Guests: Todd Purdum, Kate O‘Beirne, Bob Shrum, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Gen. Wayne Downing, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC HOST: Fighting between Israel‘s forces and the militant group Hezbollah ramps up in the Middle East. Is Israel trying to wage a conventional war against an unconventional enemy?
And on Sunday, millions of Americans religiously watch NBC‘s “Meet the Press.” Tonight, Tim Russert, the moderator of the top political show in the country talks politics.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Week three into the fierce fighting in the Middle East, and today, Hezbollah militants fired a record number of rockets into Israel, hitting deeper than ever before.
Meanwhile, Israel launched a massive ground attack, sending 10,000 troops across the border, and pulled off a dramatic helicopter raid on a northeastern town in Lebanon, capturing five people it claims are Hezbollah fighters.
The intensity of Hezbollah‘s fighting raises questions about Israel‘s claimed to have weakened its enemy. Did Israel underestimate Hezbollah‘s firepower? Is Hezbollah getting military aid from another country? Or as in Vietnam and today in Iraq, did Israel miscalculate the power of guerrilla warfare? In a moment, we‘ll talk military strategy with the HARDBALL war council.
And later, a marine sergeant who led a squad accused of killing two dozen civilians in Iraq is suing Congressman John Murtha. We‘ll talk to his attorney.
And in a moment, we‘ll talk politics with Tim Russert, Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News and moderator of “Meet the Press,” but first the latest on the Mideast crisis.
We begin in Tyre, Lebanon, with NBC correspondent Richard Engel—
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There was intensified rocket fire from here. You notice there was a record number of Katyushas falling into northern Israel today and one in the West Bank. We saw from Tyre, Lebanon, the rockets being fired for the first time right from the edges of the city. They were going off to volleys of four or five rockets at a time. I counted five of those Katyusha rocket volleys.
Now, there is also an intense media campaign or an effort by Hezbollah to control some of the coverage that is coming out of this city. The hotel where I‘m staying right now, a lot of journalists are here. Most of the Arab and international television crews are stationed here.
And today, for the—it had happened before, but for the first time in a few days, two Hezbollah representatives came over and told the journalists, do not film these Katyusha rockets going out.
We were getting reports—they were telling us that they had been getting reports from the fighters in the field that they can see where these rockets are being launched from, and that they believe this is giving Israel some sort of an advantage.
Then they got somewhat threatening—the Hezbollah representatives—saying that you‘d better not do this, you‘d better listen to us, or we will know what to do with you. Throughout the day, reporters have still tried to point their cameras at the hillsides and continue to film the outgoing rocketfire.
But it is an indication that at least here in the city, not only is fighting coming closer to the center of Tyre—progressively it is coming in day after day, more to the center of this urban city—but also the Hezbollah representatives in the town are feeling somewhat pressured and a bit nervous.
BARNICLE: Richard, does that pressure, that seems that—you indicated is being brought upon the media now, does that indicate to you and/or other reporters out there that Hezbollah is now beginning to really feel the brunt of the Israeli attack?
ENGEL: They are certainly moving ever closer to the big cities. When we went out yesterday and the day before, for example, going to some of these frontline villages, there was a 48 hour Israeli partial suspension of airstrikes, and a lot of people, Hezbollah included, took advantage of this to move around the south.
And when we went to some of these villages right along the border with Israel, most of the people are now gone. The only people we saw were military age men, people that looked like Hezbollah fighters, T-shirt—black T-shirts, cargo pants. They didn‘t want to be filmed. These seemed to be the only people moving around in some of these frontline villages.
They didn‘t seem to be weakened. In fact, they seemed to be taking up positions and using all of the rubble as—to use it as something of a base. But, progressively, each day, we are seeing them fight closer into the center of the cities as well, in addition to taking up positions in the destroyed frontline villages.
BARNICLE: Richard Engel in Lebanon. Thank you, Richard, and please take care.
Now to northern Israel. NBC‘s Peter Alexander joins us from Haifa—
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mike, good evening to you.
As Richard was speaking, in the distance we heard about six loud booms. It becomes unclear which way it‘s going, whether it‘s a volley of rockets coming into Israel or artillery going out. At this hour, it‘s safe to say it‘s being fired by the Israelis toward Lebanon. It is very jarring. Even the—however many miles away we are from it, you can feel the concussion.
Israel today significantly was caught in the middle of two records on the part of Hezbollah. First, a record breaking day of rockets landing here, more than 210 according to Israeli police in total. One Israeli man was killed, an American Israeli man, believed to be from the Boston area. He was 52 and was riding his bike home on a kibbutz near Nahariya when he was killed at the front door of his home.
In addition, there was another first, or it was the deepest that any one of these airstrikes has gone into Israel since the fighting began. It was a Fajr-5 rocket fired by Hezbollah. It went 43 miles south of the Lebanon border into the West Bank, which was obviously not its intended target. It was near the community of Beit Shean.
More significantly perhaps, Ehud Olmert spoke about the political process and reiterated the goals to reporters today. He spoke about the need to push Hezbollah back as Israeli forces of about 8,000 to 10,000 in total went village to village again today.
Around 700 bulldozers bulldozed their way right through a large swathe of Southern Lebanon again today. They were able to get rid of fortifications, bunkers, barracks used by Hezbollah, and tonight, we anticipate as it‘s now after midnight, the beginning of day 23, Mike, that there may be another long day of rocket strikes ahead.
BARNICLE: Peter Alexander in Haifa. Thanks very much, Peter.
Tim Russert is NBC‘s Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press.” He joins us now. Tim, you‘ve heard these reports and others, obviously. In terms of domestic politics, the state of Israel has long enjoyed tremendous support, sustained support, from a series of administrations, both Democrat and Republicans.
Do you sense from the people you speak to, the sources you have, any weakening or less support today because of the vigorous approach that Israel has taken in this war?
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Certainly not with the Bush administration, and George W. Bush is different than George Herbert Walker Bush. George Herbert Walker Bush always found it in the interest of the United States, as he saw them, to sometimes say to Israel, we‘re your ally, but you shouldn‘t be doing this.
We don‘t see this President Bush doing that at all. In fact, he has been rather encouraging of Israel, saying they should use proper restraint, but if you listened to the news conference today with Tony Snow, it was Hezbollah did this, Hezbollah did this, Hezbollah did this.
In Congress, Mike, it‘s interesting. Publicly the support is very firm. Privately, members will say gee, we wonder how this is going to turn out. Or world opinion certainly seems to be changing rather quickly. Moderate Arab countries seem to be changing their tune. I wonder if the president can be an honest broker in this. I wonder if other people in the world are going to simply say, this is Israel and the U.S. against everyone else.
And the bombing on Sunday, when we heard comments from the French and from the British, later that day and Monday, I heard from a lot of congresspeople, again, not publicly, but privately, expressing concerns and reservations.
A few did say however, you know, it would have been better off if Israel had gone in there the first couple of days, full force, and finished this thing, as opposed to stretching it out over weeks or months, because world opinion develops against them.
BARNICLE: You know, in the president‘s radio address Saturday, he used the phrase that he saw this war, this present war, as a potential opportunity. The public-private dialogue that you just mentioned, I‘ve heard people talk about his use of the phrase opportunity in terms of wonderment. What do you hear politically, private-public dialogue about his use of the phrase opportunity?
RUSSERT: Well, Richard Haass, one of the top deputies to former Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted in the papers as laughing out loud at that. Others say well, I see the wisdom of it. They‘re trying to say that this will shake up the whole Middle East, and perhaps we can put it back together again in a way that will be sustainable and secure.
But most people, again, privately will say that they think that this is chaotic, rather than an opportunity, and are quite troubled about it. They‘re worried about Syria, they‘re worried about Iran.
They do say that Israel, in terms of Gaza, in terms of the West Bank, perhaps the last piece in all this, is doing a deal with Syria for Golan Heights, which would peel Syria away from Iran, which is a Shiite country, and Syria being secular and Sunni, and it might develop a gulf between those people who are allies that shouldn‘t be. But that‘s a long, long way off and no one is going to suggest that Israel do that today.
BARNICLE: And yet even before we get to that doorstep, I mean, people in Buffalo or Boston or wherever, they are amazed when they find out that given the situation in the Middle East, that the United States, this State Department, this president of the United States, they don‘t talk to Iran, they don‘t talk to Syria. The president of the United States, according to news reports, has not yet spoken to the prime minister of Israel. And average people walking around say, well, how can there ever be a solution to this if they don‘t even talk to these people.
RUSSERT: That‘s a comment you hear often. You know, what does it hurt in talking? The fact is we‘re going to have to find a way to engage, some way in a dialogue with Syria, if we‘re going to bring a permanent solution to that region. And it may be through third parties initially. The interesting thing, Mike, from me looking in a political context is, how is it playing across the country.
Will it impact these midterm elections, which are now only two months away, three months away, and is it perceived as this is George Bush taking on the terrorist, being tough, or is it perceived that United States is going it alone, and the world is blowing up and rather chaotic. I don‘t know the answer to that, but I do know that everywhere I go, people are coming up, saying, what‘s going on. Where is this going to end? How is this going to turn out? What do you think is happening? Newt Gingrich was on “MEET THE PRESS” and suggested it was World War III. I‘m asked that question often, is this going to become world war III? Is it really us against them? It‘s quite interesting, I think, how this has taken hold in the country.
BARNICLE: Do you get the sense, not only talking to your sources in the Congress and in the White House, but when you are out in the country doing things, that people are sort of weighed under by their observation that we seem to be fighting everyone in the world, rather than talking to more than a few people in the world?
RUSSERT: They wonder why the United States is seen in this context by so many other people. Why everyone seems to be, you know, showing and enforcing their anger at us. It is quite interesting as people of my generation remember John Kennedy going to Berlin and going to South America and being treated and hailed as a hero and why has all that changed. Now the world is different. I would be the first to acknowledge that, but I do sense that among Democrats, there‘s conversations beginning now, saying should a campaign theme be, maybe it‘s time to reach out and talking to people. Look for the Republicans to counter that saying that doesn‘t get you anywhere. This is war. People want to kill us. People want to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. We have to take them on. If we don‘t fight in the Middle East, we‘re going to be fighting them here.
BARNICLE: I read on the front page of the “Washington Post” today, Rahm Emmanuel, the chair of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman from Illinois, isn‘t speaking to Howard Dean, so I guess this is contagious. We‘ll be right back with the wisdom of our fathers and Tim Russert. Still ahead here on HARDBALL, a nearly completed Pentagon report supports accusations that American marines deliberately shot and killed civilians in Iraq. We‘ll talk to the attorney for a marine who is suing anti-war Congressman John Murtha for libel. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A bit of breaking news. Prosecutors in Los Angeles have charged actor Mel Gibson with misdemeanor drunken driving, plus having an elevated blood alcohol content and an open container in his car.
Now we‘re back with NBC NEWS Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim Russert. Tim, we were talking domestic politics prior to the break. Obviously the big one on the stage is next Tuesday in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman versus Ned Lamont, Democratic primary challenger. What‘s your sense in terms of that as a harbinger for the Fall elections and the war as the big issue?
RUSSERT: One week from tonight, if Lamont beats Lieberman it will send shock waves through the Democratic party, through the Internet community, through the political consulting communities and I think through the country. I‘ve talked to people in that campaign, covering that campaign and the sense is the momentum is with Lamont. There will be a new poll released by Quinnipiac tomorrow morning at 11:00. They have been tracking the race. They showed Lieberman up by 40 points one time and Lamont up by four.
The debate got mixed reviews for both candidates, but Lamont has clearly positioned himself, and is poised to beat Joe Lieberman. What happens if that scenario plays out? Joe Lieberman insists he will run as an Independent. What will happen to his support? Will Democrats say well I‘m sorry, you lost the primary, it‘s time to move on. What happens to his money? There was a situation in Connecticut years ago when ironically Tom Dodd, the father now of the senior Senator Chris Dodd, lost a primary to Joe Duffy, stayed in the race—
BARNICLE: He was a peace candidate.
RUSSERT: Absolutely, in the Vietnam War. And the Republican won that race. Now the Republican in this race, in Connecticut, as of now is woefully under-financed and considered a weak candidate, but I think if Joe Lieberman loses the primary, and it happens significantly, there will be tremendous pressure on him to get out. If he wins the primary, then he‘s in a situation saying, I heard the message, full speed ahead and he‘ll win by a landslide.
BARNICLE: But again, the Democrats, and you spoke to this just briefly earlier, always seem to be in hand-to-hand combat with one another. You have Rahm Emmanuel, Congressman Emanuel from Illinois, who according to the “Washington Post” today is broken with and is not speaking to Howard Dean, chairman of the D.N.C., over the issue of which races ought to have money funneled into them, the get out the vote operation of the Democrats, Democrats have a huge opportunity for this opportunity because of the war. Are they going to be able to get their act together?
RUSSERT: Well, if Ned Lamont wins, I think it will be a precursor for the Democratic primary. You‘ve seen every major candidate, John Edwards, Joe Biden, John Kerry, all say they regret their vote for the Iraq war. Only Hillary Clinton seems to be out there saying, well, I regret the way the president has managed the war. I think a Lamont victory will increase pressure because it will energize the supporters of his candidacy, folks from the Internet, Net Roots volunteers and supporters, and it also will say to Democrats, the war is the issue that our party is passionate about. Lieberman really did energize an opposition when he said those who criticize the president, in effect, do so at the national security of our country, in terms of jeopardizing national security. And that really just set them loose and it‘s going to be fascinating to watch a week from tonight.
BARNICLE: Tim Russert, thanks for your insight as always. Up next, breaking news on Mel Gibson. Los Angeles prosecutors charges him with misdemeanor drunken driving. We‘ll hash it out with the HARDBALLers next. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Here‘s the breaking news we‘re following, prosecutors in Los Angeles have charged actor Mel Gibson with misdemeanor drunken driving, plus having an elevated blood alcohol content and an open container in his car.
And we‘re here with the HARDBALLers, “National Review‘s” Washington editor, Kate O‘Beirne. She‘s also a HARDBALL political analyst. HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum and Todd Purdum, who‘s the national editor and political correspondent for “Vanity Fair” magazine.
By the way in this month‘s issue, Todd compares Bush 41 and 43, it‘s an interesting piece. Pick up the magazine and read it and you‘ll get a lot of insight into both presidents, Bush. Todd, when you work for a living for a daily newspaper rather than a monthly magazine, you were in Los Angeles and you covered the movie business among other things out in L.A. Mel Gibson, the movie industry—how does the industry as a whole react to something like this?
TODD PURDUM, NATIONAL EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: Well as we‘ve seen it week, it‘s been a pretty uniformly horrifically negative reaction. He‘s a very powerful person in Hollywood, he‘s one of the handful of people who can make a movie, with sort of his say so. He can get financing as he‘s done on his own, but you‘ve seen person after person come out this week, some in sort of diplomatic terms, but some in quite pointed terms saying not that he can never work in the town again, but that he has a lot of repair work to do before people want to work with him.
BARNICLE: Why do you think, Kate, that some people are seemingly surprised at the idea that anti-semitism is alive and well in the United States of America, or in the world actually?
KATE O‘BEIRNE, WASHINGTON EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: I suppose people recognize it‘s there, but when some celebrated, admired person apparently holds those views, you‘re taken aback. I think he has a lot of repair work to do, with an audience well beyond Hollywood‘s. You know, I mean he has lots of fans and admirers who are clearly now disillusioned and fed up with Mel Gibson.
BARNICLE: Bob Shrum, Mel Gibson calls you up tonight and says Shrummy, you know, you‘ve handled a lot of tough cases, you‘ve written a lot of great stuff for a lot of people with their backs against the wall. I need you buddy, what would you advise Mel Gibson to do?
BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST: I‘m not sure that I would advise him to do anything but apologize. I think this is his apocalypto and I‘m not talking about the title of his next movie. What he said was horrifically anti-semitic. If a president said it, a politician said it, a CEO said it, they‘d be drummed out of the business. He‘s got to stop saying it was the booze talking. It was bigotry talking and he‘s got to deal with that.
BARNICLE: Yes, you know, that‘s interesting. Bob Shrum‘s observation. I mean, Mel for my money, has given tequila a bad name. But do both you agree that if a CEO or a United States senator or a member of Congress said what he said, wouldn‘t we be sitting here counting the hours until he or she resigned and got out of office?
PURDUM: Oh, there‘s a famous history of it. I mean, milder things, agriculture secretary Earl Butts (ph) for a kind of racial joke that was tasteless, but not anywhere near crude, I‘m sure Kate and I could think of a list of people. But yes, it‘s absolutely true.
And another thing that‘s fair to point out. I mean, he apparently has a substance abuse problem and we hope he can get treatment for that. But that‘s a—I‘ve driven that road that he was driving on and it‘s a very dangerous road and you don‘t want to be driving on it at 90 miles-an-hour, especially if you have .12 alcohol in your blood.
O‘BEIRNE: And he‘s been stopped before.
BARNICLE: Yes, he has been. It‘s just, the whole thing, you‘ve got to wonder if he is mentally ill in addition to being an alcoholic. I mean the combination of the two, it‘s a weird, weird story, but there‘s no easy segue between Mel Gibson and domestic politics, but that‘s where we‘re going now, domestic politics.
We‘re just talking with Tim Russert about the overlying issues of the wars in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel. Do you think that is the governing factors in this off year‘s elections, more so than gas prices, which was occupying a lot of people prior to these two wars heating up? Kate?
O‘BEIRNE: Mike, I think the Iraq war is central to the public mood, which doesn‘t favor incumbents certainly. It is a drag on the public outlook about things, when they talk about right track, wrong track and of course a large majority of the American public lives on the wrong track.
I think Iraq is an unpopular war, it features in that largely. It puts the Republicans and George Bush, it affects his popularity rating, which in turn affects Republicans running for reelection and it puts them in such a fix because it is so out of their control, they‘re being hurt by something they have so little control over. It‘s central to November.
BARNICLE: One of the themes in your “Vanity Fair” magazine piece this month, the presidents 41 and 43, both Bushes, is the streak of stubbornness that is akin to both of them. This stubbornness, apparently this is stay the course all the way in Iraq.
PURDUM: It does seem a little bit like stay the course. And of course in some ways, stubbornness is a very admirable quality and both Bushes got where they are because they are stubborn and they are willing to fight against the odds and prove the smart money wrong.
But this feels so much more in a way something like Lyndon Johnson or a slow, steady drip, drip, drip in which it‘s impossible to get any other good news and there are glimmers of good news here and there, to get any traction because of the ongoing drain of the war. It colors everything.
O‘BEIRNE: Of course, one man‘s stubbornness is another man‘s resolve frankly and one thing the people have admired about George Bush, and I think Republican rank and file continue to admire it, is his resolve when it comes to fighting this threat we face.
BARNICLE: Bob Shrum, hold that thought and we‘ll be right back with you as we will be back with more from the HARDBALLers. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews. We‘re back with “National Review‘s” Washington editor, Kate O‘Beirne, “Vanity Fair‘s” Todd Purdum and HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum who was on the verge of saying something startlingly brilliant prior to the break. Bob, your turn.
SHRUM: I was just going to say that the percentage of people who admire Bush‘s resolve is down to about 35 percent. You know Ronald Reagan used to say facts are stubborn things and Bush is stubborn, but the facts that are stubborn here are that Iraq is mired in a civil war, the more troops we send into Baghdad, the more violence occurs, and you have to begin to believe that General Casey is right that our troop presence feeds the insurgency.
I believe that what‘s happening in Iraq is that we‘re creating a situation where it‘s all over but the killing. And I think the Republicans are going to pay dearly for that in this election, because this is the war of Bush‘s peak. It‘s the war that Bush fought because he thought his father hadn‘t finished the first Gulf War and it‘s been a disaster. Probably the biggest mistake in American foreign policy in at least a generation.
O‘BEIRNE: You know, I think the brilliant point Bob was going to make slipped his mind during the break. But he came up with an alternative.
BARNICLE: Kate, what did you, oh I‘m sorry.
O‘BEIRNE: You know even if, the Republicans are clearly up against it this November, the would be pushing against historic trends even if the public mood were content and optimistic, given that the president‘s party could be expected to lose significant seats in this off year. But now they‘ve got this political environment where the public mood is so sour, everything comes down to, as we all recognize, who shows up to vote in November. And a glimmer of good news for Republicans was on the front page of the “Washington Post” this morning.
The Democrats so worried about their get out the vote effort. They recognized in 2004 that the Republicans had a better ground game, the Democrats aren‘t speaking to each other, you know, always different views on the tactics of getting out the vote. John Kerry of course in 2004 got more votes than any presidential candidate in history, except one, that being George Bush. He did of course dramatically boost votes over Gores, but Bush was able to even more. So Republicans are telling themselves that despite the public mood, and they recognize it, and the incumbent party paying a price for it, they could have a ground game that keeps them in the game.
BARNICLE: But in Washington, you don‘t get the coverage, the local coverage that military funerals get in small towns across America. You did extensive reporting and research on both Bushes for the magazine piece Todd. Did you get the sense among the political people you spoke to, that the war in Iraq and the president‘s whatever you want to call it, stubbornness, his commitment, whatever you want to call it, is beginning to be truly worrisome among Republican political candidate out there?
PURDUM: I think it‘s very worrisome, although as Kate points out, I mean, the one thing this administration and Karl Rove has going for it is they‘ve broken historical odds already. In 2002 everyone thought they would lose seats in the midterm, despite the climate of concern after 9/11. They gained seats. So, they have not fallen victim to the midterm curse yet, but yes, everything that dominates and we see in recent days, Republican candidates around the country distancing themselves from the party, from the White House, from the war. Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele up in Maryland saying it‘s the scarlet letter to have a Republican, an R after your name.
BARNICLE: Bob Shrum on the front page, Kate O‘Beirne references the “Washington Post” piece this morning on front page of the Post, there is the news that Rahm Emmanuel, House Democratic campaign committee and Howard Dean, the chairman of the D.N.C., they‘re not speaking, sort of like Syria and the United States. This certainly doesn‘t bode well for the Democrats.
SHRUM: Well, I don‘t think actually the outcome of this election is going to be determined by whether Rahm Emmanuel speaks to Howard Dean. I don‘t think it‘s going to be determined by these get out the vote operations. I think Kate made half a brilliant point which is that the Republican party is mired in a miasma right now, where the country is angry about gas prices, angry about inaction on health care, furious about Iraq and the treasury secretary, the new treasury secretary appointed by this administration today, said the economy isn‘t working for average Americans right now. Now when you‘re getting that kind of admission from the White House, you know the Republicans have trouble. And I don‘t think there‘s going to break a precedent, because you know Todd in 2002, I don‘t think they he won despite 9-11. I think they won because of 9-11.
BARNICLE: I think Bob Shrum might be right about that. But Bob Shrum, as always, has forced me to look up word miasma during the next break. Kate O‘Beirne, Todd Furdum and Bob Shrum, thanks very much. Up next we‘ll ask the HARDBALL war council how long Israel needs to take out Hezbollah and how long the Bush administration is willing to give them to do it. General Barry McCaffrey, General Wayne Downing and Colonel Rick Francona will all be here when we return. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Israeli troops are going from village to village in Southern Lebanon to clear the area of Hezbollah militants. But even with a massive ground campaign of 8,000 troops, they are still encountering fierce resistance from Hezbollah. HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has more.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In it‘s third week of warfare, Israel is now facing questions about whether the campaign against Hezbollah is working. Despite thousands of Israeli troops pouring into South Lebanon and the most ferocious Israeli bombardment since the war began. Today, Hezbollah still managed to fire into Israel more than 200 rockets. It was the largest volley of attacks on Israel in three weeks. And with thousands of Israelis beginning their fourth week in bomb shelters, Israeli columnists and newspaper editorials have accused Israeli intelligence officials of misjudging the enemy. U.S. military experts agree that Israel miscalculated.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET): They tried to do this on the cheap with precision air power, special operations pinpoint attacks. They needed to get in and expunge Hezbollah.
SHUSTER: Even Israel military commanders say their heavy airstrikes early on did little damage to Hezbollah bunkers buried two and three stories underground. Israel‘s chief of staff has admitted Hezbollah was better prepared for war than Israel expected.
GEN. SHUKE SHACHER, ISRAELI CHIEF OF STAFF: They are preparing themselves in the last six years with a lot of Katyusha rockets, some missiles, thousands of missiles are under the ground.
SHUSTER: The mistakes by the Israeli military and the public criticism about poor planning are strikingly similar to complaints leveled at the Bush administration the last three years, regarding the planning for Iraq. Three and a half years into the Iraq war, 130,000 U.S. troops are still there, violence still permeates much of the country, and U.S. troops are still getting killed nearly every day.
Bush administration officials have acknowledged misjudging Iraq and making some mistakes, but for the United States in Iraq and Israel in South Lebanon, there are huge political hurdles now for the road ahead. Iraqis and Americans alike are growing weary of the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the president‘s party is poised to lose seats in the coming midterm election. The government of Israel is already losing the public relations battle around the world for its war in South Lebanon, and if Israeli tries to be more aggressive against an enemy that blends in to civilian areas, there will be more civilian casualties and more anger across the Middle East.
And yet, with each day, Hezbollah survives, Muslim support for it in the Middle East grows. Likewise with each day the Iraq insurgency survives, the United States looks weaker and more vulnerable.
(on camera): The balancing act between war and politics can be delicate. The question is whether the military mistakes, by the U.S. and Israel, can now be corrected and whether long-term political victories in the region can still be achieved. I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
BARNICLE: David, thanks very much. And as both the Iraq war and the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict rage, top congressional Democrats have called for President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by year‘s end. Is it time to bring back our troops, or are Democrats trying to take advantage of public discontent with the war to regain control of Congress in November?
Let‘s bring in the HARDBALL war council, retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm. Retired General Wayne Downing commanded the Special Operations Task Force during the first Gulf War and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is a retired Air Force intelligence officer who served in Lebanon and Syria. All three are NBC military analysts. Colonel Francona, you‘re very familiar with that part of the world. Has Hezbollah already won this war in a public relations sense?
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they‘ve certainly galvanized their public opinion. They have been very successful in turning what was basically Muslim versus the Jewish confrontations into national confrontations, usually it‘s the other way around, leaders trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of Islam. Hezbollah has succeeded in making this an Arab versus Jewish confrontation.
BARNICLE: General McCaffrey, too few troops perhaps on the ground, crossing the border, an underestimated enemy, does all this sound familiar to you, Israel versus Lebanon?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I just listen to Fareed Zakaria, who I think is a brilliant analyst, making the argument that the so-called Rumsfeld document was just enough troops to lose. When you‘re going to employ military power, it seems to me you dominate the fight from the outset, you go in there and overwhelm them with the violence and then you back off and ratchet down and try a create a political condition to end this struggle. The Israelis I think did it wrong, they tried to do it on the cheap, now they‘re in trouble, now they‘re going to have to escalate. The Israelis can‘t afford to lose. They can‘t afford to have their population under bombardment by rockets out of the Hezbollah, so they‘re going to push this thing until the end.
BARNICLE: General Downing, Special Ops clearly work in Afghanistan and more and more people were suggesting that it should have been employed, special-ops troops should have been employed more wisely in Iraq and now talking about Israeli special-ops troops, but special-ops, is it limitless in terms of what you can do with special operations troops? How would they have worked if Israel had employed more special operations troops in this war?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING (RET), NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Mike, I really don‘t think the special operations forces would have been as effective in Lebanon as, say, they were in Afghanistan, where you had no really strong military forces there. I think the Israelis use special-ops, they use them a lot. I doubt if we know 10 percent of what they‘re using them for. But really, in that kind of struggle, they can capture people for you, they can get hostages and they can gain intelligence, but when Hezbollah is dug in like they are, like good, strong, conventional light infantry, extremely well trained by the way by the Iranian Posnoran (ph), an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the special-ops are not necessarily good at digging that kind of thing out.
What the special-ops can do is operate in a clandestine manner, they he can gain stuff for you. They can also work with surrogate forces and they can train them, they can guide them. Twelve men special forces team can form, say, a 500 man guerrilla battalion, but that, of course, takes weeks if not months. So I think special-ops here in Southern Lebanon might not have made that much of a difference, Mike.
BARNICLE: General McCaffrey, let‘s move a few thousand miles to the east of the Israeli-Lebanese border to Baghdad. The president of the United States, the secretary of defense, they have told the country and told the Iraqis that we‘re going to redeploy as many as 7,000 troops, 6,500 to 7,000 troops into Baghdad, American troops. Isn‘t this an insurgent‘s dream come true, getting American troops into a city where you can kill them in large numbers.
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, it‘s a tough situation, but the leadership we got on the ground, Mike, I would argue, General George Casey and the three star tactical commander Pete Chiarelli (ph) are as good as we can produce. These people know what they‘re up to. They have 130,000 U.S. troops, the central battle right now is Baghdad, 5.5 million people. You can‘t disentangle the Shia, the Sunni, a lot of Kurds in town, Turkoman. They have to fight it out in there and right now the police, 35,000 of them in Baghdad are unreliable, so you‘ve got 7,000 Iraqi army, 8,000 U.S., we‘re going to have to fight it out in the coming 90 days. I‘ll bet we do pretty good. We‘d better.
BARNICLE: Yes, we better. Colonel Francona, we‘re not talking to the Syrians. We‘re not talking to the Iranians. Syria clearly a pivotal position there. Iran, a critical country. Do they want to talk to us? What‘s your sense of them? You know them. What‘s your sense of that?
FRANCONA: I think the Syrians would love to talk to us, because they look at this as a way to get back into Lebanon. They‘ve been isolated out of it, they were forced to leave earlier with the Cedar Revolution. This is their chance to get back into Lebanon, which they regard as vital to their national interests. It‘s in their backyard.
So I think you‘re going to see more Syrian initiatives to get involved here. And initially they‘re playing hard now, they‘re saying any intervention there will be considered as an occupation force. But I think that‘s their opening position. Yes, they want to get involved.
BARNICLE: General Downing, we have less than a minute here, we have just about a minute. The Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the president, urging a withdrawal of troops, no numbers given, but a withdrawal to begin by the end of this year. What‘s your sense in terms of the war effort, what would that do?
DOWNING: Well, Mike, I don‘t think we should withdraw precipitously, but I do think we ought to draw down the forces and I think we will. The key to the struggle in Iraq now are the Iraqi forces and they‘re ready. But one of the things that I really would like to direct to Nancy Pelosi, don‘t pull the support of the U.S. Congress for the Iraqis. We did this to the Vietnamese in 1974. We‘ve got a bad reputation of running away from our friends. We have got to continue to support the Iraqis, but this is their battle, Mike, not ours.
BARNICLE: General McCaffrey?
MCCAFFREY: Here, here. Boy, I tell you, you know, as usual Wayne Downing is right on the money on this thing. We‘ve got—it‘s not just supporting the Iraqi security forces though. We spent $18 billion, some of it badly because of security on preconstruction. There‘s only $1.6 billion left. We cannot walk away from the Iraqis.
BARNICLE: General McCaffrey, General Wayne Downing, Colonel Francona, thanks very much. Up next, “Braveheart,” has been busted. We‘ll have more on the charges on Mel Gibson with our own Joe Scarborough. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Prosecutors in Los Angeles have charged actor Mel Gibson with misdemeanor drunken driving, plus having an elevated blood alcohol content in an open container in his car. We are now joined by the host of “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” Joe Scarborough to discuss this. Joe, I am amazed that he was not charged with just incredibly stupidity as well, but he wasn‘t. And tonight, I understand, because a public has a right to know, in after an effort to get the public to really get to the bottom of this, what are you doing with a member of your staff on the air waves?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Well you know, hold on a second, I need to put on my glasses, because I‘m not a scientist, but I play one on T.V. And what we‘re doing tonight, Mike, is we‘re getting somebody on my staff drunk, on national television, and the reason why is.
When I was reading the accounts of this while on holiday, I found out that Gibson was blaming all of this, his antisemitism on the fact that he was drunk, that he was on a .12. Now, you know as a Boston Red Sox fan...
BARNICLE: ... Yes, that‘s a girly man level.
SCARBOROUGH: That is a girly man alcohol level. There are a lot of functioning Red Sox, and hosts if the show that you‘re on right now...
BARNICLE: Two and up.,
SCARBOROUGH: ... that function very well—yes, you‘re not even drunk in Boston until you‘re like .30.
BARNICLE: Mel Gibson, a state representative, you know, you‘re a public official.
SCARBOROUGH: You are, so anyway. So Gibson is claiming that he is not an anti-semite, but he that he basically, “F the Jews,” and they started all the wars, because he was at a .12. Seriously, this is a guy that has been such a heavy drinker his entire life, that he bragged about drinking six beers before breakfast through a good chunk of that life.
And I just I don‘t buy it. I originally was going to get drunk myself on the air, blow a .12 and then debate Israel in the final quarter hour of my show, just to show how lame of an excuse Gibson‘s, “I was drunk,” not an anti-semite, but my wife wouldn‘t let me do it. So we found a girly man on our show, Mike Yarvitz (ph), who is going to get drunk, and his reputation can be tattered.
BARNICLE: You know Joe, there are a number of people though, largely sitting on the right hand side of the bus, who continue to defend Mel Gibson, and the language that he used, and what it means. They continue to defend him. What is up with that?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it‘s indefensible. Mike, the thing is, just like you will attack Democrats, and liberals when they are stupid, I will attack conservatives and Republicans when they are stupid, unfortunately, as you know, we are in a cultures war where people, you know, Tom Wolfe calls it championism, where you defend your people regardless of what your people do.
Mel Gibson was embraced by the hard right leading up to “The Passion,” and by Evangelicals, and there are even some Evangelical leaders out there who are stridently pro-Israel who are still defending him and making excuses for anti-semitic remarks that simply can‘t be defended, despicable.
I‘ll tell you, last year, I defended Gibson in the run up to “The Passion,” saying Frank Rich was blowing hot air and was feeding into America‘s red-hot culture wars. But you know what, Frank Rich was right, I was wrong and I think other conservatives and Mel Gibson defenders need to step forward and say this guy‘s got a serious problem with anti-semitism and that is why for the good of national discourse, I am getting a staff member drunk live on national television at 9 p.m. on “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”
BARNICLE: Before you do that, you might have one sensible answer left in you and we have less than 30 seconds.
SCARBOROUGH: OK, I doubt it, but go ahead, I‘ll give it a try.
BARNICLE: Less than 30 seconds for you to offer it. What do you think would have happened if Mel Gibson had been a United States congressman, senator or a big CEO? What would have happened to him given the language he used?
SCARBOROUGH: It would be over. Certainly I think if he were a CEO, it would be over. But in Hollywood, money talks and walks, and Mel Gibson is going to make a lot of people a lot of money, so he will get off the hook.
BARNICLE: OK. Joe Scarborough, thanks as always, and here‘s to you, Joe. Join us again tomorrow night at five and seven Eastern for more HARDBALL when Reverend Al Sharpton will tell us why he‘s endorsing Joe Lieberman‘s challenger Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Senate race. Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
Watch Hardball each weeknight