Guests: Duncan Hunter, Anna Eshoo, Bob Baer, Mike Duffy, Evan Thomas, David Ignatius, Mark Walsh, Michael Smerconish
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Never in the course of human history have so many waited for so long for one memo. Why have the Democrats outsourced the issue that won them the election? Why should Jim Baker have to solve Iraq? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Now that they have won control of Congress, how long will Democrats wait to get out front on Iraq? Are they going to just wait for Jim Baker to bail them out of a situation that is inching closer every day to total disaster? Why are Democrats pining for a compromise before they even see it? While both parties wait for a group of 10 wise men to conjure a solution to Iraq, chaos and the mass killing continues.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today in Baghdad, it was the largest and most horrifying kidnapping since the war began. Gunmen dressed as police commandos closed down streets, sealed off the Iraqi Education Ministry, and abducted as many as 60 people.
Witnesses said there were nearly 80 gunmen who went room by room, handcuffing the men and then loading them into dozens of waiting pickup trucks. A few of the men have now been released, but Iraqi government officials called the mass kidnapping of academic staff and educators a national catastrophe, and the higher education minister suspended many university classes across Iraq because, quote, “we are not ready to see more professors get killed.”
More than 100 Iraqi civilians have been killed every day over the last week. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Iraqi Study Group was back at the White House this morning. The commission is expected to make recommendations next month about Iraq policies.
But today, commissioners met with the Bush administration‘s National Security Council, and interviewed by videoconference British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair has already declared the United States and Great Britain should seek help in Iraq from Iran and Syria, and the involvement of Iran and Syria is something that James Baker, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, is said to be considering.
But recommendations like that could put the White House in an especially awkward spot, because the president has repeatedly declared he will not talk with Iran until the government stops production of material for nuclear weapons.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a destabilizing influence. And so we have made it very clear our position that regards Iran, and it hasn‘t changed.
SHUSTER: On Capitol Hill today, where newly elected members of the House posed for their class picture, it has not been forgotten that anger over Iraq is what helped many of them get to Washington in the first place. But the emerging Democratic position in the House and Senate seems to be to wait for the Iraq Study Group to issue its recommendations first.
Today, Democratic Senate leaders held a news conference and avoided any mention of Iraq for nearly 10 minutes. Then Democratic leader Harry Reid signaled the Democrats will not be pushing hard for troop withdrawal right out of the gate.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This is not a time for threatening the president with anything. We‘re going to see how we can work with him to change course in Iraq.
SHUSTER: The problems in Iraq may dominate not only the new Congress, but could also pose a serious challenge to members getting ready to run for president. And today, Hillary Rodham Clinton took another step toward her presidential campaign, stepping down from her position as head of the Democratic Steering Committee. Her spokesman said it was so Mrs. Clinton can concentrate on her, quote, “regular Senate duties.”
(on camera): But some of Clinton‘s political duties will include trying to figure out what to say to Democratic presidential primary voters who remember that Mrs. Clinton voted to authorize the war.
Several Democrats are in a tight spot on Iraq, and on the heels of what seemed to be last week‘s election mandate, it could get even more awkward for some Democrats as the violence in Iraq grows worse and the waiting for the Iraq Study Group drags on.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Congressman Duncan Hunter is a California Republican who is running for president.
Congressman Hunter, I‘m amazed at our political situation today. The country just voted against the Iraq war and the three leading candidates for president all backed the war: Giuliani, McCain, and Hillary. What‘s going on?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA: Well, you know, I think what you have got is you have got a class of Democrats who understand they are not campaigners now. They have to be members of the government. And we have got 140,000 Americans over there in Iraq. We have got—we made an enormous investment on bringing a free government to that part of the world which will accrue to our benefit for generations if we can pull this thing off.
And I think people understand that you have to be responsible on this even if you have just won a campaign in your particular congressional district. You can‘t come out—you can‘t run an Iraq policy on bumper strips. I think they kind of realize that.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re saying that they ran on successful campaigns and won the elections because they promised to expedite us getting out of Iraq, and now you‘re saying they should betray their campaign promises.
HUNTER: Well, no, and Chris, remember one thing. You had—we had a 15-seat Republican majority, 15 turned seats that was the difference between minorityship and majorityship. The Democrats now have roughly the same shift. So we have had about a 10 percent shift in the House of Representatives and that isn‘t an overwhelming majority of the American people saying get out of Iraq.
I think they understand that. I think that what we need to do right now is pursue what we have done for 60 years. We‘re in the second phase of a three-step process. The first step is stand up a free government. We have done that.
The second step is stand up a military that can protect that free government, and that‘s what we‘re doing right now, training that military up.
The third step is we leave. And no matter what the Iraq Study Group does over the next several weeks, those three steps have to take place.
And that second vital step has to be accomplished. A day after that study group makes its announcement, its recommendations to the president and the Congress, you‘re still going to have American military trainers going out with those Iraqi battalions and training them.
And my recommendation to the president and the secretary of defense is let‘s take some of those 114 Iraqi battalions that we have now trained and equipped to some degree and move them into the center of the fight, which is Baghdad.
Right now you only have about 35 battalions in Baghdad. That‘s the best training these guys can get. It‘s operational training. It gives them chain of command. It gives them unit cohesiveness. Their good leadership will then bubble to the top.
And you will also see if when the Ministry of Defense of Iraq tells a battalion commander in a benign area like Babylon to saddle up and take his battalion up to the fight in Baghdad, whether or not he responds to that, we have to know the answer to that question. So get more Iraqi battalions into the fight first.
MATTHEWS: Well, how would all that, Congressman—I respect the fact you have got it ordered and figured out in sequence, but the problem is right now as we confront—as we try to develop an Iraqi security force, we have got a Ministry of Education taken over by men who were apparently very successful at appearing to be security forces. They were apparently Shia men with apparently the coordination with the local security forces.
You say put together an army that can fight the enemy. OK, the enemy is al Qaeda. They can fight them. The enemy are Sunni holdouts, these so-called insurgents. They can fight them.
But how can you have a government which seems to be infiltrated with its own militia people who are basically Sunni who are trying to get the biggest chunk of the action when the war is over? How do you fight them? They‘re fighting themselves. Muqtada al-Sadr is working with. Do believe that Muqtada al-Sadr is truly a target of Malaki, or they‘re working together?
HUNTER: Chris, you and I have seen this movie before. You and I were here when we had the same terrible disruption, we had the killings of church officials in Central America, and we had the same problems, the same disruptions, the same projections that this was going to be a nightmare, another Vietnam.
And we provided that protective shield for the government of El Salvador. It stood up. And today it‘s a fragile democracy. In fact, some of the El Salvadorians are over there side by side with us in Iraq.
So bringing freedom to that piece of the world is not a smooth road, and for everyone who says that the road not taken was a very smooth one, those people are just guessing. This is a long, tough, hard, and difficult thing.
MATTHEWS: I see what you mean.
HUNTER: And bad guys taking uniforms from the army and pretending to be part of the militia and moving in is something we have seen before.
MATTHEWS: So you believe that we can stand up a military force, a security force, capable of fighting that infiltration, of bringing down the militias?
HUNTER: Well, we‘ve got 114 battalions right now, but only about 35 of them are in the heart of the fighting. What I have said very simply is let‘s take the other guys that are in benign areas of Iraq where you don‘t have a lot of fighting going on, saddle them up, get them in those trucks, move them up, and put them into deployment in Baghdad. That brings—that matures them quickly, and we find out the hard questions about whether they will follow the Ministry of Defense.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on, Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is a California Democrat. I want to ask you the same sets of questions, but let‘s start with what happened today, a whole government agency over there in Baghdad was overrun and kidnapped taken out of the building in handcuffs by people posing as security forces. They were apparently Shia militiamen. How do we bring the Shia militia under the control of a government that doesn‘t seem to want to do that?
REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, there has to be a very, very direct message from the leadership of our country, and that is to the Iraqis. Duncan Hunter just said that they set up a Democratic—we set up a Democratic government, that it is operational.
It‘s time for them to weigh in. If, in fact, Mr. al-Malaki is associated with these militias, he has to give the signal, it‘s over. It is over. They have to take control for the civil order of their country.
If today is not a sterling example—a sterling example that this continues to descend into hell every day with our troops—with our troops in the middle of this, it‘s time for grownups to get into the room and deliver the strongest message possible to them, because we cannot continue this.
Look, it doesn‘t matter...
MATTHEWS: OK. Why does your party...
ESHOO: ... it doesn‘t matter—look.
MATTHEWS: Excuse me.
ESHOO: Duncan talked about where electives are. You know what? The American people weighed in, and they said, we have had it with this. We want a change. We want a change of direction domestically. We want a change of direction in terms of Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are the Democratic leaders wagging their tail at this Baker Commission report that hasn‘t even come out yet, that could well be 80 percent, 90 percent of the Bush policy?
ESHOO: We don‘t know what‘s going to be in it.
MATTHEWS: Well, then why is everyone waiting for it and hoping it‘s going to be the deliverance?
ESHOO: I don‘t think everyone is waiting for it. I think that we made very clear, starting with Congressman Jack Murtha, speaking truth to power a year ago this month, and took this issue on and blew the lid off of the subject that other elected officials would not talk about.
And so every day, I am reminded of what he has said. He acknowledged that he was wrong when he cast that vote. And so we‘re going to have to get into the tangle of this. This is a time where people have to put on their best thinking caps, the administration, Republicans, Democrats, but also send a direct message to the Iraqi government, that these militias have to stop. They‘ve got to get control, because our poor kids are in the middle of this. It‘s untenable and it‘s not sustainable, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, Congresswoman Eshoo, you don‘t sound like Harry Reid, who‘s saying, calm down, wait for the Baker report.
ESHOO: Well, I‘m not. My name is Anna Eshoo.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re definitely different than Harry Reid.
Thank you very much. Congresswoman Anne Eshoo of California.
ESHOO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, we‘re going to talk about today‘s kidnappings in Baghdad with former CIA officer Bob Baer.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
More bad news from Iraq today. Armed gunmen, as I said, kidnapped an entire government agency in Baghdad as Iraqi police hid, stood by, did nothing.
Here is NBC‘s Tom Aspell from Baghdad.
TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a couple of days ago, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki told the people that his government was unable to control the security situation here. He said many people were seeing the government as weak.
Well, it needed no confirmation of that today. Just after 9:00 in the morning, a column of pickups going into central Baghdad there, to the Ministry of Higher Education, cordoning off a four-block-wide area there and then storming the building.
Gathering together everybody in there, the clerks, the government officials working there, some scientists at the research institute, some visiting professors picking up paperwork there.
Gathering them all together, confiscating their cell phones, separating the men from the women, leading the men outside to the car park and checking their identity documents, then loading them onto the vehicles and speeding away.
The whole operation took about 20 minutes. Now there were four security guards there. They, of course, could do nothing against those numbers of men wearing those camouflage uniforms. Many of them were masked.
There were police roadblocks in the area. They did nothing to stop this column of vehicles. It shows just how much people can get away with here, given the right planning, given the right amount of intimidation, the number of guns, the number of vehicles, as those gunmen sped away with their victims.
Now, it‘s not the first time there‘s been a mass kidnapping here.
Back in the summer, gunmen kidnapped 30 members of the Olympic Committee.
Some were later released, but many have never been seen nor heard from
since. And there are fears for the safety of those kidnapped this morning
MATTHEWS: What a ghastly report.
Thank you, Tom Aspell.
Robert Baer is a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East and the author of “Blow the House Down”.
Bob, thank you for joining.
What‘s your reaction as a professional when you hear that story about today?
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, Chris, think about the logistics of kidnapping 150 people. I served in Beirut in the ‘80s. If one or two people got kidnapped, it took lot of people to actually carry it out and hide the people.
And now we‘re thinking about 150 hostages taken. There is no security in Baghdad. It is getting worse.
MATTHEWS: Well, is this the work of the government masquerading as a militia? Are they really the enemy of a government that would let them do this?
BAER: Well, we don‘t know that it was actually the police who kidnapped these people right now.
But the problem is our military and corporate groups have been training people. They don‘t know who they really are, handing out weapons, handing out uniforms, assigning them to police headquarters. But we don‘t know who they are. And this could be the police.
We also have to consider that Maliki has virtually no authority. He‘s a prisoner inside the Green Zone. Muqtada Al-Sadr is losing control of his people under him, armed groups.
So you have truly—we are facing almost total chaos in Iraq right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me get through this whole thing. Let‘s start from the beginning. There‘s about four warring groups over there. There are the outside groups. We call them the jihadists, the terrorists. That‘s a small five percent group.
Then you have the Sunni holdouts. The insurgents, we call them.
And now we have the militia, who are Sunni, right? I mean, are Shia.
So you‘ve got three groups. What is the biggest threat to this government right now? Is it their own Shia militia people, who are fighting for a piece of the action here?
BAER: My estimate is the biggest problem we have right now are the Shia. They‘re the majority in Iraq. The Shia are capable of cutting our supply lines. We saw with the uprising of Muqtada Al-Sadr in 2004, almost overran coalition, you know, headquarters all across Iraq.
What are we going to do if we keep pushing on the Shia and they fight back in any sort of unified way? We don‘t have anybody to talk to.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, that seems to be our problem. Why don‘t we just turn the government over to the Shia. They‘re the majority. They will win every election. It would be some sort of crude democracy, probably a tyranny attached. But they would survive as the government, wouldn‘t they?
The Sunni would—the people who were benefiting from Saddam Hussein wouldn‘t come back into power, would they?
BAER: No, well, I think, Chris, what we would see is a fight for Baghdad. We would eventually see one Shia leader emerge as a military commander and the rest will follow him, which will expel the Sunni from Baghdad into Anbar province, where they‘re originally from. And this will become a Shia city, and Iraq will eventually be divided.
The question in Washington is when will we acknowledge this? And I don‘t see any—any evidence of that so far.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between us leaving—everybody says don‘t cut and run. They use phrases like that to intimidate people out of what might be one of the reasonable options here.
What‘s the difference between leaving tomorrow en masse, getting everybody brilliantly organized, a strategic retreat, just get the hell out of that country, and waiting five years from now? Why would it be any different? Why wouldn‘t it be worse in five years? Why do we think the longer we stay, the more god we do? Who is selling that?
BAER: I think it‘s completely misguided that things are getting better. An occupying force, a western occupying force, an American occupying force cannot impose peace between the Shia and the Sunni. Unfortunately that‘s going to have to be worked out in the field of battle. It‘s going to be a mess for a long time. The question is how many more American soldiers do we lose before we acknowledge that?
MATTHEWS: OK. You have made that proposal. You‘re the expert. I‘m not. I‘m simply covering this, trying to understand it. If what you say is professional opinion, what‘s the other professional opinion that keeps us there? What is being told to the president that convinces him the longer we stay, the better we‘ll do there?
BAER: Chris, we‘re running the numbers game as we did in Vietnam. You know, so many Vietcong were killed today. We keep on at this, they will eventually break.
But I think we‘re worse off than we were any time we were in Vietnam. I mean, there is no evidence that we were even killing insurgents in Anbar Province. There is no evidence that we are suppressing the revolt of Muqtada al-Sadr. He is still out there operating, kidnapping, murdering.
We are making no progress at all. It‘s just a question of when are we going to catch up with the facts? I happen to like Baker. Baker deals in facts. Now, whether he comes out in public and tells us what‘s going on, I can‘t tell you, or whether the president listens to him.
MATTHEWS: But isn‘t he intimidated by that commission he has put together? I look at the people in that commission and it scares the heck out of me. There is no expertise in that group about the Middle East. Ed Meese, Sandra Day O‘Connor. Leon Panetta is a good guy, but there‘s all these people on that commission who are all good Americans, but none of them have the solution to what‘s happening in Iraq, or they would have given it to us. They would have written an op-ed post by now or something, wouldn‘t they?
BAER: Chris, there is no solution, except getting worse and chaos and possibly a full-fledged civil war which at the end of the day could draw in Saudi Arabia and Iran. What Baker and that commission is looking at, I would imagine, is how do we keep the chaos in Iraq from migrating south into the Arab Gulf? Which by the way I say over and over again, 60 percent of the world‘s oil reserves are sitting there vulnerable.
MATTHEWS: I guess one danger is we‘ll get into a negotiation with Ahmadinejed and he will say yes, here is the route. You guys said the route to Jerusalem was through Baghdad. Well let me tell you, maybe the route to Baghdad is through Jerusalem. I want to deal on the Middle East before we even talk. Otherwise I‘m going to cause you guys nothing but pain and bloodshed as you‘re trapped in Iraq.
That‘s the Tony Blair solution. Once you tie this into a whole, comprehensive solution, bringing in Israel and the Palestinian territories and tying them into this thing and saying the only way we get out of Iraq is to cut a deal with the Arab nation, really. We‘re going to have to make a lot of compromises we wouldn‘t have had to make when we went into this thing, before we went in.
BAER: Chris, I couldn‘t agree with you more. Let‘s face it, Ahmadinejed is a threat to Israel. The man is crazy.
MATTHEWS: Yes, anything. If you ask him what he wants, he‘ll say I want Israel for breakfast.
BAER: He wants to destroy Israel.
MATTHEWS: Right, so how can we handle this guy on a regional solution? I don‘t get it. I don‘t see it, I don‘t see Syria even because if we could have cut a deal with Syria, we would have done it with his dad. Not Bashir, waiting for the kid to come along.
BAER: And the Syrians are arming the Sunni opposition right now and sending weapons to the Shia opposition. They‘re not our friends either, so we‘ve got our back against the wall in the Middle East. That‘s why this war is such a fiasco and will prove to be for years and years.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s one thing to watch a cock fight. It‘s another thing to be in it. We‘re in it. How we got into a cock fight amazes me.
BAER: We‘re right in the middle of it. And the Democrats don‘t have a solution either.
MATTHEWS: Well, their solution is to wait for Jimmy Baker, which is definitely profoundly, definitely a clinch. Anyway, thank you, Bob Baer. Thanks for your expertise.
MATTHEWS: Up next, we‘re going to talk with “Time” magazine‘s Mike Duffy about the debate over how to get out of Iraq. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Can a new defense secretary and a commission led by Jim Baker change the situation in Iraq? Mike Duffy writes about all of that in the latest edition of “Time.” Mike, 2,800 guys dead in Iraq, some women as well, a good number of them.
Who knows how many Iraqis are dead? Maybe a half million. Who knows?
Who knows, hundreds of thousands. It‘s going on every day, the butchery.
And today they took over a whole agency.
Why do we think a piece of paper, a memo from 10 guys who used to be in government, most of them, is going to solve this problem?
MICHAEL DUFFY, TIME MAGAZINE: Because there is no other solution on the horizon. It‘s the only thing we have got. It‘s the only thing that‘s moving. And so everyone is lining up behind it even though they don‘t really know what‘s going to be in it.
MATTHEWS: So you‘re counting on your down card to be an ace?
DUFFY: It‘s all they have got.
MATTHEWS: Is hope?
MATTHEWS: But is it founded on anything?
DUFFY: Well, that‘s a good question. You know, Baker has been working on this for a year. He has talked to everybody. He has talked to people our government doesn‘t even talk to. And it‘s pretty clear that he‘s going to come out with four, five proposals that I‘m guessing everybody lines up behind just like we have seen.
MATTHEWS: But could they be so amorphous as to be innocuous? For example, is he going to give us any sense of how many troops we should have in Iraq a year from now? I hear he‘s not going to do that.
DUFFY: I think it has a chance of not being—no matter what they propose, being able to work out. A lot of people are now saying no matter what plan we come up with, no matter who comes up with it, it‘s just as arrogant to think that we can execute and exit from this country with any kind of planning, just the same way it was arrogant to think we could execute an entrance. There is no more guarantee that we will be able to pull out in any kind of organized fashion.
MATTHEWS: Why is the strategic retreat so difficult?
DUFFY: Well, two things that I think make it difficult. We have no control over really what‘s going on in the country. You can see that. You can make a plan, but then events occur to make it more difficult to actually stick with the plan.
MATTHEWS: You mean, we would be attacked as we left?
DUFFY: Yes, sure, absolutely. But we‘re being attacked now. So I don‘t think you can assume that even if they come up with the proposals, whether they are specific and they give you the dates and deadlines and target numbers, which I don‘t really expect, that you can expect that circumstances will follow suit, Chris.
Circumstances aren‘t following any pattern here that you could predict. So what I think you should expect from Baker is things that you can predict. Let‘s talk to the Syrians and the Iranians. Let‘s get something started on Middle East peace, the external.
MATTHEWS: At the risk of sounding like Ross Perot on “Saturday Night Live,” the joke version of him, why don‘t we simply say if we stay in that country for another two years, what can we get done? What can we get done in terms of forming something of a stable government? And then say, if we stay there another year, what can we done?
And then we decide how much blood and treasure we‘re going to spill in that country, and decide on how much we‘re willing to invest in that country—six months, a year, two years—and really looking out—in six months if we can get the following done, that‘s a pretty good investment. It‘s like deciding whether to do for a Master‘s degree or a Ph.D. One year of investment matches make sense. Four of five for a Ph.D. doesn‘t make sense.
So we say, you know, we‘re going to lose another 200 guys over there if we stay another year. And the way we‘re going now, more than that—a lot more than that, maybe another thousand. Is it worth that? Don‘t we have to make those crude, tough, blood and guts decisions or else we‘re just going to sit there and wait for some general to say we can‘t win and that‘s never going to happen?
DUFFY: I think they will make it look like this. We‘ll stay for a year or so if you clean up the militias. And if you don‘t clean up the militias and stop the violence, we‘ll leave sooner. It‘s...
MATTHEWS: OK, when will that happen? That‘s what Jack Kennedy did in the fall of ‘63 before he was assassinated. He did that to the government of—remember the government of big men after he tried it when Diem? And he said, look, we‘re going to start pulling troops out right away unless you start fighting the communists.
DUFFY: I think Baker will be very unsentimental about this. He is the only one on the panel who really knows anything about the Middle East or has really worked there, and I think that...
MATTHEWS: And the Arabs trust him.
DUFFY: Yes, and that‘s right. And that‘s causing all kinds of problems here at home because the Arabs do trust him. But Baker will say six months if you do nothing, and a year if you help us. And I think it will be in those stark terms. Will there be numbers of troops? No, probably not. He won‘t write those numbers.
MATTHEWS: But he will give us basically the demand to make to Malaki.
DUFFY: Mostly sticks, not carrots. Mostly sticks.
MATTHEWS: Well, that sounds fair.
DUFFY: That‘s probably what they will do.
MATTHEWS: Well, I might fall in love again.
DUFFY: No, I—don‘t.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t? Not yet?
DUFFY: I do wonder whether they can wait three weeks on this. I know it just seems very soon. Very soon. That seems very...
MATTHEWS: I think that‘s a very good point. I think it‘s very hot. And I think the public went out and voted last Tuesday. In most of the cases, 60 some percent, they voted to end this damn war. They want to see some action. And the Democrats are sitting up on Capitol Hill waiting for Jim Baker, ex-Bush aide, to come back and save them. I just think it‘s an odd thing to do.
DUFFY: I think it makes sense if nothing happens in the next three weeks, but if you have a few more days like today, I think both sides—and leading with the Republicans on Capitol Hill, they will be clamoring for some kind of reaction or interim report or leaks from this group that tells people hey, we know where we‘re going. So I know Baker would like a clean shot. He‘d like a clean shot.
MATTHEWS: You know what I mean? You know how to make Baker‘s life easier? Put some pressure on him from the other side. The president says I‘m out of it, we‘re staying there until we get victory, right? I‘m not giving up on the troops. Tony Snow is out to say that all the time.
The Democrats have got to say out now. That gives Jim Baker the wiggle room in the middle to come up with a compromise. But if the Democrats shut up for the next three weeks and Baker has got to do his own negotiating with the administration without something pulling him from the other side, it seems to me he‘s not going to be that courageous.
DUFFY: The push is going to come from the Republicans, just like it did from Warner again yesterday where he said the people really have spoken. The push will not come from the Ds. It‘s going to come from the Rs, and I think that‘s what...
MATTHEWS: John Warner and who else is going to rebel?
DUFFY: Well, tomorrow, John Abizaid, you know, the CENTCOM chief is going to be in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I think it will be very interesting to see what Republicans say tomorrow and what Abizaid without Rumsfeld over his shoulder.
MATTHEWS: Duffy, you‘re a great journalist. Thank you for coming on.
Mike Duffy of “Time.”
Up next, more on Iraq with “NEWSWEEK‘s” Evan Thomas and David Ignatius of the “Washington Post.”
And later, radio talk show host Michael Smerconish and Mark Walsh.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In the wake of today‘s massive kidnapping in Baghdad, will the Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State Jim Baker, be able to find a solution that will actually stabilize Iraq? And will both the Bush administration and the Democrats controlling Congress get on board with their recommendations?
David Ignatius is a “Washington Post” columnist, and Evan Thomas is assisting manager editor of “Newsweek” and author of another new book, “Sea of Thunder,” about World War II and the great four commanders that fought in those great sea battles in the Pacific.
Evan, thank you for joining us. Let‘s start with Evan first. Do you have confidence that this Iraq Study Group memorandum that comes from them in December will be worth waiting for?
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, it‘s the only game in town. There is nothing else to wait for. Look, I don‘t think there is necessarily any solution to this problem, but if anybody is going to come up with a least bad solution, it‘s probably this study group. I don‘t see any alternative to it.
MATTHEWS: But when you look at the membership of this committee, what is it that gives you hope?
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I thought.
THOMAS: Baker is a shrewd operator.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I think. Right, but in other words, the commission is basically support. They are in a support group for what he proposes.
THOMAS: I think so. I mean, none of them are Middle East experts. They are all smart people. I gather they have a great sense of urgency and they are worried that the events on the ground are just going to outrun them, which is, I think, a proper worry. I think that‘s a real risk.
MATTHEWS: By the way, it seems to be accelerating what‘s happening over there, David. You get over there and get in that region a lot. It seems like today when they kidnapped the whole agency—I just imagine that here in Washington. You go down to the Department of Transportation and everybody is being herded on trucks, handcuffed.
DAVID IGNATIUS, “WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST: It does seem to be spinning out of control. You get the sense that the two sides, the Shiites and the Sunnis, really are trying to force each other to submit. They are using the most ghastly tactics, these bodies that are found tortured and bound, the kidnappings, you say, of 140 people today.
You know, these are tactics that, Chris, remind me of Saddam Hussein‘s playbook. They are tactics that are intended just to shock and horrify and intimidate. That‘s what‘s so awful about it.
I think, you know, the one thing that you can say about the Baker-Hamilton process is at least it has a chance of getting America together on the same page which I think is going to make a difference in dealing with this.
MATTHEWS: But, David, the killing or the kidnapping—we hope it‘s just kidnapping today—of all those dozens of people, they were Sunni kidnapees, kidnappers with a Shia militia. What‘s the goal? To chase them out of Baghdad? What is the goal?
They already have the majority, the Shia. Why do they have to kidnap or kill the minority Sunni?
IGNATIUS: As I said a moment ago, Chris, I think each side is trying to make the other submit. The Shiite say, we are the majority of this country. We have been the sheep. We are now the rulers. You Sunnis have to get used to it.
The Sunnis really aren‘t ready to accept the idea that they‘re not going to be the dominant force in Iraq. They‘ve run the country as long as any can of them can remember. You know, they‘ve been trying to intimidate the Shiites with their car bombings, with all the insurgent attacks.
And so I fear this really has gone past the tipping point. Populations are moving in all these neighborhoods in Baghdad that are mixed.
There was a superb report in the “New York Times” about one province that we‘d love to turn over soon to the Iraqi Army, which is a total mess, whether the Iraqi Army commander appears to be making attacks on Sunni forces in this area because he is a Shiite commander. So it just is not a good picture at all.
MATTHEWS: So Evan, I guess the question is when people say this is like earlier wars we fought, whether the Grand War, World War II, that you write about in your book, or Vietnam, even. At least in Vietnam, there was another side. The North Vietnamese and the V.C.—mainly the north Vietnamese at the end. They were the enemy. We fought them. It was a war of attrition, eventually we left.
In this case, we‘re somehow in the middle of a war. It‘s different, isn‘t it?
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: It‘s different, I mean, again, the scale of casualties—it‘s horrible. But in World War II, we lost a half a million people. Now we‘ve lost 3,000. In Vietnam, we lost 55,000 people. I mean, the scale still is not—however horrible it is, the scale for Americans is not as bad as those wars.
Having said that, it‘s just about as bad as it can get.
MATTHEWS: But I was just trying to set up a distinction. In this war, we have the terrorists, a small percentage of the people warring over there are from outside. They‘re al Qaeda, they came there to fight us or to bring down the government. You‘ve got the insurgents, who are Sunni, who don‘t like the fact that they‘ll eventually be ruled by the majority Shia. And then, of course, you have the Shia militiamen, who are out there contending for a bigger piece of the power once it‘s divided.
But they‘re all not necessarily fighting each other. I mean, we‘re stuck—what‘s our role in all that? Who do we fight? Are we on the Shia side? Are we on the Sunni side because they‘re the minority? Are we just in there to fight the terrorists?
THOMAS: If you wanted to be really Machiavellian and real politic and bloodthirsty about this, you‘d probably just side with the Shiites, arm them, support them, get this over with. Just get it over with as fast as possible and support—but that‘s just so grossly real politic, I don‘t think anybody‘s going to do that.
Instead, I think, what we‘re much more likely to do is get our soldiers off the streets, pull back into bases. And then, I don‘t know, I mean, have some advisers, and then occasionally intervene when it really gets really, really ugly and we can have some concentrated force in one place or another. But even that seems weak.
MATTHEWS: It seems like the French role in French Africa. Every time there‘s a government in trouble, the French soldiers fly in, paratroopers. They support the government and then they pull back to barracks.
But is that where we want to be in that part of the world, neo-colonials?
IGNATIUS: I don‘t think so. You know, when Evan was speaking about choosing sides in the civil war, the British very cold-bloodedly did that in the Nigerian Civil War, deciding that the Biafrans were going to lose. And so they went the other way.
I think in this situation, if we decided the Shiites are the majority, the Shiites are going to win the civil war, we would end up having that whole area begin to move toward sectarian conflict as well. The danger is that the Gulf, the Saudi oil fields, there are many Shiites there.
And as you begin that Sunni-Shiite war, it really could spread. It could be a civil war throughout the region, which is very dangerous.
MATTHEWS: Well, we were brilliant enough to create a Shia crescent, right?
IGNATIUS: Well, it was there.
MATTHEWS: From Beirut to Baghdad to wherever, to wherever—to Tehran.
IGNATIUS: We gave it a capitol.
MATTHEWS: And that now endangers the Shia part of Saudi Arabia.
We‘ve done a great job over there.
And we have people like King Abdullah and Mubarak, who just love us for what we‘ve done.
Anyway, thank you, David Ignatius.
And thank you, Evan Thomas.
Up next, we‘ll talk with radio talkshow host Michael Smerconish and Mark Walsh.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Big, swirling political questions today. Will Rudy Giuliani crush the conventional wisdom and land his party‘s nomination for president in ‘08?
Can Trent Lott make a leadership comeback after taking a fall four years ago?
Will James Baker‘s commission on Iraq bring about the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq?
Those big ones and more, from out Hardballers radio talkshow host Michael Smerconish from Philadelphia and the co-host of XM Radio‘s “Left Jab”, Mark Walsh.
So let‘s start with Rudy, Mark Walsh. Rudy Giuliani, would he be a tough opponent for the Democrats if he got the nomination?
MARK WALSH, HOST, XM RADIO‘S “LEFT JAB”: I beg for the moment when Rudy Giuliani gets the nomination. He‘s the perfect candidate for the Democrats to run against. He had a tough time in New York. He‘s got anger management issues. He‘s got two failed marriages. And the guy is not going to be a good leader. I hope he‘s the candidate.
MATTHEWS: You would want to bring up the marriage issue with Hillary as the nominee, right?
WALSH: Hillary Clinton is a stand-by-your-man first lady.
MATTHEWS: No, you would want to enter into that part of the political equation in the national debate?
WALSH: Hey, Hillary Clinton stood by her man. Rudy Giuliani dumped his first wife in a humiliating way.
But marriage isn‘t the issue. The guy has, I think, some real challenges in his leadership style. And I think he‘s going to be a very, very bad candidate, so I do actually beg for him to get the job.
MATTHEWS: OK. What do you think, Michael Smerconish? I‘ve noticed some polling in Pennsylvania that shows Giuliani about twice the level of McCain, for example. Very popular in Pennsylvania.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO - PHILADELPHIA: I think Rudy‘s great star quality. And we‘re all sort of reading the tea leaves on the election results. I think that Giuliani has exactly the right platform for the GOP: tough on security, tough on all those terrorist issues, but socially conservative and not one of the ideologues.
There‘s already, Chris, a battle that‘s going on for the heart and minds of the GOP, and it‘s the pragmatists—and I put Giuliani in that category, I‘d like to think of myself in that category—and the ideologues.
I‘m getting e-mail blasts every single day from conservative leaders. It was Newt today, saying the conservatives didn‘t lose, the Republicans lost. And so already that battle is underway. And Rudy is the guy who should be carrying the flag.
MATTHEWS: What are his chances of winning the Republican nomination?
How does he go about doing it?
There is a way. What is it?
SMERCONISH: Well, the problem is does he come out of like a South Carolina primary, but as you know, he is one of the hottest tickets in the south. That‘s where I think it comes down to this star quality. And perhaps folks have not yet taken a look at some of those other personal issues that surround him. But I think we‘re beyond that. I really do. And the left would be hard pressed to be the ones to start questioning Giuliani‘s marriage record.
WALSH: That‘s a fair point. And perhaps I shouldn‘t have tossed it out. But I will ask you this. I mean, he‘s no Fiorello LaGuardia and I wonder how deep your sense, or maybe you know more than I do Michael maybe on this, perhaps, but I wonder how deep his star power is in the south.
I don‘t think a mayor from New York City is going to pull that much in the south. I mean, historically, New York is untrustworthy. And of course, Michael and probably Chris, you‘re going to say well that would Hillary into the bucket as well. But I‘m not sure the star power is anywhere near as strong as you think it is. Maybe you‘re seeing some polling and stuff. I think he‘s going to have a tough time.
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m talking to Republican leaders who talk about what a draw he is at lunch down there. You bring him into a place like Tulsa or Jackson or one of those southern capitals and all of the men‘s club guys show up because they love this guy because they think of him as their 9/11 hero.
They don‘t think about the bad marriages and the support of gay rights. They don‘t think that stuff‘s important to these guys. There are not—these are secular people. I‘m not talking about the church bus people. I‘m talking about the secular Republicans. They seem to like him.
WALSH: Yes, but can being a 9/11 hero really take you through ‘08 and beyond? Other than that, I‘m not sure what he brings to the party.
SMERCONISH: I think you‘re selling him short. I really—having spent some personal time with him, I think he is a man of substance. I think there is a lot to Rudy Giuliani. Great crime fighter. I mean, there is more to the story than just where he stood on September 11. And in the same way, by the way, that Rudy has got that star quality, so, too, does John McCain. And he earned his stripes sitting in a POW camp. So I think both of these individuals have a lot to be said for them.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not sure he‘s going to win the next election, but I think the next president will seem tougher and smarter than the current one because that‘s what we‘re looking for. We‘ll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Mark Walsh. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALLers, Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish and XM Radio‘s Mark Walsh. He‘s on Channel 133.
Mark, you first, why are the Democrats so hopeful that Jim Baker can come up with a solution for Iraq?
WALSH: Wait a minute, you are implying that I do believe that.
Listen, Jim Baker...
MATTHEWS: ... I‘m not implying nothing. I‘m asking about the—all I hear on this television, all I hear in reading the newspapers, all I hear from all of them is we‘re waiting for the Baker report. I don‘t understand that.
WALSH: Incorrect. We are not waiting for the Baker report and I‘ll tell you why. Because Jim Baker‘s report is not supposed to cure the conflict in Iraq. His report is supposed to save the legacy of George W. Bush. The man is a partisan mechanic whose job since he left public office is to save the face of this family. That‘s his sole job. He‘s been hired to do that and his backup, Lee Hamilton, is his Robin to the Batman.
MATTHEWS: Well, that may be well put, and you do a little Nexis search of the last week since the election, and all I hear from the Democrats when I ask them what their plan is Jim Baker.
WALSH: No, they...
MATTHEWS: ... That‘s what they‘re all saying. All elected Democrats are saying that.
WALSH: Let me check my BlackBerry. Oh, that‘s right. Well, they still don‘t have a plan even with the group that is going to come out. The Democrats have not said they‘re waiting for a plan from the Baker report. They‘re waiting to see how the president responds to the Baker‘s report comments. And if you notice, Bush says, again, quote, “I heard some great ideas.” Well how many ideas does he have to hear before he takes one? This I would argue is a sham, and the Democrats are not waiting for the Baker plan. They are waiting for the people to see that the Baker plan is a sham.
SMERCONISH: Hey Chris, can I get it on this?
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s an interesting interpretation, but I think it is an interpretation. Go ahead, Michael.
SMERCONISH: You are a movie guy, so here is the movie. It‘s Robert Redford, “The Candidate,” give me the final line.
MATTHEWS: What do we do now?
SMERCONISH What do we do now? It‘s like, oh my god, we won this thing, what the hell do we do about Iraq? And like the GOP, everybody needs cover, because there is no answer.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s what I think is going on. Mark, you disagree? You think they‘ve already eschewed the Baker Commission as part of a side-car version of Bush‘s policy?
WALSH: Well tell me one time that you think Bush has actually listened to an outside source. Now if Baker is daddy‘s boy and he is being taken to the wood shed like the “Newsweek” cover story would imply, if W. has been taken to the wood shed and daddy‘s boy, Scowcroft and Baker and Hamilton and all the other guys are coming in and saying, back away, we are going to fix the dented car, go back to the house, maybe that‘s what is going on.
But if that‘s the plan I think the American people are going to see through that, A. B, my second point is what‘s the plan they could possibly come up with that hasn‘t already been projected to this president? Divide it into three things?
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you to play defense. Check Harry Reid the last 24 hours and what he is saying. No discussion about cutting off the funding for the war, no real aggressive campaign to deliver on the promises made that got people elected last Tuesday? Where is the head of the Senate on this thing? We are going to have Steny Hoyer probably elected as the House majority leader, he‘s not a big dove. Where is the leadership coming to do what the Democrats promised when they ran for office this November, that‘s all I‘m asking?
WALSH: The 100 hours they promised...
MATTHEWS: ... Give me some names.
WALSH: The 100 hours action that they promised out of Pelosi and Reid really didn‘t have anything to do with Iraq. They weren‘t going to cut funding and drag soldiers back in the first 100 hours. I would argue that you‘re suggesting that Harry Reid promised ending the way the minute he took office.
But Harry Reid is saying is look, at least we have some push back now on a president who had his way every single chance he had, every single decision he made, he had a Congress, Senate, Judiciary, the whole thing. So now, let‘s step back and see who comes up with some better ideas. Harry Reid never said the minute I am elected, I‘m yanking soldiers out, nor did Nancy Pelosi.
SMERCONISH: The only one who has a plan is John McCain. He told Russert on Sunday we‘ve got to send more troops. That‘s the clearest, most articulated plan that I‘ve heard from anybody, but of course the American people don‘t have the will or the stomach for that.
WALSH: Don‘t you think somebody has told President Bush that already?
SMERCONISH: Yes, I think that the generals told him three years ago.
WALSH: Yes, so how come he ignored that then? Do you think he‘s going to take better advice now?
SMERCONISH: You know, you said a moment ago, and it has been one of his failings, that he‘s failed to take advice from outsiders. He took advice last Wednesday morning. Getting rid of Donald Rumsfeld was really a significant departure for him. He should have done it a long time ago for political reasons.
WALSH: Go ahead, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Michael, thank you. And thank you, Mark. Play HARDBALL with us again Wednesday. Our guests will include former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and former Bush campaign media adviser Mark McKinnon. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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