Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Dana Priest, Karim Kawar, Tony Blankley, Jay Carney, Jenny Backus, Claire McCaskill, Pat Buchanan
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: NBC News calls it a civil war. President Bush says it‘s not. What will it take to get him to admit reality? Is he waiting for Fort Sumter to get attacked?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.
NBC News and MSNBC are now characterizing the situation in Iraq as a civil war. It comes as the president tries to get some help from foreign countries. This week he‘ll try to make inroads at the NATO summit in Latvia and in Jordan on Wednesday.
But will it work this late in the game?
Does he have any leverage against Syria and Iran?
Is the war in Iraq already lost?
Meanwhile, the Baker commission is getting set to make its Iraq recommendations to President Bush. While the commission will likely push for diplomacy with Iran and Syria, it will most likely not propose a timetable bringing troops home.
How will Democrats respond to that fact?
Will they roll over or will they offer up a plan of their own to end the war?
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Bush left today for meetings overseas, including one later this week with Iraq‘s Prime Minister, the White House protested a decision by American news organizations to call the violence in Iraq a civil, quote, “While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither Prime Minister Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war.”
But on the heels of a U.N. report declaring that an average of 120 Iraqi civilians are getting killed everyday and following the violence this weekend in Baghdad that killed 215 people in one day, the “Los Angeles Times” is now calling Iraq a civil war, and so is NBC News.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And NBC News have decided the change in terminology is warranted, that the situation in Iraq with armed, militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war.
SHUSTER: But the Bush people say they fear that when most Americans hear the term “civil war” they associate with our own, a conflict between the Union North and the Confederate South that had 650,000 casualties, or one out of every 50 Americans at the time.
So the Bush White House has consistently argued against using the same terminology for Iraq. Last March, for example, the president undercut the credibility of Iraq‘s then-interim prime minister.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Mr. Allawi that Iraq has fallen into civil war?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not.
SHUSTER: This fall presidential press secretary Tony Snow declared Iraq does not qualify as a civil war because the violence is different.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: You do have a lot of different forces that are trying to put pressure on the government and trying to undermine it, but it‘s not clear that they‘re operating as a unified force.
SHUSTER: But historians and analysts say that a unified force is not a requirement in a civil war.
In any case, this is not the first time U.S. troops have found themselves on foreign soil and caught in the middle of warring factions. In 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, 18 U.S. Army Rangers were killed in a firefight with local warlords. The infamous “Blackhawk Down” episode came as U.S. troops were trying to help the U.N. police a civil war and distribute food and relief supplies.
Ten years earlier, U.S. Marines got entangled in the civil war in Lebanon. They were part of the multinational force trying to cool tensions between Lebanese Christians and Muslims in Beirut. On October 28, 1983 a truck bomb blew up the Marine headquarters there, killing 241 Marines. It was the largest single-day loss of life for the U.S. military since Vietnam.
Most recently before Iraq‘s civil war, U.S. troops were in Bosnia trying to separate Croats and Serbs in what used to be called Yugoslavia. That U.S. ground presence, however, was part of a multinational force and came after U.S. air strikes had already pushed sectarian leaders to the negotiating table.
In Iraq U.S. forces are mostly on their own. And they are caught between rival Sunnis and Shiites, as well as government security forces, whose loyalties are often split. Meanwhile, the bombings, kidnappings, torture and execution-style killings are all getting worse.
(on camera): Against all of this, U.S. troops in Iraq continue to die. The total number killed is now almost 2,900. And whether Iraq is a civil war or worse, a descent into lawlessness and anarchy, the terminology doesn‘t really matter to U.S. service members. For them, Iraq is a killing field that has no end sight.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.
Retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm and is now an MSNBC military analyst.
And Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Priest is the national security reporter for the “Washington Post”—rather, it‘s Dana Priest. Thank you, Dana.
First of all, General, what‘s the definition of a civil war?
Let‘s start with the two words “civil” and “war”.
GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think, clearly, Iraq qualifies. I‘ve been calling it that, a low-grade civil war, for the last 18 months. You have two major factions, the Shia and the Sunni Arabs, struggling for political power and survival in post-war Iraq, after the U.S. withdraws. Thousands of killed and wounded, hundreds of thousands of refugees. They‘re using heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms, IEDs.
Of course it‘s a civil war. And we don‘t rationally label what we‘re confronting, if we call it dead-enders, Baathists, criminal activities, they‘re only doing this because somebody pays them a hundred bucks, we‘ll miss the essence of the struggle we are confronting.
MATTHEWS: Well, Dana, let me go to the question of why the president would be resistant, or stubborn, if you will, on the naming of this war. He told us we‘re fighting over there so we won‘t have to fight here, but certainly the Shia and the Sunni are not going to bring their fight over here. So either it‘s a civil war or it‘s a war of some other kind. It seems to me he‘s—the president‘s afraid that people want it—will begin to think it is a civil war, and not the way he way he wants to define it, which is, we‘ve got to fight them there before they fight us here.
DANA PRIEST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think one of the reasons the president resists that label is because it equates almost with a failure of U.S. policy. I‘ll say for the “Washington Post” we haven‘t labeled it a civil war. And I‘ve asked around here today to see why not or what‘s the thinking on that. And really, our reporters have not filed that. We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war.
Certainly, and I would agree with General McCaffrey on this absolutely, the level of violence equals a civil war. But like—take Somalia, for instance. We never called that a civil war. It was a very chaotic situation with many militias fighting each other, as opposed to Bosnia, where there were big factions that wanted to seize and control territory. And the government, or the fractured—factions in the different governments called itself a civil war. And that‘s one big difference, at least here in our news room.
MATTHEWS: What did you call Lebanon?
PRIEST: That was a civil war, clearly.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, when you have Maronite Christians fighting Hezbollah and back and forth...
PRIEST: And no government, right.
MATTHEWS: And now we have a situation...
PRIEST: ... and no elected government.
MATTHEWS: ... the casualties you‘re reporting every day, Dana, are from a civil war. It‘s not the United States getting shot at, mainly, luckily. It‘s Sunni killing Shia and mostly the other way around.
PRIEST: Well, like I said, I‘m not disputing at all that the violence
does not equal that. In Iraq in particular there‘s been—you reported
the militias have fractured so much that—who is the war against, other
than obviously those factions have often come out against the United States
and the occupation there. But not pro—you know, we want this part of
the country as ours. When that happens it‘ll be—I think we‘ll reassess
when and if that happens, we would reassess the label.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about, General, what happens this week.
The president‘s meeting with Maliki, the prime minister of that government over there. And Maliki depends on the survival of his government—the survival of his government, I should say, depends on Moqtada al-Sadr‘s troops who are in the parliament over there. He‘s threatening—Moqtada al-Sadr is threatening to pull out of the government if Maliki, his supposed boss, meets with the president this week.
So we have a very real possibility that somebody‘s going to pull the pin on this grenade, and Moqtada al-Sadr‘s going to lose his government because—rather, Maliki‘s going to lose his government for meeting with the president. Isn‘t that the condition of a civil war?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think, again, we‘re on the edge of the abyss here. What we haven‘t is we haven‘t seen the Iraqi security forces come apart, although arguably the police are largely a Shiite militia organization. Certainly the conversation between our president and Maliki‘s a good thing. Having the vice president go talk to the Saudis, having the Syrians come to Baghdad, having the Iraqis go to Iran, this kind of diplomatic dialogue is very encouraging. I think that‘s going be one of the ways ahead.
But again, back to the civil war notion, look, this thing isn‘t run by the Iranians, by the Syrians. It isn‘t just criminality. This is—at heart and soul, is a political struggle to govern Iraq, because in this system the losers get slaughtered. And I think that‘s motivating a lot of what we‘re watching.
MATTHEWS: So the Sunnis have to—Dana, the Sunnis have to fight for their own survival. The Shia, however, seem to be predators here. They‘re not willing to accept the fact they‘ve got a majority rule government that they are going to take over. They seem to want—at least Moqtada al-Sadr and his crowds seem to want to kill all the Sunni before they even have to give them any piece of the apple here.
PRIEST: Right. It does remind me in Kosovo and Bosnia of the ethnic cleansing campaigns that they perpetrated there. And there‘s—by no means do we have control of the security apparatus. Tony Cordesman, a respected expert on Iraq who went there recently, came back and said, you know, there are 22 militias now just in Baghdad. And really, all the ministries have been taken over by the various groups, and you see them using those as rewards, if you will, and taking revenge against the other groups through their ministries. And the Ministry of Interior, in particular, which controls the police, is under Shia domination.
MATTHEWS: So what does the president say to Prime Minister Maliki this Wednesday, when he meets him in Amman, Jordan? Does he—it seems to me he is in a conundrum here, the president. The president—it‘s almost like going to his buddy, Putin, and saying, Stop fighting for Chechnya. How does he tell Maliki, whose government depends on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, to go after al-Sadr and bring him to justice?
PRIEST: I would think the only hammer he has left hanging over his head, really, is the threat of a timetable, which the president has resisted, and many people have called for. Usually in military strategy, you don‘t want to set a timetable because the bad guys will just wait you out. In this case, I think, the thinking is almost the reverse. If we don‘t give them a timetable and they don‘t think we are serious enough and get their act together within that period of time, then there is absolutely no hope and no leverage on our part.
MATTHEWS: What would be the effect on American forces in that country, General, if they were to hear—and they would hear quickly through scuttlebutt—that there had been an established timetable for our withdrawal? Would it hurt their morale or help their morale?
MCCAFFREY: Make no mistake about it, I think the Army and the Marine Corps—Special Operations Command—put their heart and soul into this war -- 25,000 killed and wounded. They don‘t want to see this thing go down the drain. They believe in what they‘re up to.
Having said that, look, Chris, a lot of this is domestic political nonsense. We are coming out of Iraq. The next two presidential candidates are going to take our combat forces out of there. So there is a timetable already. The Iraqis know it; the question is, are we going tell it to them officially?
MATTHEWS: Not so great. In other words, they know our system of government requires a new president by the end of ‘08, and that means the end of this president.
MATTHEWS: The American people have walked away from this thing. They‘re not going to come back. It is a civil war. They are struggling to control areas—the Kirkuk oil basin, the crossroads of Iraq, Baghdad. This is a civil war. Senator John Warner and Chuck Hagle and these distinguished Republicans said, If it‘s a civil war, we are coming home.
So that‘s, I think—a lot of this is inside the beltway nonsense, trying to avoid the political consequences of talking to reality.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for that clarity from outside the beltway, General McCaffrey—and I am not being sarcastic. That was refreshing.
Thank you, Donna Priest, for that report.
President Bush meets with, as I said, the Iraqi prime minister in Jordan this Wednesday. Coming up, we will talk to the Jordanian ambassador about what Iraq‘s neighbors can do to try to stop this civil war, or perhaps help us get out.
And later, Senator-elect Claire McCaskill, one of the big winners of November. You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This week, President Bush heads to Jordan to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. We are joined now by Jordan‘s ambassador to the United States, His Excellency, Karim Kawar.
Your Excellency, thank you for joining us.
KARIM KAWAR, JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What role can your government play in hosting the president and the prime minister of Iraq?
KAWAR: We hope to provide an environment where the two leaders can discuss a very important issue, which is that of Iraq and its future, as well as the role of the neighboring states. As you might well know, Jordan has been training Iraqi police over the past three years, and that has been our contribution to help Iraq. And we always ask them, What can we do more? So hopefully all the neighboring states can contribute in that process.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the neighboring states. It‘s quite a mixed bag. You have Iran and Syria and your country and Turkey and Saudi Arabia—a lot of neighbors. But the neighbors that keep being talked about are Iran, under Ahmadinejad, and Bashar Assad‘s Syria. Those are hostile countries to the United States. What can the president do, meeting with hostile countries?
KAWAR: I think the issue is, when we look at the neighboring states and say, What do they hope to get out of it? Certainly for some countries, they would not like to see the U.S. succeed. For us, the success of the Iraqis comes first, so we have to help the Iraqis achieve this next step in moving the process forward.
As far as talking to the neighbors, I believe it has to be done with all the neighboring states, because they all have a stake in the future of Iraq. But it‘s important also to caution everyone to stay out of interfering in Iraq‘s internal affairs. So we need to support without meddling in Iraq‘s internal issues.
MATTHEWS: But is it possible that Iraq could benefit in a way that America would not benefit, which should be fine by America in a weird sense. Suppose you could establish a government which is Shia majority, but respects the minority role of the Sunni and Kurds. Do you think Ahmadinejad of Iran would support such an effort or would he try to win the whole thing?
KAWAR: I think it is important for the Iraqis to decide what they want to do. And certainly, if you support democracies, you do support the rule of the majority. But also, what you have stressed is the minority rights. Are they well protected? And in this case, you will find that minorities usually get overrepresentation, just to ensure that their rights are protected. This is not the case in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Sunni community in Iraq has been sidelined. And the many issues that took place, they all compiled over each other, that created this situation we‘re in today.
MATTHEWS: Could the United States force a different proportion of authority in that country? Could the United States win an agreement between Sunni and Shia by jacking up the influence of the Sunni in the new government?
KAWAR: I don‘t think the U.S. should be forcing anything on the Iraqis. On the contrary, the U.S. should work with all the Iraqi players to bring them all to agree on one rule for this game, and that is that we all want to see a prosperous Iraq, one that is not divided. And I think this is what all the neighboring states agree to.
So, again, I think, what is out there, looking past a civil war in Iraq would with a very gloomy picture that nobody, none of the neighbors, wants to see either.
MATTHEWS: I just wondered if we were able to cut such a deal which would give more authority to the Sunnis with Maliki‘s government—even if he agreed to it—would Muqtada al-Sadr and the other militia accept it? Or do they want winner-take-all?
KAWAR: The current government can do more. But since it is a national unity government, it means it‘s a government of compromise. And therefore, Prime Minister Maliki has one hand tied behind his back, trying to achieve what is a very difficult task.
But I think that the more dialogue takes place with the Sunnis and try to work with them, rather than against them...
MATTHEWS: Could the Sunnis in the region, including your government,
the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and—and Egypt—could that live with -
could they have a modus vivendi with a country that‘s Shia-dominated like Iraq? Could they have a relationship?
KAWAR: I believe there would be no issue in that respect. I can speak for the government of Jordan. We were the first of the Arab countries to recognize the Iraqi government. The—we—our prime minister visited with Prime Minister Jafari and with Prime Minister Maliki, again, in show of support, recognizing a Shia-led government in Iraq. That is not an issue for us.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, your Excellency. We love the fact that Jordan is a good friend of the United States. Also a good friend of other countries in the region.
When we return, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Democratic strategist Jenny Backus will be here.
And later, Senator-elect Claire McCaskill, one of the big winners of November, is coming here to sit right there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR: We hope you can join us for the Monday edition of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”. Coming up this evening, we‘ll have our report on the president‘s trans-Atlantic travels. Also, we continue our series of reports on what works.
That and much more tonight on “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”, the Monday edition.
That‘s tonight on your NBC television station.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. NBC News and MSNBC are now characterizing the situation in Iraq as a civil war. Now the Democrats run the Congress, what are they going to do about it? Will they organize to push to bring the troops home?
Here to talk about it are HARDBALLERS, Democratic strategist Jenny Backus and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
Well, Pat, I first want to get to definitions, because all debates begin with agreeing on the definition of terms. Civil—civil, Sunni versus Shia. It‘s not about fighting them there before they come here. It‘s about fighting people over there. Trying to separate people over there from fighting with each other. And it damn well is a war.
So what‘s the fight with the president? Why isn‘t there a plan?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because it‘s more of a war of all against all. Let‘s take the Maliki government. It‘s supported by the United States, and it‘s supported by al-Sadr. And he, at the same time, is fighting the United States.
You‘ve got the Kurds who want to secede. You‘ve got Sunnis who support the government, Sunnis who are against the government, Shiites fighting against one another. One‘s a more pro-Iranian faction, would like the country to break up. Another would like the whole country to stand together. That‘s al-Sadr.
So it‘s a number of different wars. If you want to call it a civil war, fine. But it‘s not a traditional civil war, like the Spanish Civil War, where one side or the other is fighting for the capital and control of the entire country. It‘s a series of wars, a number of wars in one.
JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But don‘t they all want to control the county? I mean, isn‘t that the situation you‘re looking at right now? You have Americans troops whose lives are being put on the line for a bunch of groups fighting each other. And there‘s no direction.
BUCHANAN: The Peshmerga are fighting. They‘re Kurds. Do they want to control the whole country?
BACKUS: They want to control their section. But the biggest violence that‘s happening right now is the Sunni and the Shia.
BUCHANAN: That‘s a secessionist war. That‘s a war of secession.
BACKUS: But the American troops are not there. They‘re being thrown back into Baghdad, where 25 percent of the populace...
MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t Muqtada run the place?
BUCHANAN: No, he wants to—yes, he wants Shia. The Mehdi supports the Maliki government. He wants the Shia to control the whole thing and dominate the whole thing.
MATTHEWS: They killed as many Shia—Sunni as possible.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what he‘s doing.
BUCHANAN: But there‘s also a Shia group that wants to break away and separate the bottom nine provinces...
MATTHEWS: With the oil.
BUCHANAN: ... and line up with Iran. So sure, I‘m not going to argue with the world civil war, but it‘s more like, quite frankly, that whole mess in Lebanon, where you have all those...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get back there. Let‘s get back to familiar territory. Horrendously familiar territory.
BUCHANAN: All right.
MATTHEWS: In 1983 when we Begin‘s government was pulling out of Southern Lebanon or Lebanon we went in to act as kind of a rear guard. OK? Everyone knew whose side we‘re on. We‘re Israel‘s side. And Israel starting shooting at us and finally blew up our barracks, and we left.
That was a pretty sordid case of bad policy, bad enemies, and we got our butts out of there. It was a horrendous policy, because you know what? It didn‘t do anything but make enemies and take casualties.
BUCHANAN: But here‘s this—you have—exactly. We shouldn‘t have gotten in the middle of that. But you had Druze. You had the Amal militia. You had Hezbollah. You had the Maronites. You had—the Syrians blew up...
BACKUS: What about the American soldiers, though? Why are our troops in middle of this?
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry, what‘s our mission right now? What was our mission in Lebanon? To stand there holding the flag. And then we were told to—to watch the airport, and then we were told we were the lynch pin of the diplomatic effort, which is meaningless.
BUCHANAN: The mission in Lebanon was to train the Lebanese army, and we came in. Reagan should never have gone in. The mission now in Iraq...
MATTHEWS: They never spent (UNINTELLIGIBLE) money.
BUCHANAN: They didn‘t. But the mission now...
MATTHEWS: They guarded the airport.
BUCHANAN: The mission now in Iraq, Chris, is quite simply to stop what we all call the civil war from degenerating into utter chaos.
MATTHEWS: That makes—OK. If you‘re a referee, how do you referee a fight where both sides are heavily armed and determined to kill the other side? Do you kill them before they kill the other side when they‘re absolutely determined to do it? So in other words, you inflict casualties.
Just a minute. It‘s warfare. You‘re going to kill a lot of Shia, right, to stop them from taking over a government they‘re eventually going to control? Is that right?
BUCHANAN: Look, what you‘re doing right now is you‘re a pillar of support for the existing government. If it falls the army breaks down...
MATTHEWS: One hand tied behind your back. We are not allowed to shoot at the Shia.
BUCHANAN: Well, look, Chris, let me tell you...
MATTHEWS: Why are you defending this policy?
BUCHANAN: I‘m just saying, I‘m not defending it. I was against going in. I‘m where General Zinni is. He was against going in, but he says you can‘t turn around and walk out. And if the Democratic Party, Chris, turns around for a cut and run strategy, they don‘t pick up responsibility...
MATTHEWS: Well, can I ask you, what is our mission? And if it‘s to kill more Shia or kill more Sunni...
BUCHANAN: It is not. It is to maintain the Maliki government.
MATTHEWS: ... we‘ll be hated even more.
BACKUS: How do you also make—how do you make sense of it all? I mean, you‘ve got Iraqis on the streets stealing uniforms of policemen and the government. You have people coming and kidnapping people who are supposed to be—you don‘t know who the good guys and the bad guys are.
BUCHANAN: Therefore what? Therefore what?
BACKUS: Therefore, why are—how can you referee something when you don‘t know who are the good guys?
BUCHANAN: What should we do?
BUCHANAN: All right. Get out right now?
BACKUS: Phased withdrawal. You bring people out into the region. You look at, you assess the situation. You can redeploy back in if you need to. You do diplomacy.
BUCHANAN: You‘re going to redeploy back in?
BACKUS: If you need to later on.
BACKUS: Well, you see how the situation goes.
MATTHEWS: Can I try something by you two?
MATTHEWS: It seems to make sense, two options: get out and avoid any more U.S. casualties. The other option is to stay in long enough to make a difference.
BUCHANAN: That‘s exactly right.
MATTHEWS: That‘s 20 years.
BACKUS: Do you want that on...
BUCHANAN: No, no. American people aren‘t—look, you ain‘t got 20 years. The American people won‘t support 20 years. What I‘m saying is...
MATTHEWS: What can you—what can you get done in two or three?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know what you can get done in two or three. But I do know if you do not go right now, it would be insane. This thing may go down. It will go down in a bloody, horrible massacre and a break up, for sure, if we turn around and pull out now.
BACKUS: But we have 150,000 American troops in the middle of that bloody massacre.
MATTHEWS: I‘m afraid that now is always going to be now. Six months from now, it will be now. Years from now, it will be now. Every time we have this conversation, somebody says we can‘t move immediately. And that is always the future that keeps regressing from us.
BUCHANAN: If the Democrats believe that—if Democrats believe that, why don‘t they cut off any more funds for the war?
MATTHEWS: Because they‘re not policymakers. Thank you, Pat Buchanan.
They don‘t want to be policymakers. That‘s grown-up stuff.
BUCHANAN: That‘s exactly right.
MATTHEWS: They sit in the front seat. They‘d rather sit in the back seat and complain: Mommy, when are we getting there? She just punched me.
BACKUS: That‘s not true.
MATTHEWS: That is the Democrats.
Thank you, Pat Buchanan.
BUCHANAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jenny Backus.
Up next, we‘ll talk about Iraq and the Democrats‘ plan for Congress with one of the new Democratic senators, the illustrious, victorious Claire McCaskill.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. One of the big upsets on election day, or certainly one of the big wins happened in Missouri, where Democrat Claire McCaskill beat Republican Senator Jim Talent.
Senator-elect McCaskill is with us now in person for the first time on
Senator-elect, is that the right title? Senator-elect?
CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), SENATOR-ELECT OF MISSOURI: Claire is fine.
MATTHEWS: I think you beat a good guy. I looked at all the Republican candidates running for election in tough elections. I thought he was probably the best of them. What do you think? Jim Talent. Can you say—is it over now, the heat of the campaign?
MCCASKILL: Sure, sure.
MATTHEWS: Can you say something nice about him?
MCCASKILL: Oh, absolutely. He is a good man, and he and I served together in Missouri legislature 20 years ago. We‘ve known each other a long time. It was a tough fight. And it was one of those elections that, it could have gone either way. And obviously, I‘m thrilled to be here.
MATTHEWS: Did you call him up when you told him you were going run against him?
MCCASKILL: No, but I saw him at...
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that what you‘re supposed to do, call the guy and say, “I‘ve got to tell you this”?
MCCASKILL: I saw him at a parade a few days later. I saw him at a parade. And he said, “I‘m not surprised.”
And I said, “Well, it will be a good fight.”
MATTHEWS: Were you able to still talk to the end? Were you able to have a decent, civil conversation between the two of you?
MCCASKILL: When we saw each other at the debates, we talked about our kids. We...
MATTHEWS: That‘s great.
MATTHEWS: So you never got to the—you never started showing your teeth at each other?
MCCASKILL: No, we did not.
MCCASKILL: No. We never did that.
MATTHEWS: You didn‘t start hurting your opponent?
MCCASKILL: I never growled in front of him.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever avert your glance when you were in agreement with him somewhere?
MCCASKILL: No, I didn‘t avert my glance. But you know, I will admit to growling when I was not around him. They had a tough, very personal. You know, the Republicans really did try a lot of personal stuff this time in many states.
MATTHEWS: Is the ceiling broken on women in the Senate? Is it broken yet?
MCCASKILL: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s broken in the House. I‘m not sure, is it broken in the House yet? In other words, a woman and a male, just per se, know nothing else about the candidates, does a woman have as good a chance as a male to win these big jobs?
MCCASKILL: Oh, I think as a candidate, as long as women are willing to do the most distasteful, disgusting part of this work, which is raise money. If a woman is willing to get on the phone and try to raise—you know, I used to say, you know, I was raised it was impolite to talk about money. And I would call complete strangers and ask them for checks. It was ridiculous.
MATTHEWS: Hi, this is Claire McCaskill. Can you send me $2,000, one for your husband, one for your wife?
MCCASKILL: Exactly. And it‘s ridiculous. I mean, it is so...
MATTHEWS: Did you ever get to the point where you were sitting in one of those kissing booths and you‘ve been doing it all day, where you just said, “I”—you told your staff, “I cannot do one more of these”? Or did you always say to yourself, ‘This is about the big job. This is what it takes”?
MCCASKILL: Well, you know, I was focused on what I needed to do. I was running against an incumbent Republican that had unlimited resources. I knew that to win I had to be able to compete financially. So I forced myself to make the calls and to make the asks. But when I tell you that our democracy is in peril over fundraising, I‘m sincere.
MCCASKILL: It really is.
MATTHEWS: OK, people said to you, where are you on life? And you had to give the answer, “Well, I‘m for choice.”
MATTHEWS: What did that feel like?
MATTHEWS: With the contributors you were calling up? What about when you said, “Where you stand on the Middle East?”
They said, “Well, I like an even-handed approach.”
“I don‘t want an even-handed approach.”
What kind of conversations? Did you ever get to the point where you just said, “OK, I‘m skating here. I‘m skating. I‘m saying what this person wants to hear, but I‘m a little different than that”?
MCCASKILL: Well, that‘s the problem with it, is that...
MATTHEWS: You have to skate with them, don‘t you?
MCCASKILL: ... is that it‘s seductive—they—no, you really don‘t. Particularly...
MATTHEWS: Did you ever tell them, “I don‘t want your money if you want me to do that”? Did you ever say...?
MCCASKILL: I certainly was honest about my positions. I had been—with Missouri donors, they‘re kind of...
MATTHEWS: You never said, “Take your dirty money; I don‘t want it”?
MCCASKILL: I never said, “Take your dirty money; I don‘t want it.”
But I certainly was honest about my positions. And many people didn‘t give me money. And that‘s OK.
You know, I used to say to the staff, we don‘t have to get every vote. I‘d rather get to the Senate with something I believe in, in tact, than—than say, try to please everybody. That‘s part of the problem out here. Everybody ends up talking and saying nothing.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re going to meet some new friends. You‘re going to meet new friends. They will arrive in your world. And all of a sudden, when you‘re checking your Rolodex for the next Christmas, you‘ll have new names on it.
You must check yourself and say, “Why is this person a new friend of mine?”
MATTHEWS: I never knew them before.
Let‘s talk about armed services, your new assignment.
MATTHEWS: What are you going be able to do in armed services? Are you going be able to change the direction of this war in Iraq?
MCCASKILL: I‘m not naive about what I‘ll be able to do as one senator, but I am very serious about asking some questions, particularly in the area of war profiteering, no-bid contracts, cost plus contracts.
MATTHEWS: The Truman—the Truman Committee.
MATTHEWS: You‘re going back to the Truman Committee, back in ‘42, right?
MCCASKILL: By the way, this is his seat.
MCCASKILL: Forty—in the mid-‘40s he went after it. And he was—you know, and was a Democratic president.
MATTHEWS: So that took Harry Truman right to the vice president‘s job, and then when Roosevelt passed away, he got to be president.
MCCASKILL: That‘s exactly right.
MATTHEWS: Are you that ambitious?
MCCASKILL: No. I am not.
MATTHEWS: Come on. First woman vice president?
MCCASKILL: I am not that ambitious.
MATTHEWS: If Hillary doesn‘t get it. But she won‘t have two women on the ticket, right? Probably not.
MCCASKILL: What I want to do is ask some tough questions about how we‘re spending money over there. How in the world do we spend $350 billion and our guys not have the right armor?
MATTHEWS: Should the United States remain in force in Iraq past this presidency?
MATTHEWS: Remain in force, 140,000 troops over there, after this president‘s gone, our president‘s gone? Is this a commitment that the United States has made or George Bush has made to that county?
MCCASKILL: I think that George Bush has made this commitment, as the commander in chief. And I think we have to continue to financially support the men and women that are on the ground.
But if he hasn‘t figured out from this election—clearly he‘s gotten some message, because he fired Rumsfeld, which we were all saying he should. Many of us running have called this a civil war for months. Many of us have called for a phased withdrawal for months.
And one of the main things we talked about, Chris, is that they should be talking to the other countries in the Middle East. Our moderate Arab...
MATTHEWS: What do you think can we do to get Ahmadinejad to help us, from Iran? He wants to gobble up all of Iraq himself, doesn‘t he?
MCCASKILL: Let‘s talk to him. You know, I don‘t know what we can do.
MATTHEWS: What can we put on the table?
MCCASKILL: Well, certainly, there‘s a lot of things we can put on the table.
MATTHEWS: You know what they want on the table?
MATTHEWS: The Mideast.
MCCASKILL: They want the Mideast on the table.
MATTHEWS: They want the road to Baghdad to be through Jerusalem. They want us to soften up Israel so that they can get a better—they‘ll give us a better deal on Baghdad, which is the opposite of the thinking that went into this war, I think, for some people.
MCCASKILL: Well, I think talking to them may not solve the problem.
But not talking to them is certainly not going to solve the problem.
MATTHEWS: Why does Syria refuse to deal with us? Why is Syria the old man and now the kid-basher—has refused, I mean, Israel‘s offered them, under the Sharon government offered them basically the Golan back. They can argue about that farm up there, but the deal‘s been there for a long time, to get a big chunk of their country back. Why haven‘t they taken it?
MCCASKILL: That‘s a really good question. And I think that we need to be talking to them and figuring that out.
MATTHEWS: I other words, we‘ve offered them—the Israelis, I shouldn‘t say we—the Israelis have offered them a pretty sweet, and they‘ve said no to it. How do you sweeten the deal, besides giving them back the Golan? What are you going to give them next?
MCCASKILL: Well, the United States needs to weigh in. You know, we need to weigh in with Syria. We need to say, listen, the way to do this is not by going through Lebanon with Hezbollah. That‘s not the way to do this. The way to do this is for us to look at the Middle East and try to figure out a way that everyone can live together, and that‘s...
MATTHEWS: They don‘t want to live together.
MCCASKILL: That‘s part of the problem, and we can‘t...
MATTHEWS: It‘s winner take all over there, haven‘t you noticed?
MCCASKILL: ... we can‘t force it...
MATTHEWS: Haven‘t you noticed? The Shia don‘t want to have dinner with the Sunnis? They want the eat them for dinner.
MCCASKILL: Well, some of the Shia and some of the Sunnis are talking to each other and are protecting each other. And we need to realize that there are people over there that want peace.
MATTHEWS: You‘re on Armed Services, right?
Where are you on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”?
MCCASKILL: That‘s a good question.
MATTHEWS: Keep it or change it?
MCCASKILL: I don‘t see any reason to change it as this point.
MATTHEWS: Keep it so if you don‘t about your orientation, you should be allowed to serve?
MATTHEWS: So it‘s all about keeping your identity secret?
MCCASKILL: I don‘t think it‘s your identity. I think it is something...
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you something...
MCCASKILL: ... I think it‘s something that has worked, I think—certainly somebody has fought and have taken some pretty principled stands in this area at some political peril. But I do believe within the military there is no reason at this point to change that policy.
But I‘m open to talking about it. And I‘m going be on the Armed Services Committee. And I‘m anxious to talk about it.
MATTHEWS: You came here to make the news.
Thank you so much.
MCCASKILL: I‘m very happy to.
MATTHEWS: Claire McCaskill, we covered your campaign. It was an exciting campaign. I thought there were two good candidates in that race. Congratulations on winning.
MCCASKILL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up, “Time Magazine‘s” Jay Carney and the “Washington Times‘” Tony Blankley are going to be here.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Here to digest the latest political news is Jay Carney of “Time Magazine” and Tony Blankley of the “Washington Times”.
Jay, were you at the game yesterday? Did you see the Redskins?
JAY CARNEY, TIME MAGAZINE: You know, I missed the game...
MATTHEWS: Bad times, but it‘s good to see them win with their new quarterback.
Tony Blankley, it seems to me we have a problem that often affects journalists, which is what‘s the style book going to say. Now what‘s your style book at the “Washington Times” say? Does it say this is—we‘re in a civil war in Iraq or we‘re not?
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: To be honest, we‘re not calling it a civil war because we don‘t think it is yet. I don‘t think this is a style book question. I think this really is a policy question.
And the truth is that all this going back and forth—is it an insurgency, is it a civil war—doesn‘t get to the big question that, if it‘s a civil, then the strategy we‘re following for an insurgency, building up the central government‘s military is exactly wrong. What you need—because the other half of the civil war will never trust the government. You want to strengthen the central government if it‘s an insurgency, you want to weaken and have the two sides negotiate if it‘s a civil war.
So all the people who are calling it a civil war, if they think it through, they‘re going to realize that, unless they want to just get out, if they want to fix it, then you‘ve got a big, long term presence, either by us or others.
MATTHEWS: So the man the president‘s meeting with this week in Jordan
Amman, Jordan, Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, is in fact head of a faction, as you see it? He‘s head of the Shia, he‘s one of the belligerents in this civil war?
If that‘s the case.
BLANKLEY: Yes, if it‘s a civil war. I‘m not convinced it is yet, because the leaders of all—both the Kurds, the Shias and the Sunnis all are trying to make something work, and the country is not yet, I don‘t think, divided in the way that a true civil war—it could turn to that, and maybe it‘s getting close.
MATTHEWS: Jay, you had on your cover this week that just came out, right, Moqtada al-Sadr?
CARNEY: No, that was the other branch...
MATTHEWS: But he‘s being so villianized now. There‘s a man who looks kind of ferocious, Moqtada al-Sadr. He‘s the leader of the most dangerous militia over there, but he is the lynch pin to the government we‘re supporting. Somebody reported this week that—in a couple of days‘ difference, we were defending his army against attack and then we were defending the people he was attacking.
CARNEY: Well, here‘s the big problem, is that, when you when talk about civil ware versus insurgency, we have one on top of the other. There is an insurgency against U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government.
MATTHEWS: Led by whom?
CARNEY: Led by various factions. There‘s no single insurgency leader, but there are people who are fighting the governmental powers, both the United States power and the Iraqi government power.
And then there is a civil war, a sectarian civil war, going on concurrently.
MATTHEWS: What‘s causing the most bloodshed? Which of these two pieces?
CARNEY: I think that, at least what we‘ve been told, or what seem to be the case, is now the civil war, the sectarian violence, is now overtaking the insurgency in terms of...
MATTHEWS: So as the Shia are shooting and trying to kill the Sunnis, picking off civilians—I said earlier, that it‘s the toughest, most heavily armed people going after the weakest people in the other community and killing them. And it‘s back and forth.
But in the meantime—but we‘re getting killed in that crossfire?
CARNEY: Well, but there is an insurgency happening at the same time in which we are the targets...
MATTHEWS: The IEDs.
CARNEY: The IEDs. And the Iraqi military are the targets. And the sectarian violence serves to undermine the government itself, so the sectarian violence becomes part of the insurgency.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about the fight here at home. We have some last remnants of the legislative uncounted (ph) this year. We‘ve got John Bolton up for formal confirmation as United States ambassador to the United Nations. Is he going to be confirmed or rejected by the Senate?
BLANKLEY: Well, Senator Biden has said, forgot about it. I assume that in the Senate, in the one week they‘re going to have to work on things, any senator determined can probably block it. So my guess is Bolton‘s future does not look bright in the U.N.
MATTHEWS: What will the president do about that? Just take it? Take another loss?
BLANKLEY: I don‘t know that he‘s got a lot of choice. I mean, there‘s some talk of making him a deputy assistant—there‘s some arcane other method...
MATTHEWS: ... you give him the deputy job, but you make him in effect the representative.
BLANKLEY: Yes, and they might do that. I mean, Bolton certainly has, I think, confounded his critics from a year ago. He‘s done a job—even now almost former Senator DeWine said, you know, after complaining about him, that he now liked him. So I don‘t think it‘s his performance. Now it‘s now down to...
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s going way across the political spectrum al the way to Mike DeWine.
BLANKLEY: Well, here‘s the problem...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think the people on the other side like him much.
CARNEY: Well, he hasn‘t gotten into a fist fight with Kofi Annan, and he has not done the things that the critics, you know, the hysterical critics said that he would, Bolton would do. But it is—by fighting so hard to reappoint somebody that the Senate and now the majority in the Senate doesn‘t want—the president seems to be picking an unnecessary fight, especially at a time of relative weakness. He might do it, but I would be surprised.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you worry, Tony, that the people who really believed in this war and democratization and all the things Pat Buchanan was on our air don‘t believe in and the fact that we can go overseas and advance democracy as a strategic move, people like Kristol, Bill Kristol, people like Wolfowitz and all—all these fellows that had this deep intellectual commitment to this cause have sort of faded from the public debate right now. Are they going to give up and wait their time, or what?
BLANKLEY: They haven‘t. Billy Kristol did a powerful editorial this weekend in “The Weekly Standard.” I mean, he certainly has not walked away from it. Some have. Adelman apparently have made some statements, at least internally, that he is critical.
BLANKLEY: But, some of them have walked away. Some are standing and fighting.
CARNEY: Well, Paul Wolfowitz has been most conspicuously absent from the debate, you know, arguing that he can‘t talk about it...
MATTHEWS: And Perle is out there sort of—out there sort of vaguely critical.
CARNEY: Well, they are, but the problem I have with these people who are intellectually honest about what their goals were, and they had a worldview...
MATTHEWS: ... clear in their purpose here.
CARNEY: But they are saying, well, if they had just done it my way, and I think there‘s not a lot of intellectual honesty...
MATTHEWS: Oh, I know. Every ideologue I‘ve ever known left and right in this city for 30 years, ideologues always say, well, if they‘d really wanted to do it, you would have done this.
We‘ll be right back with Jay Carney and Tony Blankley. Ideologues never admit they are wrong.
And tomorrow on HARDBALL, former President Jimmy Carter, who brokered peace between Israel and Egypt. What will he do about Iraq? We will ask him. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We are back with “Time” magazine‘s Jay Carney and “The Washington Times” Tony Blankley. I am always paying tribute to the late Art Carney.
Let me ask you about this race. It seems like we came out of the chute. We finished ‘06, and within a matter of hours, it seemed, the field had narrowed so dramatically on both sides.
I am looking at the Democratic side. It‘s Hillary, of course, the frontrunner. Now Obama is showing up as number two in all the polls. And then behind him, right behind him, not far, is John Edwards. Is that really what is going on here, Tony, that quick? And on the other side, just to move along here, McCain, Giuliani and Romney.
BLANKLEY: I mean, I am not convinced yet. I mean, I think the events are going to be so dramatic over the next couple of years, not necessarily domestic, that I—take McCain and his position on Iraq. You know, how does that sustain if Iraq goes badly wrong? Is he simply going to be running an “I told you so” campaign? Is he going to stick with that against the trend? So while he is strong now, who knows.
I think it is still very early. Obama is a fascinating fellow. But he is very green. He hasn‘t got anything except a few weeks of good press clippings. How he‘s going to...
MATTHEWS: Have you guys had him in yet?
BLANKLEY: Have not invited him yet, but he is always welcome. How he fleshes out over the next year when he starts getting challenged, the hard questions, when he can‘t just give inspiring speeches, we will find out.
So I think it is very soon—very early yet.
On the Republican side, you have got Brownback out there...
MATTHEWS: You think he has a glass jaw?
BLANKLEY: I have no idea. He may have a rock jaw. I don‘t know.
All I‘m saying is, he has not been tested yet.
CARNEY: I totally disagree with you. Everybody gets the attention, you know, these things have a way of sorting themselves out.
MATTHEWS: You think the field is wider than I said it was?
CARNEY: I think it is wider, and I think that it is possible that some of the people you mentioned won‘t run. It‘s possible Senator Obama won‘t run. It‘s possible.
CARNEY: It remains possible, although highly unlikely, that Hillary won‘t run. You know, you mentioned Romney, which I think is smart, because I personally think—and maybe I will be eating these words and talking about how wrong I was—but I don‘t think Giuliani is nearly as viable as his poll numbers suggest. I think Tony and I argued about this in the past, but I think Giuliani is unpalatable to such a large segment of the Republican Party that he would not qualify in my book as a top tier contender right now.
MATTHEWS: What about Romney? (inaudible).
CARNEY: I think he is. I think Romney is a top tier contender, because I think the...
MATTHEWS: Will he appeal to the Republican gut?
CARNEY: I think he seems like a more legitimate conservative to a lot of conservative Republicans than McCain does, and certainly Giuliani does. And I think Sam Brownback is certainly a possible candidate.
MATTHEWS: Let me talk about somebody—I talked to Howard Wolfson, by the way, he is a big person with Hillary Clinton, and I talked about that conversation I had last week with “Newsweek‘s” Jon Alter on this program about Alter‘s report in “Newsweek” that someone identified as a Clinton backer had referred to Senator Barack Obama—I love this quote—as a grand marnier souffle still rising in the oven that was not quite finished. Howard had said that no one had been authorized by the Clinton camp to criticize any other candidate, including Obama, and that would certainly tend to and probably does shoot down the possible—the mystery, in this case, Obama basher is Chris LeHane or any other well-known Democratic figure. Does that surprise you that they would shoot that down when I would speculate that one campaign might be trying to knock another?
CARNEY: No, that does not surprise me that they would shoot it down.
MATTHEWS: No, I take him at his word. He said it didn‘t happen.
They had not authorized LeHane...
CARNEY: Well, I‘m sure they‘re not.
MATTHEWS: LeHane is not even in their campaign.
CARNEY: I‘m sure they have not authorized him.
MATTHEWS: I apologize. I should not have brought his name up, but—well, I did it, so.
CARNEY: Well, there are a lot of Clinton backers who would say that, because they feel it. And they might not necessarily—even if they work on the campaign, they may be talking, you know, without authorization.
And if you look at it, it is a self-evidence statement. Barack Obama is not tested. We don‘t know if he has a glass jaw or a rock jaw.
MATTHEWS: But does Hillary have to knock him down? Does she have to fear him overtaking her? Or can she just take him on, fair and square, you know, month by month, and just wear him down where she can beat him?
CARNEY: I think there is a long time to go before she has to start knocking him down.
MATTHEWS: He is a better speaker—I mean, he is a better speaker than her right now.
CARNEY: He is one of the best, and she is mediocre, I‘d say.
BLANKLEY: There‘s something about the Republicans having lost the Congress that changes a little bit both dynamics, I think, particularly the Republican dynamic. The Republicans are going to want to win now, even more ferociously than before.
MATTHEWS: Are they willing to run a guy they don‘t normally like to beat Hillary? That‘s the question of the year.
BLANKLEY: That‘s the question. Can Giuliani who obviously, with his New York lifestyles and values, is going to be anathema...
MATTHEWS: OK, what does that mean, New York values and lifestyles?
What does that mean?
BLANKLEY: He is in favor of gun control, he is in favor of abortion, he is in favor of gay rights. And that is not going to play well in a lot of conservative precincts. However...
MATTHEWS: Yeah, but he‘s still on top on security and fighting the enemy.
MATTHEWS: People might say, this is our year.
BLANKLEY: That is the however part. However, he is a national hero, and in a dangerous world and a man who might be able to win.
MATTHEWS: You know, you speak the truth. Not with a forked tongue, but the truth. Tony Blankley, Jay Carney. Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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