Guests: Peter Fenn, Lynn Sweet
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: The ever less popular war in Iraq sees another shuffle in its management as President Bush scrambles to retrieve the seemingly irretrievable mission gone wrong.
The Pentagon announced today that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, will be replaced at the end of his term in September, rather than endure a renomination process, which, in the words of Defense Secretary Gates, would not be in the best interest of this country.
Gates has recommended to the president that Admiral Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, be nominated to succeed Pace. Meanwhile, in the executive branch, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the president‘s nominee for a new position, amounting to a war czar, said that if he is confirmed, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley would not be primarily responsible for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
Lute also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq government is essentially blowing it, badly, missing the opportunity to make political progress while U.S. troop levels surge. If the Iraqis continue to fail, Lute suggested, violence in Iraq is inevitable. In other words, it‘s a mess. Here to put all of these machinations and predictions into perspective, we welcome MSNBC military analyst, retired Army colonel, Jack Jacobs.
Colonel, thanks for coming on.
COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Good afternoon, Tucker.
CARLSON: So Pete Pace out. Is this the end of the Rumsfeld era?
JACOBS: Well, they‘re trying to make it the end of the Rumsfeld era.
It was really kind of interesting today in the press conference with Secretary Gates speaking about—logically about how it‘s important that they get somebody new in there because they don‘t want Pete Pace to have to go through the same routine as he did before, the grilling that will be required to reconfirm him as chairman at the end of his term if he puts him up for another term.
With the assumption, and I think it has been swallowed by everybody, that Mullen is not going to have to go through exactly the same routine. He‘s the chief of naval operations. He‘s going to—he is part and parcel of the same committee that has been running the war. He‘s going to get exactly the same divisive grilling that apparently Gates want to spare Pete Pace at the end of the day.
You‘re absolutely right, it‘s the end of the Rumsfeld era. They only wanted to get rid of him.
CARLSON: Here is what members of Congress, Democrats and I think Republicans, are likely to say in their grilling of Mullen, if he comes before the committee. They‘re going to quote General Lute, who said:
“Conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly despite the influx of U.S. troops in recent months. Absent political reform, violence will continue in Iraq into the next year.”
I mean, that‘s kind of the nub of it. The surge isn‘t working is that what he has said. Is that what he is saying?
JACOBS: Yes. I think he—he‘s saying that in the grossest strategic sense, it‘s not working. At the local level, tactically, it‘s working fabulously well. If you talk to any of the people down in and around Anbar province, for example, they‘ll tell you that attacks are down by 90 percent or more. Real commerce taking place. Iraqis are ratting out the bad guys. Bad guys are actually running away to other places where the Americans and Iraqi army are not located.
That‘s the good news. The bad news is we can‘t do that everywhere in country. And the independent variable here is whether or not the Iraqi government is going to get control of all of the places they now do not have control. And so General Lute is absolutely right from a strategic standpoint.
CARLSON: We‘re hearing again and again reports that the Iraqi government is, if anything, an impediment to peace in Iraq. That, you know, members of the Iraqi security forces are involved in sectarian violence. That basically the government is dysfunctional.
Do you think the Bush administration will continue its stated commitment to propping up a democracy in Iraq or just blow it off and say, look, we are taking full control, we don‘t care what the moron in charge of government are saying?
JACOBS: No, no. Definitely the former. In my judgment, I don‘t think—I think there‘s a recognition even in this administration that if you‘re not capable of handling a couple of provinces, and there are four provinces which are totally out of control, including most of Baghdad, you‘re not going to be able to control the entire country.
And so I think they‘re going to continue on with the polite fiction that the Iraqi government are the guys who are actually going to make it work and we are working very, very hard to ensure that they‘re going to be able to do it. At the end of the day, the Republicans are very much interested in reducing our footprint in Iraq.
And I think they are going to work very, very hard to find excuses to do that, not to take more control over Iraq. I think they recognize that short of sticking another 300,000 or 400,000 Americans, which we‘re not going to do in there, it‘s not going to work.
CARLSON: And finally, you write, I thought, a really interesting piece about General Lute, whom you knew at West Point years ago, I guess in the ‘70s. And you said: “Essentially no matter how talented he is,” and you describe him as talented, “for all his skills as a leader, nobody in the field is going to listen to him.” That he‘s essentially in an impossible position.
JACOBS: Yes. He‘s in—it‘s not for nothing that several other extremely talented four-star generals turned the job down, because it doesn‘t make any sense as a job. For one thing, there‘s no authority down the chain of command to the commanders who are four-star who are actually executing the war.
So you‘re not going to be able to instruct them on what to do. On the other side, his real job is to coordinate the activities of the rest of the executive branch. That‘s all of the department heads who, up until now, have been working very hard to ignore getting involved in Iraq if they possible can.
They‘re certainly not going to listen to this guy, Doug Lute, no matter what he says, even if he says he‘s calling for the president of the United States. These are all big bureaucracies. They‘re not going to pay any attention to General Lute. I‘m pretty sure of that.
They haven‘t paid any attention to the president until now. They‘re not going to pay attention to Doug Lute.
CARLSON: That is a very good and very depressing point. Jack Jacobs, thanks a lot.
JACOBS: Good to be with you.
CARLSON: How badly is John McCain‘s support for immigration reform hurting him? His own staffers are bailing on him and he‘s having trouble raising money. We‘ll find out why next.
Plus, John Edwards takes the gloves off and goes after Hillary Clinton for claiming the Iraq War has in fact made us safer. Has it? Why is Hillary backing away from what she appears to have said? Stick around for answers.
CARLSON: A year ago it seemed unlikely that the U.S. government‘s immigration policy would remain unchanged and that Senator John McCain‘s bid for the presidency would be limping toward an inglorious conclusion. Or maybe it was foreseeable all along.
But in any case, it‘s happening. The president‘s so-called immigration reform proposal is all but dead today. After a loss in the Senate last night, the White House plans to revive the bill in several weeks, but for now, almost nobody admits to supporting it, almost nobody that is, but Senator McCain, whose campaign for president has been sluggish for months.
With his campaign operation in flux, and his money-raising efforts falling well short of hopes and expectations, McCain has lost the support of at least one of his South Carolina allies, precisely because he supports Bush‘s immigration bill. David Nix, who ran the McCain operation in all-important Aiken County, told the campaign that he is leaving because he so strongly disapproves of McCain‘s liberal views on amnesty for illegal immigration.
Is this the beginning of a trend? Republicans and McCain in particular suffering for their support of Bush‘s immigration bill. Here to tell us, we welcome Lynn Sweet of The Chicago Sun-Times; and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
Welcome to you both. Tom Tancredo, Peter, says in an interview today:
“I think this is the death knell for John McCain‘s campaign. Now Tancredo is a hothead on immigration. I agree with him. He is also running for president, which is great. So he has motive to say that. Still, there‘s something to that, no?
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. Tancredo, of course, in the debate was the one who wanted to suspend legal immigration.
FENN: He‘s a little over the top. But now I think—look, McCain does have a serious problem here. In that debate, the one issue where he was all by himself was immigration. And it‘s tough. Now the question is - - this is—I‘m going to give you a counter to this.
If this thing fails and if the American people, as they are now, are moving toward some kind of comprehensive solution, albeit a little bit of a problem with the Republicans, but does this make him somebody who stands up for principle? Who stands up for what he believes?
He loses some votes, but he gains stature. In other words, I mean, the conventional wisdom is he is going to get hammer because of this, conservatives are going to leave him in droves. But their may be a counter to that which might work its way through a little differently.
CARLSON: There may be. I think if this were the general election, he might get more credit than he‘s going get in the Republican primaries, where really the base is agitated over this. David Nix—I am sure we are reading too much into this, but I do think it is a metaphor and not just a news story.
David Nix, Aiken County chair for McCain writes this letter. He says, I am too far from him on the amnesty bill, I‘m leaving. That‘s it. I mean, does David Nix speak for other McCain supporters, do you think?
LYNN SWEET, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: I don‘t know about McCain‘s supporters, but looking at the Republican pool, what—the advantage McCain has on this immigration issues is that, if that is your issue, those votes are going to be divided between the competitors.
If that‘s not an issue for you, it could possibly let McCain help consolidate his base. He had an excellent phrase this week, Tucker, and that is calling—and that using the term “silent amnesty,” because that‘s what it is if you do nothing. And I think that‘s a phrase that if people listen to it could help dilute and neutralize some of the rhetoric around this issue.
Yes, the bill is stalled now. It‘s hard to see how it‘s going to be resurrected. I don‘t think this is—John McCain‘s campaign has a lot of problems going on, the immigration bill isn‘t one of them because people have known for years that he‘s trying to get a comprehensive plan.
CARLSON: I think that you make a good point. I mean, that is an interesting argument, the amnesty argument. Don‘t you think it might be a little too sophisticated for a presidential campaign?
SWEET: No. Doing nothing let‘s the people stay here. And that is what the proponents of all these hardline positions don‘t want. You know, that somehow something has to be done. So if you are silent amnesty as a status quo, I don‘t think that‘s complicated.
CARLSON: OK. Maybe. I‘m wondering, is—then here‘s the question I‘m trying to answer. McCain—every—I mean, conservatives have always been wary of McCain, I think unfairly to some extent. McCain is pretty conservative actually. And I think a pretty good guy. Good guy. They‘ve always been wary of him.
His fundraising, from what I am hearing, is not going well. I mean, not well at all. And I may be wrong. And these are just things people are saying. But some people connected to his campaign, have you heard that? And what does he need to raise the second quarter in order to be seen still as a major contender?
FENN: Well, he has to do two things in the second quarter. First of all, he has to stop spending, if you will pardon the expression, like a drunken sailor, which he did the first quarter. He spent about $8 million. And that was just over the top.
So he supposedly cut consulting contracts. Cut staff. Reoriented his whole fundraising operation just at the beginning of the second quarter. Now, folks are going to expect, Tucker, that he is going to come in, I would think, at the $5 million to $10 million range in the second quarter.
CARLSON: There is a big difference between $5 million and $10 million.
FENN: Well, there is a big difference, it is true. But he has got—and he has to cut his spending way back. But there isn‘t any evidence yet that that‘s happening. The other that I think he has got to do, and I have a sneaking suspicion he doesn‘t like doing it, he has to get on the phone. He has to be the guy to pull the trigger on this.
I don‘t think John McCain likes raising money...
CARLSON: Well, who would?
CARLSON: I mean, McCain is a pretty normal guy. I mean, he is—I think he reads books for pleasure. He‘s more a human being than most politicians I‘ve known, I will say. And no normal person wants to raise money. On the other hand, considering what a big deal his low numbers were the first quarter, Lynn, if he can‘t get it together this quarter and raise more than we think he is going to raise, I mean, that‘s a pretty clear sign that his campaign is just in disarray.
SWEET: We‘re in the expectations primary.
SWEET: . stage right now in the both the Republican and the Democratic sides. (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean, at the end of this week, things are just going crazy with expectation management, is what I call it, where people are trying to lower or higher, you know, just adjust the barometer, whatever suits them.
So all McCain has to do is do—keep in the mix. He doesn‘t have to be number one. You know, there is pressure on the Democratic side to—for bragging rights as to who is number one. If he can‘t have just a respectable second or even a close third, it isn‘t just a matter of whether or not his campaign is in disarray.
Now disorganized campaigns sometimes do well too anyway. It‘s a matter of if he just has the money to keep going. Also look at cash on-hand, because if he has been able to cut his spending a lot, and he still has—and he is able to marshal his resources, then he has an argument over why I didn‘t raise as much as someone else, but I still have money on-hand.
On the other hand, that Mitt Romney money machine is just a big, big, big challenge.
CARLSON: I don‘t think this can go on. Now you‘re not a Republican, obviously you‘re a Democratic consultant, Peter.
FENN: No, not lately, no.
CARLSON: But you spent your life looking closely at Republicans and assessing what they‘re like and what they do and how they do it. Haven‘t you noticed that Republicans in general don‘t like disarray? They don‘t like open, messy contests? Here you have the most open Republican primary, definitely in my lifetime.
FENN: It certainly is the modus operandi of the Democratic Party.
CARLSON: But this can‘t continue, can it?
FENN: I mean, we wouldn‘t be happy unless.
CARLSON: Have you ever been to a dinner party with Democrats? It‘s like people forget to bring their.
CARLSON: But don‘t you think at some point on the Republican side, somebody is going to get together—some Jim Baker, gray-haired figure is going to say, hold on, we‘re going to hold a Council of Nicea here and pick a candidate—I mean.
SWEET: No, it‘s not going to happen.
CARLSON: It‘s not going to happen?
SWEET: . the process will work its way by itself. You don‘t need that. You don‘t need that. Just getting on the ballot in all of these states. That‘s why you won‘t have 10 people when it really comes down to the primaries, 10 people will not be able to do what it needs to get done to get delegate slates. They might be on some states‘ ballots in the beauty contest, but to do that work.
CARLSON: But still—well, no, you‘ve got Fred Thompson, John McCain, right? Mitt Romney, I mean, you still have Rudy Giuliani. You‘ve got at least four major candidates who aren‘t going away. It‘s incredible. There‘s no obvious frontrunner. I mean.
FENN: I think that‘s a critical point. And this could go any way. Go to McCain, go away from McCain. The one thing I will say though is that McCain has a very experienced group of people around him. He has some of the Bush folks. He has Russ Schriefer, Stu Stevens on the media side. He has got the best pollsters in the business, Bill McInturff. I mean, these guys have been though presidential campaign after presidential campaign. They are pros.
CARLSON: He also has a couple of serious, serious lunatics on his staff.
CARLSON: I‘m not kidding. Who are causing disarray and they are pushing—I mean, this is all too boring for TV, but pushing some decent people out with whackos at the helm. I don‘t know.
SWEET: That sounds like the name of your next show.
CARLSON: I mean, far be it for me to call someone else whacko, I‘m a Ron Paul fan. So I guess I probably shouldn‘t cast stones.
Rudy Giuliani is telling anyone who will listen the Democrats running for the White House are wrong on terrorism. Well, John Edwards is firing back and says Giuliani wants to be a bigger, badder Bush, be his guest. (INAUDIBLE) all the details—the sordid details of the Edwards smackdown.
He also went after Hillary Clinton. Wow. Stay tuned for that.
Plus, what‘s going to happen to the pride of New Jersey, Mr. Tony Soprano? Will he get whacked? We don‘t have the answer, but we have informed conjecture. You are watching MSNBC.
CARLSON: The first genuine dust up in the Democrats‘ campaign for the ‘08 presidential nomination is currently under way. And it‘s about terrorism. On Sunday night at the candidates‘ debate, John Edwards questioned Hillary Clinton‘s assertion that America is safer than it was six years ago.
Edwards has sharply criticized President Bush‘s war on terror, saying the slogan doesn‘t represent an effective policy. He is also taking shots at Rudy Giuliani on the exact same issue. But can he or any other Democrat use his or her stance on terror for political advantage? Or are the Republicans destined to own that issue?
Here to discuss it, we welcome back Lynn Sweet of The Chicago Sun-Times; and Democratic Strategist and contributor to The Hill‘s can‘t-miss “Pundit Blog,” Peter Fenn.
Lynn, it seems to me the Democrats are walking right into a trap on this. I mean, this is the one issue they are weaker. If you look at the polls, who‘s stronger on the economy, education, whatever, Democrats win it all. National defense, security, terror, those are the questions that Democrats tend to be historically weak on.
I mean, do they really want to have this debate about whether the war on terror exists? That‘s a no-brainer for most people, isn‘t it?
SWEET: Well, I was surprised at the debate, you know, when she said that we were safer. That was the time, if you were going to disagree with her, to do it, and make your case and do it swiftly. Later, the next day, Senator Obama issued a memo on why we‘re not safer. And then once you‘re caught up in that debate, it almost seems you can‘t win—the Democrats as a whole can‘t win.
I‘m safer. No, you‘re not safer. Because it just makes you look like you don‘t know what you‘re talking about in total as a unified group. Having said that, I don‘t think it‘s deal killer for the Democrats because you‘re talking about domestic safety, in the small, micro, yes, we are probably safer at airports. We are probably safer in some places.
And no, we may not be safer in the macro because we do have Iraq going on. We do have international terrorists on the loose. So, Tucker, part of it depends just on how you want to look at it.
CARLSON: On how you define it. Well, the Hillary campaign, clever, wily, maybe evil as they are, moved right into this. Howard Wolfson, a very clever guy, looked at this clearly as a godsend. He said this: “I think the vast majority of Democratic primary voters and the Americans would agree with Senator Clinton. I think most Americans, for instance, would think that air travel is safer today than it was on September 10th.”
I mean, they‘re actually grateful to have John Edwards in the race because Hillary can position herself against him as a kind of responsible hawk.
FENN: I think it helps her in the general election, no question. I think most Americans do believe, and since I have to stand in line for a half an hour to get on the darn planes and have their little baggies searched, that things are safer in airplanes.
I totally agree with Lynn, though. I think that where the Republicans are vulnerable on this is where we are in the world. You know, we don‘t have the countries behind us fighting terrorism the way we did on September 12th. We still have bin Laden out there for six years roaming around Pakistan or Afghanistan or wherever the heck he is.
We are—Pakistan is in trouble. Musharraf isn‘t holding his country together. You‘ve got.
CARLSON: All of that is true—but wait a second, all of that is true, obviously. There is no doubt that that‘s true. And much of it is Bush‘s fault, some of it isn‘t. But it doesn‘t excuse or explain the fact that no Democrat has stood up and basically tried to usurp Giuliani‘s role as chief worrier about terrorism. Why doesn‘t somebody stand up and say, you know, they really do hate us?
SWEET: Why is that necessary?
CARLSON: Because it‘s true! Because they really are trying to kill us! And why not just say so!
SWEET: Is that necessarily—Tucker, the whole point is to win the primary. I think that.
SWEET: . I don‘t know if that.
CARLSON: You know they don‘t want to hear that.
SWEET: . Giuliani has a unique place in this campaign. And let him do his 9/11, I‘m from New York, I was there thing. But listen carefully, Senator Clinton, in many ways, says the same thing because she‘s also from.
CARLSON: . say it louder. I think she can win.
FENN: If you look at that Republican debate, 19 times the word terror, terror.
FENN: . was used. Of those 19 times, Rudy Giuliani, 10 of those 19 times.
FENN: The other nine candidates split the.
CARLSON: And who‘s the frontrunner?
CARLSON: Rudy Giuliani.
FENN: And he has got one message.
CARLSON: That‘s right.
FENN: And they always tell these guys, one message. But I think that‘s right, if I were Hillary Clinton, I wouldn‘t cede it to them. She is the senator.
CARLSON: You know why she cedes it to them? Because.
FENN: She was.
CARLSON: Because the hard left doesn‘t want to hear it. They don‘t want to believe it. They think it‘s all made up. They think this JFK terror plot, all the whackos on the left, I‘m serious, they really think it‘s all a figment of Bush‘s imagination or a way to control the rest of us. You know they think that!
CARLSON: And they‘re wrong, it‘s a—they‘re wrong on that.
FENN: You always quote the whackos...
CARLSON: I know! I court the whackos, I can‘t help it, they‘re in control.
Fred Thompson is still not in the race, but that isn‘t stopping him from siphoning cash from other Republican campaigns. Who is Thompson hurting most, Rudy, McCain, or Mitt Romney?
Plus, speculation is running wild and theories abound, you tuned into the right show for that, on the fate of Tony Soprano. Will Sunday‘s final episode eclipse “Dallas” and who shot J.R.? Back with our best guesses. You are watching MSNBC.
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