updated 12/22/2004 12:16:00 PM ET 2004-12-22T17:16:00

Guest: Lynne Cheney, Christopher Allbritton, Feisal Al-Istrabadi, Stephen Hayes, Susan Page

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight on HARDBALL, the deadliest single attack on the U.S. troops since the start of the Iraq war.  Plus from the vice president‘s residence, a one-on-one interview with Lynne Cheney.  It‘s time for HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown sitting in for the vacationing Chris Matthews.  Today‘s attack in Mosul was the deadliest for U.S. forces since the Iraq war began.  A radical Muslim group has claimed responsibility for the attack.  We‘ll have a report from the ground in Baghdad and we‘ll hear from an Iraqi government official. 

But first my one-on-one interview with Lynne Cheney.  She‘s an extraordinarily accomplished woman having chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities and earning a PH.D. in British literature.  She has also written numerous books for adults from novels to public policy issues and now she‘s turned her attention to children‘s books about American history, the latest of which is “When Washington Crossed the Delaware, A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.”  She invited us to the vice president‘s residence and I began by asking her where her interest in history comes from. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF DICK CHENEY:  Well, I‘ve been interested in history my whole life, but when I was at the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan administration, it became really clear to me that we have a crisis in terms of young people understanding American history.  If you do surveys, you know, you come up with some really startling gaps in their knowledge, 2/3 of the kids we surveyed, 17-year-olds, when I was at the Endowment, didn‘t know within a 50-year period of time when the Civil War had occurred.  It was that kind of thing.  I think the problem is we don‘t catch them early and the problem is we don‘t let them know how interesting history is, how compelling our story is. 

BROWN:  Is it a problem of parents not being more involved?  Is it a problem with the education system? 

CHENEY:  I think it‘s all of us together who need to fix it.  I think if there are better books for kids to use to learn to read, as well as to learn history, then that will help the problem.  If they‘re good stories of our national story to tell them.  And of course I think parents are really preparing themselves to be better and better teachers because what we‘ve seen over the past few years is a real renaissance in interest in the great historical figures of our past like John Adams, like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, so that‘s all very positive. 

BROWN:  And you actually started this book award, the James Madison Book Award Fund which is sort of designed to inspire writers to spend time on writing history books for children, right? 

CHENEY:  You know, as long as I‘ve been writing and writing children‘s books for the last four years, I didn‘t realize until I was doing George Washington that it‘s very seldom that nonfiction makes it on to the bestseller list for children.  I was really surprised at that.  But I‘m hoping with the James Madison Book Award, which I‘ve funded with proceeds from the books I‘ve written, that we‘ll be able to encourage the very best writing for children so that we‘ll see more and more popular decisions to buy history books for kids. 

BROWN:  I have to ask you something because today in the “New York Times” on the editorial page, you tell the story that is the same story in the children‘s book but written for adults and it‘s a war story.  George Washington‘s war story.  And on the page it‘s right next to a column about Iraq.  How do you explain to children what‘s going on today? 

CHENEY:  Well, I think that there‘s a natural continuum in a sense that our country began with brave men, it was all men except for a few people like Molly Pitcher but it was brave men fighting for freedom.  In the beginning our freedom had to be won and all through our history brave men and now brave men and women have fought to preserve our way of life.  And you know, I think the message is that freedom isn‘t free, that it‘s not inevitable, that in the beginning it might have gone another way and that we can‘t just count on always being the wonderful, free, great prosperous nation that we are unless we‘re willing to step forward and defend our freedom. 

BROWN:  But how do you talk to them about the violence?  There‘s another attack today in Mosul.  Is this something you tell your children about? 

CHENEY:  Well, they see it on television and they do worry about it.  My grandchildren do.  So you talk to them about the importance of freedom and you talk to them about how brave our soldiers, our marines, all the fighting men and women are.  I don‘t disguise the fact even in the children‘s book that we‘re talking about a war.  One of Peter‘s paintings has a man getting shot right in the front of the painting.  And I talk about what hard war was for many of these men.  Many of them had no shoes, they were cold, they were hungry.  It‘s very interesting, I would love to talk to someone who knows more about it than I do, the men are often described as naked.  They had lost their clothes.  I can‘t imagine they were really entirely without clothes but you come across that word again and again.  And it was very cold.  So it was a terrible time.  Heroic men triumphed and that‘s a great story to tell kids. 

BROWN:  They are getting information from so many sources right now, it‘s not just television, it‘s the Internet.  How do you explain to them what is real, what‘s of value in all of that morass? 

CHENEY:  I think that schools—this should be part of the curriculum and I know in good schools it is, learning to evaluate information is the kind of thing that you need to do every day as a journalist.  It‘s important to so many professions and it‘s important to us as citizens.  And there are things—there are tricks you teach them, how well does this person source his material?  Are there footnotes available any place?  Can you try checking it from different perspective and different angles?  So there are ways to tell kids to use the Internet.  It‘s a wonderful resource.  I do research on the Internet all the time.  And I love reading the bloggers. 

BROWN:  I was going to ask you about that.  What do you make of the evolution of the blog? 

CHENEY:  I think it‘s quite wonderful.  It is a real democratization of information so that people don‘t have to rely on one or two sources, they‘ve got multiple sources.  And I can tell in about two minutes on a blog whether this is someone whose opinion I value or not.  You know in a conversation when you‘re talking to someone who is bright and well-informed and I tell you, I think I can do that same thing when I‘m looking at blogs on the Internet. 

BROWN:  You‘ve got to have a favorite. 

CHENEY:  I have a lot of blogs I read.  I love Hugh Hewitt.  I think he‘s terrific.  I love Power Line.  I read Instapundit.  And I don‘t know, does Real Clear Politics constitute a blog?  I certainly looked at it a lot during the campaign.  It was a wonderful source and remains a wonderful source of articles that are being written in many places. 

BROWN:  Let‘s go back to TV for a second.  Do you discourage—did you discourage your kids and do you discourage your grandkids from watching television? 

CHENEY:  Not entirely.  I think I could probably even do a better job of that than I did when my kids were little.  I‘m not a very strict parent and I‘m not a very strict grandparent, actually.  But there are some things you don‘t want them to watch.  “SpongeBob SquarePants” is fine.  It‘s the equivalent of my watching “Law and Order,” I think.  You know, maybe it doesn‘t improve your intellect but it gives you some moments of fun and relaxation.  So I don‘t discourage it entirely.  But you need to be with them as much as you can be.  Katie was watching the Super Bowl when the famous disrobing accident happened.  And it was good we were there. 

BROWN:  What did you think of that? 

CHENEY:  Well, I thought it was just really outlandish. 

BROWN:  But what did you think of the reaction within the country from the FCC after that happened? 

CHENEY:  I think that it was all perfectly justified.  This struck me as totally irresponsible.  And while I‘m a great advocate of free speech, it‘s one of the foundations of our society, it did strike me that, you know, this was so out of line that the representatives of the people needed to take some action. 

BROWN:  With Katie there with you when Janet Jackson did her bit, what did you tell her? 

CHENEY:  That it was awful.  That we couldn‘t imagine why such a thing would happen on TV that was supposed to be for families. 

BROWN:  What do you make of the FCC now—I‘ll give you one example, it‘s reported they‘re investigating indecent exposure in the Olympic Games at the opening ceremonies that wasn‘t broadcast here. 

CHENEY:  I don‘t like to talk about incidents that I don‘t really know about.  But I can tell you that the Janet Jackson—what was that called, a wardrobe malfunction—that took TV—family television some place where it shouldn‘t go. 

BROWN:  Should the government be more involved in regulating what‘s on the air now? 

CHENEY:  It‘s a very difficult line.  You have to be sure that you continue to support the idea of free expression but there‘s also protecting the next generation and I think that is an issue that means government does have a role. 

BROWN:  Before we wrap up this segment, are you going to write more books? 

CHENEY:  For sure.  I‘ve got another children‘s book I‘m working on and more ideas.  You know, I think I‘d like to return to the kind of writing I was doing before, too.  And I probably will move ahead with that after the New Year.  I want a Christmas vacation.

BROWN:  Don‘t we all.  Thank you, Mrs. Cheney.  We‘re going to take a quick break and be right back in just a moment with Mrs. Lynne Cheney.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with HARDBALL from the vice president‘s residence with Mrs. rMDNM_Lynne Cheney. 

You, whether it‘s fair or not, the world thinks of you as the vice president‘s wife.  Right.  Right. 

But you have this extraordinary resume, you really do.  I mean, you‘ve chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities, you have a doctorate in 19 century British literature.  Never run for politic office though, are you ever going to do that?

CHENEY:  Well, I don‘t think so.  I encourage my daughters to think about it.  I think my granddaughters will be candidates some days, they were just so terrific on the campaign trail, I think they‘ve got it in their blood, you know.  I love right, and that‘s probably what I‘ll spend the rest of my life doing is righting. 

BROWN:  You do have this pretty incredible opportunity because of your public profile.  Over the next four years, you basicly can do anything you want.  You can take any issue you want and make it front and center. 

CHENEY:  Well, it‘s history.  And I think it is really important to—to be sure that kids growing up knowing our national story.  And for a long time, you know, we taught a sort of grim and gloomy version of it, made it sound as though you were very unlucky if you‘ve been born in the United States of America or if you had come here.  And it‘s simply isn‘t true. 

BROWN:  What do you mean by that?  It‘s...

(CROSSTALK) 

CHENEY:  Well, -- well, there was a period and I think it still exists in which we talk about the negative aspects of our history.  We spend a lot of time on the depression and we spend a lot of time on the McCarthy era.  And certainly those are things kids should know about.  They should know about slavery.  But we also need to make sure they understand the forward motion of our country has been upward.  That we‘re on an upward path.  That freedom has expanded.  That the circle of equality includes more and evermore of us.  It is a very positive story and think it is really important for kids to know. 

BROWN:  How aside from what you‘ve done with the children‘s books, which is incredible, but how do you continue that? 

What else will you do? 

CHENEY:  I think this is perhaps my point of maximum impact on that particular issue.  I did a lot of things before Dick was vice president at the National Endowment for the Humanities, for example, and at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization that, you know, worries about being sure that there‘s a good objective teaching of our history in colleges and universities.  But now I‘m focusing on children, I‘m focusing on the books and the James Madison Book Award.  And we‘ve been able to point out some really wonderful books this last year, a book about Ben Franklin, a book about the 18 -- 1783 epidemic -- 93 epidemic in Philadelphia, yellow plague where the African-American community, the free Africans in Philadelphia came forward to help. 

I love especially when I go to a school telling kids parts of a story that they‘ve never heard.  In “The Washington Book,” for example, you‘ll see pictures of African-Americans.  Well, people of African descent who fought in the revolutionary war.  And I think people don‘t often know that.  And when you tell it to kids, you can kind of see their eyes light up with interest.  You know, this is a diverse group of men that we have fighting here.  And it‘s important that little kids understand that it wasn‘t just people who came here from Europe who defended our freedom, who fought in this war. 

BROWN:  Can I talk to you a little bit about not just where you‘re headed over the next four years, but the country.  There has been a realignment.  There‘s been a lot of talk about the red state, blue state realignment post election.  You are someone who is very conservative, your signoff from your days at “Crossfire” was from the Right on and Right on every issue. 

CHENEY:  Well, That was a little tongue and cheek, Campbell. 

BROWN:  But what do you do with the power if you believe there is sort of a red state mandate out there right now? 

CHENEY:  Well, you know, I think that the citizens have taken power into their own hands and re-elected George W. Bush, that‘s the point that perhaps we should be making.  One of the things I really did sense during the election was that people in what we‘re calling red states felt as though they weren‘t always given the respect that they deserved, that perhaps the Democratic ticket, perhaps the mainstream media looked at their beliefs, looked at their lives and were disdainful.  And I think with this last election, you know, they‘ve certainly made themselves an important part of the political scene.  And I think we‘ll see changes.  I think we‘ll see changes in the way the media covers red states.  I think we‘ll see changes in the Democratic Party the way they talk about matters of faith, for example. 

BROWN:  I was going to say the issue of values, that that has gotten enormous attention after the election, but not so much for before in terms of the analysis post election analysis. 

CHENEY:  Values is such a broad category.  it‘s about working hard every day.  It‘s not just about going to church, thought certainly, is about going to church, too.  I think the whole issue of values, you don‘t want to focus too narrowly on a couple of issues.  It‘s a very broad idea.  It‘s being not cynical.  I don‘t think I said that very gracefully, but it‘s looking at what‘s happening in our country.  It‘s looking at the story of our country, for example.  and being able to say, you know, we‘re on the side of right and good.  And not having to feel a necessity to be cynical about that. 

BROWN:  We‘re going to take a quick break.   We‘ll be back in just a moment with more with Mrs. Lynne Cheney. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back from the vice president‘s residence with Mrs. Lynne Cheney.  And I want to ask you about one of your earlier books, “A Is for Abigail.”  Do you think that history in a sense has shortchanged women and their role? 

CHENEY:  See, that‘s the wrong way, Campbell, to think about it.  What has happened is this amazing process.  In the beginning of our country, Abigail Adams couldn‘t own property, she couldn‘t go to college, she wasn‘t expected to be in physical activities.  It was—she couldn‘t vote, of course.  And look at what has happened.  The path has been such an amazing upward one.  And we should note the heroines who got us where we are today, people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who worked with her friend Susan B.  Anthony for 50 years to get women to vote.  Both women died before we actually were able to vote.  But as Susan B. Anthony said once, “failure isn‘t possible.”  You know, they just had—they knew they were on the side of what was right and just, and they succeeded. 

BROWN:  OK, following that evolution, are we going to see a woman president?  

CHENEY:  Of course we will. 

BROWN:  In your lifetime, do you think?

CHENEY:  Of course.  I think so.

BROWN:  You do?

CHENEY:  Oh, sure.  I do.  I mean, I—when Dick and I travel the country, one of the things I‘m struck by are the women coming in to politics at all different levels, how bright and how ambitious.  It‘s so terrific to see women who are ambitious and not—not ashamed of it.  It used to be that being ambitious was frowned upon, I think, if you‘re a woman, but that‘s not true anymore.  And surely we‘ll see a woman president in my lifetime. 

BROWN:  You know, during this past campaign, you, the first lady, Laura Bush, Teresa Heinz, Elizabeth Edwards all got an enormous amount of attention from the media. 

CHENEY:  Really?BROWN:  Really, no.  But do you think that was appropriate? 

CHENEY:  Well, I think people are interested in a politician‘s family.  And I think that‘s kind of inevitable that wives will be out there.  And also, I think we can make a good case, you know.  I know Dick better than anybody else in the whole world.  Laura knows the president better than anyone else in the world.  When you‘ve lived with someone for a very long time, and you say, you know, this is someone whose opinion has always been, it seems to me, very thoughtfully formed and usually correct, you know, you‘re really speaking from authority.  You‘ve been there.  You‘ve seen it. 

BROWN:  This was an especially bruising campaign, I guess, for you? 

CHENEY:  You know, when you win and you look back on it, it all seems like it was pretty easy. 

BROWN:  That‘s a fair point. 

CHENEY:  You know, what you do actually is you go back and the parts that, you know, that you didn‘t like so much, you sort of learn to smile about them and they become part of family lore.  And we have wonderful stories from the 2000 campaign that we‘ll tell when we‘re sitting around Christmas dinner.  We have wonderful stories from when Dick first ran for Congress in 1978 that we tell.  You know, and some of them are disasters like the first time Dick gave a political speech.  And the setting was there was this big guy with a mustache, and he had a big gong.  And if you went over I think it was 80 seconds—if you went over 80 seconds, you got gonged.  This was in the days of “The Gong Show.”  You know, it‘s such a funny story to think that, you know, he‘ll end up being vice president, but this is where you start, on “The Gong Show,” more or less.

BROWN:  Speaking of family, how is the vice president? 

CHENEY:  He‘s great. 

BROWN:  And does it drive you crazy, the attention that we in the media are certainly guilty of, of focusing on his health and everything? 

CHENEY:  No.  I mean, that‘s a perfectly understandable concern.  And I understand that it‘s going to be a subject of interest in the future as it has been in the past.  But let me tell you, he‘s very well.  He‘s looking forward to his vacation in Wyoming.  He‘s doing his exercises, he‘s eating right.  And I don‘t nag exactly, but I do make suggestions that keep him on the path of good health. 

BROWN:  Tell me what your plans are for the holidays with your family? 

CHENEY:  We‘ll go to Wyoming, and I hope it‘s good snow.  My whole family loves to go downhill skiing.  I do cross-country.  I think it‘s pretty good exercise and maybe not quite so dangerous.  But even that requires a good amount of snow on the ground.  And we‘ll open our presents Christmas morning as we always have. 

BROWN:  Well, Mrs. Cheney, it was a pleasure talking to you.  Happy holidays to you. 

CHENEY:  Thank you very much.  And merry Christmas. 

BROWN:  And from the vice president‘s mansion, I‘m Campbell Brown. 

We‘ll be back with more HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  And this half hour on HARDBALL, the deadliest attack yet at an American base in Iraq.  We‘ll have the latest on today‘s explosion at a mess tent in the city of Mosul.  But first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWSBREAK)

BROWN:  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

In this half-hour on HARDBALL, the deadliest attack yet at an American base in Iraq.  We‘ll have the latest on today‘s explosion at a mess tent in the city of Mosul.

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWS BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

On a day when President Bush visited with families of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, insurgents launched their deadliest attack on a U.S. military base in Iraq, killing at least 24 people, including 15 American troops and wounding at least 61. 

Christopher Allbritton is “TIME” magazine‘s correspondent in Baghdad.

Christopher, give us the latest, if you can, on the Mosul attack and describe what happened earlier today.

CHRISTOPHER ALLBRITTON, “TIME”:  Well, about noontime, when hundreds of soldiers were sitting down to eat in this canvas colored dining hall, some kind of explosion happened.  It was a rocket attack, a mortar attack.  We‘re not really quite sure yet. 

(CROSSTALK)

ALLBRITTON:  As near as we can tell—go ahead. 

BROWN:  Well, no, I was just going to say this wasn‘t a fortified area.  This dining hall was basically a tent, right? 

ALLBRITTON:  Right. 

It has concrete barriers on the—for walls, but the roof is basically a canvas tent.  There was another dining hall that‘s being constructed nearby, a more fortified dining hall, steel and concrete structure that had not been completed yet, which is why they were still dining in this tent structure. 

BROWN:  And we know that mortars—and I‘ve read in this particular area something like 30 mortars had been fired at them over a period of time.  This isn‘t unusually, actually.

ALLBRITTON:  No.

Mortar attacks on U.S. forward operating bases, or FOBs, as they‘re called, are pretty common all across Iraq.  And depending on the base, you can get several dozen a week to a few a week.  Most of the time, they don‘t hit anything.  They‘re usually fired kind of randomly by attackers who stop in traffic, fall out of the car and fire the mortar, then get back into the car and go, a real hit-and-run operation. 

In this case, the attackers, either, they got a very fortunate shot to hit the tent or they had some kind of targeting information.  I think it was probably just bad luck that they were able to hit the tent. 

BROWN:  A Sunni insurgency group is claiming responsibility for the attack.  What do you know about this group? 

ALLBRITTON:  Well, the Ansar Al-Sunna group is one of the first—it was one of the first groups to organize after the invasion.  It‘s a split off of the Ansar Al-Islam group that was based up in Iraqi Kurdistan before the war that has ties, allegedly, to al Qaeda. 

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi apparently was sheltered up in this area as well. 

Ansar Al-Sunna has also—since then, it has grown.  It‘s a Salafis group.  It‘s a very—it‘s not quite as hard-core as the Wahabists, but it is a  Salafis group.  It‘s claimed responsibility for numerous attacks across Iraq, including a February bombing in the Kurdish city of Arbil that killed more than 100 people, including the deputy president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party there. 

BROWN:  Talk to me about Mosul in general.  This is the third largest city in Iraq.  And it seems, watching from here at least, that the situation there has gotten worse. 

ALLBRITTON:  Right. 

Mosul is definitely—it‘s definitely gone downhill.  It‘s the third largest city, as you said.  And it‘s about evenly split between Kurds and Arabs.  The east half of the city, from what we hear, is pretty much contained and controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  The Tigris splits the city. 

The western side of the city, again, from what we hear, mainly an insurgent town.  The Iraqi security forces have melted away and not many have stayed and fought during the battles in November when U.S. forces were operating in Fallujah and violence seemed to be flaring up in Mosul.  Most of the American bases are based outside the city and they only go in really when they go on patrols. 

BROWN:  Well, let me talk to you a little bit about the troops.  And I want to play something, an interview we did on Monday, when I asked deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the lack of armor for American troops.  And listen quickly to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE:  I questioned what our leaders in the field, the officers who are preparing to lead these men into battle, have been doing.  If they‘re going into battle without the equipment they need, then someone should be talking about it.  The president of the United States has made it very clear.  Our soldiers are going to get what they need to do the job we ask of them. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

BROWN:  Christopher, you talk to the troops, obviously.  What is morale like right now?  Do they feel like they‘re getting the support they need? 

ALLBRITTON:  It‘s hard to say.  I mean, every soldier is an individual and some have higher morale than others. 

Most of the time, it‘s very much a, yes, you know, we‘re here to complete the mission.  We‘re doing the best that we can do with what we have.  I think morale could be described as good, but it‘s—I don‘t know that I would really call it outstanding.  And I do think that probably they do wish they were getting more, but it‘s very hard to get them to actually complain about it.  There‘s very much a stiff upper lip kind of quality to them. 

BROWN:  What‘s it like for you there?  Given the security situation, your movement has got to be limited somewhat.  Are you able to get out and about now? 

ALLBRITTON:  I do get out. 

We have security procedures that we follow when we go out and we travel around.  I go to interviews with political parties.  I go to the Green Zone.  I don‘t do shopping.  I don‘t do errands.  If I need to buy something, I generally have one of my staff go out and take care of it for me.  We go on very specific purposes when we‘re going out. 

It is bad here.  It‘s not as bad as it was during October and November during Ramadan, when I was evacuated because of safety measures, actually.  But talking to my colleagues who were still here, they couldn‘t really move around at all.  And getting outside of Baghdad, the only way to move is generally as an embedded reporter with the U.S. military. 

In terms of other situations, the electricity is by and large much worse than it was during the summer, when things seemed to be improving.  We‘re on a two-hours-on, four-hours-off schedule in large parts of the city and in parts of the country.  Fuel lines are up to five kilometers long sometimes.  And it‘s really causing a major problem in productivity and bringing the economy back, because many of the people who would be working are stuck in line trying to gas up their cars from 5:00 in the morning and maybe they‘ll get gas at midnight. 

BROWN:  Well, Christopher, it‘s good to get your insight.  And we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Christopher Allbritton with “TIME” magazine.

And next, reaction to today‘s attack from an Iraqi government official. 

And this Friday, it‘s HARDBALL holiday, the brightest stories of 2004.  Chris Matthews recaps the best interviews from the past year, including Donald Rumsfeld, Zell Miller and P. Diddy.  It‘s Friday, Christmas Eve, at 7:00 Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  When we come back, reaction to today‘s deadly attack at a U.S.  military base in Mosul from Iraq‘s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

HARDBALL is back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Ambassador Feisal Al-Istrabadi is the deputy permanent representative for Iraq for the United Nations. 

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time.  We appreciate you joining us. 

FEISAL AL-ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO UNITED

NATIONS:  It‘s my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

BROWN:  Give me your view, if you can, of the attack on Mosul today.  What do you think the insurgent group that is claiming responsibility was trying to achieve? 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Well, unfortunately, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time that the blood of American soldiers and the blood of Iraqi soldiers has been commingled in this common fight against terrorism and barbarism. 

At every stage in Iraq‘s development, from the fall of the prior regime, we‘ve had an increase in terrorist activity immediately prior to a critical event.  That was true for instance at the time of the convening of the Governing Council.  It was true at the time of the appointment of ministers.  It was true at the time of the drafting of the transition in administrative law. 

It was true immediately prior to the transfer of authority.  It is perfectly predictable, however regrettable, that we can anticipate that there will be an upsurge in violence prior to elections.

And, of course, I wish to convey the deep condolences of my government for the loss of all lives in this most heinous incident in Mosul. 

BROWN:  Let me ask you about a report in “The New York Times” today, a comment that was made by interim Prime Minister Allawi, who said that he believes there is beginning to be a divide within the insurgency, that there may be a path to dialogue with former Baathists, as opposed to terror groups that are linked to foreign fighters.  Do you believe that that‘s possible, to begin opening this dialogue? 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Well, I think that, to begin with, you have dialogue with people with whom you have a disagreement.  You don‘t have dialogue with people with whom you agree, to begin with. 

I think there is a distinction between the groups such as are responsible for today‘s bombings—bombing—which is an irrational group bent upon simply destroying, and those groups which might be capable of some rational dialogue, some who may be nationalists, some who may be remnants of the prior regime. 

I must say that to the extent that individuals of the prior regime simply want to get power back at any cost and to frustrate the processes of democracy, then, clearly, we put that group of people also with the group that is incapable of being engaged rationally.  But those who may be capable of being engaged rationally, be they former Baathists or not, then, clearly, the government has had a policy in place since its inception of engaging these groups in dialogue.  And that policy continues. 

BROWN:  President Bush at a news conference on Monday said that one of the biggest challenges with regard to the security situation was training Iraqi troops.  He noted that, in some cases, Iraqis have fled under hostile fire, calling it unacceptable.  What‘s your reaction? 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Well, obviously, in the abstract, I agree it is unacceptable. 

But, on the other hand, it is a situation where you can predict that troops that are, first of all, green and relatively and indeed inexperienced, not as well trained as they might be, not as well-equipped as they might be, are not likely to be particularly effective. 

I would remind you and your viewers of the case of the supply of not a brigade—I‘m afraid I don‘t know what the military parlance is—but this company of supply individuals in the U.S. Army who refused to make a supply run because they believed that their equipment wasn‘t adequately armored.  Soldiers, even patriots, patriotic soldiers who do not believe that they‘re well equipped or well armed or well trained are not likely to be an effective fighting force.  And this is part of our problem.

BROWN:  Well, what do you think the U.S. military needs to do?  What are they not doing to bring these soldiers to a point where they do feel that they have what they need or that they‘re willing to take part and to carry their share of the burden? 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Look, as far as—let me begin with your last point. 

As far as carrying their share of the burden, as a matter of fact, those troops who have been—gone into combat in places like Fallujah and other places with American troops have borne the ultimate price, just as their American counterparts have.  And I might add, indeed, that civilians even who are invested in the rebuilding of Iraq, every day that they send their children to school, every day that they show up to work is a day in which they are defying the terrorists. 

So, the people of Iraq are very much invested in the rebuilding of their own country. 

BROWN:  I see your point.  But are you satisfied—I guess the bottom line is, are you satisfied with the U.S. military, with the Pentagon‘s efforts there? 

Well, it‘s a matter—I think that the critical decision, which, in my judgment, was a mistake from the beginning, was the dismemberment of the Iraqi army and police force.  And, frankly, that is a decision that we‘ve been living with ever since May of 2003, we being the Iraqis and the United States.  But, unfortunately, that is—we can‘t turn the clock back.  That decision was made. 

So now we‘re starting from ground zero.  And that simply takes time.  You cannot train and equip and gain experience for a force overnight.  That takes time.  I think every military planner knows that. 

BROWN:  Let me just ask you your overall sense.  You obviously talk to Iraqis.  And the people at home that you‘re talking with, do you believe they‘re going to turn out on Election Day and vote?  It‘s going to require an enormous amount of courage, given the situation we‘re seeing on the ground. 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Yes.  That is the question that has yet to be answered. 

And that, of course, relates directly to an unasked question that you were positing, but that nonetheless is in the room, as it were, like the 800-pound gorilla.  And that is, what is the extent of the legitimacy of the elections that is going to occur on January 30?  And that is the question. 

A lot of people—I think in general if people feel that there‘s a modicum of safety, they will turn out in numbers.  Look, when people have been oppressed as long as the people of Iraq have been, when these people are finally given a chance to vote, the tradition, the history of countries that transition to democracy shows that they do turn out. 

But, obviously, there has to be some sense of a modicum of security for that to occur. 

BROWN:  Well certainly, the world will be watching.  We want to thank you, Ambassador Feisal Al-Istrabadi, for your time.  We appreciate you joining us. 

AL-ISTRABADI:  Thank you very much.  My pleasure.

BROWN:  And when we come back, we‘ll be joined by “USA Today”‘s Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, plus, Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard.” 

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Recent polls in “The Washington Post” and “USA Today” show declining support here in America for the war in Iraq and for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  But should the secretary take the blame for what has been a difficult time securing the peace? 

Stephen Hayes is a staff writer for “The Weekly Standard” and Susan Page is Washington bureau chief of “USA Today.” 

Susan, you‘re with me, so you get to go first. 

“USA Today”/CNN/Gallup poll today, a majority say they disapprove of the way the war is being run and think Rumsfeld should resign.  Even with Rumsfeld‘s arrogant—or—arrogance, not the right word—confidence.  Let‘s call it that, his bluster.  Is this getting to him? 

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”:  I think the situation is troublesome for Secretary Rumsfeld. 

We‘ve seen Republicans come out and criticize, say they have no confidence in him.  I think the nature of this criticism is a little different.  He‘s been under fire before for the decision to go to war, for Abu Ghraib.  This time, he is under criticism for not doing enough to protect the U.S. forces who are there, with his comment earlier this month, for instance, to the National Guardsmen about armor.

I think the nature—you know, we disagree as Americans on whether going to war was the right thing to do.  No American disagrees that U.S.  forces should be protected if they‘re serving there. 

BROWN:  So it is resonating with people. 

PAGE:  I think that‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  I think it has got real political explosive power in the United States. 

BROWN:  Hey, Steve, let me turn to you.  Do you agree with your editor at “The Weekly Standard”?  It is time for him to go? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  How often do you disagree with your boss, Campbell? 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  Never. 

HAYES:  No, on a serious note, I think the editorial that Bill wrote in “The Washington Post” last week was well considered, and I do agree with the thrust of it.  I don‘t remember all the various details. 

But I think that what he was trying to do was speak to a broader point.  And I think Susan touched on it there briefly.  It is worrisome when the perception is that the defense secretary is somehow at odds with the troops or is not sufficiently supportive of the troops.  And I know—

I mean, I‘ve talked to people who work for Secretary Rumsfeld all the time. 

They say that he‘s obviously very concerned with the troops.  They talk about his trips to Walter Reed.  And they say that these things, the public perception, the picture that the public is getting, isn‘t necessarily an accurate one.  But it is still troubling when that perception is out there. 

BROWN:  But how is that, Stephen, the criticism—aside from them defending him, how is the criticism playing at the Pentagon and within the administration?  How worried are they? 

HAYES:  Well, I don‘t think they‘re worried. 

One of the things that people either like or dislike about President Bush is that he sticks to his guns.  He made it clear I think now a couple different times, including yesterday at this news conference, that he intends to stick with Donald Rumsfeld, that there will be no changes in the short-term future, at least.  And I think that was the plan all along.  I think one of the major concerns and one of the reasons that Secretary Rumsfeld was asked to stay on in the first place was because there was this sense within the administration, especially in the view of the president, that to change secretaries of defense before the Iraqi elections, while the situation is unstable, would not be a wise move. 

BROWN:  Susan, let me switch gears a little about and ask you about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

In the president‘s news conference yesterday—you have covered the White House, certainly.  This is a president who is loathe to admit mistakes, but he was pretty pessimistic in his assessment of the situation on the ground, especially with regard to training Iraqi troops.  Were you surprised by that? 

PAGE:  A slightly different tone than we heard before the election, when he wouldn‘t have made those kinds of comments. 

I think he is laying the groundwork for Americans—he wants Americans to be prepared to keep a lot of U.S. troops there for the foreseeable future.  I was at a lunch today with Colin Powell who said we‘re going to be there in substantial numbers at least through all of 2005.  There had been some hope we could start some withdrawals in six months or so after the elections.  I don‘t think the administration thinks that is going to be possible. 

They want Americans to be braced for a long haul there. 

BROWN:  Steven, do you agree with that or do you think there‘s a sense at the Pentagon and the White House that sort of their focus is on the elections and let‘s just get through this and see what happens?

HAYES:  Well, no, I do agree with Susan‘s long-term analysis. 

Certainly, the immediate focus is on the elections, securing the country as much as possible.  But, for the long term, I do think it is right to say or to take from the president‘s remarks that we‘re going to be there for quite a while and we‘re going to be there in significant numbers.  I think some people would like us to even boost the troop numbers beyond what we‘ve seen.  And we had some reinforcements sent in, in recent months, before the Iraqi elections. 

There are some who believe that we should see more troops.  There are still people infiltrating from Syria.  The Iranian border is not as sealed as it should be.  So, I think this debate about more troops will continue. 

BROWN:  But what is the strategy for turning around the public perception problem?  Is it a matter of doing what the president said, which is getting these Iraqi troops and Iraqi police forces trained, so that at least you‘re not seeing the number of American casualties? 

HAYES:  Yes, I think that‘s part of it. 

At the end of the day, you need the situation on the ground to improve.  That will improve perception.  I also think the Bush administration has a difficult time right now, because one thing that our own election did, leading up to November 2, was it kept alive the reasons that we went to war. 

And even without Saddam having—having us found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, there was a constant discussion of the threat that Saddam Hussein was.  And I happen to agree with those assessments.  I think he was a threat.  And so I think, in the public‘s mind, they were constantly evaluating those reasons for going to war.  Now that we‘re getting further away from the election, we see less of that debate and more of a focus on just what‘s going on on the ground. 

BROWN:  We have got to end on that note. 

Stephen Hayes at “The Weekly Standard,” thank you.

HAYES:  Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN:  And, Susan Page, good to have you in the studio.  Thanks for being here. 

Tomorrow night on HARDBALL, veteran journalist and author Tom Wolfe will be with us. 

And, remember, you can still contribute to the Fisher House.  Just go to FisherHouse.org or contact the Walter Reed Family Assistance Center at 202-782-2071. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN rMD-BO_WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”

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