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'Families of the Fallen' advocate Iraq timetable

Those who have lost loved ones explain why clear benchmarks are needed
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Paul Schroeder and his wife Rosemary Palmer lost their son, Lance Corporal Edward "Auggy" Schroeder, last August in a roadside explosion in Iraq. 

What was at first anger has now turned into activism as the couple has started a Web site called "Families of the Fallen for Change," which advocates having a plan with specific benchmarks to get the troops out of Iraq responsibly. 

On Tuesday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews welcomed Schroeder and Palmer to 'Hardball,' and discussed the positions they advocate.

To read an excerpt, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Welcome very much, welcome very much to have you on the program.  Let me start with Paul.  What do you have in mind as a position for what the United States should be with regard to our troops in Iraq?

PAUL SCHROEDER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  Well, our initial reaction, our initial position, is that both the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress and with the administration, need to put aside their partisan bickering and sit down and come up with a bipartisan plan with clear benchmarks on how best to get us out of Iraq.  And how best to do that so we don't have to go back to some wider conflict down the road.  That's the whole point of "Families of the Fallen for Change."

MATTHEWS:  What is the key thing you want to see done before we leave?  What's the main accomplishment that says, "OK, now we can leave?"

SCHROEDER:  Well, I would say security for the Iraqi people.  And Iraq not falling into the throes of a civil war.

MATTHEWS:  How do you prevent that as an outsider?  Let me go to Rosemary.  How do we prevent-if the Sunnis want to fight with the Shia because they don't want to the Shia running the country, how do we stop them from fighting?


MATTHEWS:  Well then how can we ever get to leave, if that's the condition? 

PALMER:  Well no, the condition is that we set them up so that they can defend themselves.  And if they want to use their defense capabilities to fight among themselves, we can't really do anything about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that gets down to the nub of the problem here.  If you have a government over there that's composed of the long disenfranchised majority, the Shia, and they get control of the place and the Sunni don't like it because they once enjoyed power under Saddam Hussein. 

And they keep shooting at the people elected to the government, whether they are lawyers, or judges or police men or police academy students or whatever, do we leave at that point, or when do we say, settle it among yourselves?  Paul.

SCHROEDER:  Well, they're going to have to settle that among themselves.  If that's the situation that they have, that's their problem.  Our problem is that we walked into that hornet's nest willie-nilly, without any kind of a plan for this, without any kind of preparation, and it's costing Americans their lives.  It's costing $200 billion, at the last estimate.  All resources that tragically belong here. 

So what we are saying is we cannot continue staying where we are, staying the course.  There is no course to stay there, other than to see troops being blown up by IED's.  And there is no way that we can willie-nilly, just leave immediately and leave the thing the way it is.

What we're advocating is some plan that has to be thrashed out by responsible people, a bipartisan plan that would allow us to leave Iraq as soon as possible, but leave Iraq in the best state that we could possibly leave it.

MATTHEWS:  Where do you get the confidence, Paul, that the vice president of the United States or the president of the United States is interested in your proposal that we leave, you know, sometime in the next several years even?  It sounds to me, listening to the vice president today, like he's in for the -- not just the duration, I mean, he's in to ensure the perseverance, the continuation of American influence in that part of the world.  If that's the goal, American influence in Arabia, why would we ever leave?
... you said politicians should stop bickering.  Well, bickering, that's what they do for a living.  Why would Murtha say, "OK, we'll stay two years" or the president says, "OK, we'll be out in two years, or we'll be out in some timetable that leads us to leave in two years."  When in fact, they're so different in their points of view?

SCHROEDER:  Well, our position is simple.  We lost a son.  And a lot of other people have lost sons and daughters over there.  We have talked to a lot of American people.  In fact, our organization now has more than 500 members who have signed up in the last couple of days.  We are only two weeks old. 

These Americans are angry, they are angry that we are there.  They are angry that no one in Congress or in the administration seems willing to sit down together, put aside their political differences and come up with some kind of a benchmark that would allow us to leave.  The vice president said today: we are making progress.  He never defines what progress means. 

They talk about victory.  They have never defined for us, the public, what victory means.  So, who is to say?  But we cannot continue this ongoing death of American troops there, who are clearly outnumbered against IED's. 

We do not have the troops on the ground to secure these cities that they keep sweeping over and over again.  The death of the 10 Marines last week in Fallujah happened to be in a city that the president the day before said was relatively safe.  The public is not-doesn't have the solutions.  We don't have the solutions, but we do have one solution and that is, stop arguing amongst yourselves.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is an argument, Sir.  The problem is, it's an argument, and people disagree.  Let me go to Rosemary.  The problem is that the president has very ambitious plans.  He took us into Iraq, and so did the vice president, to create an enduring democracy that's defensible over there. 

That's a profoundly huge bit of business.  Its never been done before.  And the Democrats, some of the Democrats on the other side, like Howard Dean today and Jack Murtha say, "it's not working.  What the president had in mind is not working."

How do you find common ground between people who say what we're doing there isn't working and those who want to do it for years to come?

PALMER:  Well part of thing is that people are pretty dug into their positions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they are.

PALMER:  The part of the thing is, people have to back off a little bit and start looking for the solutions.  You know, what they have in common, what they can give on and this sort of thing, and negotiate a little bit before they can make any progress at all. 

As it is now, all over the country, you say, well I believe in -- but you're wrong.  Not, let's talk about this, you're wrong.  And so we have to try to say, beyond having differences, what do we have in common and find the commonalties and work out from there.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe if we stay there a couple more years, just assuming that some kind of compromise would lead to a couple more years, do you think that the deaths of the American soldiers to persevere two more years would achieve a goal worthy of that sacrifice, those two years we stay there?

PALMER:  It's difficult to say, but part of the thing is, we have to define what victory is.  We have to have the benchmarks there.  If people see that there is a reason for staying and that they see that there's a plan to get out, and that our grandchildren are not going to be over there fighting, I think it would make a difference.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I'm sorry to be so tough.  I just -- your sacrifice is unimaginable.  I watched this argument.  We do it here every night.

It's so hard to try to square this circle.  There are people who have this philosophy that led to this war, that we can go to the Middle East, we can find a country like Iraq and turn it around into some other different kind of culture.  And then there are other people who say, that's the craziest idea I've ever heard of.

And it's very hard to find sanity somewhere between these two totally different views of what can be done.  But, you know, good luck.  Please keep it up, because I think you're right.  Sometimes it looks like just cheap partisanship.  I think there's larger issues here, as well.  But you're going to discover them. 

Congratulations on getting so many Americans together behind your effort.  And of course, thank you.  It's a small word, but thank you for your sacrifice.  Paul Schroeder, Rosemary Palmer, thank you for coming on 'Hardball.'

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.