updated 5/11/2007 11:25:57 AM ET 2007-05-11T15:25:57

Guests: Max Boot, Jim VandeHei, Marcus Mabry

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Was it a turning point, or wasn‘t it? 

Tuesday afternoon‘s meeting between President Bush and 11 congressional Republicans reportedly featured unusually frank talk about the war in Iraq.  The so-called gang of 11, mostly liberal-leaning Republican House members, are said to have warned the president their constituents are on the verge of revolt over his policy in Iraq.

For the first time since news of the meeting leaked to NBC‘s Tim Russert last night, the president spoke publicly about the war.  His tone and rhetoric remained the same.  As before, he opposes the current congressional war funding bill. 

There was one significant shift in his substance, though, on the question of benchmarks of progress as a condition of funding. 

Here‘s some of what the president said today. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense.  And I agree.  It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion on how to go forward.  And so I have empowered Josh Bolten to find common ground on benchmarks. 


CARLSON:  With opposition to the president mounting here at home, Mr.  Bush‘s chief international ally, Tony Blair, announced this morning that he will resign as prime minister after 10 years in office.  That‘s effective June 27. 

While historians may judge Blair kindly, his support in Britain at the moment has suffered dramatically because of his alliance with the U.S.

So, are we at a genuine turning point in America‘s foreign policy? 

Here to tell us about the moving parts, the politics, the realities on the ground, we welcome Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen, and the executive editor of Politico.com, Jim VandeHei. 

Jim, this feels like a turning point.  This feels like a big deal...


CARLSON:  A group of Republican House members showing up and essentially reading the riot act to the president.

Is that what happened?  And is it as significant as it looks?

VANDEHEI:  I don‘t know if this is necessarily a profile in courage here.  I mean, they went and said what they have been saying for a long time, that, obviously, their districts, their voters don‘t support the war, and that time is running out. 

But, then again, they said, you have, essentially, until September.  They didn‘t say they are going to go and vote with Democrats.  But they gave him a stern warning.  So, this isn‘t back in the ‘70s, when you have a group going up to—to talk to Nixon.  I mean, this is—they‘re still—we‘re still several steps away.  But, every time he starts to lose Republican support, the harder it gets for Bush.

CARLSON:  This is what the president said about his meeting with those 11 Republicans. 

I want to play Bush explaining the significance of this meeting. 

Here‘s the president.


BUSH:  It gave me a chance to share with them my feelings about the Iraqi issue.  I spent time talking with them about what it meant to fail and what it means when we succeed.

They expressed their opinions.  They obviously were concerned about the Iraq war, but so are a lot of other people. 


CARLSON: “But so are a lot of other people.”

HILARY ROSEN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Articulate as always, the president describing the problem today. 

CARLSON:  Well, “Bush to Congress: Drop Dead,” to his own party.

But, you know, they‘re concerned, but so are a lot of other people. 

These people, they‘re the bulwark against total collapse of the Bush administration‘s authority, it seems to me, the remaining Republican allies he has on the Hill.  The seems like the back of the hand to me. 

ROSEN:  Well, they may be.  Clearly, he doesn‘t want to give anybody credit, if his—begins to change his mind.  And that‘s where he‘s saying he‘s not going to take—give them any credit, because, really, it‘s the Democrats who put this ball in motion.  And that‘s the last group of people that the president wants to give credit to. 

The Democrats have clearly said, well, we‘re going to send you a bill maybe that doesn‘t have a timetable, but the benchmarks that have been in the Democratic proposal since January will stay in the bill. 

Now, all of a sudden, the president is acting like, well, benchmarks I guess I could live with. 

CARLSON:  But don‘t you kind of admire...


CARLSON:  I know it‘s difficult to concede, if you‘re a Democrat, that you admire anything this president does.  But you—don‘t you kind of admire, though you disagree, his willingness to stand in the face of public opinion and say, I‘m going to do what I think is right? 

ROSEN:  Admire it is kind of the wrong word.  I respect—I believe that he believes it.  


CARLSON:  It‘s pretty courageous.  I mean, it think he‘s wrong, actually.

ROSEN:  It seems foolhardy.  It doesn‘t seem courageous.

CARLSON:  It doesn‘t seem courageous?

ROSEN:  It seems reckless, actually.


CARLSON:  Then what is political courage, I guess, if not this?


CARLSON:  Well, I think political courage really is having a strategy that—where you‘re—can lead.  And now he has lost his base in the country of support for this war. 

And today‘s meeting, yesterday‘s meeting show that he‘s actually losing the support of his party.  I think the Republicans that went to the White House did so because they know that, you know, what Jim said.  This has been going downhill for them.  They‘re at the last thing.

They have pressure to vote with the Democrats from their district.  But the fact that they did it in the context of a polling thing really bothers me. 


CARLSON:  Well, I mean, but that‘s what democracy is. 


ROSEN:  This should be about the war.  This shouldn‘t be about the polling.


VANDEHEI:  Republicans are still standing by Bush when it comes to the vote. 

It‘s one thing to go into a meeting, talk to the president, then go out and leak it to a couple of reporters. 


ROSEN:  Well, they can afford to...


ROSEN:  Democrats are going to carry the vote anyway.

VANDEHEI:  What they‘re still saying is that their vote—they‘re still voting with Bush; 75 percent of Republicans, when you look at the polling, still supports Bush.  As long as he has that support, he can do what you say is courageous. 

He can continue to say, listen, yes, it may be unpopular broadly, but I‘m going to do this.

The thing you always have to watch for is, when do those votes switch?  And those votes have not started to switch.  Despite all of the rhetoric, despite all of the criticism, Bush still is able to win these votes and be able to resist against Democrats.

The question is—we have the vote tonight or when Democrats vote on this...

CARLSON:  Right. 

VANDEHEI:  ... this sort of two-stage thing—you have three months and then you have to come back.  Bush comes out and says, benchmarks.  I‘m for benchmarks. 

There‘s benchmarks in theory.  They‘re saying, OK, yes, you have to meet these certain goals, and you have to be able to do this with the government, this with the oil revenue.  Do you put teeth to that?  Do you say, if those are not met, then something happens?  That‘s what you have to look for. 


VANDEHEI:  Is there a punitive side to benchmarks?

ROSEN:  The key point is, is, the Democrats are saying, for now, we will agree to benchmarks. 

They‘re hoping that, if these benchmarks fail, that those Republicans who today are saying they‘re with the president, in September, end up voting against him. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  And that‘s when they could sustain a veto. 


ROSEN:  But, basically, they don‘t need the Republicans to win this vote tonight.  They can win it with the Democratic Caucus.  And I think that they will.


CARLSON:  Well, of course, but they need Republicans to override vetoes. 

ROSEN:  That‘s right. 

CARLSON:  I‘m wondering, though, Democrats...

ROSEN:  But it‘s the president who wants the money. 


ROSEN:  So, ultimately, he won‘t veto this.


CARLSON:  Well, I mean, look, that‘s an entirely...


CARLSON:  Let‘s do the macro view here for a second.

Democrats are, I think understandably, justifiably, upset with the lack of progress by the Maliki government in Iraq.  They think that government is joke.  I think they‘re probably right.

Given that that government is impotent, unable to get its act together, doesn‘t that suggest that a pullout would be even a bigger disaster?  In other words, once we leave, as Democrats are suggesting we ought to, like, who‘s going to fill the vacuum?  Wouldn‘t it have to be Iran, right, because who else is there, if there‘s no real government in the country?

ROSEN:  Are you being provocative? 



CARLSON:  I actually want to know the answer to the question. 


ROSEN:  Well, I don‘t think the Democrats or most rational people that there will be no troops in Iraq after a pullout of the aggressive forces. 

CARLSON:  So, they‘re not really for a pullout?

VANDEHEI:  But there are some who want it.


ROSEN:  I think what they‘re for is—they‘re for stopping our aggression, our aggressive tactics, to try and shape the political situation. 

That doesn‘t mean that there won‘t be a defensive operation there for a long time to come. 

CARLSON:  They want us to stop our aggressive—boy, I mean, I don‘t see any evidence that we have really made any aggressive moves to shape the political situation.  We seem to have gone in there and said, here‘s your country, to a bunch of people who hadn‘t governed themselves ever.  Good luck forming a democracy. 

And, surprise, surprise, they failed. 

I mean, shouldn‘t we just do the opposite and go in and say, look, you knuckleheads don‘t know what you‘re doing; you‘re screwing it up bad?

ROSEN:  Well, but they‘re keeping power.  They‘re keeping—they‘re creating the—they created the power—we created the power structure, and we‘re keeping it in place, even though it‘s a failing power structure.

VANDEHEI:  Yes, the government, though, wants to take a two-month vacation. 


CARLSON:  That‘s totally unsellable.  I mean, do you think that‘s...


CARLSON:  ... part of why Republicans...


VANDEHEI:  In the middle of war, where you have people dying.

CARLSON:  It‘s unbelievable. 

VANDEHEI:  And they‘re—they want to take a two-month vacation? 

Of course it‘s a dysfunctional government.


ROSEN:  And they have a majority of their own parliament calling for a timetable of troop pullouts. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  I mean, that‘s the irony.


ROSEN:  It has nothing to do with our government.


CARLSON:  I don‘t know.


ROSEN:  Those guys want it.

VANDEHEI:  That‘s the debate that Congress has to have next.  What is next?  If we decide that we‘re going to have a pullout, what do you do? 


CARLSON:  Oh, we‘re going to have a pullout.


VANDEHEI:  ... civil war.  And who fills that vacuum?  That‘s a very important debate.


VANDEHEI:  ... hasn‘t been a very robust part of the debate right now, because we‘re just talking about...


CARLSON:  Well, but I think the debate we‘re having now is yesterday‘s debate.  We‘re pulling out.

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

CARLSON:  I mean, there‘s just no question.  We‘re leaving.

So, the real question is, what happens then?  And I—I‘m agnostic. 

I would like someone to tell me what to think.  But nobody has.


CARLSON:  The feds say that the Fort Dix six were on the verge of a terror attack on U.S. soil when they were arrested this week.  What made these suburbanites want to kill American soldiers?  Why don‘t many politicians seem to care?  And why isn‘t the rest of the Muslim-American community in an uproar against these guys? 

Plus:  Condoleezza Rice has been in the middle of U.S. foreign policy decisions since day one of this administration, but her reputation has survived better than most of her colleagues in the inner circle.  How has she pulled that off?  We will talk to her biographer in a moment.

This is MSNBC, America‘s most impressive news network.


CARLSON:  President Bush agrees to negotiate with Congress on a war spending bill that could set benchmarks in Iraq.  But the Iraqi parliament plans to take a two-month vacation this summer, maybe to Nantucket.  Shouldn‘t they be working to end the violence?

We will ask that question when we return.


CARLSON:  For the U.S. to achieve success in Iraq, Iraqis must form an independent, self-sustaining, freely elected government capable of defending itself—so far, not so good. 

In the midst of the political chaos and violence, Iraq‘s parliament is still considering a two-month summer vacation, which has begged the question in America, is there any reason at all to believe a viable Iraqi government is possible?  If not, the idea as defined by the president victory is folly. 

Here with his insights on this issue, Max Boot, senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, from New York.

Max, thank for coming on.


CARLSON:  So, are we all just conceding now that this whole democracy experiment was ridiculous there, obviously, that the Iraqi government is not capable of getting its act together, and maybe we should just install a dictator? 

BOOT:  Well, I think you‘re conceding that.  I‘m not sure anybody else is conceding that.  And, even if you wanted to install a dictator in Iraq, I‘m not sure quite who you have in mind for that role. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know of any good candidates.  I‘m certainly willing to entertain some, though, because the option, waiting around for the Iraqi parliament to come back from its two-month-long vacation, is so infuriating, that I fear it‘s going to evaporate what is left of public support for this war in America. 

BOOT:  Well, I agree that the Iraqi parliament should not take a months-long vacation, although I‘m not sure that U.S. Congress people, who pioneered the art of taking months-long vacation, are really in any position to protest too vociferously. 

CARLSON:  Well, wait a second.  We‘re not in the middle of a civil war in which—you know what I mean?  I mean, if we were in the middle—if there was a civil war going on in the United States, and the Iraqi army was here trying to quell that civil war, and our Congress took a two-month vacation, I think there would be a revolt.  I hope there would.

BOOT:  Well, Tucker, I think you‘re absolutely right that there is a civil war going on, or at least a low-level one.  But I think the key role in ending the civil war is being taken by the men and women of the U.S.  armed forces and of the Iraqi army who are on the front lines and who are both doing a lot of the fighting.

And I think the essential prerequisite now for making progress is to improve the security situation in Baghdad and elsewhere, which is fundamentally a security task.

Now, I agree that we need to make progress on the political front as well.  But I would counsel just a tiny bit of patience here.  And I can understand why you‘re impatient.  I can understand why a lot of people are impatient. 

But let‘s keep in mind the enormity of what we‘re asking the Iraqis to do, and also the mixed signals that we‘re sending them from Washington, because, on the one hand, we‘re telling them, make these dramatic concessions to people who have been your enemies.  And, on the other hand, we‘re saying, we‘re about to leave.  Our troops are about to go out the door.

CARLSON:  Right. 

BOOT:  They will not protect you in the future from the consequences of your actions.  And we‘re essentially saying, here‘s a timetable.  Go ahead and slit your throat. 

Well, why are we surprised they‘re not slitting their throats?  We have to convince them that we are there to protect them from the consequences of their concessions.  And, if we are able to do that, I think they will be much more likely to make concessions to the other side.  But how do we convince them, when the majority of the American public and of Congress is saying, we want to pull out now? 


BOOT:  That undermines...

CARLSON:  OK.  So, more than 3,000 Americans have died, and it‘s our fault.  It‘s our fault that Iraq is still a mess.  At what point do we start holding the Iraqis responsible for the condition of their country, for their own, as you put it, security situation? 


BOOT:  Well, Tucker, I think you‘re putting words into my mouth, because I didn‘t say it‘s our fault.

What I am saying is that there are a lot of heroic Iraqis who are struggling to regain control of their country.  But it‘s very difficult, given the level of violence they face, the horrible campaign of car bombings by al Qaeda, the Shiite militias.  There are very difficult conditions there.

And we have not been able to impose a modicum of security in the last four years.  And why do we assume that people will make these very difficult political choices in the absence of a basic level of security that we take for granted?

The number-one task right now is to create that level of security under which moderates of both sides will be willing, I hope, to compromise.  And that is what General Petraeus is trying to do.


CARLSON:  This is why it‘s so important for foreign policy intellectuals to cover police departments for just a year or so, because the key lesson is, you can‘t police people into safety.  People, at some point, have to be willing to take responsibility for their own safety and create their own order. 

There aren‘t enough U.S. soldiers to make Iraq a safe country. 

BOOT:  It‘s not just U.S. soldiers, Tucker.  It‘s Iraqi soldiers. 


BOOT:  And it‘s a chicken-and-the-egg thing, because, yes, at some point, people have to take responsibility for their own safety.  But they‘re not willing to do that if the odds are 100 percent that they‘re going to be killed tomorrow by al Qaeda terrorists.

You have to provide a modicum of security, and hope that that will snowball, and that you will get that tipping point, where a little bit more security leads to a little bit more.


BOOT:  And I think that‘s what we‘re trying to do now in Baghdad.  But it‘s going take time.  And it‘s not going to happen in the course of two or three months.


So, why wouldn‘t—just as a purely abstract exercise here, theoretically, why wouldn‘t it be better to have a Mubarak, a General Musharraf-type figure take over, a soft authoritarian dictator, not Pol Pot, but someone who makes the trains run on time and keeps order and is fundamentally pro-American? 

Why wouldn‘t that be better for everybody than this failing, so far failing experiment in democracy we‘re watching unravel? 

BOOT:  I would not object very strongly if there were, in fact, a benign dictator, an Ataturk, who were waiting to take over in the wings.

But I don‘t see him.  And it would be hard for me to imagine how he would come about, because what would...


CARLSON:  Well, we could pick him and install him.

BOOT:  No, we couldn‘t, Tucker, because how would we enforce his writ?  What would he use as his instrument of coercion?  When the Iraqi army is not strong enough to police the country right now, as it stands, how would it be strong enough if it were directed by a putative dictator? 

This was the wishful thinking that motivated many at the CIA and elsewhere to back Ayad Allawi, who was the secular Shiite whom we did install as the president—or the prime minister of Iraq.  And he proved to be very unpopular and very unsuccessful. 

So, that‘s a strategy that I think, while, in theory, I‘m OK with it, I think has very little practical chance to being implemented, given the realities of Iraq at this point in time. 

CARLSON:  Yes, Allawi—well, I agree with you there.  But Allawi didn‘t seem like much—he seemed like a pretty weak strongman to me. 

BOOT:  Well, exactly.  You‘re right.  But who‘s the stronger strongman?  That‘s the problem.  I don‘t think there‘s anybody who is a good candidate out there.

CARLSON:  It just seems like we wasted an awful lot of time pretending that this is a group of people eager to govern itself, right, that the Iraqis are eager to have participatory democracy.  It seems like their idea of democracy is, you reward your friends and your family, and you screw everyone else.  That‘s a primitive understanding of democracy.


BOOT:  You know, Tucker, that‘s also the understanding of democracy which, until recently, and probably today, still predominates in places like Chicago and in Brooklyn and other many parts of America. 

So, I don‘t think we can be too critical of the Iraqis for having that attitude.  Let‘s have a little understanding here for the fact that they are coming out of many decades of brutal dictatorship and war. 


BOOT:  They‘re—it‘s—they‘re taking halting steps. 

But also keep in mind, you can be impatient with these parliamentarians.  And I‘m impatient with them.  But they are also risking their lives to serve.  And many of them have lost their lives.  They are putting a lot more on the line than all these windbags in Congress who are berating them for not doing enough. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but they‘re not putting as much on the line as American soldiers in Iraq, it seems to me.  I mean, it‘s not even our country, and we‘re—all these men are dying to make theirs a better country.  It‘s just—it‘s outrageous.  It‘s just outrageous.


BOOT:  No, that is not why we‘re fighting and dying in Iraq.

CARLSON:  All right. 

BOOT:  We‘re fighting to protect our own interests, to prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state and a breeding ground of terrorism.

CARLSON:  You know what?  I can‘t even keep track of the various justifications.  That is a good one, though.  I agree with that one. 

Max Boot, thanks a lot for joining us.


CARLSON:  I agree.

BOOT:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Thanks.

Well, a leading Muslim-American group calls on the press not to link them the Fort Dix six to the Islamic faith.  What are American Muslims doing about the violent radicals hijacking their religion?  And is it enough?

Plus:  Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani face off in a very public battle.  How did Rudy beat Bill at his own game?  We have got the facts of that case just ahead.

This is MSNBC, the place for politics.


CARLSON:  In the wake of the arrest of six men plotting a terror attack on Fort Dix, the Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement lauding the FBI for its thwarting disaster, and imploring the American media not to link the case to the Islamic faith.  But if these would be terrorists weren‘t inspired by their religion, what exactly did move them to plot the murder of American soldiers?  Why have so few Democrats running for president weighed in on any this?  That‘s another question. 

Here to discuss it Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen and executive editor of the Politico.com, Jim VandeHei.

It seems to me, Jim, that we ought to spend a little bit more time asking why.  In typical American fashion, oh, it happened.  We thwarted it.  It‘s over.  But here guys, most of them are not Arab, right?  So they‘re not like displaced Palestinians or something.  Living a perfectly middle class, seemingly happy life, and then one day they decide to attack the U.S. government.  What the hell is that about? 

VANDEHEI:  With all of these, it takes time to start to paint that portrait.  You‘re starting to see it if you look at the papers today.  It certainly seems that religious fanaticism played a big role in this.  When they talked to the folks that were involved in this and their family members, there‘s a clear pattern that they were all very active religiously. 

CARLSON:  OK, but you cover the government, right?  So please answer this question.  Is there a department in the U.S. government of like 1,000 really smart people sitting around tables thinking about why terrorists lay down their own lives to kill us?  That seems like the key question of the age.  I don‘t know the answer.  Are they thinking this through in the U.S.  government, do you think? 

VANDEHEI:  There are certainly people, yes, that are thinking through this, whether it‘s the State Department or the Defense Department when they‘re looking at it globally.  But clearly there‘s probably not enough.  I mean, one of the consequences of being in Iraq is that you end up losing a lot of resources, having a lot of resources over there that could be otherwise moved elsewhere.  And it‘s been the Democratic line since we went into Iraq, that we should be focusing those resources on terrorism more globally and more broadly, and not just focusing on Iraq. 

And I think this is a great launching point for the candidates to get involved.  It‘s one thing that has been absent, I think, from at least the early debate between the candidates, is what exactly would you do on the terrorism front, beyond saying we need to get out of Iraq? 

CARLSON:  And why do they hate us?  They have ignored this.  The Democratic candidates, as of air time today anyway, have not issued any statement, with the exception of Joe Biden, who issued a perfectly reasonable statement saying, there‘s still a war on terror.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  And he‘s right.  But everyone else kind of ignored this, or literally ignored it.  Why? 

ROSEN:  What‘s interesting to me is how similar this situation is to what we know is going on in Iraq, which is that peace-loving Muslims, who, you know, were going about their daily lives, granted not like Saddam Hussein, all of a sudden became enraged with American occupation.  At some level, it‘s this war, it‘s our aggressive efforts here.  It is having a negative effect. 

CARLSON:  It‘s our fault.  It‘s nothing to do with their crackpot religion.  It‘s what we get for a bad foreign policy. 

ROSEN:  First of all, Islam is not a crack pot religion. 

CARLSON:  Their version of it is very much a crack pot religion.

ROSEN:  I‘m not saying its our fault as Americans or in the government, I‘m saying what is happening here is that this war is not helping anybody rationalize their lives. 

CARLSON:  9/11 happened before the war in Iraq.  Why is it, maybe you can answer this Hillary, all these left wing websites, Daily Kos, Wonkette, had posting directly after this, saying this is probably a wag the dog scenario.  This isn‘t a big deal.  Or these six guys were so stupid, they couldn‘t have pulled it off any way.  It‘s just more hype from the administration. 

Dick Cheney says the Democrats don‘t take the threat of terrorists as seriously as Republicans do, and he‘s absolutely right, in my view.  

ROSEN:  I don‘t know if you can argue if all those blogs speak for the Democratic party.  But I think it is true that radical Islam is taking over and we are in trouble.  And I think that Democrats who are running for president have discussed this.  They have talked about terrorism as being the issue.  But they‘ve also said, as Jim pointed out, that our resources are not going to fighting terrorism.  Our resources are going to prevent civil war. 

Our resources are, in effect, being used to stimulate terrorism in the very places where we should be taking more care for it. 

VANDEHEI:  I don‘t think that Republicans have a monopoly on caring about terrorism.  You can‘t say that Senator Biden or Senator Levin don‘t care about terrorism, don‘t think about terrorism.

CARLSON:  I think a lot of people in the net roots though, activists in the Democratic party, are so blinded by their hatred for Bush that they see his rhetoric—

ROSEN:  I think it‘s being blinded by the aggravation of the resources that this war is pulling away from our national security.

CARLSON:  That‘s a good point.  I‘ve made that point myself, and I agree with that.  But it doesn‘t mean that there aren‘t thousands of crazy people who hate us for religious reasons and want to kill us.  There are.  And I think Democrats conflate these two issues, and they‘re unwilling to say that out loud to the extent I think they should. 

VANDEHEI:  There‘s also an inherent danger in complacency.  And I think because we haven‘t been from 9/11, the further you get removed from that day, the less people focus on it on a day by day basis.  I think that Iraq is a huge mental distraction, as well as sort of a resource, financial distraction.  So people don‘t think about it as much.  Therefore it seems like politicians don‘t talk about it as much.  I would hope once you get through the debate over Iraq and making a decision about funding and about how we move forward, you would hope that Congress and then the candidates would spend the next year and a half talking exclusively about Iraq and terrorism, because that is the most important defining issue of our day. 

And we were talking earlier, off camera, about how the whole issue metrics has changed.  Now, in some ways, terrorism is the most important issues even for Republican activists.  That‘s why someone like Rudy Giuliani, a social liberal, who under our normal thinking about how politics operates, would have no chance.  Yet he is has a big chance.

CARLSON:  That‘s right, because it‘s all about 9/11, fair or unfair.  Rudy Giuliani, speaking of, and Bill Clinton will never face one another in an election, but Rudy took Bill on in another arena of their mutual expertise, and he beat him.  Where did he beat him?  How badly did he beat him?  We have got the answers next. 



CARLSON:  The troubles of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been obscured by the current turmoil in Washington over the events in Iraq.  That would be turmoil.  But the A.G. was back on Capital Hill today, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys.  Like his testimony before the Senate, Gonzales performance netted almost nothing new. 

The “New York Times” reports that Mr. Gonzales had told his associates says that he believes he‘s already weathered the political storm.  Here to see whether he was right or wrong, tell us more about the status of Alberto Gonzales, we welcome back Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen and the executive editor of the Politico Jim VandeHei.  Hillary, he believes, the attorney general, that he‘s going to stay.  It looks to me like he‘s going to. 

ROSEN:  You know, I never would have thought so a month ago, but it does look like he has weathered something.  Now, of course, he has no credibility on the judiciary committees with which he has to work on an ongoing basis.  But look, my theory with Gonzales is that he was part of the Texas crony crowd for the president.  Harriet Miers was his good friend.  They feel that Harriet Miers got screwed and had to withdraw her Supreme Court appointment, but this was something the Senate was not in charge of. 

I think they just decided, you know what?  This one, we‘re staying in and we‘re not going to let these guys push us out.  It looks like it might end up being the case.  But that doesn‘t mean he‘s going to be an effective attorney general for the next two years.  I think the fact is that he‘ll no credibility on anything. 

CARLSON:  He still runs the Justice Department.  He still gets to set the priorities over there.  But Harriet Miers; she was so much mediocre than he could ever dream of being. 

ROSEN:  Well, they were close and he remember -- 

CARLSON:  You‘re right.  Have the Democrats just decided it‘s not worth wasting time trying shake this guy out of the tree? 

VANDEHEI:  Oh, I think they‘ll continue to try to shake him out the tree.  They see Karl Rove as a much bigger and brighter target.  They would like to use this and other investigations to get to him.  What‘s most remarkable about his survival is that he did it—there‘s a lot of people in the White House that wanted him gone.  Early on they were out talking to reporters and talking to other people, looking for a replacement for him.  And it was Bush that stepped in, really personally and said, he‘s going to stay. 

CARLSON:  The base wasn‘t for him.  Conservatives didn‘t like him.

ROSEN:  They also found out that anybody would have a very difficult time getting confirmed in the Senate.  This was not just going to be, oh, we can get rid of the attorney general and then this will be done.  This was Gonzales might resign, but then we‘ll have a protracted battle over this.  It became not worth it. 

CARLSON:  It points out the fact that Bush is actually not such a lame duck.  I mean, “Time Magazine” has decided he has no power.  But he does have power.  He may be at 28 percent, and nobody likes him, and blah, blah, blah, blah, but he wants the attorney general, the attorney general stays.  He wants the surge, the surge happens.  He wants to stay there; he wants his funding bill signed -- 

VANDEHEI:  He has a ton of power. 

CARLSON:  Exactly. 

VANDEHEI:  As you said, he‘s running a war in the face of public opposition.  He‘s able to keep all of his people intact.  He‘s able to prop up Wolfowitz, despite the fact that he is in a similar situation, where you‘re like how in the heck does this guy hang onto his job?  Yet he does.  Why?  Because of Bush. 

CARLSON:  Mike Bloomberg has announced that he‘s opening up his old campaign website, MikeBloomberg.com.  Now, he‘s not doing it, Hillary, because he‘s planning on running for president.  I mean, banish that from your mind.  That‘s silly.  But he just wants to have it around.  Like who doesn‘t want—I‘m sure HilaryRosen.com is up and running, just cause. 

ROSEN:  It is.  It‘s a great site.  Bloomberg actually has become a national figure, regardless of whether he runs for president or not.  He‘s going to have a huge philanthropic mission when he leaves the city of New York.  But, you know, let‘s face it.  He‘s keeping his options open.  There is still time between now and the end of this presidential nominating season.  And there are a lot of people on his staff who want him to run.  And they‘re going to make sure that his publicity is good. 

VANDEHEI:  Let me throw out a theory that is based on very little fact.  I think he will run.  I think he‘ll team up with Chuck Hagel.  And they will try to run as an anti-war, sort of moderate to conservative, reformist, independent party.  I think he really does want to run.  He has a ton of money.  He obviously wants to be engaged.  He gets involved in a lot of these issues, whether it‘s through New York or trying to get involved more broadly.  So I think he‘ll either seriously think about doing it himself, or try to bag somebody else as a third party candidate.   

CARLSON:  If I were running Hillary Clinton‘s campaign—and I‘m not, just for the record—but if I were, I would be very upset about that possibility.  If Mike Bloomberg runs with Chuck Hagel, who by the way is a right-winger on almost everything.  He really is.  But if they were to team up, that comes directly out of the Democratic vote it seems to me.  They‘re not going to be taking votes from John McCain or Fred Thompson or --  

ROSEN:  Well, it definitely depends on who the Republican nominee is.  Historically third party candidates have not been good for strong challengers.  You know, Bill Clinton was president because Ross Perot weakened Bush. 

CARLSON:  Thank you for admitting the obvious, finally, something that Clinton partisans won‘t admit.  It seems to me any anti-war candidate, particularly one who‘s willing to spend a billion dollars, is going to hurt the Democrats.  So the next time you open the paper and there‘s something nasty leaked about Mike Bloomberg, you know where it came from. 

ROSEN:  I think you‘re right only because Democrats have the momentum going into this presidential race.  But I don‘t think it‘s a Hillary problem in particular.  It‘s a problem for the party who is running against the president in this war. 

CARLSON:  Rudy Giuliani 11 million dollars in speeches last year, 11 million dollars in speeches.  But Bill Clinton, the guy who has made literally tens of millions of dollars over the past five years giving speeches, only 10 million.  This is the most amazing thing I‘ve seen in a long time.

ROSEN:  And don‘t we feel sorry for him? 

CARLSON:  I feel so sorry for him.  Two points, one, is this helpful to him, the idea that he made 11 million dollars giving speeches? 

VANDEHEI:  Personally, it‘s very helpful.  The problem with these speeches and the money --  I mean, I don‘t think people care if your presidential candidate is rich.  What it does is you‘ll start looking where did that money come from.  What conflicts of interests could that possibly have.  And once those are opened up next week, then reporters can go and look, you know, this is where you could have a potential conflict of interest. 

You know, for some reason, and maybe this will change, there‘s this Teflon nature to Rudy, whether it‘s Kerik, whether it‘s what he says about abortion, or about how he conducts himself on the campaign trail.  None of it seems to be hurting him with Republicans.  For some reason he does all of that.  He continues to hold a pretty significant lead in the polls.  And this idea that people just don‘t know him is absolutely nuts.  People know him. 

CARLSON:  You are totally right, he has been married more times than Mitt Romney has gone hunting.  And yet it is Mitt Romney who has suffered.  It is amazing.  This is Bill Clinton‘s explanation for really why he continues to give speeches.  This is a quote from the former president, Bill Clinton:  “I have tried to get in a position where I will be able to do what she did,” his wife, “when I was president.  That is, I don‘t want to spend any time making a living.  I hope I will have saved enough by then if she is elected that we can just, you know, pay our bills. 

“And I would to be able to keep two homes, our home in Washington, our home in Chappaqua.  And otherwise I would like to be able to devote whatever time she wants to whatever she wants me to do.  And I should probably have two or three days a week for the foundation.  I certainly hope so.”

So he is basically making 10 millions of dollars a year giving speeches to the asbestos manufacturers or whomever.  He just wants to pay the bills. 

ROSEN:  Just to pay the bills.  And but of course, that is what we would want him to do if he were—if Hillary Clinton became president.  We wouldn‘t want him to go out and make paid speeches or be on corporate boards.  We would want him to be available.

CARLSON:  I hate use.


CARLSON:  . greedy though?  I mean, I don‘t know, how much money do you need? 

ROSEN:  Oh come on. 

CARLSON:  No, I‘m serious!  If you are like Mr. Liberal Democrat, man of the people.

ROSEN:  Bill Clinton—please, for every speech that Bill Clinton made, he gave—he spent, you know, 10 times more time on his charitable work for... 


CARLSON:  He still makes $200,000 for an hour of speaking.  Is that—

I mean, that is—I don‘t know.  We complain about executive compensation, but that is—I mean.

ROSEN:  You can criticize Bill Clinton.

CARLSON:  . you don‘t think it is greedy at all? 

ROSEN:  . for a lot of things.  But I don‘t think you can suggest that he has not been, you know, relatively selfless over the last several years in terms of what he has contributed to this world. 

CARLSON:  He made $10 million for yapping, something he does for free.  I‘m not criticizing—I wouldn‘t criticize him except I think it is a little bit hypocritical if you are going to get up there and... 

ROSEN:  I don‘t—no, no, no.  He is not saying there is something wrong with making money.  He is saying, I only—I need some and I‘m going to devote most of my time to my good works.  It seems that this is not a competition between he and Rudy Giuliani. 

CARLSON:  Very quickly.  The Congress—the Democratic Congress has sponsored legislation, a new intelligence that would divert some money that goes currently to gathering intelligence to studying global warming.  Is this going to happen, or are Republicans going to wake up and jump on this as a campaign issue? 

VANDEHEI:  Of course Republicans are going to jump on this.  Any time that they can try to portray Democrats as weak on security, weak on foreign policy, they will do that. 

And whenever—you know, this came up a couple of years ago, whenever you start talking about, you know, that if you equate environmental protection with national security, particularly in a time of terror, that is probably not great optics, not great politics. 

ROSEN:  You know, this has not worked for the Republicans for the last several years.  It is worth noting this.  The American people no longer believe that Democrats are worse on national security or care less about defense than Republicans do.  That polling shifted about two-and-a-half years ago.  And it has stayed fairly even since then. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I will be interested—you are right, you are absolutely right.  I have been wanting to see how deep that sentiment is.  I don‘t know, we will find out next election.  Thank you both very much. 

Condoleezza Rice‘s trip to the Middle East was followed almost immediately by Dick Cheney‘s trip to that same region.  Does that signal that her role in this administration is diminishing?  Her biographer joins us next with knowledge of her situation. 

And there is one way to attract new audiences to classical music, add some gratuitous violence.  Willie Geist is coming up with his review of fight night at the pops.  You are watching MSNBC.


CARLSON:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice still has the president‘s ear even though many of his other advisers have gone their separate ways with reputations ruined.  But why is she different?  We will ask her first biographer, next.


CARLSON:  Among the officials reportedly present when the so-called “gang of 11” Republican House members met with President Bush Tuesday afternoon about the war, was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  At this point most of the president‘s original inner circle have either moved on, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Ari Fleischer, Andy Card, for example; or have been vilified, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, to name just two; or both, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld. 

Condi Rice though has endured the entire seven-year run.  And though talk of a Rice presidency has dimmed to zero, her public reputation has not been destroyed, how come?  Joining us now, the author of “Twice as Good:

Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power,” also Newsweek‘s chief of correspondents, Marcus Mabry. 

Marcus, thanks a lot for coming on. 

MARCUS MABRY, AUTHOR, “TWICE AS GOOD”:  Thanks for having, Tucker.

CARLSON:  So she is still there.  In what role?  Is her role diminished?  Dick Cheney followed her to the Middle East recently.  That was seen by some as a sign that she didn‘t get the job done, is that accurate? 

MABRY:  You know, I think not, actually.  And if you look at her evolution over the two terms of George W. Bush so far, in the beginning she was actually pretty weak as National Security Adviser.  Everyone in Washington knows this.  The conventional wisdom was that she was rolled, especially by Rumsfeld. 

By the end of the first term, though, by 2004, before the election, she has taken important policy away from Don Rumsfeld.  She learns, she adapts.  She was weak in the beginning.  She is stronger now.  By 2006 after the midterms when the Democrats win, of course, Rumsfeld is out, Rice is in. 

In January this year we saw a North Korean nuclear deal that Condoleezza Rice ran through the White House over the objections of Dick Cheney.  So she actually learned.  She grows.  And she is more powerful than ever. 

CARLSON:  What are her politics?  What is her worldview?  Does it match Bush‘s exactly?  That is the conventional view, that she and Bush have this mindmeld.  Is it true?

MABRY:  They do have a mindmeld.  I talked to a lot of her friends—her best friends, her stepmom who is still alive, her natural parents are both deceased.  And obviously I spent a lot of time talking to Secretary Rice herself. 

The fact is there is a mindmeld.  One of her friends says it is a—it is like they are Siamese twins, she and the president, who are connected at the frontal lobe.  And he says there is this strange transfer of energy.  It goes both ways. 

Right now, you know, the whole advances toward Syria, wanting to talk to Iran, when the Iranian foreign minister ran away from her at the dinner in Egypt last week, that is Condi Rice moving the president in her direction. 

We have seen an awful lot, especially after 9/11, where she moved in the president‘s direction.  But she has also moved him in her direction.  She is not an ideologue.  She is a pragmatist.  It is about her power.  It is about her power.  It is about the power of the U.S. 

She doesn‘t admit her mistakes.  She doesn‘t show vulnerability.  That all goes back to Birmingham when she was told by people growing up in segregated Alabama that as a little black girl she had to be twice as good.  And that is what drives her right now.

CARLSON:  What is the—I hate even to ask this, but it is a question everyone wonders, and I don‘t mean to sound—you know, in an untoward way, what is the emotional connection she has with Bush?  It is so obvious.  It is just right out there on display.  I‘m not suggesting anything immoral or anything.  But it is clear this is not just an employee,-employer relationship at all.

MABRY:  Well, I talk about that a lot in the book.  And she had—and Condoleezza Rice has a former hairdresser in Palo Alto who still—she still goes back to when she is at Stanford—or visiting her stepmom.  And that hairdresser deduced—you know, they used to talk about men all of the time and how hard it was for a black woman to find a good man. 

And she said, in her opinion, the hairdresser‘s, after Condoleezza Rice met George W. Bush and started working for him, that talk deceased—decreased, rather.  And the hairdresser believes that George Bush fills a certain need for a male presence in her life. 

I think the honest truth is, in Condoleezza Rice‘s opinion, when I asked her, what did you see in this man?  Such different backgrounds these two people are from, what she saw in this man she said was that he was great to be around.  She really enjoyed being around him.

She repeated that in her State Department office three times in a row.  I think politically what she saw in George W. Bush was the strength of Ronald Reagan, the clarity of vision of what is right and what is wrong, and at that point she thought in 2000 the moderation of his father, of George H.W. Bush, someone who was going to be a realist on foreign policy.

It didn‘t turn out that way, but I think that is what rice saw initially in this president. 

CARLSON:  And I know this is probably a third of your book, but if you could sum it up in two sentences, does she—is she heartbroken over what has happened in Iraq?  Does she support the president‘s course of action, do you think, personally? 

MABRY:  Strategically, absolutely.  She thinks they did the right decision—she thinks we would never be safe against terrorists until the Middle East was changed, until there was some expression, some outlet other than radical Islam for those who are frustrated, that is what she believes. 

She believes that could not happen with Saddam Hussein still in power.  She admits that lots of tactical mistakes were made.  As she told me, war is war, that happens.  As Brent Scowcroft told me, however, one of her great mentors who is responsible for her historic rise, this is one of those strengths of Condoleezza Rice that also became a tragic flaw. 

She was not a skeptic.  She believes too much in the president‘s values and vision. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  She wasn‘t alone.  Marcus Mabry, thanks have very much.  I appreciate it.

MABRY:  Thanks for having me.

CARLSON:  Well, there was a brawl in the crowd in Boston last night.  No, it was not the right field seats at Fenway Park.  It was at a performance by the Boston Pop Symphony Orchestra.  Willie Geist has details of yet another violent incident in the world of classical music.  You are watching MSNBC. 


CARLSON:  Ladies and Gentlemen, back from near retirement, we welcome to the starting lineup, fulfilling his $18 million prorated contract, Willie Geist. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC PRODUCER:  Only here because I have to be, Tucker. 

You got it. 

No.  I want to give a little shout out to my brothers and sisters at the Paris Hilton rally in New York right now.  Guys, I‘m sorry I couldn‘t be there.  But there is a little conflict of interest.  The story is too personal for me.  I didn‘t want to go with the advocacy journalism. 

But we can do it.  We can do it.  We are strong.  We are small in numbers but we are strong in spirit.  Free Paris now.  Free Paris now.  That is what they are chanting somewhere in Manhattan right now. 

Guys, sorry I couldn‘t be there.  But I will be there for the banquet tonight. 

CARLSON:  Willie, I‘m sorry to interrupt you, but is this really taking place?  People really are protesting on her behalf? 

GEIST:  Yes, yes.  I actually received an invitation because of my advocacy for Paris Hilton.  And I couldn‘t make it because you were making me work here today. 

CARLSON:  You know, people debate, is this really Rome before the fall?  And I think we can say without equivocation, yes, it is. 

GEIST:  Today is the day.  Today is the day.

CARLSON:  Yes, today is the day.

GEIST:  It is over.

CARLSON:  The Vandals are at the gates, yes.

GEIST:  Well, speaking of the fall of Rome, Tucker, “American Idol,” it actually ended for me the night Antonella Barba was wrongfully voted off the show, but apparently they have gone on with the competition since then. 

Last night the field was trimmed to three when LaKisha Jones was shown the door.  See is the one who kissed Simon on the lips a couple of weeks ago after a performance.  And I bet she wishes she could have that one back now that it didn‘t get her anywhere. 

Blake, the only guy left on the show.  And he provided the only intrigue of the night when he sported a tuxedo T-shirt last night.  You know, the kind with the tie and the vest silk-screened on it?  The kind you don‘t wear unless you are a magician who does children‘s birthday parties?  That is the one Blake wore.  And I think there has to be a limit, Tucker, to the ironic T-shirt, doesn‘t there?  I think it stops with the tuxedo T-shirt. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know.  I‘m actually—I mean, it is not as bad as some of the stuff they wear. 

GEIST:  No, it‘s not.  And I hate to be unpatriotic because it is “American Idol,” after all, but this show is getting a little boring, the last three people aren‘t very interesting.  Bring back Sanjaya or Antonella. 

CARLSON:  I agree.  I totally agree. 

GEIST:  Well, Tucker, I hate to paint an entire genre of art with a broad brush, but when are we going to have an honest dialogue in this country about the connection between classical music and violence? 

Maybe this ugly scene will help.  It happened during a performance by the world renowned Boston Pops last night.  Conductor Keith Lockhart stopped the orchestra when a fight broke out in the balcony between two members of the audience.  One of the men even had his Brooks Brothers button-down torn open.  Can you imagine?

Reports say the fight started when one man asked another to be quiet during the performance.  Now, Tucker, this is just getting ugly.  This is getting bad.  And once you have got a guy‘s button-downs being ripped apart, I mean, they might have to stop selling pinot grigio during the intermission. 

CARLSON:  It is like an Asian parliamentary proceeding.  I mean, it is that dangerous.

GEIST:  It is.  Which is better?  I think the symphonic brawl might be even better than the parliament.

CARLSON:  I agree with that.

GEIST:  It is more rare, anyway. 

Well, as you know, Tucker, if it happened in the world, and it doesn‘t make sense, it probably happened in Japan.  It has to be kind of insulting to a performer to see half of her audience asleep during a show.  But that‘s the idea behind the Japanese bed concert.  The crowd at this concert in Tokyo laid in bed and snored its way through a performance by a famed Russian violinist. 

I really hope she didn‘t take it personally, Tucker.  Now put these two against each other, would you rather go to a concert where you can sleep or would you go to one where you can brawl the people?  That is actually a tough call.  It depends on what you are looking for.

CARLSON:  I would be afraid to go to Japan at this point after watching you for a year-and-a-half, Willie. 

GEIST:  You know, I trust that things are going OK in Japan because they seem like they are.  But there is a lot of ballroom dancing robots and game shows where people are wrestling komodo dragons.  Like what—I‘m not really sure what is going on over there.  I hope.


CARLSON:  There is something deeply amiss in their national character, there is no doubt. 

GEIST:  Yes.  There is something wrong.  We need to check deeper about our relationship with them. 

But finally, Tucker, I know you will a special guest at the Cannes Film Festival premier of Michael Moore‘s new documentary “Sicko” next week.  But your friend Mr. Moore might be in a little trouble with the United States government. 

The Treasury Department has launched an investigation into Moore‘s recent travel to Cuba where he shot a segment for his new film about the health care industry.  The Office of Foreign Assets Control says Moore may have violated travel restrictions under the U.S. embargo. 

Reports say Moore has actually hidden a copy of “Sicko” in a safe house outside the country to protect it from government interference.  Paranoia, Tucker, could it be? 

CARLSON:  It is all part of—I mean, the fact that the Bush administration stepped up and actually helped him market the movie, which is what is going on here, people go, I know fishermen who go to Cuba all of the time.  Everyone goes to Cuba all of the time.  Nobody says boo. 

He goes to Cuba trying to make this movie and they help him sell it by investigating him.  I mean, how dumb can you be? 

GEIST:  That was actually the first thing I thought.  And, Tucker, a lot of people don‘t know this, you co-started in “Fahrenheit 9/11” because you posed the question to Britney Spears that was answered in the movie where she said, we should trust President Bush in everything he does at all times.  So you were actually one of Michael Moore‘s actors. 

CARLSON:  Well, that was really a moment we should have known that all was not well with our Iraq policy when Britney Spears endorsed it early on. 

GEIST:  Because that was the moment when there was no turning back.

CARLSON:  I sounded the alarm but was ignored.  Willie Geist.

GEIST:  All right, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Willie.  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.” We are back tomorrow.  Have a great night.



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