updated 9/11/2007 11:29:26 AM ET 2007-09-11T15:29:26

Guests: Jack Jacobs, Rick Francona, Roger Simon, Hendrik Hertzberg, Markos Moulitsas, Eli Pariser, Tim Walz, Joe Sestak

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Well, that‘s the meeting being adjourned.  Of course, today, major testimony by General Petraeus and, of course, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.  Let‘s go right now from the hearing room, the House caucus room, to Mike Viqueira, who covers Congress for MSNBC.  Mike, your assessment, what is the meaning of all of today‘s testimony? 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, MSNBC CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s essentially quite cut and dry, Chris.  Democrats are going to see it very clearly that this surge is going to go on into next year.  You saw open hostility in some cases, skepticism for certain, from Democrats all throughout the day, because they wanted something to happen faster and they are still going to push for that. 

To have the troop levels be where they were in January of this year, to have that be the same troop level for next summer, is going to be unacceptable.  The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has already put out a statement using that very word.  The question is how far are they going to be able to go after spinning their wheels legislatively all year long, trying to set a firm deadline, hammering away at Republicans, trying to get them to vote to sustain the president‘s veto of those firm deadlines of next spring.  How far are they going to be willing to go to push that? 

Or will they go back to what seems to be their emerging plan, to have a softer goal in that legislation that they put forward this fall?  At an rate, it all depends on how this was perceived among some of the swing districts and Republican districts who have so far stayed steadfast, cohesively with the Republican leaders and president on this.  Will they continue to do so? 

Will Democrats try to put forward some sort of compromise to entice them?  I think what you have seen here today is really going to make the battle lines quite clear rhetorically and politically here in Congress, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, the question is on the battle lines, if the anti-war Democrats are able to recruit some Republicans to join them in a resolution, will there be teeth to it? 

VIQUEIRA:  Probably not.  Here‘s the problem, Chris.  The Democratic leaders in Congress have all year tried to appease the anti-war left.  Many of the same people who are protesting here in Congress today, many of the same people out in the country who sent them here to Congress to take over the majority to do something about this war.  They have found that in doing so, they have spun their wheels, but unable to defeat the president, if you will, on this issue.  And their approval ratings are now sinking towards the cellar, near record lows. 

What are the choices they have?  They can continue down that road and try to put forward legislation that is supported by the anti-war left.  The anti-war left is still angry with them because they have been ineffective in succeeding legislatively.  Now what they seem to be doing is reaching towards moderates, reaching towards independents, reaching towards swing voters, reaching towards the constituents of Republicans who are on the bubble here, and try to put something forward that has a softer goal of next year. 

At any rate, I think we can expect them to put forward something that significantly accelerates that time line that General Petraeus put forward today. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, hold on.  You‘re up on Capitol Hill.  We will be right back at 7:00 with HARDBALL.  In the meantime, I will be talking to Colonel Jack Jacobs and, of course, General Barry McCaffrey.  HARDBALL at 7:00 tonight.  Stay tuned. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  We are joined right now by retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs and retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona.  Let me go to Colonel Jacobs first.  The frustrating aspect of the last six hours is we were told that this six month or eight-month report on the surge would tell us if we were completing our mission of clearing Baghdad for political resolution over there.  Yet we had a general here today who couldn‘t talk about the politics. 

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  No, he couldn‘t.  I think he can, but I think that‘s by design.  The whole idea is to make him the honest broker.  I will tell you what you need to know as far as the military aspect of this is concerned.  All other questions, you‘re going to have to go to my buddy, Ambassador Crocker.  That kept him honest and kept him out of a lot of the fray you would otherwise see. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear anything from Crocker that told you how close we are getting to our goal of an established government in Iraq? 

JACOBS:  No, as a matter of fact, I heard exactly the opposite.  We knew they were tending in the direction of federalism.  But I must have heard the term federalism from Crocker a dozen times.  No, it‘s clear that the central government in Iraq is not now, nor may it ever be, in a position to control the country.  We are going to regional governments. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Colonel Rick Francona.  Your sense watching the military expose today, did he tell us—did he exhibit for us a sense of how well we are doing in securing Baghdad? 

COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think he

laid out what we knew he would say.  He said it‘s beginning to work.  Of

course, he cited the Anbar progress, which really I think is divorced a

little bit from the surge.  I think his mission here, Chris, was to provide

enough fodder, to provide enough good news about his withdrawal plans that

it‘s going to take the wind out of the sails of any legislation that might

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a political gambit today?  This 30,000 troop thing; was that a military assessment or something called in from the administration? 

FRANCONA:  I don‘t know where it came from, but I think it certainly did the trick.  I think he laid out just enough of a withdrawal plan that it is going to make it very difficult to pass some sort of legislation calling for a more stringent withdrawal.  I think it was effective. 

JACOBS:  There is another motivation here too.  Remember that even General Petraeus allowed as how the Army and Marine Corps are in deep trouble.  We have a very difficult time maintaining this deployment with short periods of time at home.  If you withdraw 28,000 to 30,000 troops, you are going to make it much easier on the troops, if you do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Colonel Francona, is this passive fire for moderate Republicans? 

FRANCONA:  I think that‘s exactly what it is, Chris.  I think it was pretty effectively delivered.  They need something they can use to not sign up with the Democratic anti-war movement to try and pass some sort of a concrete finite withdrawal date.  I think we will see—it will be very difficult for there to be a withdrawal date passed in the Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, every time that there was a little bit of pressure from a rather inefficient Congress today to get an answer to the question, are we winning over there—are we getting towards a government that can defend itself?  Gary Ackerman apparently just used up his time.  He couldn‘t get to his question.  And someone else asked a question and they were basically bogarted in their response.  Petraeus ran the clock on the other guy. 

Did you notice that these gentlemen, both the diplomat and the general, never answered the question, how long will it take to have an Iraq that can defend itself? 

JACOBS:  They don‘t have an answer.  They want to make a decision later on when it becomes easier, after they know it is going to go on closer to the American elections.  They did not have an answer to that.  They dodged it every time on purpose.  I think it was designed. 

FRANCONA:  It goes further than that.  He didn‘t have an answer when he could actually complete this withdrawal.  He said, here‘s what I plan to do by summer 2008.  But I can‘t really give you an answer if that‘s possible until March.  He‘s asking for time until March to even make the withdrawal that he‘s promising today. 

FRANCONA:  And as a military man, that‘s the right thing to do.  He does not know—honestly does not know what he‘s going to do.  If he could, he would like to withdraw some troops to make it easier on the deployed troops there.  Otherwise he doesn‘t have any answers. 

MATTHEWS:  Was this is a shell game, gentlemen, in giving us a

brilliant military man, who obviously is well schooled, highly educated,

very articulate, very sound?  Give us a military man to give us a policy

answer, knowing that military man can‘t give us the policy answer.  General

Colonel Francona? 

FRANCONA:  I did not see a policy answer, Chris.  I saw a very adept testimony, trying to stick to military matters, laying out just what he wanted to say.  I thought he did a great job of side stepping the real questions that you asked, when are we going to get out of this? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Colonel Jacobs, this question—this was P-Day, Petraeus day.  Was it a shell game?  Was it another one of those Lucy and Charlie Brown things where she holds the football up and at the last minute, come fall she drops the football, and he kicks it in the air? 

JACOBS:  Well yes, but I don‘t think that makes him a bad person. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m not saying that.  I‘m saying he might have been—to use a phrase he won‘t like—used.

JACOBS:  I don‘t think he was used.  I think he was complicit in organizing the testimony the way it was.  Even look at the question that he was asked about Iraq.  What about Iraq?  Isn‘t that—Iran—isn‘t Iran having a deleterious effect on what you‘re doing in Iraq?  He said, wait a minute.  I can tell you what‘s taking place inside Iraq.  But for Iran, you are going to have to ask somebody else about that.  No, it was very carefully calculated that he would stay within the confides of stuff that he could answer with honesty, very carefully crafted. 

MATTHEWS:  And he also would not answer questions about rotations and the difficulty of keeping up the Army. 

JACOBS:  No, he side stepped that for most of the time.  There was one point at which he said, yes, it‘s very, very difficult and we are having a hard time.  As a matter of fact, I think the most forthright answer, if I‘m not mistaken, on that subject, came from Ambassador Crocker.  But there‘s no doubt about the fact that they all agreed, they both agree and have answered before this question, it‘s really tough on the services, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps and the reserves. 

If they don‘t do something really soon, it is going to be worse yet and they are going to come apart.  And withdrawing, I think, part of the force is the answer to that. 

MATTHEWS:  Colonel Jack Jacobs, sir, thank you for your expertise and thank you Colonel Francona as well.  And thank you Mike Viqueira, as always, for your great expertise on Congress and what the real action was here this afternoon, to try to keep those moderate Republicans aboard with the president.  We will be right back after this break with a full hour of HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush says we‘re kicking ass in Iraq.  How come the Iraqi people don‘t think so? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL. 

See you in September.  In January, President Bush asked the country to support his orders for a U.S. troop escalation in Iraq.  He asked Americans to withhold their judgment until his military commanders reported back in September. 

Well, today, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified before the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committees about the war. 

The big questions tonight:  Last week, Bush said we are kicking ass in Iraq, but when will we really see his mission accomplished over there?  President Bush‘s goal for the surge was to give breathing space for the politicians in Baghdad.  Did we achieve that goal, or didn‘t we? 

Now, in the autumn of the Bush presidency, is it wise to continue this war?  And does Congress have the power to stop it?

We will talk to some of the most powerful voices on the war issue in just a moment.

Plus, our second story tonight:  Check out this full-page ad MoveOn.org ran in today‘s “The New York Times.”  Republicans are criticizing the ad.  Tonight, we will meet the man who decided to run it and pay for it. 

And, today, lawyers for Senator Larry Craig filed court documents in an effort to withdraw his guilty plea in his airport bathroom sex sting bust.  But, if Craig is not guilty under the law, should he resign?  We‘re going to talk to two reporters who are covering this story and who say Craig has been railroaded.  They want this thing reversed. 

We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and his report on General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker‘s testimony on the Hill today. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Eight months after the Bush administration began a troop escalation, today, General David Petraeus testified that, in parts of Iraq, the violence has begun to drop.  And he urged Congress to keep the higher U.S. troop levels going. 

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL

FORCE-IRAQ:  The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met.  Coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena. 

SHUSTER:  But, using charts and graphs, Petraeus said the ongoing levels of violence are of concern.  And Petraeus did not testify about the lack of political progress, in other words, about the reason we are fighting the war. 

Earlier this year, President Bush said political reconciliation was crucial.  And Mr. Bush said the goal of the U.S. escalation was to give Iraqi leaders  breathing room to pass legislation. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America‘s continued support and sacrifice. 

SHUSTER:  Today, Ambassador Ryan Crocker acknowledged, Iraq‘s government has not met any of the crucial political benchmarks.

And, when Crocker was asked whether the next six months would be any different:

RYAN CROCKER, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  I, frankly, do not expect that we are going to see rapid progress through these benchmarks.

SHUSTER:  Lawmakers on both sides noted, the Iraq war is stretching the U.S. to the breaking point.  Petraeus acknowledged those concerns, said he plans to cut about 5,000 forces by the end of the year and intends to reduce force levels by another 30,000 by the middle of 2008. 

PETRAEUS:  I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.

SHUSTER:  The troop levels next summer, however, would still be at about 139,000, the number in Iraq just before the escalation began. 

Democrats were infuriated. 

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA:  We need to get out of Iraq, for that country‘s sake and for our own.  It‘s time to go, and to go now. 

SHUSTER:  According to a new poll of Iraqis by three international news organizations, anger with the United States is growing.  Sixty-one percent of Iraqis say the U.S. troop surge has worsened Iraq‘s security, political stability and pace of development.  Forty-seven percent want the U.S. to withdraw immediately. 

And 57 percent of Iraqis now say attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable.  And that‘s up seven points from January.  General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified, the most spectacular attacks are coming from an offshoot of al Qaeda.  That sparked the most contentious exchange of the hearing. 

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK:  Isn‘t it true, though, General, that al Qaeda in Iraq formed in 2005, two years after...

PETRAEUS:  Congressman, I‘m not saying when it started.  I‘m saying that merely al Qaeda Iraq clearly is part of the overall greater al Qaeda network. 

ACKERMAN:  But they didn‘t exist...

SHUSTER:  Overall, the tone of the session today was matter of fact and polite.  But there were plenty of unusual moments.  Even before Chairman Skelton could get into his opening statements, protesters began to interrupt. 

SKELTON:  We‘re going to have no disturbances in this room, and those that disturb are immediately asked to be escorted out. 

Do that right now. 

SHUSTER:  Then, after 45 minutes of statement from committee members, when it was time for General Petraeus to testify, his microphone didn‘t work. 

SKELTON:  I don‘t want to have to take a recess.  Let‘s get it fixed. 

SHUSTER:  And, as the committee waited for audio technicians, Republican Dan Burton and Democratic Committee Chairman Skelton tangled over the prospect of more protests. 

SKELTON:  You don‘t have to lecture me.  they will be gone.  Don‘t worry about it.

REP. DAN BURTON ®, INDIANA:  Well, I still see them out there. 

SKELTON:  Do not worry about him.  Don‘t worry about him.  We have done this before. 

SHUSTER:  A few minutes later:

SKELTON:  Please remove them. 

SHUSTER:  Some Democrats went into the hearing convinced that Petraeus would simply state the White House talking points.  Petraeus testified he wrote his own report with no White House help.  Still, the left-wing group MoveOn.org slammed Petraeus this morning in “The New York Times.” 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: “General Betray Us.”

SHUSTER:  Republicans objected, as did the White House. 

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There is fair comment, but this is outrageous. 

SHUSTER:  Lost in that debate, however, was an announcement today from the Pentagon that more U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq.  The total number of U.S. troops killed now stands at 3,759.  The number injured is over 27,000. 

(on camera):  And, yet, today, while there was a lot of talk about military tactics, there was hardly any discussion about how long it will take to meet the overall goal of a stable Iraq that can function on its own. 

Instead, the violence continues and the U.S. sacrifice grinds on.  And today‘s hearing only underscored that there is no end in sight. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania is a member of the Armed Services Committee.  He‘s also retired Naval admiral.  And Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota retired from the Army National Guard two years ago, after 24 years of service.  He is a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. 

Let me go to Congressman Sestak.

What did you make of the demonstrators?  You were sitting up there in the committee bench.  What did you make of the protesting today in the hearings? 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  It‘s part of America.  I—I joined the military during Vietnam.  It just hearkened back to that.  And they were giving their opinion. 

I—it disrupted it, but we just moved on.  I don‘t think anyone seriously was disturbed by it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me start with the serious questioning now.  President Bush said, in Australia—he was quoted—and the White House is accepting that quote—we are—quote—“kicking ass in Iraq.”

Did the testimony today by Crocker and Petraeus justify that kind of bravado? 

SESTAK:  It did not, not at all.  Look, we had a military men come in here who give a good presentation. 

But, just like in Vietnam, when we did body counts, today, we saw violence counts.  And it was quite interesting, but I can‘t think it‘s that relevant.  He said 2,500 al Qaeda had been killed.  But, when asked the question, “How many al Qaeda have grown since you collected that data?” he said, I don‘t know.  I ask different agencies, and they tell me thousands have come. 

No, we had—didn‘t—can‘t even have the comprehensive debate we had, because we didn‘t have who we needed there, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who could tell us, is our military worldwide and here at home going to be impacted by that?  Well, we already don‘t have any Army unit deployed anywhere in this world because its state of readiness here at home is so low. 

And, then, when he was asked the question, “Are you able to tell us if this is having an impact on the global war on terror?” he said, I would have to refer you to someone else. 

This isn‘t about Iraqi security.  This is about American security.  And we need to have a comprehensive debate on that.  And just having General Petraeus bodes that we are now—like Yogi Berra said, we have come to a fork in the road.  We have got to take it, rutted stalemate or do we begin to have, potentially, a bipartisan approach to begin to redeploy from Iraq to salvage our Army? 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Walz, this was P-day, Petraeus day, but the president opened the—opened the hearings today basically by getting quoted as saying, we are kicking ass in Iraq.  Unfortunately, 60 percent of the American people say the surge has not worked; it hasn‘t had any impact.

And that same percentage of Iraqis say it has made things worse.  What did the testimony do to clarify the situation in Iraq? 

REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA:  Yes.

Well, as far as the president‘s comments, we also heard mission accomplished and bring it on—false bravado, unprofessional, and uncalled for. 

General Petraeus‘ report, as I think Admiral Sestak said, no real surprises there.  The whole issue for many of us that‘s incredibly frustrating again Joe hit on, the state of readiness of our military and—and the president‘s willingness to continue down a policy that‘s failed. 

And—and, in terms of the surge, nobody is debating whether we would get a little bump in terms of security.  The bump in security was meant to open up that window of opportunity for progress on the real important things that the president doesn‘t—doesn‘t want to address, like the sectarian violence, the Ministry of the Interior that‘s nonexistent...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WALZ:  ... and all the other issues. 

So, yes, I—I think that it—we—we heard much of the same.  I believe that General Petraeus truly believes and—and is—is putting forward his beliefs on this.  It doesn‘t change the fact that we need a broader strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was watching for the whole six hours, Congressman Walz.  And I have to tell you, it‘s pretty frustrating to not hear the question put, at least not answered correctly.  Twice, congressmen tried to answer it.  One time, the congressman talked too much.  The other time, they Bogarted him.  They ran the clock on him. 

Simple question:  How close are we getting to our goal in Iraq of a defensible, stable, democratic Iraq?  They never talked about the mission today. 

WALZ:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  They talked about the dangers if we leave, blah, blah, blah. 

No question, no information.  Did you get it, watching all day, Congressman Walz?  Are we getting closer to our mission being accomplished? 

WALZ:  Well, no.  And that‘s coming not just from—General Petraeus himself said that, that he‘s frustrated, very little progress towards the political solution that needs to be there.  And that is the driving question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, why are we there, if we are not reaching the goal? 

WALZ:  That‘s the question.

MATTHEWS:  I never heard of a...

WALZ:  That‘s the question we‘re asking.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t go somewhere to do something if you‘re not doing it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are we doing? 

WALZ:  You‘re absolutely right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me...

WALZ:  And that why we asked, Chris, for—for—for the timelines and the benchmarks, to let the Iraqis know we are serious about this.  We have created a dependency and a welfare state in Iraq that they are letting kids from Minnesota do their fighting for them, while they are bickering over small little turf wars.  That‘s unacceptable and it‘s weakening our national security. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Admiral Sestak, Congressman Sestak. 

You have been elected to Congress.  Let me ask you.  You have served in the military.  You have got all the perspectives here.  Did you notice Ryan Crocker, the ambassador, today?  When he was asked that question, why don‘t we stick it to these people, like Maliki, and tell them, we are out of here if you don‘t get your act together, we‘re pulling troops, and he said—it was such a wussy thing to say.

He said, well, if—if we threaten to pull our troops out, they will go to Iran for help.  Well, doesn‘t that tell us where they are going to end up when we leave, whenever we leave, whether it‘s five years or 10 years from now?  They are going to Iran. 

SESTAK:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  But that was his defense of why we don‘t push them a little. 

SESTAK:  I asked a similar question of Ambassador Crocker when I was in Iraq several months ago. 

I actually believe the road out of Iraq is through Tehran.  Everywhere I went in Iraq, and even today, you hear about this undue destructive influence of Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SESTAK:  We should be able to turn and pivot and actually have the diplomatic confidence to deal with Iran. 

The head of the National Intelligence Council told our House Armed Services Committee, if we are not there, Iran does not want an unstable Iraq or a fractionalized government.  This is an opportunity to try to say, hey, if we have, first of all, a more precipitous withdrawal than what General Petraeus is recommending, it will first shock the Iraqis into stepping up to the plate and no longer saying, inshallah, God willing, tomorrow. 

Second, it then says to the Iraqis, you have to own this.  You don‘t want stability here.  But it takes leadership to be able to deal...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SESTAK:  ... and deal diplomatically with those nations.  And that‘s what missing.  And that key, the last arrow in our arsenal, diplomacy, tough but firm, is what we actually need. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Walz, are we just the cork in the bottle over there, and that was the best case they could make today over six hours?  Well, if we stay there long enough, we will avoid disaster, but the minute we leave, of course, there will be disaster.  That‘s their argument for staying?

WALZ:  Yes, I find it...

MATTHEWS:  The cork in the bottle theory? 

WALZ:  I find it interesting, too, is that they are arguing that we need to have this strong central government under al-Maliki, and, yet, the only thing they point to success on is in Al Anbar...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WALZ:  ... where it has organically sprung up on its own.  Many of us believe that these sheiks and local leaders will be the ones that will have ownership in this.  They will put their thumb on it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WALZ:  And they will suppress this, like they have for centuries. 

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, I would take a look at those charts that Petraeus showed you today.  I notice they were doctored, to the extent they run back many years.  But, if you look at them from the beginning of the—of the surge, in January this year, to now in August, there‘s not a whole lot of movement positively. 

But they showed you the long stretch, so it could make it look very positive, in terms of the recent developments.  Anyway, that‘s an outsider‘s view. 

Thank you very much, Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania and Tim Walz of Minnesota.

Coming up:  The anti-war movement MoveOn.org slams General Petraeus in a big ad in “The New York Times” today, questioning his credibility and accusing him of cooking the books in Iraq.  We are going to have the guy on who put the ad on and talk about the political smarts of doing that. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back with that question about whether that ad in “The New York Times” was good for the anti-war movement—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re looking at a live picture right now of the east front of the U.S. Capitol, where members of Congress from both parties have gathered at a candlelight vigil to mark, obviously, the sixth year since the attacks of 9/11, which the anniversary is tomorrow, of course. 

Today, in “The New York Times,” this ad was published by the political action organization MoveOn.org.  It shows General David Petraeus and headline quote “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?  Cooking the Books For the White House.” 

There was a flurry of responses, including this statement from Senator John McCain—quote—“This is a man who has devoted his life in service to our nation and has defended America in many battles over many years.  Now he is the target of a despicable attack in one of our nation‘s most visible newspapers.  No matter where you stand on the war, we should all agree on the character and decency of this exceptional American.”

And, earlier today, I asked Democratic Senator John Kerry about the ad that was put in by MoveOn.org. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  You know, I appreciate their sense of urgency, and, obviously, I appreciate deeply their commitment to a change.  And they have been an important part of helping that to happen.  But I believe that ad was just simply over the top, and I think it‘s inappropriate, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Eli Pariser is the executive director of MoveOn.org. 

And Markos Moulitsas writes the blog, the big blog, the Daily Kos.

Gentlemen, let me ask you.

Eli, any second thoughts?  You‘re taking some heat from a number of sides tonight about that big ad in “The Times.”

ELI PARISER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MOVEON.ORG:  No, we stand by the ad. 

You know, if we had run an ad in 2003 taking apart Colin Powell‘s, General Colin Powell‘s statement to the U.N., you know, I think a lot of the same—a lot of the same characters would have come after us.  But, sometimes, it‘s right to call a spade a spade.  And, if someone had done that then, we might not be in this mess. 

That‘s what—that‘s what this was about. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you make it—do you make the charge, explicitly, now, in person, that Petraeus—rather, Petraeus is a “Betray Us.”  He‘s a traitor? 

PARISER:  You know, I think what we have in General Petraeus is someone who is spinning the facts about the—the situation on the ground in Iraq—in Iraq.  That‘s a serious problem, when our country is trying to figure out what to do in Iraq, to have someone who is using fuzzy math, glossing over the violence that‘s happening there, and telling a story that the surge is working, when we have the GAO and a lot of other independent reports saying that it‘s not. 

And, so, I think someone needs to do the fact-checking and say, what General Petraeus is saying does not add up. 

MATTHEWS:  What is his biggest lie today?  You watched all day, I assume.  What was his biggest lie, as you see it? 

PARISER:  Well, I think—you know, he said that they were not counting—you know, he said they—they—they were counting car bombs because they—they count intent.  This is the same policy that they use to decide—you know, to say if someone is shot in the back of the head, then we will count them toward the—the violence.  If they are shot in the front of the head, we won‘t. 

And—and the fact is that all these are mechanisms actually to do the—to do the opposite, to—to drive down the numbers on what the violence actually is in Iraq, in order to tell this false story that the surge is working. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Markos Moulitsas.

Sir, what did you make of the testimony today and the ad that ran in “The Times” this morning by your colleague here, Mr. Pariser? 

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILY KOS:  Well, to me, you know, way out in California, it‘s—it‘s almost amusing to see how, in Washington, D.C., everyone is all up in arms over an ad. 

You know, we are in the middle of this bloody war, almost 4,000 dead, half-a-trillion dollars spent.  And people are going to talk about how inappropriate an ad is?  I think it‘s patently ridiculous. 

And most people outside of the sort of beltway environment really don‘t care about an ad.  They want to see our men and women coming home safe and sound to their families. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the Democrats‘ predicament?  You‘re part of it.  They ran to get elected and to take over the Congress as anti-war, but they are not ending the war.

Markos.

MOULITSAS:  It‘s frustrating. 

I mean, I—I—I can‘t fathom how a party that is on the right side of an issue, which is getting out of Iraq, with 60 percent or more public support, and moral—being on the right side on the morality scale, still is afraid to move forward strongly on this issue.  I mean, this is a party, I think, that has spent a year...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What would you do?  Let me ask you a question.  You don‘t have elective office.  You have got a very powerful blog site.  You are a very important person in the anti-war movement, Markos.  So, I am going to ask you the question. 

You‘re sitting in that hearing room today.  You‘re on one of those committees.  You have got five minutes with this guy, General Petraeus.  What would you have asked him?  How would you have grilled him? 

MOULITSAS:  I would have asked, quite simply, where they got the facts that they cited.  They—nobody seemed to ask—ask them where these numbers came from, and how they justify numbers that are such at odds with publicly available information from the Associated Press, from the United Nations, and from the Iraqi government itself. 

MATTHEWS:  Particularly what number? 

MOULITSAS:  The—the number of casualties, the—the fall of casualties over the last three months. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the ones we‘re inflicting or the ones we‘re... 

MOULITSAS:  And you‘re right.  As you were saying, I mean, they‘re using these charts—huh?

MATTHEWS:  The ones we‘re inflicting or the ones we‘re suffering? 

Which casualties are you talking about?

MOULITSAS:  No, the ones—the ones that Iraqi civilians are suffering. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MOULITSAS:  The ones that we are inflicting are really quite irrelevant, at the end of the day.  As you said, I mean, the issue here is, is there an opportunity to create sort of a safe haven for political progress in the country? 

That was the benchmark that we were promised three months ago, when this surge was announced.  Of course, now they are changing the goal posts.  Now they‘re saying they need another six months.  We have heard the song and dance before. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Eli, back again to you, sir.

This MoveOn.org, how much did it cost you? 

PARISER:  It cost about $70,000, which our members paid for. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course they did. 

Let me ask you this.  Are you going to do any more ads? 

PARISER:  Yes, I‘m sure we will. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the impact of it?  Are you surprised that people like John Kerry came out against the ad? 

PARISER:  Well, you know, I think—I think the Democrats actually, with all respect to—to them, you know, need to be sharper about calling a—a spade a spade. 

You know, General Petraeus coordinated on his talking points for days and days with Ed Gillespie and the White House.  This is not an independent actor.  This is someone who is pushing a political—a political message.  And I think that the Democratic leadership needs to come out and say that that‘s what it is, that—that Petraeus is not telling it straight to the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  To use the president‘s phrase down in Australia, do you think your ad kicked ass, or it was a ricochet back to you guys? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it achieved a goal?  Bottom line, are you proud of this ad? 

PARISER:  I‘m proud of it.  I think it—I think it raised this important question about General Petraeus‘ credibility.  And a lot of people are raising that question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think he‘s a sleazebag?  Do you think—do you think General Petraeus is a sleazebag? 

PARISER:  Hey, you know, I don‘t know him personally. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me a word, because you call him a traitor.  You say he has betrayed us. 

PARISER:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  You use strong language in the ad. 

PARISER:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Back it up. 

PARISER:  Well, it—what I know is the fact pattern.  And the fact pattern is that, again and again, General Petraeus has spun the facts, has misled the country about what is going on, on the ground in Iraq. 

You can call that betrayal.  You can call it lying.  You can call it whatever you want.  It‘s a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think, Markos?  I want your view on this.

MOULITSAS:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  In terms of what you‘re arguing here, what Eli has just argued, I think, in one regard, he‘s definitely got a case.  Why would a general in the field call for a reduction 30,000 troops, if that wasn‘t to meet some political ambition to keep the Republicans in line on Capitol Hill? 

MOULITSAS:  Well, this is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When the Army has always said they are undermanned.  Why would they say, we are not undermanned, unless they are trying to achieve a political goal with the Republicans on the Hill? 

MOULITSAS:  We—we have known from the beginning that the surge could not be sustained.  I mean, this is something that the Pentagon has said before, that, under the best circumstances, they still would have to have a drawdown by March of next year.

MATTHEWS:  I got you.  That‘s true.

MOULITSAS:  So, now—now they announce this as though it‘s some kind of great marker of success, when, in fact, this is something that they had noted was logistically necessary. 

MATTHEWS:  Well done, Markos, well done, because that is something that Colin Powell said a couple months ago.  I heard him say that, that there‘s going to have to be this reduction in force anyway come at the end of next spring.  And all he‘s doing is declaring that a policy. 

MOULITSAS:  Right.  So, I mean, this is not a marker of success. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MOULITSAS:  It‘s just reality. 

And, of course, you know, it‘s—it‘s—to me, it‘s a little disturbing that—that the administration needs to spin all of this, you know, and turn it into some kind of case for the success of the war, when, in fact, people have already given up.  I mean, people have decided, in overwhelming numbers—not just in the United States...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MOULITSAS:  ... in Iraq as well—that they want the U.S. home. 

People want them home. 

And they don‘t care if there is success at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

MOULITSAS:  It‘s almost irrelevant at this point.  They want their troops home safe and sound with their families. 

I wore combat boots.  I—I—I feel for these guys over there, because I know what it‘s like to be away from family and friends for extended periods of time. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  You served in the Marines. 

MOULITSAS:  They want to come home.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, you are Archimedes here.  You have found a lever, and you‘re working it to move the world, sir.  You‘re moving the Democratic Party. 

Thank you, sir, for joining us. 

Thank you, Eli Pariser. 

PARISER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And we will argue forever about that ad. 

PARISER:  Thank you.   

MATTHEWS:  Later in the house:  How wise are we to stay in Iraq?  And can we ever truly reach mission accomplished?  That‘s the HARDBALL debate tonight.

But up next:  Senator Larry Craig is fighting on today.  He had his lawyer in the court.  He wants to withdraw that guilty plea.  He thinks he‘s innocent.  He wants to win the case.

And two top journalists, two of the top journalists in the country, are taking the side of his innocence. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the beat goes on. 

Today, Senator Larry Craig filed court documents to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct in that airport bathroom sex sting.  The filing said the senator was in—quote—“a state of intense anxiety” when he accepted the guilty plea and it was not knowingly or understanding that he made—in other words, he has an excuse to pull it back.

Should Senator Craig resign to keep up the fight for his seat in the Senate, or should he give it up? 

Joining me right now are two contrarians to conventional wisdom here in Washington, “The Politico”‘s Roger Simon, who says Craig‘s actions may not be honorable, but they‘re not criminal, and “The New Yorker”‘s Rick Hertzberg, who writes that Craig‘s real misdemeanor is being a conflicted man seeking sex by sending signals in bathrooms, and the real offense here is devoting policy resources to this type of crime. 

Rick, you look great tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

HENDRIK HERTZBERG, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the question.

Rick, do you really they shouldn‘t be patrolling that men‘s room out

at that airport?  Apparently, there‘s a lot of traffic out there and sexual

what is the word? -- misconduct.  Doesn‘t the city of Minneapolis have to police itself? 

HERTZBERG:  Yes, but they could do it by hiring somebody for minimum wage to be a bathroom attendant, and putting up a sign that says, people committing disorderly conduct will be referred to the police. 

MATTHEWS:  Hmm.  Well, that‘s what they do at 30 Street Station in Philadelphia.  They have a big sign that says, “Loiterers will be prosecuted.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I just noticed it for the first time, guys.  I never noticed that sign in my life, but it‘s up there.  “Loiterers will be prosecuted.”

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM:  And it‘s a similar law to disorderly conduct.  It‘s not meant to be taken to court.  It‘s meant to move people along, to roust people. 

MATTHEWS: Like loitering?

SIMON: Like loitering. And it‘s designed to ensnare men, in this case, or sometimes straight men cruising for prostitutes and assuming they‘re going to be too embarrassed to go to court and they‘ll just move along.

MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s widen the question here, Rick.

You wrote the piece today. Beautifully written, as always, in “The New Yorker”.

But let me ask you, do you think that the situation can be reversed?

Is there a way it can be?

Can he fight for his legal exoneration in court?

Can he fight the Senate Ethics Committee?

Can he hold his seat from the State of Idaho?

HERTZBERG: Well, I hope that he can. I‘m not a lawyer and I don‘t know. It‘s pretty obvious that he pleaded guilty to that reduced charge of disorderly conduct because he thought that he could avoid any publicity at all. He was betting that he could avoid publicity.

MATTHEWS: Bad bet, wasn‘t it?

HERTZBERG: So it‘s not that he—it‘s not that he misunderstand or was confused or anxious.

MATTHEWS: Right.

HERTZBERG: It‘s he thought he could keep it a secret. Now it‘s all out, so he‘s got nothing to lose by trying to reverse it.

But I hope he—I hope he succeeds.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of his defense, Roger, that he was intimidated by the fact the Idaho newspaper was on his trail trying to prove he was gay, that he was intimidated by the circumstances and got flustered and pled guilty to disorderly when he should have called a lawyer right away?

SIMON: Well, I...

MATTHEWS: Is that a constitutional defense?

SIMON: Only if the judge takes a very wide view of this. If the judge takes a narrow legal view, the judge is going to say he was in a state of extreme panic for 27 days?

I mean he pled guilty 27 days after he was arrested. He pled guilty by mail.

And he didn‘t talk to a lawyer in all of that time?

He works in Washington, D.C. (ph).

MATTHEWS: But is it fair for law officials, police, to use the fear of exposure as a way to get you to plead?

SIMON: No, it‘s not a fair—it‘s not fair at all and it shouldn‘t be done and it‘s a crazy use of resources. They could use those cops to look for cracks in bridges in Minneapolis if they wanted to use them well. And, as Hendrik said, they don‘t have to hire a bathroom attendant. They could have a uniformed cop simply add that to his rounds and they‘re not going to have gay sex in there any more, or any other kind of sex in there.

But the point is only if a judge takes a very broad view and says look, there‘s—no jury will convict this guy, so we‘re going to let him withdraw his plea, will he get a chance to do that.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Rick, supposedly he had been—suppose he had been arrested and paid a $50 or a $500 fine, as he did, and the Senate failed to act, whatever?

Do you think that would have—the Senate would have been able to get away with it?

Suppose the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, had said, well, you know, boys will be boys and leave it at that?

SIMON: It doesn‘t work.

MATTHEWS: Boise will be Boise, in this case.

Would he have been able to get away with that?

HERTZBERG: No, probably not. Not with the base that he‘s catering to, no. But there‘s no reason for him to be brought up on an ethics charge in the Senate.

What ethics—what political ethics has he violated?

It‘s basically like a traffic ticket.

MATTHEWS: You know that great political novel, “Advise and Consent?”

HERTZBERG: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Remember the guy who committed suicide in his own bathroom in the Senate because he was exposed for a wartime gay relationship...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which in those days (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: I thought we were beyond that. I thought we were beyond all that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That people...

SIMON: No. Thousands of people get entrapped and snared this way—probably, you know, hundreds of thousands every month.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, all right...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Would you salute the Senate if—Rick, would you salute the Senate if they brought him back and put their arms around him and said welcome back, we overdid it?

HERTZBERG: They should give him a standing ovation, just like they did Senator Vitter of Louisiana.

MATTHEWS: Did they really?

(LAUGHTER)

HERTZBERG: Yes, they did. The Republican Caucus gave him a standing ovation when he reappeared after being charged with consorting prostitutes, yes.

MATTHEWS: You know what I love about this show?

Takeaway. You just gave us tchotchke (ph), Rick.

I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Everybody now remember that picture of the high-fiving in the Senate Caucus room after the guy got caught with a pro.

HERTZBERG: And, Chris, don‘t forget that this—this is going to be a tourist attract at the Republican convention, too, that bathroom.

MATTHEWS: What do you think will be bigger, this or the bridge that fell down?

HERTZBERG: This. This is easier to get to. Everybody who arrives at the airport goes there.

MATTHEWS: I‘ll tell you, I think the Republican karma is over, anyway.

Thank you, Hendrik Hertzberg of the great “New Yorker,” which I read every week.

Roger Simon of Politico, which gets better and better.

Up next—especially your column.

Up next, the HARDBALL debate.

After a day of testimony, big questions remain.

Are we in Iraq to win or just to hold on?

Are we just a cork in the bottle?

That‘s what it looked like today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

Here‘s what happening.

The military reports nine more American soldiers were killed in Iraq.  Officials say one was shot while on patrol, while eight others died in vehicle accidents.

In a posting on an Islamic Web site, Al Qaeda said Osama bin Laden will issue his second video message in a week, to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Web site says the new video will also include the last will and testament of a 9/11 hijacker.

Two-term Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska now says he will not seek re-election next year. He also said he will not run for president in 2008.

The search continues for multi-millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett.  He disappeared last Monday after taking off from Western Nevada in a single engine plane.

And actress Jane Wyman has died at age 93. She won an Academy Award for her role in “Johnny Belinda” in 1948. She later starred on TV‘s “Falcon Crest.” She was also President Ronald Reagan‘s first wife. They divorced back in 1948.

Now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

General Petraeus testified today all day that he‘s recommending a drawdown of troops over the next year to 139,000 from the 169,000 we‘re at right now. So, with the small security gains in a few limited parts of the country, what does he hope to achieve overall with fewer troops?

Tonight, the HARDBALL debate couldn‘t be hotter.

Does the U.S., our country, have a clear definition of its mission in Iraq or is the slow troop reduction really a holding pattern in this nearly five-year-old war?

Pete Hedseth is the Vets for Freedom.

And Jon Soltz is with Votevets.org.

Good evening, gentlemen.

I want you to start—Pete, I didn‘t hear a lot of definition tonight, or all day today, rather, from Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker.

How close are we getting to the goal in Iraq, which the whole surge was meant to give us a chance at, which is a government in Baghdad that could defend itself?

PETE HEDSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM: I think, Chris, what they said is that we‘re getting closer because the first step in doing that is providing real security on the ground for the population. And General Petraeus laid out exactly how—civilian deaths, sectarian deaths, all these metrics are trending in the right direction, which, eventually—and it‘s not going to happen immediately. You know, we‘ve only had a full complement of troops for just under three months now—eventually should provide the security conditions for an Iraqi government to stand up.

MATTHEWS: But we‘re reducing the number of troops by next summer, so they must feel they‘ve accomplished something.

What is it?

HEDSETH: They have accomplished something. And they‘re going to...

MATTHEWS: What is that they‘ve accomplished...

HEDSETH: ...and then Iraqi security forces could hold that environment and continue and improve it. But you can‘t—you can‘t assess success or failure (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: When you watched today for all of those hours, did you ever get a sense of how close we‘re getting to a government that can defend itself over there?

HEDSETH: I think it—it‘s definitely frustrating. Hey, listen...

MATTHEWS: No, I just want to k.

Did you get any sense of that?

HEDSETH: No, you can‘t a sense, because it has to be conditions...

MATTHEWS: Well, is it five years? Ten years?

HEDSETH: It has to be conditions-based, and that‘s what Petraeus and Crocker both laid out, is you cannot—there‘s no D.C. (ph) timeline in the complexities of Iraq.

MATTHEWS: The president—all right, Jon—let me go to Jon.

The president called for a surge for a purpose, not just to have a surge, but to create a breathing space for these politicians in Iraq. But what they did is they went on vacation.

JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: They went on vacation.

But I think today when you...

MATTHEWS: So are we any closer to our goal of a government over there?

Because (INAUDIBLE), nobody denies the American Army...

SOLTZ: We‘re not...

MATTHEWS: ...can stay there as long as it wants and defend themselves while they‘re there.

The question is are we building a country that can defend itself so we can leave? Are we getting any closer to that goal after six years?

SOLTZ: We‘re not getting closer on two aspects. I mean, militarily, we have not gone after the Shia militias. We haven‘t gone after the Mahdi Army. We haven‘t gone after the Badr Corps. We‘re playing whac-a-mole.  Diyala is much less stable than it was now before.

I think what you saw today, when they said that they‘re going to lower troop levels next April, I mean that‘s really what this is about, and they said it.

If we were successful in the surge, they would have kept more troops there. This is a political strategy for two...

MATTHEWS: For what purpose?

SOLTZ: Well, for two things. First off, so the president doesn‘t have to lose. This isn‘t about winning anymore. This is about a president who doesn‘t want to be a president who loses.

MATTHEWS: Why is he cutting the troops by 30,000?

SOLTZ: He‘s—because, there‘s two reasons for that. First is that the American Army, you‘ve got 20 brigades in Iraq, you‘ve got 42 in the Afghan component army (ph). So you have to do a rotation every 15 months—

20 brigades out, 20 brigades in. I mean that‘s pretty much it. Plus, you have Korea commitments...

HEDSETH: It‘s not just the (INAUDIBLE).

SOLTZ: And you have Afghanistan. And I think the second issue is that you‘ve these moderate Republicans that are in big trouble. You‘ve got the Chris Shays out there, the Tim Murphies in Pennsylvania. You‘ve got the Jim Gerlachs of Pennsylvania. These guys have had hard, hard races. They‘ve lined themselves up with the president.

How do they survive?

So this is their chip here. We‘re going to draw down 30,000 troops. So this is about politics.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you, why are we reducing the troop complement by 30,000?

HEDSETH: What Jon is saying that this is all about politics.

SOLTZ: That‘s exactly what...

(CROSSTALK)

HEDSETH: But what I‘m telling you is that...

SOLTZ: That‘s exactly what (INAUDIBLE)...

HEDSETH: ...General Petraeus didn‘t come here wearing red or blue, right or left. He came here as a general...

MATTHEWS: Where did he get the 30,000 troop level from?

HEDSETH: ...providing an assessment...

MATTHEWS: ...the reduction?

HEDSETH: Because he believes that we will create the security environment that would allow that.

Don‘t we all want to bring our troops home with honor?

And we want to do—we want to reduce 30,000 troops because they‘ve created a security environment that doesn‘t provide a haven for al Qaeda.  And that‘s exactly what General Petraeus believes we can do by the summer of next year.

MATTHEWS: He didn‘t speak much about Al Qaeda today.

HEDSETH: He absolutely—he absolutely did.

MATTHEWS: It came up because he had it in the question.

HEDSETH: He said—he said we have...

MATTHEWS: He mainly talked about what he called the ethnic sectarian dispute over there.

HEDSETH: Actually, in the first or second paragraph, he referenced how the main—the reason that we‘re making the gains we‘re making is because we‘ve severely hurt...

MATTHEWS: That‘s in Anbar Province...

HEDSETH: ...al Qaeda‘s capabilities.

(CROSSTALK)

HEDSETH: No, in Baghdad.

MATTHEWS: But what I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ...what I found frustrating—and I go back to this, the president‘s own words in January. He said—let‘s look at what the president—let him speak for himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I‘ve committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them, five brigades, will be deployed to Baghdad.

These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations. Our troops will have a well-defined mission—to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods; to help them protect the local population; and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So there you have it. The whole purpose of the surge was to get Baghdad in shape for the politicians to do their jobs. And yet today, Petraeus, over and over, was given a chance—and so was Crocker—to explain what political progress has been made in all of these months. I didn‘t hear anything.

SOLTZ: I didn‘t either. But this is about politics. I can‘t stress this enough. I mean...

HEDSETH: About domestic politics?

SOLTZ: This is absolutely about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, the politics of Iraq.

HEDSETH: Are you saying this about domestic (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: We‘re fighting for them to have a democracy...

SOLTZ: Absolutely.

HEDSETH: If this is a military strategy, why didn‘t General Petraeus come here and say you know what? We‘ve had great success. I need more troops for Diyala Province. I need the president to mobilize (INAUDIBLE) for war.

SOLTZ: Because you‘ve been saying over and over again that...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ: I want the president to ask...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ: ...our military—I need...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ: I want the president to ask young men and women in this country to volunteer for the military, like they should be for this war. I need the president of the United States to create an interagency process that makes the State Department actually do their job with DOD here.

MATTHEWS: But, Jon...

SOLTZ: I need the president of the United States to stand up and tell the American public that we need to mobilize civilian industries so we can get MRAPs to Iraq.

MATTHEWS: OK...

SOLTZ: He hasn‘t done this. This is not about winning (INAUDIBLE)...

HEDSETH: What Jon is going to come...

SOLTZ: ...not losing the war.

MATTHEWS: His turn.

HEDSETH: What Jon is going to come in to do no matter—come in and do no matter what is criticize what General Petraeus has done, when, in reality, the reason he came to say that we might be able to reduce troop levels is because we‘ve had great success in that country providing security.

MATTHEWS: Explain it. Just tell me. You‘ve got a minute. Tell me...

SOLTZ: You‘re on vacation.

MATTHEWS: Tell me what we‘re doing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ...over there to create a democracy.

HEDSETH: In the areas...

MATTHEWS: ...that can defend itself?

HEDSETH: We are providing security. Chris, think about it.

MATTHEWS: For what?

HEDSETH: You couldn‘t go from your home...

MATTHEWS: I keep asking.

HEDSETH: ...to your place of work.

MATTHEWS: ...the goal was not to have military power in the Middle East. The goal was to create a democracy over there.

Are we doing that?

HEDSETH: Chris, you‘ve got to let me answer the question.

MATTHEWS: I am.

HEDSETH: The only way we can create that kind of democracy that needs to be there is to dampen the violence. Imagine if bombs were going off in the streets...

MATTHEWS: OK.

What‘s gotten done in the meantime?

HEDSETH: We‘ve increased troop levels in Baghdad...

MATTHEWS: What is happening in creating the government we want to create over there?

HEDSETH: We are dampening sectarian violence greatly...

MATTHEWS: To what effect?

HEDSETH: If you look at the trends, they‘re down 50, 60, 70 percent...

SOLTZ: The goal over there should be to kill bin Laden. And that‘s why Admiral...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ: That‘s why Admiral (INAUDIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ: And that‘s why...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ...the mission. The mission is not a military power in the Middle East. The mission was to establish a defensible, stable democratic government in Iraq.

Are we doing that now?

SOLTZ: Too slow on the political side, I totally agree.

HEDSETH: That‘s what we all agree on.

SOLTZ: I absolutely agree on that.

MATTHEWS: We‘re in agreement then.

HEDSETH: All of this arguing and we agree.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Pete Hedseth.

Thank you, Jon Soltz.

Up next, the roundtable dissects the Petraeus testimony today more, and the future of this war.

Is it wise to continue the war?

That‘s my question.

Or is time running out on meeting the goal?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post”

Jill Zuckman is me with. She‘s with the “Chicago Tribune”.

And MSNBC political analyst and everything else in the world, Pat Buchanan.

First up, Petraeus‘ report, this is P-Day. This is the day we‘ve been talking about how many months?

A general testified—not since McArthur came back from Korea has there been this much focus.

Let me ask you, Pat Buchanan, did he answer the question of what we‘re doing in Iraq, are we getting somewhere in Iraq?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he clearly answered the question. We are no longer losing the war. We are beginning to win the war on the ground.

As for the end question, no.

But the real upshot of this today, Chris, this is the rout of the anti-war Democrats. There is no way they‘re going to reimpose or impose their strategy on this general and say we‘re going to take your strategy away from you, general, and we‘re going to impose our—they‘re going to go along with General Petraeus.

This is a victory for George Bush in this sense...

MATTHEWS: So reducing by 30,000 troops by next summer is good enough for the moderate Republicans?

BUCHANAN: (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: He‘ll hold his coalition together?

BUCHANAN: That was always going to happen in April of next year because the tour of duties run out.

Here‘s the victory...

MATTHEWS: Yes, in other words, it was—it was definitional anyways, right.

BUCHANAN: Here‘s the victory, though. The victory is this. By November of 2008, you will have the same number of troops in Iraq you had in November of 2006, when the Democrats were elected to remove the troops from Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Right. Thank you.

It‘s enough of a troop reduction in enough of a time for the con—for the moderate Republicans, the Chris Shays, all those people from the Northeast, John Sununu, etc. etc.—Susan Collins, Norm Coleman.

They‘re all going to hold their seats...

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: The fact is...

MATTHEWS: Or are they just getting suckered into a situation where they will lose their seats?

ZUCKMAN: Republicans were ready to bolt for the exits and now they have settled down. They‘re sticking with Bush. The Democrats won‘t have the votes to do anything of substance, not even get anything out of the Senate.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Chris Cillizza, it reminds me of Korea in 1952 and Vietnam in ‘68.

We‘re not losing the war, we‘re not winning the war. We‘re somewhere in the twilight zone, in the middle. That is a prescription for major political change. Those people who voted for war will lose.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, you know...

MATTHEWS: If that‘s the case. If we‘re in that same twilight zone, the American people will not like the sixth year of war, no matter how it‘s gilded.

CILLIZZA: You know what I was struck by, Chris?

You say it‘s (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: Do you want to answer that question?

CILLIZZA: No.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Thank you.

That‘s an honest answer.

Your mission, unlike Petraeus—he says he answers the question.

Go ahead.

CILLIZZA: Well, no, what I was just going to say it‘s P-Day and we‘ve been for this for so long. In a lot of ways, when I was watching it today, it seemed like the cake was already baked. You know, you‘ve these statements from presidential candidates. Barack Obama is giving a speech on Wednesday outlining his steps forward in Iraq.

It seem as though if you‘re running for president on the Democratic side, you are going to be opposed to this.

You know, I think Pat‘s right, that it probably gives moderate Republicans an out. And last week—as late as last week, Democrats were admitting they have no legislative vehicle to tie the president‘s hands.

And so I think you combine those two things and you‘re likely to see the Democratic presidential candidates coming out very strongly against this, but the Congressional Democrats struggling a lot more to sort of make headway in any real way.

MATTHEWS: What is more—what is stronger for the president?

What‘s his real shtick here—the lure of success in Iraq, that we‘re actually winning and developing a country over there that can protect itself from the bad guys or the fear of pulling out and what it will do?

Is it the fear that still sells this?

BUCHANAN: This is what the president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ...it sells.

BUCHANAN: He shifted strategies away from this jabber about democracy and all of that stuff. Chris, what he‘s going for now is we‘ve got a strategic disaster, a humanitarian catastrophe...

MATTHEWS: That‘s right.

BUCHANAN: ...all of these things. That frightens everybody. It frightens the Democrats because it may be true.

MATTHEWS: So we went in this war because the nuclear threat to the United States—the strategic threat, some balsawood plane.

BUCHANAN: WMD...

MATTHEWS: ...then we got in there because it was going to be a cake walk. And then we were fighting for democracy.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And then it was the road to Jerusalem through Baghdad and now it‘s we can‘t get out because we‘ll look bad.

ZUCKMAN: Well, every six...

BUCHANAN: It‘s a humanitarian disaster and a strategic disaster.

MATTHEWS: Well, they‘ll be climbing on the helicopter and opening restaurants here.

BUCHANAN: Well, no, no. I don‘t think it‘s that. It‘s that you lose Iraq and you could have the whole Middle East go down.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Another refugee disaster.

ZUCKMAN: Every six months the rationale seems to be changing. And what remains to be seen is whether...

MATTHEWS: OK.

ZUCKMAN: ...it will...

MATTHEWS: Pat, who‘s going to be running Iraq five years from now, Maliki or Muqtada al-Sadr?

Who‘s your bet?

BUCHANAN: I think...

MATTHEWS: Put your money on the horse.

BUCHANAN: My—al-Sadr.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

We all agree.

We‘ll be right back with the roundtable.

In other words, this is a complete waste of blood.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Next up, Craig reconsiders. Now Senator Larry Craig wants to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting. Today, Craig filed papers arguing that he entered his guilty plea while under duress and that caused a lot of questions raised here.

Let me go right now—he‘s fighting for his seat. This is—we predicted this in a weird way. We thought he was coming back and he is.

ZUCKMAN: He may be fighting for his seat, but it‘s all over. The court of public opinion has already decided.

MATTHEWS: Are you one of the people that say that Rudy Giuliani can‘t win the nomination?

ZUCKMAN: Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS: Conventional wisdom is no use here.

Pat, I think he‘s got an outside shot.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think he—look, he can hold on. Even if he—even if he lets—he accepts his present guilty plea, I don‘t think they will expel him. I don‘t think they can expel him.

MATTHEWS: Why doesn‘t he just hold on?

BUCHANAN: Well, that‘s exactly—that‘s what I would do if I were him.

MATTHEWS: They haven‘t got anybody—they haven‘t expelled anybody since the Confederacy was kicked out in the 1860s.

BUCHANAN: But I think he‘s making a terrible mistake...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ...if he opens this thing up and goes in for a trial and we all get into the shoe movements and all the rest of it.

How does that benefit the guy?

He might...

MATTHEWS: Well, Arlen Specter says he can win on...

BUCHANAN: ...he might be able to get off.

MATTHEWS: ...just one man versus one man testimony.

BUCHANAN: Well, OK, he wins.

But does anybody disbelieve that what he was about?

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, but Pat...

BUCHANAN: That‘s the problem.

MATTHEWS: ...we live in liberal times.

BUCHANAN: But who cares if you‘re not guilty?

ZUCKMAN: And the party (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, this is a surprising...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ...Politico, your rival newspaper, wrote—raised a column last week by Roger Simon and “The New Yorker” had it in today. Journalists are coming out in favor of this man‘s rights.

CILLIZZA: Well, Chris, look, I think Jill is right. I hate to sound the conventional orthodox here, but the public opinion on this seems to be that it‘s a done deal. I think he may be fighting for his reputation within his family and within the State of Idaho...

MATTHEWS: Bill Jefferson is still a member of Congress. Bill Jefferson is still a member of Congress.

CILLIZZA: Chris I‘m not...

ZUCKMAN: He didn‘t plead guilty to anything.

CILLIZZA: Chris, I‘m not going to debate the vagaries of how these things work. I‘m talking about this one incident.

MATTHEWS: Vitter, the senator from Louisiana...

CILLIZZA: And I think the reality of it is...

MATTHEWS: ...is still a senator in the United States.

CILLIZZA: ...is that this is a done deal. But this is a done deal.

BUCHANAN: You didn‘t expel a guy for a misdemeanor.

CILLIZZA: He may hang on until September 30th, but he‘s not hanging on beyond that.

BUCHANAN: You can‘t expel him for that. You cannot do it in the Senate.

CILLIZZA: I would agree. I don‘t think you can expel him. He will not be a senator after September 30th.

BUCHANAN: He might be censured, Chris, or condemned.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you, if he‘s able to get that guilty plea withdrawn, he‘s in business again.

BUCHANAN: Then he‘s got to go to trial, if he gets the guilty plea withdrawn.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BUCHANAN: You want to get...

MATTHEWS: If they prosecute.

BUCHANAN: Well, sure they will.

MATTHEWS: Without a guilty plea?

BUCHANAN: Well, yes. Look...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE)...

BUCHANAN: He says look, I‘m taking back my guilty plea...

MATTHEWS: Are they going to win?

Then he‘s innocent until proven guilty.

BUCHANAN: They‘ll say OK...

MATTHEWS: He‘s won back his right of innocence until proven guilty?

BUCHANAN: No, but I mean he‘s innocent until proven guilty and then he goes into court.

MATTHEWS: You know, I love this argument, because I love arguing with people that have the conventional wisdom up their sleeve.

Thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This issue, was Petraeus a success tonight?

ZUCKMAN: Yes, it was a success for the White House.

BUCHANAN: A total success.

A total success here.

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, was it a success for—his testimony today?

Did they look good?

CILLIZZA: I think it was. But when I look at 2008, I don‘t think it changes all that much about the presidential race.

MATTHEWS: I think that the war in Iraq is like quicksand. I think the more you squirm, the more you sink. I think that they are squirming and they‘re sinking. And I think the fact the president has won today is a battle victory. But the question of the war is a big question mark.

If we‘re still in war, the sixth summer of war, it‘s going to be like ‘52 in Korea. It‘s going to be like Vietnam in ‘68.

BUCHANAN: ‘68 (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: It‘s going to be the opportunity for change. And Nixon to come in, or Hillary to come in...

BUCHANAN: (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: ...or Rudy to come in as a change candidate.

BUCHANAN: But the point is Iraq will not have fallen by the time Bush leaves office and that‘s what this is about.

MATTHEWS: It‘s a holding action.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: A cork in the bottle?

BUCHANAN: It—well, it‘s more than that. A cork in the bottle and a hope (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS: So guys are dying.

BUCHANAN: Well, because they hope to—look, they—Bush believes what he says, if it goes down, it‘s a strategic disaster...

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, (INAUDIBLE) anyway.

Well, I shouldn‘t say that.

We‘ll be right back.

Thank you very much, Chris Cillizza.

Thank you, Jill Zuckman.

I shouldn‘t have said what I was going to say.

Pat Buchanan.

COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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

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