Guests: Condoleezza Rice, Chris Dodd, Markos Moulitsas, John Fund
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC HOST: Tonight an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the state of the Middle East. She responds to the general‘s comments about civil war in Iraq and Senator Hillary Clinton‘s call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews. On this, the 24th day of the Middle East conflict, the civilian death toll is rising, as Israeli air strikes flatten villages and knocked out bridges, disrupting humanitarian efforts in Lebanon. Israel said the bridges were destroyed to prevent Syria from rearming Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Hezbollah rockets pounded Israel today with reports of at least one landing near the town Hadera, which would be the deepest strike inside Israel yet.
And the news from Iraq turns grimmer, with fighting and protests in the street as the country sits at the brink of civil war. In a moment, NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory‘s exclusive interview Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Plus, there are calls for Rumsfeld‘s resignation, but are Democratic politicians who support the war at the risk of being thrown out of office too.
Tuesday‘s primary in Connecticut will take the pulse of anti-war sentiment and Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is in the political fight of his life. Later, we‘ll talk to the senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd, about Tuesday‘s very important election, but first, NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory sat down with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today at the State Department for this exclusive interview.
DAVID GREGORY, HARDBALL: Secretary Rice, let me start on the topic of Iraq. Yesterday, on Capitol Hill, Senator Hillary Clinton called—after the testimony of Defense Chief Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld—for his resignation and said, in effect, it was time to choose a new team that could come up with a new strategy to deal with Iraq. How did you react to that?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I reacted that the president of the United States has great confidence in Don Rumsfeld and so do his colleagues. And we are the team that has been involved in Iraq since the very beginning. I believe that we‘ve made progress.
Everybody knows that this is a very, very difficult situation, that what the Iraqis are trying to do is really unprecedented in the whole region. It‘s certainly unprecedented in Iraq, but it‘s unprecedented in the whole region, and that is to take a political culture that has largely either been run through oppression or through violence and to put in place democratic political institutions that are going to help people deal with their differences.
That‘s hard, it‘s turbulent, but it‘s very, very important to the future of the Middle East and, indeed, important to our future security.
GREGORY: Was it striking to you, however, that Senator Clinton—obviously, a Democrat, but has not joined other Democrats in calling for a withdrawal of troops, she has not joined other Democrats in calling for Rumsfeld‘s resignation—would do so at this point?
RICE: I can‘t speak for Senator Clinton. Obviously, she‘s a senator. She has the right to say whatever she pleases. And I heard some of the testimony yesterday. I heard Generals Abizaid and General Pace, as well. I heard them talk about the challenges in Iraq, and I also heard them express confidence that they believe they have the right forces and the right structure in place to deal with those challenges.
GREGORY: Is this is a failed policy, as Senator Clinton alleged?
RICE: The policy in Iraq is under way to produce in Iraq the first real democracy in this entire region. And, David, it‘s going to be hard. This is a huge historic change. Historic change doesn‘t come without difficulty and without turbulence.
But we somehow seem to think back on an Iraq that was a pristine Iraq, where the Iraqi people were somehow thriving. That wasn‘t the Iraq that we found. We were dealing with an Iraq with a brutal dictator, with 300,000 people in mass graves, who had used weapons of mass destruction, who‘d attacked his neighbors, against whom we‘d gone to war in 1991 and again in 1998 to try to control his power.
So when we look at the Iraq of today, we have to remember the Iraq that we were dealing with. And what the Iraqi people have done is quite extraordinary: They‘ve put in place a political process that gives them a chance to learn to deal with their differences in a political way. But, yes, it‘s hard.
And I know that when people see the terrible scenes of violence on television, when we mourn the death of each and every American man and woman in uniform or a civilian that‘s killed in Iraq, that it‘s hard to see the progress that‘s being made and it‘s hard to believe that this is all going to come out for the better.
GREGORY: But the question is, is it failing or is it succeeding?
RICE: No, I do not believe that it‘s failing. I believe that, in fact, we are in the midst of this huge historic change. And when you‘re in the midst of it, sometimes it‘s hard to see what‘s at the end of the process. And at the end of the process, I believe Iraqis, who are going to control their own future, who are going to control their own security forces, they‘re going through an extraordinarily difficult time. But what they don‘t need is to have doubt that America is committed to them in this struggle in which they find themselves.
GREGORY: Is it a civil war in Iraq now?
RICE: The Iraqis have sectarian differences; there‘s no doubt about that.
GREGORY: A little bit more than sectarian differences, isn‘t it?
RICE: No, they have sectarian differences, and some of those are violent. But everything that Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people—not the people who are trying to cause failure there—but the Iraqi people and their leaders are trying to do is to build a unified Iraq.
It‘s not civil war when 12.5 million people go out and vote for a government that bridges all of the sectarian groups. It‘s not civil war when the Iraqis are able to then, on the basis of that vote, form a unity government that is now trying to work both toward reconstruction and reconciliation. It‘s not civil war when you have a prime minister of Iraq, who is himself a Shia, who sits with the defense minister, who is a Sunni, with an interior minister who‘s a Shia, with a president who is Kurdish. That‘s not civil war.
GREGORY: So the commanders on the ground who say the sectarian violence is worse than it‘s ever been and, if unchecked, will lead to a civil war, they don‘t have it right?
RICE: Well, I read those statements. And what General Abizaid said is that he had confidence that, in fact, we could help the Iraqis to arrest what could be a slide toward civil war. He did not say that there is a civil war going on there, and it would be wrong to quote him as saying so.
We know that the dangers of sectarian violence, of spinning out of control, it‘s on everybody‘s mind, of course. But the Iraqis have a lot of institutions and, by the way, a lot of commitment to not having that happen. And what we need to do is to support them in this process that they‘re involved in that really is unique to the region.
GREGORY: If it‘s not a civil war, then what is it we‘re in the middle of?
RICE: What we‘re in the middle of is the transformation of a society that has handled its politics through repression to a society that will handle its politics through democratic institutions.
I was with our ambassador, Zal Khalilzad, not too long ago, and the way that he explained it is that these are people who are learning to relate to each other, not to depend on a strong man to just hold in check their differences, but to literally relate to each other through institutions that are brand new. It‘s very difficult; it‘s hard.
But they‘re doing this. We need to remain committed to them, to help them build security forces that can help to secure them, to help them reconstruct the country, and to help this political process move ahead.
GREGORY: But, Secretary Rice, isn‘t it striking that the administration is now taking a tone where there is more acknowledgement of Iraq sliding toward civil war when it was just months ago when the administration, from the president and other top officials, was accusing the news media and others of misrepresenting success there?
RICE: David, I think it‘s extremely important to get the tense right here. I didn‘t say “sliding towards civil war.” I said that we all believe that there are great dangers inherent in sectarian violence of this kind, but the Iraqis themselves, first of all, don‘t want civil war. That‘s very clear.
Civil war usually starts when somebody is determined to start one.
GREGORY: What evidence is there they don‘t want it?
RICE: Well, the unity government that they‘ve formed; the armed forces that continue to fight; the people who continue to show up to serve in the police forces or in the army, despite the violence that is being done against them; the fact that their neighbors are rallying around them; the fact that you have a prime minister who sits with a national unity government to make policy every day.
Those are very strong indications that these are people who want to live together. They‘ve had plenty of opportunity to say, “No, we would rather live as Kurds, and Shia, and Sunni.” That‘s not what they‘ve done. In fact, the Kurds, who everybody accused of being just ready to secede any moment, the president of Iraq is a Kurd. He‘s one of the founding fathers, if you will, of a new Iraq.
And so, yes, it‘s very, very difficult, but I really think that we do not do them justice, many of them who have lost family and friends as a result of their steadfastness about the need for a unified Iraq, when we tell them they‘re sliding into civil war.
GREGORY: You talk about the desire for democracy, the desire to avoid civil war. This was a government that we helped put into place, helped to organize, and it is led by a prime minister who has sharply criticized Israel. And in the streets of Baghdad, there have been demonstrations, pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, a group which we‘ve talked a lot about recently calling for the destruction of Israel. Is this the Iraq that the administration promised us?
RICE: There is—well, first of all, what the administration promised was that we would help to build a democratic Iraq, in which Iraqis could express themselves and in which Iraqis could have control of their own future.
We‘re not going to agree with everything that every Iraqi says or every Iraqi leader says. Those are democratic choices. But I can tell you that this is an Iraq that is going to be at peace with its neighbors, that‘s going to fight terrorism, that is not going to do the sorts of things that Saddam Hussein has done, and is, therefore, going to be a pillar in a different kind of Middle East, which will indeed have room for a resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That is the kind of Iraq that this is going to be.
Now, I know that it‘s a deeply emotional time, David, in the Middle East, very emotional time and, of course, there are going to be demonstrations and there are going to be people who will say things with which we don‘t agree.
But we have to keep our eye on what kind of Middle East is going to prevent these spasms of violence, what kind of Middle East is going to create a circumstance in which Israel and Palestine can live side-by-side in a two-state solution as the president has proposed. And it was never going to be that kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein in power.
It has a very good chance of being that kind of Middle East in the future, with an Iraqi government that is committed to a unified and democratic Iraq.
GREGORY: You talk about being hopeful for the future of Iraq. But it‘s also clear, isn‘t it, that you don‘t really know how it‘s going to turn out?
RICE: Well, David, if you always knew how things were going to turn out, if you could be certain that things were going to turn out in a particular way, that would, of course, be better. But I think it actually goes without saying that one never knows precisely how things are going to turn out.
What we can do and what we are doing is to help the Iraqis create institutions that give them a very good chance of succeeding. I don‘t think anybody would have believed, by the way, 50 years ago, that France and Germany were never going to fight again either. They don‘t.
So things that seem impossible one day suddenly seem inevitable many days later. And so I would suggest that we not try and take a snapshot in what is a huge historical circumstance to assume that this has a bad outcome.
GREGORY: Is the news media misrepresenting the story there?
RICE: No, I think the problem is that everybody takes a snapshot every day of how we‘re doing in what is a huge and historical transformation. It‘s natural that that is the case.
But I would be surprised, if you looked back on the other big, historical transformations that the world has been through, that people didn‘t do the same thing. I think they probably took snapshots that now, in retrospect, when you look back on them, look pretty shortsighted.
GREGORY: More with Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right after this break. A lot more ground to cover.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More now of NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory‘s interview today with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
GREGORY: Secretary Rice, I want to return to the subject of Secretary Rumsfeld. James Baker, a Republican, very close to this administration, is reportedly writing the following in his book that is critical of the Defense Department.
“After fighting successfully against the State Department to secure the lead role in winning the peace and reconstructing Iraq, the Defense Department,” he writes, “made a number of costly mistakes, including disbanding the Iraqi army, outlawing the Baath party, failing to secure weapons depots, and perhaps never committing enough troops to successfully pacify the country.”
It‘s not just Democrats, Republicans, too, who think Secretary Rumsfeld has led a failed policy.
RICE: I don‘t know what Jim Baker has written in his book, but I do know that the policies that were pursued in Iraq were the policies of this administration as a whole.
Now, was anything executed perfectly? No, everything was not executed perfectly. Did we plan for every contingency? No. Did we plan for and prevent contingencies that did not come about? Did we succeed in places that we might have failed? Absolutely.
David, there will be plenty of time to go back and examine what might have been done differently, but whenever you‘re dealing with something as complex as taking down a dictator of Saddam Hussein‘s depth and breadth in his society, trying to deal with institutions that turned out essentially not to be institutions—the army essentially disbanded itself—dealing with a society that had really been traumatized by all of these years of tyrannical rule, it‘s going to be hard and you‘re going to make some mistakes and I‘m sure we did.
GREGORY: Should the Maliki government fail to succeed in its mission of securing Baghdad, which is where the focus is—there‘s more U.S. troops there—what is plan B in Iraq?
RICE: We are very focused on helping Prime Minister Maliki succeed with his Baghdad security plan. And it‘s not just a matter of more troops in Baghdad. I think it would be a caricature of what he is planning and what we are planning to just talk about more troops in Baghdad.
The more troops in Baghdad are to help deal with the very difficult security situation, but he also has a plan for national reconciliation, a plan that really does invite people to lay down their arms. It‘s become a part of the new Iraq.
There are efforts going on to reform the Interior Ministry and to make the police a more important and, indeed, reliable factor in Iraqi security. He has worked to increase electricity in the area to show that the government can do that and, by the way, they have increased electricity since he became prime minister.
So, yes, the troops are important, but we really have to note that it‘s a broad-scale plan for the security of Baghdad.
GREGORY: But is there not some discussion about what happens if this doesn‘t work, a plan B?
RICE: David, what you want to do is to settle on a plan and then press as hard as you can to make that plan work and that‘s where everyone‘s energies are at this point and I think this plan is going to work.
GREGORY: But when does staying the course become less a strategy and more of a copout?
RICE: David, we‘ve just begun the Baghdad security plan. Maliki has only been in office several weeks. This is...
GREGORY: But it was your administration, this administration that said he would not have an unlimited amount of time to succeed.
RICE: Well, I think we should probably give him more than, what is it, two months. These are very difficult changes. And I know there‘s a certain concern and impatience. Sometimes I feel that impatience myself.
But I also know that when you are undertaking something of as big a circumstance as this, as historic as this, as really unprecedented as this, that you also have to recognize that it‘s hard and that it takes time.
The Iraqis have been given a chance, by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to build a very different kind of polity in the Middle East. They‘re working at it. They‘re sacrificing. Sometimes there‘s also the sense that the Iraqis don‘t want this. Well, of course they do, or they wouldn‘t be making the sacrifices that they‘re making in order to achieve it.
And so I think our best course is to support them, to help them build their institutions, to help them provide security, to help them with the reconstruction, and to give them a chance to achieve what they clearly are all trying to achieve.
GREGORY: I want to turn to the other war in the Middle East right now that is between Hezbollah and Israel. You are pursuing a resolution in the Security Council. There‘s a lot of diplomacy at work now. What are the particulars, if it all comes together? If the administration gets what it‘s looking for, what will happen?
RICE: Well, remembering that it was the attack by Hezbollah on Israel that started this, and that that attack was because Hezbollah is a kind of state within a state. The authority of the Lebanese government to control all of its territory, to control all of its actors, not to let its territory be used in this way, is really the centerpiece of any future resolution of the crisis.
And therefore, the Security Council resolution is, of course, aimed at stopping the violence—that‘s very important—but stopping it in a way that doesn‘t permit the conditions to come back into being that led to the circumstance that we find ourselves in now.
It‘s also a resolution that, when it‘s passed and when it‘s implemented, I think will show that, in the short term, while Hezbollah may be enjoying—Nasrallah may be enjoying having his picture on television all the time, that the loss of the south by Hezbollah, the deployment of international forces to the south, the extension of Lebanese authority throughout the country, the rebuilding of the Lebanese armed forces will be a strategic defeat for Iran, which, after all, is Hezbollah‘s principal sponsor.
GREGORY: We‘ll pick up on that point when we come back in just a minute. More with Secretary Rice on the wars in the Middle East when we come back on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Once again we go to NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory‘s interview today with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
GREGORY: About this international force, what will its parameters be?
Will its primary mission be to disarm Hezbollah?
RICE: Well, the mandate of the international force has not yet been written because we wanted to get to a place that we could establish certain political conditions that would not allow return to the status quo ante. But I don‘t think there‘s any expectation that the international force is somehow going to disarm Hezbollah.
GREGORY: Well, then who does it then, is the question?
RICE: The Lebanese.
GREGORY: But the Lebanese government has yet to even condemn Hezbollah. Is that a concern?
RICE: Let‘s remember that Hezbollah has two wings. It has the political wing; it has the military wing. You can‘t have one foot in politics, one foot in terror. And the Lebanese government has certain obligations under not just Resolution 1559, which was passed a couple of years ago in the Security Council, but also under something called the Taif Accords, which was essentially brokered by Saudi Arabia in 1989 to disarm militias.
Now, right now, the country is, does have a state within a state. It has Hezbollah that has this military wing that caused this attack, that operates singularly in itself. And so, yes, you have to extend the authority of the Lebanese government. You have to rebuild the Lebanese armed forces.
But the Lebanese do not want a circumstance in which their territory can be used in this way, bringing destruction down on the entire country. So this is a matter of getting the status quo—not going back to the status quo ante in the south and then allowing a political process, with the support of the international force, to disarm Hezbollah.
GREGORY: Do you think that Hezbollah, which will have to be an important part of this process, will actually allow an international force to come in which will have the mandate of helping the Lebanese government effectively destroy it?
RICE: Well, first of all, let‘s remember that the Lebanese themselves, when Prime Minister Siniora was at Rome, called for an international force. He went back, and he got a cabinet decision that included the two Hezbollah ministers that there should be an international force, U.N.-mandated force.
We will see what Hezbollah does, but they will certainly be outside of the consensus of their own country. They‘ll be outside the consensus of the region if they do want to see the conditions that would permit a sustainable end to the violence.
GREGORY: In the view of the administration, has Hezbollah to date been sufficiently degraded to justify the wide-scale loss of human life?
RICE: Well, I cannot speak to the military realities on the ground. I do think that the issue of Hezbollah at the border, able to carry out the kinds of attacks that it has, with the command and control that it has, and so forth, that there has been significant degradation of some of those capabilities.
But the real key here, of course, is to create conditions in the south so that they cannot operate freely in this militia way without the consent of the Lebanese government, without the consent of the Lebanese armed forces. And that‘s what we have to try and establish. And that would be a real change, David, a real change in the circumstances of Lebanon.
GREGORY: As the fighting continues, as more lives are lost, there is some sense of urgency within the international community to end the fighting. But how concerned are you, especially with threats from Hezbollah that they might attack Tel Aviv, that this could become a wider war, could become a more intense war, before you get around to a cease-fire?
RICE: Well, you have to be concerned about the potential for the region as a whole. I think everyone is concerned about that. But we are moving, I think pretty effectively now, with the French and with others in the United Nations, toward a cessation of hostilities, toward an end to the fighting, an end to the violence, so that—and, by the way, on the basis of a kind of political framework that would prevent this return to the status quo ante.
We then have to move in a second phase to a security force, and we do have to get to a sustainable and permanent cease-fire. This is a process that we will be beginning with the resolution that we hope will be ready, and I believe will be ready, within days.
But, obviously, Lebanon remains a place that is greatly fragile, but it‘s been fragile for a lot of years. Syrian forces were there for 30 years. We finally succeeded in getting Syrian forces out. You now have a government in Lebanon that is democratically elected, that has a wide range of people in it, obviously, but also has a kind of democratic center coming out of the March 14th movement, the true democrats of the country.
And so there‘s a lot to work with here. And while it may be fragile, while clearly this terrible spasm of violence has had tremendous costs, human costs for Lebanon, human costs for Israel, what we must stay focused on is getting a sustainable cease-fire, a sustainable end to this violence that will not allow this to happen again in several months or even in several years.
GREGORY: Secretary Rice, only a couple of minutes left, let me turn to the issue of Cuba in our remaining moments. What is the latest this government knows about Fidel Castro‘s condition, his health?
RICE: Well, given the nature of that society, I don‘t think anyone knows the nature of Fidel Castro‘s health. I will say this though, David:
A transition is clearly under way in Cuba. One way or another, a transition is under way.
The people of Cuba have lived too long without freedom. They‘ve lived too long as the exception in this hemisphere. And as you go down the street here to the Organization of American States, the only seat that‘s empty is Cuba, and that is because you have to be a democracy to be a part of the Organization of American States.
It‘s time for the Cuban people to have their freedom. And so, as this transition goes forward, the United States is prepared and has been preparing, through a commission that the president appointed several years ago, to plan for support to the Cuban people in their aspirations for democracy and freedom. We‘re working with international partners to make certain that the Cuban people know that they would have support and help in what will undoubtedly be a difficult transition.
But it‘s extremely important that no one think that it is acceptable when there is a change in Cuba that the Cuban people have to go from one dictator to another. In a hemisphere in which democracy is the rule not the exception, the Cuban people deserve a better future...
GREGORY: How concerned is this government about an attempted mass exodus from Cuba?
RICE: Well, clearly we believe that Cubans should stay in Cuba and be a part of what will be a transition to democracy. That‘s why we want to put in place and are putting in place efforts to help in whatever may be the near-term problems of Cuba and the Cuban people, as they come out of this transition.
We‘ve looked at humanitarian assistance to them. We‘ve looked at international support to them, what kinds of support would they need in that transition. So Cubans can stay knowing that they will have the support of the United States for a peaceful and democratic transition.
GREGORY: Secretary Rice, one final point on Iraq, that a lot of people, of course, think about, particularly when there‘s discussion of civil war: Is it more or less likely now that American troops can come back in sizable numbers by the end of this year?
RICE: The president has always said that what the conditions are on the ground—whatever the conditions are on the ground, he will cue his decision to those conditions and his commanders will tell him what they need. I think we‘ve demonstrated that this is not a question of troop levels; this is a question of enough troops to do the job. And so the president will make those decisions.
David, the day is coming when the United States will wrap up its military mission there, because we‘re training Iraqi Security Forces, because the Iraqi political system is now finally a permanent political system. But it would be wrong, at the time when Iraqis are trying to make this transition, to leave then without support. What we must not do is to lose sight of why Iraq is so important. An Iraq that makes this transition to a stable and democratic future is going to be a centerpiece of a Middle East that will not produce the kind of ideologies of hatred that cost us so much in the war on terrorism.
An Iraq, however, that is—does not have that kind of support and that is left to the likes of al Qaeda in Iraq is undoubtedly to be an Iraq that will cause security problems for us. And so American and Iraqi security are linked, and we need to give them as much support as we can as they make this very difficult transition.
GREGORY: Secretary Rice, as always, thank you.
RICE: Thank you.
BARNICLE: David Gregory, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, thanks very much. Up next, Joe Lieberman is down double digits in the polls in Connecticut. The primary is just days away. Can he come back and squeeze past his anti-war challenger Ned Lamont or will his support for President Bush in the war in Iraq cost him his job? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In just four days, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut faces his Democratic challenger in a hotly contested primary that may determine the strategy for Democrats this coming November. And now a new Quinnipiac University poll paints a dismal picture for the embattled senator, showing him trailing Ned Lamont by 13 points.
Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut is a charter member of the Joe Lieberman reelection campaign committee and he joins us now. Senator Dodd, first of all, were you supposed to go to Iraq this weekend?
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I was. I was going to go to Iraq and be in Israel and Jordan, but I decided in light of my good friend and colleague‘s situation, I‘ve canceled the trip and I‘ll be leaving—in fact, this interview here and getting on a plane, I‘ll be with Joe this afternoon at the Italian festival in Danbury, Connecticut.
BARNICLE: Well, that sounds like a good time right there.
DODD: You bet.
BARNICLE: But it‘s your state, you‘ve been through that state for years, up and down. How much of this is anti-war, anti-George Bush‘s policies versus anti-Joe Lieberman?
DODD: Well, I think it‘s his second one. I think it‘s mostly anti-Bush administration, Republican leadership in Congress. The war is a major, major issue. You‘d be foolish to say otherwise, but it isn‘t just that, so I think it would be wrong to characterize these poll numbers, what you‘re seeing here, is all about a—just an anti-war effort.
Clearly that‘s a part of it. It was sort of the spark that got it going here, but that it‘s mostly a rejection—in fact, not only Democrats, but a substantial number of unaffiliated voters in Connecticut have expressed similar degrees of antipathy and hostility towards the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress as Democrats have.
Now, unfortunately, what‘s happened to my friend, and excellent Democrat, a good, good senator, Joe Lieberman, is that he‘s been associated with Bush policies, because of his views on the war. Joe deserves, in my view, a far broader read than just the Iraq war issue.
He and I disagree about that, but on every other issue from civil rights to women‘s rights to the environment—you go down the list—Joe Lieberman is a mainstream, go Democrat. And I regret that he‘s been painted with this picture.
BARNICLE: So what would happen between you and Senator Lieberman when you would have discussions with him over the past year, or two, or three, basically saying Joe, come back to us here. You‘re wrong on the war. What would be his response?
DODD: Well, Joe, to his credit—and I have said we disagree on this
he feels very strongly about this, and these are not views that he embraced lightly. He feels this is exactly the right thing that the country is doing. I know he disagrees with how Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has handled this, but the issue of whether or not we should be in Iraq and gone, and Joe feels that was exactly the right thing to do.
And his view is, that‘s my view and if it means whatever it means here, I‘m not going to change and there‘s some part of us, all of us, that respect that. I think Joe‘s wrong about that, but nonetheless, that‘s his view.
BARNICLE: Senator, if those numbers hold up and Ned Lamont does win this primary next Tuesday, will there not be enormous pressure on Senator Lieberman, brought by many of the people who have campaigned for him as Democrats this summer, to get out of the race and not run as an independent?
DODD: Well that may happen, Mike, but I think most of us here who are supporting Joe—and you may know that a number of colleagues, including people who have a very different view than Joe on the war issue, have been to Connecticut. People like Barbara Boxer, for instance, was up and did a great job for him. Joe Biden has been in the state. Bill Clinton went up and did a great job for him about a week or so ago.
And our view is here, we want to do everything we can over these next few days to be with Joe, to help out here. What happens on Tuesday and how people react on Tuesday night or Wednesday, we‘ll save that for then. You may be right about that, but at this point here, I think the emphasis is doing what we can to see if we can‘t be of assistance to this very good senator, very good Democrat, over the next four days.
BARNICLE: You mentioned Senator Lieberman‘s disagreements with Secretary Rumsfeld, who appeared yesterday before the Senate. What‘s your view of Senator (sic) Rumsfeld—Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‘s job tenure? Senator Clinton wants him to resign. What‘s your view of it?
DODD: Well, several weeks or months ago I called for him to step aside, resign. I think it‘s been a—I‘m surprised the president has asked him to stay on. And I don‘t say that lightly and it isn‘t all just about—obviously, President Bush sets the policies here.
But to have this—even if you supported going into this and think it was the right thing to have done, watching what‘s happened here, listening to General Abizaid yesterday and others talk about how the Pentagon was pot prepared for the kind of civil strife that they‘re seeing, that‘s mismanagement, civilian mismanagement.
The fact that the readiness gaps are so huge—two-thirds, Mike. Two-thirds of our combat units are not prepared for combat today, basically. That‘s the report that came out in March of this year. That‘s a failure of leadership at the Pentagon and I think Donald Rumsfeld should himself take himself out, let alone be asked to resign.
But clearly, those who have called for him to step aside are exactly right, in my view. He does not—he should not stay in this position.
BARNICLE: So let‘s use that same standard, leadership or failure of leadership, as you‘ve just discussed it, and apply it to the State Department and Condoleezza Rice. We don‘t talk to Syria. We don‘t talk to Iran. We don‘t talk to anybody, any of the parties involved in structuring a broad Middle East peace agreement. What about her?
DODD: Well, again, I think here‘s been a major failure as well, I mean, this idea that well, don‘t just do anything, stand there in a sense. We‘ve made huge mistakes on the assumption that talking to anybody is a sign of failure, that diplomacy and negotiation is something you only do with your friends.
That‘s been a major, major shortcoming. I would not go so far as to call for her resignation under these circumstances here. I think the differences is between how Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have handled the Iraq situation and how Secretary Rice has handled foreign policy are very, very different, but nonetheless, remember, it‘s all about the president.
It‘s about the president‘s leadership and the direction he‘s taken the country, and the Republican leadership in Congress that has been an enabler in all of this, has basically had no oversight, hates to even have a hearing or a meeting to discuss some of these issues. That‘s what people are angry about.
That‘s what‘s happening in Connecticut. Unfortunately, my good friend and good Democrat has been tarred with this brush here. He doesn‘t deserve it, in my view, but that‘s what people are reacting to. It‘s about the war but it‘s also about leadership on so many other issues, Mike.
BARNICLE: OK, Senator Dodd, here we go, with less than a minute left. You know, we‘ve heard you. It‘s a familiar refrain. They‘re going to redeploy 7,000 American troops in Iraq into Baghdad. Casualties will increase, and no matter where you go—barbershops in Willimantic, I don‘t care where it is—people say OK, we understand your point of view. What would you guys do, as Democrats? What would you do? What‘s your plan?
DODD: Well, first of all, I think many of us here believe that we ought to be redeploying forces out of there. I mean, I don‘t want to face another family in Connecticut and explain that we‘re just part of a—in a shooting gallery here in the middle of a civil war. And I think we‘re in a civil war.
So, whether or not they want to start it, I‘d start it today. I mean, basically redeploy forces in the area so you get them out of that situation. We can‘t be taking sides in a civil war. That‘s what‘s going on there. It‘s over. Withdraw these people. Get them out of there. This is a mistake.
BARNICLE: Senator Chris Dodd, as always, thanks very much.
DODD: Thanks, Mike.
BARNICLE: HARDBALL will be in Connecticut on Tuesday for the Senate primary between Lieberman and Lamont.
Up next, decision 2006. Lieberman is in trouble, Hillary wants Rumsfeld out. The HARDBALLers are next. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hezbollah rockets hit an Israeli town 50 miles south of the Lebanese border today, the deepest strike ever inside Israel. For the latest on the fighting, now 24 days old, we‘re joined by NBC‘s Richard Engel in Tyre, Lebanon—Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mike, there‘s been a flurry of military activity in and around the city of Tyre over the last few hours. We‘ve seen Israeli illumination flares in the skies behind me. We‘ve been hearing airstrikes in the hills around this city.
This came after Hezbollah and Israel traded airstrikes and Katyusha rockets all day and Lebanese officials say that one Israeli airstrike at least carried out what Lebanon is calling yet another massacre. This happened when Lebanese and Syrian and Kurdish farmers operating, unloading fruit into a refrigerated car not far from the Syrian border, were hit by an Israeli airstrike. At least 28 of those farmers were killed.
Israel says that it had been tracking a vehicle that had come in from Syria, that it had believed that it was carrying weapons from Hezbollah, that it was watching this struck pull into a container, and that after it had been inside the container for one hour, as soon as the vehicle left, that‘s when this container structure was attacked and Israel says it did not know that people were inside of it at the time.
BARNICLE: NBC‘s Richard Engel in Tyre, Lebanon. Thanks very much. Up next, “Decision 2006” with the HARDBALLers. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Senator Hillary Clinton calls for Rumsfeld to resign for mishandling the Iraq War and everyone who watches politics is watching Tuesday‘s Connecticut primary very closely. Will his support for the war cost Joe Lieberman his senate seat?
I‘m with Markos Moulitsas, who hosts the left leaning political blog “Daily Kos” and John Fund of the “Wall Street Journal‘s” OpinionJournal.com. John Fund let‘s start with you. Connecticut primary, Tuesday, Joe Lieberman, Senate seat in jeopardy, the war in Iraq, how much impact do you think the bloggers have had on this race?
JOHN FUND, “OPINIONJOURNAL.COM”: I think it‘s been very significant. I offer a tip of the hat to them. They have taken a democratic incumbent, the former vice presidential candidate and created a single issue nationalized election around the war. This is a man who has opposed George Bush on tax cuts, global warming, Sam Alito of the Supreme Court.
They‘ve effectively turned him into the popular perception as George Bush‘s lackey, and they are on the verge of knocking off a senator. That‘s only happened twice before in the last quarter century to Democratic Senate incumbents. It‘s remarkable.
BARNICLE: Markos, are you going to take some bows with John Fund‘s congratulatory message to you?
MARKOS MOULITSAS, “DAILY KOS”: I think people want to give us a little bit too much credit. The fact is that Joe Lieberman is out of touch with his constituents in the state of Connecticut. We can agitate all we want, nobody cares what we are saying. You know people, this is actually something that we see in the media too, I mean media wants to give itself way too much credit for things like this.
FUND: Markos, you raised a lot of money for Ned Lamont and you raised an awful lot of volunteers for him. Lieberman still may win, but you changed this race, because you nationalized it and you brought the attention of the other 49 states to it.
MOULITSAS: Well we nationalized it. That‘s something that I can absolutely say it‘s true, but we can nationalize a lot of races if senators or a Congressman or anybody, an elected official, if their constituents are happy with the service, there is nothing any of us can do to change that. What we did is we tapped into discontent in Connecticut, and nationalize that discontent. We can‘t create it from scratch, but we can tap into it.
BARNICLE: Markos, why do you seem so reticent to accept the applause of not only John Fund, but a lot of people who realize that the blogs have increasing significance in increasing numbers of political races? How come you‘re so laid back about it?
MOULITSAS: Because unlike, I think, most people in politics, I like honesty. I think it‘s important that people realize what is actually at stake here and it‘s not a bunch of bloggers. It‘s a bunch of really angry constituents in Connecticut. I don‘t want to take credit for the work that other people are doing. We can‘t create something like what‘s happening in Connecticut right now, we can‘t create that from scratch.
FUND: But Mike, having said the bloggers had an impact, it may not be the impact that they want. If Ned Lamont wins and the Democratic party lurches left, including Hillary Clinton on Iraq and other issues, we may look back on this as the functional equivalent of the McGovern wing of the Democratic party taking control again as they did in 1972, and I have to tell you that can‘t always be helpful to them. Because Ned Lamont has moved so far left and run such a left-wing campaign against Joe Lieberman, I think that he is unelectable statewide in Connecticut if Lieberman runs as an independent.
BARNICLE: Markos let me ask you a question, and it comes from an admittedly, you know, an old print guy, me. In print, and it‘s an old form of media right now, I understand that, but there are ombudsman, you know, if anything unfair, or incorrect is written. They try to correct it. Have you heard from Joe Lieberman or any of his campaign people with regard to anything that has been on, not just on your blog the “Daily Kos” but other stuff?
MOULITSAS: Absolutely not. I know one blogger tried to, or actually it was not a blogger, it was a columnist that asked Joe Lieberman‘s press secretary if they read the blogs and she said she didn‘t even read the blogs. So, you know, you ignore people who are writing and talking about your race at your own peril, because perhaps it could have corrected some errors. I don‘t think there have been that many errors, to be honest.
BARNICLE: Well, actually there have been a lot of errors Markos. I think some of the bloggers in their passion for Ned Lamont have, I think, demonized Joe Lieberman. Jane Hampshire, who said she moved to Connecticut to be part of the Lamont campaign, who‘s raised $58,000 for him, was driving Lamont and his campaign manager around last week.
I mean, what she did putting a picture of Joe Lieberman in a black face up on the web was just unconscionable. I think that Joe Lieberman has experience something that John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans didn‘t even have happen to them. I mean this really has been a demonization.
BARNICLE: Markos, I‘m sorry to do this to you. We‘ve got to cut you off. Marko Moulitsas and John Fund, thanks very much. “TUCKER” is up next.
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