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We mourn the loss of every fallen American, and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, when the war in Iraq was launched four years ago, Georgia‘s 3rd Infantry Division was called into action for their first deployment in Iraq.

Since then, they have been called up for a second deployment.  And the president‘s announcement tonight means they are going to be heading back to Iraq for a third time.  That‘s going to be a physical and emotional toll, not only on the soldiers, but, really, just as tough on the families. 

NBC‘s Martin Savidge is in Fort Stewart, Georgia, tonight with the 3rd I.D., and he files this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For the 3rd Infantry Division, it‘s the third time of preparing for war in Iraq. 

For roughly half the soldiers, about 10,000 new recruits, this will be their first time in combat.  Morale is good. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There are still things that are chaotic, you know? 

And we have to go over there and do it.

SAVIDGE:  The new guys get plenty of help from those who have been before. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Any issues?  You ready to go?

SAVIDGE:  Specialist Jose Montemea (ph) has already done two tours, and is going again, a war-worn veteran at just 22.  He drinks up every last moment with his family, and wonders if the third time will be the charm, or something else. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You just think about this is your third time going over there.  Am I going to be all right?  Am I going to come back?

SAVIDGE:  For Staff Sergeant Ron Zapf, this is also his third go, but the first with someone waiting back home.  He and Tracy got engaged last month. 

STAFF SGT. RON ZAPF, U.S. ARMY:  I‘m worrying about her, how she‘s going to be. 

SAVIDGE:  His last tour, the 25-year-old was wounded, received the Purple Heart and survived 13 roadside bombings.  Tracey puts on a bold face to hide her fears. 

TRACEY O‘NEIL, STAFF SERGEANT ZAPF‘S FIANCEE:  It‘s hard to think of being in the kitchen without him inside or taking Tina (ph) for a walk without him, and laying in bed without him. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE:  The troops will say the third deployment is easier, because they know what to expect. 

The families, it‘s a different matter.  All of them said goodbye to their families today.  Once again, it was a very tearful moment, because for their loved ones, they say, “Hey, look, it doesn‘t get any easier for us,” as they wait a year or more for their soldier to return.  For them, it is going to be just as difficult this time as it was the first time. 

Joe, back to you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks so much, Martin Savidge. 

And when we come back, is Iraq Bush‘s Vietnam?  Or will the president‘s plan actually turn this war around?  We‘ll be talking about that and so much more with our panel after the break. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  A democratic Iraq will not be perfect.  But it will be a country that fights terrorists, instead of harboring them.  And it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to our special coverage of the president‘s address.  You‘re looking at a small but vocal group of protesters at the White House tonight, stirring up echoes of Vietnam.  Some critics are saying Iraq is another quagmire with no end in sight. 

Here‘s Judd Legum.  He‘s research director for the Center for American Progress.  And still with us, Joan Walsh, Craig Crawford and Pat Buchanan.

Pat, I‘ll start with you.  You were in the White House at the time. 

Is this another Vietnam?

BUCHANAN:  No.  We used to have—in October and November of 1969, we had 500,000 people outside the White House.  They had buses ringing the White House, and 5,000 of them went over and trashed the Department of Justice.  This isn‘t anything like that, Joe.  But it does tell us something.

We have lost 3,000 men in Iraq.  We lost 35,000 or more in Korea in a shorter war.  The American people‘s tolerance of losing lives in what they believe are not vital wars has almost disappeared. 

And I think it tells us, frankly, when you‘ve got an Army that‘s breaking, because of two relatively small insurgencies, that the United States really is not the superpower it pretends to be.  We‘ve got commitments all over the world that we cannot validate, if they were called. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, I want you to listen to the president offering a rather grim assessment about this war, even if his plan succeeds. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success.  I believe that it will. 

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved.  There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. 

But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world, a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, how striking is that, a far cry from “mission accomplished”?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, and speaking of the image of on the battleship, the deck of a battleship, that—the speech writer probably didn‘t really want to actually use that, I would figure. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Why did he—why did he put that in there?

CRAWFORD:  I don‘t—I actually didn‘t think the speech was incredibly well-written compared to others. 

WALSH:  It wasn‘t. 

CRAWFORD:  One of the things that surprised me about it is, in other speeches I thought this was fairly effective when he talked about Iraq.  He would couch it in larger terms, the larger picture, the war on terror, maybe even bring in North Korea.  He didn‘t do that.  And he didn‘t connect Iraq to the overall big picture of the war on terror, which kind of surprised me. 

Actually, that passage—I began to think of the image of the man in the boat that‘s sinking, filling up with water, a hole in there.  And he puts another hole in the boat to let the water out.  I mean, that‘s what this speech struck me as. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, were you surprised that the president used that language that he talked about, that there wouldn‘t be a declaration of victory on a battleship, when that image has been haunting the president almost since the time he stood on the battleship and declared victory in Iraq?

WALSH:  That and “mistakes have been made,” Joe, really made me wonder if a saboteur had snuck onto the speech writing team, because those were two really tin-eared moments.  I just couldn‘t really believe it. 

And you know, when we think about mistakes that have been made.  The beginning of the war, not merely not sending enough troops, but remember how we‘re going to do nation-building now, Joe, right, belatedly. 

Remember in the beginning of the war the young staffers of the CPA were all the sons and daughters of Republican—big Republican donors.  They were vetted by how much their daddies gave to Bush, and asked about their views on abortion when they were sent over to begin to build civil institutions in Iraq. 

That‘s the other incredible irony of this speech tonight.  The belated attention to building the institutions that are needed, that were needed three years ago, but instead, it was a jobs program for rich, 20-something Republicans. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, Joe, what seemed to me was missing there was—of course, he was referring to the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay where MacArthur took the surrender from the Japanese. 

But what is missing is this.  What is there in the speech or in American policy which would cause the—the al Qaeda types, the Sunni insurgents, Muqtada al-Sadr‘s people and all the others who General Powell says are winning the war, what would cause them to quit rather than to inflict an incredible defeat on the world‘s last superpower and drive us out of that country and exhilarate the whole Islamic and Muslim world by defeating the last greatest superpower by the way Afghans did the Russians and the Soviets. 

Here‘s something that these guys are fighting and dying for.  I don‘t know why they would give that up to be in a coalition government with people who they think are a bunch of American puppets, whether you call it democratic or not. 

CRAWFORD:  I think we needed—we needed to get Pat Buchanan to write that speech for him, Joe.  I think Pat could have written a better speech than the one... 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Pat—Pat, you were a communication director.  You hung out at White Houses and helped define so many speeches for presidents. 

Why is it, Pat, that you had a White House that has been known for the

past five years, at least, for being ruthlessly efficient in getting what

they needed, accomplished in Congress and with the American people?  Why

did they seem to fall so flat tonight when you had the president talking

about victory on a battleship and you had the president talking about how

this war was not going to be like other wars?  It seemed like they missed -

missed an opportunity tonight.

BUCHANAN:  Joe, I think—look, before you can talk in terms of anticipation and hope and you had the “mission accomplished” on the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. 

Now everybody in the White House and everybody in the country knows this is a gathering disaster.  We will be lucky to get out of this without an utter collapse of our policy in the Middle East.  And there just is no way to get soaring rhetoric there. 

But I do agree, it was not well-written.  But I will say this, it was sober.  And Bush seemed to be saying to me, “Look, I know this thing could go down, fellows.  But this is the last, best idea I‘ve got.  If anybody else has got a better one, I haven‘t heard it.  Will they come forward with it?”

So in that, it was—you sort of said, look, we‘re going to give it a last shot.  In that sense—I mean, that‘s why—you know, I don‘t have a better idea than he does. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me play for you all—Craig, let me play for all of you what the president has said through the years.  You know, the president‘s speech tonight to the nation struck a really different tone from his past speeches on the war. 

Here‘s a look at how his message to the American people has changed over the last five years. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH:  Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated. 

Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force.  And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.  My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. 

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them.  But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.  Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight, and sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever. 

The work in Iraq has been especially difficult, more difficult than we expected.  My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq. 

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people.  And it is unacceptable to me.  Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely.  They have done everything we have asked them to do.  Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. 

It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Judd Legum, change our strategy in Iraq and also change our communications strategy regarding Iraq.  Do you think the president‘s new pitch will sell with the American public?

JUDD LEGUM, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, I think the problem is that there‘s nothing new here.  The basic strategy, which is let‘s concentrate on securing Baghdad, has been in place since the summer.  And even the strategy of “let‘s increase the troops in Baghdad” has been in place. 

The very minor changes, things like changing the restrictions on troop activities in Baghdad, really doesn‘t cut it and, frankly, is kind of pathetic after delaying weeks and weeks, and this is all they could come up with as far as a new strategy. 

You know, the thing—the thing that he did do, I think, is invoke 9/11, to try to draw it back to the war on terrorism, at least for a moment. 

But the problem is that if you look at his own National Intelligence Estimate and you see what the real impact of our presence there is that we‘re emboldening terrorism and we‘re emboldening terrorists, and they‘re using our misadventure in Iraq as a recruiting mechanism. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me ask you this question.  The White House communications department sent out this—this release to us, and I got it at 11:20 p.m. Eastern Time on my BlackBerry. 

“Straight to the point” is the subject line.  “For the safety of our people, Americans must succeed—America must succeed in Iraq.” 

That in the end has been the argument they‘ve made since 2003.  We can‘t be safe in Boston or Brooklyn if we‘re not safe in Baghdad.  And better to fight them over here than over here.  Do Americans buy that line?

LEGUM:  I mean, it‘s a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the terrorist threat works.  I mean, I doubt they even believe that.  Because it‘s not a matter of once terrorists are in Iraq that there‘s no terrorists anyone else plotting anywhere else. 

There—there‘s terrorists in Iraq, and they‘re using Iraq to recruit terrorists in Spain and Britain and all around the world.  And plotting other attacks.

And so what we need to do is redeploy from Iraq and refocus on the real threat, which is global terrorism.  Having 130,000 troops in the middle of a civil war in Iraq does not strengthen our position. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, Joe, let me talk to you...

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig, let me ask you the same thing, and then we‘ll go to you, Pat.  Again, the same line from the White House, for the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.  Respond. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, they tried that argument before the midterm election, and it didn‘t track then.  I remember one of the Republicans running for Congress in Pennsylvania actually saying if we don‘t beat them in Iraq, they‘re going to be in our grocery stores and in the Wal-Mart. 

So I think if that‘s true, we‘d be better off putting these 20,000 troops in the Wal-Marts, instead of Baghdad. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat, I‘ll ask you the same thing.  Does that argument that they‘ve been using from the very beginning, and which—an argument which I supported and I agreed with. 

Does that argument still sell with any segment of the American population that we‘ve got to win in Iraq or else things will get much more dangerous, much more perilous in the United States?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think—I don‘t know whether it sells or not, but I do believe it is true in this sense: before this war I don‘t think there was a single Iraqi who had ever been caught in an act of terrorism against the United States.  There was no al Qaeda presence.  Saddam Hussein was a secularist despised by bin Laden. 

But now we do have the biggest terrorist base camp in the world in al-Anbar province.

WALSH:  That we created.

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you, Joe, those clips of yours were excellent in this sense.  You can see earlier on—ideology is like religion, and you could see the president speaking out of a devout faith that we shall prevail here in those earlier clips. 

And the last clips are like someone who has lost his faith, who no longer believes in that God and whose ideology...

WALSH:  I have...

CRAWFORD:  Tonight—tonight, he almost came across like the target of a family intervention, who finally gives in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan?

WALSH:  I have the same reaction to listening to that.  It was amazing to watch the change in the timber of his voice and the way he carried himself. 

I didn‘t agree with him in the first place, and certainly, we did not go in with decisive force.  But he was selling something that he truly believed. 

And what really struck me, and it was a really great compilation to play, Joe, because what really struck me is the life and belief had seemed to be drained out of him. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s died.  It‘s died. 

WALSH:  It‘s died.

SCARBOROUGH:  You really can—our producers picked out excellent, excellent clips, because you can really see the best, Joan, the absolute best. 

But if you start in 2001 and move it forward, you can see why George Bush has lost popularity with the American people.  Because in those early polls, even when people disagreed with George Bush they believed that the man had character.  They believed that he believed what he was saying. 

Certainly, there are a lot of people that still believe that George W.  Bush is a good man and has character.  They just dislike his politics very much. 

But he does not sound like a true believer that he once did, and certainly the fervor is gone. 

Now everybody stay with us.  We‘re going to be back with final thoughts and predictions on what political impact this speech will have tomorrow morning, when Congress reconvenes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  America‘s commitment is not open-ended.  If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.  And it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success.  I believe that it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, how many Americans believe that it will?  I mean, George Bush right now has 12 percent of Americans, according to an “L.A. Times” poll, supporting his plan for troop surge.  Is that number going to double, triple, quadruple tomorrow?

CRAWFORD:  Not out of this speech.  The president is going to go on the road and try to sell this plan, and that will be the real proof of the pudding, whether he can make a difference on the road.  I think he‘ll probably...

SCARBOROUGH:  And he‘s pretty good on the road, isn‘t he?  He‘s much better—you know, we pound him.  He‘s better on the road.

CRAWFORD:  The pattern with this president is these big speeches in the White House never do go over that well.  That‘s why they keep moving him around like some sort of vide game.  I mean, it was going to be in the Map Room.  They ended up doing it in the library.  I don‘t know why they changed that at the last minute.

But the Oval Office speeches, none of those White House speeches ever work for him.  It‘s when he gets out on the road and tries to sell it.

And of course, he‘s probably going to be dogged by protestors and a lot of stories and surrounding that, they‘re going to have to limit the crowds, I imagine, for his speeches.

WALSH:  Which they already do.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, but he‘s going—didn‘t LBJ by the end of his presidency just deliver campaign speeches on military bases? 

And George Bush is going—but Pat Buchanan, I have seen this guy in middle America when he puts on the fighter jacket and starts talking politics and a war.  And there‘s something about him that connects with American people.

BUCHANAN:  There is, but let me say something about Nixon and Johnson.  Early in the Nixon administration, Nixon went out and spoke at General Bedel (ph) State College in South Dakota.  Then one of the Johnson people called us up and said, you know, “We couldn‘t find that place, because all we could talk on was military bases.”

I think the president can go out, and he can rattle the faithful.  But look, you can‘t rally the faithful.  Look at his language, Joe.  What did he say: “We believe this offers us a better chance of success”?  You‘re not talking victory.  That doesn‘t bring people out of their chairs.  “I believe we can succeed”?  That‘s not—that‘s not the rhetoric—that‘s not a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rhetoric.

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, he said here, even if my plan succeeds, we have a bloody year ahead.  But even if we get through the bloody year ahead, we won‘t have a victory like our fathers and grandfathers. 

Judd Legum reminds me of that “Simpsons” scene—Craig Crawford‘s going to get mad—when they unveiled the statue of Jimmy Carter...

CRAWFORD:  I knew you were going to go after Carter.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... and it reads “Malaise Forever”.  This is not George Bush‘s most soaring rhetoric, is it? 

CRAWFORD:  Carter never used that word. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, keep telling us. 

LEGUM:  I mean, I think after all the buildup, all the hype that I‘ve been, you know, watching MSNBC.  You guys had the ticker up all day, counting down. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exciting, wasn‘t it?

LEGUM:  It was really—it was kind of a letdown.  And I predict that, you know, in six months nobody is going to remember this speech.  The strategy laid out today won‘t have an impact on the situation in Iraq. 

And all the people who are on TV today say, “This is the last chance.  This is our one last shot.  We‘ve got to give it a go,” are going to be saying again, we need to give it one last chance.  I give it a go. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, do you agree with the assessment?

WALSH:  I agree that the patience of the American people is running out and the people who are saying it deserves one last chance may not fully get their one last chance.  I really think this is it.  I believe it was teed up for him, and I really think he swung and missed. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Joan.

Thank you, Judd.

Thank you, Craig. 

And thank you, Pat Buchanan.  We greatly appreciate all of you being here. 

And Pat, thank you for telling us about that college in South Dakota. 

Never heard of that one, either. 

Well, a historic night.  We will see you tomorrow.  Whether there will be impact from the president‘s speech, will it be his last chance?  Or has that time already passed? 

I‘m Joe Scarborough.  Thank you for being with us.  Good night. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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