Guests: Susan Collins, Chris Carney, Barry McCaffrey, Rosemary Palmer, Merrilee Carlson, Dana Milbank
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Hell no, we won‘t go. The U.S. Senate sets a vote to oppose President Bush‘s escalation of the Iraq war. What happens if 60 U.S. senators vote to counter the surge? Can Bush still claim to leave the country? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL. Against the advice of his generals, against the expected advice and consent of the new Congress and against the will of the American people, President Bush will declare tonight his plan to escalate the war in Iraq at 9:00 p.m.
In his speech tonight, the president will ask the country to back his new strategy for Iraq. The commander-in-chief wants more than 20,000 more troops, but Americans want to know what are we fighting for, who are we fighting, who is running this war, the military, or the idealogues for the think tanks of Washington?
And by the way, whatever happened to the exit strategy? Will putting over 20,000 more troops in harm‘s way win this civil war? Who are our enemies, the Sunnis, the Shiites? Politically what will the Democrats do, what can they do? Will the Iraq war bleed into the next presidential election in 2008 and what does it mean for our future?
In a moment, we‘ll talk to Republican Senator Susan Collins. But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with this report.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This afternoon, President Bush met with congressional leaders at the White House and made it clear he was informing them of his decision, not consulting them. At the driveway microphones, frustration.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We have a conversation today that has no impact on what he‘s going to say.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MAJORITY LEADER; But it‘s just really fortunate that we cannot have real consultation between the legislative and the executive branch when it comes to protecting the American people.
SHUSTER: Ignoring the advice of Congress, rejects what top Republicans have been telling the president for weeks, and today in another sign of GOP discomfort, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that despite face-to-face meetings with President Bush, the logic behind the escalation plan is still unclear.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR ®, INDIANA: The president and his team need to explain what objectives we were trying to achieve if forces are expanded.
SHUSTER: Democratic leaders are convinced that at least a dozen Republican senators are ready to abandon the president‘s Iraq policy. And to leverage their views, the president‘s proposal will be put to a vote in the House and Senate next week.
That vote will be a powerful message to the president, the country, and the world. And while it can‘t stop the escalation, a wartime rebuke by the Congress would be unprecedented and a big blow to the White House.
It all raises the stakes for tonight. This evening for about 20 minutes, the president will try to explain why an increase of 17,000 troops in Baghdad, 4,000 in Anbar Province and a new construction and jobs program across Iraq is now the answer to a war that has stretched on nearly four years and is getting deadlier by the day. This will be the president‘s third prime-time address to the nation about Iraq in the last two years.
Just over a year ago, the president declared...
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq.
SHUSTER: In another prime time speech a year and a half ago, the president said a troop escalation in Iraq was a bad idea.
BUSH: Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in the fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever.
SHUSTER: The president spoke then of his deference to military commanders.
BUSH: As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters, the sober judgment of our military leaders.
SHUSTER: And the president spoke of that deference again this fall.
BUSH: And that‘s the way I will continue to conduct the war. I‘ll listen to generals. They know what they‘re doing and I‘m going to tell you, I‘ve got great confidence in General John Abizaid and General George Casey.
SHUSTER: General Abizaid then testified to Congress that an increase in troops would be a mistake.
GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, FORMER COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.
SHUSTER: Abizaid has since been replaced. General George Casey who also opposed a troop increase was replaced as well.
The president‘s decision to increase the number of combat troops goes against not just his former military commanders, but also bucks the prime minister of Iraq. Just six weeks ago in a meeting with President Bush, U.S. officials acknowledge Nuri al-Maliki‘s suggestion for Baghdad was to lower the U.S. profile, not raise it.
But the Bush escalation also totally disregards the message from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Two months ago, the panel urged a gradual combat troop decrease. The commission also said it was crucial that any new plan reflect a national consensus.
SHUSTER: But tonight, President Bush will be forging ahead almost all alone. Only a minority in Congress support his escalation, and some of those lawmakers say the troop increase will not be big enough to make any difference. So leading into his speech, the president is getting hit from both sides. Meanwhile, the violence in Iraq grinds on with no end in sight. I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine met with President Bush on Monday. She also visited top U.S. commanders in Iraq last month, as well as Iraq Prime Minister Maliki. And she‘s a member of the armed services committee. Senator Collins, would you vote for the surge in troops to Iraq?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE: I think having a surge in Baghdad would be a mistake. We do need more troops in the Anbar Province to take advantage of some recent positive developments in which local tribal leaders are helping us in the fight against al Qaeda. The fight in the west is not sectarian, but in Baghdad it is. And I don‘t think more American troops are the answer.
MATTHEWS: Is the president listening to your consultation when you go to see him? Does he say, let me hear what you think, senator?
COLLINS: Yes, he did. And I give the president credit for widely consulting. I suspect I‘m not going to agree with where he comes down, but we did talk at length about my recent trip when I was at the White House on Monday and I gave him my best judgment.
It was interesting because he agreed with me that we need to put more pressure on the prime minister to forge the political solutions that are necessary to finally end the sectarian violence. But he and I disagree on the best way to achieve that goal.
MATTHEWS: What do you think will be the impact of sending 15,000 more troops or 16,000 more troops into Baghdad, American GIs, what would be the impact?
COLLINS: My worry is they‘ll just become targets, hated by both sides. I think it‘s the Iraqis themselves that need to step up to the plate in Baghdad. When you have sectarian violence, it calls for a political, not a military solution. And that‘s why I distinguish from the fight out west which isn‘t sectarian. It‘s with foreign fighters and al Qaeda. There, more troops would make a difference so we can take advantage of that promising development. But in Baghdad, it does not make sense in my view.
MATTHEWS: Does the president agree with you that there are different situations in different parts of Iraq?
COLLINS: Yes, he does. I told him I was struck during my trip by how different the war is depending on whether you‘re in Baghdad, Ramadi, or Basra. Very different challenges depending on what part of the country you are in and I don‘t think you can have a one size fits all strategy.
MATTHEWS: Until recently, the president said he was taking the advice of the generals. Would you say that the generals want us to go into Baghdad with more troops?
COLLINS: I found that the American commanders were really mixed on this issue. One commander with whom I talked in Baghdad told me that a jobs program would do far more good than more troops. He said that many young Iraqi men were joining the militias and planting roadside bombs simply because they were desperate for money because they‘d been unemployed for so long.
So that was a view that I heard from one American commander. In addition, General Abizaid, who has testified before the Armed Services Committee, said that we needed more Iraqi troops. He did not call for more American troops.
MATTHEWS: The president often talks about the dangers of pulling our troops out of Iraq as if that would be the worst possible situation for the world. But what good do you see coming of us staying in there saying the rest of the president‘s term? If we keep our troops in force in Iraq, in fact add these new troops, how will things be better in two years than they are right now if we leave right now or we leave in two years?
COLLINS: Well, that‘s the big question, and I don‘t think there is an easy answer. Out in the west, I do think, because it‘s not a sectarian fight, because it‘s a fight with al Qaeda, I think more troops could make a difference because the local tribal leaders are now on our side.
In Baghdad, I think we should be withdrawing troops because I think that ironically the presence of more troops lessens the pressure on the prime minister to make the tough decisions that he needs to make to more fully integrate the Sunnis into the power structure.
I also think the Iraqis need to make a change in their oil law so that all of the residents of Iraq own the oil and have a stake in the future of the country and in the oil infrastructure.
Those kinds of decisions need to be made by the Iraqis themselves, and I worry that the presence of additional troops delays the day when the prime minister makes the tough compromises that are going to be necessary.
MATTHEWS: Senator Collins, it looks like the Senate is going to vote within two weeks on a resolution, a sense of the Senate resolution, opposed to the surge of troops, the 20 some extra thousand troops. Will you vote for that sense of the Senate resolution?
COLLINS: I‘m going to wait and see what the resolution says. Some of them would cut off funding. I don‘t think that that makes sense. I don‘t want to cut off funds to our troops that are there.
Who is to say exactly what the right number of troops is right now? If we embed troops the way the Iraq Study Group has suggested, we may need to send more troops for force protection. So I don‘t want to tie the president‘s hands that way. On the other hand, I am going to make very clear that I do not support a surge of 20,000 troops into Baghdad.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Susan Collins, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Susan Collins, of course, is a senator—a Republican senator from the state of Maine.
Coming up, will Democrats stop Bush‘s plan to send in more troops? Is it already too late? Freshman Congressman Chris Carney of Pennsylvania, who worked on pre-war intel at the Pentagon, is going to be here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Bush is ready to send more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq. Will Democrats be able to stop him or will they just say they don‘t like it? Before the Iraq war started, Chris Carney worked on intelligence at the Pentagon as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is now a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman, I haven‘t been able to figure you out, sir. You were part of the cabal that led us into the war. You worked for Doug Feith, one of the leading neocons.
You were one of the people that helped sell the case that we were going to be attacked by a nuclear weapon by Iraq, Saddam Hussein on some kind of balsa wood delivery system. And now you‘ve benefited from the fact that the public hates this war. Are you anti-war or pro war, sir? I can‘t tell.
REP. CHRIS CARNEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I‘m anti-current policy is what I am.
MATTHEWS: Well, when did you change?
CARNEY: I changed when we had plenty of intelligence that indicated that Saddam Hussein was going to fight an insurgency and we did little to prepare for it.
MATTHEWS: OK, so you didn‘t like the way we followed up the invasion.
You were all for the invasion.
CARNEY: Yes, like most Americans, frankly.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you completely. Now let me ask you about the decision to go in with a slender deployment of troops. Who is responsible? I remember that Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, dumped all over General Shinseki when Shinseki said it will take hundreds of thousands of troops to secure Baghdad.
Wolfowitz, supposedly the biggest brain of all the neocons, thought that was ludicrous and said, of course, you‘re a fool, get out of here,we can do this with a slight number of troops. Who was right, who was wrong, the intellectual Wolfowitz, or the fighting man Shinseki?
CARNEY: Well, I think it‘s clear that Mr. Shinseki was correct in this case.
MATTHEWS: When is he going to get his medal? No, seriously.
CARNEY: You‘d have to...
MATTHEWS: This administration gives medals to people who lose things, who get things screwed up. They gave it to George Tenet. I‘m sure that Rumsfeld is going to get a bunch of medals. They keep giving medals to people that blow it, and the guys that tell the truth get fired.
MATTHEWS: You know, I‘m watching this every day now. You‘re watching Casey get sacked and Abizaid get sacked. The president brings in people that agree with him currently. I mean, do you have to be in step—like, do you have to sort of do a dancing with shadow dancing with the president?
Do you have to do synchronized swimming with him? What‘s the story here? I mean, you‘re a smart guy.
CARNEY: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: You were smart. You helped us get in the war and now you‘re smart enough not to be for it when it becomes unpopular. Well, what do we do now sir?
CARNEY: We have to train the Iraqis to take care of their own defense. If we‘re going to surge 20,000 troops—by the way, which I do not support—those people need to be trainers, those people need to be linguists, and 20,000 other American troops should come home instead. What we need to do is make sure that the Iraqis are enabled to do the job that they need to do for themselves.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think the president thinks that 20,000 more troops in Baghdad will clean up Dodge City?
CARNEY: I don‘t know. I don‘t know why they picked 20,000. Maybe he thought it was a number that would sell politically. But it‘s not enough. It‘s not enough for Baghdad, let alone Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Is this P.R.? Is this P.R.?
MATTHEWS: So he‘s using the lives of Americans to increase the numbers to make it look—like Barack Obama said this a couple of weeks ago. They said—he said the president is looking at troops, G.I.s going into Baghdad, as numbers because he can‘t think of a new idea, so he‘s just saying, well, the public will be impressed by more numbers.
CARNEY: Well, it really is kind of a Yogi Berra strategy, it seems to me. It‘s deja vu all over again. We‘re just extending this.
Look, the truth, Chris, is that if, you know, in a few months, we don‘t see significant improvement in Iraq, Mr. Bush is going to look back fondly on the 30 percent approval ratings that he has.
MATTHEWS: Yes, what do you make of this politically in Pennsylvania? Pennsylvania, as you know, being from up in Scranton, is a pretty culturally conservative state. It‘s very patriotic.
CARNEY: It‘s very patriotic, yes.
MATTHEWS: I think it would rather be a little poor and a little better than a little rich and a little more evil. I think I see that in the gambling issue up in Pennsylvania. It‘s a clean state.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a very patriotic state. Where do they stand on the war right now? We lose so many people.
CARNEY: It‘s remarkable.
MATTHEWS: What do they feel about it when you go home and talk to people?
CARNEY: Right, it‘s remarkable. The calls that we‘ve received in my office are overwhelming against the war. It‘s in the 90 percentile against surging the troops and then they want the troops to come home. The 10th District, the district I represent in Pennsylvania, has lost 21 soldiers. That‘s a high number. That‘s a high cost to pay for a very poor, rural district.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the home of little league baseball too, right?
CARNEY: Yes, that‘s right. Williamsport is the home of Little League Baseball, the World Series is. Correct.
MATTHEWS: So that‘s the heartland of America and you believe it‘s turned against this war?
CARNEY: It has. It really has. There is a common sense of the American people and they understand that things aren‘t going well. They understand that things need to be changed.
MATTHEWS: What is it like? I know you‘re just a freshman now, and you‘re—I know. I‘ve been reading about you. You‘re trying to make yourself—build a career in the House which is a wonderful thing to do for yourself and for the country.
But what are you hearing in the leadership? Are they—I sense that your Democratic leadership said we don‘t want to put anybody on television against the president tonight. Well, why not?
CARNEY: Well, it‘s not necessarily—first of all, we‘re not sure exactly what he‘s going to say. But second of all, we have to make the distinction—and we will support the troops. We will provide for them. We will make sure they have what they need.
We don‘t agree, along with many of our Republican colleagues, that we should surge more troops...
MATTHEWS: Well, then why don‘t you put someone on television, a man or a woman, black or white or Hispanic, to go on television tonight—or Muslim—and go on television and say what you just said?
Why is the Democratic Party abdicated its opposition role on this war debate?
CARNEY: I don‘t think they have abdicated the role, Chris.
MATTHEWS: But—no, you have. I‘ve got to tell you something. Your party is not putting a spokesperson out in the House of Representatives. You‘re going to let the Senate do it. Dick Durbin‘s going to do it. But you guys are not putting forth a spokesperson tonight to respond to the president. You‘re not doing it.
CARNEY: Well, the party made the decision of who‘s going to speak on its behalf. I‘m doing your show tonight and I‘ll be happy to come back at any time to talk...
MATTHEWS: You‘re always welcome.
CARNEY: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Are you the spokesman for the Democratic Party nationally now, sir?
CARNEY: I have not been given that honor, thank you.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re waiting for somebody to get it.
It‘s great to have you one.
Congratulations, Pennsylvania is a great state. And finally they found a guy like you up there, an Irish guy, to represent Scranton.
Anyway, thank you very much, Congressman Chris Carney.
CARNEY: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, is President Bush‘s plan smart? Can sending more troops in help us get out any sooner?
We‘ll ask retired General Barry McCaffrey.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In tonight‘s speech President Bush will call for a troop build-up in Iraq of about 20,000 service people. With the U.S. military already strained in Iraq and Afghanistan, where are the troops coming from?
And what is their specific mission?
For answers we turn to NBC News military analyst General Barry McCaffrey.
General McCaffrey, I guess I don‘t get it. If we go into Baghdad, we start doing street sweeps, block to block, kicking down doors, looking for Sunni insurgents and we kill 10,000 of them in the next six months, what makes us think that will end the war?
There will be more of them, won‘t there?
DEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.) NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well...
MATTHEWS: Why would they ever give up?
MCCAFFREY: I don‘t think we‘re—first of all, I think what we can do with U.S. forces—we‘ve got 13,000 combat troops in town right now. If you sit on the city, there will be less violence, it won‘t go to all-out civil war. But the real question is...
MATTHEWS: Won‘t they just sit on their ammo and wait for us leave?
MCCAFFREY: Of course they will.
You know, this isn‘t really a counter-insurgency campaign. It‘s a low grade civil war. And by the way, there‘s also criminality, also jihaddists. But essentially it‘s a civil war. You got seven million Arabs trying to murder each other with 120 mortars, car bombs, electric drills...
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t we stop—because we‘re only going to delay the killing, right?
MCCAFFREY: Well, now you‘re going up to higher and higher order questions. You know...
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to keep it simple. What can we accomplish in the rest of this president‘s presidency? Can we really prevent a civil war? Or are we just playing for time?
MCCAFFREY: No, I think it‘s—there‘s hope that if we enhance the security in the short term, if we get new leadership, bring in Lieutenant Colonel David Patraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, if we give them a billion dollars in commander‘s initiative funds, hire some Iraqis off the streets, get them back to work, and then if we enhance the training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces, maybe Maliki will pull it together. That‘s the...
MATTHEWS: But he would still have the problem of a large minority, 20 percent of the country, that doesn‘t want to be ruled by his crowd and his own crowd that wants to dominate the country. Aren‘t these conflicting forces that will eventually have to join and fight it out, like we did in this country?
MCCAFFREY: History says that. You know, and by the way, it‘s not illogical fears on the part of either the Sunni or the Shia. The Shia are saying, the last time we let these guys back in power, they murdered 300,000 of us in a short period of time of time.
MATTHEWS: And the Sunnis are right knowing that the Shia are coming to get them.
MCCAFFREY: They‘re going to pay back 35 years of cruelty and dominance. So it‘s a tough situation. Now, Chris, I would agree, though, if this thing unravels on us, if we have 27 million people trying to murder each other, if the Turks intervene, the Syrians and Iranians, in an overt way, we got problems...
MATTHEWS: Why—why is it worse than us being there for the next two or ten years getting killed?
MATTHEWS: We won‘t get their oil?
MCCAFFREY: Well, and the Saudis are to the south, the Kuwaitis, the Persian Gulf, the Iranian influence, the nuclear weapons...
MATHEWS: Let me suggest that the president created this problem by giving Shia domination over a country that they never had domination, that he‘s created a Shia crescent, in Tehran now, and now in Baghdad and now in Beirut. He‘s been the one who has put this all together. And now the Sunni powers to the west, who have been pretty moderate over these years, Mubarak, King Abdullah, the Emirates, Saudi, all these guys are now scared to death of what we‘ve accomplished, which is to create a Shia crescent. We‘ve done the dirty work and now the president says, having created the dirty work, we‘ve got to stand there and fight for the dirty work guys—because we‘re fighting for Shia domination of Iraq, aren‘t we by killing a bunch of Sunnis?
MCCAFFREY: I lost you on the third term.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me just make it simple. The majority of the country is Shia. We‘re arming them to fight the insurgents, right? We‘re going to kill a lot of insurgents ourselves, right?
MCCAFFREY: Well, we think what we‘re going to do is cobble together some loose federalist form of government that the Iraqis will shrink back from becoming Pol Pot‘s Cambodia and at the end of the day, the neighbors will stay out of it mostly and it won‘t come apart.
MATTHEWS: As long as we‘re there.
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think that‘s the problem. We‘ve got to stay for ten years to make this work effectively. And the problem is it‘s $8 million a month and a thousand killed and wounded in the Army and the Marine Corps.
MATTHEWS: So what‘s the president‘s plan? He‘s only got two more years under our Constitution. He‘s term limited. Does he eventually start rooting for any Republican who will keep the war going or hope that Hillary will keep the war going?
What is his plan?
MATTHEWS: Because you said it takes ten years.
MCCAFFREY: He doesn‘t have much leverage over the domestic political process, you know, as of the election. So I think really what‘s happening is we‘re going to watch what the candidates say in the coming 24 months. They will decide the outcome in Iraq, not the...
MATTHEWS: So you really think it‘s going to be a political decision in this country?
MCCAFFREY: Sure, absolutely. And right now it‘s moving the wrong way. The American people walked away from the war. I don‘t really believe they‘re going to come back to it unless they see substantial progress.
MATTHEWS: Could it be that the only thing that works in Iraq is a dictator?
MCCAFFREY: I hope not. In the short run, that‘s likely, authoritarian government of some form.
MATTHEWS: Fear, Machiavelli said, is stronger than love.
MCCAFFREY: And also a federal notion that the three groups got to cooperate, share the oil, not murder each other, common foreign policy, common currency, common armed forces, maybe those can bring them together.
MATTHEWS: Would we have militias in that country if we had the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein, as ruthless as they? Would they have dared face up to the army? Would we have insurgents? Would we have anything like that?
MCCAFFREY: Generally speaking, no, although Saddam barely controlled this factional strife also. He had to murder them by the hundreds of thousands to keep them in line. Clearly, we‘re not arguing for that.
MATTHEWS: We‘d like a Tito if we could find one. Tito is looking awful good right now.
MCCAFFREY: Benign authoritarian institutions, some form of rule of law, some predictability...
MATTHEWS: Benign dictator.
MCCAFFREY: ... don‘t build nuclear weapons, don‘t attack your neighbors, that‘s really the outcome we ought to hope for.
MATTHEWS: Does the military—when you talk to them off the record, does the military believe that this attack by us, this invasion of Iraq in 2003, was a mistake?
MCCAFFREY: No, I don‘t think so for a variety of human reasons. You know, we‘ve taken 26,000 killed and wounded in there. You know, they put their heart and soul into that.
MATTHEWS: I always say that once you‘ve given blood, it‘s very hard to say I made a mistake. In fact, it‘s not the right question for a military guy. Military guys aren‘t supposed to...
MCCAFFREY: They want this to work out. Their commander in chief put them in there.
MATTHEWS: Wrong question. It‘s not up to the military guys to decide whether they‘re doing the right thing, because you‘ve invested arms and legs, it‘s hard to say to yourself, God, I blew it. They didn‘t blow it, somebody else did. Thank you, General McCaffrey.
MCCAFFREY: Yes, plus it was a gift to the Iraqi people. I mean, getting the monster out of office was good to start off with. The execution was pretty darn incompetent.
MATTHEWS: Yes, Thank you, General McCaffrey. You‘re great to have on the show. Up next—great to have in the country.
Do families who have lost loved ones in Iraq support sending more troops in? We‘ll talk to two mothers who very much disagree on the surge. These are gold-star mothers.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
What do families who have lost loved ones in Iraq think about the president‘s plan to increase the number of troops over there? Rosemary Palmer‘s son Lance Corporal Augie Schroeder was killed in August of 2005. There he is.
And Merrilee Carlson‘s son, Sergeant Michael Carlson was killed in Iraq in January of 2005. But these mothers have very different opinions about this war and whether we should increase the surge of troops or bring in more troops into the country.
Let me start with Rosemary Palmer. Your views on what the president is likely to say tonight?
ROSEMARY PALMER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: Well, what do we expect him to say is that he is going to increase the number of troops by 20,000 and basically our view of that is that it‘s too little, too late. An escalation by any other name is still escalation.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the same question, Mrs. Carlson. What do you think is the right course here, increase the number of troops or not?
MERRILEE CARLSON, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: I believe that we need to do what is necessary in order to finish the mission. Our troops need the tools, no matter whether they are extra men or money or whatever they need in order to help secure the area so that the government of Iraq can solidify itself and so that they can train their forces to finish the job.
We need to complete this mission. It‘s not just Iraq. It‘s the war in Afghanistan. It‘s the war on terror, and it‘s for a secure United—strong United States. It‘s more than just Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Mrs. Palmer, what do you make of the charge that‘s made if we don‘t increase the number of troops over there, we‘ll basically get blown out of there eventually and then we‘ll have chaos in Iraq and more terrorism setting up there?
PALMER: The 20,000 may sound like a lot of people, but it‘s really very few. It‘s nowhere near the number of people that we would need to actually do the job that they‘re telling us we‘re going to do. I heard someone say that 4,000 of those people would be sent to Al Anbar province and...
MATTHEWS: That‘s right. That‘s the word. That‘s what we‘re getting tonight, that that‘s what the president intends to recommend, yes.
PALMER: That‘s nothing, absolutely nothing. That won‘t do anything except just increase the number of people who are being putting at risk.
MATTHEWS: So where are we headed if we don‘t do it?
PALMER: I think that what we have...
CARLSON: We‘re headed for disaster. If we pull our troops out—if we do not finish this job, first of all, for the Iraqi people, you are looking at people just taking out each other.
And if you think about the women who have had the opportunity to vote and who have had a chance for a better life now because of what has taken place there, what will happen to them when all of this turns backwards? What will happen to the children? And that‘s just the Iraqi part.
MATTHEWS: When do you think we should say—two years from now, five years from now—when should we say that as many years as we stay in the country we cannot end what looks to be a growing civil car, no matter how long we stay, unless we keep killing Iraqis?
When should we say we‘ve done it, they‘re going to go to war with each other, the Shia and the Sunnis, and we‘ve got to get out of there. How long do we think we should put up this fight, Mrs. Carlson? How long?
CARLSON: I don‘t believe you can put a timeframe on it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you have to, because the president—well, politically, the American people are going to have to do it. They‘re going to have to decide whether to stay through this presidency, whether to elect a like-minded president to replace President Bush who says keep the same number of troops in there. I mean, the country is going to have to decide. You‘re going to have to decide as a voter.
CARLSON: OK, at the beginning of the United States of America, it took the Americans 11 years to come up with a Constitution. We demanded that the Iraqi government put together one in one year and ratify that. How can we ask them to turn this around in two years, three years? They need the time and the power in order to solidify their country and make this happen.
The motto of the First Infantry is “no mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, duty first.” Their duty is to a strong, secure America. If we allow this to happen, it allows al Qaeda to call a victory because they will believe that they can just hold out long enough and make things tough enough that Americans are weak and we will just back of from a real fight. I‘m sorry, that has been a problem for a long time.
MATTHEWS: Do believe we‘re fighting al Qaeda in Iraq? Do you believe we‘re fighting al Qaeda in Iraq?
CARLSON: I believe a big share of what we are fighting is al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: Why do we keep being told it‘s only about five percent of what we‘re facing over there?
CARLSON: But their portion is a big portion because that‘s—how can I say? It spurs others...
MATTHEWS: I know what you mean. They‘re the ones that blew up the mosque and triggered the sectarian fighting between Shia and Sunni. They‘re trying to egg on everybody, is what you‘re saying?
CARLSON: Exactly. You get that little third thing in there. You know, these people are trying to come to terms with each other and to come to terms with running the government and you‘ve got this extra little piece in there. And as I said, it‘s more than just Iraq. It spreads to Afghanistan, to the entire war on terror.
I mean, I can‘t say that I was horrified to know that we ended up bombing in Somalia this week. But it‘s something that had to be done. If we are going to have a strong United States of America to give to our children to pass on to our grandchildren, we‘ve got to finish this deal.
MATTHEWS: All right, I appreciate, how can I appreciate enough your sacrifice? Thank you for coming on.
Let me go back to Rosemary Palmer. What do you say to the charge that if we don‘t fight them there, this will metastasize, we‘ll be fighting them everywhere else?
PALMER: Well the problem is, right now we spread ourselves so thin that we do not have enough people here in this country to defend the country. And we‘re talking about getting more of the reservists to go back for another time or two in Iraq. We‘re talking about the national guards from each state. So we‘re taking the people who could be protecting us here and we‘re sending them away, leaving us vulnerable here at home.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Rosemary, again to you. I‘ve had you on before. Thank you again. I appreciate your incredible sacrifice and it‘s go great to have you come on because I think you two mothers should be the people speaking out in this country. You‘ve got so much at stake in this. Thank you for coming on this program. Coming up next, will Democrats and Republicans vote to condemn Bush‘s escalation? Looks like the numbers are there right now for a vote in a couple of weeks, maybe 60 votes now, looks like maybe voting against the president on this nonbinding resolution in the U.S. Senate.
Will President Bush be humiliated by a vote of a majority of senators against his plans to increase the troops over there? We‘ll talk about it with the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford. This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Tonight, the president will deliver his plan for saving Iraq, calling for 20,000 more troops. But have Americans had enough of this war? Do they want to get even deeper into the war they now consider a mistake?
Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers tonight, the”Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank and “Congressional Quarterly‘s” Craig Crawford, who‘s an MSNBC analyst.
I want to start with Dana right now. Dana, you write such great columns right in the second page of the “Washington Post” every day. You give us the inside, the color, the smell of the crowd, the roar of the people or whatever. What‘s the smell on Capitol Hill tonight? I keep getting these names, Lugar, Brownback? Is it Brownback? What‘s the guy?
DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Brownback.
MATTHEWS: Collins we just had on, Gordon Swift, we‘ve had on the last couple of days, Chuck Hagel, Voinovich, maybe Lott, maybe Warner. A good number of prospects for people to vote against, at least in a nonbinding resolution, the surge?
MILBANK: Yes, you‘re not kidding. That smell is the smell of fear up there bordering on panic because the Democrats now that they control the Senate can force a vote on a resolution meaningless in effect, but highly symbolic and ...
MATTHEWS: ... But is it meaningless if the world press covers a news story around the world say in two weeks on a Tuesday or whatever in the United States Senate, the world‘s greatest deliberative body if you will, votes say 58 or 60 to whatever is left that the president is wrong and should be rebuked on this troop increase? What does that do to his morale, the morale of the troops?
MILBANK: Well, it can be plenty damaging to that and it certainly can be damaging to the president‘s standing which is already about as low as presumably it can go. But in terms of actually reversing the president‘s policy, the very fact that they‘re taking the nonbinding resolution route, unless they go the Kennedy route and actually try to force the president‘s hand on that.
MATTHEWS: Right, well even Kennedy is saying it will take a while to get this. Let me ask you Craig, it seems to me that just like the opposition to this surge can be symbolic, I keep hearing around the edges, even from Republicans, that the troop surge itself is meant to be symbolic, as a show of force rather than a true strategic solution?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC ANALYST: A couple things strike me about today, Chris. The world symbolic, both sides using symbolism. It‘s almost like we‘re in an election campaign and they‘re playing...
MATTHEWS: ... Yes, but these guys can get killed over there or their heads show up on the streets of Baghdad. Notice they‘re not symbols.
CRAWFORD: They‘re playing to a public that has largely made up its mind is what‘s fascinating about it. But also I see the opportunity for cover for an exit strategy.
I mean, some of the experts I‘ve talked to and seen in interviews today on MSNBC, in fact, what makes sense to me is this theory that this is such a small uptake, 20,000, that it‘s more about getting troops on the ground for cover for an exit strategy, far from escalation.
MATTHEWS: Do you know when people in high school, both of you guys, you went to school and studied your literature and inevitably some teacher or critic had this very expanded notion of what an author really meant by some poem or some book. And it turns out the author never even though about this.
Are you expanding on the mentality of this decision to surge troops beyond its own reality? I mean you say people may think this maybe an exit strategy. Does anyone think that George W. Bush is subtle, sophisticated, complicated? Whatever you think about this president, he‘s not complicated, he‘s very clear in his thinking.
CRAWFORD: I think he wants to show that he is taking action, that he is taking the initiative and he‘s putting more troops in.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right, that‘s a demonstration.
CRAWFORD: That‘s important to him, but I think some of the more cynical thinkers in the administration, one Pentagon source told me a couple of days ago if it‘s under 40,000, it‘s an exit strategy.
MATTHEWS: Which means that within a year and a half, he‘s crumbling?
CRAWFORD: And they want—they other thing about this that they‘re doing is they‘re setting up the Democrats for this nonbinding resolution, they‘re setting up the Democrats for what I think ultimately is going to be a strategy of blaming the Democrats and the media for losing the war.
MATTHEWS: How do you blame the Democrats, Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post”, for passing non-binding resolution that says we disagree?
DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, what they want to make it look like is the Democrats are voting against funds for the troops and—or not showing support for the troops when they‘re out there on the frontlines. I think that‘s sort of the message Dan Bartlett delivered this morning.
MATTHEWS: Pretty small, smart (ph) stuff.
MILBANK: Well, it‘s the best he can do in this case. And that‘s what we‘re talking about here, is the least bad of a range of bad options.
MATTHEWS: When did that wear out? When does the crying wolf not work? When does “The other side‘s a traitor” now work?
We just had Chris Carney on, who is, I think, a pretty middle of the road Democrat—in fact, he was one of the Doug Fife (ph) crowd that talked us into this war. He says that up there in northeastern Pennsylvania, mainly ethic Irish, Italian, Eastern European, Polish Americans, regular salt of the earth people are turned against this war. These are conservative, cultural people. These are Bob Casey types. And he says they‘re against this war.
How can the president rally the nation against the people who agree with them?
MILBANK: Well, he can‘t. And the effect of that we saw stopped in November of 2006. The most—the only thing the president has going in his favor right now is the next hanging. November of 2008 is still a long way from now. The most nervous person on Capitol Hill yesterday was John Sununu, who‘s up for Senate reelection in 2008. We tried for 15 minutes to pin him own down his support for the Iraq policy and he executed more maneuvers than best of...
MATTHEWS: SO he asked to join this list, you think, of Republicans that I‘m throwing out here, I‘m accumulating of Lugar, Brownbeck...
MATTHEWS: ... Gordon Smith, Chuck Hagel, Boynevitch (ph) Lott and Warner. He might want to sidle up to that list.
MATTHEWS: I forgot Norm Coleman. He may want to get on that list, right?
CRAWFORD: He certainly does. He‘s up in 2008 and he‘s already put out noises about that...
MATTHEWS: Have you noticed the guys who are moving against the president are also the ones who are up in 2008? Gordon Smith or Oregon...
MATTHEWS: Now, let‘s not get too cynical, here. Well, we are, of course.
Dana Milbank just pointed out the fact that there is a parallel between the Republicans who decide this war wasn‘t such a great deal and those who are Republicans up for re-election: Gordon Smith of Oregon, which is a pretty anti-war state historically. And then of course, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, which is historically Hubert Humphrey country and Walter Mondale and Gene McCarthy country, not exactly hawk country. Do you think that they‘re all running scared now?
CRAWFORD: Democrats are trying to create something here that‘s easy for these Republicans to vote for, which is why it‘s nonbinding. And also...
MATTHEWS: So, this is fly paper.
CRAWFORD: ... the White House‘s attitude toward the public was clear in Dick Cheney‘s interview just before the midterm election, when he said it doesn‘t matter.
MATTHEWS: Maybe the Democrats are learning how to fight this war.
Anyway, we‘ll be back with Dana Milbank and Craig Crawford.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank and “Congressional Quarterly‘s” Craig Crawford.
Dana, what do you make of the fact that John Edwards out there, sort of the third man—the third place guy running for the presidency on the Democratic side, is out there referring to the McCain doctrine? He‘s saying President Bush tonight will accept the McCain doctrine. He is already directly aiming his fire at the man he thinks will be the Republican nominee.
MILBANK: It is interesting, but what I think is even more interesting is that Romney seems to be giving some support, some cover to the McCain position. So at least looking forward to the primary, that‘s got to be something of relief for John McCain, although a lot of sort of the buzz right now is this has done John McCain a good bit of damage, could do him more damage going ahead. But, you know, to his credit, he‘s sticking to his principal even if it‘s hurting him.
MATTHEWS: But the president does seem to want to continue the war behind his presidency. Doesn‘t he have to eventually find a candidate who can win, A), and, B), continue his policy?
MILBANK: It‘s terrific that having lived through the 2000 campaign, that we may be—his savior may be John McCain.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it seems there—isn‘t that an irony, that the only guy out there‘s who‘s got the military record, the military credibility to say, “I‘m with the president, he‘s right. In fact, he‘s not quite right enough.”?
CRAWFORD: Yes. Among the many fascinating questions of this coming campaign is who the Bush crowd is going to get behind. I mean, who the president might want to anoint as a successor. You talk about the McCain doctrine, I‘m not sure McCain will sign on to what President...
MATTHEWS: I mean, Mitt Romney doesn‘t strike me as a guy with the background or the credibility to be a war president. He‘s an efficiency expert.
CRAWFORD: Actually, McCain as far as military background is one of the few on either side...
MATTHEWS: With much credibility.
CRAWFORD: ... with much credibility on national security issues.
MATTHEWS: I mean, if John McCain says we need more troops, at least you think, well, he must really think so and have some reason to think so. If other guys say it, like Romney, you say, he‘s just playing the political bugle right now.
CRAWFORD: Well, I‘m very interested in McCain‘s response to this announcement because earlier today in an interview with Tim Russert, he said that the White House had assured him these numbers are going to be high enough for what he wants. But he had earlier in the day said that 20,000 wouldn‘t be enough.
MATTHEWS: Are we going to be able to find Waldo tonight? Are we going to be able to find Waldo tonight, Hillary Clinton? Where is Waldo will be my question tonight. Will she be in Statuary Hall? Will she be somewhere tonight, Dana, where she‘ll have to say whether she agrees or disagrees with the president?
MILBANK: She won‘t, actually. But the—actually, people aren‘t waiting for tonight. We have the luxury of the prebuttal now, since we know exactly what the president‘s proposing. We don‘t have to stick around until 9:30...
MATTHEWS: So where is Hillary on this baby?
CRAWFORD: So far, she hasn‘t released any statement...
MATTHEWS: ... presidential candidate who doesn‘t take a position?
What‘s she trying to do?
CRAWFORD: ... day. I mean, she was in the briefing, I understand, that they had at the White House for Democrats. She was the only one who didn‘t release any kind of statement or have anything to say.
MILBANK: Yes, conspicuously absent. The Democrats have been rushing to every microphone on the Hill, but not Hillary.
MATTHEWS: She‘s playing Harpo Marx. She should have a little horn. I mean, what is she going to do to tell us that she has a position or that she even exists anymore?
I mean, when is she going to take a position on this war? I think she‘s hiding over there like a hermit crab on the side of the hawks because she thinks, in the end, security will win the next election.
CRAWFORD: She had said a few weeks ago she was against the surge, when it was first being talked about. But not lately, we haven‘t heard anything.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll see.
Anyway, thank you, Craig Crawford.
Thank you, Dana Milbank.
Play HARDBALL with us again an hour from now as we get ready for President Bush‘s speech. We‘re going to have a live show in one hour. That‘s going to be followed by a countdown at 8:00 Eastern. And then Keith Olbermann and I will be back at 9:00 Eastern for our Huntly-Brinkley (ph) update.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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