Guests: Arnold Punaro, Barry McCaffrey, Hillary Clinton, Bob Herbert
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: All that talk about President Bush sending troops to Iraq doesn‘t pass muster with the Joint Chiefs, who say it will just be a recruiting poster for our enemies. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
As Rumsfeld‘s replacement takes office today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff say it would be wrong to increase the number of American forces in Iraq.
Meanwhile, that country gets more violent, with attacks on American troops and Iraqi government forces rising, with most attacks coming from the Shia militia, supposedly the people we went into Iraq to help.
And Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the U.S. Army is “about broken.” This comes as the White House lets flow talk of a 20,000 to 30,000 troop surge in Iraq, a plan that already may be at odds with military leaders.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of a new Pentagon report saying the number of insurgent attacks on U.S. troops keeps rising and the chaos across Iraq is growing, today White House officials, for the first time, publicly confirmed that the Bush administration is considering a U.S. troop increase.
Press Secretary Tony Snow denied, however, a front page story in today‘s “Washington Post” reporting a rift over that proposal between the president and the U.S. military‘s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that the notion that somehow there is some sort of feud between the president and the Joint Chiefs would be wrong.
SHUSTER: But just last month, the top U.S. commander for Iraq dismissed the idea that sectarian violence can be stopped by surging the number of U.S. forces. Here‘s the testimony of General John Abizaid from the November 15th.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.
SHUSTER: Abizaid went even further by testifying he had spoken with every division commander in Iraq and they all agreed with him.
On Sunday, President Bush‘s own former secretary of state said we do not have the troops for a surge and cited the testimony of another general who said the Army is almost broken.
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I‘m suggesting that what General Schoomaker said the other day before a committee looking at the reserve, the National Guard, that the active army is about broken. General Schoomaker is absolutely right and all of my contacts within the Army suggest that the Army has a serious problem in the active force.
SHUSTER: Part of the problem increased this summer, when the Bush administration added more soldiers to Baghdad and strained the Army even further, and the sectarian violence continued.
POWELL: We have tried this surge of troops over the summer. I‘m not persuaded that another surge of troops in Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence or civil war will work.
SHUSTER: Most U.S. military experts say the focus right now should be on beefing up Iraqi security forces, not on letting them off the hook with another surge of American troops.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Putting another 20,000 or 30,000 troops, particularly into urban combat in a city of seven million Arabs of Baghdad, is a fool‘s errand. It is sticking your finger in the water. When you pull your finger out, their presence will not have made a difference.
SHUSTER: But whether adding U.S. forces is a wise idea or not, the U.S. already has 140,000 troops in Iraq. And military leaders, including General Abizaid, testified that increasing the number now for more than a few months would be almost impossible.
ABIZAID: The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.
SHUSTER: As it stands, combat logistics missions in Iraq are now being carried out with help by U.S. airmen and Navy sailors. In other words, experts say the Air Force and Navy are being, quote, “cannibalized” in some cases to help sustain the war effort.
Furthermore, much of the U.S. military‘s equipment in Iraq was not designed for desert warfare and is breaking down.
MICHAEL O‘HANLON, SR. FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: And often being used as much in a week as they were originally designed to be used in a whole year. And then on top of that, of course, some of the equipment is simply being destroyed, whether by hostile fire or by overuse, so you have a second component being replacement of equipment.
SHUSTER: On top of all of this, attacks on U.S. forces are increasing. The Pentagon report found there are now more attacks on U.S. forces than at any time since the war began. The average, 93 per day, is more than double than a year ago.
And when it comes to sectarian violence, for the first time, Shiite militants were blamed for more murders and executions than Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda.
The report also found that Iraqi police have been complicit in the sectarian killings, allowing Shiite death squads to roam freely and warning them of upcoming U.S. military missions.
(on camera): Regardless of any U.S. proposals for Iraq, the Pentagon is now planning a Naval buildup in the Persian Gulf near the coast of Iran. Military officials confirm the plans include the placement of a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf. Officials call this a response to what the Bush administration has been describing as Iran‘s interference in Iraq.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
As the Bush administration contemplates sending more troops to Iraq, the Army chief of staff, General Peter Schoomaker, said he wants to deploy Army National Guardsman and reservists more frequently. As it stands now, our Guard and reserve troops are only deployed once in six years, whereas active duty forces are going to war one out of every two years.
Should the policy be changed to send the National Guard and reserves into action, or would it be wrong to throw the National guard into house to house combat in Baghdad?
In a moment, we‘ll talk to General Barry McCaffrey who was among the military experts who met with President Bush last week to discuss Iraq, but first, let‘s turn to retired Marine Corps Major General Arnold Punaro, who is the chairman of the Commission on the National Guard.
Do we have the troops to dramatically increase our complement of troops in Iraq, sir?
MAJ. GEN. ARNOLD PUNARO, CHMN. COMMISSION ON NATL. GUARD & RESERVES:
Absolutely. Between our active duty military and the number of troops we have in the Guard and reserve, should the commander in chief, on the advice of the combatant commanders in the field and with the concurrence of the Congress make the decision that we want to increase the size of the force in Iraq, we certainly have the ability to surge those forces.
MATTHEWS: What about the National Guardspeople and reservists? Are they the kinds of people that it‘s appropriate to send into house to house combat in the middle of that huge city of Baghdad where they will be getting shot at every moment and where they‘ll be killing Arabs? Is that the right place for them, a reserve unit or a Guards unit?
PUNARO: First of all, over 550,000 Guard and reserve personnel have been mobilized since 9/11. Many of them have served extensive tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been side by side with their active components. They have been in the thick of the combat.
The Marine Corps and Army ground forces are trained the same as their active duty counterparts. They are every bit as capable of closing with and destroying the enemy as their active counterparts.
MATTHEWS: And you believe that is an appropriate use of Guardspeople, to put them into house to house like we‘re talking about? We are talking about going in and cleaning up Baghdad, something that the Iraqi forces haven‘t been able to do, the 17,000 regular Army forces and Marine forces haven‘t been able to do. You‘re saying throw in the National Guard to do it?
PUNARO: Well, the question you first asked was are they capable of carrying out those kind of missions and the answer is yes.
MATTHEWS: But no one else has been capable of it.
PUNARO: The issue of whether or not that‘s something that we want our military forces to do, I will just be quite candid with you. It is sort of above my pay grade from the Guard and Reserve Commission. That‘s a decision for our combatant commanders, the joint chiefs, and the commander in chief to make.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of the story in the “Washington Post” front page today that, united, the joint chiefs say it‘s a bad idea to throw more troops into Baghdad?
PUNARO: Well, I don‘t have any independent knowledge about what the Joint Chiefs may or may not have told the president, but I will tell you this, Chris.
In 1986, the Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act, and that law requires and mandates that the uniform military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have the ability to give their unfettered, professional, military judgment to our senior leaders, the secretary of defense, the president and the Congress. If that, in fact, is what is happening here, that‘s a good thing.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me bring in Barry McCaffery.
General McCaffrey, let me ask you about the thing you were quoted on in David Shuster‘s piece. Do you agree with what looks to be the opinion of the Joint Chiefs that it would only be a recruiting poster to our enemies, especially al Qaeda and, of course, to the Shia militia and the insurgents on the Sunni side, to have a big, blockbuster group of American soldiers being thrown into the fighting in Baghdad?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I certainly agree with General John Abizaid who I think has got extremely good judgment on it. He has been in contact with this war from the start. This is not a good outcome. There are seven million Arabs in that city. There is a civil war going on. The police force has broken down. Criminal conduct is rampant.
We have got 13,000 great, young soldiers in there right now. They are sitting on tamping down the level of violence. But putting another 13,000, 15,000 will not change conditions at all. So I think it‘s an unwise course of action.
We‘re going to get more troops in there and, you know, March, April, May, June, they are going to ask a three-star commander, are you ready to let these guys go? And he is going to say no. We need to start out—we need to start pledging $10 billion a year in economic reconstruction. We need to be flying in armored personnel carriers for the Iraqis, not more U.S. combat battalions.
MATTHEWS: You know, much of the talk coming out of this, General Punaro, has been that we‘re going to stand down when the Iraqi army stands up. Well, if that‘s the policy, why are we throwing our guys into the frontlines in the street-to-street battles of Baghdad? I thought they were going to do that kind of fighting, we would be in a support and training mode.
PUNARO: Well, I don‘t know the exact situation on the ground.
General McCaffrey has been over there.
MATTHEWS: Yes, let me go to General McCaffrey. Why are we throwing our guys into the front line of a war that is clearly a civil war at this point?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I don‘t think it‘s a very effective technique, if I thought it would work. By the way, if we put 150,000 troops in there and decided to take down Sadr‘s Mahdi army, maybe 120,000 fighters, then went down the road to Ramadi and busted their chops, probably with 3,000-to-5,000 U.S. casualties, we‘d get some breathing space.
MATTHEWS: And we‘d end up fighting the Iraqi army on the way, wouldn‘t we? Because they‘re basically protecting the Mahdi army?
MCCAFFREY: Well certainly the police are. In fact, it‘s hard to differentiate between the two. But look, the bottom line is, there‘s a political situation, there‘s an economic component. I want to hear Congress announce $10 billion per year in economic aid. I want to hear they are going to fix the United States army and marine corps. That the army is short $61 billion worth of equipment. So if we want to sustain this war, don‘t just hustle three more brigades into Baghdad for block clearing parties in the Sunni neighborhoods. We need to get serious about sustaining the national security policy the president elects to follow.
MATTHEWS: Well let me get both questions out. You general Punaro, you don‘t want to talk about the demand issues, simply the supply issue. You believe national guards people are up to the battle of any battle the president sends them into it.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that question of supply? Do you believe national guards people, General McCaffrey, are capable of block by block, street by street, house by house clearing of Baghdad?
MCCAFFREY: Well I don‘t think it is an appropriate task for foreign troops in Baghdad, either active or guard. But look, let me also underscore, absolutely that we should not call up National Guard brigades for 18-month involuntary tours on a second time. We will break the guard recruiting model. That‘s not what these kids signed up for.
MATTHEWS: General Punaro, do you agree with that or not? It sounds like you don‘t agree with that.
PUNARO: The current policy we‘re using to call up our guard and reserve is a broken policy because what happened is in the early stages of mobilization, we overly relied on volunteers.
And so we took those from units that we found out later we were going to have to deploy into combat. And so we‘ve got situations now in our guard and reserve in ‘02, only six percent of the units were cross-leveled. That means you barred units from units at home to send units overseas. Then in the reserve, it was 40 percent. Now it‘s 60 percent. So the problem is we‘re not sending cohesive fighting units into the fray. So we need to change that policy.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to a broader question. General McCaffrey said that people don‘t sign up for the guard with the idea that they‘re going into regular combat, as sort of the regular troops fighting in street combat. Do you accept the fact that the average person, or the typical person who joins the guard thinks they are signing up or did sign up for this kind of combat duty?
PUNARO: Absolutely. I don‘t think there is any misunderstanding.
MATTHEWS: Well wait a minute, the general says there is.
PUNARO: Well, I‘ll tell you, I served in the guard and reserve. I was a commander, the director of the marine corps reserve on 9/11 and I can guarantee you that in the marine corps reserve, in the ground combat element, the fourth marine division, which I was privileged to command for three years, just like General McCaffrey was privileged to command the 24th mechanized infantry division, every one of those marines understand that they have to be ready to go when the nation calls. And they could be called into combat.
MCCAFFREY: Well I don‘t think. Let me add now, I don‘t think that is in question. The guard did a brilliant job, they took serious casualties. What we‘re talking about is multiple, repetitive 18-month tours of people who are supposed to be bankers and cab drivers and farmers and police officers, the employers didn‘t sign up for it.
We are having a huge problem. We have to expand the active army and marine corps and not try and use the guard to fight our foreign wars. It ain‘t right.
PUNARO: Chris, there‘s no question that we need to beef up the ground combat elements of the army and the marine corps, the so-called tip of the spear on the ground. But no matter how many times we want to do it or how large we want to make it, that‘s a long-term situation.
It‘s not going to be done in six months, it‘s not going to be done in a year. It‘s going to take two to three years to make those kinds of increases. If the nation requires a surge in our ground force capability, the only place that the combatant commander and the joint chiefs can go right now is to guard and reserve.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that, General McCaffrey, the only choice, if we are to follow it, which looks to be the buzz right now, we‘re going in with a surge, that the only place to get those troops is from the guard.
MCCAFFREY: Well if we put in another five brigades and try and sustain it, we‘ve got to go with the guard, no question. And they‘ll follow orders, they‘ll do their job. They‘re great soldiers.
But that‘s another argument for not surging troops in there. But the primary argument is why do we think that a tiny number -- 40,000 NYPD cops in New York. Baghdad is the same size city. We‘ve got 13,00 English-speaking troops in there. Why would we think this is a good idea? It isn‘t a good idea.
MATTHEWS: And why won‘t it last. I like the point you made earlier, I want to get back at it when we come back after this break. Sure you can go in there and sustain the war politically for another six months with this policy. It would be good for President Bush. It keeps him on top of things in the short run.
But does it change anything in the long run? And is any American life worth a short-term political objective. General Punaro, we‘ll be coming back with General McCaffrey, both of you fellows. And later, when will Hillary Clinton tell us her plans for 2008? We know what they are Hillary, please tell us. We‘re going to show the interview she did this morning, by the way, with Meredith Vieira on the “Today” show. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Arnold Punaro. General McCaffrey, there‘s a story that we‘re going to have Kelly O‘Donnell have from NBC in just a moment. We just got the word from NBC that the president has asked the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to make a recommendation on how to expand the overall size of the military. What do you make of that?
MCCAFFREY: Well, it‘s good news. You know, this guy Bob Gates is smart, experienced, got great credibility in the inter-agency process. Rumsfeld absolutely dug in his heels, said we‘re going to fight the next war with a dozen special ops sergeants and some F-22‘s. So reality has finally overcome events. The army is short 80,000 active troops and the marines 25,000.
PUNARO: There‘s a growing imposition.
MATTHEWS: OK, the other political question. Maybe I‘m too tough, tell me if I am. Is the only advantage in putting a number—doubling the number of American troops, fighting forces into Baghdad, into the streets of Baghdad taking on the militia, the insurgents, the al Qaeda, whatever, is to sustain the stay the course mentality that we can continue to operate in that country? Is there any long-term advantage to yield from putting our troops into such harm‘s way?
MCCAFFREY: I don‘t think there‘s any long-term advantage at all. I do think it will help momentarily tamp down the violence. These are top troops, you know, they‘ll stop some number of murders.
But having said that, Chris, again...
MATTHEWS: They‘ll stop a lot of bullets, too, won‘t they? Won‘t they be targets?
MCCAFFREY: Well, our casualties—we‘re running probably 750 killed and wounded a month right now. So we‘re, you know, pushing a battalion and a half loss, mostly Marines, Army and Special Operations troops. There‘s a lot of fighting going on in that country.
MATTHEWS: As a civilian I do not understand why we take a loss, we kill a number of Arabs on the other side. Those Arabs are easily replaced because of the anger in the streets. There is always somebody to come forward to fight us. We end up with the same number of enemies that we started with, except we have been dismembered, we have lost so many good people. What do we gain in fighting with the Arabs in the streets of Baghdad if they want to keep fighting?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I don‘t think this makes much sense. The tier-one Special Operation troops are killing the foreign jihaddists. We‘re doing extremely well at that fight.
We‘re also helping keep the lid on the violence. No question about it.
But reinforcing a failed policy is not the way to go. We need to try economic development, political dialogue and build up the Iraqi security forces.
MATTHEWS: General Punaro, your thoughts about the people that are going into the Guard right now. What is recruitment like right now right now, given the fact it means probable deployment to Iraq?
PUNARO: Well, recruiting and retention is strained. But it‘s strained on the active side as well. But that‘s completely understandable. I mean, as various other points in our history when our military has been deployed, it gets tougher to recruit and retain.
What the Guard and Reserve would like is some predictability. They‘d like to know, OK, we‘re going to be needed to go to combat at such and such a frequency and the duration is going to be...
MATTHEWS: The American people would like predictability. We were told this war was about WMD. Then it‘s about democracy. Then it‘s about security. What is it about?
And the deployment question. We were told—and I‘ll say it again—our job over there was to train and to support the Iraqi army as it grows in strength and to stand down as it stands up. And now we‘re getting this thing—it does remind me of Westmoreland after Tet—another 30,000 troops to go in there and fight hand to hand, door to door with the enemy that‘s going to be bigger when we live.
We‘re creating more enemies. When you read the—it‘s not me saying this—the Joint Chiefs of Staff are quoted in the “Washington Post” as saying it‘ll just be a recruitment poster if we have a big surge of troops going into Iraq.
PUNARO: Chris, neither you nor I nor General Barry McCaffrey are going to solve that larger issue here today. And we have the best military minds our country has to bring to bear...
MATTHEWS: They‘re saying don‘t do it. But the president‘s disagreeing with the best military minds.
PUNARO: Well, we don‘t know what. One, I don‘t know what they‘ve said. I hope they‘re speaking out for us...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at Kelly O‘Donnell from “Hard News” here. NBC has learned that President Bush has asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to make a recommendation on how to build up the size of the U.S. military.
Kelly, what‘s the latest?
KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, what this really is is an opportunity now to get some insight into what the president has been thinking about the way forward in Iraq. He does say, according to senior advisers here, that he has tasked the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates with coming up with a plan of how would they proceed to increase the size of the Marines and the Army.
He is also waiting for the secretary to make his visit to Iraq. And when he has an opportunity to hear back from him, that will play into the president‘s decision making about how troops will be used in Iraq.
Advisers I talked to also make a distinction. They said expanding the overall size of the military is not related to the specifics of the speech the president will be giving about a new way forward.
Of course, in a broad sense they‘re related, but not in the specific, because expanding the military would take years and it would take additional budget and that‘s a big political issue.
But what we‘re learning, Chris, is that the president does in fact acknowledge that the military is so stressed that he thinks it needs to be enlarged. And that‘s a big development.
MATTHEWS: So bottom line, we still haven‘t gotten a clear indication as to whether we‘re going to surge our troops in Iraq or not in the coming months?
O‘DONNELL: The president says he has still has not made a decision on that. However, if you look at this expanding military, that may give people some insight into how they think the president may be trying to look at this problem. But he says he has still not made that decision, again, waiting for Secretary Gates to get back. He says he‘s also participating in additional briefings.
And he conducted an interview with the “Washington Post” today. That‘s where some of this information has come from. And some of what we‘re telling you is from our own direct reporting, talking to senior advisers here.
But it is a headline that the president believes that the military is stretched to such a degree and that the global war on terror will take such a long time that he believes that the expense, billions of dollars it would ultimately take to increase the overall size of the Marines and the Army—
MATTHEWS: Thank you for very much, Kelly O‘Donnell at the White House.
And I have to thank General Punaro. Thank you, sir, for joining us.
And always, the great General Barry McCaffrey. Thank you, sir, for your insights.
Up next, the story of a special holiday tribute over in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from here. It starts in a tiny town up in Maine.
And later, Senator Hillary Clinton‘s interview from the “Today Show”, from the “NBC Today Show”.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This holiday season, a family from Maine is doing its part to make sure that America‘s service people who gave their lives for freedom are being remembered.
Mike Barnicle joins us now from Boston with more—Mike.
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, that one family, Morrill Worcester‘s family up there in Maine, 15 years ago they began an effort bringing 5,000 wreaths each and every Christmas season to Arlington National Cemetery, placing them on stones, and there‘s a story in every stone at Arlington.
This year, due to the Internet and the publicity surrounding Morrill Worcester and the wreaths, it took them about 45 minutes to put the wreaths out this year because of all the volunteers that were present when that truck rolled into Arlington National Cemetery.
The people and this one family proving what a great country this is.
BARNICLE (voice-over): This is Arlington National Cemetery, a place where memory never dies. A place Morrill Worcester first visited and never forget at the age of 12.
MORRILL WORCESTER, OWNER, WORCESTER WREATH: I won a trip. As a paperboy I saw Arlington. I just never forgot it.
BARNICLE: Forty years later, Morrill Worcester owns the Worcester Wreath Factory in Harrington, Maine, not far in his mind from Arlington.
(on camera): This is about a nation at war and a season of peace, about one family, a single company in a small town that give new meaning to the word remembrance.
(voice-over): The population of Harrington: 500. Population in the Worcester household: Morrill, his wife Karen and six kids. And for the last 15 years, everyone here has donated 5,000 wreaths to Arlington.
M. WORCESTER: A wreath is really a symbol of respect and a symbol honor.
BARNICLE: He began in 1992, the year he made too many wreaths at Christmas.
(on camera): What did you think?
KAREN WORCESTER, WIFE OF MORRILL WORCESTER: Well, first, I thought he was an idiot for buying too many wreaths. That was—I said great, you know, that‘s a wonderful thing if we can get it done. And so he, like “Beverly Hillbilly” style, he loaded up the truck.
BARNICLE: And drove it to Arlington and did it every year, practically alone, until this image hit the Internet. Suddenly Morrill, not a veteran himself, and his wreathes, became a media magnet, capturing wide attention, even a crew from Japanese TV.
(on camera): You are no longer anonymous.
M. WORCESTER: Can‘t believe it. Really, this has just been great.
BARNICLE (voice-over): Karen Worcester figure the wreaths are a beautiful reminder of who we are.
K. WORCESTER: After 9/11, we all came together and remembered that we loved the country and we loved our freedom and we understood that. And then, you know, we got busy again and we got complacent. We are a grateful nation. We have just got to show it more.
BARNICLE: Volunteers assembled in a labor of love, older men from other wars, young people caught up in a splendid moment, a flag unfurled beneath a cloudless sky, a motorcycle escort and the wreaths headed south toward home, past small towns and big cities, four days south toward Arlington.
(on camera): In a cathedral of grass and stone, Morrill Worcester has arrived...
(voice-over): ... with a gift from a grateful nation for the dead who helped defend democracy.
M. WORCESTER: I personally believe that I owe a great deal to every veteran that‘s out there, because I have had the opportunity to live in a country like ours.
BARNICLE (on camera): It‘s a great country.
K. WORCESTER: Yes, it is. And you don‘t thank a politician for it.
You thank a veteran.
BARNICLE (voice-over): One man, his family and a small town in Maine saying now and forever, we will never forget.
BARNICLE: It‘s a wonderful story about a holy place, and as the wreaths were placed on those stones, down the hill, you could hear the muffled sounds of volley shots of a 20-year-old man being buried, an Iraq war casualty—Chris.
MATTHEWS: You know, Mike, you did a great job of reminding us of who is fighting these wars and the people that care about them, because I think it‘s not always so obvious to the cretins that got us in this war that real people are paying the price for their mistake. Thank you very much, Mike Barnicle.
Up next, we‘re going to take a look at the complete interview of Hillary Rodham Clinton from todays‘ show “Today.” When will she tell us her plans for 2008 officially?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Hillary Clinton may be the frontrunner for the Democrats in 2008 -- that‘s what the polls show—but she is still playing it coy. NBC‘s Meredith Vieira sat down with the senator from New York just yesterday. Let‘s take a look.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, “TODAY”: First I want to start with “It Takes A Village” ‘07 because this book came out 10 years ago...
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Right.
VIEIRA: ... and a lot has happened in the past 10 years that makes it, I think, even more imperative that we will need a village to raise healthy, secure children. We have had the war in Iraq, 9/11, the impact of the Internet. What is the most important thing we can do as a nation to guarantee that our children are safe and secure?
CLINTON: Well, that‘s the question that I address in the foreword to the book. When I wrote it 10 years ago, we had a lot of issues that we needed to deal with. We made progress on those, but we are going backwards now. Child poverty is up. More children are lacking health insurance. There is a sense of being overwhelmed.
You know, as a mom myself, I just can‘t imagine what it‘s like for young mothers trying to compete with the Internet and the mass media. It‘s like having, you know, another parent in the home that is...
VIEIRA: But if we‘re going backwards, then how do we stop that?
CLINTON: Well, by, number one, realizing what‘s going on. Let‘s face reality. We have got to help parents do the hardest job in the world, which is to raise their children. And we need better policies to support parenting and families. And I would like to see us put children back in the center of our national dialogue.
You know, I have been in the Senate now for six years, and one question I ask myself as I try to figure out what is the right thing to do with these myriad of issues that I‘m facing is, is it good for our kids? And, you know, I try to be guided by that because at the end of the day, there isn‘t anything more important than how we treat our children.
And the idea of the village, it is a metaphor for society. You know, I was lucky when Chelsea was, you know, being raised by her father and me to have a lot of help, not just by people we knew—family members and teachers and doctors and others—but people we never would know like police and firefighters and folks who had a direct impact on her upbringing.
VIEIRA: Speaking about the village, do you want to run the village? It‘s sort of the elephant in this room, you know, or maybe the donkey in this room since we‘re talking about a Democratic nomination.
CLINTON: Right, right.
VIEIRA: But everybody is talking about you and Senator Obama really. You‘re the cover of “Newsweek.” Most people have decided you are going to run. The senator from Illinois has said he is thinking about it. You‘ve said you‘re thinking about it. This, to me, seems like a perfect opportunity for you, Senator, to tell us whether you‘ve made a decision.
CLINTON: Well, I‘m working hard to make a decision and I will after the first of the year. I mean, it is really both very flattering and overwhelming to be looking at this. Maybe more than anybody else, I know how hard this job is. I saw it in an up-close and personal way for eight years. And I worry that whoever the next president is, is going to face just a myriad of very difficult challenges.
So I‘m trying to approach this with a big dose of humility, number one, because it‘s going to be a hard job no matter who gets it.
VIEIRA: But what‘s the first question you ask yourself. You say you‘re going to wait until the beginning of the new year. But that‘s only a couple of weeks ago. What is going to happen between now and then to make the decision?
CLINTON: Well, this is an intensely personal decision. I‘m very honored that people are urging me to run and saying they want to sign up. Yet at the end of the day, I want to be sure that my decision is right for me, for my family, for my party, for my country.
VIEIRA: Are you leaning in one way or the other?
CLINTON: Well, you know, obviously, I‘m looking at it. I wouldn‘t be looking at it if I were totally uninterested.
VIEIRA: So you‘re learning toward running then.
CLINTON: No, but I‘m looking at it very hard. You‘re good, Meredith.
VIEIRA: You‘ve got me leaning to the left, whatever way you‘re leaning.
CLINTON: I‘m trying to be right here in the center.
VIEIRA: How much of a say do your daughter and your husband have in all this? How much do you take their feelings into consideration, their view point?
CLINTON: Well I think anybody takes their family into consideration. This is such a grueling endeavor that if you undertake it, if you don‘t have your family on your side and urging you on, you can‘t do this, it‘s too much.
VIEIRA: Why wouldn‘t you run for president? I mean, the polls indicate that if you did run, you‘re the front runner.
CLINTON: Right. Well, I‘m trying to weight all the different factors. And one thing that I think is important is whoever the next president is has to hit the ground running.
I mean, with all due respect to our current president, he has dug us into some very deep holes as a nation. You know, we‘ve lost respect and admiration abroad. We have a huge deficit. We‘re having more and more people who are uninsured. We‘ve got global climate change and energy dependence on dangerous parts of the world. We really need to face up with kind of honest optimism. You know, I‘ve always believed Americans can do whatever we set our minds to, we just haven‘t been asked to do anything in the last six years.
VIEIRA: But a lot of people, senator, think that you also represent the past and that is one of the reasons why Barack Obama is so popular with people. They say he represents the future. He says unlike a lot of people like you and me, I‘m not a baby boomer. Obama says I‘m younger, I want change and that electrifies people.
CLINTON: Well, he is terrific. You know, he is a friend and a colleague and I have a very high regard for him. Elections are always about the future, but that‘s up to the voters. People have to look at candidates, they have to weigh positions on issues. It really comes down to a gut feeling when you are looking at someone, especially somebody who could be president and commander-in-chief. And that‘s what elections are about and campaigns are about.
VIEIRA: Do you think he would make a good president because of his experience or lack thereof?
CLINTON: I think he is a really exciting personality and someone who has a lot to contribute to the national dialogue. We are blessed this year with the people who are thinking of running. You know, we just lost one excellent candidate when Senator Evan Bayh said he wasn‘t going to run.
And I would like to see a wide, open race. Let as many people run on both sides, because this country needs the kind of debate that frankly we haven‘t had in a long time.
VIEIRA: Speaking about debate, let‘s talk a little bit about Iraq. Senator Harry Reid said over the weekend, incoming Democratic majority leader, that he would support a temporary increase in troops in the Baghdad area, temporary surge. The former secretary of state Colin Powell says he is opposed to that. Where do you stand on that position? Do you believe we should send more troops into Iraq?
CLINTON: It depends No. 1, what is the mission of those troops? I am not in favor of sending more troops to continue doing what our young men and women have been told to do. With the government of Iraq pulling the rug out from under them when they actually go after some of the bad guys.
I‘m not in favor of doing that unless it is part of a larger plan. Everyone knows there is no military solution to the difficulties we face in Iraq. There has to be a broad-based comprehensive approach that includes resolving some of the political issues, bringing the region together. I have an op/ed in the “Wall Street Journal” today urging that they look at an oil trust, like what we did in Alaska when we found oil. Let every Iraqi share in the proceeds so that maybe they will feel a commitment to the future.
VIEIRA: But under some circumstances, you would potentially support more troops in Iraq?
CLINTON: Well, let‘s see the plan. I‘m not going to believe this president again. I did that once, a lot of us did and hasn‘t turned out very well.
VIEIRA: And you‘ve been criticized for that, senator. And you know that, this is not something that you haven‘t been subjected to before, by voting to give the president the authority to use force in Iraq if necessary.
Some people feel that was a mistake, that you made a mistake. Other
senators voted that way, like Senators Kerry and Edwards have said we feel
we regret it. It was a mistake. You refuse to say it was a mistake, why?
CLINTON: Well, obviously it was wrong to believe this president. That‘s tragic to say, because people‘s lives are at stake. He should have let the inspectors do their job.
VIEIRA: But were you wrong to take that vote, to make that vote?
CLINTON: Well, you know, you have to go and look at the situation as we knew it then. And I take responsibility for that vote. Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn‘t have been a vote. And I certainly wouldn‘t have voted that way.
VIEIRA: Senator Clinton, we have run out of time. When you plan to announce, hopefully she‘ll do it here.
MATTHEWS: Up next, HARDBALLers Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Herbert are going to take a look at that interview and see what they think about that. Is she ready to run? Looks to me like she is. We‘ll be right back to have some tough people talk about what she had to say, Hillary Clinton. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers, Kate O‘Beirne, a HARDBALL political analyst and the Washington editor of the “National Review,” and Bob Herbert, a columnist with the “New York Times.”
Bob, I know you‘re a liberal, but when is a politician like Hillary Clinton or anybody else going to admit they have the “A” word, ambition, and stop with this coy thing about, I‘m so flattered by so much. And just like a strip tease you‘re saying she‘s flattered by the all the attention. Hillary is running for president. She wants to be president. What‘s wrong with saying it?
BOB HERBERT, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: It‘s a mantra. The politicians all say it. I guess they figure once they say it, everybody feels free to come out and attack them. But she‘s running. And I‘m one of the ones who think it‘s going to be really tough for her, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Why is that?
HERBERT: I think that she‘s got an awful lot of negatives. There is a fair number of people who won‘t vote for her under any circumstances. She has not yet clarified her position on Iraq and I think that she‘s really going to be hurt by the number of people who want to get away from this sort of Bush-Clinton, Bush-Clinton revolving door.
CLINTON: You know, Meredith Vieira did put the knife in at a couple of points. At one point she put it in was, you‘re yesterday, Hillary. That‘s a tough charge for a nice interview.
HERBERT: Talking about Barack Obama, who says that he‘s not a baby boomer. Actually, if I‘m not mistaken, he is a baby boomer, a late baby boomer.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s nothing wrong with that.
Let me ask you, Kate, just looking at this—I know you‘re a conservative, but this coyness, which I pointed to here, about ambition, not that she hasn‘t announced, but she says—she acts as if her ambition isn‘t relevant here.
Jack Kennedy, to his credit, said I want to run for president because that‘s where the action is. He probably meant it a number of different ways, but there‘s not—why don‘t they just say, you know, I‘d really like to run this country, it would make me feel great to be president of the United States, to be on that short list.
O‘BEIRNE: Chris, I‘m sympathetic here with Senator Clinton. We‘re going to hear from her early in the year. This is like the last level of control she may have, I mean, once she jumps into that field. She knows; she‘s been there.
So she‘s got to control her announcement. I don‘t fault her for that.
MATTHEWS: Bob, didn‘t you think that she had a nice, mellifluous voice? She was calm, she was charming? Her hair looked—just to be cosmetic—her hair looked great, she looked great.
Can she soften her image from the more strident Hillary and do well with that?
HERBERT: Actually, Hillary has been very, very impressive. And here in New York, we‘ve watched her grow in the Senate. And so, she‘s got a command of the television camera when she talks now. She‘s got a command of the room, if you see her in person. I mean, her political skills may be, in my opinion, a little bit higher or better than a lot of people are giving her credit for...
MATTHEWS: But do you still think she runs into a buzz saw of opposition?
HERBERT: I think there‘s no question about that. I mean, for any woman to become president, I‘ve been saying, the stars have to be perfectly aligned. Everything has to be just right because I think it‘s tough for a woman to win at all, although I do think that it‘s possible.
I don‘t think the stars are perfectly aligned for Hillary.
O‘BEIRNE: Although, look what she did early in this interview. Bob, I don‘t disagree with you, that‘s it‘s particularly challenging for women. But given her previous image, I thought she went out of her way in this “Today” interview to talk about the kids, as a parent, as a mom...
MATTHEWS: Is she a convincing mom?
O‘BEIRNE: She‘s certainly trying to be. I think she appreciates that a whole lot of women who aren‘t all that liberal and maybe don‘t—are not necessarily on board because of her role model aspect of this are distrustful of Hillary Clinton. I think they might...
MATTHEWS: Well, should they be?
O‘BEIRNE: I think...
MATTHEWS: .. she lets he husband get away with what he‘s gotten away with? Don‘t women resent that?
O‘BEIRNE: No, I think—I think a different problem is there, too, that she might look sort of down on them. So when she talks about...
O‘BEIRNE: ... I totally share your views, we‘re all in this together, we all share the same concerns about raising children. I ask myself before every vote in the Senate, is it good for the kids. I think she‘s obviously making an appeal...
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about image, iconic image. A suburban mother, a swing voter, putting her kids in the back seat of the car with the safety seat, buckling them in, doing things that are really hard and complicated and require a lot of focus in your life...
O‘BEIRNE: What does Hillary Clinton know about what I‘m doing?
MATTHEWS: ... is Hillary Clinton looking up to me or looking down to me?
MATTHEWS: And you answer?
O‘BEIRNE: I think she runs the risk of having been seen as looking down. And I think she‘s going to be awfully careful—and we saw that in talking with Meredith Vieira—to try to...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think she‘s got to admit that giving speeches at lunches is no better and probably a lot less important than raising kids.
We‘ll be right back with Bob Herbert and Kate O‘Beirne. We‘ve got to be careful here. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Herbert.
Let‘s turn some fire on the conservatives for a second here. We‘ve playing around with Hillary here.
Bob Herbert, what do you make of this guy Mitt Romney? Apparently, now he‘s running against gay marriage. He‘s running the institution f marriage, the traditional values guy, trying to appear to the cultural right, but yet, when he ran against Ted Kennedy in a very uphill race—and he did rather well in it—he said he was for gay rights across the board and he was a person totally for the safety and the legality of abortion rights, 180. What‘s the game here?
HERBERT: Hypocrisy. I mean, but we see it in both parties. You know, Republicans run to the right. Democrats to the left. So he‘s trying to get to the right of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. So that‘s the game plan.
MATTHEWS: Where is he in his soul, Kate? Where is Mitt Romney on these social issues, which are so hot on the right?
O‘BEIRNE: I don‘t know. I don‘t know what his soul tells him. I do
think, given that the Massachusetts court handed him the marriage issue, I
it was an opportunity for him to defend marriage, the institution of marriage from activist judges. He explains that that Supreme Court decision put front and center for him the importance of preserving marriage...
MATTHEWS: And your point is, you think he‘s an opportunist?
O‘BEIRNE: No, I think, given that experience, he can make a plausible case to conservatives, that that was a wakeup call for him. And the conservative movement in the past has certainly accepted George Bush first, the first President Bush...
MATTHEWS: He‘s pro-choice on abortion rights....
O‘BEIRNE: ... and Ronald Reagan.
MATTHEWS: How can you be pro-choice on abortion, publicly stated, take a public position like that in a statewide race for senator and then claim you‘re heart to heart with conservatives on that issue?
O‘BEIRNE: Predecessors of his who have won Republican nominations have had change of hearts.
MATTHEWS: ... you get excited about a guy like this who switches?
O‘BEIRNE: What he‘s going to have to do is conservatives of the sincerity of it. They have seen converts before, but they‘re going to want to make sure this is the real deal.
MATTHEWS: ... you‘re not a hall monitor here. You‘re a conservative.
Do you accept him?
O‘BEIRNE: I can see—I think he himself is culturally conservative as an individual. If you look at the way he‘s like, what his background is...
MATTHEWS: I just don‘t think he‘s like McCain. I don‘t think he thinks about this stuff.
Let me ask you, Bob Herbert, the president of the United States is open—at least he‘s allowing to float the idea that we‘re going to send another 30,000 troops into Baghdad to fight hand to hand, street to street, whatever, there, the worst kind of fighting, lots of casualties.
At the same time the Joint Chiefs get quoted today as saying they are completely against it. They said all it will be is another recruitment poster for our enemies over there.
HERBERT: And I‘m with the Joint Chiefs on this. I think it will be just incredibly be tragic if you send another 30,000 troops in there. Some of them are going to get killed. Some of them are going to get maimed. We can‘t even tell them what the mission is. From the perspective of the G.I.‘s in Baghdad, they don‘t even know when they‘re out on patrol who the enemy is. And it‘s by definition just a short-term move.
MATTHEWS: OK, got to go.
I love your op/ed page, Bob Herbert. You‘re comedy‘s getting better and better all of the time.
I like Orlando Patterson. What a great group you‘ve got there.
Thank you, Bob Herbert...
HERBERT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... of the op/ed page in the “New York Times”.
Kate O‘Beirne, you‘re great. You‘re a great defender of the cause.
Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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