Guest: Bobby Ghosh, Eli Pariser, Buzz Patterson, Sen. Chris Dodd, Ryan
Lizza, Mary Katharine Ham
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In his speech last night about the situation in Iraq, our president speaks of ordinary life returning to normal. He salutes the 36 countries fighting at our side, sharing the burdens of war. Let’s get the truth.
Let’s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Our big story tonight: General David Petraeus couldn’t say the war in Iraq is making America safer, but President Bush is sure ready to say we’re going to stay there longer. In a primetime speech to the country, President Bush told us that the United States would stay in Iraq indefinitely and troops will only come home when he decides there’s enough success to do so. He talked about our allies in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, actually, the United States—we—have 169,000 men and women over there. The British, about 3 percent of the number we have. But let me give you some sense of the other firepower that’s joining us in the field. The nation of Hungary has 15 people there -- 15 -- Japan, one of our strongest allies has five people there, Latvia two, Turkey, our strongest Islamic ally, two people there, New Zealand one person there, Singapore one person there. Our closest neighbor to the north, our strongest trading partner, Canada, has one person in Iraq. Those are our 36 strong allies the president’s talking about.
President Bush is hitching the future of this country beyond himself now to whoever is his successor, to a permanent American presence and influence in the heart of Arabia, in fact, in Iraq. Today, four American soldiers were killed by an explosion in that country.
President Bush said the war would continue beyond his own presidency. In a moment, we’ll talk to someone who could inherit this war, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd.
In our second story tonight: Last night, President Bush said life in Iraq is getting back to normal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Today, most of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We’ll talk to a reporter tonight just back from Iraq to find out if any of that’s true.
And this is an ad, by the way, Rudy Giuliani is running in today’s “New York Times,” going after Moveon.org and Hillary Clinton. Moveon, of course, has a new TV ad out tonight, and the battle rages on. And tonight’s HARDBALL debate: Did Moveon.org’s anti-Petraeus ad hit the mark?
We begin with HARDBALL’s David Shuster on the president’s plan for Iraq.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, as President Bush and Vice President Cheney fanned out across the country and claimed their troop escalation in Iraq has produced noteworthy success, two administration reports contradicted them. An Iraq update delivered to Congress acknowledged Iraq has failed to meet 9 of 18 military and political benchmarks, and a State Department report said over the past year, religious freedoms in Iraq have sharply deteriorated.
Yet today in Michigan...
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The troop surge has achieved solid results and in a relatively short period of time.
SHUSTER: And after lunching with Marines at the Quantico base in Virginia, where some Marines in Iraq will soon be returning...
BUSH: ... based upon the fact we’re making enough success in Iraq that we can begin bringing some troops home, and that I told the American people last night that we’ve got what’s called return on success.
SHUSTER: But the Marine withdrawal was scheduled anyway. And a fact check of the president’s speech from last night reveals a string of inaccuracies and misleading statements.
BUSH: We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq.
SHUSTER: Thirty-six nations? According to the State Department’s most recent report, only 26 nations, including the U.S., have troops in Iraq. And except for the British and South Koreans, nobody else has more than 1,000 and the total number of non-U.S. troops in Iraq is 11,685. The U.S. total is 15 times that at 169,000, a figure President Bush never mentioned.
The president did mention Iraq’s national political leaders, and he claimed...
BUSH: Iraq’s national leaders are getting some things done. For example, they have passed a budget. They’re sharing oil revenues with the provinces.
SHUSTER: But Iraqi government officials acknowledge that a potential oil-sharing deal is now collapsing, revenue sharing and de-Ba’athfication have not been enshrined into law. And the U.S. ambassador to Iraq testified this week...
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The government in many respects is dysfunctional, and members of the government know it.
SHUSTER: When it comes to Iraqi security forces...
BUSH: The Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there’s still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police.
SHUSTER: But a week ago, a commission led by retired Marine general James Jones reported the Iraqi army needs at least another 18 months because it, quote, “cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven.” And as for the Iraqi police, Jones said the force is so riddled with sectarianism and corruption that he recommended the national police force be completely disbanded.
Last night, in talking about Baghdad...
BUSH: Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down, and ordinary life is beginning to return.
SHUSTER: That depends on your definition of ordinary because Baghdad residents still are not getting electricity for more than three hours a day. And while sectarian killings are down, Iraqi officials say the killings have not stopped and dozens of bodies are being dumped every day bearing signs of torture and mutilation.
In describing another part of Iraq...
BUSH: One year ago, much of Diyala province was a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other extremist groups and its capital of Baqubah was emerging as an al Qaeda stronghold. Today, Baqubah is cleared.
SHUSTER: Last month, however, the top State Department official in Baqubah said the security situation in the city was so unstable, it was hampering aid programs.
President Bush warned last night that withdrawing from Iraq would cause chaos.
BUSH: Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed.
SHUSTER: But two days ago, the president’s own spokesman declared...
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The idea that anybody can come up with a firm prediction about precisely how history is going to unfold is simply wrong.
SHUSTER (on camera): Other countries in Iraq, however, have had enough. Iceland, one of the countries on President Bush’s list, has announced that it’s pulling out, although that drawdown will be pretty simple. You see, Iceland has only one soldier in Iraq, a media representative, who according to Iceland newspapers, has been ordered to come home next month.
I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster. Apparently, the “coalition of the willing” is getting less willing.
Anyway, Connecticut senator Chris Dodd wants to be the Democratic presidential nominee this year. He’s authored a new book about his dad, “Letters From Nuremberg: My Father’s Narrative of a Quest for Justice.” I want to talk about that book. I’m fascinated, of course, like most people are, with World War II and the bad guys, of course.
Let me ask you about this latest little word, we got a little nibble that Secretary of Defense Gates is talking about maybe a big troop reduction, well beyond the president’s, to maybe down to 100,000 by the end of the year.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: End of next year, I think he meant, 2008.
DODD: Yes. And again, I know there’s been some reports of disagreement within the Pentagon, even about General Petraeus’s testimony the other day. So I’m not terribly surprised that you might be getting different numbers floating out of the Pentagon here.
But basically, the president’s controlling this, and the president’s message is one that I’m going to rely on as where the administration is on this. And that message is, basically, nothing’s changed, status quo. Next summer, we’ll go down, we’ll reduce the surge right back to the numbers we had in January. And the message is, basically, We’re going to kick the can down until January 20, 2009, and let the new president take over the responsibility.
But this is a lot of happy talk. I mean, I find it stunning that the two missions here, the two missions—Are we safer, John warner’s question, is the central issue, Are we safer, and General Petraeus, to his credit, was unwilling to sit there and say absolutely because I think he knows and everyone else knows we’re not as safe as we were, frankly, six years ago. We’re isolated. We’re less secure and more vulnerable.
And the other issue is the—is there a—some sort of coalition, some sort of a reconciliation between the various political and religious elements in Iraq?
DODD: And we’re no closer to that than we were four years ago. So on both issues, this has been a failed policy. It needs to change.
MATTHEWS: The president has gotten everything he wanted so far, hasn’t he?
DODD: Basically. All he wants...
MATTHEWS: ... he’ll leave office having gotten everything he wants?
DODD: Pretty much because I think we’re still—I think we’re making a mistake in assuming that we’re going to sort of go along with this. I prefer to see us have a proposal that called for the withdrawal of military forces in Iraq, set a time certain on it. I think that message might just do it—nothing else has done it—and force the Iraqis to decide whether or not they...
MATTHEWS: But the president won’t sign that.
DODD: Well, he won’t, but I think you’ll eventually build the numbers in the coming weeks. Who would have thought seven months ago that we would be talking now about how to redeploy, not whether or not to redeploy. And that’s changed dramatically. So it is moving in the right direction, but we’re not going to get there in the next few months.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of his talk about a long-term strategic coalition—or some sort of mutual defense pact with Baghdad for years to come, like we have with Korea?
DODD: Well, again, you’re not—you know, South Korea is a country.
MATTHEWS: He talks about Baghdad being an ally. He says we have an ally over there. We should have strategic relations with them. I want to ask you, would that treaty have to come up before the Congress, the mutual assured—or the—I keep saying “mutual assured”—the mutual defense pact with South Korea was approved by the Senate, apparently, two-thirds vote. Would you have to do that?
DODD: I presume we would. And again, I don’t know who you’re talking about here. This country can’t decide what—turn the lights on, let alone how a water systems works or sharing even revenues from the natural resources of its own country.
MATTHEWS: You’re talking about Iraq.
MATTHEWS: I’m just asking! Well, what is he talking about? The president refers to Iraq as our ally. He talks about having a strategic partnership with them for years to come. You know, you’ve got young kids. You must wonder—as some one of the producers here said, we could spend the rest of our lives and kids’ lives talking Iraq, Iraq, Iraq because of this man’s personal faith that took us into Iraq.
DODD: Well, listen, I’m very hopeful that come 14 months from now, we’re going to have a new administration. My hope is, it’s going to be a Dodd administration. And I can tell you that beginning on January 20, if it hasn’t changed, there’ll be a fundamental reordering. My hope is Iraq will get on its feet. If it is, there are ways I’d like to be supportive and helpful of a government that was reflecting the values of its country in developing the kind of institutions that we can associate with.
But we’re a long way away from that. That’s the first hurdle. I’m not sure they can get there. If they can, I’d be more than happy to begin to talk about a relationship. But they have to demonstrate, first and foremost, they’re willing to do it. Four-and-a-half years later, over $500 billion, almost 4,000 young men and women have lost their lives. Two million Iraqis have left the country, a million more displaced in the country.
DODD: Tell me how (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: It was asked of Ryan Crocker, our ambassador, during the hearings in the House, Why don’t we just tell Maliki and his people, if you don’t—we’d like to you form a government. If you can form a government here, a unity government, we’ll stick around awhile. If you can’t, we’re leaving. Why don’t—and he says, Well, they might go to the Iranians if we do that.
DODD: Well, I doubt that, in my view. And even then—you know, there’s a long history—this assumption that there’s this natural...
MATTHEWS: I know.
DODD: ... alliance waiting to emerge between Iraq...
MATTHEWS: Well, why don’t we do what I just said? Why doesn’t the president just tell these guys, We’ve given you four years, breakfast bed, it’s over?
DODD: Well, that’s my point. And when we get this amendment or this appropriation coming up in the next few weeks, I’m going to be offering language along those lines. This is it. Come next April, our troops are out of there. We’re not going to get 51 votes for that...
DODD: ... but we’re getting closer to it.
MATTHEWS: What do you say to the Moveon.org people, the people in the anti-war movement, who say they helped the Democrats win control of the Senate and the House last November, and they did it because they wanted to end the war. Why hasn’t the Democratic Party ended the war?
DODD: Well, it’s not an illegitimate question. We can’t end it on our own, obviously. But I’d like to see us focus on some clarity here. Instead of trying to necessarily get 60 votes, which means you’re never going to get anything that means very much, stick with something with real clarity to it. Even if it only gets you 20 or 30 votes or 35 votes, it’s better to have clarity and build on that than it is to...
MATTHEWS: We had one of those votes back in 2002.
MATTHEWS: It was called the authorization vote, and we got 23 votes against.
DODD: Yes. Well, all right, that was then, this is now.
MATTHEWS: How many votes would you get clearly against this policy this time?
DODD: I think you’d get 35 votes. I think maybe a bit...
MATTHEWS: To pull out.
DODD: I think so, to set the timetable, not just—it’s over a period of months, two-and-a-half brigades a month. And what we’ve got to be...
MATTHEWS: ... suppose you had a 65/35 division in the U.S. Senate, with 35 senators, almost all Democrats except for maybe Gordon Smith...
MATTHEWS: ... and Hagel, or maybe Susan Collins, saying, We think that the policy of the United States should be a fairly rapid removal of our troops from Iraq?
DODD: I think the clarity of that would build in the country.
DODD: And while it’s not a majority, at this point—you’re going to have to get a super-majority to overcome a veto. Don’t worry about it.
MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about your book.
MATTHEWS: You wrote—it’s amazing to have a father like Tom Dodd to begin with, but to have a guy who’s a father who not only was a great senator and a leader in Connecticut politics all these years, but to find out that he was also one of the great prosecutors against the worst guys in history—talk about it, Nuremberg.
DODD: And also wrote incredible letters to my mother, which is really
it’s his book, not my book, in a sense. I discovered these letters a few years ago, wrote her every day from Nuremberg in the summer of ‘45 to the fall of ‘46. He went over as an interrogator for two weeks, ended up spending 15 months and becoming executive trial counsel under Robert Jackson, who was the chief prosecutor for the United States.
And the point here, the relevancy is, first of all, it’s interesting history. And it’s a simultaneous revelation of what happened at Nuremberg. This was not a foregone conclusion...
DODD: ... that this trial was going to work. So you get a contemporaneous view of this...
MATTHEWS: But there is your father, standing a few feet away in the dock from Goering, from Ribbentrop, from these incredible figures, Streicher, from Nazi—the top Nazis. What—give us a sense what that smelled like, felt like.
DODD: Well, it was stunning. He writes in the first letters he couldn’t believe he was doing this as an interrogator, sitting with Keitel and Jodl and others there and recognizing what these people had done. Fifty-five million people died, six million Jews incinerated, five million others cremated by the Nazis and brought the world to a halt, obviously, and damn near won the war. And the fact that you’re sitting with these individuals who are the architects...
MATTHEWS: The first charge against these guys before even the Holocaust was waging an aggressive war.
DODD: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: Was this war in Iraq an aggressive war by the United States?
DODD: Well, no, I think...
MATTHEWS: I’m not asking you is it criminal, but was it aggressive?
DODD: Well, I think it was a war of choice. And there’s a vast distinction. Now we know that, obviously...
DODD: ... all of the numbers that were cooked, all the false information...
DODD: ... we were fed about the weapons of mass destruction. This was a war of choice that has really put us in very tough shape.
But the relevancy of this book, Chris, is not so much that. I mean, that’s important. The relevancy is the rule of law. There’s a great opening sentence that Robert Jackson gives at Nuremberg that everyone ought to memorize because it’s about the difference of the rule of law and what’s happened today. And the opening sentence was that, Four great nations, flushed with victory, stung with injury, stayed the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submitted...
DODD: ... their captive enemies to the judgment of the rule of law, the greatest tribute power ever paid to reason.
DODD: In a sense, instead of just summarily executing these individuals, as Churchill and the Soviets wanted to do, they had a trial. It was the high water mark of moral authority from which the structures after World War II were created. It was a high point. You say Nuremberg to people, and they conjure up a nation standing up for the rule of law. You say Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, you get a very different reaction.
The “greatest generation” not only won a war, they stood for justice. And we’re slowly eroding the very values and leadership in the world that Nuremberg gave us 60 years ago.
MATTHEWS: And your father said it was the finest thing he ever did, and he wanted to you feel that.
DODD: Yes. He wrote my mother in June, and he said, I’ll never do
anything as important again in my life. And maybe one day, one of the boys
speaking of his four sons—would one day call upon the precedent we set here to stand up for the rule of law. It’s a great letter in June ‘46.
MATTHEWS: As you are. Congratulations for bringing this out.
DODD: Thank you very much. Thanks.
MATTHEWS: It’s a great story. I love anything to do with World War II, especially with bringing down the Nazis. It’s a great—we’re all in love with that vengeance—I’m sorry, that justice.
DODD: He wrote a good love letter, too. It’s pretty good.
MATTHEWS: Of course. You didn’t that help. Anyway, the book is called “Letters from Nuremberg.” It was put together by Chris Dodd, the senator from Connecticut, the candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.
Coming up: Well, what is the life really like on the ground in Baghdad? Don’t go necessarily by what the president said last night. We have a fact checker coming here who lived there for six or seven years for “Time” magazine. He’s going to tell you what it’s like to walk the streets over there these days.
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In his prime-time press conference last night—or, rather, speech last night—President Bush described a rebounding Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, most of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “TIME” magazine’s Bobby Ghosh is in a position to know what life in Baghdad is really like. He lived in Iraq for four-and-a-half years, beginning in the months before the U.S. invasion. He was the “TIME” magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief, in fact. And now he’s world editor for “TIME.”
Bobby, thank you very much for joining us.
Give us a sense of your reaction when you heard the president’s description of life in Baghdad.
BOBBY GHOSH, WORLD EDITOR, “TIME”: Well, my first reaction, Chris, was that the president must have a very different definition of what normal means, because there’s nothing about life in Baghdad that I would consider normal. And I lived there for four-and-a-half years.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you what it’s like as a journalist to get up. You get up in the morning. Do you have to have a car? Do you have to have bodyguards to get to work, to move around the city? What did you need just to do your job?
GHOSH: Well, I had it a little easier than most would, because I look like this. It helps to look like a local.
GHOSH: But, even so, I would not—I would not just simply get out and walk in the streets in the markets without careful planning, without a couple of people with me at least with discretely hidden arms.
When we traveled, we traveled with two cars, a second car carrying armed men, to make sure that the first car was protected. And that is just journalists. Ordinary Iraqis have to travel around the city and have to go about their daily lives without any of that protection.
MATTHEWS: You know, one of the questions asked of General Petraeus and of Ambassador Crocker on Monday, in the House hearings, I believe, because I watched it all day, was, can a Sunni tribesman, just a Sunni person, man or woman, walk into a Shia area?
What’s your assessment?
GHOSH: Well, as long as he doesn’t say he’s Sunni. If a Sunni person walked into some neighborhoods, like Shu’lah or Sadr City, and announced his Sunniness, he would meet immediate hostility. He may or may not be beaten up or killed. He would certainly be driven out.
And there are some neighborhoods even within those larger districts where he would be killed on the spot, without any questions asked.
MATTHEWS: So, where—do most of the American personnel over there, the military men and women, mostly men, do they stay in Camp Victory or the Green Zone? Where do they live? And do they ever get a sense of hanging around a marketplace or a souk or just being part of the scene and the busyness of the town?
GHOSH: Well, since the surge began, American forces have been scattered around a little more. The majority of them are still in Camp Victory. But now there are—there are—and the president was right about this—there are outposts in individual neighborhoods. But they are carefully guarded.
Soldiers can’t simply go out and hang out in a—in a market. When they go to the market, they go in strength, with armored vehicles and heavily armed up. When they travel through the city, even when they do foot patrols, they have to be extremely cautious.
They are being—they’re reaching out a lot more than they did, let’s say, last year, when they spent most of their time in the military bases. But, even so, they have to be extremely, extremely careful. They can take no chances, because death lurks at every corner. And people are just waiting for an opportunity to kill Americans, just as they are waiting for an opportunity to kill each other.
MATTHEWS: So, an American person, if a person were to get off an airplane in Baghdad, a tourist, for example, and started walking around town, a family of five, for example, three kids, like they do here in Washington, as you know, what would happen to them?
GHOSH: I think, if they turned up in the airport and announced themselves to be tourists, people in white suits would come and take them away. It would be insane.
I think the customs and immigration people at Baghdad Airport wouldn’t allow them into the country. If you are—if you don’t look like an Iraqi and if you’re not an Iraqi, and you walk anywhere outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, any neighborhood, you are in extreme danger, not only to yourself, but to everybody around you.
MATTHEWS: And that explains why journalists have a very hard time getting the story, right?
GHOSH: Well, yes. If—if you have been there a long time, and if you have a bureau that’s been there a long time, like “TIME” magazine, “The New York Times,” then you have connections into the—into the community. You can use those connections. You know, local Iraqi stuff help you get places, help you get information.
But if a journalist were arriving, say, today who had never been to Baghdad before, it would be very, very difficult to get up and running.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of John McCain’s visit to that market?
GHOSH: It was so stage-managed that it defies belief.
I mean, for all practical purposes, it was really not a visit. He could have been on a set in Hollywood. It was so carefully staged and managed, and the security was so all-pervasive. The moment he left that market, and with all that security with him, that market immediately became what it was before, which is an incredibly dangerous place. So, I don’t put any weight on that visit at all.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, just going through the—the thing we try to see through a glass darkly from over here? We hear about a civil war between Sunni and Shia. We hear about al Qaeda. What mix do you see, in your mind’s eye? What is the mess?
GHOSH: Well, the...
MATTHEWS: What does it look like?
GHOSH: The civil war between the Shia and the Sunnis are the—is the most dangerous and the one that—that has a—has the risk of sort of bringing the country apart. It’s sort of already unraveling at great speed.
You live in any country that long, you develop friendships. You have
close friends. And it’s the civil war that worries me the most, because my
I have friends on both sides. I—they—they remain friends with each other, still. But I can see the strain on their relationships.
And there are many friends, friendships. There are marriages that have already been broken up. There are neighborhoods that have been—that have been united for 1,000 years, Chris, literally 1,000 years...
GHOSH: ... that are now divided between Shia and Sunni. And—and former friends and former neighbors cannot reach across that divide to shake each other’s hand.
MATTHEWS: Well, it’s great to have your witness, as a top reporter.
Thank you, Bobby Ghosh, from “TIME” magazine.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Fred Thompson says he has no opinion on the Terri Schiavo case. He can’t quite remember it. It was only two years ago.
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the news in politics.
Rudy Giuliani’s people have a full-page ad in today’s “New York Times” attacking Hillary Clinton—quote—“Who should America listen to?” the ad asks—close quote—a decorated soldier’s commitment to defending America or Hillary Clinton’s commitment to defending the anti-Petraeus ad which ran in “The Times” the other day?
Anyway, the Republicans think they have got an opening out there with this anti-Petraeus ad. After all, it’s a lot easier to whack the anti-war people than defend the war.
But now the anti-war folk who paid for that big newspaper ad in “The New York Times”—the group is called MoveOn.org—is escalating their campaign to television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON POLITICAL ACTION AD)
NARRATOR: Before the surge, George Bush had 130,000 troops stuck in Iraq. Americans had elected a new Congress to bring them home. Instead, George Bush sent in 30,000 more troops. Now he’s making a big deal about pulling out—you guessed it -- 30,000. So, next year, there will still be 130,000 troops stuck in Iraq.
George Bush, a betrayal of trust.
MoveOn.org Political Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And here’s a fight on the Democratic side. Take a look at this video of Bill Maher nailing Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize Bush’s invasion of Iraq back in 2002.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”: Senator Clinton, all the senators here, except Senator Obama, voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002, saying that their decision was based on intelligence that they believed to be accurate at the time.
In other words, George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Bill, it was a little more complicated than that. I sought out expert opinions from a wide variety of sources, people inside and outside the government, people in my husband’s administration.
And I think it is fair to say that, at the time, I made it very clear I was against a preemptive war. And I believed that giving the president authority to go back to the United Nations and put in inspectors was as appropriate designation of authority.
That is not what we have seen him do. And I have said that, had I known then what I know now, obviously, I would never have voted to give him the authority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, will voters accept Hillary Clinton on the anti-war front, if she refuses to recant her decision to give Bush that blank check to attack Iraq?
And Fred Thompson just ducked a question of where he stood and where he stands now on that Terri Schiavo case of that brain-dead woman that some Republican lawmakers wanted to get Congress involved in—quote—“That’s going back in history,” Fred Thompson told a Florida reporter the other day.
Well, Senator, we’re not talking about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping here. The Schiavo case was at the forefront of national debate just two years ago.
And, finally, you have probably see the YouTube video of a crazed Britney Spears fan lamenting how the public is treating her hero.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CROCKER, BRITNEY SPEARS FAN: She hasn’t performed on stage in years. Her song is called “Gimme More” for a reason, because all you people want is more, more, more, more! You’re lucky she even performed for you bastards.
Leave Britney alone!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, here’s a similar YouTube video out today. It shows George Bush lamenting the public’s treatment of General Petraeus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now a message from the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave General Petraeus alone. All he did was to go to Iraq and make a report. And you’re just chastising him. You’re saying he’s the mouthpiece. But he’s not. He’s a human!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL debate: Did MoveOn.org’s “General Betray Us” ad help or hurt the Democrats?
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks managed some slight gains after the Dow Jones industrial average had tumbled nearly 100 points earlier in the day. But, by the time the closing bell rang, the Dow did manage to gain 17.5 points. The S&P 500 eked out a gaining of just a fraction there, the Nasdaq up by more than one point.
And the reason we saw that pressure on stocks was because we saw a weaker-than-expected retail sales report. And that took the wind out of the stocks early in the morning. Sales were up just three-tenths-of-a-percent in August. And we—without a big gain in auto sales, retail sales would have actually dropped by four-tenths-of-a-percent. And that’s causing some concerns about the health of consumers.
Meantime, industrial production also posted a weaker-than-expected gain in August of two-tenths-of-a-percent. Analysts say the retail sales and factory output figures could be the final straws needed to convince the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Oil prices retreated today. Crude oil fell 99 cents in the New York session, closing at $79.10 a barrel, after yesterday’s record close above $80 a barrel.
That’s it from CNBC, America’s business channel—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It’s been four days since MoveOn.org took out that full-page ad in “The New York Times,” calling the general—referring to “General Betray Us,” instead of Petraeus. But does that ad hit the mark? That’s the HARDBALL debate tonight.
Eli Pariser is the executive director of MoveOn.org, the group that paid for the ad. And Buzz Patterson is the vice chairman of Move America Forward, and a former military aide in President Clinton’s administration. He’s the author of “War Crimes.”
Let me go right now to Eli.
Do you feel confident that you hit the mark politically, and in terms of the policy, with this ad that said “General Betray Us”?
ELI PARISER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MOVEON.ORG: Yes, absolutely.
We saw through the testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday that General Petraeus was, in fact, presenting an overly optimistic view of the surge. The surge—it’s been the bloodiest summer in Iraq yet, but the general is providing these politicized spin, rather than the real facts about what’s going on there. And, so, I think someone needed to call him out on that.
BUZZ PATTERSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, MOVE AMERICA FORWARD: Well, the ad came out on Monday, Chris. So, as a matter of fact, I think they were presuming what was going to happen.
I think that—number one, I think it’s disingenuous and disrespectful to the general to call him a betrayer. And I think that MoveOn overstepped their mark. I think that, really, before the general has a chance to comment about what’s going on in the war on terror, give the guy a chance to talk, listen to him in his testimony. And MoveOn jumped the mark.
PARISER: But we knew—we knew...
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by—what do you mean by betray us?
Explain the term “betray.” I mean, traitor? Treason?
PARISER: Well, no, this...
MATTHEWS: These are strong words to...
PATTERSON: This was—this was a betrayal of trust, Chris. The
general and—and President Bush had an organized
PATTERSON: ... in his testimony and Move On jumped the mark.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by Betray Us? Explain the term betray. I mean, traitor? Treason? These are strong words.
PARISER: This was a betrayal of trust, Chris. The general and President Bush had an organized political strategy to use the general to sell the surge. We know that Ed Gillespie was on the phone with him every other—every day in Iraq trying to figure out how to sell the surge.
So this isn’t an independent actor, unfortunately. This is someone who’s been politicized by President Bush, just like many other generals in the Bush administration, the ones who don’t agree with President Bush, of course, have been fired.
And so we have a situation where we have generals that are spinning the Congress and as a matter of fact, General Petraeus was very clear before his testimony what he was going to say and that he was using this fuzzy math that the Pentagon uses that counts a shot in the back of the head but not a shot in the front of the head, that doesn’t count car bombings.
MATTHEWS: OK, but what about—the White House denies—what independent information do you have, Eli, about Ed Gillespie, the White House aide to the president, speaking to General Petraeus every other day or whatever? How do you have that information?
PARISER: That’s from the “Washington Post”. September 7 the “Washington Post” reported that Ed Gillespie was on the phone from the White House every day with Petraeus and his staff, figuring out how to, quote, “sell the surge”. And, you know, that’s actually on our web site, MoveOn.org, if you want to look it up.
MATTHEWS: Apparently, the White House is denying that. But you know, we’ll take that for what it’s worth.
PARISER: Well, it’s “The Washington Post”. I mean, you know, we can
we can figure it out with them.
MATTHEWS: You mean, they’re always right?
PARISER: I wouldn’t go that far.
PATTERSON: Chris, I think this points out the fear that the left has of the military, the disdain they have for the military. Here is—
General Petraeus is a West Point graduate, Princeton master’s, a Princeton doctorate. Before he even opens his mouth for the first time, they’re already presuming they know what the solution is, what the answer is.
I think—I think the left is fearful of victory in Iraq. And I think it’s sad. MoveOn.org—MoveOn.org, they are American citizens. I fought for 20 years to preserve their right for freedom of speech as an Air Force officer, as Petraeus has spent 23 years fighting for that freedom of speech.
But also, citizenship involves responsibility, Chris. And you can’t -
when you’re irresponsible with your rhetoric—and I would say in some cases Move On is subversive with their rhetoric—that—that impacts the battlefield. And I think that we’re—we as Americans need to be Americans first and then Democrats, Republicans, independents after that. And I think Move On’s lost that the bubble.
MATTHEWS: ... in here.
PARISER: With all respect.
PARISER: And I appreciate your service. But the way to serve our troops right now is to offer them a real plan, a real strategy for getting us out of Iraq.
General Petraeus didn’t do that; President Bush isn’t doing it. And it’s time that someone called that out. That’s the way that we serve the troops. Right now, President Bush is failing our troops.
PARISER: A lot of our members—a lot of our members are Iraq veterans. A lot of them are military families who are suffering the real consequences of this war every day, who have to worry about that knock on the door every day, because their son or daughter is stuck in a war that no one understands why we’re fighting any more. And that’s the real problem that we have, and we need to deal with that.
PATTERSON: Chris—Chris—excuse me. We understand that. I’ve been to Iraq. And I’ll tell you that the troops that I’ve spoken to don’t want to come home till the job is done. That’s the bottom line. They want to win.
I think most Americans are quick to say we support the troops; bring them home. That’s not the case. The troops want to win the war in Iraq.
PARISER: Unfortunate reality—unfortunate reality is that—that...
PATTERSON: Excuse me. They understand what’s going on. They see the ground troops. They’re there to talk to the Iraqis; they’re talking to their fellow brothers and sisters in Iraqi uniform. They understood what’s going on. They’re the ones actually sacrificing to be over there. They want to win the war.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we’re winning the war?
PATTERSON: Absolutely I do. Absolutely I do. If—we can win, if MoveOn.org will sit down and shut up, basically.
PARISER: Well, I think if you—if you actually look at the polls of the troops, you know, they’re not confident that you can win someone else’s civil war. They’re wondering whether the mission is clearly enough defined. And they’re very uncomfortable being put in the situation where...
PATTERSON: What polls are you referring to?
PARISER: “The Military Times” did a poll this summer that illustrated this point exactly. And you hear this from Iraq veterans all the time, that they...
PATTERSON: No, you don’t. No, you don’t. I would challenge you, Eli. I would challenge you to go over there and talk to the troops personally. I’ve been there and talked to them.
PARISER: I’d love to do that.
PATTERSON: Then go. I mean, it’s easy to do. Go over there and talk to them. They want to win.
And these polls—I could tell you, I went over there last year, spent a month there interviewing 400 troops plus. Didn’t meet a single person that wanted to come home early. They wanted to stay there. They all want to come home, obviously, but under their terms. Victory is the bottom line.
MATTHEWS: What’s victory look like to the average soldier? I want to give Buzz a chance.
PATTERSON: Stabilize Iraq, an Iraqi government that can stand up on their own two feet and probably a very prolonged presence in the region, Chris. We’re going to be there for a long time. We’re still in Japan. We’re still in Germany.
MATTHEWS: There’s no violence in those countries.
PATTERSON: Kosovo. We’re still in Kosovo.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but there’s no—why do you keep talking about Japan and Germany? Nobody got killed in Germany after ‘45.
PATTERSON: It took us a long time.
MATTHEWS: Nobody after ‘45 got killed.
PATTERSON: It took us until 1950 to establish...
MATTHEWS: In 62 years, no one was killed on the German front, by the enemy. There was nobody getting killed.
PATTERSON: Because we stayed there.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but you’re—people in Iraq, they’re getting killed every day other there. Why do you compare these two?
PATTERSON: In less and less numbers, though.
PARISER: That’s not true. That is flat false.
MATTHEWS: That war is over. This war is going on.
PATTERSON: Let me...
MATTHEWS: That’s not true of the war (ph).
PATTERSON: Granted. But let me—we’re fighting a global war, just like we fought against communism.
MATTHEWS: You keep changing the subject. Why do you keep comparing it to Japan or Korea or Germany?
PATTERSON: Those are—wars...
MATTHEWS: No. Those wars ended in ‘45, ‘53 and ‘45. They ended.
Then we put our troops in for a half century.
PATTERSON: This war over there...
MATTHEWS: If this war were over, there wouldn’t be—would anybody be arguing about troops in Iraq if the war was over? No. This war that was never even promised by the president.
PATTERSON: Another point—another point, Chris. I think most Americans think Iraq is a separate entity. Iraq is a battlefield in a global war.
PARISER: It’s a civil war right now. We have Sunnis and Shias...
PATTERSON: It’s not a civil war.
PARISER: ... and we have our troops in the middle.
PATTERSON: General Petraeus said it’s not a civil war.
PARISER: And it’s not winnable.
MATTHEWS: OK. We’ve got to get back. Thank you very much, Eli Pariser.
PARISER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Buzz Patterson. Thank you for your service.
Up next, our roundtable and Bush’s plan for a permanent presence in Arabia and what the Democrats are going to do about it, if anything.
This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, an enduring long-term U.S. presence in Iraq?
That’s what President Bush wants. What will the Democrats do about it?
When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Let’s bring in the roundtable. Craig Crawford is an MSNBC political analyst. Ryan Lizza is a “New Yorker” writer. And Mary Katharine Ham is with TownHall.com.
Let me ask you all, starting with you, Ryan. What do you make of the president’s proposal now, not for a temporary commitment to Iraq but this enduring strategic engagement with Iraq that he compared in a briefing yesterday, with reporters and anchor people, to our long-term engagement with South Korea, that sort of—that treaty, in fact, we have with South Korea?
RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”: Well, it’s the one part of this that I don’t think is—necessarily contradicts what Democrats may eventually—eventually want, because if you’re withdrawal with Iraq, that doesn’t mean you’re for abandoning the Iraqi people. It doesn’t mean you’re for giving up on the Middle East. You just believe that the situation is a mess and American troops are doing more harm than good in Iraq now.
MATTHEWS: Now are you talking about...
LIZZA: So I don’t think that’s necessarily...
MATTHEWS: Are you talking about a mutual defense treaty? Is that what you think? Where we promise to defend that government?
LIZZA: In the unlikely event that—if Iraq turns into a stable democracy, sure. What’s wrong with...
MATTHEWS: If it does. But I’m talking about signing on to a deal like that now, saying we’ll support the government in Baghdad and we will defend it against any manner of folk.
LIZZA: Well, if the Syrians or—or the Iranians are going to...
MATTHEWS: Or the Shia militia. Should we be in that business?
LIZZA: I mean, look, tacitly, isn’t that our policy right now? I don’t think that’s...
MATTHEWS: It’s unofficial (ph) policy, but should it be a national policy?
LIZZA: I don’t think that’s the most...
MATTHEWS: Mary Katharine, should the United States Senate—should the U.S. Senate agree to that, in a two-thirds vote to create a treaty with that country?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, TOWNHALL.COM: I don’t think it’s at all a surprise that we would have a presence there, as we have...
MATTHEWS: Not a presence, a mutual defense treaty.
HAM: I think...
MATTHEWS: The president says, compared to what we have with South Korea. Should we have that kind of relationship? Will it sell with the American people? Will the U.S. Senate agree to something like that?
HAM: I think it’s necessary, and I think it’s—I’m not sure what the Senate will do with it. I think it is...
MATTHEWS: So the United States should protect—so the United States should ensure for posterity the defense of the government in Baghdad? We should defend it?
HAM: Well, things are turning around, as we have heard them say.
MATTHEWS: I’m asking a question of policy here. I don’t want another issue here.
HAM: I think they should, yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. That’s a position.
HAM: I think it’s in our national interests...
MATTHEWS: It’s in our national...
HAM: ... to stay there and defend against our enemies in that place, to help the government do.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go now to Craig Crawford. I’ve never heard such an escalation of our commitment to the point of not there to topple Saddam and let some people have an election and see what they can do if they can run a country. We’ll stand up and then they’ll stand up and we’ll get out of there.
But this idea of some ongoing, enduring strategic relationship engagement, the president calls it, with the government in Iraq, is to me quite a development.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I’m not sure Congress should even take it very seriously until it’s more concrete, Chris. This strikes me as another distraction tactic, as the surge itself was, to keep people talking about other things than what’s actually going on in Iraq.
I mean, I think by getting everyone bitterly arguing about the future
of a long-term commitment, they’re not arguing about the present, which is
which is what’s here and now.
And this is something the president has often done, is point to some -
down the calendar, down the road. Something’s going to happen next year, five years. And get people talking about those things and not about what’s going on right now. That’s what the surge was all about.
LIZZA: I think Craig’s right. I think you’re several steps ahead here. We have no idea what...
MATTHEWS: No, it’s the president.
LIZZA: The president...
MATTHEWS: I’m reporting what he said.
LIZZA: No, I know that. But I’m just saying...
MATTHEWS: I’m not proposing.
LIZZA: But it sounds like you’re worried that this is some kind of over commitment.
MATTHEWS: Am I concerned? Damn straight.
We’ll be right back with the roundtable. You’re watching HARDBALL on
MATTHEWS: We’re back with MSNBC analyst Craig Crawford; Ryan Lizza of the “New Yorker”; and Mary Katharine Ham of TownHall.com.
Let’s start with Craig and go around the table for a political review of the week.
I thought it was interesting, apart from the debate over Iraq, which is ongoing, that Fred Thompson took a lot of fire from George Will this week, from the Prince of Darkness, Bob Novak, that Rudy is now attacking Hillary. What’s going on in that field for the 2008 right now?
CRAWFORD: It’s as fluid as ever, Chris, much more so than the Democratic side. I think we’re entering a phase where the landscape has started to shift and Republican voters are just all over the lot, looking for that conservative alternative. Giuliani’s moved down a bit in some polls. Thompson’s doing better in the polls than he is with George Will, though.
MATTHEWS: Is Rudy shooting at Hillary to get street cred with the conservatives?
CRAWFORD: You bet. I think that’s one of the big reasons you were right and I was wrong, going back many months. I really thought Giuliani would have more trouble with these social conservatives. And you didn’t.
And I think one of the big reasons is that he showed them so much toughness and constantly going after Hillary and the Democrats, they like to see that.
MATTHEWS: Mary Katharine, is that why he’s doing it?
HAM: Conservatives are trying to decide. They’re trying to decide between a real conservative, a very social conservative and the tradeoff with Rudy is that we believe he can beat Hillary. And that’s the last thing that conservatives want is...
MATTHEWS: What is the argument we’re reading in the paper today in “The New York Times” that if you really are against Roe v. Wade, you want it to go back to the states, the decision over abortion, that Rudy is your man. What do you make of that?
HAM: Well, I’m fine with that, actually. I’m a federalist. I’m fine with that. But this is the tradeoff the conservatives are making. They’re saying, OK, well, he’s not as solidly conservative and socially conservative as we are, but if he’s willing to do what he needs to on judges and on abortion...
MATTHEWS: There’s another piece to it that you haven’t mentioned. I think they like—people on the conservative side tend to like strong leaders.
HAM: He is. He’s a great leader. And he—his record on terror is great, and he can handle somebody like Hillary. And frankly, the Move On Democrats gave Rudy and the rest of the Republican field a huge opening...
LIZZA: I will say...
CRAWFORD: There’s a downside for Giuliani there. I think the downside for Giuliani is that if another candidate who’s closer to social conservatism emerges who’s just as tough or can display that kind of toughness against Democrats, his support could—could disappear rather quickly.
MATTHEWS: Give me that name. Give me that name.
HAM: That guy...
MATTHEWS: Give me that name.
CRAWFORD: That’s why he’s still where he wants to be.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ryan.
LIZZA: There’s no Republican that can—there’s no Nixon to China Republican. There’s no one that can actually—there’s no one that has enough credibility with conservatives who can say something that they don’t want to hear.
LIZZA: So all these guys are flawed in one way or another for most conservatives. And that—and those flaws are pushing the whole field to the right. And it’s really...
MATTHEWS: Come next November, when you have to face that ballot, and Hillary’s probably going to be on the Democratic side, it’s going to be fascinating to see who pays attention. I think everybody in the country is going to pay attention.
If Hillary is the nominee of the Democratic Party, everybody is going to vote, everybody.
Anyway, thank you, Craig Crawford.
MATTHEWS: I’m sorry. Please come back, Ryan Lizza and Mary Katherine Ham. What a great name.
And as we sign off today, it was the last day on the job for White House press secretary, the very likable, the very good guy, Tony Snow. We wish him all the best.
Right now it’s time for Tucker.
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