updated 1/12/2007 12:04:30 PM ET 2007-01-12T17:04:30

Guests: Gordon Smith, Tony Snow, Chris Dodd, Richard Haass, Mike Huckabee

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Senate readies its rebuke of President Bush with perhaps up to 60 Senator voting to reject the president‘s escalation of the war, but can anyone stop Bush from ginning up a war with Iran.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

Last night, President Bush escalated the war in Iraq by 20,000 more troops and hinted, on national television, about a U.S. attack on Iran.  Today, Congress‘ reaction came out fast and furious. 

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Democrats and Republicans alike, but Republican Senator Chuck Hagel delivered the knockout.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has a full report on the action on the Hill today. 

Plus, a new A.P.-Ipsos poll shows 70 percent of Americans opposing sending more troops and only a third think it was right to go to war in the first place, a new low for that question.  In a moment, we will talk to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. 

And tonight, picking a president—two 2008 White House contenders come to play HARDBALL.

We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  During testimony today from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the president‘s Iraq escalation plan ran into a buzzsaw of criticism led most harshly not by a Democrat, but by a Republican, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. 

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it‘s carried out. 

SHUSTER:  The president said last evening he wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 22,000.  Today, under questioning from Hagel...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think that I don‘t see it and president doesn‘t see it an escalation.  What he sees...

HAGEL:  Putting 22,000 new troops—more troops in is not an escalation?  Would you call it a decrease and billions of dollars more that you need for it?

RICE:  I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allow the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad. 

SHUSTER:  Rice then testified that most U.S. casualties in Iraq are not because the U.S. is trying to tamp down sectarian violence. 

RICE:  They are not because we are caught in the middle of crossfire between Sunnis and Shiite. 

HAGEL:  Madam Secretary, that is just not true. 

RICE:  Well, Senator, if you will...

HAGEL:  That‘s not true.

RICE:  Senator, if you‘ll allow me...

SHUSTER:  Several Democrats were so taken aback by Rice‘s testimony, their simmering frustrations with the Bush administration exploded. 

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN:  It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  Russ Feingold said Iraq had made American less safe and our enemies more powerful, and he dared Rice to disagree.

FEINGOLD:  Well, I think the diversion of attention from the most important problems in the world has everything to do with this terrible mistake.  What—let‘s try something that I think is more direct.  What about our military?  The strain on our military—is our military better off than it was before the Iraq intervention? 

RICE:  Senator, we are at war and when we are at war, there is going to be strain on the military. 

SHUSTER:  Democratic Barbara Boxer angrily noted the administration was refusing to provide an estimate of the future sacrifice. 

RICE:  Senator, I think it would be highly unlikely for the military to tell the president we expect X number of casualties because of this augmentation of the forces...

SHUSTER:  That word again—augmentation—seemed to get under the skin of several senators.  Republican George Voinovich, a war supporter, said in dramatic fashion that the administration was losing him. 

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH ®, OHIO:  I have gone along with the president on this and I bought into his dream.  And at this stage of the game, I don‘t think it‘s going to happen. 

SHUSTER:  Last night, President Bush said...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq‘s other leaders that America‘s commitment is not open-ended. 

SHUSTER:  Today...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  All right.  If it‘s not open-ended, does that mean you‘re prepared, if they fail, to pull out, to terminate?  What is the accountability mechanism?

RICE:  Senator, I think it‘s best to leave the president‘s words as the president‘s words. 

SHUSTER:  All of the unanswered questions about the Iraqi government, diplomacy, and a U.S. exit strategy prompted several crucial war supporters to announce they are going to oppose the administration‘s plan. 

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI ®, ALASKA:  But I‘m not convinced as I look to the plan that the president presented yesterday that what we are seeing is that much different than what we have been doing in the past.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), GEORGIA:  I have supported you and the administration on the war, and I cannot continue to support the administration‘s position. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Not one senator on the committee expressed support for the Iraq escalation.  And now it‘s not even clear if Republican leader Mitch McConnell will have the support he is looking for to sustain his threatened filibuster and block a vote against the White House next week. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

Weeks ago, Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon said this about the situation in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GORDON SMITH ®, OREGON:  I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day.  That is absurd.  It may even be criminal.  I cannot support that anymore. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Last night, Senator Smith called the president‘s pitch a “hail Mary pass” for Iraq.  He also has called Senator Ted Kennedy‘s proposal for Senator approval or disapproval of Bush‘s plan a good idea. 

Senator Smith, welcome to the program.  You know, I keep going through this list, Senator, of Hagel and, of course, Voinovich—we just heard from him—and you and Collins and Coleman and Murkowski and Brownback.  The number grows of senators openly concerned about this policy, and that‘s not even to mention Sessions, Alexander, Sununu, Domenici, Enzi, Chambliss, all with serious questions as well. 

Where do we stand with the Republican Caucus in the Senate right now on the president‘s plan to escalate by 20,000 troops?

SMITH:  Well, I didn‘t realize it at the time, Chris, but the speech that I gave really broke the dam of Republican frustration that many of my colleagues have been feeling.  And I do think it is time for the Congress to reassert itself and try and narrow—more narrowly focus our efforts, the American efforts, in the war on terror. 

I have grown to believe that there are nice things to do and there are essential things to do.  What we have to do as we fight the war on terror more intelligently is to keep the mechanisms of the state of Iraq from falling into the hands of al Qaeda or Iran—and I‘m not proposing an attack on Iran. 

But all of the nation-building that we have been doing, frankly, I have concluded that it is Iraq‘s nation to build.  Our military, as Rumsfeld designed it, is great at knocking off tyrants and taking out terrorists but in terms of nation-building, our slimmed down military is not equipped for this. 

And, frankly, the roots of problems in Iraq are so deep, so ancient, the culture so different, that this is something they are going to have to solve.  And we can‘t—we don‘t have enough blood and treasure to expend to do that. 

And I believe the president, with the very best of intentions—and please understand, I pray he is right and I‘m wrong but I think all history as my evidence says otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, I was taken watching the president last night with this terrific notion that the president of the United States has a very almost terrible view of the world right now.  He sees—he was telling Brian Williams and Tim Russert and the others on background yesterday that if they saw the world as he saw it, they would be terrified as well. 

He seems to have a horrific notion of the forces facing us over there, the need to go over there and stand our ground, in fact, to clean up the streets of Baghdad even if it means big American casualties.  Has he got a different view of the world than you do? 

SMITH:  Well, he sees more of the intelligence than we see as senators, but the intelligence that we see is very scary, so I don‘t fault him in that.  But, frankly, I see the focus for America as being different than he sees it. 

What I was speaking to is the frustration of nation-building in Iraq when this Sunni-Shia conflict has been going on four times longer than America has been a country.  And the idea that we can solve this or police this, to me, is a needless expenditure of American life and limb. 

But I do want to say that our effort to date in the larger war on terror—and Iraq being one of those battlefields—we need to focus on who the real enemy is and it‘s not the work of the street cop.  It is our taking out jihadists who would bring chaos into Iraq or export it to neighbors or our country. 

What we did in Somalia the other day is the way we ought to be taking on terrorism, on our terms, with our technology, with our firepower.  These are the real enemies but, frankly, we cannot want democracy for Iraq more than Iraqis want it for themselves.  And it‘s just that simple. 

So I would like to see Congress assert itself in a way to narrow and refocus war on terror.  I‘m not saying get out of Iraq.  That‘s what I hear a lot of the Democrats saying.  I‘m saying we have some larger interests and we can‘t lose focus on those larger interests. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, very much. 

Republican senator of Oregon, Senator Gordon Smith, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL. 

Coming up, does President Bush think he can attack Iran without Congressional approval?  White House spokesman Tony Snow will be here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last night, President Bush called for more than 20,000 new U.S. troops in Iraq, but will Americans will agree to get even deeper into a war they consider a mistake? 

Here to play HARDBALL right now, the White House press secretary, the Honorable Tony Snow. 

Mr. Snow, thank you for joining.

Last night the president said this about Iran.  Let‘s listen. 

(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

MATTHEWS:  Tony, will the president ask Congress‘ approval before any attack on Iran? 

TONY SNOW, WHITE PRESS SECRETARY:  You‘re getting way ahead of yourself, Chris.  Nobody here is talking about attacks on Iran. 

What the president was talking about is the movement of money and personnel and weaponry across the Iranian border into Iraq, where they‘re being used to kill Americans and also Iraqis.  And what he‘s doing is making the sensible military point, which is you cut off the supply lines, you go after the people who have been supplying—carrying those supplies into Baghdad and elsewhere. 

We‘re also thinking about the same thing with Syria, which is cutting off the so-called ratlines between the Syrian border and Anbar province. 

So I tell anybody who‘s sitting around worrying about wars with Iran, there‘s more than one way to work on getting a nation to behave.  For instance, you look at North Korea, we worked with—you know, worked with the Six Party Talks.  With Iran, we have worked with the United Nations Security Council to try to send a message to the Iranian government. 

Right now we are working on success in Iraq.  And part of that success is making sure that individuals who are killing and funding and also weapons, including some pretty advanced weapons, don‘t get into Baghdad, where they can kill our fellow citizens. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did say we‘re going to disrupt the attacks on our forces, we will interrupt the flow of support from Iran.  Does that mean stopping at the Iranian border or going into Iran? 

SNOW:  Well, again, I think what the president is talking about is the war in Iraq, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So he will seek congressional approval before any action against Iran?

SNOW:  You are talking about something we‘re not even discussing... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are, Tony, because—look at this.

“I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.”

Isn‘t that about Iran? 

SNOW:  It‘s about—yes, it is, in part.  And what it is, is it‘s saying, “Look, we are going to make sure that anybody who tries to take aggressive action...”

But when Bill Clinton sent a carrier task force into the South China Sea after the North Koreans fired a missile over Japan, that was not as a prelude to war against North Korea.  You know how it works. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just concerned because very much in the years and months building up to this war in Iraq, we heard kind of a drumbeat of the dangers from Iraq and the nuclear weaponry and what we‘re going to do about it.  And then gradually we went to wore war. 

And I‘m just wondering—we‘re looking here at the precursor for a rationale for an attack of some kind on—you say—I‘ll take it at your word—if the president‘s not going to attack Iran, we‘ll move on. 

SNOW:  OK.  But let me do just a couple of things here. 

I think you understand and most Americans understand Iran is the foremost financier here of global terror.  It‘s a problem.  But you don‘t deal with everything militarily, as you know.  The United States exhausted all diplomatic options before going into Iraq.

I think what you‘re doing is you‘re trying to go down a road of speculation that is just way ahead of events.  Right now, we‘re working on making Iraq a success. 

One other thing about Iran, Chris.  The Iranian public, most which of is young, is very pro-American.  We got a lot of people who...

MATTHEWS:  Boy, do I agree with you on that.  Completely agree with that today.

My concern is we‘re going to see a ginning-up situation whereby we follow in hot pursuit any efforts by the Iranians to interfere with Iraq.  We take a couple shots at them, they react.  Then we bomb the hell out of them and hit their nuclear installations without any action by Congress.  That‘s the scenario I fear, an extra-constitutional war is what I‘m worried about.

SNOW:  Well, you‘ve been watching too, too many old movies featuring your old friend Slim Pickens is what you‘re doing now, come on.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘ve been watching the war in Iraq is what I‘ve been watching. 

As long as you say to me before we leave tonight that the president has to get approval from Congress before making war on Iran.

SNOW:  Let me put it this way.  The president understands you‘ve got to have public support for whatever you do.  The reason we‘re talking to the American public about the high stakes in Iraq and why it is absolutely vital to succeed is you‘ve got to have public support.  And the president certainly, whenever he has taken major actions, he has gone before Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice using the term “augmentation” rather than escalation to define the 20,000 additional troops going to the war? 

SNOW:  I think it‘s fine. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t find “augmentation” a dodge? 

SNOW:  Well, escalation is also an attempt to frame it in a way. 

Look, you got—you pick your term.  You know what we‘re trying to do?  We‘re trying to strengthen up the military capability so there can be effective action Baghdad against people who are killing innocent civilians trying to set off sectarian strife.

Call it whatever you want, what we‘re doing is we‘re providing muscle.  And what we‘re going is we‘re saying to the Iraqis, “You‘ve got to take the lead.  You take the lead.  We‘re going to support you.  You‘re going to get on-the-job training.”

So at the end, what you‘re going to have is effective military capacity on the part of the Iraqis and also, do it in such a way that the public‘s going to have faith in the people who are enforcing the law, rather than being afraid of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the president think it‘s wrong of the House Democrats to prevent amendments and votes on the floor on Republican initiatives over the next several months? 

SNOW:  You know, I think the president understands that Capitol Hill has its own culture and he‘s going to let people there battle it out.  As you also understand, bills that get to the president‘s desk are debated before the House and Senate.  They also go before conference committees that do include Democrats and Republicans. 

We believe that it‘s important to debate things fully, which is why we‘re welcoming a debate on Iraq.  And, you know, my guess is sooner or later Democrats in the House will come to the sale conclusion. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s wrong for the Republicans in the Senate to thwart a debate and a vote on the war in Iraq, the escalation of the war in Iraq? 

SNOW:  I‘m sorry, what?  Thwarting...

MATTHEWS:  You think—Mitch McConnell is out there trying to get—trying to run a filibuster right now to prevent a vote in the U.S. Senate on a non-binding resolution.  I just wondered whether you had the same attitude toward the Senate as you had for the House.  Should there be a vote in the Senate allowed on whether we add the 20,000 troops?

SNOW:  You know what?  The Senate can do it, but I think a couple of things, though, to think about before they go to a vote. 

I know they think they‘re sending a message to the president.  But you‘ve got to ask yourself, what message does it send to the troops?  How are they going to react?

And people are “Oh, don‘t you dare question our patriotism.”  We‘re not.  We‘re asking you to use your common sense. 

Ask yourself, what message does it send to our allies in the region, to the Saudis, the Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt?  What message does it send to Iran and Syria?  What message does it send to those under tyranny (ph). 

That‘s an important thing to do, too, because a resolution in this day and age where messages get transmitted globally in a nanosecond, they all have repercussions.  It‘s not simply something moving up Pennsylvania Avenue.  The whole world is watching, and people need to take that into account. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the greatest press secretary since James Hagerty. 

Thank you very much for joining us, Tony Snow.  Remember him?

Up next, the first wave of U.S. troops is set to arrive in Baghdad within days.  Can it work?  Is it already too late for Democrats to stop it?

And coming up later, Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd is coming here and possible Republican presidential candidate, former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee.  I heart Huckabee.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, we‘re going to have somebody else interesting.  We‘re going to have the Democratic national chairman, Howard Dean, coming here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He thinks President Bush is taking a big gamble on making the troop surge the centerpiece of his new Iraq strategy. 

Let me ask you about this, Richard.  It seems to me that there‘s a lot of Republicans out there—we just had one on, Gordon Smith of Oregon.  I mean, we‘re counting like a dozen of them out there who are off base on this.  They don‘t like this surge.  What do you make of that?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, people are uncomfortable with it, because it‘s not clear it‘s going to work.  There‘s nothing in history to suggest it‘s going to work, given the rules, if you will, of this type of counterinsurgency.  There‘s nothing in history to suggest that the Iraqi government is going to finally start acting like a national government.

And if it doesn‘t work then I think what a lot of people are worried about is the pressures will become overwhelming for the administration then to do something dramatically less. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the president saying if Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, doesn‘t provide the brigades that he has committed to the streets of Baghdad, then the American people will have lost faith in him?  I think he was being—saying a nice way, the president will lose faith in that guy? 

HAASS:  To be sure and I think it‘s both a threat or deterrent, whatever you want it call it, to Maliki.  It‘s possibly a bit of an escape hatch. 

That is, if the Iraqis don‘t do what we want them to do, they don‘t show some sort of compromise, politically and economically, they don‘t to do what we want militarily, then it in some way paves the way for the argument that we had to get out, not because we lack staying power or we lack robustness, but simply because we did not have a serious national partner in Iraq. 

So it could be, if you will, the beginning of the making of an exit strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the strategy the president‘s put forth? 

People tell me what it means is we go in the streets of Baghdad in force.  We help the Iraqi forces subdue the Sunni insurgency.  That will alleviate the need for any kind of Shiite death squads.  They‘ll be marginalized.  And therefore, we won‘t have Sunnis rebelling and won‘t have Shiites killing Sunnis, and we‘ll have peace. 

What do you make of that?  I mean, that‘s what I hear is the rationale for this operation forward.

HAASS:  From your mouth to God‘s ear. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HAASS:  I done think it would work that way.  It would look like, if things did unfold the way you suggest, this becomes a version of the 80 percent strategy, that essentially, we‘re siding with the Shia, against the Sunnis. 

I think the Sunnis would continue to fight.  And if they looked like they were in trouble, ultimately so-called volunteers would begin to enter the country from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. 

I think the real test of this so-called surge and of what the Iraqis are going to do is that it has to be nonsectarian, or if you will, equal opportunity sectarian.  They‘ve got to go after the Sunni insurgents, yes, but they‘ve also got to be willing and able to go after the Shia militia. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you believe they will?

HAASS:  All I can say is, Chris, there‘s no evidence to date that they will be willing and able to.  And one of the dangers is, for all I know, that the Shia militia will lie low for a while, for three months, six months.  The surge will come and go, and then again, they‘ll come out of the—out of their homes. 

It‘s a real question whether we and Maliki share the same fundamental goal.  We want to see a multi-ethnic Iraq where essentially it‘s a functioning democracy where everybody essentially has an equal standing. 

I think they, at least up to now, want to see an Iraq where the Shia are in the driver‘s seat.  If that‘s the case then we‘ve got a fundamental problem here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the consistency of this administration‘s policy.  They may be going with the 80 percent solution.  It comes from Fred Kagan (ph).  It may be the point of view of the people inside the White House, including the vice president.  We let the Shia dominate that country and we just say the heck with the Sunnis, the old crowd that supported and benefited from Saddam Hussein. 

But at the same time, we‘ve allowed the formation of a Shia crescent from Baghdad—I mean, Baghdad, Tehran and Beirut.  We‘re threatening, it seems to me, doing a bit of saber rattling about the possibility of pursuing a hot pursuit of any Iranian effort to help the Shia, to the point of maybe going to wore war with them and bombing their nuclear facilities. 

How can we build a Shia empire and then attack it?

HAASS:  Well, you‘re right.  We‘ve got all of those aspects.  We‘re also allowing the Egyptians and others to arm Fatah, the non—those who are opposed to Hamas in the Palestinian areas.  What in many ways we‘re doing is—is actually exacerbating some of the tension or dynamic between the Shia and the Sunni. 

Also missing from the president‘s policy was one of the fundamental planks of Iraq Study Group, namely, a diplomatic outreach to both Iran and Syria.  So rather than having that, what we‘re seeing instead is threats.  It‘s one of the areas that I‘m afraid the president‘s policy is, if you will, out of balance. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s in the room with the president now as his chief advisers?  The secretary of state—is Condoleezza Rice weighing in here?  Is the new secretary of defense weighing in here?  Or is it just the vice president, who‘s always been hawkish, and the sort of ideological soul mates of the president, Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, the general?  Who‘s pushing this thing?

HAASS:  Obviously, it‘s pretty much the entire national security team, because you‘ve got Bob Gates at defense.  You still have Condoleezza Rice at state.  You‘ve got Steve Hadley and his team, who are playing a significant role at the National Security Council.  And the vice president, from all accounts, still plays as large a role behind the scenes as anybody. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  And they all believe in this surge?

HAASS:  Well, I think people felt compelled that they had to do something.  The administration, in some ways, trapped themselves.  They allowed expectations to build after the November elections; they felt compelled to do something.  I think in some ways they got trapped by the need to do something. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HAASS:  The surge to a lot of them looked like the least bad option.  I actually think they would have done better staying the course.  Avoid the surge, avoid the Democratic—the call of certain Democrats to pull out immediately, and essentially stay the course.  Don‘t do anything dramatic.  Don‘t put the pressure on yourself to show dramatic results. 

I thought the old strategy of essentially Iraqification, trying to buy time for the Iraqis to get up to speed, made some sense.  But the administration has essentially moved away from that, and in some ways we‘re seeing the re-Americanization of U.S. strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  Looks like it.  Thank you very much, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Up next, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut announced today he‘s running for president.  No exploratory committee.  He‘s going in head first.  Can he beat Hillary, Obama and Edwards?  He‘ll tell us why he says he can do it.

And later, another possible 2008 contender, a real possibility, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut announced on “Imus” this morning that he‘s running for president.  And he was among several senators who took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to task today on the Bush administration‘s Iraq policy when she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

I asked Senator Dodd about the president‘s plan in Iraq and why he‘s running for president. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Dodd, you announced for president today, why?

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, for a number of reasons.  First of all, I don‘t want to waste a lot of time on the urgency questions.  I think all of us understand things at home and abroad are very difficult and the country is desperate for leadership that will be honest with them that will ask them to get involved in solving some of the huge problems we face, in energy, health care, the environment, the like, foreign policy. 

I think people want to see a positive attitude about what needs to be done to get us back on track.  I think experience matters.  In almost every other cycle, Chris, I could think about, if you said I‘ve been in the Senate for 25 years you‘d be disqualified from running. 

But I think this time around, in light of what we‘ve been through for the past six years, I think experience matters, experience where you can demonstrate a capability to bring people together, to come up with big ideas, to solve problems in the country.  I‘ve had that experience, on the foreign relations committee, on domestic policy.

And so I decided this time around I‘m not going to sit in the bleachers.  I care too much about the future of our country.  I‘ve got two young daughters who are going to grow up, I hope, with good health throughout the 21st century.  I‘m worried about the country we‘re going to leave them, you and I, my generation.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s ask you about—let me ask you about the news of the day.  The president last night gave a speech where, out of nowhere, he started talked about the danger of Iran, how we‘re going to intercept their efforts to help our enemies in Iraq.  Do you think the president is on the verge of ginning up a war with Iran?

DODD:  I think very possible, and Syria.  Both countries were mentioned here.  And I think, frankly, instead of engaging these countries, as Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton talked about, not because you like them, not because you want to sit down and have dinner with them, but because diplomacy is not a gift to anybody.  But if you‘ve got neighbors in that area who could help come up with stability in Iraq, you ought to take advantage of that.

So instead of suggesting almost a military—expanding a conflict there, we ought to be talking about how we can bring these regional powers to help us solve the problem of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Can the president attack Iran without congressional approval?

DODD:  I don‘t believe so.  My view is we ought to—frankly, ought to have a debate now about the surge issue.  This is a whole new justification for it.  And frankly, if you‘re for it, you ought to debate it and vote for it.  If you‘re against it, vote against it.

This is not weapons of mass destruction.  There are no images of mushroom cloud here.  We‘re talking about a whole new justification for this surge. 

And in my view the Congress—Democrats got a message on November 7, and we ought to take the time over the next few days and debate this before these kids end up there and then you‘re not going to want to cut off the funds when they‘re on the ground.  So the time to debate it is now. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we debate Iran?  Because the president may well claim mushroom clouds.  He may claim they‘re about to hit us with a nuclear weapon, like he did last time.  Same argument, WMD, different country.  Do you think you can stop him or would you stop him from attacking Iran?

DODD:  Well, I would.  I think that doesn‘t make a lot of sense.  I would never take the military option off the table.  You ought never eliminate that arrow from your quiver.  But you ought to try every way you can.  I think there are means by which we could convince the Iranians to a variety of proposals here to reduce the threat they‘re posing with this...

MATTHEWS:  But not taking it off the table; he keeps it on.  Now let me ask you: my big worry as a citizen, I get up in the morning some day, hear the president attacked Iran‘s nuclear facilities or whatever overnight.  And Hillary Clinton is out there saluting. 

Is your party going to stand up to him about a war in Iran, or are we going to go along with that war, too? 

DODD:  I believe my party and others, by the way...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you voted for the last war. 

DODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to stand by and say to the president, “OK, you know, it was a tricky call.  I‘m going to have to go with it.” 

DODD:  This isn‘t a partisan issue.  Listen, you listen to Chuck Hagel today, saying...

MATTHEWS:  I say it‘s an American issue.  Why are we going to war with another Arab country, another Islamic country?

DODD:  I don‘t think we ought to be at this point, and I think there are plenty of people beyond Democrats in my party, to use your language, that believe that that would be a mistake, as well. 

You listen to Chuck Hagel and Sam Brownback and Norm Coleman and others who feel just as strongly that this administration is taking us down a dreadful path in the Middle East. 

I‘ve been going to the Middle East for a quarter of a century.  I just came back three weeks ago.  I‘ve never seen it in rougher shape than it is today.  And we‘ve been AOL (sic), Away Without Leave here and policy issues in this countries.  Lebanon, Syria, the problem with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Iraq, it‘s a mess. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is the president taking that hands-off attitude?

DODD:  I don‘t—I can‘t explain it, and no one else can over in the region, other—as well.  They don‘t understand why we basically have been out of touch.  During that entire conflict between Hezbollah and the Israelis for 34 days, I‘m told the president never talked to Siniora, the prime minister of Lebanon, and never talked to Olmert, the prime minister of Israel.  For 34 days. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it because his farther took a lot of heat for being tough with Israel with the loan guarantees and all that?  Does he go the other way and say, “I don‘t want to get involved in pushing anybody around over there?

DODD:  I think it‘s their failure to understand the value of diplomacy.  Diplomacy means telling your friends when you think they‘re wrong and when your enemies are doing something that may help you, you engage them.  They see it as weakness.  They think diplomacy is a favor to someone, rather than standing up and using those vehicles to enhance your own interests.

MATTHEWS:  I think you have a different world view than the president. 

Am I right?

DODD:  I hope so.  Very much so. 

MATTHEWS:  How‘s yours different than his?  He‘s got a very hawkish world view, which is engaged, forward leaning, preemptive, preventative, let‘s go to war if anything goes on, let‘s go fight them over here, rather than here.  What‘s your view?

DODD:  My view is you ought to engage it.  I believe in sort of the Jim Baker view of these things.  Accept the world as it is.  Try to make it better if you can, but understand what it is today.  And then, understand you‘ve got to constantly work at this.

If you are going to lead in the world, use your power effectively and be careful about jumping to military options unless you absolutely have to,  never eliminate that as an option.  But this administration has been so quick on the trigger, they have got huge problems of instability.  Stability has been the password in the Middle East for more than 50 years, or almost 50 years.  And this administration is the first administration, Democrat or Republican, which is disrupted that notion of stability. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the cause of democratizing the Middle East has gotten in the way of the cause of stability?

DODD:  I do.  I do—look, I‘m all for democracy, but you have to develop societies, not just nation states, before you can get to democracy.  Be careful what you wish for, if you had free elections in these Arab countries today, these modern Arab countries, I‘m telling you that the Islamic Jihad or the Muslim Brotherhood would win 80 percent of the vote.  Be careful what you‘re asking for. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that you know more about the world because of your Peace Corps experience?  You were in the Peace Corps. you were in the Dominican Republican, correct?

DODD:  That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think growing up in your early 20‘s, seeing this country from a third world perspective, was helpful to you? 

DODD:  Absolutely.  No question about it.

MATTHEWS:  Because the president doesn‘t have that background.

DODD:  No he doesn‘t.  In fact, John Kennedy, when he sent off the first Peace Corps volunteers, turned to Harris Walker, to help him organize the Peace Corps, and said, you know, it‘s going to be a great thing 40 or 50 years from now, there will have been a million young people in this country that will serve their nation in a foreign nation coming back that is going to help us in the foreign policy, with a better understanding of what‘s going on. 

Well, there have been only been 170,000 of us, Chris, that have come back as Peace Corps volunteers.  But that experience was life-altering and changing.  You respected other people, you listened to them, it gives you a better perspective on your own country. 

I came back with a deeper appreciation of what the United States was and what it could do as a result of that experience. 

MATTHEWS:  And you understood after you came back that other countries are just as jealous of intervention and just as nationalistic as we are. 

DODD:  And just as hopeful for the future, about their families and kids and the kind of world they would like to create for them. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess I agree with you on that last point, that‘s why I fed it to you.

But the president doesn‘t have that kind of background. 

DODD:  I don‘t think so.  He doesn‘t understand it.  I thought in many ways that he‘d understand—I think he had an option in the Latin American case because he was the governorship of Texas—on the border with Mexico.  But I think 9/11 threw him off.  I think his awareness, and understanding or appreciation for what was going on in the rest of the world was a real void. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.  Good luck in your campaign for president.

Chris Dodd, you are definitely a candidate.  You are not—you don‘t have an exploratory committee.

DODD:  I don‘t put my toe in and then my ankle and my knee.  I go—when you‘re going to go, make a decision and go for it.

MATTHEWS:  Total immersion.

DODD:  Total immersion.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Dodd.

Up next, another governor from Hope, Arkansas wants to be president.  Can Republican Mike Huckabee beat the frontrunners.  He will be here to talk about it.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How many Republicans will support President Bush‘s plan for Iraq?  How many will run away from him.  Will the next president be forced to solve Bush‘s problems in Iraq.

Republican Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas for 10-and-a-half years.  He has a new book out called “From Hope to Higher Ground.”  And he is thinking about running for president, 2008. 

Welcome governor.  We have had one president from Hope, Arkansas.  Are you like Bill Clinton?

MIKE HUCKABEE, FRM. GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS:  Well, I‘m not sure I‘m like Bill Clinton.  I like him personally even though he has always campaigned against me and I‘ve campaigned against him.  But we have had a cordial relationship. 

It‘s one of the things that I try to talk about in this book, that you don‘t have to hate the other side and you shouldn‘t have this sense of enmity.  It‘s one of the thing, I think, the American people are most frustrated with is this polarized and paralyzed government we have created because of the hostility and acrimony. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the difference between a Democratic and Republican from Arkansas as you grew up?  What was the difference that you saw in Bill Clinton from you?

HUCKABEE:  Well, I didn‘t know any Republicans when I grew up, there weren‘t any in Hope, Arkansas.  There were only a handful.  And the old saying was, they‘d either moved in from somewhere or maybe somebody had messed with them. 

I became a Republican as a teenager.  And I did it because I believed that we needed a sense of personal responsibility.  I believed in lower taxes, smaller government.  I believed in the things that I was hearing from people like Ronald Reagan.  And as a result of that, I became a Republican out of conviction. 

I‘m pro-life.  I believe that there are a lot of things that we ought to really preserve.  So I‘m unapologetically conservative.  And when the Democrats had a sharp left turn, left me with very little place to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the Republican party of Congress has adhered to those old-time Republican principles? 

HUCKABEE:  No.  If they had of, they wouldn‘t have been so overwhelmingly defeated in November.  They spent too much money.  They argued too much.  There was a lot of the corruption.  And there was incompetence. 

People want government to be competent.  When they dial the phone and call 911, they want a fire truck to show up.  They want the trash picked up.  They want their roads to be smooth.  They have a right to expect that out of government. 

They want schools to work, neighborhoods to be safe and if Republicans don‘t deliver it, then people are going to elect somebody else.  It‘s that simple. 

MATTHEWS:  You said you believed as part of your principles as a Republican that you believe in limited government.  Do you believe the United States should be in the business of trying to nation-build, of exporting democracy, creating nations along the model of our own or any kind of nation?  Should we be in the business we are in, in Iraq?  Is that a Republican principle?

HUCKABEE:  Well, the nation we need to build most is ours.  This is the one place where we have a responsibility to make sure there is good drinking water and safe neighborhoods.  This is where our education system needs to be able to work and people can go to college. 

If there are countries who are trying to build a democracy and they ask for our help, then I think there is every reason we should try to assist them. 

But we can‘t do it for them Chris.  And that‘s one think we are going to have to ask of the Iraqis.  We can‘t love their freedom more than they are willing to love it.  That‘s one of the themes that I try to bring out in the book, is our role in the international community can‘t be beyond that of the people in whose very nations we are involved. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II, either against the Germans, the Italians or the Japanese.  We‘re still there now in force.  The president wants to increase the force going over there.  He wants to assign our G.I.s the responsibility of going through downtown Baghdad, kicking down doors and trying to subdue the Sunni insurgents.  Do you think that‘s a Republican philosophy for the role of the United States government? 

HUCKABEE:  I‘m not sure that that is a philosophy that‘s tied to as much a party, I think it‘s the role of the commander in chief to make these decisions based on the intelligence and information he has been given from the people in his military that he‘s put in charge. 

The greatest concern I have is, having been a governor ten and a half years, I‘ve seen an awful lot, almost 80 percent of our Guard Troops and most of our Reserves deployed to Iraq. 

The real concern is how far can we stretch these folks?  How many deployments?  How long can we keep them there? 

And, Chris, the real trouble is not just that they‘re stretched, but their families and their employers are stretched.  And this is simply something that‘s got to be thought of very carefully.  It‘s not that I‘m hearing complaints from those soldiers, because they‘re going to do their duty. 

But we‘re asking a lot out of our citizen soldiers.  And if we‘re going to be engaged in a long, protracted war, we need to do it with a full-time Army that understands that‘s what they signed up for. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you very much, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, running for president, right? 

HUCKABEE:  I‘m going to make a decision about that in a few weeks.  Let‘s see how the book does.  If people like the message of this book, there‘s a good reason.  If they hate it, then probably, I get a different answer, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  God, that‘s an interesting market technique. 

Thank you very much, sir, for coming on HARDBALL.

HUCKABEE:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, can the U.S. Congress move quickly enough, if they choose to, to stop President Bush‘s escalation in Iraq?  Will they embarrass him with a vote to condemn his plan? 

We think that might happen within two weeks in the U.S. Senate, by the way.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced bruising questions from both Republicans and Democrats about the president‘s Iraq.  Tomorrow she leaves for the Mideast, where she will try to salvage our diplomatic efforts there.

Andrea Mitchell is one of NBC‘s most plugged-in and prolific correspondents.  She‘ll be traveling with the secretary of state.  Andrea‘s book, by the way, “Talking Back,” is now out in paperback with a new introduction Andrea wrote while traveling with secretary Rice.  And, by the way, as Secretary Rice was trying to broker peace in the Middle East, Andrea was writing about her.  It‘s a behind the scenes memoir by Andrea, covering presidents and powerful people around the world.

I love the cover of the paperback.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  There it is.  It‘s great.

MITCHELL:  And by the way, Chris, no matter how well the book does, I‘m not running for president.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, I know you‘re—it was a like a loss (ph) -- a loss leader a minute ago with Huckabee.

OK, let‘s talk turkey about today.  You‘re traveling with the secretary tomorrow.

Condoleezza Rice got hammered today.  What do you make of her saying, “We‘re not escalating the war, we‘re augmenting it”—what do you think of that?

MITCHELL:  And that was a question from Chuck Hagel.  That was a very tough Q & A.  I mean, she had a really rough time on the Senate side.  She then went to the House side, where it wasn‘t that much easier. 

But the Associated Press had a sort of nice lead on all this, they said that she was at the intersection of anger and ambition.  I mean, there she was in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with all of those presidential wannabes and they all are legitimately angry about the policy, so in some cases, you know, those things can coincide. 

They can coexist.  These are people who are running for president, in some cases.  You talked to Chuck Dodd earlier—to Chris Dodd, rather because they think that the foreign policy of this administration has been a critical failure. 

And she is trying to defend the policy that was exacerbated by her diplomacy or by the U.S. position in Lebanon and Iraq over the summer.  There‘s no question that what they tried to do in negotiating with Iran has now been shut down. 

And you‘ve been asking your guests about this Iran situation.  I thought that the president‘s bellicose statements towards Iran last night were remarkably different from the previous policy.  They have new information, they have moved a carrier group into the Persian Gulf and we had testimony, little-noticed, by John Negroponte at the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chris, today that Iran is a real threat. 

MATTHEWS:  I see us heading towards war with Iran.  I want to ask you about how it might get a trip wire.  If the United States pursues these networks, as they‘re being described by the president, if we go to intercept any kind of aid coming to from Tehran to Iraq, would it be crossing the border?  Would we go into Iran to stop this involvement by Iran in the war—the civil war, if you will, in Iraq? 

MITCHELL:  She was asked that today several times.  Joe Biden said to her that this pass authorization in 2002 for the war this Iraq does not authorize going into Iran and that it would be a constitutional confrontation with this Congress.  She did not say that they would agree to that interpretation, as all presidents, as you know, on the war powers between Congress and the White House won‘t give anything up. 

But she was really, really not agreeing that they would come back to Congress.  And I think they have already briefed members of Congress on what they are discovering about Iranian efforts inside Iraq.  She did testify today that Iran has been—has been attacking—Iran has helped in the attacks on American forces and Iraqi forces. 

And at the same time they‘re setting up a situation where Iran is the bad guy, probably because of Iran‘s enhanced strength in the region, which is what Negroponte said, that Iran has emerged from both Lebanon and from the Iraq war with more power than ever. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the irony is, of course, we‘ve allowed a Shia takeover of Iraq.  In other words, Iran has had more influence now because of us, to a large extent.  We dumped Saddam Hussein, they moved in there, clearly with the majority there. 

But here‘s my concern, just watching this.  Intellectually, I watch it.  If the United States pursues any effort to intercept Iranian aid to Iraq, we take a couple bombing raids over Iran, that triggers a reaction by them, at which point we go in there with B-52s and bomb the hell out of them, including their nuclear facilities, we have engaged in a war by sort of creep—we‘ve crept into a war without getting a declaration or a clear-cut policy statement.  Is that possible? 

MITCHELL:  Well, a couple of months ago I would have said absolutely impossible, but now I‘m not so sure because even though they say they have no military designs against Iran, they certainly weren‘t ruling it out today.  They would like to scare Iran.  But the strange thing is, Chris, that they know that in the last couple of weeks we‘ve seen signs of political rebellion against Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran.  And you would think that they would try to cultivate...

MATTHEWS:  This only encourage for Ahmadinejad.  Now hear this:  I think we are playing with a war with Iran right now.  I‘m worried.  I see the old signs of ginning up a war.

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Your book is called, of course, “Talking Back,” a fabulous look at the world and how you it covers—how you covered it. 

Play HARDBALL with us Friday.  Our guests will include Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who‘s been over in Darfur.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

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