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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Guests: Richard Engel, Ron Suskind, John Nagl, Ezra KleinRACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Did you say young Harry Belafonte?

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  I did.  Did you think he looked more like Mariano Rivera or somebody?

MADDOW:  I thought it was a touch of a Mariano Rivera plus hair.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We can come back like 3:00 in the morning and debate it for an hour.

MADDOW:  With puppets.


MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good night.

MADDOW:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

President Obama has laid out his plan for Afghanistan.

We will be joined from Afghanistan by NBC‘s Richard Engel.  We‘ll be joined from Washington by Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, who literally wrote the book on modern counterinsurgency theory.

And we will consider the contrast between President Obama‘s speech tonight at West Point to President Bush‘s momentous speech at West Point in 2002 shortly after the Afghanistan war began.

President Bush‘s vice president, Dick Cheney, is also weighing in today with a prebuttal to the president‘s speech.

And we‘ll be talking about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announcing a big reversal of a policy undertaken by President Clinton.

And finally, a return to “deatherism” by Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn.

All of that is ahead this hour.

But we begin tonight with President Obama‘s announcement of his second major escalation of the 8-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Speaking at West Point to an assembly of cabinet secretaries and generals and West Point officials and cadets and their families, President Obama ended a 92-day review of the war by explaining his new strategy, including the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops—will be in place in the war zone by the end of August.  By then, there will be approximately 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  The escalation will begin early next year.

The president then laid out a conditions-based time line for when he expects U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan.  There‘s no stated date by which troops will be gone from Afghanistan the way there is in Iraq, but the president said tonight that the American departure will begin, not next summer, but the summer after that—in July 2011.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.  And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces.  I don‘t have the luxury of committing to just one.

We can‘t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home.  Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power.  It pays for our military.  It underwrites our diplomacy.  It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry.  And it will allow us to compete in the century as successfully as we did in the last.

That‘s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended—because the nation that I‘m most interested in building is our own.


MADDOW:  NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel watched the president‘s speech with American troops at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan.  He joins us now from there.

Richard, thanks very much for being with us.  I really appreciate it.


I‘m here in a dining facility at Camp Eggers.

And the troop reaction has been fairly positive.  This is something that they wanted.  They wanted the reinforcements.  They‘ve been asking for it for quite a long time.

And there had been considerable frustration that this announcement hadn‘t come sooner, but now that it has come, and it‘s roughly what the commanders on the ground were asking for, 30,000 Americans, maybe 5,000 or more additional NATO forces, they seem to be—to be satisfied.

MADDOW:  In terms of the difference this change will make in the lives of the average soldier on the ground in Afghanistan what‘s seen as more consequential to the troops there—it would be increase in boots on the ground, or the timeline for at least starting to end the war?

ENGEL:  Probably, the timeline, and also, how the new troops will be operating.  There is a general sense that the days of the tiny remote outposts on a mountain top could be ending, and that U.S. troops and NATO troops are going to be consolidating in the population centers.

So, that‘s a different way of operating, and this is, for the first

time, we‘ve heard any talk of a timeline.  And for a lot of troops, that is

·         that has been a very welcome news, because if you are fighting a long war, an open-ended conflict, that can be a real morale killer as people try and plan their lives, plan their futures, plan with their families.


MADDOW:  Richard, since you have been there on this latest trip and since we‘ve known, sort of, at least, the generalities of what‘s been expected from the president—are you able to give us any sense of reaction from the Afghan people?  Whether or not this makes any difference to them in the terms of the way they perceive Americans?

ENGEL:  The Afghans are sitting on the fence at this stage.  A lot of people in this country have seen many, many wars.  They‘ve seen troop surges come and go by the Taliban, by the Soviet, and they are not completely convinced that you‘re going to have a quick military solution to this conflict.

They‘re also very skeptical that U.S. forces will be able to push the Taliban out of the villages.  They think they can do that, but then hand over those villages to Afghan security forces—right now, the Afghan security forces aren‘t up to the job.  And when that‘s happened in the past, the Afghan police and army simply haven‘t done—haven‘t done their jobs, haven‘t represented the government and the areas have just fallen back into chaos.

MADDOW:  One very specific reference the president made tonight was to promise American support if the Afghan government wants to talk to, essentially reconcilable Taliban who want to have a constructive role in the future of their country and to renounce violence.

Is that likely to be seen as a controversial assertion in Afghanistan, among the Afghan people?

ENGEL:  Not at all.  Particularly in southern Afghanistan, there is a big push.  People want reconciliation, and that is one of the key things that I think people don‘t understand.  Unlike in Iraq where people hated the militant groups that we‘re fighting, here, the Taliban is unpopular.  Only about 6 percent of the people want the Taliban to come back.  But they‘re not seen as occupiers, or they‘re not seen as outsiders.  They‘re seen as part of the society here that should be brought back into the fold.

They‘re not mostly—the Taliban are, not by and large, attacking civilians in this country.  So, going—once again, compared to Iraq, you had market bombings, al Qaeda militants that were killing civilians by the dozens every single day.  Here, it‘s mostly a conflict between the Taliban and foreign forces in this country.  People are hoping that there can be some sort of reconciliation between the two.

MADDOW:  Richard, one last quick logistical question, and it‘s something that‘s come up a lot today when the president announced that this troop increase would be phased in much more quickly than people expected.

Do you think that‘s going to pose a logistical problem, just in terms of what it takes to move 30,000 troops into Afghanistan over a period of six months and to have to transport another infrastructure needed to move them to where they need to be in the country?

ENGEL:  No, I don‘t think that‘s something that will be a major problem.  This dining facility is a tent after all.  These tents can be put up quickly, people can bunk up extra.  The U.S. military is very good at that kind of thing.  So, I don‘t think it will be a major problem.

MADDOW:  NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, joining us from Camp Eggers in Afghanistan, Richard always seems to be joining us at obscene hours from dangerous places for which we are always very grateful.  Richard, thank you for your time.

ENGEL:  A pleasure.

MADDOW:  We‘re just now getting a live picture of Air Force One.  It‘s actually at Andrews Air Base right now in Maryland.

The president has not yet left the plane, but he has flown on Air Force One from the site of tonight‘s speech about Afghanistan, at the U.S.  Military Academy at West Point, which, of course, is in New York State, back home.  He‘s arrived at Andrews.  We‘re expecting the president to be leaving the plane and returning presumably back to the White House momentarily.

Joining us now is Ron Suskind.  He‘s the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who‘s the author most recently of the book, “The Way of the World.”

Ron, thanks very much for being here tonight to help us make some sense of the president‘s speech.


MADDOW:  Did President Obama escalate the war tonight?  Or did he start to end it?  Or both?

SUSKIND:  Well, he certainly escalated it.  He escalated in the hopes of having it deliverable.  A show of force that allows the United States to say, “Look, here‘s some victory, now let‘s get out.”

He‘s trying to get parameters around this thing.  We‘re eight years along.  It‘s essentially been a year by year strategic model, not a real strategy.  And the president was trying—as the great explainer; he‘s the great explainer—to get some shape to this thing.

MADDOW:  We‘re just seeing the president right now arriving back at Andrews Air Base, getting—coming down the stairs on Air Force One, after giving tonight‘s speech.

Ron, when you talk about the president‘s desire to come up with some sort of deliverable, some sort of metrics, some sort of granular accomplishment by which he can say that‘s military victory, that‘s why we can live—what‘s the sort of thing that he‘s looking for?

SUSKIND:  Well, the fact is, he‘s relying on the Army.  These 30,000 troops, 30,000-plus, to have this show of force, that says this is progress, and now, we have the opportunity to pull back.  Of course, the thing that we‘ve been looking for for years, which would be such a deliverable, is the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri.  We haven‘t gotten that.

And in some ways, I wonder if the United States right now, the U.S.  government, is trying to get into a grand bargain with the Pakistanis.

He mentioned Pakistan many times in the speech tonight to say, “Look, we don‘t want any Pakistani fingerprints on it.”  We understand that Zardari, the Pakistani president, can‘t afford to take down bin Laden, who has twice his approval rating of Zardari—but we need, essentially, a deliverable, the best one right now that would give us opportunities for closure, and getting back to a withdrawal with purpose is the capture of bin Laden.

MADDOW:  Of all the reporting that you‘ve done on al Qaeda and terrorism and on that part, the whole part of the world—does it make sense to you that we would increase our troop numbers in Afghanistan in order to defeat al Qaeda and their allies in Pakistan?  Does that—is that strategically copacetic?

SUSKIND:  Well, it‘s a little complicated.  And I don‘t think the president really made the sell for a regional solution tonight.  He talked a lot about Pakistan and he said, well, frankly, as George Bush said, here‘s a country with 60 or 65 nuclear weapons.  This is the most dangerous region in the world.

And, essentially, the president said, the most powerful country in the world, the United States, cannot afford to not be engaged in the most dangerous region in the world.  And we‘re going to continue to be engaged in this part of the world no matter what we do in the summer of 2011.  That was part of the message tonight.

MADDOW:  One of the things I wanted to ask you about, with the politics here, rather than just the policy, is that we learned last night, and this didn‘t get a ton of attention, and I thought it was fascinating, it actually broke on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC, we learned last night that the short list of options the president considered in the very end was way different than the Beltway common wisdom.

Common wisdom was that he was going to consider a range of troop

increases -- 30,000 would be the low, the middle of that range, turns out -

·         the White House says—that what he did tonight was the highest troop commitment he considered.  The low range was actually leaving altogether.  It was getting out now, leaving zero, leaving about 10,000, leaving the number that we‘ve got there now, and the only troop increase option he considered was the one that he chose.


Does that surprise you?

SUSKIND:  Well, it‘s interesting.  I think it shows the underlying thinking of the president to say, “Look, we need a kind of a—a burst of productivity here that is measurable, that‘s visible to the world, and then we‘ve got to get out of this particular engagement as quickly as is possible.  I think that‘s in a way what the president is thinking here.

He understands—and I think rightly—that it‘s very difficult to withdraw from wars.  You‘ve got that problem of people who may have died in vain.  No one wants to have that on their ledger.  Here‘s a case where the president is saying, “We need to do something that shows progress and then we need to get back to the business of America,” which is frankly not in large measure in Afghanistan.

MADDOW:  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind—thank you so much for your joining us tonight, Ron.  It‘s always good to get your insight.

SUSKIND:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  We‘re just looking at pictures now of Marine One taking off, the president having transferred.  He‘s got the easiest layovers of any traveler in America.  Let‘s face it.  Taking Air Force One from the site of tonight‘s big speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York to Andrews Air Base, and then boarding the presidential helicopter there from that same tarmac.

All right.  Well, surprise, surprise—self-proclaimed shadow Vice President Dick Cheney has weighed in on President Obama‘s Afghan strategy and actually he quite likes it.  He gave him a big compliment.  He said, “Good luck, we‘re all pulling for you.”

Yes, right.  It‘s Dick Cheney.  Stay tuned.



OBAMA:  And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

We‘re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.  But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan.  To abandon this area now—and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance—would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.


MADDOW:  Tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, this year‘s Nobel Peace laureate escalated the war in Afghanistan—for the second time in just the first year of his presidency.

In March, you will recall this president announced that his new administration had concluded a careful policy review of the options available in Afghanistan then and had decided to send 21,000 more troops.

To put that first escalation in context, this is what American troop levels were like eight years ago—the first December after we invaded.  See that little tiny blip down there in the left?  This is how they changed over time through the Bush administration and through, frankly, the election of Mr. Obama.

This is what‘s happened during President Obama‘s first year in office.  And this is what he‘s just announced he‘s going to do by next summer.  And then nine days after that, he flies to Oslo to get his Nobel Peace prize.

The president‘s speech tonight at West Point in a way is an awkward bookmark to the previous president‘s famous West Point speech when the Afghanistan war was only eight months old, not eight years old.


GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT:  Our war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan, it was begun well.


MADDOW:  It turns out that wasn‘t very true.  And eight years later, the next president is stuck explaining his choice among all the, frankly, pretty bad options available to fix Bush‘s supposedly “begun well” war.

The President Bush bragging at West Point about how awesome he thought things had gone in Afghanistan at that point is not what that speech is remembered for.  President Bush bragged in a lot of places about how awesome he thought things had gone in Afghanistan, even as both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, not only survived, but survived unscathed and stayed in business as militant leaders, just now relocated eastward slightly.  If Omar went from Kandahar to Quetta in Pakistan, that means he moved slightly less than the distance between Wichita and Topeka.

Now, President Bush‘s West Point speech is remembered not because he was uniquely wrong in his comments there about Afghanistan itself, he was wrong a lot about his comments about Afghanistan itself.  That speech is remembered because it was at West Point where he unveils what may have been the single most radical thing about his presidency.


CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS:  Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

SARAH PALIN, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR:  In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON:  The Bush—well, what do you—what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN:  His world view?

GIBSON:  No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq war.


MADDOW:  President Obama tonight spoke at the site where President Bush unveiled the Bush doctrine—the proclamation that the United States would no longer reserve the right just to wage war against countries or forces that threatened us, but that we would wage war to stop the emergence of threats in the future.


BUSH:  If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.  The war on terror will not be won on the defensive.  We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.


MADDOW:  Before they emerge, before they emerge.  We must confront threats that might happen someday.

And thus was born not only the justification for, in the name of 9/11, attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, but also the maximalist Bush doctrine concept of America at war globally, indefinitely, against anyone at our own discretion.


BUSH:  Our security will require transforming the military you will lead, a military that must be ready to strike at a moment‘s notice in any dark corner of the world.  We must uncover terrorist cells in 60 or more countries.  All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price.


MADDOW:  The Bush doctrine was probably the single most radical thing about the Bush presidency, because it dropped the requirement that the United States actually be threatened before we‘d start a war with someone, instead saying that if we just thought we might be threatened sometime in the future, that would be justification enough for us now to start a war.  It is a really radical concept, if you think about it, not only about war, but about us, about America.

And it may have survived the Bush presidency.  President Obama tonight is explaining his second escalation of the war in Afghanistan, announcing that the 32,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan when he took office will become 100,000 by next year.  A war reborn in what the president is describing as his own image, his own strategic terms, but which is justified fundamentally by what sounds like the Bush doctrine.

The administration admitting that we are not actually threatened now as a nation by Afghanistan.


GEN. JAMES JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Obviously, the good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished.  The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.


MADDOW:  No ability to attack us or our allies.

Afghanistan poses no threat to us, and yet, our war there is being

doubled and tripled in size.  Why?  It‘s because we think there might be a

threat from Afghanistan in the future, if a safe haven for terrorism there

re-emerges in the future.  In other words.



BUSH:  If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.  We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.


MADDOW:  Is the massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan announced tonight President Obama‘s own implementation of the preventive war Bush doctrine that Sarah Palin couldn‘t understand and that no one has really been able to justify?

This war is not about threats to the United States from Afghanistan.  To the extent that it is justified by preventing threats to us from emerging from Pakistan sometime in the future, that‘s preventive war.  That‘s the Bush doctrine—in all its Orwellian extremism.

To the extent, though, that this war is not about some potential future threat but a real current one, like the president described tonight, a current one that—he didn‘t say it bluntly, but he meant it—one that exists in Pakistan.  To the extent that our 100,000 troops in Afghanistan are there simply to backstop and contain the real war against the real threat next door in Pakistan, then tell me this—how are we fighting our war in Pakistan?

We‘re fighting it using the CIA, which effectively functions as a fifth secret branch of the U.S. military now.  They even have their own Air Force.  They‘re a fifth secret branch of the military now which our civilian leaders as a matter of policy do not answer for.  They don‘t even bother explaining what they‘re doing.

Do you remember when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was questioned about our secret CIA drone war when she was recently in Pakistan?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At the same time, the drone attacks are still going on in Waziristan.  What does madam or America in general plans to do with that, because it‘s creating a lot of frustration among our people.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, I will not talk about that specifically, but generally, let me say that there‘s a war going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Pakistani parliament, of course, has also requested that these drone attacks be stopped yet they continue and the Pakistani people have begun to resent them and associate them with U.S.  policy towards Pakistan as a whole.

CLINTON:  You know, I think what‘s important here is that there—there is a war going on, as several of you have said.  And I won‘t comment on that specific matter.


MADDOW:  I won‘t comment on that specific matter.  I won‘t talk about that specific thing, but there is a war.  That war, that secret one—because CIA actions, even when there‘s a war, are covert and deniable.

If the real war is Pakistan and we‘re fighting this war not to prevent some threat to us in the future, not as an extension of the Bush doctrine, but rather than to respond to a real threat now, why are we fighting it with our secret military that we don‘t admit to?  Why are we fighting it with our CIA?

Maybe there will someday be an Obama doctrine to replace the Bush doctrine.  If that‘s going to happen, then, first, the Bush doctrine needs to be ended.  No more wars to prevent future threats that may or may not emerge.

But, secondly, at some point, this president will need to be able to explain and take the credit or the blame for his real wars that right now are still getting only a “no comment.”



OBAMA:  There are those who oppose identifying a time frame to our transition to afghan responsibility.  Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort, one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade.  I reject this course because it sets goals that beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost.  And what we need to achieve to secure our interests. 


MADDOW:  President Obama tonight speaking at West Point in the second major Afghanistan speech of his presidency, which also announced the second major new commitment of U.S. troops to that war.  Our guest for the interview tonight is John Nagl, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army after 20 years as an armor officer.  He served in the first Gulf War and in Operation Iraqi Freedom where among other things he fought in al Anbar Province during the very difficult year of 2004. 

In his spare time he earned a doctorate from Oxford, he taught national security studies at West Point and Georgetown, he helped write the U.S. military‘s “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” and he become sort of a household name among we many earnest civilians who have tried to understand this whole counterinsurgency concept that the smartest military minds in the country, some of the smartest minds in the country, period, keep telling us justifies really, really, really, really, long wars. 

Joining us now is John Nagl.  He‘s now president of the Center for A New American Security.

John, thanks very much for coming back on the show.  It‘s nice to see you.

JOHN NAGL, CTR FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY:    It‘s good to be back, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We last spoke around the time of the last big Afghanistan speech by this president in March.  Is tonight‘s announcement a continuation in strategy, or has there been a real turn in the road, here?

NAGL:  No, I think this is very much a continuation of the policy the president announced in March in the White House.  What‘s happened since then, there‘s been a deterioration of the situation on the ground.  The Taliban is growing stronger, there‘s great concern that the Karzai government has not stepped up to the plate to date, and so the president really had a decision to make and I think made the decision and made a pretty good case in support of that decision pretty strongly, tonight. 

MADDOW:  Why didn‘t the addition of 20,000 more troops in March make the security situation better in Afghanistan?

NAGL:  Well, what those 21,000 troops that the president sent in March, allowed to happen was create a bigger bubble of security, in particular in Helmand Province in the south of Afghanistan.  But it was not enough troops to secure all of the population centers, nor to build the Afghan security forces that are ultimately going to allow the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving behind a secure and a stable state. 

So, what the president has done tonight has sent another 30,000 troops, which are going to be used to secure Kandahar, the very important city in the south where the Taliban originated, and to also provide more troops to further increase the size of the Afghan army and the Afghan police force.

MADDOW:  I feel like I understand the argument that there aren‘t enough American troops to provide enough security in Afghanistan, but I still don‘t understand why the increase in troops, a really significant increase in troops than we saw earlier this year coincided with, as you described it, the Taliban regaining momentum and the Taliban sort of regaining, I don‘t know if I can say the upper hand, but at least a pretty strong hand in this fight. 

NAGL:  The Taliban was gaining strength regardless of whether additional American troops were sent or not.  And what we‘re seeing really is the fruit of years of neglect of Afghanistan.  The chart you showed is enormously instructive.  We have neglected Afghanistan in terms of civilian reconstruction, economic development, as well as troops on the ground.  And that has allowed the Taliban to get stronger and stronger, so that wave has been growing. 

What the troops the president sent in March did was blunt that growth, minimize that growth, but we haven‘t had enough resources on the ground, civilian or military, to really push it back.  And that‘s what the president announced tonight.  That‘s what he tends to do over the next 18 months. 

MADDOW:  It seems like the other major headline tonight, in addition to the troop numbers, is this—it‘s not exactly a time line, but it is at least an announcement of when we‘ll start to drawdown troops.  And it made me want to ask you, if counterinsurgency by its nature is open-ended, does that statement we‘re going to start to withdraw troops in 2011 mean that we‘re no longer doing counterinsurgency in some ways?

NAGL:  What that announcement of July 2011, summer 2011 really transition date, so by that point, about 18 months from now, in the most secure places in Afghanistan, where the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government is most capable, we hope to start handing responsibility off to the Afghan forces to take the lead there.  That will start to allow some drawdown of American forces.  But I think that that‘s—a lot of things have to happen for that time line to work out.  It‘s possible that that‘s going to happen, but I don‘t think we can bank on it.  And it is also, I think, not a sign that there‘s going to be a precipitous drawdown of American forces.  I see this being a very gradual glide path. 

MADDOW:  John, as a veteran yourself and as somebody who has articulated essentially what you just demonstrate there had with your hand, the idea that there‘s going to be a very soft glide down, if there is a drawdown of troops.  Somebody who‘s thought a lot about what it means to commit a lot of Americans for a lot of time, I have to ask whether or not the promise, or at least the hope e pressed by the secretary of defense this January, that dwell time could be increased, that American troops would get two years at home before deployments is now out the window.  I‘m worried about the troops we spend for two, three, four, maybe even five deployments.  And I‘m worried that those dwell time promises are going out the window with this promise that we‘ll be there for so much longer in so many numbers. 

NAGL:  I think all Americans should be concerned about the stain that we‘re putting on our ground forces.  I thought it was very appropriate that the president spoke at West Point to an audience of young people who joined up in a time of war, who commitment themselves to serve their country, knowing that they‘re likely to serve under fire and a lot of whom are going to be serving in Afghanistan a year from now.  So, the American military is under stress.  We‘re going to have to watch very carefully that stress, and we may have to increase the size of the army in order to make this happen.  The good news is that‘s a quick way to reduce unemployment in this country. 

MADDOW:  Will you argue for a—you‘re an influential guy, not on at Center for New American Security, but also because of your own accomplishments in this field in so many different ways—will you argue for holding on to the two-year hope for (inaudible) time for the sake of the troops and their families?

NAGL:  Absolutely.  I think that‘s the minimum we owe our all-volunteer force.  They‘ve done a great deal they‘ve done for us.  I don‘t see any reason to limit the growth of the military.  Now, as we drawdown Iraq over the course of 2010, that‘s going to help relieve some of the strain.  But this is something we‘re going to have to watch closely and I think an increase in the size of the ground forces is still something that we have to think about as we continue to fight this very long war against the Taliban, al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq. 

MADDOW:  John Nagl, president for the Center of a New American Security.  It‘s a real pleasure to have you on the show, John.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

NAGL:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  So Dr. John Nagl helped devise the modern theory of counterinsurgency.  Mr. Dick Cheney, on the other hand, helped devise the current vat of quicksand that America find itself in, in Afghanistan.  And officially now, Dick Cheney is denying that.  Hear for yourself.  It‘s beautiful.  It‘s coming up.


MADDOW:  Still ahead, it‘s the oldest trick in the kill health reform book.  And senators John McCain and Tom Coburn are going back to it.  It‘s deatherism.  And what‘s old about scaring old people is new again.  But first, “Holy Marcel” stories in today‘s news.

In a new interview with “Politico,” out today, former vice president, Dick Cheney went after President Obama on Afghanistan by bringing up the fact that President Obama bowed when he recently met with Japan‘s emperor, Akihito. 


DICK CHENEY, FMR VICE PRESIDENT:  I think our adversaries, especially when all of that‘s preceded by a deep bow to the head of government or whoever he‘s visiting, I think they see that as a sign of weakness.


OK now, here‘s how this goes.  In an interview, when a former vice president says that, you say, Mr. Vice President, excuse me, but do you mean that it was also a sign of weakness when President Nixon bowed to the Japanese emperor? Was it also a sign of weakness when President Eisenhower bowed to Charles de Gaulle, of all people? Was it a sign of weakness, Mr.  Vice President, when former president, George H.W.  Bush bowed before the casket of a Japanese emperor? When you were, in fact, that president‘s defense secretary, Mr. Cheney, did you caution the president then that bowing like that was a sign of weakness that would be viewed as such by other governments?

So, when it‘s an interview and not a verbally delivered op-ed, that‘s how that works. 

“Politico” did ask Dick Cheney if he believed the Bush administration was responsible for diverting from Afghanistan to Iraq.  Cheney‘s response: 

“I basically don‘t.”

That‘s it.  That‘s all he said.  We‘ll just leave it at that.  No need to elaborate, or follow up, very busy. 

Here‘s a dramatic reenactment of my reaction upon first reading this earlier today. 

A Senate report came out, that you might recall, that said the Bush-Cheney administration let Osama bin Laden escape just months after 9/11, allowing al Qaeda to regroup.  Bush and Cheney allowed the entire security situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate into the giant burning pile of resource suck we know and love today. 

And then Bush and Cheney passed along the whole thing to the next administration.  But by all means, please continue to shower us with your innermost feeling, wants and desires, Mr. Self-proclaimed Shadow Vice Precedent.  Because without you, Mr. Cheney, I would never be able to get on television and go “pow,” as if my whole head was exploding. 

Next up, today is world AIDS Day.  And for that occasion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced a ground-breaking Obama administration policy which, awkwardly enough, reverses a policy implemented during the Reagan administration that was codified into law during the Clinton administration.  It‘s a law that banned HIV positive people from traveling to the United States.  The Obama administration has finally dropped that inexplicable ban and one immediate consequence of that is that the world‘s largest AIDS conference can once again be held in the United States.  For the first time since 1990, when you might recall Paula Abdul‘s “Opposites Attract” was the No.  1 hit. 


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Today, I‘m pleased to announce that with the repeal of the ban, the International AIDS Society will hold the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. 


MADDOW:  Secretary Clinton also using World AIDS Day to make a legacy-defining statement that the United States would not tolerate homophobia on the international stage. 


CLINTON:  We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community, worldwide.  It is an unacceptable step backwards on behalf of human rights. 


MADDOW:  And if that sounded to you like an oblique reference to the Kill the Gay‘s bill in Uganda which we covered last night on this show, yes, it sounded like that to me, too. 

We are learning more today about anti-gay extremism in Uganda and its connections to American extremists.  Last night, investigative journalist, Jeff Charlotte, laid out for us the web connecting the author of the bill, calling for the death penalty for so-called “aggravated homosexuality” in Uganda.  The connections between him and Pastor Rick Warren.  And to our favorite denizens of “C” Street, the family.

But three other Americans are also closely linked to the proposed Kill the Gay‘s law.  They are members of the so-called, “Ex-gay Movement,” who back, in March, spoke at a conference in Uganda, and riling up anti-gay fervor in that country. 

The direct result of that conference, according to in-depth coverage in London‘s “Guardian” newspaper, was this bill that‘s now before the Ugandan parliament.  So, who were the Americans who went to Uganda to stir up anti-gay fervor? And why are at least two of them now distancing themselves from the harsh consequences of their rhetoric? We‘ll have much more about them on tomorrow night‘s show, you may want to clear your schedule. 


MADDOW:  Deathers live.  The health reform is a secret plot to kill old people line, it‘s back, and this time it‘s in the Senate.  That doesn‘t make it any truer, just makes it older and richer.  That‘s next. 



SEN TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  And if it doesn‘t raise costs and we‘re truly going to take this money from Medicare, what it‘s going to do to our seniors? I have a message for you, you‘re going to die sooner. 


MADDOW:  Remember when they all got real mad about Allen Grayson saying something quite similar? Yeah, they won‘t get mad this time because it was a Republican senator, Dr. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma doing his best to scare the bejesus out of senior citizens.  He was speaking on the floor of the United States Senate on day two of the debate over the Senate version of health reform. 


COBURN:  If you‘re a senior and you‘re on Medicare, you better be afraid of this bill. 


MADDOW:  An unnamed senior Senate Democratic aide responded to all that with this thoughtful analysis, by telling “Talking Points Memo,” “Senator Coburn‘s insights on health care are about as helpful as his marital advice to Senator Ensign.”

Ow! But Senator Coburn isn‘t the only one whose primary political strategy has returned in these critical final arguments to spook the old people.  Presidential runner-up John McCain, rolled out his version of the health reform will kill Medicare talking point, yesterday. 


SEN JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I will eagerly look forward to hearing from the authors of this legislation as to how they can possibly achieve up to half a trillion dollars in cuts without impact existing Medicare programs negatively and eventually lead to rationing of health care in this country. 


MADDOW:  Those remarks made as Senator McCain introduced an amendment that would make insurance companies very happy by shipping the bill back to committee and stripping away all the provisions designed to slow the growth of Medicare spending.  It‘s a position that makes it really easy for Senator McCain to scare old people, but it‘s also really hard for him to defend about himself, since just last October during his presidential campaign, it was John McCain that proposed a $1.3 trillion cut to Medicare and Medicaid.  A flip-flop so naked that the usually mild mannered Senate majority leader called him out on it. 


SEN HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  This man talks about earmarks.  This is one big earmark to the insurance industry.  And in addition to that, the sponsor of the amendment during his presidential campaign, talked about cutting these monies. 

This is a huge big belly flop, flip-flop.  K?


MADDOW:  K? Joining us now is the “Washington Post‘s” Ezra Klein. 

Ezra, thanks very much for coming on the show. 


MADDOW:  You‘re a policy guy, Ezra.  Can you put the save Medicare line we‘re hearing from Republicans now in the context of recent Republican history on Medicare?

KLEIN:  Sure, it‘s a bit of an odd move, so obviously the Republican Party opposed Medicare when it was begun.  Ronald Reagan very famously campaigned against it, but much more recently, in ‘97, Republicans voted for the Balanced Budget Amendment which cut Medicare by about, I think it was 12 percent, if I‘m remembering my graphs right.  This is much smaller, it‘s a much softer change to the program and has a lot more to do with private insurers and this thing called the Medicare Advantage Program. 

And you‘re seeing something, I think, a little bit deeper, which has begun to get a little bit strange, though.  Republicans don‘t believe Medicare is sound.  They believe you should be able to reform it, but because they‘ve sort of run out of things to say about health care.  They can‘t say it‘s going to increase the deficit now, because it won‘t.  Can‘s say it‘ll change people‘s insurance, because it won‘t.  You can‘t say it‘s a government won‘t take over, because it isn‘t.  So, now they‘re sort of left in a tried and true Democratic tactic which is go after the old people. 

MADDOW:  On the issue of how much it‘s going to cost, one of the big arguments we‘ve heard both from Republicans and conservadems,  has been that this will just cost too much.  But of course, this week, the CBO releases its report on the Senate bill, which says it will decrease insurance premiums for the vast majority of Americans.  Do you think that will make a significant difference in the debate?

KLEIN:  I think that what you‘re seeing with that is if it had come out the other way, that would have made a significant difference.  The report was commissioned by one your conservadems, Evan Bayh.  But, as it is, you know, we‘re sort of in the end game here, and as you would have always predicted the four or five people who can credibly say if you don‘t have my vote or you can‘t pass this bill, are going to get their pound of flesh. 

Right now you have Ken Salazar wandering around the Senate, and he‘s secretary of the Interior and he was a one-term senator.  You think well, why is he here? Well, it‘s because as secretary of the Interior, he controls a lot of parks money, infrastructure money.  My hunch is that by the end of this, Nebraska is going to have an absolutely beautiful state park system.  So there‘s a ways here to go.  There are a lot of compromises that are going to have to be made, still. 

MADDOW:  On the public option, Ezra, one of the things you‘ve written about today, in fact, was about the many, many, many, compromises the public option has been subjected to.  Do you think any kind of recognizable public option is actually going to survive the Senate?

KLEIN:  I think, something we‘re going to call the public option might be recognizable.  I‘m increasingly pessimistic on that.  You‘ve had it both taken down from where it would have a real sort of price advantage.  I mean, they made it so a public option that could have saved people 20 percent to 30 percent on premiums, now is going to cost a little bit more than private insurance.  They‘ve already done that.  And now they‘re thinking of making it maybe a national non-profit, maybe trigger with a later opt.  I mean, it‘s getting very complicated.  The thing I wrote today was, you know, how many public option compromises can fit on the head of a pin.  And we‘re pretty much there.  I mean, we‘re arguing over a very narrow piece of ground, now. 

MADDOW:  From the “Washington Post,” Ezra Klein, thanks so much for joining us tonight, Ezra, appreciate it. 

KLEIN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK, coming up, a special live edition of HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS, but we will be right back. 


MADDOW:  President Obama tonight announced his plan to escalate in Afghanistan and then at least to start to leave.  Is this a Bush doctrine war to prevent some future threat from emerging someday in Afghanistan?  Will the war being fought by our CIA, next door to Afghanistan, in Pakistan, start to be counted as a real war? Don‘t know.  But this show will stay dedicated to finding out.  Much more reporting and analysis of the president‘s speech, coming up with Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz.  Thank you for watching us tonight, we‘ll see you back again tomorrow night at our regular time, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.  A special edition of “HARDBALL” starts right now.  Have a great night.



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