updated 1/11/2007 12:19:59 PM ET 2007-01-11T17:19:59

Guests: Mike Isikoff, A.B. Stoddard, Barry McCaffrey, Charles Rangel

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 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.

This is not, however, just America‘s fight and what is at stake is not just America‘s freedom.  This is the world‘s fight.  This is civilization‘s fight.  This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That was President Bush addressing the country on September 20, 2001.  With those sentences Bush set the parameters of the new war on terror.  It was a brilliant speech beautifully delivered coming a little more than a week after 9/11.  Those words hummed with emotional force.  Even Bush‘s political enemies cried when they heard it, a fight for civilization that will not end until every significant terrorist group has been found, stopped and defeated.  It seemed straightforward at the time.

Fast forward to today nearly five and a half years later.  The war on terror has narrowed, it‘s contracted to become essentially the war in Iraq.  And the war in Iraq has failed.  It‘s failed to make either the United States or the Middle East more secure.  More than 3,000 Americans have died, close to 130,000 are still stuck there.

Tonight the president will tell us what he plans to do to salvage this disaster which could start by doing something he almost never does, explain himself.  Most American have no real idea why we invaded Iraq in the first place.  It would be nice to know why we did and it would also be nice to know why we need another surge of troops and why previous surges haven‘t worked and when we will know when we won the war and how that might be and so on.

There is a lot we want to know and President Bush has a lot to tell us tonight.  It had better be good.  Joining us for pres-peech analysis are A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper, Michael Isikoff from “Newsweek,” the investigative correspondent and coauthor, of “Hubris, the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War” and Norah O‘Donnell, MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.

Welcome to you all.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTONCORRESPONDENT:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  The White House has released sections already of the speech, excerpts of it.  Norah, the very first one they released had I thought a very telling line in it.  This is part of what President Bush will say tonight.  “Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people and their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”

The implication is that much of what Bush will say tonight comes from Maliki‘s government, is that right?

O‘DONNELL:  Right and what the president will also say today is our commitment is not open-ended.  And I think the most stunning thing that the president says, too, is that the strategy, admits the mistake that the strategy has not worked.  And he‘ll say the reason it has not worked is because there has not been enough troops, hence why we‘ll sending another 21,500 there.

I spoke with Michael Gerson (ph), the president‘s speechwriter before that made most of these speeches and he said this is not an inspirational speech that the president is giving tonight.

CARLSON:  Did he help write this speech, Mike Gerson?

O‘DONNELL:  He has advised informally but he did not help write this speech.  But this is a totally different speech.  They do acknowledge within the White House that this is probably the president‘s last best chance to explain to the American people what is going on.  They think they have three to six months to get this right.  And that‘s why the president has a huge onus tonight to sort of do this.

They were shocked I‘m told inside the White House that the ground operations didn‘t work.  Operation Forward Together, Operation Forward Together II where they sent additional troops in the past.  They realized all the things that they thought would work on the ground have not worked.  The president has got to come clean tonight.

CARLSON:  A little less shocking to other who have been watching.  Mike, the president is going to say what Norah just said, a phrase he‘s used before, our commitment is not open-ended and yet Dan Bartlett said earlier today, a White House aide said, I‘m quoting from an AP story, “Bush is putting the onus on the Iraqis to meet the responsibilities.  He is not, however, threatening consequences if they do not.”

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, it‘s pretty hard to square those two statements.

CARLSON:  It is.

ISIKOFF:  If the commitment is not open-ended, then that‘s pretty much saying there is going to come a time when the American public won‘t accept this anymore and I as the president am not going to continue down this course.

There is are some pretty huge concessions that the president is making tonight to say that we didn‘t have enough troop strength after three years of saying I was providing the troop strength, whatever the military commanders asked for, they got.  Shooting down the idea that we didn‘t have enough troops to begin with, which was one of the principal criticisms from the get-go, he‘s now acknowledging that the initial strategy for the war was flawed.

We already know that the original grounds for the war in the first place were seriously flawed.  So there‘s a lot of mistakes that he‘s admitting here.

CARLSON:  Here is what I don‘t get, though, A.B., is that even if, even when all these troops the president is proposing tonight arrive in Iraq, that will be the number of Americans in Iraq around to 157,000 by my count, that will still be fewer troops than the 160 that were there for the last election.  So in fact this is not a net gain compared to the historic high in Iraq.  And even 160,000 troops not enough to prevent a civil war.

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”:  No, but he‘s just, it‘s an increase from the levels that we‘ve had for these troubling months in the summer and the fall.  And I wonder, Mike is right, he‘s going to make she‘s huge concessions and finally say we didn‘t send in enough troops.  I wonder what that will do to the resentment that the majority of the Americans feel about the premise for the invasion and the reason we went to war and the execution of the war.

CARLSON:  What is the reason we went to war?  I don‘t think people even know what it is, do you?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I actually went back and read .

CARLSON:  You know?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, no, I‘m going to tell you that I went back and read the eight speeches that the president has given in prime time in Iraq.

CARLSON:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  This is the eight tonight, including the first one which you might remember was made in Cincinnati where he made the initial case where he said we cannot have a mushroom cloud.  Where he warned the American people if we didn‘t attack Iraq, there would be UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles with biological weapons coming into the United States.  It was a stunning speech to go back and sort of read that.  He made this case based on fear that we were in danger here at home because of Iraq.  Then of course, as you know the rationale had changed.

CARLSON:  Well, that‘s a real reason, though.  We got to hit them first, that‘s a fair .

O‘DONNELL:  That was the original reason the president laid that out.  Then it changed to we have to shape the Middle East and the president again will say tonight we just cannot have failure in Iraq because what it will mean for the broader Middle East.  The victory is the only option there.

I think the crucial point is the president is calling for 21,000 more troops is that what the “Washington Post” reported today, that there are people inside the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff who are not convinced this is going to change anything.

ISIKOFF:  A couple of points, first, Norah is really right to bring up that Cincinnati speech.  Because that was the seminal speech, that was the speech in which he laid out the case for the war, the justification and we now know almost everything he said in that speech was wrong.

CARLSON:  Hold on.  At least it makes sense, though.  Not to defended Bush‘s stupid war but on the other hand, that‘s a good reason to go to war, is it not?

ISIKOFF:  It was based on his portrayal of what the intelligence showed and we now know that the intelligence not just was serious flawed, but they were plenty of people inside the government, inside the CIA and the Pentagon who were warning this is wrong.  We can‘t go along with this.

CARLSON:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  But we‘re past that at this point.  We‘re totally past that.  I think the American people want to know, fine, we‘re past that, but we have 132,000 troops, there, about to send another 21,000.  What really does the president want them to do?  And is it sending, as General McCaffrey said, is this additional surge going to be taken out of the hide of our men and women?  Will there be more casualties?

CARLSON:  We need to take a break now because we want to make room for the man you just mentioned who is General McCaffrey who is waiting to come on literally in mere moments.

We will be right back.  Coming up, the real question begging desperately for an answer is will a troop surge contribute to American success in Iraq and will it make success possible?  Up next General Barry McCaffrey, he‘s advised President Bush, he‘ll tell us what he thinks.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  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 to forever.  As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters, the sober judgment of our military leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  A “USA Today” Gallup poll this week indicated that just 26 percent of Americans supported troop surge in Iraq.  The central doubt about that surge is of course whether or not it will actually work.  Joining me now with his view, MSNBC military analyst and retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey.  General, thanks for coming on.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, RET (U.S. ARMY):  Good to be with you.

CARLSON:  Enough troops is this?

MCCAFFREY:  No, I think it‘s probably too little too late.  But one can only hope that the other pieces of it, new leadership, Ryan Crocker, a superb ambassador, Dave Petraeus, probably the best person we‘ve got in uniform to take this phase of the war.  And hopefully the billion dollars in commanders initiative funds so these battalion commanders can hire Iraqis and get them working on small projects.  The combination may well provide—break the momentum which right now is moving in the wrong direction.

CARLSON:  Toward chaos?

MCCAFFREY:  Yeah.  Sure.  There was this going on for 48 hours in the capitol, fighter bombers, attack helicopters, armored vehicles.  So the situation is destabilizing, the government is dysfunctional.  The police are incompetent and essentially uniformed terrorists.  We‘ve got a challenge and the consequences of failure as the president does articulate are pretty significant.

CARLSON:  Here is what the president is going to say tonight about why Baghdad has been out of control.  Our past efforts have failed in Baghdad for two reasons, there weren‘t enough Iraqi and American troops to secure the neighborhoods and quote, “there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”

In other words, the Iraq government was preventing success by its regulations.  Is the new plan to ignore what the Iraqi authorities on the ground say?

MCCAFFREY:  I don‘t believe it.  I think what is likely to happen is the central reality in Baghdad is you got as many 120,000 members of the Mahdi Army, heavily armed, they control Sadr City.  Is it likely that Maliki and his largely Shiite security force will with us go in and disarm that force?  No, it‘s not going to happen for a variety of reasons.  It would be a huge fight.  It would be like Fallujah for six weeks.

CARLSON:  Right.

MCCAFFREY:  So I don‘t believe it‘s going to happen.  I think what Maliki is hopeful is we will sit on the Sunnis in the outskirts of the city while he prepares for the next phase of the struggle.  Now that‘s sort of a skeptical response but I think that‘s what the Iraqis think is about to happen.

CARLSON:  Is there any way to coopt or bribe the Mahdi Army?  If they‘re to big to fight, why not bring them to our side?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, there‘s an argument, by the way, none of this is illogical from the Iraqi viewpoint.  If you‘re a Shiite living in Sadr City, the last time they trusted the Iraqi central government, 300,000 of them got murdered.  So it‘s not clear to me why anyone in their right mind would disarm.

CARLSON:  And the U.S. government.

MCCAFFREY:  Would the Peshmerga disarm in the Kurdish areas?  Of course not.  Are the Shia going to disarm the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigade?  I don‘t think so.  So we‘ve got a very unstable situation in which there is no central Iraqi security force that can really influence the situation.

CARLSON:  The White House is saying that they expect in the aftermath of this plan noticeable improvement, dramatic improvement on the ground in Iraq in three to six months.  Does that sound plausible?

MCCAFFREY:  I hope so.  I don‘t believe it.  I think the pieces I haven‘t heard yet are significant economic leverage, $5 to $10 billion a year for the next years.  I haven‘t heard a surge of equipment to Iraqi army battalions.  Three thousand light armored vehicles, 120 black hawk helicopters, something will make the difference.  And right now they‘re getting slaughtered, Toyota light trucks.

CARLSON:  Do we dare give them that kind of hardware?  I mean .

MCCAFREY:  I would.  If you want to get out of Iraq, one of the necessary but not sufficient conditions to leave in Iraq a security force to replace us.  Can you imagine if we asked the First Cavalry Division, do not fight these people with light armored vehicles and helicopters and the tools that give us a significant advantage?

We‘re talking a thousand a month killed and wounded in the U.S. armed forces.  The Iraqis are suffering much greater losses than we are and by the way, they‘re not protecting the population.  Two, three thousand Iraqis a month are being murdered in this low grade civil war.

CARLSON:  People are debating over the past couple of weeks and it will continue what Iraq would look like if the United States military were to leave over the next year.  Is there any doubt in your mind it would be more intensely violent than it is now?

MCCAFREY:  I listened to a conversation yesterday in which a couple of people voiced skepticism.  They said, well, maybe the six surrounding powers wouldn‘t intervene, maybe the Kurds and the Shia would say we‘ve got the oil and most of the population, let‘s leave the Sunnis alone.  I don‘t believe it.  I think if we precipitously withdrew, let say came out entirely in a year to two years, it will go to a high order civil war and would drag in the Turks, the Syrians, the Iranians, for sure.

CARLSON:  The Saudis?

MCCAFFREY:  I don‘t think so.  The Saudis are a peaceful people.  They‘ll probably put a big fence up on the border.  They‘ll try to buy protection from other powers, the Egyptians, the U.S., the Saudis are a very peaceful nation to be honest, so are the Kuwaitis.  So they‘ll try to stay out of this.  But the Turks, the Syrians and the Iranians are going to fight.

CARLSON:  I believe it.  General Barry McCaffrey, thank you very much.

MCCAFFREY:  Yeah.  Good to be with you.

CARLSON:  Coming up.  President Bush‘s new way forward forces politicians on both sides to take a stand.  How will their choices, their words and votes affect Hillary Clinton, John McCain and the rest of those running for president next year?  Stick around.  We‘ll tell you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  States like this and their terrorists allies constitute an Axis of Evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.  They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.  In any of these cases, the price of indifference it would be catastrophic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That was the State of the Union speech 2002.  At the time of that speech, the Axis of Evil speech, members of both political parties jumped to support the president‘s international foreign policy.  Five years later his friends are few and almost entirely Republican.  How many are there and who will continue to support this new way forward that he is rolling out tonight in just a couple of hours?

We‘re back with A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill”, Michael Isikoff, “Newsweek” investigative correspondent and coauthor of “Hubris, the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War”, and Norah O‘Donnell, MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.

Alexandra Stoddard, we are hearing now, even now the president hasn‘t spoken yet, two hours, 38 minutes until he does and already you‘ve got Sam Brownback, one of the more conservative members of the United States Senate, Republican, he‘s now in Baghdad apparently today, saying that he does not support the surge.  If Sam Brownback doesn‘t support the president‘s surge, it‘s kind of over, isn‘t it?

STODDARD:  I think tomorrow is going to be a rough day for President Bush.  Because there is a list of senators who are already leaving leading the reservation and I think we‘ll see more of them tomorrow.  I bet Senator Hagel will be quite loud, if you start to see Senator Lugar and Senator Warner who have begun to hint that they oppose a surge really come out strongly against what is said tonight, there is going to be a lot of problems for the president.  There are 21 Republicans up in the Senate in ‘08.  That‘s a huge number of people who are going to have a hard time, forget all the House members .

CARLSON:  Some of them are in states where there has been a Democrat landslide.

STODDARD:  Right.  Like New Hampshire, and that‘s going to be really hard for them to stand by the president this time.  People are waiting, obviously we‘ve known for weeks that there is going to be a surge of between 20,000 and 22,000 troops.  And this economic plan and other plans.

But what people are waiting to hear tonight is what Bush is going to do, what are the incentives and penalties for the Maliki government and if they don‘t hear something that sounds credible about why he is buying into this then I think .

CARLSON:  I agree.  But I wonder, Ethan, I mean, Mike, is there anything the president can say, -- can you imagine, I don‘t even know where you stand on the war, but if you‘re like most Americans who are deeply skeptical of the president on this question, is there anything that he could say that could win over another 30 percent of the country?  Can you imagine?

ISIKOFF:  No, it‘s pretty hard to imagine, although a bit more candor and acknowledgement of the earlier mistakes and misstatements.

CARLSON:  They say he‘s going to provide that.

ISIKOFF:  He‘s going to provide some of that.  Norah said before that we‘re beyond the Cincinnati speech of 2002 and to a certain extent, certainly the circumstances are different, but he‘s still paying for the price of the manipulations of intelligence that got us into this.  The credibility is the essence of the president‘s problem, and that‘s why so many Republicans like Brownback and others are now distancing themselves because when the president comes forward and makes assertions about how things are going to go right now, the credibility factor is pretty low.

One more thing.  There is a direct analogy to, I think, the circumstances today to what they were four years ago.  At the time four years ago when we got into this, while the president was making assertions about the intelligence we now as we said before that they were plenty of people in the community that have doubts.

We also now know that when the president says that the military commanders are onboard with this surge and with this strategy, that there are doubts among the military commanders.  I think we‘ve only gotten a small glimpse of how profound those doubts are and how they have concealed the full degree to which military strategists, the generals have said, no, we don‘t go along with this.

CARLSON:  That‘s OK, though.  That is the one—again, I‘m not even certain I‘m for this surge but I know I‘m for civilian control of the military and I know that the president, the guy who is elected by the people ought to be in charge of how we exercise that foreign policy and so if the generals don‘t like it, tough.

Isn‘t that - liberals always used to point that out.  It‘s good to have an elected guy in charge, right?

ISIKOFF:  There is something to be said for listening to the people who presumably have some expertise in what you‘re talking about.

CARLSON:  I agree.

O‘DONNELL:  There is a whole new set of people now.

ISIKOFF:  Bush was never a general, he never commanded troops, he never .

CARLSON:  We don‘t know that.  There is some missing time in his National Guard background.

ISIKOFF:  But, remember, he has said all along I‘m going to listen to the generals, all right.

CARLSON:  You‘re right, you‘re absolutely right and now he‘s not.

Norah, quickly, tell me, if Brownback is deserting and then you have got a couple of other guys on the Republican side who disagree and they want more troops and all the Democrats, who is for him and who in Congress agrees with this surge?

O‘DONNELL:  Great question.  The only two people, senators, that have come out and said we fully support a troop increase are Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham.  At least on the Senate side.

CARLSON:  All three of those believe we need more than 22,000 troops. 

They‘d like to see .

O‘DONNELL:  And they‘d like to see more than that.

What is interesting the Democrats up on the Hill today say they believe they have at least 10 Republicans who will vote with the democrats on this nonbinding resolution that says they don‘t support.  Look at Senator John Warner, this guy was chairman of the Armed Services Committee.  He‘s not clear about this.  Senator Lugar who was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he‘s not clear about this.

Norm Coleman, who is up in 2008, who is one of those.

CARLSON:  And so is Warner, by the way.

O‘DONNELL:  But you have a series of Republicans who are respected on military and foreign affairs who do not and feel uncomfortable about a troop surge.  I think on the ‘08 front what is interesting is Mitt Romney put out that statement this morning saying he is essentially with McCain, he does support a troop increase.

CARLSON:  But it‘s Mitt Romney.  Maybe tomorrow he‘ll have always been against it.

Coming up, should the president‘s troop surge occur and almost certainly will occur, all Americans will hope for its success, of course, but what will the consequences of failure be should that happen.  Back with analysis after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still to come:  Democrats now have the power of the purse.  They run Congress.  But will they really try and cut off funds for this war?  We will ask a man who knows, Congressman Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  He‘s on in a minute.

Right now, though, here‘s a look at your headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 1, 2003)

BUSH:  Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.  In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world.  Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  You just heard perhaps the most famous famous last words in American history.  They were uttered aboard a warship ordered off San Diego in May of 2003.  It turns out, the American mission has not accomplished.  And many doubt that tonight‘s presidential address will do the trick. 

A.B. Stoddard joins us.  She‘s associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper.  So does Michael Isikoff.  He‘s “Newsweek” investigative correspondent and co-author of “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,” a very alliterative title.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  And, finally, Norah O‘Donnell is here.  She is, of course, NBC‘s chief Washington correspondent. 

Norah, what happens if we lose, and if Democrats—and I don‘t mean to pound on Democrats.  Bush started this war.  This war is his fault.  It‘s not the Democrats‘ fault.  However, they‘re pushing for withdrawal, which would mean defeat, lack of victory, in any case.

Have they really thought through what that would entail? 

O‘DONNELL:  One of the close—president‘s closest friends said today, this is the president‘s last, best chance to get it right on something that his entire presidency is all about, the Iraq war. 

CARLSON:  Well, and his legacy, of course.

O‘DONNELL:  His legacy...

CARLSON:  Right.  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... is about this.

And I think that they acknowledge that.  I do think there is finally a sense, from talking to people, that there is.  That is why he is making this change.  That‘s why he got rid of Rumsfeld.  That‘s why he is changing the generals.  They do believe it‘s their last, best chance.

It‘s just—it‘s a difficult war.  I think everybody understands that.  And to put all his eggs really in one basket, and—and hope that 20,000 troops is going to change things on the ground, is a lot of to hope for in three to six months. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  It just is. 

So, I don‘t know what happens.  John McCain was interviewed by Tim Russert today in all our long day coverage on MSNBC.  And Tim asked him that.  What if it doesn‘t work?

And McCain admitted that, then, we would have to acknowledge something.  So, we may be in a situation six months from...

CARLSON:  Acknowledge something, meaning defeat?

O‘DONNELL:  Defeat.

Or—yes.  And I—and I think that that‘s when a Republican, like a Warner or somebody, goes to the White House, that, in six months from now, if there isn‘t a change, we‘re going to see a shift, where Republicans will have to go say something to the president. 

CARLSON:  But if—if—at that point, I mean, just—I don‘t even mean as a political matter.  I mean, what does this do for America‘s place in the world...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s huge. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... not to put too fine a point on it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I mean, Mike, like what—what does it mean? 

ISIKOFF: Yes. 

CARLSON:  Can you—like, sketch out very quickly, like, what are the ramifications of failure?

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Right. 

Well, yes.  Well, look, I mean, there are a lot of uncertainties out there. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  And one can certainly look at the set of facts and say, with a great deal of plausibility, that American credibility and prestige takes an enormous blow.  American power, the—the credibility of American power takes an enormous blow.

And the prospect of Iraq becoming a haven, much like Afghanistan was, for terrorist strikes against the United States becomes a realistic possibility.  The problem with that is, it‘s all speculative.  And I was talking with a senior intelligence official, a—a former very senior intelligence official, who was very much involved in the run-up to the Iraq war, very much regrets the role he played right now, looking at the scenarios, and saying, look, we don‘t know. 

There is no way of knowing what is going to happen, were we to pull out of Iraq, were this is go to south, were the Iraqi government to collapse.  But there are a couple of things that we do know and can know with certainty. 

O‘DONNELL:  But...

ISIKOFF:  And one of them is that further American commitment of troops, further American—will mean further American casualties.  We know that. 

We know more Americans are going to die in Iraq as a result of our continued presence there.

O‘DONNELL:  But, Tucker, the criticism...

ISIKOFF:  And that‘s something that has to be measured against the speculative scenarios of what might happen, were we to withdraw. 

CARLSON:  Well, I would like to hear a good—is there a—Norah, is there a good -- (INAUDIBLE) is there a good speculative scenario about what might happen; we leave and something good happens?  I mean, I haven‘t heard that one yet, I guess.

O‘DONNELL:  The president has chosen a military solution...

CARLSON:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... to the sectarian violence. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  As Brownback said today—and there‘s an increasing number of Democrats—it should be a political solution. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but, you know, the—you know what?  Can I just—can I just interject here and just get hysterical for just 30 seconds?

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Sure.

CARLSON:  That is the bumper sticker of the moment:  You know, this is a problem that requires a political solution, not a military solution. 

OK.  The military is used, always and everywhere, to affect political solutions.  The military is an instrument of political solutions.  You use it to force a political settlement.  That‘s what‘s it for. 

So, of course, just because—I mean, it‘s—it‘s—by definition, we need a political solution.  We have known that.  I don‘t really know what that means, when people say that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Perhaps when there is a clear enemy.  But, in this case, there is not really an enemy. 

There are—we‘re in the middle of a civil war between Sunnis and Shias.  So—and they are not necessarily fighting the United States...

CARLSON:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... other than that we‘re in the midst of control over—for the power of a country.  So, that‘s why I don‘t think that the equation is that simple and why they‘re calling...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But, Alexandra (ph) B. Stoddard...

STODDARD:  You know what?  There is actually a real question here about the influence of Iran.

And it‘s something that President Bush refuses to deal with. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Right.  Exactly. 

STODDARD:  Senator Joe Lieberman, independent Democrat of Connecticut, who nobody listens to, came back from...

(LAUGHTER)

STODDARD:  ... Iraq recently, and he had—he—he did a McCain op-ed, where he says, this is why I‘m for more troops. 

And, in it, he says that the Maliki government, which enables the Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr...

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  The Mahdi army—we are propping up Maliki government, which enables the Mahdi army, which is armed and supported by Tehran. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  And shortly after Senator Joe—Joe Lieberman returned home, we—our forces had captured some—two Iranians in a raid.  And then the Maliki government let them go. 

There is a huge concern—and I believe President Bush was warning the Democrats about this in their meeting yesterday, but he didn‘t go that far—about the—there‘s—there‘s concern and anxiety among our moderate—our moderate allies in the Arab world, the Saudis, et cetera, about us leaving Iraq, and—and the—and the imprint and impact of Iran. 

This is something that President Bush, though, just continues to ignore.  He just never talks about Iran...

CARLSON:  So, in other words...

STODDARD:  ... Iraq being a battlefield for Iran.  And that‘s a huge consequence of failure. 

CARLSON:  So, you‘re—what—if I understand what you‘re saying—or you‘re saying that Lieberman is saying—people are—people are worried that, if we leave, Iran will have greater influence.  But what you‘re saying is, Iran already has profound influence. 

STODDARD:  They do.

CARLSON:  And we‘re helping to prop up...

STODDARD:  And, by degree, we‘re enabling them.

CARLSON:  Iranian puppets.

STODDARD:  But, if we‘re really in a proxy war with Iran, as we were in Lebanon, why don‘t we just come out and say it?

CARLSON:  Well, I don‘t know.  We were in—we were in a proxy war with the Soviet Union for, what, you know, how many years, from 1945 until 1991, and we never came out and had a war with them. 

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  But there‘s another—there‘s another thing...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  The historical judgment on the—on the invasion of Iraq may well be that, as a result, Iran won the Ira-Iraq War of the 1980s.

CARLSON:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  I mean, that‘s the—I mean, we tilted the balance towards the Shia—the Shiites in Iran, and they became the regional power. 

That is—you know, that—given the Iranian government today, that‘s clearly a troublesome thing.  And it‘s—it‘s clearly trouble—troublesome to people in the region, the Saudis in particular. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  But, on the other hand, I mean, is it necessarily doomsday? 

I mean, we don‘t know. 

If—for instance, if the threat is of a Sunni Iraq state that would become a haven for terrorists, like Afghanistan, I think the Iranians may have something to say about that. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  They may not be so on board with...

CARLSON:  But I think the problem is more—is deeper and more amorphous.

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  The problem is not just that Iraq will turn into the—a terrible place.  It is one already, and has been for millennia, and will always be, in my view, humbly.

But the problem is, we will look weak, foolish and without resolve.  And, therefore, the world will become much more dangerous, because the opportunists in this world, like China, will take advantage of the vacuum left by us. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Tucker—Tucker, two weeks ago, we were all talking about the—the—the death of Gerald Ford, and what was the seminal event of his presidency after the pardon—the pardon.

CARLSON:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  The fall of Saigon...

CARLSON:  And nobody mentioned that, by the way.

ISIKOFF:  ... which people warned about—which people warned would have the same sort of—you know, we will look weak.  We will look foolish.  We will lose all our prestige...

CARLSON:  We did look weak and foolish, by the way.

ISIKOFF:  ... and credibility.  Yet, the world survived.  America survived. 

Vietnam is now—you know, American politicians pay homage, and—and go flying over there, shaking hands with Vietnamese leaders.  I mean, life goes on.  It‘s not necessarily doomsday.

CARLSON:  Well, you‘re a...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  You know what you are? 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  You‘re a sunny guy. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  One sentence, because we‘re almost out of time.

STODDARD:  There‘s another question, which is this balancing the—the concerns.  Bush is always telling us, if we leave, terrorism will thrive. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  And the Democrats, who need to prove themselves on national security, are not making the case that we—by depleting our readiness and resources in Iraq...

CARLSON:  Well, that‘s a good point.

STODDARD:  ... we can no longer neutralize a terror—terror threat elsewhere. 

CARLSON:  Right.  Then, we become so physically weak...

STODDARD:  Forget how we look.

CARLSON:  ... like the fighter in the eighth round.

STODDARD:  How about, like, our security?

CARLSON:  That‘s right.  All right. 

Coming up—we will be back—coming up, when the 2003 Congress overwhelmingly gave President Bush authority to invade Iraq, among the dissenters on the war resolution, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.  He is going to join us in a moment to discuss the new way forward. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Democratic Party is all but united in its opposition to the way President Bush is handling the Iraq war.  But they‘re divided about what to do about it.  So, what will they do?  We will find out. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 19, 2003)

BUSH:  Now that conflict has come, the only way to limits 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.  We will defend our freedom.  We will bring freedom to others, and we will prevail. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  The United States may yet prevail in Iraq, but are we getting closer to or further from ultimate success?  Will the new way forward advance our cause? 

Joining me now, a man who opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.  He is Democratic Congressman from New York Charlie Rangel.  He is now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us. 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: 

Good to be with you again, Tucker.

CARLSON:  I want to read you a quote from you.  This is in today‘s “New York Observer.”  And it‘s about questions of funding the Iraq war. 

You said—quote—“If my black ass was in Korea during the war, and people got fed up with it, and they cut off the money, so I couldn‘t get snowshoes or underwear, well, goddamn, you‘re cutting off the wrong people.”

Great quote.  Does that mean you‘re against defunding the war? 

RANGEL:  No, no, no.

I‘m against—making certain that our men and women over there get every darn thing they need to survive and to defend themselves.  They‘re—when you talk about a billion dollars, you know, Tucker, that that is not just for the troops.  That‘s for Halliburton.  It‘s for support.  It‘s for a variety of things. 

And all I‘m saying is that the president shouldn‘t be hurried just to come to Congress, saying he needs $6 billion.  What he should be saying is, what does he need it for?

CARLSON:  Right. 

RANGEL:  What is a surge?  Who is going to be involved in the surge?  Are you going to recruit people for the 20,000?  Are you going to recycle the same people that have been over there and have served? 

And the quote that you had earlier, we got to stay until victory, there is no one that could connect a surge with victory.  We don‘t even know what victory is. 

CARLSON:  Well—but it sounds like all of this is unfolding so quickly that Congress may not even have a say about it.  I mean, according to the Associated Press, the first of five brigades is going to arrive in Iraq on Monday.  You‘re not going to have a chance to even weigh in by that point, are you? 

RANGEL:  I don‘t think that we have to weigh in. 

Weighing in sounds like people are talking about cutting off the funds for the operations in Iraq.  I think weighing in is our constitutional responsibility, to provide oversight for everything.  And, when I mean everything, I mean exactly whatever the executive branch is doing. 

And, so, sooner or later, the president, whether he does it with congressional leaders, whether he comes on the radio, television tonight at 9:00, or whether or not he sends the Pentagon officials here, we will be talking with generals, retired generals, asking, is this for a military victory?  Is this for a diplomatic victory?

Just what is the president talking about when he says surge?  Why is he accelerating a war, when the American people, in the last election, said they were sick and tired of the war? 

CARLSON:  Well, here, Mr. Chairman, is one of the things that the president is going to say tonight.  These are from remarks released by the White House early.

He said: “I made it clear to the prime minister of Iraq that America‘s commitment is not open-ended.  If the Iraqi government doesn‘t follow through on its promises to quell the insurgency and step up its military, it will lose the support of the American people.”

In other words, get your act together quickly, or we‘re out of there. 

Is it worth giving the president one more chance?  I mean, that seems pretty reasonable to me.

RANGEL:  Well, you‘re not giving the president any chances.  He‘s—he‘s not in any bodily harm.  He even jokes about the war from time to time. 

The real question is, are you going to give—put the lives of 20,000 people and their families at risk for something that we‘re just shooting dice on?  The real risk are the men and women that are over there. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

RANGEL:  And, if some of them are lost as a result of this surge, who is going to explain to their families what the heck a surge was?  And I don‘t really think you can say, give the president another chance.  I think he‘s run out of chances. 

CARLSON:  But, if—if this surge leads to victory—and, by

victory, I mean a stable Iraq that doesn‘t hate us and doesn‘t threaten us

isn‘t it worth it? 

RANGEL:  Well, you know, no one talks about the Egyptians and the Saudis and the Iranians.  Is it worth it for them to be involved in anything over there? 

And when you talk about, “Isn‘t it worth it?” who is taking the risk?  The president?  You?  Me?  No, not the Congress, not our children.  It‘s those kids that have been enticed by large sums of money, up to $40,000, being recruited from the poorest communities that we have in the country.  And you just say, isn‘t it worth the risk? 

Well, it may be for the president, if he and his gang were out there.  But I don‘t think it‘s worth the risk for our young men and women to get involved in combat, and they have no clue who they‘re fighting, but they‘re waiting for the Iraqis to get their act together. 

This is no place for Americans to be, in between Shiites and Sunnis and—and Arabs that have conflicts for hundreds of years.  And here we are, monitoring, refereeing a civil war. 

No, I don‘t think that the president needs another chance for this.  I thought he was wrong five years ago.  I know he is wrong today. 

CARLSON:  All—all right.  Mr. Chairman, in just a minute, I want to ask you about your plans for reforming the military and the draft. 

We will be right back. 

And, coming up, we‘re just more than—just a little bit more than two hours from the most important speech of President Bush‘s presidency.  We will get final thoughts from Congressman Charlie Rangel.

We will be—we will return in just moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 18, 2005)

BUSH:  The work in Iraq has been especially difficult—more difficult than we expected. 

America, our coalition, and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal, a democratic Iraq that can defend itself, that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists, and that will serve as a model of freedom for the Middle East.

My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq; we are winning the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  President Bush almost certainly won‘t declare that we‘re still winning when he addresses the country a little more than two hours from now. 

Having stayed through the commercial break, Democratic Congressman from New York Charlie Rangel, who is also the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, joins us again. 

Mr. Rangel, thanks for staying on. 

You are, according to your office, tomorrow, at 3:15 p.m., at the House Radio-TV Gallery, announcing a bill you will put forward to reinstate the military draft. 

Let me read it.  The bill will mandate a wartime draft for all American men and women aged 18 to 42, with no deferments. 

Who—who is going to run the country, if everyone is in the military? 

RANGEL:  Well, I really, truly believe that—that, if, indeed, America thought that our lives were being threatened and that our national security was at risk, most of these people would be volunteering to be in the service. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

RANGEL:  But, since this president can take us—he‘s never made an appeal to the patriotism of young people to join the military, but has related totally on volunteers, who come from the areas of the country that have the highest unemployment. 

I‘m suggesting that, if, indeed, the American people and the Congress believe that there is a threat to our country, then, they have to believe in a draft where there‘s a more equitable distribution of people who will be placed in harm‘s way. 

It is totally unfair to believe that we can constantly pull out our National Guard and our volunteers to serve three, four, and five times, in danger, in combat, and the rest of the country is not asked to do anything. 

CARLSON:  Well, but wait.  I mean, because it is voluntary, joining the military, isn‘t it a perfectly equitable system?  People aren‘t joining for the money.  That‘s an awfully tough way to make a living, patrolling in Baghdad.  You can get a better job stateside. 

People who think they want to defend our country and think they have a patriotic duty to do so join the military.  Isn‘t that the way it should be? 

RANGEL:  Well, if you could look at the statistics that are available from the Department of Defense, you will find that two-thirds of the people that have volunteered have come from areas of higher unemployment...

CARLSON:  Right. 

RANGEL:  ... and low, medium incomes. 

And, so, if you‘re correct, it would mean, if you come from a family that is affluent, or you‘re the kids of people in the Pentagon or the White House or the Congress, then, you‘re less patriotic.  I don‘t believe that. 

CARLSON:  Hmm.

I—I suppose—isn‘t our system kind of perfectly self-righting, though?  Wars that people support, they will support by joining the military, right?  And people—and wars that people don‘t support, they won‘t. 

I mean, it‘s—isn‘t it a more democratic system?  You—you get to decide whether you want to support it or not, kind of like voting. 

RANGEL:  I‘m telling you, Tucker—maybe I‘m not making myself as clear as I would want. 

CARLSON:  No.  OK.

RANGEL:  But, as people that don‘t have many job opportunities, but are enticed by bonuses up to $40,000 to join the military—now, you are right.  It does reach a point, even for these people, as difficult as it is for them to get an education and to get employment, that even the $40,000 is not bringing in enough volunteers to meet the needs. 

And, so, when the president says that he needs 20,000 troops, it was Colin Powell that said he doesn‘t think we need them, but, even if we did, the Army doesn‘t have them. 

Now, we don‘t have troops available. 

CARLSON:  Right.

RANGEL:  What we have to do is recycle the troops that we do have. 

And that‘s totally unfair. 

CARLSON:  Based on what you have seen of the president‘s speech so far, based on what you have read about what Bush is going to say in two hours from now, is there anything you have heard that you agree with? 

RANGEL:  Well, I haven‘t heard anything. 

But I would believe that, if I had—if I was down in the polls, and I had only 28 percent approval rating, rather than just to go to the airwaves, I would try to get some support from the Congress, rather than walk into a buzz saw. 

And, so, if the president is talking about getting out, and getting out soon, that would make a lot of sense.  But, if the president is talking about escalating the war that‘s failing, it doesn‘t make any sense to me at all. 

CARLSON:  What—what—what if the president comes out, as he is expected to, and says, “I‘m sorry for the mistakes I made; our strategy hasn‘t worked”?

Will—will that please you, to see the president say that? 

RANGEL:  No, because, as commander in chief, he has to say that he is changing the course.  And that would please me.  Just saying that you‘re sorry doesn‘t help much, if you‘re going to keep doing the same thing, making the same mistakes that you made in the past. 

But, if he was to say that he is bringing together the Saudis, the Egyptians, the people in the area, and they are going to sit down and try to bring a peaceful solution to this terrible problem...

CARLSON:  Right. 

RANGEL:  ... that we have in part created, then, that would please me. 

CARLSON:  OK. 

Well, we will—we will talk to you after the speech and see if you‘re pleased. 

Charlie Rangel of New York, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, thanks a lot, Mr. Rangel. 

RANGEL:  Have a good evening.

CARLSON:  You, too.

That does it for us.  Thanks a lot for watching. 

The speech in two hours, stay tuned to MSNBC for that.

Now “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.” 

See you tomorrow.

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

END   

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