updated 5/25/2004 9:53:16 AM ET 2004-05-25T13:53:16

Guests: Howard Fineman, Joseph Biden, Duncan Hunter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening to our MSNBC viewers and our stations from around the country who are joining us, right now.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  This is many MSNBC special coverage of President Bush‘s primetime speech on the future of Iraq.  The president is set to deliver this major address in just a moment.  And joining me right now, tonight, is Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”

Howard, is this going to be an optimistic speech or a sober speech?  

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think it‘s going to be sober, I think it‘s going to be forward looking.  Not a lot of high-flown rhetoric, but a lot of specifics, as many as the president can give about what he calls “the way forward.” That there‘s be an end eventually, that we‘re there for the right reason, but more important, here‘s how we‘re going to lock it down, here‘s how we‘re going to depend on the international community, here‘s how we‘re going to train people, here‘s how we‘re going to build the infrastructure, and bottom line, here‘s how we‘re eventually going to get out with the United States, somehow having been made safer for having gone there to begin with. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we get out with a minimum of losses?  How does he ensure greater security of our troops? 

FINEMAN:  Well, because there will be an Iraqi sovereign government after June 30.  No more coalition provisional authority.  Some kind of Iraqi government, yet to be determined who‘s going to run it; that is up to Brahimi from the U.N.  There‘s going to be a Security Council resolution.  We‘re internationalizing the war slowly but surely, that‘s what the president is going to say that that will lighten the burden on America with somehow making Iraq a stable...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Here he is, the president of the United States is about to begin his speech at the Army War College.  Let‘s listen up to the president with a very important message tonight. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you all.  Thank you and good evening.  I‘m honored to visit the Army War College.  Generations of officers have come here to study the strategies and history of warfare.  I‘ve come here tonight to report to all Americans, and to the Iraqi people, on the strategy our nation is pursuing in Iraq and the specific steps we‘re taking to achieve our goals.

The actions of our enemies over the last few weeks have been brutal, calculating and instructive.  We‘ve seen a car bombing take the life of a 61-year-old Iraqi named Izzadine Saleem, who was serving as president of the governing council.  This crime shows our enemy‘s intention to prevent Iraqi self-government, even if that means killing a lifelong Iraqi patriot and a faithful Muslim.

Mr. Saleem was assassinated by terrorists seeking the return of tyranny and the death of democracy.

We‘ve also seen images of a young American facing decapitation.  This vile display shows a contempt for all the rules of warfare and all the bounds of civilized behavior.  It reveals a fanaticism that was not caused by any action of ours and would not be appeased by any concession.

We suspect that the man with the knife was an al Qaeda associate named Zarqawi.  He and other terrorists know that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror, and we must understand that as well. 

The return of tyranny to Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory and a cause for killers to rejoice.  It would also embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world. 

The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region.

This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world.

Our work in Iraq has been hard.  Our coalition has faced changing conditions of war and that has required perseverance, sacrifice and an ability to adapt. 

The swift removal of Saddam Hussein‘s regime last spring had an unintended affect.  Instead of being killed or captured on the battlefield, some of Saddam‘s elite guards shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population. 

These elements of Saddam‘s repressive regime and secret police have reorganized, rearmed and adopted sophisticated terrorist tactics. They‘ve linked up with foreign fighters and terrorists.  In a few cities, extremists have tried to sow chaos and seize regional power for themselves. 

These groups and individuals have conflicting ambitions, but they share a goal.  They hope to wear out the patience of Americans, our coalition and Iraqis before the arrival of effective self-government and before Iraqis have the capability to defend their freedom.

Iraq now faces a critical moment.  As the Iraqi people move closer to governing themselves, the terrorists are likely to become more active and more brutal. 

There are difficult days ahead, and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic.  Yet our coalition is strong and our efforts are focused and unrelenting, and no power of the enemy will stop Iraq‘s progress.

(APPLAUSE)

Helping construct a stable democracy after decades of dictatorship is a massive undertaking.  Yet we have a great advantage. Whenever people are given a choice in the matter, they prefer lives of freedom to lives of fear. 

Our enemies in Iraq are good at filling hospitals, but they don‘t build any.  They can incite men to murder and suicide, but they cannot inspire men to live in hope and add to the progress of their country. The terrorists only influence is violence and their only agenda is death.

Our agenda, in contrast, is freedom and independence, security and prosperity for the Iraqi people.

And by removing a source of terrorist violence and instability in the Middle East, we also make our own country more secure.

Our coalition has a clear goal, understood by all:  to see the Iraqi people in charge of Iraq for the first time in generations.

America‘s task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend—a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf.

And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done.

There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom:  We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; help establish security; continue rebuilding Iraq‘s infrastructure; encourage more international support; and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people.

The first of these steps will occur next month, when our coalition will transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections.

On June 30th, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist and will not be replaced.  The occupation will end and Iraqis will govern their own affairs. 

America‘s ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, will present his credentials to the new president of Iraq.  Our embassy in Baghdad will have the same purpose as any other American embassy:  to assure good relations with a sovereign nation. 

America and other countries will continue to provide technical experts to help Iraq‘s ministries of government, but these ministries will report to Iraq‘s new prime minister. 

The United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is now consulting with a broad spectrum of Iraqis to determine the composition of this interim government.  The special envoy intends to put forward the names of interim government officials this week. 

In addition to a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister, 26 Iraqi ministers will oversee government departments from health to justice to defense.  This new government will be advised by a national council which will be chosen in July by Iraqis representing their country‘s diversity.

This interim government will exercise full sovereignty until national elections are held.

America fully supports Mr. Brahimi‘s efforts, and I have instructed the Coalition Provisional Authority to assist him in every way possible. 

In preparation for sovereignty, many functions of government have already been transferred.  Twelve government ministries are currently under the direct control of Iraqis. 

The ministry of education, for example, is out of the propaganda business and is now concerned with educating Iraqi children.  Under the direction of Dr. Ala‘din al-Alwan, the ministry has trained more than 30,000 teachers and supervisors for the schools of a new Iraq.

All along, some have questioned whether the Iraqi people are ready for self-government, or want it, and all along, the Iraqi people have given their answers. 

In settings where Iraqis have met to discuss their country‘s future, they have endorsed representative government, and they are practicing representative government.

Many of Iraq‘s cities and towns now have elected town councils and city governments, and beyond the violence a civil society is emerging.

The June 30th transfer of sovereignty is an essential commitment of our strategy. 

Iraqis are proud people who resent foreign control of their affairs, just as we would.  After decades under the tyrant, they are also reluctant to trust authority.

By keeping our promise on June 30th, the coalition will demonstrate that we have no interest in occupation.  And full sovereignty will give Iraqis a direct interest in the success of their own government. 

Iraqis will know that when they build a school or repair a bridge, they are not working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, they are working for themselves.

And when they patrol the streets of Baghdad or engage radical militias, they will be fighting for their own country.

The second step in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to help establish the stability and security that democracy requires.

Coalition forces and the Iraqi people have the same enemies:  the terrorists, illegal militia and Saddam loyalists who stand between the Iraqi people and their future as a free nation.

Working as allies, we will defend Iraq and defeat these enemies.

America will provide forces and support necessary for achieving these goals. 

Our commanders had estimated that a troop level below 115,000 would be sufficient at this point in the conflict.  Given the recent increase in violence, we will maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary.

This has required extended duty for the 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Light Cavalry Regiment -- 20,000 men and women who were scheduled to leave Iraq in April.  Our nation appreciates their hard work and sacrifice, and they can know that they will be heading home soon.

General Abizaid and other commanders in Iraq are constantly assessing the level of troops they need to fulfill the mission.  If they need more troops, I will send them.

The mission of our forces in Iraq is demanding and dangerous.  

Our troops are showing exceptional skill and courage. 

I thank them for their sacrifices and their duty.

(APPLAUSE)

In the city of Fallujah there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors.  American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. 

Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq‘s governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.

So we have pursued a different approach.  We‘re making security a shared responsibility in Fallujah.  Coalition commanders have worked with local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the city.

Our soldiers and Marines will continue to disrupt enemy attacks on our supply routes, conduct joint patrols with Iraqis to destroy bomb factories and safe houses, and kill or capture any enemy.

We want Iraqi forces to gain experience and confidence in dealing with their country‘s enemies.  We want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing capabilities, even as we help build them. 

At the same time, Fallujah must cease to be a sanctuary for the enemy. 

And those responsible for terrorism will be held to account. 

In the cities of Najaf and Karbala and Kufa, most of the violence has been decided by a young radical cleric who commands an illegal militia.  These enemies have been hiding behind an innocent civilian population, storing arms and ammunition in mosques and launching attacks from holy shrines. 

Our soldiers have treated religious sites with respect, while systematically dismantling the illegal militia. 

We‘re also seeing Iraqis themselves take more responsibility for restoring order.  In recent weeks, Iraqi forces have ejected elements of this militia from the governor‘s office in Najaf. 

Yesterday, an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque in Kufa.

Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from these towns.  Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.  As challenges rise in Fallujah, Najaf and elsewhere, the tactics of our military will be flexible. 

Commanders on the ground will pay close attention to local conditions and we will do all that is necessary by measured force or overwhelming force to achieve a stable Iraq. 

Iraq‘s military police and border forces have begun to take on broader responsibilities.  Eventually, they must be the primary defenders of Iraqi security as American and coalition forces are withdrawn.  And we‘re helping them to prepare for this role. 

In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy.  We‘ve learned from these failures and we‘ve taken steps to correct them. 

Successful fighting units need a sense of cohesion so we‘ve lengthened and intensified their training.  Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of their own country, not for any occupying power.  So we are ensuring that Iraqi forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command. 

Successful fighting units need the best possible leadership. 

So we improved the vetting and training of Iraqi officers and senior enlisted men.

At my direction and with the support of Iraqi authorities, we are accelerating our program to help train Iraqis to defend their country.

A new team of senior military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq‘s security forces.  I‘ve asked this team to oversee the training of a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and other security personnel.  Five Iraqi army battalions are in the field now, with another eight battalions to join them by July 1st.

The eventual goal is an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers in 27 battalions fully prepared to defend their country. 

After June 30th, American and other forces will still have important duties.  American military forces in Iraq will operate under American command as a part of a multinational force authorized by the United Nations. 

Iraq‘s new sovereign government will still face enormous security challenges and our forces will be there to help.

The third step in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to continue rebuilding that nation‘s infrastructure so that a free Iraq can quickly gain economic independence and a better quality of life. 

Our coalition has already helped Iraqis to rebuild schools and refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electrical grid and modernize the communication system.

And now a growing private economy is taking shape.  A new currency has been introduced.  Iraq‘s governing council approved a new law that opens the country to foreign investment for the first time in decades.  Iraq has liberalized its trade policy.  And today, an Iraqi observer attends meetings of the World Trade Organization.

Iraqi oil production has reached more than 2 million barrels per day, bringing revenues of nearly $6 billion so far this year, which is being used to help the people of Iraq.

And thanks in part to our efforts, to the efforts of former Secretary of State James Baker, many of Iraq‘s largest creditors have pledged to forgive or substantially reduce Iraqi debt incurred by the former regime.

We‘re making progress.  Yet there still is much work to do.

Over the decades of Saddam‘s rule, Iraq‘s infrastructure was allowed to crumble while money was diverted to palaces and to war and to weapons programs. 

We‘re urging other nations to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction, and 37 countries, and the IMF and the World Bank, have so far pledged $13.5 billion in aid. 

America has dedicated more than $20 billion to reconstruction and development projects in Iraq.

To ensure our money is spent wisely and effectively, our new embassy in Iraq will have regional offices in several key cities. These offices will work closely with Iraqis at all levels of government to help make sure projects are completed on time and on budget.

A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system.  Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture.  That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.

America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison.

When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated.  Then with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib Prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq‘s new beginning.

(APPLAUSE)

The forth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for Iraq‘s transition. 

At every stage, the United States has gone to the United Nations to confront Saddam Hussein, to promise serious consequences for his actions and to begin Iraqi reconstruction.

Today the United States and Great Britain presented a new resolution in the Security Council to help move Iraq toward self- government.

I directed Secretary Powell to work with fellow members of the council to endorse the time table the Iraqis have adopted, to express international support for Iraq‘s interim government, to reaffirm the world‘s security commitment to the Iraqi people and to encourage other U.N. members to join in the effort.

Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the success of a free Iraq, and I am confident they will share in the responsibility of assuring that success.

Next month at the NATO summit in Istanbul, I will thank our 15  NATO allies who together have more than 17,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. 

Great Britain and Poland are each leading a multinational division that is securing important parts of the country.  And NATO itself is giving helpful intelligence and communications and logistical support to the Polish-led division. 

At the summit, we will discuss NATO‘s role in helping Iraq build and secure its democracy. 

The fifth, and most important step is free national elections, to be held no later than next January. 

A United Nations team headed by Carina Perelli is now in Iraq helping form an independent election commission that will oversee an orderly accurate national election.  In that election, the Iraqi people will choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely- elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq‘s history. 

This assembly will serve as Iraq‘s legislature and it will choose a transitional government with executive powers.  The transitional national assembly will also draft a new constitution, which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a referendum scheduled for the fall of 2005.

Under this new constitution, Iraq will elect a permanent government by the end of next year. 

In this time of war and liberation and rebuilding, American soldiers and civilians on the ground have come to know and respect the citizens of Iraq.  They‘re a proud people who hold strong and diverse opinions. 

Yet Iraqis are united in a broad and deep conviction.  They‘re determined never again to live at the mercy of a dictator. 

And they believe that a national election will put that dark time behind them. 

A representative government that protects basic rights, elected by Iraqis, is the best defense against the return of tyranny.  And that election is coming. 

(APPLAUSE)

Completing the five steps to Iraqi elected self-government will not be easy. 

There‘s likely to be more violence before the transfer of sovereignty and after the transfer of sovereignty.  The terrorists and Saddam loyalists would rather see many Iraqis die than have any live in freedom. 

But terrorists will not determine the future of Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

That nation is moving every week toward free elections and a permanent place among free nations.

Like every nation that has made the journey to democracy, Iraqis will raise up a government that reflects their own culture and values.

I sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying power.  I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.

Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way.  

As they do, Iraqis can be certain a free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

In the last 32 months, history has placed great demands on our country and events have come quickly. 

Americans have seen the flames of September 11th, followed battles in the mountains of Afghanistan and learned new terms like orange alert and ricin and dirty bomb. 

We‘ve seen killers at work on trains in Madrid, in a bank in Istanbul, in a synagogue in Tunis and at a nightclub in Bali.  And now the families of our soldiers and civilian workers pray for their sons and daughters in Mosul, in Karbala, in Baghdad. 

We did not seek this war on terror, but this is the world as we find it.  We must keep our focus.  

We must do our duty. 

History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy. 

Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder.  They seek to impose Taliban-like rule country by country across the greater Middle East.

They seek the total control of every person in mind and soul; a harsh society in which women are voiceless and brutalized.  They seek bases of operation to train more killers and export more violence. They commit dramatic acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize civilized nations, hoping we will retreat from the world and give them free reign.

They seek weapons of mass destruction to impose their will through blackmail and catastrophic attacks.

None of this is the expression of a religion.  It is a totalitarian, political ideology pursued with consuming zeal and without conscious. 

Our actions, too, are guided by a vision.  

We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe and Africa.  We believe it is a tragedy of history that in the Middle East, which gave the world great gifts of law and science and faith, so many have been held back by lawless tyranny and fanaticism. 

We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage.  And when that day comes, the bitterness and burning hatreds that feed terrorism will fade and die away. 

America and all the world will be safer when hope has returned to the Middle East.  These two visions—one of tyranny and murder, the other of liberty and life—clashed in Afghanistan.  And thanks to brave U.S. and coalition forces and to Afghan patriots, the nightmare of the Taliban is over and that nation is coming to life again.

These two visions have now met in Iraq and are contending for the future of that country. 

The failure of freedom would only mark the beginning of peril and violence.  But, my fellow Americans, we will not fail.  We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold this hard won ground for the realm of liberty. 

May God bless our country.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush has wrapped up his speech at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

We are joined right now by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Biden, he did reiterate the fact that we are going to turn over control of that government on June 30 of this year, just about a month from now, and that we‘re going to allow elections over there at the very beginning of next year.  Anything else new in the remarks that you heard tonight? 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Nothing, Chris. 

And I‘m, quite frankly, disappointed.  He didn‘t answer any of the important questions.  He laid out the goals.  He didn‘t lay out any strategy.  And, quite frankly, I don‘t think he fully leveled with the American people.  The Iraqi force that he talks about, 35,000 people, every expert with whom I‘ve spoken—and we‘ve been saying this for a year—that will take at least three years to train that force. 

Who else are we going to get to take care of that security?  Who is going to decide how to spend the American money on the contracts, this new government?  Who is going to determine when and where that American force can be used in Iraq?  None of the questions we have been seeking to get in the Armed Services Committee and in the Foreign Relations Committee were answered. 

I mean, I must tell you, I am extremely disappointed, especially after having spent an hour with the president about 10 days ago.  I thought he was going to actually—for example the U.N. resolution there is no—there is a hortatory request for more forces.  The president should get on a plane, call a NATO conference, speak with the heads of the European forces.  We need major powers involved in this. 

I didn‘t have a single question answered.  And I must tell you, I feel badly saying this.  I have tried for a year and a half not to be critical, in thinking that, well, this is the last shot.  We are going to get it right.  But I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  Well, did you have a particular goal in mind you thought he should have achieved tonight, something he should have said? 

BIDEN:  Yes.  Yes. 

He should have been able to tell us straight up, No. 1, what was going to be the authority of the Iraqi government over American forces.  Let‘s say the American general says he is going to go into Karbala.  Can this new Iraqi government say no?  Let‘s say there is going to be a new contract.  They decide they want to build X instead of Y.  Who makes that judgment? 

What are we going to do?  We are going to have 1,000 members of a U.S.  Embassy there.  What is going to be the security for them?  Who is going to take care of that?  I just—none of the questions we‘ve been seeking—if that Iraqi force, if that—this new interim Iraqi government says they want the American forces to go home, are we leaving?  Do we then leave a country to a civil war, which quite frankly most experts believe would be worse than even when Saddam was in power?

I thought we would get some answers to some of the questions that many of us, Republican and Democrat alike, have been asking for.  And the president seems not yet to decided how to resolve them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Senator, as ranking Democrat on the Foreign Committee, did you detect any message tonight that may have been aimed at European allies or people in the world we are trying to get to participate in the postinterim government situation over there once we have given up sovereignty? 

BIDEN:  Chris, I will tell you exactly what I told the president when he asked me.  The president of the United States must lead.  Only he can get others involved. 

He must get on a plane, call a summit in Europe of our NATO allies and the major powers and say, look, you have as much to lose in failure as we do.  We need a NATO-led force.  We need contributions from the major powers. 

Look, Chris, after Abu Ghraib prison, our legitimacy in Iraq is squandered.  What are we going to do, what are the Iraqi people going to do when they get up in the morning on July the 1st?  They look out their window and they have a new government, the names of whom they don‘t know and will not know, because there will be no single national figure named?  And they look out and they still have 139,000 American forces.  What will have changed? 

Will this new Iraqi government be able to—with 70, 80 percent of the people saying they want Americans out now, will that government be able to cooperate with us?  And that is why there is a need to change the face of this.  What I heard today means, we still have 138,000 American forces, still a paltry 17,000 of everyone else, still American lives, still American money, still American force, without any indication we are going to get any help from anybody else in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you read the president‘s decision tonight to reiterate the various posts that are going to exist in this new constitutional government?

He talked about having a prime minister, a presidency, two vice-presidencies.  Why would he use national television time to give such information out to us? 

BIDEN:  Well, I think it was really to give it to the Iraqis.  And I don‘t disagree with him on that. 

He wants to make sure the Iraqis understand that we mean to transfer authority.  And he is laying out, it‘s not just a generic thing.  There‘s going to be this new government Brahimi is going to name, the U.N.  hopefully is going to sanction, and, in fact, it‘s going to be made up of the following things, fill in the blanks for the Iraqi people.  I think that is a worthwhile thing to do. 

But the part that he didn‘t fill in is, what about security?  What is going to happen now?  There‘s not a single military guy I know, Chris—and I‘ve been speaking to every major—seven major four-star retired generals, central commanders, NATO supreme allied commanders and existing commanders.  They all say we need significant force. 

You are going to have General Zinni tomorrow night, who was the CENTCOM commander, had control of all this area.  Every one of them saying from the beginning we need 200,000 to 300,000 forces there.  And where are we going to get those forces and how do you bring security? 

And, Chris, we want the Iraqi people—I do—look, first principles, the Iraqi people have to want their freedom more than we want it for them.  And, No. 1, they got to be willing to stick their heads up to do something about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIDEN:  They are not going to do that unless there is security in the street.  There is no possibility of Iraqi forces providing any security of any consequence any time soon.  That means there has got to be other forces. 

And what I heard tonight was, the president has yet to pick up the phone, call the French, the Germans, the English, the Italians, the Russians, and say, what is the deal, guys?  Sell this. 

MATTHEWS:  But would they answer the phone?

BIDEN:  They would answer the phone.

MATTHEWS:  They would?

BIDEN:  No one cannot answer the phone to the president of the United States. 

I met with a very significant foreign minister, along Chairman Lugar, the Republican leader of my committee.  He said, we don‘t want NATO in.  I said, what happens if my president picks up the phone, says he wants to meet with your president?  Can your president say no?  He says, I hope he doesn‘t make the call because he can‘t say no.  The president has been unwilling to use his capital where he should be using it, to get relief for American forces and to change the nature of the occupation. 

The day after this power is handed over, every Iraqi newspaper and every Iraqi is going to say, it is still a U.S. occupation.  That cannot work.  It must bring in other major powers.  And the irony is, this president‘s quoting at length the United Nations.  I find this ironic.  I have said from the beginning, the United Nations is necessary, but not sufficient.  It can‘t supply a single troop. 

All it can do is provide the rationale for those nations in Europe and other places, whose publics don‘t want them to send their troops, to respond to presidential leadership to send troops.  And I‘m not looking for a lot of troops.  What I‘m looking for is a change of the face, not an American-led occupation, a NATO-led occupation, a contact group-led occupation, like we have done in Bosnia, like we‘ve done in Kosovo and like exists in Afghanistan right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, Senator Biden.  The president gave a set of remarks.  You were not impressed by them.  We will see what the rest of the country thinks.  We don‘t know that yet.

But, clearly, events take precedent over words and pictures trump words.  And how will the president‘s words do coming up against probably more bad pictures, certainly more casualties, more wounded, more seriously wounded amputations, he is talking about more beheadings?  Does the president have an impossible task of trying to catch up with events here? 

BIDEN:  Now, look, I think the American people are pretty darn smart. 

I wonder whether they think they heard a single change of strategy. 

Staying the course is not the answer.  Staying the course is a prescription for failure.  Changing the course.  And the course is what?  What is the goal?  Elections, free elections in December of ‘05, when power is turned over.  No one believes that will be possible, Chris, without more security on the ground.  No one believes there is sufficient force on the ground to do it now. 

And everyone knows it is impossible to train a sufficient number of

Iraqi forces to handle it themselves.  It‘s not even defining what the U.S.

mission is.  Is the U.S. mission over there—are our military guy‘s

mission, as General Joulwan says, what four-star general, NATO commander,

what is the mission?  Is it to go take out these militias?  There‘s four

other major militias over there, Chris.  What‘s the function

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, if you were president of the United States tomorrow and you were able to call the shots or advise the president, would your major prescription be more forces? 

BIDEN:  My major prescription would get the rest of the world involved to increase our legitimacy, call a summit meeting, get a contact group together, major powers.  Meet with them.  Engage with them.

MATTHEWS:  Have you got indication from talking to foreign leaders that they would join in a new effort? 

BIDEN:  It is waning.  I had indication for that two months ago.  I got indication from that from major military leaders as recently as two weeks ago.  But the president has to ask.  The president has to lead.  He has to do something. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, we only have a few minutes.  But look ahead now, a month now.  It is not far until—from June 30, when we‘re going to have this new interim government takes office.   We had a presiding head of the governing authority just assassinated walking in or about to go into the—waiting in line in traffic, actually, to come into the Green Zone the other day.

How do we protect the security of anybody who takes these jobs? 

They‘ll get killed, won‘t they? 

BIDEN:  Well, we can protect some of them. 

But, for example, the whole thing in the Green Zone, the idea that, to get into to meet with our officials that the acting president of Iraq had to wait in line to do that seems to me to demonstrate that this is not the gang that can get things straightened out very quickly.  We‘ve made significant mistakes.  Our one last shot to get this right, unite the world, convince the Iraqi people that this is not just a U.S. occupation, is June 30. 

I must tell you, I was saddened to hear—not hear any detail.  For example, where is this status of forces agreement?  Who is going to call the shots for the U.S. military?  Who is going to do that, this new government?  I haven‘t heard that answer.  And I asked that.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  That is your main criticism of the speech tonight.  We‘re going to have to leave you with that, Senator Biden.  You made it very clear tonight that the president failed to delineate the authority in Iraq once the interim government takes office, who is calling the shots, the U.S. military or that interim government.  And the president never explained that.

Thank you very much. 

BIDEN:  Details matter.  Details matter. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate.

BIDEN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.  He‘s a Republican.

You are watching special cover of President Bush‘s speech on Iraq tonight on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Duncan Hunter is a Republican from California. 

He‘s chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Mr. Chairman, what do you make of Ricardo Sanchez, the fact that he is being rotated out of his position as head of the military operation in Iraq? 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, very frankly, Chris, I‘m not—I don‘t know why that is occurring, but if it‘s taking place, that‘s a function of a reflection of the operational, the day-to-day operations in Iraq.  And we rotate our military officers. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUNTER:  That is not necessarily an announcement that he‘s made—

that he‘s made a mistake or a

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In fact, to complete the story, I also hear through the pipeline that he is up for his fourth star.  So it is obviously not going to be some attempt to spank him.  You can‘t give a guy a fourth star and say he is being dumped on. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Yes. 

One thing you might look at, too, Chris, is the fact that you have got a lot of talent.  And I think you have seen a lot these guys, guys like Ray Odierno and General Swannack and lots of great leaders.  We‘ve seen—one thing that this whole operation has shown us is that we have a lot of talented military leadership.  And so the fact that you can rotate out a guy who has done a good job and been competent is a sign of strength.  It shows that you have got some depth. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you just to run through what you saw in the president‘s speech tonight.

He did reiterate the fact that we are going to create an interim government over there a month from now and at the very beginning of next year, there‘s going to be all-out general elections to create a full-fledged new government over there. 

Anything else that you heard in the speech that was salutary for you?

HUNTER:  Well, I think he did what he had to do. 

First, he showed that he had a plan.  And I think the big criticism, if you listen to—I just listened to Senator Biden on your show, that “everything is going to heck in a handbasket” Biden—the big criticism has been, there is no plan.  We don‘t know who they are going to be handing this government off to.  It is all fuzzy.  It‘s all hazy. 

And so the president spent some time on detail.  And he did go into some detail.  He talked about this change.  He talked about the Cabinet being stood up, the fact you have already got some Cabinet members functioning right now.  These guys are going to be appointed and Brahimi is going to have his selections finished really in the next 10 days, so they can hit the ground running when we make the June 30 turnover. 

So the president went into that.  And I think what he did was pretty good on two fronts.  He said, we are handing off this government to the Iraqis.  And while we are handing it off, we are going to continue to provide this military shield, this security shield.  And we‘ve done that lots of times in lots of other countries.  And it is a tough, difficult thing. 

But I think that he showed the American people that he has got a plan, he‘s got a blueprint.  The blueprint has timelines and deadlines and we are sticking to them.  And I think that is important. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember back in Vietnam days, when we had Diem in there and we dumped him and he got killed during that coup.  And then, after that, I think we had a big hand in picking all the future leaders of Vietnam.  There was always the sense that they were puppets, however, after Diem, the last guy that could have told us to leave and also had the ability to tell us to stay. 

Do you believe that Colin Powell is accurate in saying that any new government that takes office after June 30 could potentially tell us to leave the country? 

HUNTER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they have that authority? 

HUNTER:  No, absolutely, Chris. 

And, listen, this is one thing that I think we need to make loud and clear, is that the future security of Iraq and its—and the freedom, this running start that we are giving to Iraq is not guaranteed for eternity.  No country‘s freedom is guaranteed for eternity.  They are going to have to pick up the barbell and they‘re going to have to start lifting it, both with their civilian sector, with their government sector and also with the military. 

And my recommendation is that we start making some—we start putting a little weight on the military, the stand-up of military forces in Iraq and the military leadership, because they are going to have to support this government.  And I think we are going to have to take what—let‘s take our strengths.  We‘ve got a lot of great American, very talented American leaders, these division commanders who started these city councils, these community groups and some government, local governments, that are working right now.

In fact, I think that is really the heart of the government that is working in Iraq right now, is a local government.  And let‘s let them exercise, perhaps in this convention that is going to be called in July, where they will form a consultative body for the appointed leaders that Mr.  Brahimi is selecting right now.  But let‘s get this league of local governments together. 

There are the guys that have been fixing the potholes.  They‘ve been setting up a water supply for the south suburb.  Let‘s get them involved.  But if you get a government that is strong enough to work on its own and it‘s got a military that is strong enough to work on its own, then the Americans will be happy to leave. 

And for people that don‘t think we are going to leave and think that somehow we want to stay and we‘ve got ulterior motives, take a look at Japan, take a look at Germany, when we had them under total acquiescence after World War II. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  We said, all we want you to do is be free and we left them.

MATTHEWS:  But that was a very different situation.  We weren‘t losing men under the Japanese occupation or the German occupation.  We weren‘t losing people.  They weren‘t attacking us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I checked the—Mr. Chairman, the other day—and we lost something like 50 people during the course of ‘45, basically, half of which -- the second half of that year.  And after that, we only lost three people in Germany during the occupation.  So it isn‘t really similar.  We are losing 50-some guys a month over there in Iraq. 

HUNTER:  Well, we have lost 575 people up to the last day, Chris, killed in action in combat in Iraq.  And we‘ve lost 53 in Afghanistan. 

And every one of those losses is hurtful to our country.  But my point is that the United States—when the United States occupies a country and asks it to do one thing, that is be free and treat your people right, we have some credibility because we‘ve done that with other countries.  We‘ve left those countries.  And our only admonition to them was to stay free and we‘ve let them have access to American markets. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand. 

HUNTER:  And so we have I think good credibility there.

And we are going to make this transfer.  And I think what we have to do is stay steady.  And all of these weeping Willies and—I don‘t think Senator Biden saw a single ray of light in this entire thing as he walked down all the problems.  And the last thing he said was, we have got to take the American face off and put an Iraqi face on.  Therefore, we have got to put in another 150,000 troops, so we have got one on every street corner.  That doesn‘t make sense. 

MATTHEWS:  But the problem with being optimistic in this regime, in this situation over there, Mr. Chairman, is, if you look back a year ago, with the mission accomplished, there was a sense that we had basically dealt with all the major military problems. 

And now we‘ve lost something like 4,000 guys in terms of serious casualties.  I don‘t mean like a nick here and there.  I‘m talking people losing arms and legs.  And it does keep going.  And when is it going to end?  When are going to we see a month where we don‘t have a substantial number of casualties in that country? 

HUNTER:  Well, here‘s what we have to do, Chris. 

It is a dangerous country.  It‘s a rough, tough road.  And we have to understand that Iraq is going to have bombs going on and explosions in Baghdad and other places from where the sun now stands.  If money and resources could stop bombs going off, you wouldn‘t have any bombs going off in Israel.  So we have to do is put together a country that is capable of enduring.  And that means capable of moving along. 

They don‘t have to become Republicans and Democrats, but they need to be able to reassemble when their government is attacked, when people are taken out, to reassemble, to reconstitute and to continue to move and to be a benign force with respect to their relationship with the United States.  In a way, we have already won, because, in terms of disassembling the Iraq threat, that is Saddam Hussein‘s threat, just as we disassembled the threat that was in Afghanistan, and we now have gotten Mr. Gadhafi to start turning over his nuclear program apparatus to the United States, in a way, we have already won. 

But we will have a bigger win if we can maintain an Iraq that a modicum of freedom and has a good relationship with the United States.  I don‘t think we‘ve got put this bar way up in the air, where they‘re going to have a Jeffersonian democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but how do we keep the Baathists from coming back once we are gone? 

HUNTER:  Well, here‘s what you‘re going to have.

You‘ve got—Iraq is—its like a piece of topography that has got mountains and valleys.  And if you flow this freedom over it, it has got to follow the topography.  And it‘s got follow here the political topography.  And you have got enormous differences and dissensions and conflicts.  And that is Iraq. 

On the other hand, I think you can have an Iraq that has a grassroots government in these communities that are very different from each other and that have the capability of coming together when they have an external threat and are able to plod along and have a modicum of democracy.  I don‘t think that bar is too high. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the American people and this election.  As we‘ve pointed out this timetable, June 30, an interim government, next January in ‘05, a national election over there.  The American people will have to choose how they like the course of the situation over there at a midpoint, in November.

Will the American people know in November which way the wind is blowing over there, whether we are achieving our goals or we‘re not, or will it be like today, where it has to be argued that we are achieving our goals?

HUNTER:  Well, 1,000 things could happen, Chris.  This is kind of like the third round in a 15-round fight. 

But I would say this.  The president‘s challenge—and I think you mentioned it—is pretty difficult, because he is making this argument.  And I think he made a good, forceful presentation.  But those words will be played out on the media against a backdrop of these doggone prison pictures, which are played—I think we have given more publicity to what those seven people than the invasion of Normandy. 

It will be played against a backdrop of explosions in Iraq.  And that is a very difficult thing to compete with. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUNTER:  So I think the American people are going to have to hang

tough.  And I think the president‘s message is, stay steady.  We‘ve got to

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

We‘re back here at 11:00.

END   

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