updated 1/12/2007 12:09:52 PM ET 2007-01-12T17:09:52

Guests: Russ Feingold, Jonathan Alter, Col. Jack Jacobs

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The president‘s speech.  The nation did not exactly stand up and cheer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  This speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.

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OLBERMANN:  And that‘s from the president‘s own party.  The Democrats are a little angrier.

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SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN:  I believe the diversion of attention in Iraq has been absolutely catastrophic with regard to the national security.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, calling on Congress to use its power of the purse to cut off the president‘s power to wage war.  The senator joins us tonight.

Fact checking the president‘s surge.  Our guest analyst, the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, June 2005)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.

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OLBERMANN:  Nonetheless, this latest would be the fifth time this president has sent in more Americans.

And when do we send in the equipment?  More from Lisa Myers on her startling report, how the Army, to protect a contract with Raytheon, has refused to buy an Israeli system that would protect our troops from the rocket-propelled grenades that have already killed 132 Americans.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Army‘s own engineers said that it was the system that was the most ready to go.

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OLBERMANN:  And the president said last night, he is ready to go into Iran and Syria, though we have almost no troops left, though al Qaeda wants Syria destabilized, though Iran would love to be threatened.  Tonight, a special comment on the insanity of the idea.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

After what happened on Capitol Hill today, it is not swerving too far into the realm of political science fiction to suggest that if this country had a parliamentary form of government, like that of Great Britain, that the Bush administration might have had to resign tonight.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the administration‘s hard sell of its troop plan for Iraq, to say nothing of its brief but chilling provocations of Iran and Syria, today finding very few buyers, the administration‘s arrest late last night of Iranian officials inside Iraq raising further alarm bells.

We begin with the administration‘s attempt to make its case, and all hell breaking loose in the House and the Senate, the president beginning with a group of about 300 soldiers and family members at Fort Benning, Georgia, Mr. Bush telling them that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for America‘s future, while the new defense secretary got fricasseed by the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Gates admitting he was no expert on Iraq, it was Secretary of State Rice charged with making the plan palatable to the Senate, Democrats there virtually unanimous in opposing the plan, and rank-and-file Republicans increasingly joining the other side‘s ranks, Secretary Rice either deliberately misleading the Foreign Relations Committee, or simply not grasping herself that Iraq has devolved into all-out civil war.

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CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Most of—many of the American casualties actually are taken in places like Anbar.  They are deliberately by people who are trying to get us out of the country.  They‘re not because we are caught in the middle of crossfire between Sunnis and Shi‘a.  It is absolutely the case that Iraq—

HAGEL:  Madame Secretary—

RICE:  Iraq—

HAGEL:  ... your intelligence and mine is a lot different.  And I know my time is up here.  But to sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that‘s just not true.

RICE:  But I think it is wrong to give an image that somehow all Sunnis and Shi‘a have broken into violence against one another.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), CHAIR, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Senator from Florida.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Madame Secretary, I have supported you and the administration on the war, and I cannot continue to support the administration‘s position.  I have not been told the truth, over and over again, by administration witnesses, and the American people have not been told the truth.  And I don‘t come to this conclusion very lightly.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Do you have an estimate of the number of casualties we expect from this surge?

RICE:  No, Senator, I don‘t think there‘s any way to give you such an estimate.

BOXER:  Has the president—because he said, expect more sacrifice.  He must know.

RICE:  Senator, I don‘t think that any of us have a number that—of expected casualties.  I think that people understand that there is going to be violence for some time in Iraq.  I could never, and I can never, do anything to replace any of those lost men and women in uniform, or the diplomats, some of whom (INAUDIBLE)...

BOXER:  Madame Secretary, please, I know you feel terrible about it.  That‘s not the point.  I was making the case as to who pays the price for your decisions.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  This administration took a gamble.  So far, each time that we‘ve made an assessment of how that gamble has paid off, it appears that it has failed.  And the fundamental question of the American people, and I think every senator on this panel, Republican and Democrat, are having to face now is, at what point do we say enough?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Bush administration perhaps not seeing Iraq as enough, two hours before the president‘s speech last night, American troops grabbing five Iranians in Irbil in northern Iraq.  The Iranians claim they are diplomats, U.S. officials say they are part of Iran‘s revolutionary guard responsible for killing American troops, Mr. Bush taking further military steps today, moving another carrier group to the Persian Gulf off the Iranian coast, having vowed last night to disrupt attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq by interrupting the flow of support from Iran, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden saying that before another invasion, the White House would have to deal with him first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  That they think they have authority to pursue networks or anything else across the border into Iran and Iraq, that will generate a constitutional confrontation here in the Senate, I predict to you.  At least, I will attempt to make it a confrontation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s call in our own Jonathan Alter, of course, also a senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  When was the last time we saw that kind of open confrontation between the executive branch and the legislative branch that we saw on Capitol Hill on both houses today?

ALTER:  I think you really do have to go back to what was called the Cooper-Church amendment, where, in 1974 and ‘75, they began the process of cutting off funding for the war in Vietnam.  And then the war ended.  And we really haven‘t seen it, we haven‘t seen this level of bitterness, probably, since Nixon‘s invasion of Cambodia.

OLBERMANN:  And speaking of that, it was in April of 1970.  Nixon explained the decision to go into Cambodia by saying, and we quoted, “A majority of the American people, a majority of you listening to me, are for the withdrawal of our forces from Vietnam.  The action I have taken tonight is indispensable for the continuing success of that withdrawal program.”  Is this being replicated?  Might the Bush administration be planning to sell some sort of military action against Iran in the very same way that Nixon did Cambodia?

ALTER:  It‘s an interesting comparison.  It‘s never the very same way.  But I think they‘re kind of covering a retreat here with a lot of bombast and militaristic talk, and, you know, moving carrier task forces into the region, and otherwise trying to avoid a humiliating defeat.

But the problem is, Keith, that in order to save face, we‘re going to lose more young Americans.  And you could argue that that‘s really not a moral thing to do, to cover your retreat with the blood and treasure of our country.

OLBERMANN:  While we have the Vietnam parallels on the table, could we be looking at another Gulf of Tonkin?  By moving that carrier group, sending a Patriot missile battalion into the Persian Gulf, by storming an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, might the U.S. be looking to materially provoke Tehran?

ALTER:  Well, I think the comparison there is a little less exact, because, remember, the Gulf of Tonkin was in 1964.  It was at the beginning of the Vietnam War, before the country had soured on it.  So LBJ was looking for a pretext to really escalate the war.

Here, they‘re looking for a little bit of a different kind of pretext, maybe, if you think that they do want to take on Iran.  But they certainly wouldn‘t be doing so with the support of the American people.  As Joe Biden indicated, if they did do that, if they came up with some kind of a provocation, and that hostilities commenced with Iran, it would precipitate a constitutional crisis.

OLBERMANN:  But what does the support of the American people mean to this president and this administration?  Why are they bothering at all?  The results of the last election seem to have meant nothing to them.  And there was a poll last night, after the president‘s speech, that said the (INAUDIBLE) percentage of people who did not want more troops in Iraq was essentially the same as it was before, 61 percent.  It would seem we‘re completely irrelevant in this equation.

ALTER:  Well, but that still leaves, you know, 40 percent in support.  So, you know, the president is trying to rally that 40 percent in order to, say, sustain a filibuster by Senator McConnell in the Senate against this resolution disapproving of the policy.

He needs to, even though he‘s at a very low level of popularity, he needs to, if not rally his base, at least sustain his base.  But what‘s so striking, Keith, is this erosion on the Republican side of the aisle.  That‘s the big news today, is that this is really not a partisan matter any more.  You have not just one or two, but 10 or 12 Republicans who are in open opposition to the policy.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, the non-bipartisan element of this is no longer Democrat versus Republican.  It seems to be closer to legislative versus executive.

ALTER:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, sir, great thanks.

ALTER:   Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Russ Feingold at the head of that charge on Capitol Hill today.  And tonight, new charges, right here, exclusively on COUNTDOWN.  Does the military even have a withdrawal plan at the ready?  And why are we taking more forces away from Afghanistan?  The senator joins us next.

And in announcing the escalation in Iraq, why does the president think this surge will be any different than the one before, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the very first one he tried?  That in a special comment on Mr. Bush‘s lack of credibility in a time of crisis.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is harrowing enough that the Bush administration got us into Iraq without an exit strategy.  But four years later, is there really no military plan to get out?  Not even one the president has in the bottom drawer of his desk, just in case?

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that the charge tonight from Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, who is seeking a way for Congress to not only stop the current proposed troop escalation, but to stop this war altogether.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINGOLD:  Congress must use its main power, the power of the purse, to put an end to our involvement in this disastrous war.  And I‘m not talking here only about the surge or escalation.  It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Feingold joins us tonight from Washington.

Senator, thanks for your time again.

FEINGOLD:  Good to be on the show, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Your fellow Democrats, and obviously a growing number of Republicans, are against any kind of troop increase.  But do you think there is a similar kind of bipartisan agreement growing on actually withdrawing from Iraq now?

FEINGOLD:  Well, you know, the politicians are usually behind the people.  And this is a terrible example of that, of where, yes, there‘s a lot of people realizing we shouldn‘t increase the troops, and that that‘s an awful idea.  But there‘s a lack of planning for what‘s really going to happen, which is, we need to redeploy these troops, and we need to redeploy them soon.

I was just in the Intelligence Committee at an open hearing, and I tried to ask some generals and intelligence people, you know, What are some of the things we should be thinking about as we bring these troops out?  And they said, Well, Senator, that‘s just a hypothetical.

And my response was, Well,  you didn‘t have a plan to take us into this Iraq war.  You darn well better have a plan for bringing us out.  And they‘re not planning, and it really does concern me.

OLBERMANN:  How would stopping the money spigot work?  How do you do it?

FEINGOLD:  Well, that‘s what I was trying to ask their advice on.  You know, it‘s been done before.  When President Nixon wanted to go into Cambodia, the funding was not allowed.  When it was clear that the situation in Somalia in the early ‘90s wasn‘t working, we passed, and I was in the Senate, a resolution that said, By X date, the funding will be cut off.  We‘re going to leave you plenty of time to make sure the troops can come out safely.

But this kind of thing has been done before.  Obviously, when you go into a war, you got to come out of a war, and there are safe ways to do it, and not safe ways to do it.  We ought to be planning with legislation and working with the military and everybody else, a safe exit from Iraq, because it‘s long overdue.

OLBERMANN:  According to President Bush, those, like yourself, who have issues with his plan, as he stated it last night, let me quote it, “have a responsibility to explain how the path they propose would be more likely to succeed.”  How do you answer that?

FEINGOLD:  Well, very simply.  The president has been wrong on every aspect of this war.  He was wrong about the premise that we went into the war on, he was wrong about the idea that there wasn‘t a civil war, he was wrong about the idea that this didn‘t help rather than hurt al Qaeda.

So I don‘t see it as my responsibility to make up for the fact that he took us into this war under false pretenses, and is keeping us there under false pretenses.  The fact is, the situation now is completely unacceptable.  It‘s devastating to our American national security and our military.

The burden is on them to justify continuing this awful mistake.  The burden is not on us, who never thought we should go there in the first place.

OLBERMANN:  And continuing a mistake, that raises the question that the president brought up last night, in the threats to Iran and Syria, as he vowed to, let me quote it again, “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”  You told Secretary of State Rice today that you feel our involvement in Iraq has been catastrophic with regards to our national security, as you just said it here.  What do you think about the president‘s suggestion now to expand this in some way to face Iran and Syria?

FEINGOLD:  Well, the problem with all these folks, especially the president, is, they simply can‘t see this as an international challenge.  They see this whole thing through the eyes of Iraq.  I call it the Iraq-centric policy.  They have to define it through Iraq, because they made the awful mistake of going there instead of beefing up our operation in Afghanistan.

So if he‘s talking about doing something like that with Iran, he‘s forgetting about the fact that in Afghanistan right now, a battalion is apparently going to be removed from eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is planning a major offensive, and the Marine commandant himself said this is a bad idea.  Where is it going?  It‘s going to Iraq.

So they‘ve got the priorities all wrong.  We need to look at those that attacked us on 9/11, and as I remember, they were hanging out in Afghanistan.  And if we don‘t get serious, they‘re going to be able to hang out in Afghanistan again pretty soon.

OLBERMANN:  Is it be fair to say that the best present that President Ahmadinejad of Iran could get would be a threat from the United States?  Would that not bolster his somewhat shaky hold on that country?

FEINGOLD:  I‘m not sure.  I mean, the fact is, yes, all options have to be on the table with regard to Iran.  You can‘t take that lightly.  But we need to come up with a policy that says that all of our allies and all the other countries in the world do everything they can to try to persuade Iran not to go to nuclear weapons.

The answer is not to try to take it up to the level where either he or others in the Islamic world can take advantage of this to encourage further negative action toward the United States.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time, great thanks for joining us.

FEINGOLD:  Thanks, Keith.  Thanks so much.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, a special comment.  The country wants fewer troops in harm‘s way, so the president sends more, and threatens two more nations.  Simply it is madness.

And more on how we will send the troops, but not the protection they need.  Why is the U.S. Army blocking a weapon system that experts say would save lives?

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Ben Rivera was born on this date in 1968.  A baseball pitcher, he won 13 games for the 1993 National League champion Phillies.  But his claim to fame was his suitcase.  Born in the Dominican Republic, he played major league ball in that country, in the United States, then in Taiwan with the China Trust Wales (ph), in Japan for the Han Ching (ph) Tigers, in Mexico for the Mexico City Reds, and in South Korea for the Samsung (ph) Lions.

He wasn‘t a star, but he can say, I never used steroids, in at least five different languages.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in California, where something weird is going on at this San Rafael cemetery.  The birds, they‘re acting crazy.  How can we possibly hope to fight them?  As they said in Hitchcock‘s movie, It‘s the end of the world.  Thousands of European starlings have chosen the graveyard as a place to hang out and put on a creepy air show for the dozens of visitors—there they are—flocking to the scene each day.

Experts say the birds come to this place in the winter for a reliable food source, but can‘t really explain the black cloudlike formation flying.  Some believe it‘s a sign of the coming apocalypse, and they warn, whatever you do, don‘t park your car underneath them.

The only way to find out for sure, shoot a Oddball correspondent hundreds of feet into the air, so he can ask one of them what the hell is going on.  I can see my house from here.  Unfortunately, no one on our staff speaks bird.  That would be world champion sky driver Scott Smith, launched by human catapult at a speed of almost 100 miles an hour 700 feet into the air, where he parachuted safely down to earth, a stunt for a show on Discovery Channel.  But Smith may be trying this more fun—more often, because it was loads of fun, and he saved a fortune on airplane tickets.

The new way forward in Iraq, really the old way, take five, the fifth troop surge of this war, with no real explanation as to why this time it would work.  Military analysis and my special comment still ahead of us.

And one of the world‘s biggest soccer stars is coming to America.  Why would he want to?  Why would importing one of them work, when it has not worked anytime in the last 40 years?

That‘s ahead.

First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, researchers at Dublin City University in Ireland.  They tested 45 randomly selected Irish paper money bills, fresh out of general circulation, for traces of drugs, and were startled to find how often traces of cocaine showed up, 45 times—in other words, 100 percent.

Number two, baseball‘s L.A. Dodgers offering a new promotion for this season.  Ordinarily, seats in the right-field bleachers at beautiful Dodger Stadium cost $10 apiece.  But for $40, you get the same seat, plus all you can eat.  That‘s right, all of the peanuts, soda, and Dodger Dogs a baseball fan can consume in nine innings.  No beer.  The dodgers did not say how many paramedics would be hired to supervise the area, nor if extra tarpaulins would be perched—purchases—to cover any fans who exploded.

And number one, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  The Reuters News Service said it was permitted to monitor the television feed between Dr. Rice‘s interviews with the morning shows today, and it caught her complimenting Harry Smith of CBS, despite his ratings, which she described as 55th place, and saying, quote, “My Fox guys, I love every single one of them.”

Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you waiting for a shred of transparency from the Bush administration, three you have it.  Three little words, “My Fox guys.”

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OLBERMANN:  Well, Mr. Bush last night did not say he made any mistakes in Iraq.  He did say mistakes were made, specifically the mistake of not sending enough troops there prior to now.

But in our third story tonight, the reality is that Mr. Bush‘s current escalation will still result in fewer troops that had been there before.  There were 160,000 at the end of 2005.  It‘s also the case that this will not be the first, second, or even third time Mr. Bush has tried to fix things in Iraq with a quick infusion of troops.  It will be the fifth. 

According to figures compiled by the National Security Network think tank, the first came at the start of 2004, when the president raised troop levels from barely over 110,00 up to 137,000.  The result, Moqtada al-Sadr staged an uprising in Najaf.  That April was our second deadliest month in Iraq. 

In November of 2004, Mr. Bush sent in another 12,000, for a total of 150,000 bracing for January‘s elections.  Nothing changed.  In late June, 2005, he said any more troops would be a mistake. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging the Iraqis to take the lead in this fight, and sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay for ever. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Two months later he sent in more Americans, 22,000 more, almost exactly what he is now ordering again.  With 160,000 there, new elections proceeded, but so did the violence.  And just last summer Operation Together Forward combined a surge of almost 20,000 with virtually the same policy changes we were told about last night.  The White House and military alike conceded the failure of Operation Together Forward. 

Let‘s turn on to a veteran of this country‘s first Vietnam, MSNBC military analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs.  Jack, thanks for your time. 

COL. JACK JACOBS, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Looking back at past troop escalations, along with strategy and policy changes that were supposed to accompany them, bottom line, is the president trying anything that has not been tried or promised before? 

JACOBS:  No.  He went out of his way yesterday, however, to deflect this criticism, by citing the fact that he have done this sort of thing before, but failed, but now we are going to do it in a different way, and that way is we are going in these areas and we are going to stay.  And that‘s the only difference.  We have been in and out of places like Ramadi and Fallujah and so on many, many times.  Every time we are there, we cleanup, we leave, and the bad guys come back again. 

We are going to go there now and stay a while, only to be replaced by Iraqis, but there is no reason to expect that this will be any different than last time. 

OLBERMANN:  He said last night that victory would not looks like it did in World War II, with battleship ceremonies—kind of an unfortunate avocation of the mission accomplished debacle at the Lincoln—but do we have—do you have a better understanding today than you did yesterday of what he expects victory to look like? 

JACOBS:  Oh, I think the administration decided a long time ago that victory, from our standpoint, would looks like this.  We would declare victory in some fashion and then go home.  And I think that this insertion of troops to go into Baghdad, secure a few neighbors, go into Anbar province and secure a few towns, has to be taken for what it is.  Recognize that we are only increasing the size of the force there by about 15 percent. 

It‘s not exactly what you would call flooding the zone.  And they are going to be replaced by other people, predominantly Iraqis, and we are going to say that we are doing a good job, the Iraqis are starting to take over, and we are going to start to draw down.  Nobody wants a lot of troops in Iraq in 2008.  So, this looks a lot like everything else did before it came.  I don‘t think that this is a new strategy. 

OLBERMANN:  As we heard Senator Feingold mention earlier in the news hour, just as in 2003 Mr. Bush pulled troops from Afghanistan to pursue his goals in Iraq.  In just weeks an infantry battalion is going to be moved to Iraq from Afghanistan right at a time when the U.S. commanders there say the Taliban resurgent, planning major campaigns to cut off, maybe seize Kandahar.  It seems as though Mr. Bush has not achieved in Afghanistan what he wants for Iraq, a government that can defend itself and eliminate the terrorist safe havens.  Is that not true? 

JACOBS:  Yes, it is true, and we are making a big mistake by withdrawing any forces from Afghanistan at this particular time.  We need more forces there, not fewer.  This is an unusual year.  Most of the years the bad guys go into Pakistan.  They win her over, and then, when the snows melt in the passes, they come back again, al Qaeda, the Taliban, come back again and harass the government and the local areas. 

This year is a bit different.  Substantial numbers of bad guys have remained inside Afghanistan, which gives rise to the perception that there is going to be a substantial enemy offensive in the springtime.  No, this is not the time to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. 

OLBERMANN:  Back here, Jack, today, the day after the president‘s speech, he spoke at the presentation of the Medal of Honor to the family of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, who literally through himself on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  The president seemed personally moved, but you received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of your comrades in Vietnam, and you told our staff you had a problem with what happened at today‘s ceremony.  Can you voice that? 

JACOBS:  Yes, I will try to be brief.  I got the award in the same ceremony with three other soldiers.  They opened up the gates to the White House grounds.  Anybody who wanted to could come in—show you how times have changed—anybody who wanted to could come in and watch the ceremony.  There were 10,000 or 20,000 people.  It was quite a spectacle.  But we were alive. 

Today we were supposed to be celebrating not just the service of this young Marine, but his sacrifice as well.  I was a little chagrined to see that it turned into something of a hoopla, big announcements, naming each of the Congressman and senators who were there.  It should have been a much more solemn occasion and much more closed.  I did not like it very much. 

OLBERMANN:  Colonel Jack Jacobs, with whom, in our opinion, the authority rests on such matters, great thanks for your time tonight. 

JACOBS:  Thank you for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, you will remember Lisa Myers reported months ago that the Army would not purchase an anti-grenade system to protect our troops in Iraq.  Now, new details on just how far some went to block that new system. 

And also tonight, a special comment about the president‘s address last night?  What reality does he live in?  What sort of disconnect does he have with America to measure the mood of this nation and not disengage, to any degree, from Iraq, but instead level new threats against Syria and Iran.  COUNTDOWN continues. 

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OLBERMANN:  That American servicemen and women are in harms way in Iraq is bad enough.  That our government might not be doing everything it could to protect the troops already there beggars description.  But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Lisa Myers continues her exclusive investigation into the Army‘s refusal to use a device that could save lives.

That device, Trophy, and Israeli-built system that can stop RPGs, rocket propelled grenades.  And while commanders in Iraq have pleaded for just such a weapons system, the Army has said that Trophy was too flawed to use, when in fact it is battle ready.  But the army has its own anti-RPG system in development, and it would rather protect the contractor of that than the trips. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Since our first reports, the Army brass has repeatedly told Congress that Trophy is too flawed to battle test in Iraq.  But documents obtained by NBC News reveal that the Army‘s own engineers gave the system high marks.  In the summer of 2005, army engineers, working with a team from the Navy, analyzed 6 RPG defense systems.  They declared trophy the best and most technically advanced and mature. 

PHIL COILE, FORMER PENTAGON WEAPONS TESTER:  They are all for it. 

MYERS:  Phil Coile (ph), the Pentagon‘s former chief weapons tester, reviewed documents obtained by NBC. 

COILE:  The army‘s own engineers said it was the system that was the most ready to go. 

MYERS:  The army‘s number three official also declared the system, though not perfect, good enough to seriously consider. 

RAY DUBOIS, FMR. ARMY UNDERSECRETARY:  IT appeared that Trophy was mature enough that it needed to be looked at seriously, and not ignored. 

MYERS (on camera):  But Pentagon sources, Army documents and e-mails reveal that other Army officials went to great lengths to stop Trophy, even from further testing. 

(voice-over):  First, Pentagon sources say the Army refused to allow Trophy to be tested on an Army Striker, forcing testers to ship this one in from Israel, cost, 300,000 dollars. 

Second, after Pentagon test found Trophy 98 percent effective, an Army Colonel threatened a Navy engineer overseeing the testing.  This document says the Army colonel vowed to take down Trophy‘s key Pentagon supporter and warned the Navy engineer to be careful.

Pentagon sources and Army documents strongly suggest top Army officials saw Trophy as a threat to a 160 billion dollar program, the Future combat system, FCS, under which a favorite contractor, Raytheon, would incorporate an anti-RPG system, built from scratch. 

The Army denies that had anything to do with it.  But this Army document reveals that Army officials FCS as a reason to block battle testing Trophy.  Coile says the troops need help while FCS is being developed. 

COILE:  The whole idea is to get new equipment that can really make a difference to U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq.  So I just don‘t understand the reluctance. 

MYERS (on camera):  The army declined to answer questions or to explain the document.  It agreed to, then canceled, an interview, but provided a statement saying the army always acts in the best interest of America‘s soldiers. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No segue possible then into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, and David Beckham, a soccer star so famous a lot fans don‘t even know he plays soccer, is coming to America.  Beckham will be joining the Los Angeles Galaxy for a reported 250 million dollars over five years. 

Mr. Beckham saying, quote, there are so many great sports in America, but soccer is huge all around the world apart from America.  that‘s where I want to make a difference with the kids.  If this sounds familiar at all it‘s because instead of focusing on growing American stars, pro soccer has wasted the last 40 years importing international greats, many of them over the hill, most of them English, from Georgy Bess to Bobbie Moore, from Jeff Hearse to Gordon Banks, say nothing of Julio Caesar Remaro, Franz Beckanbauer, Georgio Canalya, Johan Niskens and Pele (ph).  It has never worked before, so, of course, it will work now. 

And the people who bring you the golden globe awards are now putting the skids on the SWAG.  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announcing it will not dole out those infamous gift bags to award show presenters this year.  Last year‘s goodies had been valued at 40,000 dollars and included electronics, jewelry, spas and vacations, all of it taxable income.  But the HFPA cut a deal with the I.R.S. to pay back taxes for both 2004 and 2006, instead of forcing the celebrities to do it.  And this year, all attendees to the Golden Globes will get a gift package, no taxes required, worth 600 dollars, that‘s right, 600 season tickets to see David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy. 

Also tonight, the president was advised to reduce troop levels in Iraq, and begin a dialogue with Iran and Syria.  Instead he increased troop levels in Iraq and began to threaten Iran and Syria.  And we should take his word on the necessity of both.  A special comment on the president who will not listen, next.

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze, to the trustees of his will, to the loved ones left behind by the late James Brown.  Due to legal wrangling over his estate, the hardest working man in show business is still on stage.  Two weeks after his death, his body remains unburied inside his home at Beach Island, Georgia. 

Our silver tonight to Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston.  He blasted the Democratic party‘s attempt to raise the minimum wage, explaining that the real way to end poverty was for people to marry and start to work 40 hours a week.  Economists may be shrieking over his logic there, but Congressman Kingston has a bigger bit of hypocrisy to explain.  Last month he said that the Democrats‘ plan to increase the Congressional week to five work days eats away at families, marriages suffer. 

But tonight‘s winner, baseball‘s Barry Bonds, who has proudly and often tearfully told the media he has never tested positive for any prohibited drug.  Our friend T.J. Quinn at the “New York Daily News,” citing unnamed sources, reports that Bonds failed a test for amphetamines last season, and as a first offender was punished with counseling and more testing.  My ESPN radio partner, Dan Patrick, confirmed that story this afternoon from another knowledgeable source, and that it occurred last August 19th, when Bonds was selected at random for a drug test. 

But the test for speed isn‘t why Bonds wins the honors.  It‘s the excuse he initially offered afterwards.  He say he had taken something he found inside the locker of his San Francisco Giants teammate Mark Sweeney.  Now Sweeney has to tested too, even though he has never tested positive for anything. 

Barry, I thought maybe they were aspirin, and they did not belong to me anyway, Bonds, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

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OLBERMANN:  And lastly, as promised, a special comment about the president‘s address last night.  Only this president, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even messianic, certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq by offering instead an entrance strategy for Iran.  Only this president could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say, where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me, only to follow that by proposing to repeat the identical mistake in Iran. 

Only this president could extol the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and then take it‘s most far sighted recommendation, engage Syria and Iran, and transform it into threaten Syria and Iran, when al Qaeda would like nothing better than for us to threaten to Syria, and when President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us. 

This is diplomacy by skimming.  It is internationalism by drawing pictures of superman in the margins of the textbooks.  It is a presidency of Cliff Notes.  And to Iran and Syria, and yes, also to the insurgents in the Iraq, we must look like a country run by the equivalent of the drunken pest, who gets battered to the floor of the saloon by one punch, then staggers to his feet and shouts at the other guy‘s friends, OK, which one of you is next? 

Mr. Bush, the question is no longer what are you thinking, but rather, are you thinking at all?  I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq‘s other leaders that America‘s commitment is not open-ended, you said last night.  And yet, without any authorization from the public, who spoke loudly and clearly to you in November‘s elections, without any consultation with the Congress, in which key members of your own party, like Senator Brownback and Senator Coleman and Senator Hagel, are fleeing for higher ground, without any awareness that you are doing exactly the opposite of what Baker/Hamilton urged you to do, you seem to be ready to make an open-ended commitment on America‘s behalf to do whatever you want in Iran. 

Our military, Mr. Bush, is already stretched so thin by this bogus adventure in Iraq that even a majority of serving personnel are willing now to tell pollsters that they are dissatisfied with your prosecution of the war.  It is so weary that many of the troops you have just consigned to Iraq will be on their second tours, or their third tours, or their fourth tours, and now you are going to make them take on Iran and Syria as well? 

Who is left to go and fight, sir?  Who are you going to send to interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria?  Laura and Barney?  The line is from the movie Chinatown, and I quote it often, middle of a drought, the mortician chuckles, and the water commissioner drowns, only in L.A.  Middle of a debate over the lives and deaths of another 21,500 of our citizens in Iraq, and the president wants to saddle up against Iran and Syria?  Maybe that‘s the point, to shift the attention away from just how absurd and childish is this latest war strategy, strategy that is for the war already underway, not the one on deck. 

We are to put 17,500 more troops into Baghdad, and 4,000 more into province, to give the Iraqi government breathing space.  In and of itself, that is an awful and insulting term.  The lives of 21,500 more Americans endangered to give breathing space to a government that just turned the first, and perhaps the most sober act of any democracy, the capital punishment of an ousted dictator, into vengeance lynching, so barbaric and so lacking in the solemnities necessary for credible authority that it might have offended the Klu Klux Klan of the 19th century. 

And what will our men and women in Iraq do?  The ones who will truly live and die during what Mr. Bush said last night will be a year ahead which will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve.  They will try to seal up Sadr City and other part of Baghdad, in which the civil war is worst.  Mr. Bush did not mention that while our people are trying to do that, the factions in the civil war will no longer have to focus on killing each other, but rather, they can focus anew on killing our people, because last night the president foolishly all but announced that we will be sending those 21,500 pour souls over, but no more after that

And if the whole thing fizzles out, we‘re going home.  The plan fails militarily.  The plan fails symbolically.  The plans fails politically.  Most important, perhaps, Mr. Bush, the plan fails because it still depends on your credibility.  You speak of mistakes and the responsibility resting with you, but you do not admit to making those mistakes, and you offer us nothing to justify this clenched fist towards Iran and Syria. 

In fact, when you briefed news correspondents, off the record, before that speech, they were told, once again, if you knew what we knew, if you saw what we saw.  If you knew what we knew was how we got into this morass in Iraq in the first place.  The problem arose when it turned out that the question was not whether or not we knew what you knew, but whether or not you knew what you knew? 

You, sir, have become the president that cried wolf.  All that you say about Iraq now could be gospel.  All that you say about Iran and Syria now could be prescient and essential.  We no longer have a clue, sir.  We heard too many stories.  Many of us are as inclined to believe you just shuffled the director of national intelligence over to the State Department because he thought you were wrong about Iran.  Many of us are as inclined to believe you just put a pilot in charge of the grounds wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because he would be truly useful in an air war next door in Iran. 

Your assurances, sir, and your demands that we trust you, have lost all shape and texture.  They are now merely fertilizer for conspiracy theories.  They are now fertilizer indeed.  The pile has been built slowly and with seeming care.  I read this list last night before the president‘s speech, and it bears repetition, because its shape and texture are perceptible only in such a context. 

Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said nation building was wrong for America.  Now he says it is vital.  He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control.  Last night he promised to embed them in Iraqi units.  He told us about WMD, mobile labs, secret sources, aluminum tubes, yellow cake.  He has told us the war in necessary because Saddam was a material threat, because of 9/11, because of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, terrorism in general, to liberate Iraq, to spread freedom, to spread democracy, to prevent terrorism by gas price increases, because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad, because 439 words into that speech last night he trotted out 9/11 again.

In advocating and prosecuting this war, he passed on a chance to get Abu Musab al Zarqawi, to get Moqtada al Sadr, to get bin Laden.  He sent in fewer troops than the generals told him to.  He ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and the Iraqi government de-Baathified.  He shortchanged Iraqi training.  He neglected to plan for wide spread looting.  He did not anticipate sectarian violence.  He sent in troops without life-saving equipment.  He gave jobs to foreign contractors and not Iraqis.  He staffed U.S. positions there based on partisanship, not professionalism

He and his government told us America had prevailed, mission accomplished, the resistance was in its last throws.  He has insisted more troops were not necessary.  He has now insisted more troops are necessary.  He has insisted it‘s up to the generals, and then removed some of the generals who said more troops would not be necessary. 

He has trumpeted the turning points, the fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, a provisional government, a charter, a constitution, the trial of Saddam, elections, purple fingers, another government, the death of Saddam. 

He has assured us we would be greeted as liberators with flowers.  As they stood up, we would stand down.  We would stay the course.  We were never about stay the course.  We would never have to go door to door in Baghdad, and last night, that to gain Iraqi‘s trust, we would go door to door in Baghdad. 

He told us the enemy was al Qaeda, foreign fighters, terrorists, Baathists, and now Iran and Syria.  The war would pay for itself.  It would cost 1.7 billion dollars, 100 billion, 400 billion, half a trillion.  Last night‘s speech alone cost us another 6 billion.  And after all of that, now it is his credibility versus that of Generals, diplomats, allies, Democrats, Republicans, the Iraq Study Group, past presidents, voters last November and the majority of the American people. 

Oh, and there is one more to add to the list tonight, Oceania has always been at war with east Asia.  Mr. Bush, this is madness.  You have lost the military.  You lost the Congress to the Democrats.  You have lost most of the Iraqis.  You have lost many of the Republicans.  You have lost our allies in this.  You are losing the credibility not just of your presidency, sir, but more importantly, of your office itself.  And most imperatively, you are guaranteeing that more American troops will be losing their lives and more families their loved ones.  You are guaranteeing that.  This becomes your legacy sir, how many of those you addressed last night as your fellow citizens, you just sent to their deaths. 

And for what, Mr. Bush?  So that the next president has to pull the survivors out of Iraq instead of you?  Good night, and good luck.

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

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