Guests: Nicolle Wallace, Jay Carney, John Murtha, Chris Cillizza, Tony
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: The real war: not words, not speeches, not rhetoric, but the aggressive open-ended struggle, President Bush wants America to fight against tyranny. Is this good for America? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Welcome back to HARDBALL. Earlier this week we focused on one of the hottest House races in 2006, the battle in Tom DeLay‘s district down in Texas. Tonight we turn to the hottest Senate race of the year, in Pennsylvania.
President Bush has called the re-election of Republican Senator Rick Santorum his personal top priority. We‘re vowing to take—he‘s vowing to take Santorum down and replace him, that‘s the Democrats with Bob Casey Jr.
Well right now we‘re going to go to that—we‘re going to go to that piece right now? Somebody tell me. Let‘s go right now to the White House, we‘re having some technical problems here. We don‘t often have them. Let‘s go to the White House to Nicolle Wallace, who‘s the director of communications for President Bush. Nicolle, can you hear me?
NICOLLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes, I can, Chris, how are you?
MATTHEWS: That was a rare snafu around here. But here we go. Let‘s talk about the president‘s State of the Union last night. Do you think his poll numbers are going to go up now because of his effort last night?
WALLACE: Well the speech last night was not a political speech and it wasn‘t a poll-driven speech and I think you know this president well enough by now, Chris, to know that he‘s not driven by the polls. But I think what the public can take away from the address last night is a president who remains optimistic to appoint that some here in Washington, probably find unimaginable.
Amid the challenges that our country faces, this president is so deeply and authentically optimistic about not just the future that he has these three years in office, but about America‘s future. If we continue to lead, if we continue to stand for freedom and peace around the world, and if we continue to put in place policies that will keep our country competitive in a global economy, he sees a very bright future, not just for us, you and me, Chris, but for our children and grandchildren.
I think that was a message that will be warmly received. Something else the president did last night was acknowledge that these are changing times, transformational times, and he certainly understands, he talked about this today, that some of these changes create anxieties, and that‘s why we need to continue to adapt and change in this global economy.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at what he said. It was a tough punch last night, it was within a velvet glove, but he took a hard shot at some people who disagree with him last night, Nicolle.
WALLACE: Well I‘m not sure what you‘re referring to.
MATTHEWS: Well let‘s take a look at what he said, please.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘ve adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel, offered by members of Congress of both parties.
In the coming year I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom and second guessing is not a strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Nicolle, who were the defeatists? I mean, our “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll just out, has more people saying it was not worth it going to Iraq than think it is worth it to have gone to Iraq. Is that plurality made up of defeatists?
WALLACE: Well Chris, first of all, I think we can all be—I‘m very proud to work for someone who welcomes criticism. I mean, you‘ve got to listen carefully to what the president said. He talked about honest criticism with the shared goal of success and victory in Iraq. He talked about how he would welcome that.
MATTHEWS: But wait a minute. But most people don‘t want—the plurality of people in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll say it was a mistake to go to Iraq. Why should they change their assessment because the president has a different one? And why should they be called defeatists because they disagree with the president?
WALLACE: Well Chris, I missed your poll, but I think that any question about the past is frankly irrelevant about the path forward. Our whole nation can rally around the goal that moving forward, we must have a plan for victory.
I think the president spent a lot of time in December acknowledging the things that didn‘t necessarily go well, communicating to the American people about the adjustments we‘ve made. He took the step of thanking those who offer criticism and counsel of the strategy for victory in Iraq.
He will continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and that‘s what the American people want to hear. They want to hear that their commander-in-chief is acutely aware of the threats that we face, that he‘s reaching out to members of both parties, that he has a plan for victory and that that plan will continue to adapt.
I‘m not sure how the questions were asked about the past, but I think the only thing that people need to know now and want to know now is that there‘s a plan for victory and there is.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the future then. I think you‘re right. Let‘s talk about the future, Nicolle. Here‘s something the president said last night. I‘d never heard a president say this before, not this one, not anyone. Quote, “we are committed to a historic long-term goal to seek the end of tyranny in our world.” When did we make that commitment, who made it?
WALLACE: The president made the commitment.
MATTHEWS: He said we.
WALLACE: We, well, the president made the commitment on behalf of the United States of America in his inaugural address last year. It‘s an ideal that our nation has stood for. The president talked about our history and that in that vein, he talked about how we liberated Europe.
He also talked about how this march of freedom, you know, that the story of freedom is making great strides, but that we must not forget, and when was the last time an American president stood up and stood for those who continue to live in tyranny?
He talked about Zimbabwe and Burma and it was a moment that gave me chills and that all Americans can be proud of. Every American should be proud of the ideals of our country. We were founded on the idea of battling tyranny and a standing for freedom here and around the world.
So I think it was more than a lofty goal. It‘s something that the president has really put the power of the American presidency behind, every moment of his presidency.
MATTHEWS: When a young man or woman joins the U.S. military then, the president is saying, they should be prepared to go battle tyranny.
WALLACE: Well, what the president has said and what he‘s made very clear is that defeating the enemies of freedom—and we were attacked on 9/11 by terrorists who deplore our way of life, I know you spend a lot of time talking about the attacks of 9/11 and who they were and where they came from and what they stood for.
They are enemies of freedom, and we have to have a two-prong approach, Chris, to keeping our country safe. We have to have good common-sense measures in place to protect the homeland. We have to fight the terrorist on the offense in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
But ultimately, we need to spread peace and democracy because in democracies, peace reigns in democracies. Those aren‘t places where the Taliban takes over and plots attacks on America.
MATTHEWS: Well said, but let‘s go through the people who attacked us on 9/11. Let‘s talk about the countries they came from. Egypt, the people who were really calling the shots, the pilots of the hijackers, the ones who really organized it and really led the effort were from Egypt.
The goons, 14 or 15 of them, who were basically just henchmen who killed people, knifed them and slit their throats, those guys came from Saudi Arabia. Are we targeting the tyrannies now, the dictatorships in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia? Is that what the president is talking about? Because he says we‘ve got to get those countries where the bad guys came from. Are we going to get those countries and end, what he calls, tyranny in those countries?
WALLACE: The president specifically addressed the movements in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the progress they‘re making. He talked about the reform plan that the Saudis are implementing. He talked about, you know, the kindling of a democracy and the debate in Egypt and they were both mentioned in his speech last night, because he understands that democracies in the Mideast aren‘t necessarily going to look like our own, Chris. But the point is, we are moving forward and we are making progress, we‘re making advances, and this is really something that every American can and should be proud of.
MATTHEWS: Is Syria tyranny?
WALLACE: I think the president‘s been pretty specific and look, Chris, I think that what you spend a lot of time talking about here, and you do a great service to your listeners, I think you probably have some of the most educated viewers about 9/1 and how it happened. It was a failure to connect the dots.
You‘ve spent so much time, you‘ve dedicated so much time to helping people understand how we got to the point where terrorists were operating in our cities and making phone calls from San Diego and moving around among us. But they—they were planning and plotting these attacks in Afghanistan where the Taliban had moved in and was living comfortably and plotting attacks.
So you can‘t talk about one without acknowledging at least the other, and I think that what the president thought was important to do last night was to bring back this broader spread of freedom as a critical piece of our plan for making a more peaceful world.
MATTHEWS: I guess the question I have, and I don‘t have the answer is, and I think it‘s a big question, Nicolle—you must think about it even though you‘re in the White House and working for the president—is the war in Iraq helping to reduce the number of terrorists in the world or increase them?
I was just in East Africa with my family, a country of Kenya, which is definitely a friend of ours. And there in the country, you see a kid with a bin Laden T-shirt on, you see a kid with a bin Laden baseball hat, a grocer with bin Laden poster. These aren‘t tyrannies, these aren‘t countries out to get us. But the people are being taught to hate the West.
They just seem—the parents want them getting this kind of education. They‘re rooting for bin Laden against us, they‘re probably rooting against us in Iraq. They want us to fail.
Are we making more enemies by going in to Arab and Islamic countries than we started with? Are we gaining or losing in this battle against terror by going into Iraq? I think that‘s a legitimate question. I don‘t think it‘s defeatism to keep asking it.
WALLACE: Absolutely and neither does the president. And this is the exact debate that he had hoped to initiate last night. What he proposed last night is that our engagement in the world and our leadership in the world, and that fighting the war on terror on the offense is not creating terrorists.
That would assume that the terrorists would be opening book stores or running bakeries if they weren‘t plotting attacks on us and you know that‘s not true and I know that‘s not true, and it‘s something we have to acknowledge and it‘s very uncomfortable, I think, to think about the fact that if we were not on the offense, what would happen. It‘s a hypothetical, and it‘s, you know—I mean, it‘s worth ...
MATTHEWS: Some people aren‘t born terrorists. Recall (ph) people were not born terrorists. The 16-year-old kid today, four years from now could be a terrorist, but he‘s not born a terrorist ...
WALLACE: But certainly if you‘re born ...
MATTHEWS: ... and the idea—they‘re not like a bunch of ants in an ant pile. We have to go kill all the ants. They don‘t exist until they decide to become terrorists, and that‘s the question I want the answer.
How can we get to their hearts and minds and souls, if you will, when they decide to become terrorists and say no, I‘d rather go to the University of Michigan and become an engineer, I‘d rather become a technician somewhere and make $50,000 a year. I‘d rather become a real person in the world rather than become a suicide.
That‘s what I would like to get to them and I don‘t think we‘re sure that fighting in Iraq is a way to get to those souls who make these horrible decisions against us.
WALLACE: Well, again—but don‘t forget the other piece of it. The spread of hope and democracy and lifting people up from tyranny and oppression is a critical piece and you know, Karen Hughes is doing extraordinary work over at the State Department.
Public diplomacy is a critical piece of this and, again, you can‘t—
Secretary Rumsfeld doesn‘t talk about the military piece of the war on terror without talking about the critical diplomatic work that has to take place. And our work in Iraq is now very much those two pieces, actually the three legs of the stool, I guess, would be all the work that the Iraqis are doing.
The Iraqis are running their own country. They‘re increasingly taking the lead in security operations, and we are there to help this fledgling democracy stand up and cease to be a place where terrorists can operate and launch attacks on Americans and our allies.
MATTHEWS: Communications director for President Bush, Nicolle Wallace. Thank you very much ...
WALLACE: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... for joining us tonight on HARDBALL, live from the White House.
Up next, as part of our “Decision 2006,” series about hot political races around the country, we‘re going to take you to Pennsylvania where Republican Senator Rick Santorum is up for reelection. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Pittsburgh Steelers, the best politics, the best football.
Let‘s play HARDBALL. Yes. Steelers. I love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s my hometown. Back to HARDBALL. Welcome. On Monday we launched MSNBC‘s 2006 election coverage with an exclusive interview with Tom DeLay. Tonight, my colleague David Shuster takes on the hottest Senate race of the year—Pennsylvania.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a part of the country now consumed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the year‘s most bruising political Super Bowl is waiting in the wings.
Republican lightning rod Senator Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. are expected to raise and spend more than $50 million in what will be the most expensive race in state history. Already, the verbal attacks have begun.
SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA: He‘s someone who wants to grow the size and scope of government. I don‘t believe that‘s the best way to go.
BOB CASEY JR., DEMOCRATIC SENATE CANDIDATE: He‘s voted time and again for tax cuts for multi-millionaires, most recently even in the time of war.
SANTORUM: Bob is a—you know, is a trial lawyer‘s trial lawyer, and believes in no reform of the medical liability system. He‘s someone who wants to destroy our pharmaceutical industry in Pennsylvania.
CASEY: He‘s been on the side for years now. The oil companies, the big drug companies, the insurance industry—and we know now after a lot of publicity the last couple of weeks, he‘s been on the side of the K Street lobbyists.
SHUSTER: Santorum, who is part of the Senate Republican leadership, is seeking a third term. He is the top reelection priority for the Bush White House and the number one Senate target for Democrats.
SANTORUM: If you didn‘t matter, if you were someone who was a back bencher who didn‘t have an impact on what was going on and making a difference here in Washington, obviously, they wouldn‘t have the bullseye on your back.
SHUSTER: Casey is the son of the late Bob Casey, the popular former Pennsylvania governor. Like his father, Casey is pro-life and supports gun owners. And he is happy to make this campaign a referendum on President Bush.
CASEY: The independence of a U.S. senator is very important. People don‘t want you voting one way 98 percent of the time, like Senator Santorum has voted with President Bush. And we‘re going to be the candidate who represents that change.
SHUSTER: Pennsylvania has long been a microcosm of America. Its rural population is the second largest in the country, and yet there are urban voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Political analysts believe the high profile Senate race will be decided by moderate Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs. This is a group President Bush lost twice, but Santorum has previously won.
JAMES O‘TOOLE, “PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE”: If Santorum can hold on to them, he can win this race, but I think right now, the perception of both sides is that he has a substantial deficit there.
SHUSTER: The polls have placed Santorum behind Casey by 10 to 15 points. Last year in his book, “It Takes A Family,” Santorum likened abortion to slavery. He has compared Democrats to Nazis, spoken of homosexuality and bestiality in the same sentence, and visited Terri Schiavo on her death bed. Santorum has also been bruised over his regular meetings with Washington lobbying firms.
SANTORUM: All I‘ve ever done with respect to, quote, “the K Street Project,” is to do what Democrats do, other Republicans do, which is to meet with hobbyists to talk about the issues of the day, and how we‘re going to try to accomplish public policy here.
CASEY: Every explanation that he‘s provided about the K Street Project, it doesn‘t pass the hysterical after test.
SHUSTER: As for Casey, he has been accused of dodging key issues and avoiding specifics.
(on camera): The Senate race here in Pennsylvania is not the only campaign battle generating national attention. A handful of House seats are also considered competitive and then, there is the governor‘s race.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which one do you have.
SHUSTER (voice-over): The leading Republican challenger is former Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Lynn Swann. He is a member of the Football Hall of Fame and is now surfing Steelers fans‘ mania.
O‘TOOLE: And from now until the Super Bowl you‘re going to see run over an over again his graceful catches he made in winning four Super Bowls for the Steelers. So, I mean, it‘s—it seems insubstantial, but I think there‘s no question it helps it image.
SHUSTER: The Democratic incumbent Governor Ed Rendell is popular with both the Democratic base and with moderate suburban voters. But it‘s the Senate race, the national political parties are obsessing over. Casey has already received fund raising help from Democratic Senators Barack Obama and John Kerry. Santorum is getting help from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and senator John McCain. Meanwhile, the candidates are crisscrossing the state, lining up donors and testing out lines of attack in interviews, including ours.
SANTORUM: They don‘t want someone who has no positive message, has no opinion on anything and simply wants to tear down the he opponent. Pennsylvanians aren‘t going to settle for that in the end.
CASEY: Senator Santorum made his choice. He is for tax-cuts for multi-millionaires. I think that should be repealed especially in a time of war and especially with regard to the priorities of health care and the deficit.
SHUSTER (on camera): Despite the early verbal jabs, the campaigns are still if a relatively quiet fund raising mode, but when the ads go up as early as February or March, that‘s going to change and this race is going to be nasty. I‘m David Shuster for Hardball in Pittsburgh.
MATTHEWS: Sounds like it‘s nasty already. Thank you, David Shuster. By the way, Rick Santorum and Bob Casey have both pledged on camera to participate in a campaign debate with me as the moderator. We‘re going to keep working on the details with both campaigns and I‘ll keep you posted in the weeks ahead.
And you keep up with the hot HARDBALL races on our Web site, email@example.com.
Coming up, more on the Pennsylvania race with Jay Carney of “Time” magazine. It‘s a HARDBALL race up this in Pennsylvania. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As we just saw on David Shuster‘s great report, the Pennsylvania Senate race is going to be a humdinger and it‘s going to be one of the ones we watch all this year. For more on the dynamics and candidates in that race, we welcome Jay Carney, the Washington Bureau Chief. You‘re the Bureau Chief now, right?
JAY CARNEY, TIME: I‘m the bureau chief.
MATTHEWS: Of a big magazine, “Time.” We‘re picking a couple races around here. We picked up the DeLay race, because a lot of liberals in the country would like to see that go down. A lot of conservatives would like to see him hang-on, I guess. This other race is important just because there are very few Senate incumbents who generally face defeat, especially leaders of the Senate like Rick Santorum. Which way is that race going.
CARNEY: Santorum has made up a little bit of ground lately, but he is down 10. And if you are an incumbent Senator running for a third term and the election year has already begun and you‘re down 10 against the challenger, you‘re in trouble and in fact, I would almost write off an incumbent senator in that situation this far out.
If it weren‘t for the fact that Rick Santorum has a history of having tough races, coming from behind and pulling them out.
MATTHEWS: What‘s its big negative on Rick Santorum?
CARNEY: Well, there are two things. One, Santorum is and always has been to the right of the middle of the state. He is - he is more conservative than the state is.
MATTHEWS: He‘s not a purple stater?
CARNEY: He‘s not a purple stater, and that‘s been a problem for him and that is why he has had relatively tough fights. Even if he wins this time, he‘ll have another tough fight in six year.
His other problem is the fact that he‘s a Republican and George Bush has an approval rating in the 40 percent range, and it is just a bad time to be a Republican.
MATTHEWS: But tears a but in your head somewhere. You‘re not willing to bet the ranch. What is it that makes you think that Bob Casey, with all this going for him, might not make it?
CARNEY: He‘s not particularly tested. He seems a little brittle. He is running on his father‘s name, even though he has his own name, that can turn people off to a degree.
MATTHEWS: Do people know it‘s the son?
CARNEY: Yes, I think a lot of people do.
MATTHEWS: Do they all know it? Is he getting some votes from his late dad?
CARNEY: Sure, absolutely. Pennsylvania is an old state. It has a lot of old people in it and they remember the father. It‘s not like Florida where 30 percent of the state didn‘t live there five years ago.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the consequence, say it‘s election night in November. Hillary Clinton probably wins big, Katherine Harris might pull an upset, who knows, Tom DeLay might win or lose. We‘ll be looking around for fascinating personalities. If Santorum pulls a squeaker and wins this thing by half a point, is that a big night for the president?
CARNEY: It ruins the Democrats‘ night and therefore it‘s a big night for the president. Because if they can‘t pull this one off, a race again where they have an incumbent on the ropes looking very vulnerable in a year where everything is going for them, the Democrats, they could win and have successes, even surprising ones, elsewhere in the country, but if they can‘t win their prime target Senate race in the fall, they‘re in trouble.
Now I wouldn‘t bet—again, I‘m reluctant to bet against Santorum but I wouldn‘t want to be Santorum.
MATTHEWS: Shuster brought up the governor‘s race up there, I‘ve done this before but I want to make sure everybody knows where I stand on this. My brother Jim, my younger brother, is running for the Republican endorsement, that says nothing about me, Republican endorsement, for Lieutenant Governor up there, that will be decided next months, so he may be running with Lynn Swann, the great football hall of famer.
CARNEY: Ed Randell, a popular, successful governor of Pennsylvania, Mayor of Philadelphia, has a real race on his hands. Lynn Swann looks to be an impressive candidate, although a total neophyte. We‘ll have to see.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Jay Carney. Coming up, Representative Jack Murtha, this is going to be a hot one. Wait till you hear Murtha coming up. He‘s an outspoken enemy of this war in Iraq, he thinks the troops should be redeployed elsewhere. We‘re going to ask him what he thought about the president‘s State of the Union pitch last night for the war in Iraq.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Bush was resolute last night about the ability of U.S. forces to both democratize and pacify the world. Representative Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania is the ranking member and former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Congressman Murtha, thank you. The president said last night, we‘re winning the war in Iraq. Is that true?
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It‘s not true. We‘re caught in a civil war, and I keep saying this administration is mischaracterizing what‘s going on in Iraq. Iraq is a civil war between two factions inside the country. Our troops are the targets, and they‘re unifying Iraq against us. There‘s a very small al Qaeda competition in there, and in Iran, everybody else wants us in Iraq because we‘re spending so many resources, human and monetary resources, in Iraq itself.
So what we‘re into is nation building. You cannot nation build inside an insurgency. So we‘re not only not winning, we‘re spreading hatred towards the United States. Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out of there. Forty-seven percent of the people in Iraq say it‘s justified to kill Americans. Eighty percent of the people in the periphery of Iraq say that we‘ll be better off. Once we get out of there, it will be more stable in Iraq. And that‘s what all of us—we want to help this president, but he‘s hard to help.
MATTHEWS: This president would use the word defeatist for you, Congressman. He seems to have used that word last night to anyone who says we should not be fighting in Iraq.
MURTHA: He answers substantive recommendations with rhetoric. This is the thing that‘s so frustrating. This war has been going on longer than our war against Germany in World War II. World War I went on for less time than this war, and the Korean War was less time than this war. So we‘ve been there a long time. It‘s time to change direction. Our troops are the targets of an insurgency, and there‘s no way that we can get out it.
The longest—the most vulnerable part of this insurgency is when our troops in this 8,000 mile logistics train from the United States, the last 12 hours are from Kuwait to Baghdad. That‘s where the IEDs -- 10,000 IEDs, which cripple these young people, and we‘ve had 16,000 of them wounded in this war in Iraq.
We‘re—it‘s time for us to change direction, redeploy to the periphery so that if our troops need to go back in to respond to something that‘s a national security interest, we can. I‘m not talking about interfering in the civil war. And what I‘m trying to do is show the difference between terrorism, which they have diverted themselves from. We spend $334 billion in Iraq.
This should be diverted and changed to spend against terrorism. But Osama bin Laden is still out there, and now he‘s got a world communications network. So I‘m convinced that we‘re spending the money in the wrong way. We‘re better off getting our troops away from what‘s going on Iraq, and then starting to fight the real war in terrorism.
MATTHEWS: Last night the president said something I‘ve never heard an American say before, an American president or anyone else. He said, quote, “Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world.” Where in the Constitution, where in any resolution you‘ve ever seen, Congressman, has the United States committed itself to fighting tyrannies in the world?
MURTHA: Well, and this is the problem. I mean, there‘s tyranny in China, there‘s tyranny in North Korea, there‘s tyranny in Iran, there‘s tyranny in Russia. I mean, we aren‘t police of the world. We can not police the world and we can‘t nation build.
Our military has limitations and right now they‘re really hurting. As a matter of fact, it‘s starting to cut the budget—imagine this, right in the middle of a war, in the last defense budget, they cut $8 billion out of the base defense bill. They cut $31 billion, they‘re going to propose, for the next four or five years and they‘re cutting $11 billion out of the army, which is hurting desperately and got all kinds of problems with equipment, ground equipment, being repaired.
So we‘re hurting ourselves here and we have the whole world is against what we‘re doing in Iraq. That‘s the problem that we have. You can‘t win these things militarily. You have to win them diplomatically.
For instance, Iran is three times as big geographically and almost as big population-wise as Iraq. Now imagine, we can‘t even sustain the operation in Iraq, let alone go into Iran, so we‘re limiting our resources, we‘re allowing countries to miscalculate and we‘re vulnerable to attack down the road if we don‘t do something to make sure our military is well-prepared. It‘s not going to be well-prepared if we continue to fight this war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—the president takes a totally different view. He says that the reason we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan is because the people who attacked us on 9/11 somehow came from those countries.
Let‘s listen to what the president said. This is the part where he said our nation is committed to an historic, long term goal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away can bring murder and destruction throughout our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Mr. Murtha, do you think the president‘s consciously trying to confuse the American people as to who attacked us on 9/11? He doesn‘t name the country there. We can assume he means Afghanistan.
But the people who led the attacks on us on 9/11, as everyone who reads the newspapers know, came from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and they were based in Europe, many of them.
What does he mean to say that somehow this war in Iraq is connected to 9/11 and what is he up to in making this kind of connection?
MURTHA: Chris, this is the very thing that I‘ve been so concerned about and it‘s the thing that worries me the most. He keeps mischaracterizing where this war on terrorism is from. This is a civil war in Iraq. What he said—one time a statement about the brutal enemy in Iraq. The brutal enemy is the Iraqis. The Iraqis have an election now and 80 percent of them want us out of there.
We have caused more problems, more terrorism in Iraq. There was no terrorism in Iraq, there was no connection with al Qaeda in Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction. We didn‘t go to war to get rid of tyranny. We went to war because we felt that weapons of mass destruction -at least I did, personally, weapons of mass destruction threatened the vicinity, the area and that Saddam Hussein would dominate that area.
Instead, we find no weapons of mass destruction, no al Qaeda connection. We find all kinds of terrorism which was not there before. So he‘s mischaracterizing this war in order to talk about terrorism. Terrorism is not Iraq. They‘re using terrorist tactics, but al Qaeda‘s a very small proportion and the Iraqis will get rid of them themselves once we‘re out of there.
MATTHEWS: Has he succeeded, Congressman, among regular people, in convincing them somehow that Iraq attacked us first and we‘re attacking them back? I‘ve seen numbers that support that among a minority of people, maybe 40 percent out there, think we‘re attacking back at Iraq for what they did to us on 9/11.
MURTHA: He has not convinced the public. The public is way ahead. The public, matter of fact, think this president is lying. The public polls show—and this is something that is almost unbelievable—that this president of the United States is lying to the public about why they went to war. I don‘t necessarily believe that, but that‘s the point that the public is making, because he‘s mischaracterized it.
They have finally caught onto this; it took a while. It took a while for the news media to catch onto it.
But the thing that worries me is, every time we make a substantive recommendation like redeployment of the troops to the periphery, so that our troops are out of danger, and do it as quickly as possible, we get rhetoric of defeatism.
I mean, when he says “a plan for victory”—what is the plan? We‘ve got to give the Iraqis an incentive to take over. They‘ve had their election, they‘ve got a democratic government there. The Sunnis are not too happy about it, it‘s going to be very difficult. But they‘ve got to fight for it themselves, just like we had to fight for our own democracy in the United States.
MATTHEWS: How do we avoid being humiliated like—many people believe—everybody does—that we were humiliated when we had to evacuate our diplomatic staff from the embassy in Saigon back in ‘75. How do we avoid that kind of end to this horrible campaign, this difficult campaign?
MURTHA: I think the results of redeployment are much more important than the humiliation that we may see. For instance, I think if we get out of there, there‘ll be a lot less turmoil, the Iraqis will handle it themselves. The other Arab countries will start to come to the table.
Many of these things should only be done diplomatically. We certainly are not going to be able to do something militarily in Iran. When you look at a country that‘s three times as big as Iraq geographically and populationwise, you can understand how difficult it would be. And the public is completely against any other foreign engagement.
Now, I‘m not talking about isolationism. I‘m talking about only going to war when it hurts our national interest. That‘s the reason we go to war. And if you go to war, you go to war with overwhelming force, which we didn‘t do. And then you have an exit strategy. We have no exit strategy. That‘s the thing that‘s the most worrisome to me.
MATTHEWS: Okay, thank you. Congressman Jack Murtha, we‘ll be right back with you, sir, in just a moment.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Representative Jack Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania.
Congressman, if you look at all the polls, the NBC polls, the other ones, the Gallup—four out of five Democrats take your point of view you just expressed with great passion. They believe this is not part of the war on terror. We shouldn‘t be in Iraq. We never should have gone there in the first place. How come your party, how come you, weren‘t on television last night challenging the president‘s claim that we should be there?
MURTHA: Well, as you know, Chris, I try to do this behind the scenes as much as I can. I‘ve tried to work with the president. I worked with President Bush I in the Gulf War, the first Gulf War. I worked with President Reagan, I worked with President Ford. But, you know, it‘s—I‘d rather do it behind the scenes ...
MATTHEWS: But last night, your party, the Democratic Party, put on the governor of Virginia who hardly even mentioned Iraq, and the toughest statement he came out with was, well, maybe we should reconsider our policy in Iraq. That‘s your party—that‘s not your party‘s position. I can read the polls. The polls are, your party‘s position—four out of five members of your party—say we shouldn‘t be in Iraq. Why don‘t you say so if that‘s your party‘s position?
MURTHA: Well, I think they‘re coming around to that position. Once we went home and got—for instance, every place I go, people stop me in the airplanes. They stop me in Home Depot. They stop me when I go—anyplace I go, a restaurant. And they compliment me about what I‘m saying.
I don‘t know whether they‘re Democrats or Republicans, but I‘ve seen the same polls, and I think that Democrats will come around. It‘s just they don‘t like the criticism. They don‘t like to be called defeatists and some of them don‘t think they have the credentials to withstand that kind of criticism.
MATTHEWS: How about Hillary Clinton? How about Bill Clinton? How about Chuck Schumer? They‘re all supporting the war. They have not come back off their support for the authorization as you have.
MURTHA: Yes, well I ...
MATTHEWS: They‘re pretty strong people. They‘re pretty big shot in this country, but why don‘t they say we shouldn‘t be in Iraq if they believe that? Maybe they don‘t agree with you.
MURTHA: Well, maybe they don‘t. I‘ve talked to Senator Clinton and I‘ve talked to a couple of others, and I‘ve told them. I said this is a critical time for you if you‘re going to run for president, some of these other candidates also. And I think John Kerry came out with a pretty strong—I think they‘ll eventually work there way to the—this is tough position to take.
You have got to really understand what‘s going on, and you have to understand the stakes. This is the future of the country. There‘s two things I‘m worried about, not only changing the war on terrorism in Iraq—
I mean, changing from the civil war, but also the future of the military. And most people don‘t focus on that. They think, well, we‘ll take care of that down the road.
The minute this thing‘s over, there will be no money for the military. And I keep talking to an industry and I keep talking to the military and saying you folks are going to have a real problem once this is over, because the military is in bad shape, the Army and the Marine Corps in particular. The ground equipment we figure it will take $50 billion to get it back in shape.
MURTHA: And they‘re not going to have the money to rehabilitate this.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I want to point to you a worse scenario, even than the one we‘re in right now. Right after we went into Iraq—and I know you know what happened there—the real gung-ho hawks, and I mean by that the neo-conservative intellectuals, said oh great, now we can go into Syria. Now we can go into Iran.
And they were hoping we could make quick work of Iraq and move onto these other target countries. Do you think they‘ve learned their lesson or are they still hawkish about our ability to just go in any Arab country we want to, knock down the leadership, hold elections and have people on our side?
MURTHA: Chris, what I say to them, you sit back here in your air-conditioned offices and you want to send those troops out there to the desert, to a place that hardly a very small proportion of this country is fighting this war. The American soldier, the American Marine, the American serviceperson, plus the families—they‘re the only ones making this sacrifice.
We‘re giving big tax cuts. We‘re doing everything else. We‘re sacrificing actually in this country, cutting back on all kinds of things in order to fund the war in Iraq which is a civil war which we‘re caught in. So this is much more serious than most people realize, and at some point, these folks are going to come to that conclusion, and they‘re going to agree with me.
In the end, there‘s only two solutions. One is, you either stick with the president—which is not a policy, it‘s open-ended—or you take my policy which is redeploy and reduce the expenditures there and start spending on that war against terrorism.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Representative Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.
Coming up, look back at the State of the Union Address, and looking forward to the elections this November. This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Every day of my presidency, I think about this war. That‘s what you‘ve got to understand. And so when you hear me give a speech and talk about the dangers to America, they are real, not imagined. You know, some would like us to look at the world the way we would hope it would be. My job as your president is to look at the world the way it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Bush in Nashville today selling himself as the protector and chief of this country, obviously. I‘m joined right now by Chris Cillizza of thewashingtonpost.com and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.” I‘ve got competitors here of a sort. The president of the United States has grown up this issue. It is not just Iraq, it‘s me against the tyrannies of the world. Tony, is that an escape route or is that a true development in his thinking?
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Oh, I think it‘s a fundamental geopolitical reality. The great issue today is radical Islam and the rise of weapons of mass destruction. The question is, is democracy the solution or is it some other solution?
MATTHEWS: Was going into Iraq the solution?
BLANKLEY: Well that‘s part of it. But the other question is, is democracy the solution? I think the second part is in doubt. There‘s no good answer yet, to this problem. But from my point of view, yes, he hasn‘t fabricated the dangerous world we‘ve founded and we haven‘t yet had a good debate.
MATTHEWS: No, but the question of fabrication is whether Iraq was a danger to us or not. You keep wincing and saying—that‘s the war we‘re fighting right now. It‘s in Iraq.
BLANKLEY: Well it‘s going to be in Iran and it‘s going to be in Hamas and it‘s going to be in Syria.
MATTHEWS: The war going on that people argue about is the war in Iraq. And he keeps changing the subject of this wider view of—everyone‘s for the war against terrorism, that‘s not issue. They‘re not?
BLANKLEY: Not in an operational way. What are people who are against the president‘s strategy against the war on terror proposing to actually do?
MATTHEWS: Well, going to Iraq—I mean, going to Afghanistan, catching al Qaeda around the world, tracking them down, using every element of power we have to get them. Catch bin Laden instead of letting him get away. That‘s not a bad alternative.
BLANKLEY: Look, the fact—to me, it‘s fanciful to suggest that the president‘s opponents really have a different strategy. Everything you‘ve said, the president‘s trying to do. And other piece he‘s trying to do is to transform the Middle East. Now that‘s a big gamble, we knew it was a gamble going in.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this, because you raised the question. Chris, the president‘s argument is, we‘ve got to take down tyrannies. And he said it again very effectively last night, it was a real power punch.
I don‘t think he‘s right in saying we have committed to that because I don‘t know who the “we” is. I don‘t see the documents or any of the authorizations for war. Nowhere does it say, in our Constitution, or anywhere in our government, is there documents that says the goal of American policy is to take down tyrannies.
But he raised a great point. Will knocking down tyrannies like we‘ve done in Afghanistan, in Iraq and may be doing elsewhere, bring about democracy as we know it? In other words, a moderate government, or will it simply bring the Islamic brotherhood into power and into these countries?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, THEWASHINGTONPOST.COM: I think at this point it‘s impossible to know.
MATTHEWS: Well no, what happened in the West Bank?
CILLIZZA: It—my point is that it fluctuates. I think what you see here is that this is a political calculation, I believe, more so than it is a policy calculation. I believe that what you saw last night was the first speech of the 2006 presidential election. You saw security.
MATTHEWS: You mean congressional elections.
CILLIZZA: Exactly, the midterm elections. Democrats, I talked to a number of them today, Democrats said, “Look, we‘re going to talk about Bush. This is going to be referendum on Bush.”
MATTHEWS: So they don‘t mind this fight.
CILLIZZA: No, I don‘t think they do. I think they look forward to it. I‘m not sure they welcome it. But I think...
MATTHEWS: ... How come they didn‘t have anybody—I asked Jack Murtha that awhile ago. How come they didn‘t put somebody like him on last night to challenge the president on this fundamental argument that our business, as Americans, in this early 21st century, is to take down tyrannies. Why didn‘t—they had this guy from Virginia talking about what?
CILLIZZA: Again, I hate to say, I think that‘s much more of a function of the political realities. They view Tim Kaine as the new blueprint, the new posterboy.
MATTHEWS: But he‘s not going to say anything about Iraq and the war.
CILLIZZA: He mentioned Iraq very briefly in that and it was a passing
reference at that.
MATTHEWS: Tony, do you think the Democrats want to fight on this line?
BLANKLEY: They‘d be nuts to want to fight on this line. I think they wondered if they can fight on domestic related issues. But I thought the most interesting thing in the night, the one thing I didn‘t expect to hear, was this repeat attack on isolationism.
And I agree with him on it. But it‘s not something that I think he has to worry about. I think that‘s probably the next president, whoever he or she is—is challenged. Right now, you don‘t, Pat Buchanan, our friend, is not likely to suddenly get 40 percent of the vote.
And so I thought it was fascinating. I don‘t know whether he sees something out there that he wants to start inoculating against. But I found that to be absolutely...
MATTHEWS: ... Why didn‘t he take an honest position on illegal immigration? Why did he say he‘s against amnesty when everybody knows that he is pushing for a program to legalize people illegally? That‘s called amnesty.
BLANKLEY: I‘ve been in editorial at “The Washington Times,” we consistently say it‘s amnesty.
MATTHEWS: Why does he not use the word? Why did he tell something that‘s not true, really?
BLANKLEY: Because technically he‘s right in the sense that amnesty is a permanent condition and these are temporary guest workers.
MATTHEWS: Oh no no, I‘m talking about what he‘s going to do to the 11 million people here illegally. He‘s going to let them become legal through some process which looks to me likes amnesty.
BLANKLEY: No, he‘s been vaguer on that. I think the non-amnesty denial, I think is relating to the guest workers. I think it‘s form over substance. The reality is it is amnesty. And that‘s his position that he‘s taken.
MATTHEWS: But he does say it ain‘t what it seems like.
CILLIZZA: It‘s not amnesty because he knows that immigration is one of these issues that‘s really going to divide Republicans. When you say amnesty, you alienate a whole group of the Republican Party. I mean, last night, he was trying to say...
MATTHEWS: ... OK, that‘s like the people who are for pro-choice position on abortion. Never say abortion, they say pro-choice and then they say reproductive health decisions. Amnesty is amnesty.
BLANKLEY: Like, the issue divides the country and it divides both parties. And there‘s no way to finesse it.
MATTHEWS: Well, he tried.
BLANKLEY: He didn‘t succeed.
MATTHEWS: Was that a good speech last night? You‘re a writer.
BLANKLEY: I liked the epigram about hindsight and wisdom. I thought that was good. I thought it was solid speech. It‘s what I would expect after six years.
MATTHEWS: OK, got to go. Tony Blankley, thank you sir. Thank you, Chris Cillizza. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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