updated 4/12/2007 2:26:20 PM ET 2007-04-12T18:26:20

Guests: Sen. Barack Obama, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Michael Eric Dyson, Armstrong Williams, Kate O‘Beirne, Anthony Zinni, Bob Shrum

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, Senator Barack Obama on Iraq, McCain and Don Imus.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m David Gregory, in again tonight for Chris.  The public trial of Don Imus continues.  Today we learned the radio talk show host will meet with Rutgers basketball team members this week to apologize in person for his recent remarks.  According to “The Wall Street Journal,” this afternoon General Motors, American Express and Glaxo SmithKline announced they are pulling their advertising from Imus‘s CBS radio show that is simulcast on MSNBC.  NBC and CBS have suspended the IMUS program for two weeks starting Monday.  More on the Imus incident and debate later.

Also tonight, Iraq.  Today in a speech at the Virginia Military Academy, Senator John McCain lashed out at anti-war Democrats and singled out Senator Barack Obama for his recent statements on the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When the president vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus‘s new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for president, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  In just a moment, my conversation with Senator Barack Obama.

Plus: Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan would serve 15-month deployments, three more months than originally expected.  Our HARDBALLers Bob Shrum and Kate O‘Beirne are here, will join us to talk about that later.

But first, my interview with Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  Senator Obama, I want to begin by asking you about Don Imus.  You have condemned his remarks about the women‘s basketball team at Rutgers.  Let me ask you pointedly, do you think he should be fired?

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day.  And you know, he has a track record of making those kinds of remarks.  Look, I‘ve got two daughters who are African-American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope at some point are interested enough in sports so that they get athletic scholarships.  And my wife and I every day are reinforcing our love for them and how special they are.  I don‘t want them to be getting a bunch of information that somehow they‘re less than anybody else, and I don‘t think MSNBC should want to promote that kind of language.

GREGORY:  So he should be off the air, off of MSNBC and off of CBS, off the air completely, in your judgment.

OBAMA:  Ultimately, you guys are going to have to make that view (ph). 

He would not be working for me.

GREGORY:  Is there a larger conversation that this incident has started about public discourse in this country, about race in this country?  And if so, what is that conversation you‘d like to see?

OBAMA:  Well, I think it goes beyond race.  Obviously, what this reveals is that we still have a host of racial stereotypes that are out there, and that we are fast loose in playing with those racial stereotypes and bandying them about and thinking that there aren‘t going to be any consequences to it.  And that‘s a problem.

But I also think there‘s a broader problem of a coarsening of the culture, where we think that it‘s entertainment to insult people.  And I don‘t think it‘s that funny, and I think that we need to think about how are we promoting tolerance and how are we promoting intelligent debate, and that‘s not been the trend in too much of our media.  That‘s something I think that we‘ve all got to think about.

GREGORY:  Final point on this.  You‘ve been a guest on the Imus program to promote your books.  Will you or would you be a guest on his show in the future?

OBAMA:  No, I would not.  I was on there once, actually, after the Democratic national convention.  I spoke about my book briefly.  That‘s been my only experience on the show.  And he was fine when I was on that show.  But I don‘t want to be an enabler or be encouraging in any way of the kind of programming that results in the unbelievably offensive statements that were made just a few days ago.

GREGORY:  Senator, let me turn to Iraq.  As you know, Senator McCain gave a rather pointed speech today about the war and about Democrats who, like yourself, want to see a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.  In response, you had some pointed language yourself in a statement, saying that what‘s needed in Iraq is a, quote,  “surge in honesty.”  That was a response to the McCain speech.  Do you think that John McCain is dishonest about Iraq?

OBAMA:  I think John McCain is sincere, but I think that everything he says is belied by the facts on the ground.  You know, witness the recent visit, where you‘ve got a hundred armed guards, Black Hawk helicopters and Apaches protecting a congressional delegation, and John McCain pointing to that as evidence that things have improved in Iraq.

The fact of the matter is that what John is touting and what the president has been touting is more of the same.  We send more troops in, we spend more billions of dollars on what has been a fundamentally failed strategy.  They make the argument that success is right around the corner if we just give it a little more time.  And then their timetable passes, and they say, Well, we‘re going to try it a little more.

And the American people have said, Enough.  And the reason they‘ve said enough is they recognize that we are not going to make progress in Iraq unless we fundamentally change the political dynamic on the ground.

GREGORY:  Right.  But part of that argument is that to change the political dynamic, you‘ve got to at least have security in Baghdad.  Whether you agree with the surge strategy or not, it‘s less than 50 percent implemented at this stage.  Why not give it more of a chance?

OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that the bill that we sent the president does give it a chance.  What it says is, in fact, that you will have an entire year to make Baghdad more secure.  But what it also says is that we‘ve got to send a signal to the Shia, the Sunnis and the Kurdish factions in Iraq that they need to begin planning and coming to a political accommodation that is not dependent on hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops being present, helping to fan the flames of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East, providing a ready target for recruitment for al Qaeda.

That is the dynamic that has to change, and unless we send them that

strong signal, my theory is—and I think many experts around the world do

is an unsustainable policy that will result in the same kinds of problems that we have now simply further down the road.

GREGORY:  Final question.  You know about the news today by the Defense Department, that deployments will be extended to 15 months, a real hardship on our young men and women who are over there.  You had said about the troops that Democrats shouldn‘t play chicken with the troops on the ground.  So why not do what the president has said, send a clean bill that does not include timelines that he objects to, to insure that the funding for the troops stays up, even while this debate continues?

OBAMA:  Well, I wasn‘t quite quoted properly there.  What I said is, is that Democrats aren‘t interested in playing chicken with our troops.  I certainly am not.  I am committed, as is Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and every other Democrat, to making sure that our troops on the ground have the night-vision goggles and body armor, and hopefully, the proper training that they need.  That‘s one of the problems with the current deployment schedule.

It‘s the president who has decided to make this an issue by threatening to veto what I think is a responsible, well-thought-through piece of legislation.  And if he chooses to veto it and he sends it back, then we will continue to try to find ways to ratchet up the pressure on him and do so in a way that is responsible to make sure that our troops come home safely.

GREGORY:  Senator, just one more, to go back to the topic of Senator McCain.  And the issue of credibility on the war is going to be a big issue in this campaign.  Does Senator McCain have more or less credibility than you do in the debate on the war?

OBAMA:  Well, David, look, I think that John McCain is a genuine American hero who has made enormous sacrifices on behalf of the American people.  I leave it up to the judgment of the American people to decide who‘s got more credibility on this particular war.  I was against it in 2002.  If they go on my Web site, Barackobama.com, they can see the speech that I delivered at that time that anticipated most of the problems that we‘ve had subsequently.

So on this war, at least, I think it‘s fair to say that my judgment was the right judgment, and I think John has been mistaken consistently in his approach.

GREGORY:  Senator Barack Obama, thank you very much for your time.

OBAMA:  Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  And more of the war debate later.

But coming up next: The public trial of Don Imus goes on.  That meeting between Imus and the Rutgers women‘s basketball team is set to happen sometime this week.  Will the players accept Imus‘s apology?  And will he keep his job?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  One week after Don Imus made his comments about student athletes at Rutgers University, the fall-out continues, with more advertisers now saying they will not do business with him or his program.

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster now has the background.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘ve said I‘m sorry.  I‘m going to apologize to these young women.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today Americans woke up to this picture of the Rutgers basketball players on the front page of some of the nation‘s top newspapers, and the story is now having an impact on Imus‘s advertisers.  Procter & Gamble, the nation‘s biggest market and one of the largest advertisers on MSNBC, has pulled its ads off the channel‘s entire daytime schedule.  A P&G statement said, quote, “Any venue in which our ads appear that is offensive to our target audience is not acceptable to us.

Other sponsors are pulling commercials from the MSNBC simulcast of the Imus broadcast.  The advertisers include Staples, Bigelow Tea, Glaxo SmithKline, American Express and General Motors.  GM is to show‘s biggest advertiser.  In a statement, GM said, quote, “Mr. Imus has publicly apologized.  We have decided, however, to suspend our advertising while we continue to monitor the situation.

IMUS:  What I did is made a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context.

SHUSTER:  Imus will begin his two-week broadcasting suspension on Monday.   In the meantime, MSNBC has learned Imus is scheduled to meet in person with the Rutgers student athletes this week.

ESSENCE CARSON, RUTGERS BASKETBALL PLAYER:  We would like to get to know him behind the video—I mean, behind the television broadcaster, behind the radio broadcasts, as much as we would like to show him who we are behind basketball players because he don‘t know who we are as people.

OBAMA:  Today on his radio show, Imus made that same point, but in his defense.

IMUS:  And I wasn‘t sitting here in my mind, individually picturing these young women and saying, This is what I think they look like.

SHUSTER:  Regarding Imus‘s employment, the Rutgers basketball coach said that judgment should be left to CBS and MSNBC.

C. VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN‘S BASKETBALL COACH:  This is the time for—I think, for people‘s voices to be heard, so we don‘t make a judgment as to whether or not he should lose a year, a week or a lifetime ban.  I think that will be made and the decision will be made actually by the sponsors, as well as the viewers.

SHUSTER (on camera):  In the meantime, the national debate over Don Imus continues, with so many eyes focused now on his coming meeting with the Rutgers University women‘s basketball team.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  David, thanks.

For more on the public trial of Don Imus, let‘s bring in Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, president and CEO of Women in Cable Telecommunications.  She‘s also a trustee for the Women‘s Sports Foundation and advisory board member for Ivillage, and a 1984 Olympic gold medal winner.  Michael Eric Dyson is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Debating Race.”  And Armstrong Williams is a syndicated columnist and radio talk show host.  Welcome, all.

Ms. Mosley, let me start with you.  There is a public trial, in effect, going on.  Is there a verdict about Imus, in your judgment?

BENITA FITZGERALD MOSLEY, WOMEN‘S SPORTS FOUNDATION:  I think the verdict is really told and has been told by the advertisers, by the team, by many of us who feel that—you know, I‘m representing 6,000 women and a premier women‘s organization.  I‘m an athlete myself, a champion female athlete.  And the issue is abhorrent.  I mean, his comments were abhorrent, and I think the advertisers are definitely speaking.  The public is speaking.

And women, who represent 82 percent of all the purchases made in the United States of America, are certainly going to listen, and do listen with their pocketbooks.  And so I think this is issue where the verdict is not necessarily going to be made by MSNBC or CBS.  The issue is really going to be decided by the viewers, the advertisers, the listeners and the public.

GREGORY:  Armstrong, there is a defense, in effect, being put up by Don Imus, which is, This is not who I am.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  You know, sometimes we don‘t ever know who we are until sometimes we have that moment where we say things and it‘s like pulling the trigger on a gun and you just cannot put the bullet back into the revolver.  What is unfortunate is that Don Imus is being defined by these comments.  And as I‘ve said all along, he should definitely not be fired.   I think the marketplace should make that decision, and that‘s exactly what is happening.

He has to pay some kind of price for his derogatory remarks.  I mean, this is what he does as a shock jock, so none of us are surprised.  People listen to Don Imus and you hear this all the time.  He offends everyone.

But I think America has gotten to the point where something like what Dr. Maya Angelou said on your broadcast earlier today, that we need to just clean house of all of this, from the rap artists to the hip-hop artists, this violence against women, this negativity against women.

GREGORY:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  And so—and I guess Don Imus is the scapegoat for it all.  I don‘t think he‘s alone, but I just think he‘s been held to a different standard.  But this is where we are.

GREGORY:  Professor Dyson, scapegoat or serial offender?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, “DEBATING RACE”:  Serial offender.  I mean, obviously, when he‘s offended Gwen Ifill, a respected journalist, as a cleaning lady 15 years ago, when his compatriots suggested that Venus and Serena should not appear—Williams, the famous tennis stars—should not appear in “Playboy,” a degrading suggestion in itself, but rather in “National Geographic,” his comments about Jews and others—yes, this is a serious offender.

And true enough, the culture is replete with egregious examples of the assault upon black women‘s bodies, in particular, in women‘s identity more broadly.  But the reality is, Snoop Dogg doesn‘t have a show on MSNBC where he sits down with presidential candidates, as he did with Christopher Dodd, to talk.  So he‘s held to different standard because he‘s got a different kind of authority.  He has a different kind of bully pulpit.

I agree with Mr. Williams that—and Dr. Maya Angelou that, obviously, the assault upon black women‘s bodies through rap music, through the broader culture, through the subtle machinations of media on television, where we fail to show the diverse complexity of black women‘s lives—all of us have to be held accountable, and the blood is on all of our hands.  But Don Imus has to be held accountable.

GREGORY:  You‘re shaking your head.

WILLIAMS:  The problem here is this.  All of them have advertisers and sponsors, whether it‘s Snoop Dogg, whether it‘s the rappers.

GREGORY:  But you do have to buy your way into Snoop Dogg.  You‘ve got to buy his album or even some comics, you‘ve got to buy your way into the show.

WILLIAMS:  But the difference is—I am sure that there are many women out there who have complained before, who are very offended by the music that these artists come—and we need to ask ourselves is, What is it going to be the standard?  Will there be one standard for Don Imus and a different standard for someone else?  I think if we‘re going to have integrity on this and be consistent on this, everyone should be held to the same standard and they should face the same punishment.

DYSON:  Well, Armstrong, you just said that the marketplace will determine it.  If people are outraged and fed up with...

WILLIAMS:  And I said...

DYSON:  Let me finish.  If they are outraged and fed up with that kind of stuff, then they won‘t buy the albums, then they won‘t feed it.  So you can‘t make a marketplace argument on the one hand and then hypocritically suggest on the other hand that we should have one standard, when, indeed, you said the market—let the marketplace determine it.

But I don‘t believe in that.  I believe that people who are offended by rappers should talk about that.  But I think, as Mr. Gregory has said, you‘ve got to pay $15 to get that album.  The reality is, they don‘t have the bully pulpit or the kind of outlet that Mr. Imus has...

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  MSNBC is not carrying Snoop Dogg.  I‘m not denying that.  But I‘m saying that I—you believe in free speech.  And I believe in free speech.

WILLIAMS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  I‘m suggesting to you that people have the right to say what they have to say. 

If Don Imus was an entertainer, if Don Imus was making a rap record, then we would have a different standard. 

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  But he is—he is putting forth an argument within the context of journalism.

GREGORY:  Let me ask you—Ms. Mosley, let me ask you this.

Is there something that is unique that happened here?  All this talk about whether he should be pulled off the air—and MSNBC and CBS will make that decision—we‘re talking about this meeting with this extraordinary group of young women...

MOSLEY:  Right. 

GREGORY:  ... these athletes, who are so impressive. 

MOSLEY:  Right. 

GREGORY:  In many ways, they hold his fate in their hand. 

Do you see it that way? 

MOSLEY:  I—I really do.  I think...

GREGORY:  Their judgment about the meeting they have with him will—will do a lot.

MOSLEY:  This is a huge opportunity for women athletes.  It is a huge opportunity for the media to really come to a place where they can, hopefully, collectively, with Don, make a statement about the—really, the lack of coverage of women athletes, the lack of coverage of their success, the lack of coverage of—when you only have 6.9 percent of all the media, sports media, electronic or printed, being about women in sports, here you have a story like this, that is so negative, that has so overshadowed all of these wonderful women‘s achievements, both academically and athletically, the—I‘m a Tennessee Lady Vol.

You know, they won the championship and haven‘t gotten the...

GREGORY:  Right. 

MOSLEY:  ... the—their due.

And, so, I think the—the bigger message here, hopefully, for them, is that they are able to find a way to help him help them promote the idea that women athletes, particular—and women, particularly African-American women, deserve our respect across the board. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Professor Dyson, what does Don Imus have to do in this meeting with these women...  

DYSON:  Well, here is one of the... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  ... that saves—saves his job, in effect?

DYSON:  Right.  Right. 

Well, you know, here is one of the undersides.  In essence, they are saying, we want to show Don Imus that we are not what he said. 

Now they are proven to a known bigot.  Isn‘t this ironic, that the balance of power is still in Don Imus‘ hands?  They have prove to a bigot that they are not what he said, when he should be proving to them that he is the human being who is beyond this bigotry.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I don‘t know that I necessarily agree that that is where the onus is.  Don‘t you think that the onus is on him?  He‘s the one who has asked for this meeting. 

DYSON:  No, but the young—of course, but the—he asked for the meeting because he offended them.  So, the onus is still on him.

But I‘m saying, the burden is on these women to prove:  Hey, we‘re not the hos you said we were.  We are not what you said we were. 

Why do they have to prove even that?  Isn‘t it ironic that, here we are, deciding the paternity of Anna Nicole‘s child, at the same time this story is going on, and nobody is saying, here‘s a woman who didn‘t even know who her baby‘s father was, who is not being considered a ho, in the same way that these young women are?

So, you‘re dealing with much more ancient wounds that have been imposed upon the black body, especially the black female body.

And I think that what Don Imus has to do is to say, “Look, I, consciously or unconsciously, participated in the perpetuation of a legacy of stereotypes that I didn‘t even know I was doing,” so he can own up to that, and he says, “What can I do now to make sure that other people who are similarly—believe similar things can address those or at least confront them?”

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Armstrong, quickly, before I have to take break.

WILLIAMS:  Listen, the onus is not on these women. 

After listening to Vivian Stringer and these athletes, they represent the best that America has to offer.  The onus is on Don Imus to really state to them, emphatically, as they look him in the eye, why would you make such an outrageous and such an insulting—and such insulting comments about people that you really know nothing about?  What did we do to deserve that?  And not just for these women, but for all women who are offended by people like Don Imus and many more like him.

GREGORY:  All right.  I‘m going to take a break here.  We are going to come back with our guests, talk about this ongoing public trial, if you will, of Don Imus. 

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “IMUS IN THE MORNING”) 

DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  While I can tell them how it was said, what the context was, and who I am, and all of that, I need to know who they are, and—because they are the ones who got hurt.  And they are the ones who had the joy of playing for the national championship besmirched by this idiotic, stupid comment that... 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Don Imus on his radio show this morning.

And we are back with Benita Fitzgerald Mosley of the Women‘s Sports Foundation, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson of the University of Pennsylvania, and radio talk show host and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams. 

Just a—a few minutes here to conclude this conversation.

I want to put up on our screen for our viewers a comment made in Mike Lupica‘s column in “The Daily News” of New York, a friend and someone who appears on the “Imus” program.

He said, “If the worst thing you do in public life becomes the last thing, then how did the Reverend Jesse Jackson survive ‘Hymietown‘ and how did the Reverend Al Sharpton survive Tawana Brawley?”

Ms. Mosley, is their redemption for Don Imus?  Is an apology sufficient?  Is an opportunity for him to engage in this conversation in a constructive way enough so that it‘s not the last thing he does?

MOSLEY:  I certainly don‘t think it will be the last thing he does.

And redemption—of course, I believe in redemption and also repentance.  But I think this is a larger issue.  This is really a pattern of bigotry that is really taking place here with him. 

And I think, yes, the conversation with the women players is an opportunity, as I said earlier, for the conversation to broaden about how we talk about women, how we talk about women athletes, how we talk about African-American women in the media, be it rap, be it on television, in the movies, wherever, and to take that larger discussion and say, you know what?  Enough is enough.

Let‘s halt it.  Let‘s make a difference.  Let‘s take it, from this point on, whether it is Don Imus, whether it is Howard Stern, whether it‘s a shock jock, or a news commentator, that we all are held to a higher standard, to really treat... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And do we all get to the higher standard by Imus staying on the air with a new commitment? 

WILLIAMS:  I think Imus is far more effective for being on the air now, because this is the first time he has ever been accountable for his actions, where he‘s offended everyone.  And I think he can do much good. 

Like I said, I saw the good he did with Hurricane Katrina, where he was outraged, because he felt this country had betrayed the trust of the American people, only because they were black.  And he was an advocate.

He has shown that he has the compassion and that he can be fair-minded.  I think he deserves another chance.  And I think he can become a strong example and a strong advocate for the very things we‘re talking about.

GREGORY:  Professor Dyson, just a few seconds left.  Final comment. 

DYSON:  Well, look, redemption is critical. 

But, remember, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, let‘s not believe in cheap grace.  If he has been a repeat offender, then he has to be brought to bear with the American public‘s outrage at what he has done.  So, if Don Imus is serious, an apology will be followed by behavior that will change.

Should he remain on the air—I agree with Armstrong Williams—perhaps he will then bring a greater consciousness of the broader society.  But, in the meantime, I think he has to be made an example.  Ron Artest was suspended from the NBA for an entire season after he engaged in his behavior there.  Why not Mr. Imus subject to the same thing?

GREGORY:  And, Armstrong, just quickly, you think this is also a wakeup call to the black community, when it comes to confronting this kind of hate...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  It‘s a wakeup call to racists, misogynists, bigots, and people who refer to women as some of the worst and the most derogatory things you have ever heard of.

In fact, it has less to do with color than it has to do with the behavior of these people that we continue to talk about and repudiate time and time again. 

DYSON:  But, Mr. Gregory, that didn‘t start with rap music. 

Much more ancient than 30 years of rap music is the fact that, in the early 1900s, in the 20th century, black women were deemed to be unrapeable, because they were seen to be promiscuous.  These are deep and abiding stereotypes in the collective American imagination that are far more ancient than rap music. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

We‘re going to—I am going to have to leave it there. 

Thank you to my guests, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Michael Eric Dyson, and Armstrong Williams.

To be continued. 

Up next:  Senator John McCain says Democrats who want a timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq are reckless.  But is McCain‘s vigorous support for President Bush‘s strategy in Iraq sinking his presidential campaign? 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed sharply lower, as minutes from last month‘s Federal Reserve meeting showed that Federal Reserve policy-makers remain concerned about inflation.  They agreed that higher interest rates could—quote—

“prove necessary.” 

That put some pressure on the Dow Jones industrial average, which closed the day off some 89 points, ending its eight-day winning streak—the S&P 500 off about 9.5, the Nasdaq down by 18 points. 

Citigroup unveiled plans to eliminate 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its work force.  In addition, another 9,500 jobs will move to lower-cost locations, like Poland. 

Sales at established Target stores rose 12 percent in March, thanks to an earlier Easter holiday. 

And oil prices rose slightly today, climbing 12 cents in New York‘s trading session, closing the day at $62 and just one penny a barrel there. 

Meantime, rising gasoline prices have not discouraged Americans from driving.  The Energy Department reports, demand last week reached a new record high for April. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Beginning immediately, all active-duty Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours, three months longer than the usual standard—this announcement just hours ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. 

With the details, our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, joins us now.  

Jim, what brought this on?  And it seems like an obvious point, that this is a pretty big hardship on our fighting men and women.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely.

It is clearly an indication that the strain on the U.S. Army in particular is getting to a point where the Pentagon and the Army itself had to take these drastic measures. 

You know, many forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have had their tours extended, but this, in fact, makes it the policy that all Army troops now in Iraq or Afghanistan or soon to deploy to those two conflicts will serve 15-month terms.

If there is any silver lining to this, they say that it will now guarantee at least one year between those combat deployments for recuperation and training.  But some Army officials are already telling us that this is going to take a heavy toll on their morale, not only of the soldiers, but their families. 

GREGORY:  Mik, thanks very much—Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon for us tonight.

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have traded some barbs in the past several days on the war.  Today, they faced off once again with exchanges on the Iraq situation.

Let‘s bring in our HARDBALLERS, Bob Shrum, an MSNBC political analyst, and Kate O‘Beirne, Washington editor of “The National Review.” 

Welcome, both.

KATE O‘BEIRNE, WASHINGTON EDITOR, “THE NATIONAL REVIEW”:  Thanks, David.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Senator McCain making this much-anticipated speech about the war. 

Let‘s listen to what he had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission.  Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. 

What were they celebrating?  Defeat?  Surrender? 

In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering.  A defeat for the United States is a cause for mourning, not celebrating. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  This is one of several speeches that McCain is going to give, Bob Shrum.  He is trying to shore up his credibility on the war, trying to articulate his support for the surge strategy.

Is this working?

BOB SHRUM, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I respect his consistency—although I think he is wrong—more than I respect his honesty today.

He said, as we just heard, the Democrats voted against support for the troops.  That is a Rove-like lie.  The fact is, Democrats voted for it.  The Congress voted for it.  The president is threatening to veto it. 

And he sounds more like Joe McCarthy than—than John McCain when he suggests that, somehow or other, our enemies were cheering when Congress approved funding for the war, but wanted to set a deadline. 

This speech was advertised as a brave political act.  I think it was cynical and deceptive. 

GREGORY:  Kate, how do you see it?

O‘BEIRNE:  I think John McCain—John McCain strongly believes in the position he is holding.  It is clearly not a political calculation.  He recognizes how unpopular it seems to be in public opinion polls.

But, as he frequently says, “I would rather lose a campaign than a war.”

John McCain understands, there is so much animosity on the part of Democrats to George Bush.  John McCain understands presidents don‘t lose wars.  Countries lose wars.  The kind of case he is able to make—and he has always been, I think, far more effective making the case for this war, and the need to give it one last chance, because the consequences of failure are so enormous, more effective than the White House has been—he thinks the public could again be rallied, when they understand the consequences of failure. 

Look, the debate, David, is between those who think it‘s utterly hopeless in Iraq, and nothing could possibly be won there, largely Democrats on Capitol Hill, and people like John McCain, who think the consequences of failure are so series, that it‘s—it‘s owed one last chance to make it work. 

GREGORY:  Early in the hour, I spoke to Senator Barack Obama, who had this to say about Senator McCain and his views on Iraq.

Listen.

(BEGIN a VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think John McCain is sincere, but I think that everything he says is belied by the facts on the ground.  You know, witness the recent visit, where you have got 100 armed guards, Black Hawk helicopters and Apaches protecting a congressional delegation, and—and John McCain pointing to that as evidence that things have improved in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Bob Shrum, back in 2004, as you remember, the Bush advisers would tell people like me if the question is about the war, the answer is George W. Bush.  Well the truth is that McCain‘s advisors say the very same thing.  Does it work for John McCain in this election cycle? 

BOB SHRUM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, what I think worked in 2004 for the Bush advisors—and as you‘ll recall, David, it is how they began their campaign, and they got criticized for it.  It‘s how they ended the only positive advertising they did in the campaign, was to try to make 9/11 the question.  If 9/11 was the question, then the answer was George Bush. 

I think we have reached the point where the American people have decided that this policy of continued occupation of Iraq does not work.  They want a new policy and a new direction.  As I watched John McCain today, I thought it was sad.  I thought, here‘s a guy who used to actually have a reputation for straight talk and really did engage in straight talk, who does have, as Kate said, an unpopular position.  And he can go out and argue for it.   

GREGORY:  But Kate, it is pretty straight talk when you‘re out there saying, voting for me, even though you disagree with me.  I mean, that‘s an interesting way to get votes.

O‘BEIRNE:  And David, General Petraeus, our new commander in Iraq, represents a new course.  And that‘s something I thought Senator Obama was a little slippery about.  This is not the status quo.  Look, Democrats are in a tougher position now.  All they had to do last November was criticize the war.  Now they need to an alternative.  It seems to me, in challenging President Bush on this supplemental appropriations bill, they have started this fight over a supplemental bill, and they don‘t have an exit strategy. 

They seem to now want to put the onus on George Bush, although it‘s their responsibility to pass appropriations bills, not the president‘s.  legislation.  They do not have an end strategy.  Look, the Republicans think the Democrats are over reaching.  Jack Murtha give the game away.  He says what we want to do is starve the troops so we have to end this war.  And the Democrats, on the other hand, are utterly convinced they have George Bush on the ropes, and they have public opinion firmly with them.  Someone is wrong there. 

GREGORY:  All right, we are going to take a break, come back with Bob Shrum and Kate  O‘Beirne.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think it goes beyond race.  Obviously, what this reveals is that we still have a host of racial stereotypes that are out there, and that we are fast and loose in playing with those racial stereotypes, and bandying them about, and thinking that there aren‘t going to be any consequence to it.  That is a problem. 

But I also think there is a broader problem of a coarsening of the culture, where we think that it is entertainment to insult people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Barack Obama appearing on this program and making news earlier in the hour, talking about the Don Imus situation in the larger discussion in the country, including the political discussion about all of this.  We‘re back with MSNBC political analyst Bob Shrum and Kate O‘Beirne, Washington editor of the “National Review.”

Kate, let me start with you.  You have Barack Obama saying he would not appear again on Don Imus‘s show, and should be taken off the year.  Do you think there is a larger conversation that is going to be about public discourse, the coarsening of our discourse, and politics here, that Barack Obama might carry forward, or somebody else in the campaign? 

O‘BEIRNE:  Yes, I thought Senator Obama made excellent points there. 

There is certainly room to do so.  Don Imus is not a bad recent example.  He is an equal opportunity offender.  He is coarse.  He is nasty.  It‘s not just about blacks, as in the most recent example.  It‘s about Jews.  It‘s about women.  Yes, he does present an opportunity to say why do we think this is so amusing.  He is a bully. 

GREGORY:  Bob, do you think this is the beginning of a conversation that becomes part of the campaign? 

SHRUM:  I certainly do, and I think that the Rutgers basketball team yesterday showed the country a degree of dignity and courage that we haven‘t seen in a long time.  They are actually going to go from being players on a basketball court to referees in the public square.  I think they are ultimately going to be the decision makers, in terms of what happens to Don Imus. 

One thing I would say, by the way, about all these advertisers canceling who are canceling their ads on MSNBC during the day, or for the Imus show, there are radio talk-show hosts all over this country who every morning get on the air and attack things that are very important to African-Americans.  If those advertisers are sincere, they ought to be canceling that.  Don Imus made a mistake.  These guys do it as a matter of policy. 

GREGORY:  I‘ve got to leave it there.  I am out of time.  My thanks to Bob Shrum and Kate O‘Beirne.  When we return, former CENTCOM Commander Anthony Zinni.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As we previously reported, the Pentagon has decided to extend the deployment of all soldiers from 12 months to 15 months.  Retired General Anthony Zinni served as commander in chief for U.S. Central Command in the late 1990‘s, and warned that military action in Iraq was a very risky and dangerous proposition.  General Zinni wrote the book “The Battle For Peace,” and he joined us here.

I began by asking him where we are in Iraq today. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET), AUTHOR, “THE BATTLE FOR PEACE”:  I think we‘re coming on to a tipping point here.  If General Petraeus and sort of this new strategy doesn‘t start turning the corner and showing progress, I think we‘re going to have to rethink our strategy for this region. 

GREGORY:  What will progress look like?  How would you define it? 

ZINNI:  I think progress, obviously, a lessening of the violence, more control by the Iraqi forces, the government beginning to stand up and do its thing; I think the sheikhs and others beginning to cooperate ;the economic conditions bettering.  Across the board, we should see things rise in these areas. 

GREGORY:  Is there a military solution to Iraq? 

ZINNI:  There‘s no military solution.  I think General Zilmer, who controlled the Marines in Anbar, said there is none.  He‘s right on the mark.  It‘s economic, political, development, reconstruction, social issues that have to be dealt with that really have to be the keys. 

GREGORY:  So what are U.S. forces doing there? 

ZINNI:  Well, there‘s a security requirement, obviously. 

GREGORY:  Before those other things can happen? 

ZINNI:  Well, I think in addition to.  I don‘t think it‘s necessarily sequential.  But you need a security environment for those things to flourish.   

GREGORY:  Well, but that‘s the president‘s argument, that you must have a security environment that is safe enough before political compromises can be made, before political reconciliation can actually happen. 

ZINNI:  Well, I don‘t agree with the before.  It can happen simultaneously.  And what we did is we had insufficient troops going in, didn‘t control the borders, didn‘t control the population; allowed all the worst elements of society to gather strength.  And I think even now there‘s insufficient forces.  That doesn‘t mean that the surge is the right answer.  What‘s the purpose of the surge should be the question.  But you have to show hope and promise amongst the people.  This is a hearts and minds battle. 

GREGORY:  Hearts and minds; was the president wrong when he launched this war, that he could transform the region, beyond Afghanistan, by invading Iraq?  Was the invasion of Iraq, military force in Iraq, the wrong approach? 

ZINNI:  I think it was, because, first of all, it was the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.  We should finished business in Afghanistan first.  Saddam was contained.  But if you did it, he should have understood clearly—certainly the secretary of defense and the military leadership—what it would take to do this.  This was no liberation.  It would take an occupation.  It would take years.  It would take a total commitment, significant treasure, and I don‘t think they grasped all that.  We certainly did before that in the planning.

GREGORY:  Would it have been worth it had it been done right? 

ZINNI:  I think it could have been worth it, in the end, had it been done right.  But given the situation in Afghanistan and the other requirements we had, it was the wrong time to stretch us that thin and become distracted from Afghanistan. 

GREGORY:  Could you have a war on terror and still have Saddam Hussein in the equation? 

ZINNI:  I think eventually you would deal with him.  He wasn‘t, obviously, directly related to the problem we were dealing with, the 9/11 perpetrators.  I think eventually, down the road, I think the likes of Saddam Hussein would have had to have been dealt with.  But it‘s a matter of when and where and how. 

GREGORY:  Can you change the culture in the Middle East?  Can you change or confront Islamic fundamentalism through force? 

ZINNI:  I think that there may be places where you obviously have to use force, where you have to counter those that want to perpetrate violence on you or our allies.  But I think there‘s more to it.  For this society to evolve and reform, the efforts have to be economic, political and social, more than just the use of force or the military. 

GREGORY:  Do you think if there is a deadline for withdrawal of U.S.  troops—do you think that chaos would ensue if troops were pulled out at that deadline, regardless of the circumstances on the ground, as the president warns? 

ZINNI:  First of all, I don‘t think there‘s going to be withdrawal of troops in the way we think about it.  We have interests in this part of the world, political, security and economic interest.  We will be there to ensure those.  We may evolve into some sort of containment strategy, repositioning troops.  But to believe we‘re going to walk away from this totally is naive.  That‘s not going to happen. 

GREGORY:  Because we‘re going to have to have some level of force. 

ZINNI:  Now I think there are ways we can extract ourselves from being in the midst of the sectarian violence, have certain rules of engagement on when we engage, build a stronger alliance and a security arrangement in the region, and do other things, including support the Iraqis, a security assistance program.  But we need to be talking about a containment strategy or a future strategy, and I don‘t hear that discussion. 

GREGORY:  What would that strategy be? 

ZINNI:  I think that strategy is, first, to look at a regional cooperative arrangement, security-wise, to look at burden-sharing, in terms of international and regional support for what we do, a reconstructed Iraqi security program, where we position our troops and the forward presence that makes sense, the rules of engagement under which they would engage, the economic and social and political reconstruction of Iraq, and how that would be tailored. 

The Hamilton/Baker are was a good start.  I don‘t think it went far enough.  But we didn‘t even get that far. 

GREGORY:  But if we have an exit strategy from Iraq, and bring troops home, what is the U.S. presence in that part of the world going to be, and what will be the threshold for intervention if, frankly, all hell breaks loose? 

ZINNI:  Well, I think, to answer the second part first, I think we would obviously go after al Qaeda.  We would not let the Iraqis fail.  We would reinforce them, if necessary.  We would contain the borders from any spill over from the violence.  I think we would work through security assistance programs to build regional capabilities.  You know, we did this between the Gulf War and this intervention.  We built a dual containment strategy, which was the title of it, and it was effective and, actually, it was economical. 

We did it with less troops than go to work at the Pentagon every day.  And they weren‘t even assigned to CENTCOM.  So we need to evolve back into that.  How the troops will be laid down is a matter of discussion.  What types of troops; where would they be; how often would they be there?  That all can be worked out with our allies in some sort of constructive way that retained the coalition and then contains the threat. 

GREGORY:  General Zinni, what will historians say 10, 20 years from now about this president and this war? 

ZINNI:  I think they will say that the war was questionable, in terms of the rationale for it, at best.  They will say that the conduct of the war was terrible.  If we just look at World War II, where our military was at the beginning, where it was four years later; if you do a comparison, our military did not grow, it did not adapt to this kind of war.  I think the administration will be held responsible for that.  It didn‘t transform in any way to adjust to this threat. 

So I think this part of it, this war, at this moment, is going to look like a foreign policy disaster in the future. 

GREGORY:  Will the president be vindicated.  Will his vision in that part of the world be vindicated at any point? 

ZINNI:  I don‘t think so.  I think there will be some softening, if this ends up being reasonably stable.  We have to stop talking about victory in a traditional sense or defeat in a traditional sense.  We‘re after reasonable stability, reasonably representative government.  I mean, in the short and maybe near term, that‘s the best you can hope for.  It will evolve over time. 

But I don‘t think this period is ever going to be vindicated, because the military decisions were disastrous.  The political decisions were disastrous.  The foreign policy strategy was non-existent. 

GREGORY:  General Zinni, thank you very much.  The book is called “The Battle For Peace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd.  Plus, singer Sheryl Crow and environmental activist Laurie David, who want you to do more to fight global warming.  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.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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