Guests: Richard Wolffe, Russ Feingold, Thomas Ricks, Brian Jones
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Iraq Study Group report. Apparently, it‘s all things to all people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER, CO-CHAIRMAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But Americans remaining in Iraq, that remains viable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not all of us around the table agree with every idea, but we do agree that it shows that bipartisan consensus on important issues is possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the Democrats can keep the part about the failed Bush policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration, the war in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the White House can keep alive the notion that it‘s all the media‘s fault.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You‘re suggesting that by quoting the report, I‘m trying to make a partisan argument?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The analysis, politically from Richard Wolffe, militarily from Thomas Ricks, and, within the big picture of how we should be using our resources against terror, from Senator Russ Feingold.
The desperate search in the Oregon wilderness. It is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body of James Kim was located down in the Big Windy Creek.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And it‘s official, Jean Shepherd‘s “A Christmas Story” is now a holiday icon. There‘s now advertising based on it, and a museum in the house where much of it was filmed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So where‘s your Red Ryder target?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don‘t have one. We really don‘t want anybody to shoot their eye out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The man who bought that house from his favorite movie joins us to answer the question, Flick, flick who?
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
The title of another recent book that nearly made it to the presses could get a second chance at life, if they need a name for a sequel to the Iraq Study Group report, released as a 160-page book this morning. Why not “If I Did It: The George W. Bush Response.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the recommendations offered by the Baker-Hamilton commission utterly pointless unless the president deigns to carry them out, the cover art of the panel‘s conclusions looking remarkably like the 9/11 Commission report, the obvious concern, that Mr. Bush could dismiss today‘s assessment in the same way he did that counterterror report, the Baker-Hamilton group arriving at the White House early this morning to present its findings directly to the president, a complete repudiation of Mr. Bush‘s recent claim that the U.S. is indeed winning in Iraq, the very first sentence of the report reading, “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” the United States‘ ability “to influence events within Iraq is diminishing,” barring significant and timely changes, the panel warning of a “slide toward chaos.”
In all, some 79 recommendations, among them that military priorities must change, including to “significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel embedded in and supporting Iraqi army units,” the hope, that soldiers could be drawn from battalions already stationed in Iraq, one recommendation shot down at the White House by lunchtime, to “immediately launch a diplomatic offensive” that would include “all of Iraq‘s neighbors,” meaning, of course, Syria and Iran, at a news conference that followed their meeting with the president, co-chairs Hamilton and Baker stressing the importance of that diplomatic approach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Iran probably today is the national power that has the single greatest influence inside Iraq today. We will be criticized, I‘m sure, for talking with our adversaries, but I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them.
BAKER: For 40 years, we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends.
DOYLE MCMANUS, “THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”: All of you have considerable experience at helping presidents change course when they find themselves in a blind alley. What do you intend to do from now on to help President Bush embrace the wisdom of all of your recommendations?
BAKER: I figure it‘d be appropriate for President Clinton‘s former chief of staff to answer that question.
LEON PANETTA, MEMBER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: I would suggest to the president and to the American people that if you look at the realities of what‘s taking place there, the fact that violence is out of control, the fact that Iraqis ultimately have to control their future, they have to take care of security, they‘ve got to deal with the region in that area, that ultimately, you can find consensus here.
This country cannot be at war and be as divided as we are today.
We‘ve got to unify this country.
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON ®, WISCONSIN: Leon and I used to work together. He was at the White House, I was chair, I was assistant leader. We‘d meet together, have lunch, say, I‘ve got a bill here. What are you going to do with it when it gets there? Well, we‘re not going to keep this piece in there. That‘s history. We‘ll take that, we‘ll take that, and then we‘ll approve it. We worked that way.
JIM AXELROD, CBS NEWS: Of all the distinguished men and women in front of us today, you have the closest relationship with the Bush family. When you recommend something like engaging Iran, which the president has been very clear will only happen after they verifiably suspend, it seems to set up the need for the president to pull a 180. Does he have the capacity to do that, in your opinion, sir?
BAKER: You know, I worked with four presidents, and I used to get questions all the time, Tell me about this president versus that president or the other president. And I never put presidents I work for on the couch. So I‘m not going to answer that, because that would mean I‘d have to psychologically analyze the inner workings of his mind, and I don‘t do that.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: At an afternoon meeting with members of Congress, the president all but viewing the report as an a la carte menu, and possibly not quite understanding what the word “bipartisan” actually means.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Iraq Study Group, put out a—what I thought was a very interesting report. And there‘s some very good ideas in there. Not all of us around the table agree with every idea, but we do agree that it shows that bipartisan consensus on important issues is possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The president‘s interpretation completely at odds with the executive summary of the Iraq Study Group report, the panel saying of its own conclusions, “They are comprehensive and need to be implemented in a coordinated fashion. They should not be separated or carried out in isolation,” co-chairs Baker and Hamilton also saying at their news conference that a stay-the-course option is no longer viable, adding that the current approach is not working, the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, chafing at that portion of their remarks, taking it out on our chief White House correspondent, David Gregory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do. And so you may try to do whatever you want in terms of rejection. That‘s not the way they view it.
GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Are you suggesting that I‘m trying to frame this in a partisan way?
GREGORY: You are. Why—based on the fact that—
SNOW: Because what you‘re—
GREGORY: Wait a minute, wait, wait a second. Based on quoting the report and the chairman, and I‘m asking you a straight question, which you‘re not answering straight, you‘re actually—
SNOW: No, no, no, I am—I am (INAUDIBLE)--
GREGORY: You‘re trying to answer it by—
SNOW: No, your (INAUDIBLE)--
GREGORY: ... nitpicking it.
GREGORY: You‘re suggesting that by quoting the report, I‘m trying to make a partisan argument?
SNOW: Let me put it this way. Where in the report do—what you have said is, Can you read this as anything other than a repudiation of policy? And the answer is, I can. When you suggested that the stay the course was a repudiation of policy, not true. It‘s not administration policy.
GREGORY: You‘re suggesting that the representations of this report are in synch with the way the president has described the reality in Iraq and his policy toward Iraq? Is that what you‘re saying?
SNOW: (INAUDIBLE) then go, go through, rather than—because you‘ll accuse me of nitpicking, read it. I mean, I‘m serious, this is not—I‘m not trying to be snide. If you go through and you take a look at the metrics at the beginning, we‘ve acknowledged that you‘ve got a deteriorating situation in Baghdad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Everybody agrees.
Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What we saw at the White House early this morning, certainly it was remarkable, if not unprecedented, a president, this president, praising the work of a group that had just concluded his policies had led to chaos. But is that going to be it for him on this, just the photo-op, and then the report gets put in a drawer somewhere?
WOLFFE: Keith, you‘re looking at it in all the wrong way. This is actually a perfect validation of everything the president has stood for. Depending on, when, of course, you tune in to what the president has said.
Just before the election, he said, of course, he, in his own candid view, Iraq wasn‘t going so well. Admittedly, at the time, he spoke as if he was chewing on a lemon. But, you know, the White House has said many different things about Iraq at many different points. And they‘re treating this current report as a grab bag, a piece that they can take here or there, follow up on if they‘re already considering doing so.
Now, in public, the White House is saying they‘re taking this very seriously, and “serious” was a word the president used several times today. But in private, they are going to put this on the shelf, and it‘s going to gather a lot of dust.
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, Mr. Rumsfeld is also able to say, I told you so, because he expressed all these opinions in his leaked memo.
On the other side of it, the Democrats spoke of this today as a political victory for them, at least a defeat for the president. But is that it for them? Is anybody going to try to do anything with the report from either side of the aisle?
WOLFFE: I was just talking to a senior adviser, former senior adviser to the White House, who really said that he thought the Democrats had let the White House off the hook pretty significantly here. This report, the study today, this week looked like it could have been a complete disaster for the White House, because of partisan attacks possibly on Gates, because of the reaction to this report. Because they didn‘t really know what was in the report until it came out.
But they escaped the hard stuff about timetables, about troop withdrawals from the report. And Democrats, yes, they could seize on bits of it, but a lot of it wasn‘t really very offensive to the White House at all in the report. So I think they‘ve actually come out pretty well out of all of this.
OLBERMANN: If there is one whole, perhaps, despite the panel‘s specific warning that these are a set of recommendations, implement them as a whole, otherwise it is just an a la carte menu, and may, you may not meet your nutritional needs here, by lunchtime, the White House had already dismissed the idea of talks with Iran, unless Iran were to comply in the White House‘s insistences about uranium rich—enrichment. How likely is it that the White House didn‘t know that port of—part of the port—report was coming, or hadn‘t read it?
WOLFFE: Oh, they knew what that was all about. I mean, there is a still a slight chink in the wool when it comes to Iran and Syria. That‘s to say, if Iraq arranges its own regional conference, and does its own diplomacy, and maybe invites America in on the sidelines, or as a participant, then maybe there could be some kind of multilateral discussion.
It‘s not what Baker is talking about, of course, as you heard in the clip. He said, Look, America negotiated with the Soviet Union for all this time. The president has got this very strong gut feeling that Iran and Syria should not be let off the hook, in the words of the White House, that it would send the wrong message to try and talk to them. And they‘re pretty strong about this. I just don‘t see any shift in the last couple of weeks, before or after this report that they‘re willing to embrace this part of Baker‘s plan.
OLBERMANN: Is there any expectation, any possibility that the secretary of defense designate, I guess, is the technical term now, because the Senate has approved him 95-2 this afternoon, that Mr. Gates, Dr. Gates, Secretary Gates, all three of them, are going to use this as some sort of road map? He was a member of this panel, and he was insistent on his own course yesterday at his confirmation hearings. Is he the guy for whom this thing was been written?
WOLFFE: Well, the problem here is that by the time Gates really takes up his office, the White House will already have their own version of the new way forward. They‘re going to have their own policy proposals, their own new strategy, and their own repositions of forces, the decisions, anyway, not the implementation, of course, but the decisions for what American forces in Iraq should look like. So I think it‘s going to be fairly a done deal by the time he comes in.
OLBERMANN: Much ado about nothing. Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent of “Newsweek” and political analyst for us. As always, great thanks for being with us.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The report suggests what to do in Iraq. What does it tell us to do about how the country fits into the broader war against terror? Not a lot, according to Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. He will join us next.
Then Thomas Ricks on the implications on the ground.
And the vice president is about to become a grandfather for the sixth time, his daughter Mary having a baby with her partner, Heather Poe (ph). You have to wonder if that‘s in the Christmas card for the conservative base.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: One Iraqi official told the Iraq Study Group, quote, “Al Qaeda is now a franchise in Iraq like McDonald‘s.” It was far from the only blunt assessment in that report, and the panel addressed the serious possibility of a complete collapse of the Iraqi government, regional conflagration, and a further spread of terrorism.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, were those 79 recommendations comprehensive, or did they merely provide political cover? And will the panel‘s findings advance the debate without advancing a solution to the quagmire in Iraq?
Joining us now, Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.
Senator, thanks for your time tonight.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): You bet, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The whole argument for this war was as a function of American counterterrorism efforts. Let me read one excerpt about that directly from the report.
“A chaotic Iraq could still provide”—or “provide a still stronger base of operations for terrorists who seek to act regionally or even globally. Al Qaeda will portray any failure by the United States in Iraq as a significant victory that will be featured prominently as they recruit for their cause in the region and around the world.”
But hadn‘t all that already happened? And do you think the panel missed how much the war in Iraq has been a drain on the global fight against terror?
FEINGOLD: Oh, they sure did, Keith. I mean, I feel like I‘ve been watching the preview of a—or premiere of a blockbuster movie in Washington. But the fact is, this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and who did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism.
So that‘s who‘s doing this report. And then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There‘s virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place, virtually no one who‘s been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism.
So this is really a Washington inside job, and it shows not in the description of what‘s happened, that‘s fairly accurate, but it shows in the recommendations. It‘s been called a classic Washington compromise that does not do the job of extricating us from Iraq in a way that we can deal with the issues in Southeast Asia, in Afghanistan, and in Somalia, which are every bit as important as what is happening in Iraq.
So this report does not do the job, and it‘s because it was not composed of a real representative group of Americans, who believe what the American people showed in the election, which is that it is time for us to have a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq.
OLBERMANN: So bottom line, would you agree with this? The country‘s focus, the government‘s focus should be on getting us out as quickly as possible? And is there anything in the report that hastens that?
FEINGOLD: Well, there‘s some good recommendations, absolutely, making sure that we have more translators, making sure that we actually budget properly for this war, talking to countries that aren‘t necessarily friendly to us. Those are all good recommendations.
But the problem is, the bottom line here is, what are we going to so we can allocate our resources around the world to the battle against terrorism? This report keeps us in Iraq. This report keeps our resources there. One of the things I really noticed is they said we should put our very best people embedded in the Iraqi army. Well, that‘s nice, but that means they won‘t be in Afghanistan. And we are losing ground to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which, as I remember, is where the attacks came from on 9/11.
So this thing fundamentally continues the ultimate mistake in Washington of looking at the world through the prism of Iraq, instead of looking at the threat from al Qaeda as a global problem.
OLBERMANN: The incoming majority leader of your caucus in the Senate, Harry Reid, has called on President Bush to adopt the panel‘s recommendations regardless of your points or anybody else‘s. Do you make the same call? Is this better than nothing at this point?
FEINGOLD: Well, many of the recommendations are positive, and they should be adopted, absolutely. But the main point, which is, how are we going to get our troops out of Iraq, and not continue to have them in a situation that doesn‘t make sense, that isn‘t seriously dealt with.
We lost 10 more troops in Iraq just today, Keith. How many more days are we going to put up with in this country of people dying in a situation that this report indicates isn‘t working? When you make a mistake, you should stop making the mistake. And this report misses the point.
OLBERMANN: So what are the prospects, then, for resolving this situation in Iraq? What—if this has failed, and obviously something internally from the White House, which is next on the series of—to use your analogies, movie premieres, blockbusters in Washington, is—that‘s next, where is the avenue of exit?
FEINGOLD: The answer is to there a time frame clearly communicated to the Iraqi government. I had originally proposed 15 months ago that it be done by now. Let‘s say we do it by the middle of next summer, that we‘re going to be bringing our troops out, redeploying them, as Congressman Murtha has said. We‘re going to keep certain troops there for purposes of special ops, to go after terrorists. But we‘re not going to continue to have 140,000 troops trying to stop a civil war.
That is a simple solution. It is a legitimate solution. And it is the only way to prevent the grotesque losses that are occurring with regard to American troops, our military readiness, and most importantly, the damage to the national security of the American people, which is being hurt every day when we focus excessively on Iraq and not on the world threat that we face from al Qaeda and its affiliates. That‘s the bottom line.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, sir, a political question. Does this report provide the necessary political coverage to allow other members of your party, maybe some members of the Republican Party, to try to accomplish the exit in the terms that you just expressed it in?
FEINGOLD: It, it—I don‘t know. It—maybe it‘s going to cause people on the Democratic side to be a little stronger on this issue. I worry it might give people an excuse to go back to where they were before, which is not really being able to step up to the plate and saying, Look, we need a real timetable to bring the troops out. And I send that message both to the Republicans and Democrats.
The American people spoke in the election. They want our troops out of Iraq. And you know what? They are right. That‘s the right thing to do. And Democrats and Republicans have to get serious about this right now.
OLBERMANN: Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. Great thanks for joining us tonight.
OLBERMANN: It took the Baker-Hamilton commission from March to December to release its report. Have the violent changes in Iraq already rendered the recommendations on the ground outdated? We‘ll ask the author of “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks.
And anyone looking to understand how war in the Baltics got started need only look at this. It is how Serbian fans show their appreciation for basketball before they play the game.
That‘s next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Fifty-one years ago today, deadpan comedian Steven Wright was born in New York City. His first words were, I spilled spot remover on my dog. Now he‘s gone.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
Wright‘s a big sports fan, Red Sox fan. We‘ll begin with Oddball Sports from Serbia, where Red Star Belgrade and Hauk Thessalonaki (ph) go head to head in another chapter of this storied rivalry. You can throw out the record books when these two meet.
Fans of these two teams just plain don‘t like each other and always show up for the games in colorful costumes, clever chance to talk (ph) the opposing crowd while rooting on the home team. Some apparently bring flares and set fire to the seats, those that have not yet been ripped out and thrown at the riot police.
Final score, Hauk wins 85-81, after the start of the game was delayed by 30 minutes. Yes, all what you‘re seeing happened before the game, and they played it anyway. And it‘s not even the playoffs yet.
Meanwhile, seen those Lexus commercials in which the car parallel-parks itself? That‘s not in the distant future, pal, they‘re on the market now, Toyotas too. And we‘re getting our first glimpse of them in action. Using cameras and sponsors and a little leprechaun in the trunk with a peephole, the car is able to put itself in any spot, and it only takes, like, 20 minutes. Sure, the guy waiting in the street behind you will be shouting, What will they think of next?
Finally, here is your answer, apparently, the latest technological breakthrough in the field of prophylactics. The spray-on condom, developed by a German company and demonstrated here. That‘s right, we‘re showing this to you on television. The product seems to be a perfect compromise for men who men be too bothered to take that new pill, as long as they don‘t mind carrying around a spray bottle and have a few minutes to put down a painter‘s tarp.
You just spray, and wait for it to dry, and then go. It‘s just that easy.
Tune in tomorrow night for part two of this story. How do you remove it? I knew we forgot something.
Now, if that is not a metaphor for Iraq. It has taken the Baker-Hamilton commission nine months to complete its report. But on the ground, is it already out of date?
And a real “A Christmas Story.” The whole Parker house, lamp and all, lovingly restored as a museum by one of the film‘s many fans. He will join us. Little Ralphie will not be here.
Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Sheila Kearns of Yakomo (ph), California, had a Christmas tree delivered to her home. (INAUDIBLE) complain about all those loose needles at the top she‘d been pricked by, when she realized those were not needles, that was a bat in the tree. The good news, there will be no extra charge.
Number two, unnamed border control officers near Stockholm in Sweden. They frequently copied the passports of some of those going through their checkpoint near a ferry terminal in Stockholm, only the passports of exceptionally beautiful women. To their credit, the book full of photos of those women recovered by police did not list their names nor their addresses, just the pictures and their dates of birth.
And number one, judges for the appeals court in Norway ruling favorably on one company‘s claim that it should be excused from a value-added tax because that which its patrons were paying to see was an art form. The company is the Diamond Go-Go-Bar in Oslo. The art form was striptease, its presenters, the company‘s lawyers argued, as much artists as, quote, “are comedians and sword swallowers.”
OLBERMANN: On this, the same day the Iraq Study Group released its report, 10 more Americans paid the ultimate price for President Bush‘s execution of the war. The collective price America‘s military is paying and how the Iraq Study Group may change it is our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.
If the Baker/Hamilton recommendations were followed to the letter, by this time next year, only about half of the 150,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq would remain there. Those remaining would concentrate on defending U.S. assets and personnel, as well as carrying out special ops missions against terrorist.
How long the U.S. supports Iraq militarily would be tied directly to how aggressively Iraq‘s government is willing to take on the militias responsible for the much of violence there. What does or would all that mean for America‘s troops?
Joining us now with his perspective is Thomas Ricks, military correspondent for the “Washington Post,” and, of course, author of the seminal book, “Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” Great thanks for your time again tonight, sir.
THOMAS RICKS, AUTHOR, “FIASCO”: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Is there a philosophical shift in all this, perhaps? Have we been military leads, politics follow, and is this report suggesting that needs to be switched to politics leads, military follows?
RICKS: That‘s a good question. I think the point they begin with is you have to begin with reality. The first half the report I think will be as significant as the recommendations. And the first half is simply an assessment of the situation in Iraq. And it is devastating to the Bush administration. It says Bush administration policies are not working, that it has not handled Iraq well, that it has been inept in certain ways it thinks about it, that it needs to be more candid with the American people.
It reviews the lack of diplomacy and the lack of coherence, the military strategy. It is quite a striking assessment.
OLBERMANN: What is the read of it going to be on the ground by anybody in Iraq, from the generals to the troops?
RICKS: I think the biggest concern in Iraq will be is it too late. Were these changes the type of changes that should have been made a couple of years ago, and is Iraq sliding too fast and too hard into a full blown civil war?
OLBERMANN: Senator Feingold said, just a few moments ago, to some degree, and I‘m paraphrasing him, that the report itself, the investigation was, essentially tilted to eliminate the option of get out and get out quickly. That it is thus a self-fulfilling prophesy. Would it be perceived that way, that one of the options, certainly the one that a lot of the troops would most like to see included, at least, among the selection, wasn‘t even in the game to begin with?
RICKS: Well, they list it in the game and they say this is why we dismiss an immediate withdrawal, because we think it is too dangerous for the region. In the same way they this is why we dismiss escalating the troop number, because you simply can‘t do it. There aren‘t enough troops to have much of an effect and sustain those numbers for very long. And so what they really say is look, we think this is the least bad of all the options and we think this is how you do it.
It is kind of vague. So you really can pull it in different directions and interpret it as you want. I think people who want to get out immediately are going to say this is a stay the course plan. I think people who want to charge on to victory, with a capital V, are going to say this is a disguised form of cutting and running.
OLBERMANN: Of the specifics that you have seen militarily, give me your overall assessment. The proposed scenario includes, we could call it Iraqification, more training, special ops. Can that be executed successfully, and would it succeed in any meaningful way, overall?
RICKS: It is a real reshaping of the American posture there. It says basically, get out of the combat business and cut your troop strength, perhaps, in half, down to around 70,000, and spend all your time and money trying to advise, train, equip and lead Iraqis, leading them by example in battle, with U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units.
Will it succeed? Obviously nobody know, but even the commission itself says, look it, we don‘t think these things are perfect. We know they are flawed. One thing the report doesn‘t say, that I‘ve heard concern of out of people in the military, is it would place a lot of these advisors in pretty risky positions. No longer would they have big U.S. combat units nearby. And while the U.S. military is supposed to be around to provide things like medical evacuation for casualties and various forms of logistical support, and be on tap to provide more fire power, when needed, they worry that the facts on the ground might be a little bit different with some Iraqi unit in the middle of nowhere.
OLBERMANN: Are the facts on the ground also nine months ahead of this report? Is this based on outdated information.
RICKS: Well, you know, one thing I‘ve learned in life is it is never too late to apologize to your wife. In the same way, yes, people might say in Iraq that this is too late, but what the commission was saying, look, it is worth trying to get this right, at least one more time before you give up on this. So let‘s try and let‘s give it one last best shot.
OLBERMANN: Thomas Ricks, military correspondent of the “Washington Post,” author of “Fiasco.” Once again, great thanks for joining us.
RICKS: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, from the hoped for resolution of a big picture disaster, to the sad resolution of a small picture one. Searchers in Oregon find the body of the C-Net editor James Kim.
And just because Rupert Murdoch changed his mind about publishing O.J. Simpson‘s confession, that has not stop other people from trying to sell copies of it of on e-Bay. Those stories ahead. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: When his wife and two young daughters were safely rescued in the Oregon wilderness late Monday, there was a glimmer of hope, and yet in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, as it evolved the heart rending saga of James Kim did not look like it was going to end happily and it did not.
Our correspondent at the search and rescue command center in Merlin, Oregon is Peter Alexander. Peter, good evening.
PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Keith. A helicopter spotted the body of 35-year-old James Kim at the base of the rugged and remote southern Oregon mountains, where he and his family had become stranded 11 days ago. When the news was delivered, it was crushing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN ANDERSON, JOHNSON COUNTY SHERIFF‘S OFFICE: At 12:03 hours today, the body of James Kim was located down in the Big Windy Crick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: Authorities say Kim likely trekked more than eight miles looking for help. He left his family on Saturday after they had been stranded in the car that got stuck in deep snow for a week. The authorities described his effort as superhuman, considering, among other things, that he had no food at the time. The San Francisco family had been returning home from a Thanksgiving trip. They were trying to cross through this mountainous area on their way to the Oregon coast, when they got stranded.
Just a few days ago, on Monday, his wife and two young children were spotted by a helicopter as they were waving an umbrella and they were saved. Ultimately it was his foot footprints that lead that helicopter to them. Those children will grow up knowing their father died trying to save their life.
They have also determined that there were items of clothes they found that belonged to Mr. Kim along that trail, items they believe were set there to try to help searchers find him. That is the latest from southern Oregon.
I‘m Peter Alexander. Keith, back to you.
OLBERMANN: Peter, great thanks.
No segue possible into our world of entertainment and gossip news. So we‘ll just start. And the truly sleazy do not simply ooze sleaze themselves, they encourage it in others. For at least the fifth time in the last three weeks a purported copy of the withdrawn book “If I Did It,” by O.J. Simpson has appeared for sale on e-Bay and then, just as quickly, disappeared. We got a screen grab of the latest auction, started last night, ended this morning, when e-Bay Orwelled it out of its history.
No idea if it was an actual copy of the book or just a scam with a picture of the cover art, but the seller in Texas offered it up for an asking price of 4,999.99 dollars, because, of course, no sane person would pay 5,000 for the thing. More interesting, take a lose look at the seller‘s description of the book, nonfiction.
Meanwhile, proof from an unlikely source that gay marriage does not undermine families, it creates them, Vice President Cheney‘s family. Cheney‘s daughter Mary is pregnant. The “Washington Post” reports that she and the woman she has called her wife, Heather Po (ph), are ecstatic about the upcoming arrival of the little Cheney. The vice president is already a grandfather five times over. A spokesman says he and his wife are looking forward with eager anticipation to the birth this Spring of the sixth, even though, because Ms. Cheney and Ms. Po live in Virginia, which bans same sex marriage, right now Ms. Po can have no legal relationship to the child she and Mary Cheney will raise.
And then there is another story of a dysfunctional family that doesn‘t follow its own rules. The Parkers of “A Christmas Story.” How the one-time box office bomb has become an advertising center and a museum.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to new customers patronizing a restaurant in Sheffield, in England. Made curious about it by recent news developments at another British eatery. This restaurant‘s name is Polonium, nice.
Our runners up tonight, Pete and Rose Marie Costello of Vancouver, Washington. For 20 years Rose Marie has soldiered on, relying on the state for tens of thousands of dollars in support so she could care for her developmentally disabled son Pete, who lost all communication skill at the age of eight, and then apparently regained it in time to go to traffic court to protest a speeding ticker he had been given. He and his mom have been indicted.
But tonight‘s winner, Bill-O, and this is genius. Do I care if the Sunnis and Shiites kill each other in Iraq, he asked rhetorically? No, I don‘t care. Maybe they‘ll all kill each other and then we can have a decent country in Iraq. OK Bill, apart from advocating turning Iraq into Cambodia circa 1976, if the Sunnis and Shiites all killed each other, your decent country of Iraq would be filled by about 780,000 people with 26 million dead. Bill O‘Reilly, advocate of mass murder, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Bitter sweet ironies, perhaps fittingly, are endless. Though it‘s now the subject of its own annual national 24-hour TV marathon, the movie “A Christmas Story” really kind of bombed at the box office when it came out in 1983. It‘s author, the late Gene Sheppard, is largely unknown to it‘s viewers, except as an unseen narrator, and in a cameo as a man in the line to see Santa. And then there are his probable reactions to the developments in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.
In the stories that became the movie, he wasn‘t waxing nostalgic for his childhood home, he was getting even with his father. And as to commercials, Shepperd, as radio host, consistently eviscerated advertisers he didn‘t personally like. Yet here is “A Christmas Story,” the cell phone ad, a new Cingular wireless pitch, which lovingly matches certain scenes shot for shot. The popularity of this 30-second spot on YouTube just one barometer of how far this film has slipped into the American psyche.
Another, what one fan, Brian Jones, has done about the movie and that house. He will join us in a moment from the house. First, the story of the house from our correspondent Bob Dotson, with flick.
BOB DOTSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We do not always travel roads of reason. Brian Jones has come to Cleveland for the first time in his life to find a home he bought sight unseen.
BRIAN JONES, BOUGHT “A CHRISTMAS STORY” HOME: There it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I triple dog dare you.
DOTSON: He figures it must be just around the corner from a flagpole.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One nautical mile from Sholewater.
DOTSON: Brian‘s wife Beverly, a Navy navigator, jokingly sent him an e-mail saying someone on e-Bay was auctioning off the house where they filmed “A Christmas Story,” Brian‘s favorite movie.
JONES: I was getting like a little kid, like oh, I‘m in the movie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘ll shoot your eye out, kid.
DOTSON: This house is Brian‘s red rider dream.
JONES: And I e-mailed her back it‘s mine.
DOTSON: For 150,000 dollars.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t know whether to laugh or cry and I seriously felt that way.
DOTSON: Beverly‘s home port is San Diego, a tough commute from Cleveland.
JONES: She wasn‘t there and I kind of felt I had to move quickly, so I really didn‘t have time to consult her.
DOTSON (on camera): You‘re a brave man.
JONES: Yes, I was just, you know, well, I‘m going to do this.
DOTSON (voice-over): Brian spend another 200,000 bucks restoring the old place to it‘s happy ending splendor.
JONES: I want to basically come in here and gut everything out.
DOTSON: Then searched antique stores to match the furniture in the movie.
JONES: It‘s perfect.
DOTSON: He bought another house across the street and opened a gift shop to help pay for it all. Here you can find Ralphie‘s secret decoder pin and his old man‘s major award. Brian started shipping leg lamps to customers before the store even opened. Beverly hoped it would just be a hobby.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said, aren‘t you going to get a job? And he said, what are you talking about? I said, a J.O.B., a job.
DOTSON: You see, Brian was out of work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That made me really, a little scared.
DOTSON (on camera): Like Ralphie, you wanted only one thing, to graduate Annapolis and become a fighter pilot, but like Ralphie, your eye sight wasn‘t perfect.
JONES: I failed the vision test when I got to flight school.
DOTSON (voice-over): Brian‘s new vision may be better. Last year leg lamp sales totalled nearly 700,000 dollars.
Now the leg lamp is back in the window just for where the old man wanted it. And for five bucks you can see how Brian has fixed up the place.
JONES: Here it is.
DOTSON: Ian Paderella (ph) dropped by to donate the funniest snow suit ever. He played Ralphie‘s little brother.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put your arms down when you get to school.
DOTSON (on camera): So where is your red ryder target?
JONES: We don‘t have one. We really don‘t want anybody to shoot their eye out.
DOTSON (voice-over): This is not the sort of Christmas story that comes from bells in high towers. Still, it rings true. A nearby Chinese restaurant even serves what passes as the family‘s Christmas turkey. Perhaps that‘s why the movie exerts such a bittersweet tug. It was filled with stories about us.
Bob Dotson, NBC News, in Cleveland, Ohio.
OLBERMANN: And joining us now the proud owner of 3159 West 11th Street in Cleveland, Ohio, substituting for Cleveland Street in the fictional home in Indiana, substituting for Gene Sheppard‘s childhood home at 2907 Cleveland Street in Hammond, Indiana, Brian Jones. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
JONES: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: So your wife was making a joke and then you turned out to be the owner of the 111-year-old house that just happens to be this pop cultural icon. How has this panned out for you?
JONES: It‘s panned out really well. In fact, she e-mailed like five days after the captain from her ship noticed the house for sale, didn‘t think anything of it, didn‘t think I would ever buy it. But we put a lot of work in to it, renovated it back to how it looked in the movie and people have come by and they have really enjoyed it.
OLBERMANN: What are they like, the people who come by? Are they mumbling lines from the movies? Are they talking about the promise of electric sex? Are they talking about the life boy, the taste of life boy? Who are these people that come to the place?
JONES: We get fans from all over. They come from, you know, all over the country to come see the house. And you just see this little electric look in their eye as they get inside. We do have a life boy soap in the bathroom. Kids just go giddy for that. And then everybody wants to crawl into the sink in the kitchen, just like Randy did. And we get everybody, you know, they‘re all fans from all walks of life, who just love “A Christmas Story.”
OLBERMANN: Selling those lamps, did you really think, A, that you would sell as many as you have and, B, that as many people liked this movie as you did?
JONES: I thought there would be a good response to it. The sales did surprise me a little bit and that kind of gave me the impetus to take a little bit of a risk and buy the house and refurbish it for people to come to it. I didn‘t even notice the listing, to be honest, when it first came out. I was so busy trying to fill orders for leg lamps that I didn‘t notice it. But yes, it‘s been remarkable the number of people that have wanted to get a leg lamp.
OLBERMANN: And are the lamps well-built or are they fragile?
JONES: They‘re well built. And actually, if you look at the movie, the leg is plastic. They use sound to make it sound like you drop a bunch of dishes and it‘s actually a plastic leg, which is, you know—you would have actually have a hard time breaking one of our lamps, much to the chagrin of some people would probably like to break it, but it‘s sturdy and ready to go.
OLBERMANN: The only thing that‘s going to break it is when the wife comes by, as we know from the plot of the film. You mentioned people who visited. We saw the tape of the actor who played Randy delivering the snow suit, and I can‘t put my arms down, but the star of this film, has the actor would played Ralphie, Peter Billingsly, has he shown up? Have you heard anything from him?
JONES: No, I have been talking to Scotty Fords, who played Flick, and Peter is just really busy. He was a producer for “The Breakup” and now he‘s the executive producer for the movie “Ironman,” making the comic into a movie. So he just really doesn‘t have time to fit it into his schedule. But I‘m sure we‘ll be talking this year to see if we can get him out here. The 25th anniversary is just two years away, see if maybe he would come out for 2008, which would be really awesome to have him.
OLBERMANN: The 25th anniversary. This is like the ark of the history of the movie, “It‘s a Wonderful Life,” which wasn‘t an extraordinary success itself at the box office, and this one wasn‘t an extraordinary success. Why is this movie—why does this movie resonate with people so much? Do you buy this theory that it shows the kind of dysfunctional families most of us are used to and yet still has some sort of happy ending?
JONES: Kind of, it‘s very real to life. It shows all the trials and tribulations that you go through and they, you know, how you overcome them. It also has a really good combination of sincere sentimentality and how life really is, delivered with some disarming humor. So that‘s a really hard combination to pull off. Seeing how life really is is kind of a hard thing, but you‘re also having a good time remembering exactly how your childhood was, you know, and everybody can relate to it. And all the scenes hit. There‘s not one scene where it‘s like, well that one was OK. I mean, you go from the tongue, to the pompous hounds, to the leg lamp, to the Chinese turkey, they‘re all hilarious and they all roll one after the other.
OLBERMANN: The Ralphie scene where he loses it and gets to beat up the bully was the one that actually happened to me. Everybody seems to have one of these scenes that actually happened to them. Do you?
JONES: I had always, probably, wanted something for Christmas. I had always wanted a puppy. And I can‘t pay for probably a good year, see if my parents would get us a dog. I wanted a dog, and they gave me, you know, standard thing, all the excuses of why we couldn‘t have one, how much work it would be, and then it does show up, just like Ralphie. He was sure he wasn‘t going to get that BB gun and then, you know, gets it Christmas morning. So, that‘s probably the most thing I relate to.
OLBERMANN: There it is. Brian Jones, who I think can safely be called the ultimate fan of “A Christmas Story,” proud owner of the Parker house in Cleveland. Great thanks for joining us from there tonight sir.
JONES: Thank you, merry Christmas.
OLBERMANN: Merry Christmas, fragile. That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,313th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann. As Gene Shepperd himself used to sign off, keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.
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