updated 9/14/2007 2:34:44 PM ET 2007-09-14T18:34:44

Guests: Chrystia Freeland, Tom Andrews, Eric Egland, Perry Bacon, Jim Moran, Duncan Hunter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bush beats the drum for a new Baghdad pact, an enduring strategic U.S. commitment to our Iraqi ally.  Will it play in Peoria? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

And welcome to our live 7:00 edition of HARDBALL. 

President Bush calls for a strategic pact now with Iraq, an enduring and firm commitment to the country he now calls our ally.  In Iraq, he will say tonight in his national address, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival, an ally.  He will commit himself to what he calls an enduring relationship with Iraq, a security engagement that extends beyond his presidency. 

Those words carry an ominous implication.  Bush is no longer talking about a U.S. policy of dumping Saddam Hussein and holding elections in Iraq.  He‘s committing himself to a policy of enduring strategic backing for the government in Baghdad. 

For comparison, he told newspeople at lunch today they should compare it to the iron commitment we have had this past half-century to the government of South Korea. 

There are those who believe that this completes the ultimate ideological direction of this administration, to build an enduring American military presence in the heart of Arabia. 

We will have a preview of the speech tonight and a debate on whether the president is right to call for this enduring strategic relationship with Baghdad. 

We begin with Congressman, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who is running for president, and Democratic congressman Jim Moran of Virginia. 

I want to start with you, Mr. Hunter. 

Do you think the American people want a secure, long-term relationship with Baghdad? 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I think, Chris, obviously, they want one that‘s better than the one that we had with Saddam Hussein.  We have a relationship of some kind with every country in the world. 

We have got a Syria that hates us, obviously, works to aid terrorist operations.  We have got an Iran which is racing to build a nuclear device and that has a bad relationship with the United States.  The idea of having an Iraq that will be a long-term ally of the United States—and, of course, that depends on—once you have a free government, that depends on their year-to-year relationship with the United States. 

But, certainly, if we have an Iraq that will not be a state sponsor of terrorism for the next five to 10 to 15 years, that accrues to our benefit.  Would you rather have one that has a Saddam Hussein relationship? 

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t have that anymore. 

Mr. Moran, let me ask you about the nature of a compact.  The president has compared it to the kind of compact we have with Korea, in other words, an ironclad defense agreement, a mutual—a mutual defense agreement.  Do you think we should have one with the government in Iraq? 

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA:  Absolutely not.  The government of Iraq is allied with Iran, far more than they are with the United States. 

And the longer we stay there, the more able they are to turn that into a Shiite theocracy that‘s going to oppress women and ignore human rights and more fully integrate itself with Iran.  I can‘t understand how that‘s in our interest. 

This is not a government that wants an open democracy or free enterprise.  This is a government that is really controlled by people who are operatives with Iran, have been working—have been living in Iran and now are turning over the government by driving out Sunnis, to the wishes of Iran. 

This is—why we are—we are—we are strengthening the greatest threat we have in the region by strengthening their representatives in Iraq is beyond me, Chris.  And, you know, Baghdad is now 75 percent Shia.  It used to be 65 percent Sunni.  And the Sunni were the middle-class secularists.  These people are theocrats.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back to the military.  You‘re a military man.  You‘re a veteran.  Your son is fighting in Iraq.  You have been on this committee all these years.  You were chairman...

HUNTER:  He‘s in Afghanistan now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well...

HUNTER:  He moves around a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  ... I thank him for his service. 

But we are talking about a military commitment.  In every instance, we have grown up.  Korea meant one thing, a trip wire.  If they ever tried to go through the tunnels, they ever tried to overrun the DMZ at the 38th Parallel, we would be one of the first casualties they take and we would be fighting that war. 

Do you want to make the same kind of military commitment to the government in Baghdad? 

HUNTER:  No.  And, Chris, you have got a totally different situation. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But the president says they are similar. 

HUNTER:  Well, let me tell what you I think. 

You don‘t have armored columns, 20 armored divisions waiting in those deep ravines or canyons ready to invade Iraq, as you did...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have Muqtada al-Sadr ready to come up with his militia. 

HUNTER:  Well, but just a second. 

You have got a situation in that neighborhood where you have no neat packages, where you have got adversaries on both sides.  That‘s Syria and Iran.  If you ask any military leader in the world or political leader, would it be good to have an ally in that strategic location who will be a friend, not an enemy, of the United States, who will not be a state sponsor of terrorism, with all that massive national resources that Iraq has, and will have a modicum of representative government for its people, and, you know, I will would this.

If you have an election tomorrow, you are probably going to have the same incumbents.  And I agree with Jim.  It‘s a Shiite majority.  You will have the same incumbents reelected in the Iraqi government.  That‘s because that is the majority of the population. 

But, in terms of having a good relationship with Iraq, a much better relationship than we had with Saddam Hussein, of course that accrues to the benefit of the United States.  That doesn‘t mean that we‘re going to—that we‘re going to have a deal in which every time Iraq has a problem, the United States is going to rush troops over there. 

In fact, what we want to do is leave Iraq.  You have got 131 battalions in the Iraqi army right now.  Those—about 95 of those battalions have pretty good battlefield experience.  The key is to get them all into the battle, where they can rotate in the battlefield, displace American heavy combat units in the Army and the Marine Corps, and the American heavy combat units can come out, either go to other places in Central Command or come back to the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you.  In the Arab world, they have been threatening and warning their people for, what, decades.  We are trying to get back in there the way the Brits and the French and the Russians were, go in and take over the Arab countries, keep a military garrison there, and basically call the shots.

This looks like we are going to have a permanent compact with the government in Baghdad that they have been warning against. 

MORAN:  And the only two entities that have benefited by this are al Qaeda, because they want to be able to claim that we are occupying an Arab country—and it has been, in fact, their strongest recruitment and tool and rallying cry—and Iran, the Iranians know all these guys that are running the government. 

There‘s a reason why the Ottoman Turks and the British and even Saddam relied upon the Sunnis to run the country, because they knew the Shia were too closely allied with Iran. 

Iraq used to be part of the Persian empire, and they still identify with Iran.  And now we have done something that Saddam and nobody else could have accomplished. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MORAN:  We have turned it over to the Iranians.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to—Congressman, you‘re running for president.  The president of the United States offered what he—I think he wants us to see.  And maybe he will be successful at sort of a compromise. 

He believes, by beginning the drawdown in troops in Iraq, he will bring himself somewhere between the people who say bring them all home and the people who say, all-out battle.  Is he going to be successful?  Well, that‘s the way it‘s being portrayed by the White House so far. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Chris, I think it‘s a little simpler than that.  We have stood up a free government. 

Everybody agrees you did have free elections.  They were relatively fair, and the majority won.  And you do have a government that vote with ballots, not bullets.  That‘s a good thing and a difficult thing to establish in that part of the world. 

We are now standing up a security apparatus that is capable of protecting that free government that we put the environment in, so that it could stand up. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  

HUNTER:  So, you stand up a free government.  You stand up a military apparatus capable of protecting that free government.  And, at that point, the Americans leave, but we maintain a good relationship with the country. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how you see this compact? 

HUNTER:  Yes.  I see—see, I don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t see it as something like Germany all these years or Korea all these years? 

HUNTER:  No.  Listen, the reason we had all those 300,000 folks in Germany is because we had massive divisions of the Warsaw Pact on the other side of the Fulda Gap. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

HUNTER:  You don‘t have that in this situation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We also had absolutely no casualties from ‘45 on. 

HUNTER:  Yes.  But you know something?  There‘s nobody liberal or conservative in this government who should object to us having a good relationship with a free Iraq.  What is wrong with that?

And if they want to give us landing rights, if they want to give us the use of their airstrips, if we have a military contingency, where everybody agrees we have got to go into a place or we have got to preempt an action that could be detrimental to our country, what‘s wrong with having a good relationship with a country in that strategic ]location? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question will be, do we have a military garrison permanently based in Baghdad? 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  No, no, and I don‘t think we need one. 

And, incidentally, Jim, you have talked about the fact that you have got this split between Shiites and Sunnis.  And it deepens in many places.  The one institution where you do have, in fact, Sunni commanders, Shiite commanders and Kurdish commanders is the military.  The military is standing up fairly effectively. 

They now have professional people, who, when one of them was asked, are you a Shiite or a Sunni, he said, I‘m a professional military guy. 

MORAN:  Duncan...

HUNTER:  That—they are working to be the honest broker in this country.

MORAN:  Sure.  But they‘re smaller than the police force. 

And the police force is 85 percent Shia.  And they are in coordination with the Mahdi army, with the Mahdi militia.  They are the ones that have ethnically cleansed most of Baghdad now. 

HUNTER:  Well...

MORAN:  And they are larger.  They are corrupt.  And they are well-armed, thanks to us. 

I think what you are going to see, the violence you are going to see is between the two Shia militia, and they are going to run that government.  Maliki doesn‘t run that government. 

HUNTER:  I think you‘re going to...

MORAN:  Al-Sadr runs that government.

HUNTER:  Jim, I think you‘re going to see the military being the honest broker, being the most respected institution in Iraq.  And I think they are going to be the main force for conciliation and for stability. 

MORAN:  You‘re not the kind of guy that would have read “Pollyanna” as a child, but that‘s sure Pollyannaish, my friend. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  You wait.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  I disagree with you.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think?  Congressman Hunter, you have said what I have suspected for weeks now, that the administration has really put its money not on this guy Maliki that the president gives little lip service to. 

Your real hope is that you‘re going to have a military establishment in that country, like you have in Pakistan, which eventually will become the main political force in the country; it will be the bulwark of that country.  Isn‘t that what you just said? 

HUNTER:  No, no.  I disagree with that.

MATTHEWS:  I thought that is what you just said.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  If the military is truly professional, the one thing you want is, you want to have a military that is responsive to the civilian government. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

HUNTER:  And if you have a truly professional military...

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re confident of that government? 

HUNTER:  Well, listen—listen, Chris, there‘s nothing in the Middle East with which we can have enormous confidence.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what I‘m wondering about.  Why are we fighting for a government we don‘t believe in? 

HUNTER:  But my point is this.  We have had enormous successes in Anbar Province.  Nobody ever guessed you would do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

HUNTER:  Nobody guessed we would bring down the attacks by 80 percent in Anbar.  We thought, that is the last place we would draw down from. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HUNTER:  When that good names came in to Capitol Hill, you had a lot of my friends, liberal Democrat friends, who would not take yes for an answer.  They didn‘t want to hear good news.  They wanted to say that it doesn‘t make any difference.

MATTHEWS:  Because the mistake of Vietnam was to take tactical successes and interpret them into a strategic success that we were right to be there.  And that was a mistake in Vietnam.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Listen, you have got liberals dying of old age waiting anxiously for the next Vietnam.  I was here when they said rMD-BO_El Salvador would be the next...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The president just compared it to Vietnam last week. 

(LAUGHTER)

HUNTER:  Right.  And you were on the House floor with me when you had members of the Democrat Party saying El Salvador would be our next Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  And you were nodding gravely, Chris.  You were nodding gravely.

MATTHEWS:  I was not part of that.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  You were nodding gravely, saying that‘s the way it‘s going to be.

MATTHEWS:  I never understood that fight. 

But, go ahead, Congressman Moran.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  But your party said that. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s—well, that party did, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  One of the reasons why we have had success in Anbar is because the Sunni sheiks realize that we are going to leave, thanks to those who have objected to this policy.  And they want to use us before we leave in order to get rid of these al Qaeda, the kids who are brutal and who...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Killed a bunch of their kids.

MORAN:  Yes.  They killed their—they beheaded their kids. 

And, if you smoke, they cut your fingers off.  Everybody in Iraq smokes.  The Sunnis are not going to tolerate that.  The Sunnis, they are secular.  They‘re relatively modern.  And they are not going to tolerate that and they are going to use us.  That‘s fine. 

But I don‘t think they would have used us if they thought we were going to be there permanently. 

HUNTER:  But, Jim, you pointed out a point here that is the main overlay of this entire thing.  There is no smooth road.  And the people that wrote the smooth road books about Iraq were smoking something. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  There is no smooth road.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s start with Dick Cheney, who said that it was in the last throes of the insurgency, Ken Adelman, who said it was going to be a cakewalk. 

Who said we were going to be greeted like liberators?  I think it was Dick Cheney. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Over and over again, it was the people at the top that sold the ease of this war.  It wasn‘t the lib-labs. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Well, I didn‘t sell the ease of the war.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  And, little, the guys that said that you should have kept the Iraqi army in place, Saddam Hussein‘s army...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HUNTER:  ... Saddam Hussein‘s army had 11,000 Sunni generals. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I heard you say that.

HUNTER:  Now, what are going to you do with an army with 11,000 Sunni generals in an institution that‘s supposed to be the honest broker of the country?  You do nothing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  You know, this was never really a war.  This is something CIA should have taken care of by getting rid of Saddam and maybe his two sons and maybe some of the generals. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MORAN:  Who are we fighting?  The Sunnis?  The Shia? 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman...

MORAN:  We are in the middle of a civil war.  And we ought to get out of it.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, good luck with the campaign, Congressman Duncan Hunter. 

HUNTER:  It‘s not going away.  We need to keep working.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for coming over here, Congressman Duncan Hunter.  We will be watching every debate.  You‘re always there for us.  Anyway, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia. 

Coming up: a preview of President Bush‘s speech tonight.

And later, our HARDBALL debate tonight:  Should the president establish an enduring strategic pact with Baghdad, like the one we have with Korea? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  The president speaks of an enduring strategic pact with Baghdad.  Will it sell?

When HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News.  And, of course, Pat Buchanan is MSNBC political analyst. 

Let‘s take a look at what Tim Russert told us on our 5:00 edition tonight about a briefing he had with the president at noon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  He talked about how the leaders of Iraq had gotten together, and the one thing they agreed upon was to ask the United States to enter into a long-term strategic relationship. 

And he‘s going to talk about that tonight, that he wants to go forward with this long-term strategic relationship, the kind we had, as you mentioned, in Korea, with Pakistan, India, Israel.  What form it will take is uncertain.  But it certainly means that there will be a significant commitment of U.S. assets in that region for a long time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Pat. 

You know, we thought going into tonight that it would be about a modest compromise by the president, a token withdraw of troops to sort of mollify the Republicans that we are beginning our gradual withdraw from Iraq. 

And now, in the face of the number change, in the number of troops deployed over there, all of a sudden, the president talks about a long-term strategic relationship with Baghdad. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think this is designed to reassure the present leaders of Iraq that the United States will be there.  We‘re not going to cut and run.  We‘re not going to over the hill. 

But, Chris, I don‘t think this has great meeting, in this sense.  It all depends on how the Iraq war comes out.  If it comes out that there‘s a pro-American government there and they‘re with us solidly against terrorism and on our side with regard to Iran, fine.  It may work out. 

But, if this thing goes down, I mean, we don‘t have any permanent relationship with South Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the relationship...

BUCHANAN:  It depends on whether we win or lose the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

So, let me go to Chuck on that. 

It seems to me the president is talking about a country-to-country pact.  But if that country is the country of Muqtada al-Sadr, I doubt if we‘re going to have a pact of steel with him. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Right. 

No, I mean, I guess what is striking about this is that the president is confirming what everybody, what critics of this war before we went in, said, which is, once we go in, we are never going to get out. 

And, so, that part of this, I think, is sort of an interesting sort of admittance.  If anything, the president is not admitting to being wrong about anything in regards to the run-up to the war.  But, by saying we are going to have this permanent relationship with Iraq, whoever the government is—he didn‘t—it‘s assuming it‘s a government that supports it—it actually confirms what all the critics of going into this war said at the beginning. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just imagine you were off on a distant island right now getting your news report every couple of years.

The first news report you got was, well, we were attacked on 9/11 by the al Qaeda crowd.  And then later on, we attacked Iraq.  And then we were told, well, that was just to get rid of Saddam Hussein.  And we will just have an election over there and get the heck out. 

Next thing we know, oh, the—the insurgency is in its last throes.  And then the president throws up the big mission accomplished and mission achieved and everything.  And then, all of a sudden, well, wait a minute.  Something is going on here.  It‘s called a civil war.  And we‘re in the middle of that.

And then, some time four years after that, we find out, not only have we fought a civil war.  We are now told we are going to have a permanent relationship with this government, like we have with Israel or Korea, and yet we have no natural friendship with these people. 

BUCHANAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  They are not necessarily pro-Western.  They‘re not—they‘re certainly not pro-Israeli.  They‘re not necessarily pro-peace.  What are they?  Why do we want a permanent relationship with these people? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think—again, I think this is being done if the regime there, which is going to be fairly unstable—if it‘s pro-America, it‘s always going to be unstable.

MATTHEWS:  Who has talked about a pro-American regime in Baghdad?  I have not even heard of one. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you heard about that when you—the whole neocon gambit was to... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I know.  You‘re talking in the subjunctive tonight.

BUCHANAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking in the speculative.  You‘re enjoying the speculation. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you know there‘s no way in hell we‘re going to get a pro-Western government over there.  Why would you? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, but why, then—why are all the Democrats saying, we are going to maintain a long-term force of 30,000 in the country here right there in the neighborhood to move back in?  The Democrats are saying the same thing. 

I think Bush, again, is reassuring the guys there, we are not pulling the rug out from under you. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.   

BUCHANAN:  It ain‘t going to be like Vietnam, where we left and they went down. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let me propose to you gentlemen that there‘s a larger-than-political reason for the president doing this.  He deeply believes it.  He is committed to something in his mind, which you may call Wilsonian or neoconservative—I may call it neoconservative—a new ideology, which I find a bit bizarre and certainly untested and maybe dangerous, he finds warming. 

He likes the idea of leaving office after two terms having fought for freedom. He likes the idea of establishing an outpost in Baghdad for democracy. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He likes leaving behind a permanent pact of U.S.  commitment.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a victory for the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t do it for political reasons.  He believes in this. 

BUCHANAN:  The world democratic revolution. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what he...

BUCHANAN:  You go through his speeches, he believes in it again and again and again.  And he think‘s is going to succeed.

MATTHEWS:  Is he crazy?

BUCHANAN:  No, he thinks it‘s going to succeed. 

MATTHEWS:  But is he crazy? 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s an ideologue.  No, he‘s an ideologue.  

MATTHEWS:  And?

BUCHANAN:  He believes deeply, against hard evidence, in many cases, that it will work. 

MATTHEWS:  Based upon what history of this working? 

BUCHANAN:  Based upon ideology, not history, for heaven‘s sakes. 

MATTHEWS:  But the history of the Middle East, Chuck, has been countries go in there with the best of intentions and the worst of intentions.  The Papal States, the Crusades, the British, the French, the Russians.  They all went in there with the idea of creating some kind of different kind of government.

The Afghanistan situation with the Soviets, they wanted to set up their kind of government.  The British tried to step up—create a constitutional monarchy in Iraq.  The French and Syria, everybody has tried, and no one has succeeded. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s call imperialism. 

MATTHEWS:  And they all have been thrown out and left or slaughtered in the streets. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

TODD:  Well, look, for right now, it‘s a strategic—I think that, yes, there‘s an ideological component here.

But don‘t forget, there‘s also a strategic component here.  And I think there‘s as much of a message to the Iraqi government as it is to the Iranians, which is saying to the Iranians, look, we plan on establishing Iraq as a military—as a strategic outpost.  So, you know, careful rattling your sword.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but maybe it‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jim Moran, the congressman—but, Chuck, the congressman was just on from Virginia, who said, yes, we would like them to be our ally, but they are naturally allied with the Iranians. 

They already got the deal with the Iranians.  They are Iranian in their sympathies. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get Chuck respond to that. 

Isn‘t that the problem we have?  We can‘t just claim friends in the Middle East who already have their dance card filled. 

TODD:  Well, it‘s because parts of—I mean, we‘re not talking all. 

Look, that is the problem with Iraq.  Are you dealing with one country or are you dealing with three sects?  You have one that is strategically aligned with Iran.  But you have two others that are not.  So, then—and I think, in this case, this is where the United...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you build an alliance of steel on sand, Pat? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You can‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s sand over there.

BUCHANAN:  You‘re not.  You‘re building it on people. 

Look, if the United States pulled the plug tomorrow, nobody thinks Maliki would survive. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  He would go in—so, there‘s a huge, a large...

MATTHEWS:  He will be one of your neighbors in Northern Virginia within a month.  You know he will be living over there. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen...

MATTHEWS:  They have already given these guys visas.

BUCHANAN:  There are a large number of guys over there who, if they don‘t have that American tie, and if they don‘t have American troops...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  ... they are dead people. 

They want assurance.  And that‘s what the president is giving them tonight.  And I agree with Chuck.  There‘s an aspect of strategy here, letting the Iranians know, we are right next door.  We are in the Gulf, the Arabian Sea.  We‘re north of you.  They‘re east of you.  We are everywhere around you. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘re creating refugees. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Stay with MSNBC tonight for the president‘s speech at 9:00. 

Up next:  Rudy Giuliani gets whacked on immigration, and maybe deserves it. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now—time now for the political news, more political news. 

Republican candidates for president are still pouncing on Rudy Giuliani for comments he made on talk radio about illegal immigration.  He said that being in the United States illegally should not be a federal crime—quote—“because the government wouldn‘t be able to prosecute it.  We couldn‘t prosecute 12 million people”—close quote.

Well, his position puts him clearly at odds with top supporters like Peter King of New York, who want the law enforced. 

Well, excuse me, but how can a law and order conservative like Giuliani think it‘s OK for the first thing a person does on entering this country to break the law? 

In the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, by the way, Giuliani has seen his lead over Fred Thompson shrink from 13 points down just to six points.  It will keep shrinking if he keeps sounding soft on illegal immigration. 

No more straight talk, not more Straight Talk Express for third-place candidate John McCain.  He has been touring Iowa this week in a bus with a “No Surrender” sign instead, no surrender on the failing Iraq war, and, of course, no surrender on his campaign.  McCain‘s problem is that Bush‘s policy is no exit now from Iraq. 

We‘re sticking there forever, with this new permanent military compact of his. 

Remember that first lady of the night—they called—they still call her the D.C. madam—who fingered Republican Senator David Vitter, you know, the one before the New Orleans prostitute who fingered Vitter and dared him to take a lie-detector test?  Well, this gentle lady of the night is now calling herself a victim of political bondage and is declaring war on the U.S. Senate. 

Finally, Jay Leno has more love for David Vitter than anyone else these days.

Here he is last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  A New Orleans prostitute has come forward and said that she had sex with married Louisiana Senator Dave Vitter two or three times a week over a four-month period. 

And this is actually good news for the Republicans, finally a sex scandal involving a woman. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  Is President Bush right to establish an enduring strategic engagement with Iraq, a new Baghdad pact, similar to the one we have with Korea right now?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger, and here‘s what is happening. 

A top Sunni sheik who had been working with the U.S. and against al Qaeda in Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb near his home in Anbar Province.  Ten days ago, he met with President Bush during his surprise visit to Iraq, and the president hailed his courage. 

A massive manhunt is under way after a gunman killed one police officer and wounded three others in suburban Miami area.  Police say the man opened fire with a high-powered weapon during a traffic stop. 

There is widespread damage after Hurricane Humberto slammed into southeast Texas and Louisiana overnight with 85-mile-an-hour winds and heavy rains.  The storm knocked out power to more than 100,000 homes and businesses.  At least one death is being blamed on the storm, which has now weakened to a tropical depression. 

And partly because refinery outages caused by Hurricane Humberto, oil closed above $80 a barrel for the first time ever.  Crude ended the day at a record $80.19 a barrel—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In an hour-and-a-half, the president is expected to announce a very modest troop withdrawal from Iraq to pre-surge levels by next summer, but also a strategic enduring relationship with Iraq.  Is President Bush right to establish such an engagement with Iraq on a permanent basis, similar to the one we have with South Korea? 

Tom Andrews is the national director of Win Without War.  And Eric Egland is a counterterrorism consultant who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Air Force Reserves who is now challenging Republican Congressman John Doolittle of California in a Republican primary. 

Let me go to you, Tom. 

Do you think this is a good thing for the president to do tonight, to talk about an enduring strategic compact with the government in Baghdad? 

TOM ANDREWS, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, WIN WITHOUT WAR COALITION:  Well, if he wants to do what al Qaeda would love to see him do, mainly do what the National Intelligence Estimate has said, that our impact on al Qaeda has been while we have been in Iraq, this would be an al Qaeda dream, to have the United States announcing it‘s going to have a permanent military presence in that country. 

They have taken our presence in that country and they have recruited incredible numbers of terrorists.  The National Intelligence Estimate now says that al Qaeda was as strong as it was at 9/11, 2001. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re saying that‘s because of our role in Iraq. 

ANDREWS:  That‘s exactly what we—we know that.  The CIA has said that, because this is the single most important recruiting tool that al Qaeda has and Osama bin Laden has to build those forces.  And now George Bush is going to strengthen that even more.  This is absolutely outrageous.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

Eric, the case for having an enduring compact with Iraq? 

MAJOR ERIC EGLAND, U.S. AIR FORCE RESERVE:  Hi, Chris. 

Well, my focus in counterterrorism.  And the last few months since, the several months, since this surge strategy was fully operational, has been, contrary to what Tom said, a nightmare for al Qaeda.  And we should continue to grow on this success.

And, from a counterterrorism point of view, I mean, this struggle against global jihad, this is a long-term, generational threat.  So, it shouldn‘t surprise us that these relationships are going to take hold into the future. 

At the same time, I think we need to be focused on that terrorist threat and not get too caught up in the government side, because we know that‘s a—that‘s the toughest part of getting a safe government in that region. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the question again.  Should the United States be engaging in a permanent relationship, something like we have with South Korea, or with Pakistan, where the United States government basically offers a guarantee of a government?  It says, we are in there with you militarily, economically, politically.  Does that establish too much of a permanent U.S. presence for our own good in that part of the world? 

EGLAND:  Chris, I don‘t think the president‘s statement goes that far. 

I have deployed to Bosnia.  And I think there‘s a parallel there, too. 

So...

MATTHEWS:  He compared it to Korea.  And we know what that means, a DMZ with trip wire, and U.S. troops basically as the guarantor of that country‘s integrity.  Should we go that far with Baghdad? 

EGLAND:  Well, I‘m not convinced that that‘s where it‘s going. 

I think we are focused on a counterterrorism role.  I met with the president for an hour-and-a-half in the Oval Office recently.  I don‘t—I think that it‘s smart to focus on the counterterrorism.  And that‘s—that‘s how we ought to be doing it, because we have been taking it to al Qaeda. 

I‘m not happy with how things have gone in Iraq the last few years.  I wish this strategy would have been enacted three-and-a-half years ago, but we are where we are.  And I think this is the right way ahead. 

ANDREWS:  Well, first of all, you know, your guest is incorrect about the direction that al Qaeda is going.  It is strengthening.  The CIA says this.  And they say the single most important reason it is strengthening is because of our presence in Iraq. 

But let‘s talk about something else.  You know, this is not a government.  This is a—you know, in all the reports that we have seen, including the GAO, they say, this is a totally dysfunctional group of people.  It‘s breaking apart.  Fifteen of the cabinet members of the al Qaeda government have broken free of the government. 

Why?  Because he‘s stubborn and refuses to compromise.  Why?  Because he‘s leading as a Shia party leader, a very strong sectarian party, and he‘s shortchanging everybody else, and he‘s using those militias to ethnically cleanse places like Baghdad. 

So, this isn‘t a government that we should be allied with.  This isn‘t a government that we should be having a permanent relationship with forever and ever, because it‘s not only going to strengthen al Qaeda.  It is going to make a compromise, a political compromise, that is the only way out of this thing in Iraq, that much more likely, because we are saying to the Shia, and this very extreme military party, hey, do what you want.  You don‘t have to compromise.  You can continue to kill Sunnis, and we‘re going to back you up. 

It‘s a disaster, Chris, a real disaster. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—do you think, Eric, that our role in the Middle East should be to continue to occupy countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and to continue to have strong relationships with countries like Jordan and Egypt and the Emirates?  Should we have that sort of overwhelming military presence in that part of the world? 

EGLAND:  Only for...

MATTHEWS:  Should we be...

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  ... as long as absolutely necessary, Chris. 

I want us to bring the troops home as soon as possible or maintain small forces that can react focused on a counterterrorism role.  But, at the same time, these are serious deployments.  I mean, these are complicated issues.  So, it‘s—you can‘t just sort of put troops there one day and bring them home the next.  You have to have a long-term strategic approach.

MATTHEWS:  No.  We have been there six years.  We have been there six years.  Can we stay another six years? 

EGLAND:  I hope we don‘t need to.  But, at the same time, we have got strategic threats we have got to deal with, especially Iran. 

And I was on the ground in Iraq when those Iranian...

MATTHEWS:  How is Iran a—how is Iran a strategic threat?  Explain. 

Just give me the definitional—what do you mean by strategic? 

EGLAND:  Well, they desire to spread their way of living, their theocracy, around the Middle East.  And they‘re a threat to...

MATTHEWS:  And how is that a strategic threat to the United States?  Just tell me what you mean.  Be careful here.  A strategic threat to the United States, please explain. 

EGLAND:  Well, we don‘t—we don‘t want them...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s serious business.

EGLAND:  Well, it is very serious. 

MATTHEWS:  Not a question of we don‘t want. 

EGLAND:  No.

MATTHEWS:  How are they a strategic threat to the United States? 

EGLAND:  Well, Chris, hear me out here.

Chris, we do not want the whole Middle East to look like Iran.  Iran would like to, and we cannot allow a nuclear-armed Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

EGLAND:  That‘s the key. 

I was a weapons of mass destruction intelligence officer. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking, why can‘t—why can‘t we allow it?  I want to hear it spelled out.  Why can‘t we allow it? 

EGLAND:  Because it‘s too dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  Because, if you saying we can‘t allow it, then we have to go to war with them then.

EGLAND:  Well, we can—if we‘re serious about it, we can engage them earlier than that.  But we have to protect—first of all, we don‘t want them detonating weapons against Israel.  And we don‘t want them initiating terrorist attacks against the U.S.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  All that is true. 

But you‘re saying, if it‘s a strategic threat—the problem with throwing language around like that, sir, is that means we have got to go to war with them, if it comes to it, if they are going to get a nuclear weapon.  You‘re saying, if they are on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, we have to go to war with Iran?  Is that what you‘re saying?

EGLAND:  No, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Because don‘t say they‘re a strategic threat if you don‘t mean it. 

EGLAND:  No, Chris, your old—your former boss, Jimmy Carter, he said that access to oil in the Middle East was a strategic interest of the United States.  He didn‘t say we had to go to war over it. 

MATTHEWS:  All—all the oil in the world, yes, it certainly is. 

They have control over all the oil.

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  But the point is, you can have strategic interests, and that is a sense of priority.  So, we have important priorities, in terms of protecting our allies, protecting our interests, and not having Hezbollah operatives that the FBI catches...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

EGLAND:  ... coming across our southern border activating a dirty bomb in one of our major cities. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you mean by a dirty bomb? 

EGLAND:  Like a radiological bomb, or a dirty nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  Not an explosive, nuclear explosion, of course?  You are not talking about a bomb going off in the United States, are you?

EGLAND:  Well, that‘s what I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, just tell me what you‘re threatening me with and our country with.  Are you talking about a nuclear weapon blowing up the United States because of Iran? 

EGLAND:  Well, the interesting thing, in the 2004 election, John Kerry and George Bush didn‘t agree on anything, except the number-one threat that they saw to the U.S. was terrorist operatives detonating a low-grade nuclear weapon on U.S. soil. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s not a dirty bomb.  Let‘s get the terminology straight here. 

Dirty bomb is when you get radioactive material that is exposed on a sidewalk somewhere, and it‘s a difficult problem locally in one sidewalk area.  A bomb going off is serious business.  Which do you think is our danger? 

EGLAND:  Well, anything—anything that is radiological that goes off, whether it‘s a radiological dispersion device or a low-grade nuclear...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  ... has serious consequences.

MATTHEWS:  I just want to know what...

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  We want to avoid that, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The consequence of talking about strategic threats is, next—we did this with Iraq.  We are at war with Iraq.  We‘re stuck there.  I just want to know where we‘re going on Iran. 

What do you think we should do in Iran? 

ANDREWS:  Well, first of all, I think we should...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we should go to war with Iran if they get a nuclear weapon? 

ANDREWS:  No, of course not.  Of course not.  We need to engage in Iran.  We have to do what all of the independent experts have been telling us. 

First of all, Chris, look at Iran.  Iran was a strategic ally when it came to the fighting against—against the al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  They supported what we were doing.  They—they have demonstrated themselves to be capable of engaging us when it‘s in their interests to do so. 

We have to sit down with them and engage diplomatically in a regional compact and—and cooperative approach that will get them to come into the international family. 

But we—but here‘s what we are doing.  We are doing exactly the opposite.  Ahmadinejad is a very dangerous man.  His popularity ratings in Iran were going steadily down because of the economy and because of corruption. 

When President Bush started saber-rattling against Ahmadinejad and Iran, his poll numbers started to go up.  The people who are reformers in Iran, who are trying to reform that country, tell—tell us that they are being undermined by a president who was saying that, I support these reformers. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to respond to that, Eric? 

EGLAND:  Well, it‘s nice to say we need to cooperate.  But, I mean, you‘re talking about a country like Iran, led by Ahmadinejad, who says, Israel does not have a right to exist.  We need to destroy Israel at the soonest opportunity, and we are pursuing nuclear weapons to do that. 

I mean, we have to get serious about this.

ANDREWS:  Right.  But you don‘t deal with him by strengthening him. 

EGLAND:  Well, but...

ANDREWS:  You don‘t strengthen him politically.  You don‘t give him political weapons to embolden him and move him forward. 

You take and you undermine his capacity to be a political player in Iran.  And the president has done absolutely the opposite.  It‘s just what we are doing in Iraq.  That‘s the effect it has on al Qaeda.  It‘s strengthening them, building them, making them more of a threat.  So, you don‘t confront a threat by making your adversary more powerful.

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  If al Qaeda is strengthening, is al Qaeda is strengthening, by your logic, so, their intent on September 11 was just to attack us and go home. 

The reason they have not attacked us since then is because we have denied their ability to do that.  We have engaged them. 

(CROSSTALK)

ANDREWS:  Read the National Intelligence Estimate. 

EGLAND:  Look, I help write intelligence reports like that, Tom.  So, you can twist it however you want.

ANDREWS:  Read them.  Read them.  No, no, no.  

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  Well, and you can listen to a think tank out of London...

(CROSSTALK)

ANDREWS:  Read what the CIA is saying is the reason why they are so strong.  They are so strong because they have been able to use our presence in Iraq as the single most powerful recruitment weapon that‘s possible. 

EGLAND:  Well, that‘s great.  I mean, that‘s a great...

ANDREWS:  So, why do we go about dealing with our adversaries by strengthening them and playing into their hands...

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  Well, it‘s great for somebody to say that, Tom.  But how do you define strength? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This hot argument is for real.  This is the argument we have in this country right now.  It‘s the argument these presidential candidates are going to have to have. 

How do we deal with Iran?  How do we finally get out of Iraq?  These are the biggest issues of our time. 

Thank you, gentlemen, for fighting them here on this show. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Egland. 

And thank you for both sides.

EGLAND:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, our roundtable on what we can expect from President Bush tonight. 

Plus, what are Democrats going to do?  Are they going to stop this war?  Are they going to yell about it?  Are they going to do anything? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  Will Democrats stop this war?

When HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back. 

And we‘re joined by the roundtable, MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell, “The Washington Post”‘s Perry Bacon, Chrystia Freeland of “The Financial Times.” 

First up, another Bush push.  Tonight, the president will talk to the American people about Iraq.  Can he sell this new Baghdad pact? 

Norah O‘Donnell, he‘s talking about an enduring, enduring strategic compact with the government in Baghdad, the United States there for the long haul. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right. 

I think there are two key elements to the president‘s speech.  He is going to say that Iraq has asked for an enduring relationship with the United States.  The translation is, we‘re going to be there a very long time.  That probably will not play very well with the American people or the Republican moderates in the Senate, who the president is trying to hold. 

And then the second key part, Chris, which you have mentioned is, the president going to say there could be a return on success, meaning that there could be some 5,700 troops who can come home by December, another 21,000 by next summer. 

However, those were already part of a normally scheduled troop rotation.  And I think it‘s very, very important for people to understand that, even by next summer, even with some troops coming home, we will still have about 12,000 more troops than our pre-surge levels by next summer. 

So, is there somewhat of a mirage here?  There is going to be this headline that people may see, oh, some forces are coming home.  But we are still going to be above the pre-surge level in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Chrystia Freeland, tell me about “The Financial Times,” one of the best papers in that world, you write for, in the whole world press.  What are they going to make of this new pact of steel with Baghdad? 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  Well, you know, I think that, outside the United States, one of the things that people are really going to be thinking about is what happens after Bush. 

And one of the things that I think we are seeing is President Bush safeguarding his own political legacy and making things really, really difficult for his successor, particularly if it‘s a Democrat. 

What I mean by that is, if troops remain in Iraq—and it seems pretty certain that they will—it‘s going to be the Democrats who have to deal with a very, very difficult situation, a question of, do we withdraw?  What do we leave in place?  Or do we stay for a really long time?

The other thing that I think is really missing in this whole debate is engagement with international leaders, particularly European.  There‘s a new group of leaders in Germany, France, the U.K., and I think that there‘s a real opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes.  That‘s the question.  It‘s already there, and nobody‘s doing anything.  But we have got Merkel.  We got—you got Gordon Brown.  We have got Sarkozy—or Sarkozy.  We have got all this new action over there, and it‘s not anti-American.  And Bush is still not doing anything with it. 

Go ahead.

FREELAND:  Yes, exactly. 

PERRY BACON, STAFF WRITER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I don‘t think they are eager to send troops to Iraq, though, to be fair to Bush. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not going to get—the coalition of the willing, is it anymore willing right now?

What do you make?  You write for “The Washington Post”?  Are they going to buy this new pact of steel?  Are we going to see the editorial pages of your newspaper saluting this new neocon dream of a permanent U.S.  military presence in Iraq? 

BACON:  I suspect not.  I‘m not sure.  I will have to look at what they say tomorrow, but I suspect not. 

But we‘re already seeing the Democrats in Congress, even before President Bush speaks, they are already making the same point that Norah did, that the—at the end of—you know, we will back to the same level of troops he had before... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why would the president step on his own headline? 

Norah, the jihadists, who hate us, the neocons, who want a much larger role, in fact, a permanent U.S. garrison over in that part of the world, they are both in this together, in a sense, because the jihadists, who hate use, would love to have the world think United States is the aggressor.  They can‘t wait to set up a big outpost in Iraq permanently and own all the oil over there and have a puppet regime.

O‘DONNELL:  Right. 

Well, we are building a multibillion-dollar embassy there.  There are a number of American bases already there.  But the president essentially is making clear today, even though he‘s not using the phrase stay the course, that there will be a large American contingency in Iraq by next year, a very expensive one. 

This is significant.  And I think there‘s a lot to be read behind the headline about a—somewhat of a drawdown.  I mean, I was talking about this earlier with someone.  I mean, this is like essentially saying that I‘m going on a diet.  I‘m going to gain 30 pounds, and I‘m going to lose 20 pounds, and say, oh, I lost weight.  But you‘re still 10 pounds heavier than when you went on the diet. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s still a very large commitment in Iraq that this president has to steel the nation for tonight. 

Now, he‘s tried to that in eight other—I think this is going to be his eighth Oval Office address on Iraq.  But, again, the key really is these moderates in the Senate, moderate Republicans in the Senate that we are watching, because, next week, the Senate Democrats are finally going to try and do something.  They are going to compromise, try and compromise a bit, and they‘re going to put some new bills forward. 

Can they peel off these 10 or 12 moderate Republicans who have expressed doubts about the president‘s strategy forward to in some way limit the president‘s plan?  The Democrats have been unable to do that thus far. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  We will see what happens next week. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... weeklong push.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Chrystia, you can‘t wait to talk...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back, Norah.  We have got to go right now.  You know how these station breaks are.

I‘m going to come back in a minute. 

I want to hear if the Democrats going to be loaded for bear tonight or they‘re ready to roll over again.

We‘re watching HARDBALL.  In fact, you‘re watching HARDBALL.  I‘m on it. 

We will be right back in a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back to the roundtable. 

Next up: Democrats‘ dilemma.

Let me ask you, Norah, you watched the Democrats win the Congress last November.  They won both houses.  The president said, our party, the Republicans, took a thumping.  And everyone knew it was mainly about the war.  Are those voters just doomed to be frustrated? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, all of the polls have shown that Congress‘ approval ratings are at an all-time low.  And it might be in part because the Democrats have failed to deliver on what was a very strong message, in order to limit the president on Iraq. 

That‘s why we see the Democrats, especially in the Senate, signaling that they are willing to compromise, to try to get something done to limit the president‘s mission in Iraq, whether that‘s limiting the amount of deployment time—this is a bill that Senator Webb is pushing—or whether to limit the mission to just training Iraqi police forces. 

They are going to try and do that next week.  What—the 2008 presidential candidates, that‘s a whole different argument that is going on.  And John Edwards has purchased some time on MSNBC tonight in order to make the big case that the only thing that the president should get from Congress is a firm deadline. 

Well, they don‘t have the votes in Congress to deliver a firm deadline for a withdrawal.  And, so, that places him far to the left of Obama and Clinton, who are in the Senate, who will not be able to deliver that deadline.  It sets up again an interesting dynamic, as we watch these Democrats campaign for president. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Perry. 

Can the Democrats stop this war? 

BACON:  No.  I mean, I think votes...

MATTHEWS:  What can they do, then? 

BACON:  What they can do is, like Norah was saying, they can have—they can have votes that say, if you served in Iraq for a year, we are not going to send you back for a year. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To what effect? 

BACON:  To what effect?  You might—the effect of that, functionally, is that President Bush would be limited in the number of troops he can send to Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, but to what effect will this passing of a bill do? 

Will the president veto and ignore it? 

BACON:  That one, they might actually get enough—a veto-proof, I think, or like enough of a majority.  But that is what they‘re trying to find, is a bill that Republicans can‘t oppose. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they can get 67 Republicans -- 67 senators to do something like this? 

BACON:  They might get—that‘s a pretty popular position, I suspect. 

They might get 67 senators...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I will make bets against that. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chrystia. 

Chrystia, do you see the Democrats, as you look at this, as—stepping back and look at it, does it matter that we have an opposition that is opposed to the war?  Does it even matter?  I mean, if we didn‘t, would it make any difference from what we have right now? 

FREELAND:  Sure.  Of course it matters.  But it‘s probably...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does it matter? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does it matter? 

FREELAND:  It probably matters mostly for November 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then it hasn‘t mattered yet. 

(CROSSTALK)

FREELAND:  That‘s the moment when it really matters.

And I think, you know, the really important element here is, President Bush needs to worry a lot about his political legacy.  And there‘s not any mileage at all for him in getting involved in a really inevitably messy, painful, horrible withdrawal.

And that is a really powerful driving logic.  But, as Norah has explained, you know, we now have the Democratic candidates positioning themselves ahead of 2008.  And, interestingly, the Republican senators who are in difficult races then are also starting to get a little anxious. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the great irony is that the president‘s final defense...

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s true.  And—and that is where they...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Norah.  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.

O‘DONNELL:  And that is true.

And that is where, if the Democrats hope to peel off any moderate Republican support, or any Republican support, where they will find it from is some of these Republicans who are up for reelection. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  There may be some Republicans who could break.  It‘s just been difficult.  There‘s Senator Warner.  There‘s even Senator Elizabeth Dole, Pete Domenici, Gordon Smith, Sununu.  I mean, you can count on both hands the number of these senators.  That‘s what‘s going to be so interesting to watch next week...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... if they break.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it will be interesting to see, Norah, who they‘re more afraid of, the Democratic voters, independent voters, or their own party people who are hawkish. 

Anyway, thank you, Norah O‘Donnell. 

Thank you, Perry Bacon.

Thank you, Chrystia Freeland.

I will back in a little less than an hour with—to join Keith Olbermann for live coverage of the president‘s address tonight. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN.”

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

END   

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