Guests: John Warner, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, Mike Barnicle, Ed Rogers, Darrell Issa, Eliot Engel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Battle losses on both fronts today.
Israel lost nine soldiers, fighting for a hilltop town in Southern Lebanon.
In the past week, we Americans have lost 16 soldiers in Iraq, and 17 Iraqis were kidnapped today in broad daylight from a Baghdad apartment building. All this as Iraq‘s foreign minister assured senators that his country, which is led by pro-Iranian Shia, would condemn Hezbollah, which is controlled by Shia. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
The Iraq war came back home to where it all started today, Washington.
On his second day in town, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki addressed a joint meeting of the House and the Senate. Some Democrats furious that the prime minister denounced Israel and not Hezbollah threatened to boycott the speech, but today Iraq‘s foreign minister promised lawmakers that Iraq will join other Arab countries in condemning Hezbollah‘s attack on Israel.
Maliki‘s visit, the first to the United States since becoming prime minister, has reaped some rewards for his country, namely more American troops in Baghdad to help control the sectarian violence there that‘s killing 100 civilians a day. And again, in the past week, 16 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq. More on the prime minister‘s visit in a minute with the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia.
Plus, Israel suffered its deadliest day in its offensive against Hezbollah and Lebanon. The Israeli military announcing nine soldiers were killed and 22 wounded in fierce fighting, and a top Israeli commander says he expects the conflict there to last for several more weeks.
NBC correspondent Richard Engel is in Tyre, Lebanon, which was hit hard again today by Israeli bombs—Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Throughout the day, we could hear Israeli airstrikes and shelling around the edges of Tyre. It was a constant rhythm. Then this evening, quite a different type of attack, two Israeli bombs or missiles went into a building, a residential building—it was a seven-story building, some people said it was a five-story building. It took up an entire block.
It was apparently the home, according to Hezbollah officials, of the Hezbollah commander in south Lebanon. He was not in the building, Hezbollah says, at the time. Red Cross officials confirm that. They say that no one was if the building. It doesn‘t even—a few people were injured, but the building was not crowded at the time.
However, there was quite a chaotic scene. Nobody knew that when we arrived. We got onto the location just a few minutes after these airstrikes and the building was burning, parts of it were still collapsing. There were live electrical wires on the ground. Then at one stage, we smelled gas fumes. Everyone started running in the opposite direction, sometimes getting pressed up against the building. We were hearing Israeli airstrikes in the sky.
Earlier in the day, not far from here, U.N. teams were digging through the rubble trying to look for the bodies of six people who were killed 11 days ago, including one U.N. worker, and they found the bodies of two women in that house today, one of them a young girl.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Richard Engel in Lebanon.
Here in Washington, Iraq‘s prime minister, al-Maliki, addressed a joint meeting of Congress, but for some Democrats, his appearance today wasn‘t welcome. Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the failure of his government‘s Baghdad security plan and despite public statements in recent weeks criticizing U.S. support for Israel, Prime Minister Maliki today received a full diplomatic embrace from Congress.
Maliki met with the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. He spoke with Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who said Maliki‘s foreign minister declared Iraq will join Arab criticism of Hezbollah and then ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the prime minister of the Republic of Iraq.
SHUSTER: The prime minister entered the joint meeting of Congress in the very same manner the president does when delivering the State of the Union. There were handshakes, bipartisan pats on the back, and then a few steps up to a podium where Vice President Cheney and House Speaker Hastert were waiting.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.
SHUSTER: During the body of his speech, Maliki insisted his country is a frontline in the war on terror and he added that those responsible for the violence in Iraq are perverting the Muslim faith.
AL-MALIKI (through translator): Let me be very clear. This is a battle between true Islam for which a person‘s liberty and rights constitute essential cornerstones, and terrorism which wraps itself in a fake Islamic cloak.
SHUSTER: Maliki‘s speech was laced with idealism and lofty rhetoric, and sounded like it could have been written by a Bush administration speech writer.
AL-MALIKI (through translator): Iraq is the battle that will determine the war.
SHUSTER: Several Democrats critical of Maliki attended and joined in some of the standing ovations, but at one point, Maliki was interrupted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the troops to leave, bring them home now. Iraqis want the troops to leave.
SHUSTER: “Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now,” said the demonstrator. She was soon removed and Maliki continued, linking the war in Iraq to the battle against those responsible for 9/11.
Al-MALIKI (through translator): Trust that Iraq will be a grave for terrorism and terrorists.
SHUSTER: After the speech, there was more applause and more handshakes, but the reaction was mixed.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We both applaud his determination to disband the militias, but he needs more than determination and public statement to do that. He needs a plan, he needs resources and he needs political will.
SHUSTER: Senator Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said Maliki‘s rhetoric was disingenuous.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I think that Baghdad, the area that we have more carefully guarded, more closely watched than any other part of Iraq, has reached the point where it needs more American forces for security is an indication of how bad the situation is on the ground.
SHUSTER: At the White House where President Bush yesterday announced that more U.S. troops will be deployed in Baghdad, administration officials today tried to keep the focus on the stateliness of Maliki‘s visit and on his appreciation of the U.S. investment in Iraq.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Committed some of our finest young men and women to service there, 2,600 have lost their lives. We‘ve spent billions of dollars. This is important for many Americans and the prime minister, I think, is making it clear that he is not somebody who takes these sacrifices lightly.
SHUSTER (on camera): Maliki‘s visit may indeed give the Bush administration a boost, but at the same time, the problems and challenges in Iraq are enormous and the evidence comes from Maliki himself, who as part of his visit to the capital, has been asking members of Congress to give Iraq even more money and help.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster. Senator John Warner of Virginia is chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Senator, we‘ve got a new ally over there, his name is Maliki, he‘s the prime minister of Iraq. Is he going to be with us in the Middle East in all these fights?
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), CHMN. ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: Let‘s take it a step at a time. I was privileged to be with him at a breakfast meeting this morning, of course, at the State of the Union, that type of joint session.
And then perhaps the most poignant chapter with him, I went with the president and the prime minister over to Fort Belvoir, a big military base right outside the nation‘s Capitol, where he went into a roomful of 400 to 500 Army, Navy, Marines, and airmen, and some of their families.
And he quietly, but ever so sincerely, looked into their eyes and said thank you, thank you for the sacrifice that your brothers and sisters before you have done, what you‘re doing today, and hopefully what you‘ll do in the future, to help the Iraqi people achieve their measure of freedom, their self-sustaining government. He was sincere.
MATTHEWS: How was the president reacting? You saw all the body language and all that with the two of them flying together in Marine One. What was that like, if you can tell us?
WARNER: Well, we were back in Marine Two or Three, but anyway, I did see them together in that room, and you could tell that the president was enjoying. They not only spoke, both the president and the prime minister, they went to each of 25 tables, greeted a number of the uniformed people there, took their pictures with them.
It took over an hour, just the—what I call the personal contact between the commander-in-chief and his guest, the prime minister. And it was a very moving experience. And I‘ve seen a lot if my lifetime, and this was genuine.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the challenge they both face. He‘s head of an Arab nation. Arab nations have always had a problem with Israel in that region. It‘s not going to go away. How do we, as an American government, broker that relationship between our ally Iraq and our ally Israel in the face of an Israeli fight with Hezbollah?
WARNER: Tough challenge, but you used the word broker. I‘d add honest broker. Our country has played the role of honest broker in a number—a series of Middle East crises under a number of presidents. And I think at this point in time, the administration is trying to continue that role as an honest broker.
Now you know I‘ve said publicly recently, I‘m proud of my 28 years in the Senate and I‘ve been a good supporter of Israel‘s, but it cannot be unqualified support, because I‘m concerned the manner in which we give our support to try and bring about a cessation of this frightful killing on both sides, and it all started with, indeed, Hezbollah initiating strikes against Israel, and Israel‘s forces. But I‘m concerned that that animosity that is at a high pitch in that area now will move its way over to Iraq where so the animosity against our men and women in uniform over there could begin to increase. That‘s he what worries me.
MATTHEWS: Is it harder for someone like Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq to do daily business with a government like ours which is so supportive of Israel in this conflict, not just all the time, but in this particular conflict, when we‘re saying basically Condi Rice is supporting the Israeli position on conditions for a cease-fire. Everyone in the world can read a newspaper, can see that we‘re on Israel‘s side. Is it hard for a guy like al-Maliki to say “I‘m on the side of the people who are on the side of Israel,” if you‘re an Arab?
WARNER: It‘s an extraordinary challenge and he‘s stepping up to it. You failed to leave out one proportion of that statement. He‘s, yes, being criticized here that he‘s not taking a firmer stance against specifically Hezbollah. He is taking a stance and did it three times against terrorism.
But at home, he was severely criticized for even thinking of getting on an airplane and coming over here as he did and looking into the men and women of the armed forces and the people of our nation and saying thank you for what you‘ve done. Now that took guts.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but it‘s easier for him, isn‘t it, senator, for him to criticize a Sunni insurgency, which is challenging him, than to agree to attack a Shia attack on Israel. I mean, we have a map I think somewhere, I hope we can show it tonight, of this new Shia crescent across the Middle East, where it starts in Tehran, it runs through Baghdad, it goes to Beirut, and we by knocking out the Baathist government of Iraq have allowed that to be extended, to grow in power against us.
WARNER: You‘re just moving by leaps and bounds. I realize that crescent...
MATTHEWS: ... Well cut me off at the pass. Where am I wrong?
WARNER: You said the Sunni insurgency. What is troubling the prime minister, what is troubling our commander-in-chief and indeed our military commander is a sectarian strife. It‘s not just Sunni against Shia, it‘s Shia against Sunni, and that‘s the problem we‘re faced with.
And he recognizes that. And he wants to get rid of the private armies and all of the other small military organizations, which are feeding that type of sectarian violence. Now this is a man that—and Chris, both you and I have met a lot of people in our lifetime. I find him impressive, I find him sincere, and a man of courage, to leave his home when challenged by his own party and his own countrymen , don‘t go over there because of what the United States is doing hopefully in the role of an honest broker to assist Israel and indeed the Lebanese people who are getting the brunt of this war.
MATTHEWS: Most American presidents from Eisenhower on have accepted two roles in the Middle East, one friend of Israel, dictated by politics, common morality, common democracy, all those post Holocaust realities, et cetera. And the other hat is to be the honest broker in the region. Do you believe this president has played that second role or just a friend of Israel?
WARNER: I hope he is playing that second role. Now mind you that the executive branch is in hourly command of the decision making with regard to what we‘re doing to try and bring about a cessation of that fighting in such a way that it‘s sustainable.
I agree with him, sustainable cessation. But I don‘t think I can tell you with specificity each thing he‘s doing. Now I was briefly yesterday by the Pentagon on the role that we‘re playing, very carefully, but I think it‘s a balanced role, and I so far believe it‘s in line with the characterization America is being an honest broker.
MATTHEWS: And we‘re maintaining our independence—an independent right to set what we think is a fair solution to the fight between Hezbollah and Israel. We‘re not just taking Israel‘s talking points?
WARNER: I can assure you we‘re not.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Coming up, MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson a live report from Beirut, what a place to be from. And tomorrow on HARDBALL, Ann Coulter, the best-selling Ann Coulter joins us outside here on HARDBALL Plaza. An outdoor look at Ann Coulter. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Let‘s go now to Beirut with MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson. Tucker, give us the world view you‘ve got there in that plagued city.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST: Well, in Israel last week, Chris, we were able to talk to members of the IDF and members of the Israeli government. We‘ve come here to Beirut and of course we wanted immediately to talk to Hezbollah and today we did. We‘re in another part of the city working on another story when a call came in on my producer‘s cell phone with a call came in saying Hezbollah was ready to meet us so we drove down to the southern part of this city, Beirut, into an area that appeared to me to be completely controlled by Hezbollah.
There were pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini hanging over the road, pictures of Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the party and the military wing. It was very, very obvious that this part of Beirut is completely under the command and control of Hezbollah.
For that reason, it made our driver and our translator extremely nervous. As we rolled in, we stopped at one point, the driver got out, talked to a Hezbollah militiamen who waved us forward and we went to the scene of the Israeli bombing.
A couple of quick observations. One, the bombing here is profound. They call that part of town Nasrallahgrad after Stalingrad. That‘s how bad parts of the city look. Entire blocks devastated, buildings crushed. It is very, very heavy duty, the bombing of south Beirut.
Second observation, Hezbollah is at least in person, we were not able to take photographs, still or moving, of the Hezbollah leaders who were there, but they were amazingly Western looking. I expected long beards, the kind I‘ve seen throughout the Middle East. These people looked very Western, baseball hats, Western shoes, a lot of people them have English, not at all what I expected.
We were treated to their version of events, how Israel has bombed schools and sports clubs. We‘re not sure how much of that is true, but we do know Israel has done a lot of bombing there. We left there and went down to the port, watched the final American ships pull away in sort of a poignant moment with the final Americans left in this city. And then we went to the airport, which is a big modern airport, looks a lot like BWI in Baltimore, totally abandoned, eerie. The runway is still bombed, have not fixed. But the Jordanian air force today landed two C-130‘s on the runway, maneuvering around the holes in the tarmac as they landed, sort of an amazing feat of skill. They came here to unload medical supplies, an operating table, an anesthesia machine was labeled one box. And then to me, a moment that really kind of summed up everything here. The airmen got out of the plane, on the tarmac, down on their knees and prayed. They are of course observant Muslims and that‘s why they were praying, but it just reminded me this is a city, and this is a region where you can get killed without even knowing it and really there‘s a reason they pray a lot here. You hope it works.
Finally, interesting, those planes for the Jordanian Air Force, C-130, American made, the planes bombing this city, F-16‘s, also American made. Not sure what it adds up to, but America is the subtext of a lot of what‘s takes place here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much Tucker Carlson, good color. Let‘s bring in now “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent and MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and Chris Cillizza, a reporter and author of “The Fix” for the “Washington Post.com”. Look. let‘s talk about the politics of today in the United States capital. You‘ve been there many times, I spent years up there. The politics of trying to welcome with warmth and real tribute a leader of a country we‘re supporting like mad with all the lives of our people over there, at the same time, getting him to speak the way we speak in this country, pro-Israeli, how do you do this?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, it turned out to be impossible. That entire speech today, which everybody stood and applauded at various points, with some exceptions, was significant for what it didn‘t say concerning the conflict that Tucker was just reporting on. So the answer to your question is, it was impossible. It was impossible for Maliki to do it, and that is one of the reasons George Bush, in his press availabilities in the last 36 hours, has looked like a defeated man. I have never seen him look like this in all the time I‘ve been covering him since when he started running for governor in Texas 10 years ago.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to that. Was Karl Rove telling the president you have a real conundrum here. Some of the biggest supporters for the war in Iraq were people who believed it would lead somehow to peace in that region, it would stabilize it. The old argument was, it was said so well, the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad. We have to clean up this mess and what he‘s done is created this Shia crescent of Baghdad in the middle, with Beirut on the other side and Tehran on the other, challenging Israel now.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTONPOST.COM”: I think going back to what Howard said, it was as important for what Maliki didn‘t say. I think the other thing that is important is who wasn‘t there to hear it. People, Democrats like Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
MATTHEWS: Why would you expect, a lot of this, I know I‘m critical sometimes of this war, because so much it is historically predictable. We knew when we went in to an Arab country they would resist us. This administration didn‘t know that. We knew there would be an insurgency, because there always has been in the Arab world against outside invaders. There was. We knew we would have to resort to counter-insurgency measures, which means getting intel out of people, there would have to be some kind of torture. And in this case, we knew that the majority Shia would win the election. We knew that whoever won that election would be a Shia, they would be pro Iranian, and pro Hezbollah. Who didn‘t know this was going to happen, the President?
FINEMAN: Well, I think I said on this show, based on some people I know who are in the American military in Iraq, that once they announced that there were going to be elections, the Iranians sent in precinct workers. They literally sent their best precinct workers in to Iraq. So what has happened is George Bush has outmaneuvered on the chess board of diplomacy and the key thing for the American people, and Chris and I were talking about this before the show, is not all this geopolitics. For the American people, it‘s the number of troops in Iraq and George Bush having to say that we‘re moving more troops into Baghdad was like putting up a white flag, politically.
CILLIZZA: Right, I think that was the fundamental, most important thing that raised my eyebrows yesterday, was the fact that he said we‘re going to need to put more troops in to Baghdad. Remember, this is six weeks after he said we‘re going to pull back and let the Iraqis control it. Well, it now looks as though the Bush administration is just throwing darts at a dart board.
MATTHEWS: You‘re my age, I think you‘re about a year younger than me.
FINEMAN: I‘m younger than you.
MATTHEWS: Remember in 1968, after Tet, the big surprise, we can say we won it militarily, but politically it was a heartbreaker. When every capital city, every provincial capital of Vietnam was attacked in one move. After that Westmoreland, the general running the war over there said I want another quarter million troops. He already had a half million and when he said another quarter million, remember how that hit you, we‘re losing, we‘re losing, and now the president, is this resonant with that?
FINEMAN: The thing is, in fairness to the president, he‘s not saying putting more total troops into Iraq, but the body language of it is similar to what you‘re talking about, because now suddenly all the press releases, all the plans after plans after plans are suddenly the curtain is pulled back, to mix my metaphors with “the Wizard of Oz,” it‘s not happening and Bush‘s body language is crucial. George Bush operates physically. You can read George Bush. And if you saw that guy yesterday and today, you saw a guy who looked like he wasn‘t in charge and that‘s what scares the American people.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why your magazine writing is great. That color, that tick tock, secondary characteristics. Don‘t just hear what they say, watch their bodies move. Howard Fineman and Chris Cillizza are staying with us and later, we‘ll talk more about the politics of this Mideast crisis, this crossing between the front in the Mideast and what‘s going on in Iraq and they‘re not meshing politically here at home. How is it affecting Republicans and Democrats? Could it have an effect on our midterm elections? You bet. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with HARDBALL and we‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Chris Cillizza of thewashingtonpost.com. We have a new poll that we can show you now. It‘s come out from MSNBC and “The Wall Street Journal.” It‘s a new poll that shows that 20 percent of the people think Iraq should be the president‘s top priority now and Mideast peace is down at number four below War on Terror, ties to China. Is this just good all politics is local. We‘re Americans that are fighting over there. The Israelis are fighting with the Arabs, but that‘s not exactly us.
CILLIZZA: I think what this gets to is that the battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something that the American public thinks of as oh, that‘s been going on for hundreds of years and it‘s going to be going on for hundreds of years more. No new news there. The Iraq war is something that‘s very visceral to them, that they want, they want a decision. It‘s a totally different thing. The Israel-Palestine thing is far away. We don‘t have people fighting there. It‘s a totally different dynamic.
MATTHEWS: Well, the other thing, Howard, is the confluence of both of them. We are fighting on one front, Americans dying, we just pointed out that we lost 16 guys, 16 people this week, the Israelis lost eight. These are big numbers for Israel, but they are big numbers still for us, even though we are a much bigger country. How is it going to work together politically?
FINEMAN: Well, I think it could work together politically because I think the argument is going to be made, and you‘re hearing it from lots of different angles, that the two conflicts are intimately related and they have to be solved together, but now together they‘re both making each other worse, and again, I go back to George Bush‘s leadership, I go to the Republican leadership in Congress, which is what we‘re talking about here for the Fall campaign.
The numbers for Republican leadership in the Congress are through the floor. The president has dragged them down with him and that‘s what‘s at stake here and the Democrats are going to attack from one side, saying, you know, you screwed up Iraq, which has made Israel‘s situation weaker and the others are going to attack from the other side, saying your support for Israel is what‘s made the Iraq situation more difficult.
MATTHEWS: Did you hear Michael Steele, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate say, he said being Republican is like wearing a Scarlet Letter.
FINEMAN: Well he was in Maryland, to be fair.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
FINEMAN: Well it‘s a Democratic state with a Republican governor.
CILLIZZA: That‘s probably good for him.
FINEMAN: But there‘s lots of Michael Steeles up on the Hill. I was up there all afternoon, anonymous, whispering concerns of Republicans who don‘t want to be on the record about what‘s going on.
CILLIZZA: And this is—one person I would add that‘s ...
MATTHEWS: I think we‘re going to see some of the worse numbers we‘re seen in these pollings.
CILLIZZA: One person I was going to add that surprised me was John Thune, somebody who the—South Dakota senator, somebody who the White House recruited into race in 2002 in the Senate race. He lost. They recruited him to the 2004 race, he beat Tom Daschle. He‘s widely talked about serving in leadership in the future.
Well, he came out and said I think we should start distancing ourselves from the president on the war on Iraq. Well, he obviously got a talking to because the next day he said, well, what I said was misinterpreted. But look, when somebody like John Thune were the president, won his state with 60 percent of the vote ...
MATTHEWS: OK, the rats are leaving the ship, but where‘s the ship going to end up here? Do we have a foreign policy to worry about here? It looks to me like this leader of Iraq wants us to stay, interminably, no resenting, you know, like a couple of years.
FINEMAN: Maybe not interminable, at least for the foreseeable future.
MATTHEWS: He wants us to be the M.P.‘s in downtown Baghdad, to fight his own people.
FINEMAN: And the only thing saving the Republicans right now from the trapdoor falling out entirely is that the Democrats‘ numbers are pretty bad too, and they don‘t have a coherent answer. Most of the Democrats will say, you know what, we probably have to stick for awhile. That‘s not a sharp enough contrast to the president yet, but I predict between now and election day, that contrast is going to get sharper and sharper and sharper.
MATTHEWS: By the way, the best campaign statement ever made was 1946. The Republicans after World War II and after many years of Democratic rule, said, “had enough”? You don‘t have to be that complete.
FINEMAN: That‘s true. That‘s true.
CILLIZZA: I just wanted to add to Howard‘s point that I think if you
I‘ve looked at polling on this, polling on should we pull out, withdrawal immediate, withdrawal six months. If you look at polling on this, you could make the argument that the American public is ahead of the Democratic Party in terms of wanting to withdraw, so I think Howard is right. They‘re going to read these polls.
MATTHEWS: I have totally accepted that argument for months.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why they‘re not leading their party, they‘re following it. Howard Fineman, thank you, sir. Thank you, Chris Cillizza.
Up next, the new NBC poll finds America thinks Iraq should be President Bush‘s top priority. What does that mean for his party in this midterm election?
By the way, don‘t miss HARDBALL Plaza—we love to go outside. That‘s tomorrow on Thursday. We‘re taking you to the streets and we‘ll be joined by guest Ann Coulter. Imagine, Ann Coulter in the bright sunshine. We‘re going to love it. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A day after President Bush announced that U.S. troops would be shifted to Baghdad to help stem the violence there, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki addressed a joint meeting of Congress today and urged the U.S. not to abandon a newly Democratic Iraq.
Maliki‘s foreign minister, meanwhile, saved him from further criticism from Democratic lawmakers by saying that he joined with Arab countries in condemning Hezbollah, although he hasn‘t done it yet. This came on a day when Israel suffered its heaviest losses in its fight against Hezbollah.
Did Maliki‘s visit help or hurt President Bush and how will the transfer of troops to Baghdad and the raging conflict between Israel and Hezbollah affect the elections coming up this November?
Our HARDBALLers tonight, Ed Rogers, Republican strategist and former advisor to the first President Bush; and Mike Barnicle, an MSNBC commentator.
I want to Mike to start this from up in Boston. Mike, this president and the people around him said that if we were successful in Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, we would find ourselves in a better place to bring peace to the whole region. As I said before the phrase used most often was “the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad.”
It turns out that by putting a Shia prime minister in charge, we‘ve created something else, a crescent from Tehran to Baghdad to Beirut, including the new Shia-led government of Iraq, which has been speaking rather toughly about Israel and, of course, Hezbollah which has been attacking Hezbollah. Should this have been predicted by the thoughtful people who arranged this U.S. policy of invasion of Iraq?
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Chris, I think a lot of people, you know, subcabinet level, certainly predicted exactly this would happen, but people like Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz chose not to believe it. They had their own beliefs. The president had his own belief in what would happen if we invaded Iraq. We invaded Iraq and we have seen what has happened since.
I mean, today, we had the Iraqi version of President Diem, formerly of South Vietnam, addressing the Congress of the United States. I don‘t think anybody in America believed this guy.
I think everybody in America or nearly everybody in America, when they look at Iraq, when they look at what‘s happening in Lebanon and with Israel and with Hezbollah, have a great sense of anxiety that things are rapidly spinning out of control and they want to know a couple things from this president with regard to his policies.
What are we doing and where are we going? And these are going to be the huge questions that the American electorate is going to respond to in this fall‘s off-year elections.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that it took a half dozen democratic senators and congresspeople to squeeze this guy‘s arm, to pull it back behind his back practically, to get him to stop saying things against Israel and to promise at least through his foreign ministry, that he will say something against Hezbollah soon?
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it was really petty, I think it was in poor form. I think it was against American interests for them to drag Maliki into this. He doesn‘t have a dog in the Israel-Hezbollah fight. And to drag him into it ...
MATTHEWS: How do you know that?
ROGERS: Well, how do we know ...
MATTHEWS: He‘s a Shia. The Shia run Hezbollah.
ROGERS: Shia is not a common political denominator, so I disagree with the premise of your earlier question, but Maliki risks his life every day to bring democracy to Iraq, to be our ally, to be our man there, and for us to insult him and be gratuitous by clamoring against him, basically coming to the Congress and saying thank you, America, I think was in poor form and I think it hurt America‘s interest in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Is the prime minister, that we installed as head of Iraq, through the process we undertook, is he pro or anti-Israeli, as far as you know?
ROGERS: As far as I know, it is irrelevant for his task at hand. His day job is to bring peace and security and democracy to Iraq. We shouldn‘t make him part of the side show that is taking place right now in Lebanon, in Southern Lebanon. It‘s unfair to him.
MATTHEWS: Well, politically, we all know at this table, what happens to Israel is not a side show. It‘s very strong in American politics. Michael get on here.
ROGERS: Ed Rollins, who has been on this show a lot, used to say when in trouble, make some rubble. In the near term conflict is probably good. People look to the White House, people look to the party in power for guidance, for instruction. Something‘s going to happen for involvement. In the long term, the party in power is invested in peace and prosperity. In the long term, this doesn‘t look like peace and prosperity, I‘ll give you that.
BARNICLE: Ed, first of all, the Israeli-Lebanon conflict is not a side show.
ROGERS: It is for the prime minister of Iraq.
BARNICLE: Why did he inject himself into it by issuing a statement in support of Hezbollah?
ROGERS: Maybe he made a mistake. His foreign minister has come back and tidied up. He was here to take thank you, thank you to America.
BARNICLE: Ed, could you take a breath?
ROGERS: I‘m breathing.
BARNICLE: Before he got here to say thank you, he injected himself into this side show as you call it with his support of Hezbollah. In 1983, Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, blew up the marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. They killed 243 Americans. They have since been interested in only two things, killing all Jews and as many Americans as they could.
ROGERS: We need Maliki to do his job. And Maliki is not Hezbollah. Come on, give him a break. He is risking his life every day to be our ally.
BARNICLE: No. He is he clearly a supporter of Hezbollah.
ROGERS: He is not a supporter of Hezbollah. There‘s no suggestion that he‘s a supporter of Hezbollah.
BARNICLE: Why didn‘t he respond to the question yesterday, asked in the press briefing, in the White House yesterday, when he was asked for his thoughts, where he stood ...
ROGERS: Come on.
BARNICLE: What do you mean, come on, Ed?
ROGERS: He‘s not an English speaker. Give him a break.
BARNICLE: I‘ll give him a break. If he would come to me and people like us, people out here in America. I went to a wake yesterday for a 20-year-old kid who died ...
ROGERS: Don‘t wave a bloody shirt in the face of Maliki who came here to say thank you, America, hang with me, as I‘m trying to make democracy stick in Iraq.
BARNICLE: What did he say before he got here, before he read that handwritten speech that was provided to him.
ROGERS: I don‘t know what he said and I‘m sincere, I don‘t know what he said. I didn‘t read the literal context of what he said.
MATTHEWS: I agree it may have sounded like the Bush doctrine. Do you know for a fact it was written by the Bushes?
BARNICLE: No, but I bet it was cleared by them. Don‘t you think it was cleared by them?
ROGERS: The guy is under huge domestic political pressure to not even come to the U.S. He was courageous in that act. He is our ally. We need to let him get back to his job.
MATTHEWS: I think that was an incredibly well crafted speech. Politically I think it was very smart on everything he said. He obviously knew he could not come back to his own country, and all politics is local, to say I said some real nice things about the state of Israel when I was over in America. He‘d of been a dead man. Anyways, Ed Rogers and Michael Barnicle, coming back with more of the politics of what the president is dealing with here and later, Congress fights over whether Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. Are they? This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with our HARDBALLers, Ed Rogers and Mike Barnicle. Mike, you start, you‘re up in Boston, a very political city. This Iraq war, does it carry any positives? I mean Ed said a wile ago tonight that whenever the president has problems, there‘s a rally around the flag atmosphere in this country, we all know about it. Will it help him that we‘re facing such hell over there right now?
BARNICLE: Well, the positives involved in the war in Iraq, Chris, clearly are the 150,000, 160,000 men and women on the ground over in Iraq, it‘s our military forces, it‘s the pride that everyone takes in them, in the way they carry out their duties, the difficulty, the degree of difficulty of their duty. If there is any positive in it, that is the positive. The other element that is perhaps positive that the president seemingly can‘t address is the historical aspect of the positive aspect of Iraq. Down the road, this might all work out. We don‘t have down the road time. We are a very impatient people. We live in a very impatient culture with our remote control clickers, our drive-through windows. We want success, we want success now and if we don‘t get it, seemingly more and more people are leaning toward well, let‘s go home.
MATTHEWS: He has a point there. This war has lasted more years than most marriages do these days.
ROGERS: It‘s inconsistent with HARDBALL, but I agree with just about everything Mike just said, that we are impatient, but history is slow in the making and history, I think, will show that we‘re on the right side of things here, that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. That democracy is more difficult than we thought it was going to be but it is going to happen because it‘s the natural course of things.
MATTHEWS: Is the president smart, you‘ve been in government, is the president smart not to meet with people from the leadership of Syria, of Iran? He‘s basically had a strategy of overthrow regimes we don‘t like, don‘t talk to ones we don‘t like and then have elections elsewhere. Isn‘t it necessary at some point, in the next couple of weeks even, that we talk to Syria, because that‘s where the arms are coming through?
ROGERS: At some point. I‘m not sure it‘s within the next couple of weeks, but they have been killing Americans on their eastern border, they‘re supplying Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, on their western border. They should be rewarded by some sort of engagement for good behavior and it‘s not there yet.
MATTHEWS: OK, we got to cut. We‘ll be back with this same, this debate ain‘t going over. It ain‘t going away anywhere. Anyway, thank you Mike Barnicle and Ed Rogers. When we come back, as Israel keeps fighting Hezbollah, Congress is fighting over how they‘re doing it. Is Israel doing enough to protect civilians in Lebanon? Can Congress tell whether they are? You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Last week the House of Representatives passed a resolution that supported the Israeli attack against Hezbollah up in Lebanon. Although Israel says its committed to minimizing civilian loss, some lawmakers call for stronger language in protecting innocence in Lebanon, language that was not in the final version on the resolution.
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa was one of those lawmakers trying to get that language put in. And we‘re going to talk about that right now. Also joining us is Eliot Engel from New York who says the wording wasn‘t necessary at all.
Let‘s talk about it. Why was it necessary, Congressman Issa for the United States Congress in saluting Israeli‘s right to defend itself, with language that said, “Oh, by the way, we don‘t trust you to protect civilians, so we‘re telling you to do that in these attacks on Lebanon?”
REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA: Well it was important to have that language, because the Lebanese people voted, went to the streets, rioted after Rafik Hariri was assassinated, in what became known as the Cedar Revolution.
They stood up against the tyranny of the Syrians, the occupation of the Syrians, and they voted in what‘s called the Hariri bloc, which is an anti-Hezbollah block. So the fact was and is that the Lebanese people by and large reject Hezbollah. You‘ve got to make sure that in a war you don‘t create new enemies in addition to defeating your old enemies. Nothing more, nothing less needed to be done.
MATTHEWS: So even though 35 percent of Lebanon is Maronite Christian, 35 percent is Shia, you say that as a whole the country as a whole doesn‘t support Hezbollah?
ISSA: Oh absolutely it doesn‘t. I mean, the Hariri bloc controls parliament. That‘s why you‘ve got a moderate non-Hezbollah government there that the United States—Condi Rice went to the great effort to meet with, because in fact that‘s a democracy—democracy without an army, but a democracy.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, what‘s wrong with putting in language that supports American values?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, let‘s first of all remember that the final—the decision for that resolution—the wording was the Republican leadership. If that language that my colleague wanted in, would have been in the resolution, we all still would have voted for it. I mean, I grieve for Lebanon, and I think Lebanon has been captive by Hezbollah, and I think Hezbollah has been poison for both Israel and Lebanon.
So we certainly care about civilian tragedies and civilian casualties, but I think that the purpose of the resolution was to voice strong support that for Israel and its fight against terrorism. Let‘s remember how this started. Israel was attacked by Hezbollah. They had two of their soldiers killed and more captured, and driven—dragged across the borders. And so we wanted to show that we stand with Israel in its war against terror. That was the thrust of the resolution. But I certainly think that civilians, any civilians, that are injured or maimed or killed—our hearts go out to them. I think Israel is taking pains to try to minimize civilian casualty, but ...
MATTHEWS: ... Why is the world taking the side of Lebanon?
ENGEL: Well the world always goes against Israel. This is the problem.
ISSA: No Eliot, come on.
ENGEL: This is why the United States needs to stand by Israel. We‘re the only friend she has. When people say we should be honest brokers, I think we should stand by our democratic friend, Israel, who can‘t get a fair shake from the United Nations.
MATTHEWS: But there are a lot of democratic countries in the world who don‘t take our position.
ENGEL: Well, but we take the position what is good for America, and I think standing with our friend Israel is good for America. Now by the way, Lebanon is a friend and I believe that if Hezbollah would just go away or if Israel is allowed to do what it needs to do to make sure Hezbollah goes away or does not rear its ugly head, I think that Israel and Lebanon would get along fine. Now there is no quarrel between the Israelis and the Lebanese, and it‘s just Hezbollah that is a poison and a cancer on Lebanon.
MATTHEWS: Put some context to this congressman, from a Lebanese-American, a Lebanese point of view. We have seen a country that has tried to come back to life and it has come back to life, thanks to Hariri, thanks to the investments he made, the contributions he made as leader of that country. And now we look on television, and we see it looks like Dresden. How can you say that is a careful bombing campaign?
ISSA: Well it‘s not a careful bombing campaign. I support—first of all, the resolution that I put in, 926, started off first and foremost with in fact denouncing what Hezbollah had done, denouncing what they are, who they are and certainly who they‘re backed by, Iran and Damascus.
However, you know, I have to take exception with Eliot. I think he says he cares about Lebanon, but you know, his words, his quote, “I don‘t want to be a honest broker. I want to be a friend to the only democratic government in the Middle East.”
That‘s a problem. Israel is a democracy. Israel is a democracy with an army. Lebanon is a democracy, and one that we support but we have not provided them the tools to eliminate Hezbollah. I applaud Israel for going in to go after Hezbollah, but at the same time, we have a obligation.
We provided many of those weapons that are dropping all over Lebanon. And when they drop on the fuel tanks on Lebanon‘s main airport, after the airport was already defeated from landing anything, nobody in the world had a doubt that those tanks were bombed to create fireworks. They were bombed to send a message, but unfortunately it sends a message to everybody in Lebanon, not just Hezbollah. Hezbollah does not have airplanes. Hezbollah has Katyushas and Hezbollah has RPGs down at the border and I applaud Israel for going after them. But they have to be constrained.
MATTHEWS: Is he right about your words, we shouldn‘t be an honest broker?
ENGEL: Well I think we should support Israel.
MATTHEWS: No, but don‘t we have a second role in the region we‘ve historically played, going back to ‘48? We‘re a friend of Israel. But we‘re also a power broker and we‘re—our job in the end is to try to end the violence. We‘ve always played that role before, with presidents who have had two hats, pro-Israeli and big power broker in the region. They‘ve all expected those two roles. I personally don‘t think Bush has played both roles.
ENGEL: Well I think that first and foremost because the rest of the world is against Israel, in order to even the equation, we need to be a strong supporter of Israel. We‘ll be a broker because we are the friends that Israel has and Israel listens to the United States and works with the United States, so I don‘t think we‘ve got to be an honest broker, quote unquote, fifty fifty. We should do what we think is right and Israel is fighting terrorism and so are we.
MATTHEWS: Please come back, please come back. Thank you both. Thank you Darrell Issa, thank you Eliot Engel. Great—both of you as congressman. Tomorrow we‘ll be on HARDBALL Plaza outdoors, weather permitting, with Ann Coulter. It‘s going to be great to see here in the beautiful sunlight of Washington. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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