Guests: Alan Simpson; Stephen Hayes; John Warner; Jack Murtha; Andrea Mitchell
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Bush draws the line in the sand. He will stay in Iraq until it has a Democratic government that can defend itself without us. So this isn‘t about a two or three-year war, it‘s about a war that will last as long as it takes, to reach the neoconservative dream: a peaceful, nonviolence, human rights democracy in the Middle East. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. Nearly two-thirds of the American people now disapprove of President Bush‘s handling of the Iraq war. U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha long acknowledges the voice of the military in Congress has become the name of the disapproval.
But the American people have also been critical of Bush‘s leadership overall. In predicting the president‘s approval number, by the way, the best indicator now is simply the number of months that have passed since the high mark of just after 9/11. It‘s been steadily downhill since then.
This morning at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the president gave his response to his critics. He said, “he‘s staying in Iraq until that country is a democracy that can defend itself.”
Joining us now from his office in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha. Mr. Murtha, why do you think there‘s something wrong with the president‘s plan to stay in democracy with full force of our fighting people there, until they have a democracy that can defend itself?
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Chris, that‘s not a plan, staying in Iraq until there is democracy. In the first place, this has been mishandled so badly, that we need to rethink our policy. For instance, when we went in with inadequate forces and for the transition to peace.
And then, we didn‘t have the appropriate people and the right jobs, and consequently, we lost the support of the Iraqi people. When you lose the support in a guerrilla war, you can‘t win it. Mao Tse-tung said years ago, “you‘ve got to have the will of the people in order to win a guerrilla war.”
Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out, 45 percent say it‘s justified to kill Americans. They even had an official communicate from the Arab world that said it‘s all right to kill Americans. We have lost the support of the Iraqi people.
For instance, if you throw a hand grenade at an American and they disappear in a crowd, the Iraqi disappears in the crowd, the Iraqis don‘t tell us about it. This is the problem we face.
But let me tell you something that‘s even more touching. I‘m getting an overwhelming support, 14,000 calls I‘ve received in four or five days, supporting the position that I‘ve got. Now 20 percent are against it, but 80 percent are for it.
Let me tell you about one call in particular which is so important. A young—not a young woman, but a woman sends me her Purple Heart, her husband‘s Purple Heart. Her husband gave me this—gave him this Purple Heart—gave her this Purple Heart in 1943. And she said if anybody in those hospitals that you visit need a Purple Heart, I‘m sending this to you. I got another letter from a lady who sent me $5, five $1 bills, and she says, “I want to support you.” That‘s outpouring.
The public wants a direction. They want some leadership. And they want honesty. We‘re not getting honesty from this White House. Somebody is misleading this president to tell him that things are going well. Sixty percent unemployment, electricity is below pre-war level, energy supplies below pre-war level, oil production below pre-war level.
There‘s nothing that‘s going the way that they say it. And they‘ve been saying it for so long. And I say, just because they say it doesn‘t make it so.
MATTHEWS: Well the president said, Mr. Murtha, that he‘s going to stay there until we have a trained Iraqi army that can defend the country that practices democracy and we‘re going to keep training those guys over there until they can do the job. That doesn‘t seem complicated as a goal.
MURTHA: Well, let me tell you why it‘s complicated. He‘s allowing Iraqis to set the timetable. You think they want to do the fighting? They‘re going to let us do the fighting. The Iraqi government is going to let us do the fighting even though they‘ve said they want us out, and that the ones that support the United States don‘t get elected.
So we‘ve got a position where if we won‘t redeploy, as I‘m suggesting, and let the Iraqis change their own destiny, let them handle their own destiny, we‘re going to be there for 100 years. I remember one time in the closed hearing, one of the top generals said, “we‘ll be there for 25 years.” I said you saying 25 years? A lot of people think it would take that long.
The American public is not going to put it with that. It‘s not progressing, it‘s not getting better. We‘ve got to let the Iraqis handle this themselves. We‘ve got to let them handle their own destiny. Now there‘s one other thing that I need to say. This is not terrorism in Iraq. This is insurgency in Iraq. You have to separate. They keep trying to wrap them together. We had terrorism in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: I know. But didn‘t the president separate them today, though Mr. Murtha? Didn‘t the president do a decent job of laying out the fact that there are rejectionists, people who are Sunnis, just people who think they‘ll be overrun in a new government? He said there‘s some Baathists from the old regime? And he said a small number of people are actually terrorists. Wasn‘t it the first time he was honest and really did lay out that distinction?
MURTHA: No, now let me just tell you. He‘s trying to tie terrorism to the worldwide network and that‘s not the way it works. Only seven percent of the people are al Qaeda in Iraq, from everything we can see. When we capture people, most of them are Iraqis themselves.
We‘re in a country who can settle their own problems. When you look
at what‘s happened in Iraq, you realize it‘s the Iraqis fighting among
themselves. Can you imagine if the French stayed in the United States
after they helped us win the Revolutionary War? We would have thrown them
out. And we had to have a Civil War to straighten it out.
We have gotten to the point where you not only lost the support of the
world, because of Abu Ghraib—you look at the timeline up to Abu Ghraib.
You had one casualty per day, now it‘s three and four casualties per day.
You look at Abu Ghraib, and then you look at Fallujah and the way that we operate. Now the reason I say you can‘t win it militarily—here‘s the way we go in. We go into a town, we drive everybody out of town, we blow up the building. That‘s the way the military operates, and I agree with that. That‘s the way they should because they protect Americans.
But that also makes enemies for us. And as long as we‘re making enemies, they‘re not going to tell us where the enemy is. They know who the Iraqi insurgents are. But they won‘t tell us. So we‘re continually getting from them, rhetoric—and this is not a war of words, this is a real war.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s look at—let‘s listen to—Mr. Murtha, let‘s listen to the president of the United States for a minute here. Here is this morning at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq‘s democracy. When the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens. And when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What are the military folks you get access to saying about how long it will take if we continue on the president‘s course, to have an Iraqi army that can defend that government?
MURTHA: I‘ve heard estimates up to 25 years. Now we‘ve already spent $277 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me give you a figure from Vietnam. Secretary McNamara said in 1963 that it would take us two years to win the war in Vietnam, two years.
In 1965, we had lost 2,100 people in Vietnam. From 1965 until 1972, we lost 55,000 Americans. What I‘m saying is, we‘ve lost 2,100 people now and we have become the enemy. Our troops are the targets for the insurgents.
And we‘re not making progress from every measurement that I see. What I hear the president say is not something you can measure. What I‘m looking at is the things you can measure. And that‘s the unemployment, the energy supplies and so forth. So, we have gotten to the place where we‘ve got to stop the rhetoric. We‘ve got to sit down and figure out a new strategy. Now let me tell you the four strategies that...
MATTHEWS: OK, when we come back—we have to come back and talk about that after the break, Congressman.
I have a short question for you. The president seems like he‘s setting a mousetrap for the Democrats on the Hill today. He says all I want is $3.9 billion more in this supplemental to pay for reconstruction over there.
Would you vote for that, or is that an attempt to get you back aboard again, get other Democrats back aboard, or else force you guys on the other side to say, “we have an alternative plan?” In other words, will you back more money for this war?
MURTHA: Chris, they haven‘t even spent the $18 billion that we already appropriated, they only spent $9 billion of the $18 billion. And they reprogrammed part of that money into military security.
MATTHEWS: Why does he want more money? Is he trying to test your will on the Hill? Why does he ask for $3.9 billion, which seems like a small number compared to the numbers you‘re talking about?
MURTHA: I can‘t—I can‘t imagine what he wants it for. I have to take a look at it. But the point is, I believe that could be the most important money that we vote for. I said on the floor, the $18 billion was the most important money because it put people to work. But they‘ve only spent $9 billion because of the military security. So I don‘t know what he has in mind here, asking for the $3 billion.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s a mousetrap, but I‘ll be right back with Congressman Jack Murtha, of Pennsylvania, Democrat from Johnstown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight. And this will take time, and patience. And it‘s worth the time, and it‘s worth the effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Coming up, is democracy the other name for victory in Iraq? More with Congressman Jack Murtha, plus Senator John Warner. HARDBALL returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge. America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back on HARDBALL with Congressman Jack Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania. Mr. Murtha, what pledge can you make to the troops? You‘ve got Nancy Pelosi behind you today, the Democratic leader. Are you building support for a position which would bring our troops home?
MURTHA: Well, let me say the position now. Let me explain the position. One is fully mobilize. That‘s impossible. We can‘t even meet the recruitment goals we have. Two, is send advisers over there, and they would be the target. Three is redeploy inside and reduce slowly the number of troops in the country. Our troops are still going to be the target.
I‘m saying redeploy to the surrounding areas so that we can go back in if there‘s a terrorist buildup. Now, define Iraqi insurgency versus a terrorist buildup. If the terrorist camps do come into Iraq, then we could go back in if they threaten our allies or us. There‘s no other plan that makes any sense to me. The biggest vulnerability we have in Iraq ...
MATTHEWS: That‘s pretty clear, Congressman. That‘s clear. You‘re saying take us out of the civil war part of it. In other words, get us out of the fight between the Shia and the Sunni.
MURTHA: Exactly. And not only that, Chris, the most vulnerable part we have is the logistics. When I want to Anbar Province, to Haditha—that‘s the dam in Iraq—and they said the convoy is being attacked every day. If you have less troops, you‘re still going to have to have convoys going and that‘s where they‘re attacked.
Now, let me say something else that‘s so frustrating. We have right now 100,000 people—the GAO just did a study—that aren‘t in the right MOS. Now, what does that mean? That means that we don‘t have translators that we need, we don‘t have demolition experts we need, we don‘t have special forces people that we need, we don‘t have the people we need to do the job, the intelligence people we don‘t have.
So consequently, we‘re paying all kinds of big money to recruit people and yet we don‘t have the ones that we need. And yet, the military has done a phenomenal job in winning the war. The problem is, is that it‘s been so mishandled from the very start without enough troops, they don‘t have enough troops to protect the Syrian border. They give that to the Marines in that area, and they don‘t have enough troops to do it.
They go into Fallujah, they have to come out. This is not—this can‘t be won militarily. So you redeploy to the surrounding area, and if you have to go back in to fight terrorism, you do, to protect our allies or the national security in the United States.
MATTHEWS: I have two points to ask you. I guess I‘ll start with the big one, however. I guess there‘s a real battle going on in the ideas here between yourself and the president. I mean, everyone else is somewhere vaguely, confusedly in the middle and you two have the clearest propositions.
The president says basically stay in there permanently until we achieve a goal with no time limits. In fact, no indication of how long we will stay there, which you say 25 years. But it could be, because the president said nothing about limiting the time there.
And your position, which is we better gradually redeploy out of the country and be available to strike, if we have to, in terms of fighting terrorism but staying out of the civil war developing in that country. What about this argument the president used today at Annapolis—they‘ve made it before—that we‘ll lose credibility in the world if we pull back?
MURTHA: Well, I‘m going to tell you something, Chris. This is a real war; this is not a war of words. And we‘re getting people killed, we‘re getting people disabled. And it‘s time for to us admit we made some mistakes and change direction. That‘s what people are thirsting for.
They‘re calling me and saying we need to hear honesty, we need to hear a change in direction. You know, we need to start repairing our diplomatic relations with the world. You remember in the ‘91 war what a phenomenal job Bush 1 did. They paid for the whole war, $60 billion. I was chairman of the committee at the time. It came through my committee.
So right now, we‘ve got a situation where we don‘t have a plan. We‘re going to stay there forever. That won‘t work. The American public will not support that. And the sooner we redeploy, the less vulnerable our troops will be and the sooner we can start rebuilding the equipment that‘s been worn out on the ground over there.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust this Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd? I mean, Wolfowitz, who was part of that crowd, said that this war would be paid for not by us, the American taxpayer, but paid for by Iraqi oil. They said there were WMD there. They said they were involved in 9/11. They said they would greet us as liberators. On every point they‘ve been wrong. Do you trust the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush leadership on the facts?
MURTHA: I‘ll tell you what I‘ve said over and over again. Just because they say it doesn‘t make it so. And that‘s what the American public is saying. I said to Ambassador Bremer when he was over there, I said you‘re being too optimistic about this thing. Be truthful. The American public wants to hear the truth, and it‘ll backfire when you keeping telling these dishonest stories you keep telling.
MATTHEWS: What did he say?
MURTHA: And he just ignored it. As a matter of fact, the young fellow that was doing the military side of it was so optimistic, I told him, and I got a nasty letter from his dad because, you know, they‘re not telling the truth. That‘s the problem. They‘re not being honest.
MATTHEWS: Is George Casey, the American commander in the Army, is George Casey telling the truth? Is he one of the guys giving the president positive vibes when there‘s no reason for them, or is he telling people like yourself the truth? Or both?
MURTHA: Chris, you know, I deal with these guys all the time. I know how they feel. They—even if they don‘t say it, I know exactly how they feel. And I know that he said, for instance, one of the problems in this insurgency is the American occupation. And he‘s saying in so many words, we‘ve become the enemy. That‘s what General Casey said.
Abizaid said basically the same thing. One of our policies will be to start to withdraw. I mean, they‘re all saying what I‘m saying, but they won‘t admit—the sooner we get them out, the better it will be for Iraq, the better it will be for the ...
MATTHEWS: The president just—last point. The president said today that if any general in the field over there needs more troops, he merely has to ask me. Is that an honest statement?
MURTHA: That‘s not an honest statement. Let me tell you something. I talked to one of the generals, he said he doesn‘t have enough troops to protect the Syrian border, and that‘s one of the missions that he‘s been given. So, you know, I know how discouraged they‘ve been.
And of course the other thing, as I hear these folks back at home in their air conditioned offices saying, oh, stay the course, they aren‘t out in the heat and the dirt and the facilities that the soldiers live in. These soldiers—I‘m so proud of these soldiers, because they‘ve made such sacrifices and their families. And a very small portion of the American people are making that sacrifice.
MATTHEWS: Do they have it rougher than you had in Vietnam?
MURTHA: Yes, I think we had a lot of casualties, probably more casualties. But it is rougher because they have no—they just don‘t know when they‘re going to be attacked every day they go out. We‘re going to have a lot of people with post-traumatic stress. It‘s one of the things that we‘re going to have to deal with after this thing is over.
They predict we could have as many as 50,000. And I‘ve been to the mental wards out at Walter Reed. These guys are saying we should shun it aside because we can‘t take it emotionally. We‘re just as wounded as any of the people who have had physical wounds. So we‘re going to have—I got a letter today from a woman who said ...
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I hate to interrupt, we‘re going to come back with you, again. We‘ve got to do a commercial break I‘ve got to take. Back with Congressman Jack Murtha in just a moment.
And later, Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee will be here. He‘s the top Republican on Armed Serviced. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, will be here. He‘s the top Republican on Armed Services. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.
We only have a minute, Congressman. What do you make of this report today that U.S. military officials—uniformed men and women—are being asked to write stories in English that are then translated into Arabic and placed without any identification in Iraqi newspapers to pitch our cause over there and say how great things are going?
MURTHA: I tell you, Chris, this has been a problem from the very start—the dishonesty of the people that are speaking for the administration. It‘s so frustrating for me, knowing the figures are not accurate. I mean, I should have spoken out much earlier. I waited way too long and too many people are continuing to be killed. I‘m very frustrated by the dishonesty of the people speaking for the administration.
MATTHEWS: How are your colleagues in Pennsylvania responding—fellow Democrats, fellow Republicans?
MURTHA: Democrats, of course, sat behind me during the whole debate and they were just as enthusiastic as they could be. And many Republicans come up to me to talk about it privately and quietly. You notice the senior folks have not spoken out about it. They know—this is a real war and they know they want to find a solution to it. All of us want to find a solution. We need a bipartisan solution to this very, very difficult problem we‘ve backed ourselves into.
MATTHEWS: Good luck finding it. Thanks for coming on HARDBALL. U.S.
Congressman Jack Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania.
Coming up: will democracy ever flourish in Iraq? We‘ll get Republican reaction to the president‘s speech from Senator John Warner, who‘s chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He‘s of course from Virginia.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia attended President Bush‘s speech today at the Naval Academy. He‘s also chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
You know, when you passed that resolution, that bipartisan resolution a few weeks ago—
SEN. JOHN WARNER, CHMN, ARMED SERVICES CMTE: Seventy-nine votes.
MATTHEWS: -- very strong resolution—you called for a significant transition in Iraq next year. Did you hear that in the president‘s speech today, a significant transition in Iraq toward Iraqi responsibility?
WARNER: I heard it both in the president‘s remarks and the secretary of Defense. That bipartisan document was to send a strong message to the Iraqi people, “We‘re going to give you that support you needed, but you‘ve got to redouble, you‘ve got to triple your efforts to begin to pick up the responsibility of training the forces and rebuilding your infrastructure to exercise full sovereignty over that nation.”
MATTHEWS: Did you hear that today from the president? I only heard his commitment from our end.
WARNER: You bet. But I had an opportunity to visit with him afterwards. He‘s going to do four speeches in the next three weeks. And he‘s taking segment one—and he did it very well—talking about the progress we made in the training of the forces. Segment two is the subject about trying to get unification between the government of the Sunnis, Shi‘a and the whole group—and Kurds.
MATTHEWS: Should that be our job as Americans, to try and build a country in Iraq?
WARNER: No, but we help them build their own country and make their own decisions.
MATTHEWS: Jack Murtha just said we shouldn‘t be in a shooting war between the Shia and the Sunnis. We should only be there in a, kind of a potential decision. In other words, we‘re ready to move, we can project our strength if there‘s actual terrorists there from outside. We should hit them. But we shouldn‘t be shooting at Sunnis, simply because they don‘t want to be ruled by the Shia. He said that shouldn‘t be our job of our military.
WARNER: I listened to that part as I was waiting to come in. And I have a great deal of respect for my good friend Jack and he is, we‘re both former Marines. But listen, the point is, pulling our folks out across another border—the fundamental thing in military operations is you don‘t give up the high ground when you‘ve got it, to fight yourself back in. That‘s No. 1.
Two, you cannot neatly sort out among these insurgents, and I still call them insurgents, the guys that are causing all the problems. The ones that come from across the borders, or internally, fighting among themselves, Iraqis. It‘s not a neat distinction that any trooper, going down to clear out a village, can make that decision.
So we‘re there, and we‘ve got to as our president did today, send a strong message to the troops, to the Iraqi people, that we‘re with you. The next four to six months, Chris, is critical.
MATTHEWS: How long can the president sustain this position that we‘re there interminably, that we‘re going to stay until we get the job done? That‘s a strong position, you‘ve got to respect that. I do, I just love clarity, I love it when somebody says what they believe.
He didn‘t say, we‘ll get out in two or three years, or five or seven years. He said, “we‘ll get out when we have a democracy that can defend itself. The Democrats aren‘t that clear, although Murtha‘s damn clear. He says six months, we‘re out of there. But is that—in your state, we just had an election in Virginia, we all live around that state. Your state went Democrat, Virginia Beach went Democrat for the first time since ‘81, The tenth, Davis‘s district went Democrat. What‘s going on here?
WARNER: You don‘t have to tell me, what‘s the question.
MATTHEWS: Well do you think the country is rallying to the president?
WARNER: What‘s the alternative? I think the president did a good job today. I think in the next few weeks, you‘re going to see an improvement. And the answer to your question is, what is the alternative?
MATTHEWS: Murtha‘s decision.
WARNER: No, no, no. The alternative, if we do not press and succeed in the goals, working with the Iraqis and coalition forces, that whole region will implode. You‘ll bring about civil war in Iraq, you‘ll destabilize all of the countries around, you‘ll put Israel in a very tenuous and vulnerable position. We have no alternative.
MATTHEWS: How is this hurting Israel if they‘re...
WARNER: Because it‘s bring terrorism back here, home.
MATTHEWS: OK, if Arabs are fighting Arabs, doesn‘t that make Israel vulnerable? Doesn‘t that make them better off?
WARNER: You cannot let that nation fall into the hands of the al-Zarqawis, the Osama bin Ladens. It would become an enormous training camp for all types of people.
MATTHEWS: Even if one side won that civil war, why would they let a training camp remain there?
WARNER: The civil war would just devastate this country. There‘s no alternative. We have got to see this thing through, to help the Iraqi people establish full sovereignty.
MATTHEWS: The president said today, very directly and Jack Murtha challenged it, in fact, he said he didn‘t believe it. The president said all the generals in the field over there, people like Casey, George Casey, all they have to do is call me up and say they need more troops, and I‘ll send them. Have you ever heard this?
WARNER: Oh, many times.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t need more troops?
WARNER: Look, I‘ve been in the debates myself with Abizaid and Casey. I‘ve been there six times. That question comes up repeatedly. And I disagree with my good friend, Murtha. It is an accurate answer that the president gives, that he will provide more troops if those generals request them.
But right now, I think we‘re focusing on maintaining the force that we have, having a reduction which reduces the buildup we‘re doing for the elections, on December 15. That‘ll come down about 10 or 15 maybe 20,000...
MATTHEWS: ... high at 130s?
WARNER: Go to about 138 and continue at that level.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the report, it‘s a little bit smaller issue here—I don‘t consider it anywhere as important as the war. But the “L.A. Times” report, Mr. Chairman, that said that the U.S. military men and women uniform people, are writing news articles. Phony news articles for Iraqi newspapers that are translated into Arabic and building up. In other words, they‘re P.R. material. Should we be doing propaganda?
WARNER: Chris, I saw that for the first time today. And as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, we‘ll look into that because I‘m concerned that our credibility abroad is very important. And if we‘re manufacturing things or taking our wonderful troops and trying to translate their ideas into something that‘s more our idea, rather than the trooper‘s idea, then I think we should be looking at it.
MATTHEWS: Should we be telling the Iraqis what‘s going on in there by propaganda? Should we be using the local newspapers in Iraq to plant stories written by our soldiers?
WARNER: Chris, neither you nor I can sort this out. I‘ve got to look into it. But we do not want our credibility hurt.
MATTHEWS: Have you talked to the Pentagon about this, because they‘re not saying anything.
WARNER: I was with the secretary of defense today. We didn‘t have a chance to cover that, but I will look into it.
MATTHEWS: Is he there for the rest of the term, do you believe?
WARNER: I think it‘s important that the person of the president‘s choice, and he is it—I work with him regularly, we make it work together. We have our differences, but we get along and we work it together.
It‘s the president‘s choice, and frankly, I think he would be well advised to see this thing to the point where we can begin that long last. Maybe not declare victory, but say our basic goals are being achieved.
MATTHEWS: One of the promises of the Defense Department, which you oversee, was that this war would be paid for by the Iraqi oil.
WARNER: No, I remember Wolfowitz said that.
MATTHEWS: Wolfowitz said that, and apparently—I saw another article in the same piece, that Rummy backed that up—Rumsfeld backed that up.
What happened? Was that just a sales pitch for the war? What happened to the idea they‘d pay? Why do we have to pay? You‘ve got another supplemental coming down the line, the president announced today:
$3.9 billion on top of the $18 billion that Murtha talked about it. It never ends, it‘s a money pit.
WARNER: Chris, I study military history. No war has ever been fought without some misjudgments and mistakes being made.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that promise was a credible promise?
WARNER: That‘s a clear misinformation. It was the best estimate at that time.
MATTHEWS: That they would pay for the whole thing?
WARNER: That they would pay for it. But that turned not to be true. We‘re spending $6 billion a month of the U.S. taxpayer funds on this conflict.
MATTHEWS: I mean, the question is, if you bought a car and they said it‘s going to give you 30 miles to the gallon and it gives you three, you wouldn‘t buy a car from the same crowd again, would you? I mean these people are making commitments like, the Iraqis are going to treat us as liberators when we get there, we‘re in a war. We‘re going to have WMD when there. All these commitments—are you still trusting the military, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon?
WARNER: The answer is yes. Chris, I freely acknowledge that some misstatements and mistakes were made in the past. There will be plenty of time to debate that. And we should have a strong debate on those issues. And we did experience it.
That‘s one of the reasons I‘m so pleased with the president‘s speech today, because given the background of what we did in Congress, whether it was my amendment, the 79 votes or Jack Murtha‘s amendment where 400 House voted against it, we needed to send a strong message to our troops, to the nations of the world. We are still going to work with the Iraqi people and back our troops and let the Iraqis achieve that goal, and take charge of that land. Then the conditions will allow us to formulate some plans for the timetable of withdrawal. No timetables now.
MATTHEWS: Senator Warner of Virginia, thank now for coming over.
Thank you, John Warner, for coming over here.
Up next, President Bush says America will not run from the war in Iraq. Can he convince Americans to stay the course? We‘re going to talk about that when HARDBALL returns on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Plus former Senator Alan Simpson, a close friend of the vice president. HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today the president began what‘s expected to be a rolling relaunch of his Iraq war sales pitch, if you will. I should be more respectful, but that‘s what it is. He is giving a crisper articulation of what‘s going on over there and the conditions for troop pullout at some point.
But is it going to turn around public opinion in this country? We have joining us right now, Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC, who‘s author of the great new book, “Talking Back to Presidents, Dictators and Assorted Scoundrels.” And the “Weekly Standards” Stephen Hayes—I didn‘t give you as big a buildup.
MATTHEWS: Let me start with Andrea. Andrea, what will be the worldwide resonance of the president‘s rather almost doctrinaire defense of this war today?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well actually, I think that it can have some resonance, because the president was very strong today. And as John Warner just told you, he‘s going to follow up with three more speeches. This is what John Warner said he needs to do, although actually Senator Warner wanted him to do almost a fireside chat, explaining to the American people where we go next, not how we got here.
But he‘s beginning to at least try to make the case of how we can make this transition a redeployment. We all know that there‘s going to be 30- to 50,000 troops taken out, if the constitutional vote on December 15 works well. They did follow up with a lot of paper, a blizzard of paper today, handing all of this stuff out, a glossy—this is a fax of it—but a very glossy brochure.
But that said, there is the reality check. And we‘re going to be reporting on Nightly News tonight—my colleague Jim Miklaszewski—that when you look at the numbers, they don‘t add up. Because the president said that there are 120 battalions of Iraqi Police and Security, but when you really look at them, there are only 33 that can lead, and even those have to have American support.
So only one—still, one battalion of Iraqi troops—can actually lead and be independent of American operations.
MATTHEWS: The beauty of that, given that report, is that the president isn‘t into time or even numbers. He has made a commitment to stay in Iraq in a very qualitative sense. We‘ll stay there in force, sufficient force, until they have a democracy that can defend itself.
STEPHEN HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Right.
MATTHEWS: So that‘s a judgment that has nothing to do with the numbers of battalions. When the time comes—when the time comes, we have to—that‘s a pretty powerful commitment. I mean—
HAYES: It‘s absolutely a powerful commitment.
MATTHEWS: ...it‘s almost nonpolitical, because it ignores the coming congressional elections next year, the coming even of another presidential election. Do you think he‘s willing to say to himself—because I think it is the president talking to himself at some point and thinking—is he willing to say, okay, if I lose 20 seats in the House next year, if I lose three or four Senate seats, tough, because that‘s the price of leadership?
HAYES: I think he is.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘s willing to make that call?
HAYES: I think he is. And you know, we‘ve seen this before; this was not the first time. In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, many of the administration critics said, oh, there‘s no way he can go to the voters with 100,000-plus troops on the ground in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: This is next November.
HAYES: He‘s going to start to draw down. This was in 2004. He didn‘t do it. He didn‘t draw down.
MATTHEWS: And he can do that again? So he‘s rock solid?
HAYES: He said, I‘m staying, we‘re staying, we‘re going to get the job done. I think that was the important message out of the speech today.
MATTHEWS: What is the impact, Andrea, if the president‘s numbers continue to decline? I say at the beginning of the show—and it‘s a tough statement—all you need to know about the president‘s approval numbers, is how many months have passed since 9/11. It‘s an absolutely predictable slope of 45 degrees; it goes right down every month. Can he live with that?
MITCHELL No, he can‘t. Because, I‘ve got to tell you, I talk to a
lot of Republican House members and Democrats—and the Democrats are still
trying to find their own voice. We‘ve seen a very interesting e-mail
letter to her constituents from Hillary Clinton, today and yesterday,
telling them for the first time that she‘s beginning to move a little bit -
although she wouldn‘t say that, but clearly (INAUDIBLE).
MATTHEWS: Is the ice cracking around her position?
MITCHELL: Absolutely, the ice is cracking. But you‘re seeing the Democrats sort of floundering around, frankly, trying to find a voice. They‘re going to be meeting next week.
But the Republicans are really running scared. I can‘t tell you how many House members are telling me that they see disaster for them. Even though they have gerimandered their seats and are really defending very solid districts, they‘re beginning to really worry about the national trends.
MATTHEWS: Are they afraid of people like Paul Hackett and all that array of Iraqi veterans the Democrats have recruited?
MITCHELL: They are. In fact, there are eight Iraqi veterans—Iraq war veterans—that are now running. Most are Democrats. And some of them are very attractive candidates. We‘re going to be taking a closer look at some of those districts.
One of them, by the way, is that Buck‘s County district: you‘ve got a Democrat who is an Iraq war veteran—
MATTHEWS: Murphy running against Fitzgerald.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Stephen about this thing because obviously Southern Republicans are stronger, in terms of getting re-elected, because down South they just are stronger now. It‘s a solid South in many ways.
But if you represent a district in New York—Long Island, like Peter King, or you represent, like Chris Shays up in Connecticut, those are the vulnerable people, the moderate Republicans.
HAYES: They are.
MATTHEWS: Ironically, the moderates are the one who are vulnerable to a tsunami here.
HAYES: Right. I think the president gave this speech for three reasons, basically: he gave it to the American public to give them sort of an update—somewhat akin to an airline pilot getting on the intercom when there‘s a mechanical—
MATTHEWS: With that smooth Southern accent they always come on with.
HAYES: Well, when there‘s a mechanical failure or your delayed or something.
MATTHEWS: You‘re so smart—that‘s what it sounded like.
HAYES: He comes on and says, this is what we‘re doing, this is what you can expect. And that‘s important.
He was also speaking to the Iraqi people.
MATTHEWS: But that doesn‘t help if you have another eruption on the plane. That voice only works while there was just an eruption. If there‘s a new one, like you start losing altitude, that voice doesn‘t help.
HAYES: I think what he‘s going to need to do is continue to make this case—again and again and again. And this is where it gets back to politics. This is something that Republicans can run on. This is something they now have a strategy.
MATTHEWS: Andrea, do they have a political strategy to sell the war yet? The Republicans.
MITCHELL: No, I don‘t think they do. But they‘re going to a retreat
you know, the usual break retreat where they go and try to figure this out. And they‘re going to try to sort it out. But they don‘t have a strategy. And the strategy right now is to start moving away from the White House.
MATTHEWS: Well, I have a strategy for a great Christmas present:
that‘s your book, “Talking Back.”
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: It has a great picture of you on the cover, Andrea. It‘s in all the bookstores. Here it is. It‘s a great book, great last 20, 30 years of American history from a viewpoint of somebody who is actually on the scene. It‘s a great gift. And I mean this. Go out and buy it, it‘s about $25, worth every buck. Great gift.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Andrea, I know I‘m right about this. I‘ve got a minute left with you.
MATTHEWS: I want to go to Stephen. The president sounds like—and I don‘t mean this with disrespect, I‘m complicated on this issue, more than you think—he sounds like a neoconservative, a man who does believe that we can use the economic and the military prowess of our country to build democracies.
HAYES: I don‘t know what kind of labels you want to apply them. I think the president believes in projecting American power to secure the country. He believes, and it was important that he said this in the speech today, that America is safer because we‘ve taken out Saddam Hussein. We haven‘t heard that from the president for quite some time in the level of detail he provided.
MATTHEWS: I think Jack Murtha offers the other view, radical from the liberal side of things, given by a guy who isn‘t a liberal. Andrea Mitchell, god luck with the book. Stephen Hayes, thank you. One of vice president Cheney‘s former friends, Allen Simpson, will be here on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We‘ve got a break here.
Former Senator Alan Simpson is in town. He, of course, served the people of Wyoming for 18 years before retiring. He continues to serve, as we know here on HARDBALL, as a wise and often witty voice for the Republican Party.
Well, your party can use some happiness these days. The president‘s poll numbers are down about 32 percent for his handling of the war. Do you believe he did himself some good today at Annapolis?
ALAN SIMPSON, FMR. U.S. SENATOR (R-WY): I was quite impressed. For me, it was his demeanor today. It was look, I know what‘s going on. I know that I didn‘t maybe do the best with Katrina, this, this, this. I know I haven‘t looked maybe like a leader today with an audience—he was talking—there are about 24 million of us who are veterans.
Any veteran who saw that today is going to go to tell his or her family and friends, you know, this kid ain‘t kidding. This is not Vietnam. This is not a war we lose. This is not a political war. This guy‘s going for the chunk.
I was surprised at all the military references to ward officers, platoon leaders, strategy, flanking. This was—if you‘d never been in the military, you would have missed all that. That was the most amazing description of how you win a war.
MATTHEWS: Why does the president have to use military people—these are midshipman—as his backdrop for these speeches. Why doesn‘t he go address a regular crowd of civilians when he has to give one of these addresses?
SIMPSON: Because this is about war and the regular civilians don‘t understand war. They haven‘t got it in their being that we are at war. This is a war, and they don‘t—so he went to the war room and spoke to guys who are going to go to war.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—you‘re a veteran of politics and the military. Let me ask you about the word strategy, because the president used it a lot today and I think it is appropriate to talk about it.
Not tactics, or how—when do we leave, next month or the month after, but what is our strategy? Do you think it was smart strategy for the United States to go to invade and occupy Iraq? As a strategy in fighting terrorism, was it smart?
SIMPSON: I think under all the information—I think people are still working on the weapons of mass destruction.
MATTHEWS: No, but in hindsight, do you think it was—is it good for the United States to be in Iraq right now? Were we smart to go there? I know we‘re there, but was it a smart strategy that led us into that country?
SIMPSON: I think so. But I don‘t think it was because his father stopped and Colin Powell stopped that he felt he had to go start it again. I don‘t think that. I really believe he thought that there were weapons of mass destruction there. He really thought he was going to put this butcher out of business and he really thought he could do it and I think he thought he could do it with that kind of a force and he needed more.
MATTHEWS: But the people supported him, Senator, as you know, because of a number of commitments he made up front, that there was WMD there. We had to go in and destroy it. There were, in fact, some sort of tie to 9/11, and that the people would greet us as liberators. Your friend, Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States, has said on the record they would greet us as liberators.
Well, we find ourselves in a different situation. Is the country wise to follow the strategy makers who got us in this war now, in terms of all these mistakes that were made?
SIMPSON: We‘re at a point right now where the mistakes mean nothing going to pull it right now where the mistakes mean nothing in the past. He said today, which was great, we made mistakes. We‘re revising our strategy, revising our military activities. We‘re revising how to take care of hour ourselves better, armament, ordinance. That‘s all done.
Now, and whether they like it or not, and you‘ve got to stick your face—and that‘s what he was doing. He‘s sticking his face right in the face of the American people, saying you may not like this. We‘re here, and by God, we‘re going to stay the course, and we‘re going to be here as long as I‘m your commander in chief and, in essence, you can stuff it if you don‘t like it.
MATTHEWS: I think—I don‘t know if he said the last part, but I completely believe you‘re right. We are in total agreement. I think it was at most clear-cut speech of foreign policy I‘ve ever heard, if anybody thinks he‘s going to sneak out with a few troops out next year, he‘s going to slink out of there. He stands as a religious commitment, right?
SIMPSON: Well, maybe a moral one, too. You know, you can make fun of him, but he may go down in years to come. They made more fun of Harry Truman, in your—my lifetime.
MATTHEWS: No, but I‘m thinking about the numbers because he‘s down to 32 percent. Harry went down to 23 percent during Korea.
SIMPSON: Harry—the jokes about Harry Truman were the funniest of the world. You‘ll throw yourself out of the airplane, and make 180 million people happy.
MATTHEWS: OK. You‘re used to being a whip on the Hill. You know how to get votes. I have a suggestion. David Gregory disagreed with me today at the White House, but I think the president also has a partisan, political piece to this. He said he wants an extra $3.9 billion to spend on rebuilding that country. Now, that‘s got a Filene‘s Basement price tag to it -- $3.9 billion.
SIMPSON: I heard every word you said.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he might be trying to mousetrap the Democrats and saying, OK boys, put up or shut up, Jack Murtha. Either give me the 3.9, and if you do, welcome aboard to my policy, or vote against me and tell the American people why you don‘t support out turning this war over to the Iraqis, which is what I‘m trying to do. Is that smart?
SIMPSON: I agree with your friend, David. I don‘t agree with you on that.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think it‘s that partisan?
SIMPSON: I think everything now, as we observe out, those of us who live in the unwashed, out in the valleys and nooks and crannies of America, really, really are tired of the pick, pick, pick and the fight, fight, fight. They don‘t understand it, they don‘t care. It means nothing to them.
Harry Reid today drilled his teeth the minute he finished. Harry‘s got a network up there. I know him well. I just think David—this is not fun and games.
MATTHEWS: No, but you don‘t think the president‘s challenging his critics to say, either back me on this transition to Iraqi self-rule and security or tell me what you‘re going to do? You don‘t think he‘s challenging his enemies, his critics like Jack Murtha and the more people on the left?
SIMPSON: Well, he has to be very careful with Murtha and he did revise and extend his remark, because John Murtha, who was here when I was, is a patriot and a veteran. But Bush today is through with fun and games. It may work and it will look to the pundits like fun and games and that he stuck it in their ear, but I don‘t think he started out to do that. And he‘ll just say, this is it. Cast your vote.
MATTHEWS: Thank you Senator Alan Simpson. HARDBALL is back tomorrow.
Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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