'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Guests: Richard Engel, Jonathan Alter


Good evening, Rachel.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  I want to apologize for getting carried away and filibustering earlier in response to the speech.  I couldn‘t stop myself from talking.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t recall that at all.

MADDOW:  Well, very good.  That means the hook that I felt from the other side of the room must have come from someone other than you.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m hook free.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.  I really appreciate it.

Good evening from New York.  And good morning, Baghdad.  It is already tomorrow in Iraq, which means that it is the end of America‘s Iraq war, which started there 7 ½ years ago, for this reason.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.  We‘ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.

Iraq has sent bomb making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda.  Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.

He‘s a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda.


MADDOW:  Iraq was linked to al Qaeda, and therefore, to 9/11 -- and therefore, we had to invade Iraq.  None of that was true.

And so, when those rationales stopped passing the smell test, the Bush administration decided to sell the American people instead on another justification for invading Iraq.


RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.  There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.

BUSH:  Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant, who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people.

CHENEY:  We know he‘s been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons.


MADDOW:  Saddam Hussein has and is amassing weapons of mass destruction to use against America.  That, of course, turned out to be bullpuckey as well.

Leading Bush administration war proponent, Paul Wolfowitz, conceded later that it was mostly for political convenience that the Bush administration decided to go with the whole WMD argument in the early stages of the war.

Speaking from the White House briefing room on April 10th, 2003, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said this: “Make to mistake, as I said earlier, we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction.  That is what this war was about and is about.”

No, it isn‘t.  And no, it wasn‘t.  Ever.

Once the war was well underway, even the administration was forced to concede, reluctantly, that there weren‘t weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—whereupon the president decided to make it into a joke.


BUSH:  No weapons over there.


BUSH:  Maybe under here.



MADDOW:  That was just as hilarious at the time as it still is today, with more than 4,400 American lives to bolster the belly laughs.

Ultimately, none of the things our government, at the time, told us were the reasons we had to start a war in Iraq were true.  Opponents of the war said they thought that at the time, and pretty much everybody else realized it soon after things really got going in Iraq.

So then after Iraq did 9/11, after Iraq has WMDs, after those, the justification for the war started to change even further.  We needed a new, yet new retroactive reason for why that war had to be waged.


BUSH:  The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region.

The goal in Iraq and Afghanistan is for there to be democratic and free countries who are allies in the war on terror.  That‘s the goal.


MADDOW:  Spreading peace and democracy.  That was the third try at made-up reasons we invaded.  How‘s that worked out?




BUSH:  The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region.

The goal in Iraq and Afghanistan is for there to be democratic and free countries who are allies in the war on terror.  That‘s the goal.


MADDOW:  Before I was so untimely ripped from the broadcast—that‘s really weird.  It‘s not like I‘m on a satellite feed or anything.  I‘m in my home studio in New York, and what we lost was the audio of the hard-wired mike that I wear that pins me to the desk.  That‘s really weird.  Nothing like that‘s ever happened before.

I‘m such a conspiracy theorist.  I cannot tell you what I‘m thinking right now.  It would discredit me forever.

But as I was saying before that thing happened, what you just saw there was President Bush‘s third try at a set of retroactive justifications for going to war in Iraq.  It was first that Iraq was behind 9/11, that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda, that it was Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that they were going to use against the United States.  And then it was spreading peace and democracy.  That was the third try at made-up reasons why we invaded Iraq.

The fourth try was perhaps the most remarkable.  Do you remember this one?  This one was that we had to invade because Saddam Hussein was gaming the U.N. Oil-for-Food program.


BUSH:  Saddam was systemically gaming the system, using the U.N. Oil-for-Food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions.  America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison.


MADDOW:  That was really the most amazing one.  President Bush who went to war in defiance of the U.N., went to war in Iraq in defiance of the U.N., trying to retroactively convince us that really we only went to war against Iraq to protect the integrity of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program.  We‘re just taking care of our buddies at the U.N.

In the end, after riffling through all of those different rationales for invading, the Bush administration pretty much settled on the lone justification that nobody could take issue with—the lone justification that Saddam Hussein was a bad man.


BUSH:  I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free.

Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision.  The men and women who crossed into Iraq five years ago removed a tyrant, liberated a country, and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors.


MADDOW:  Nobody will dispute the fact that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, a bad man—an evil tyrant who murdered his own people, committed countless atrocities like lots of other bad men around the globe.  It should also be noted that Saddam Hussein, being a bad man, had absolutely nothing to do with why we invaded Iraq.

On the occasion of President Obama‘s Oval Office address tonight, a speech that marks the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, nobody—including the current president—seems to want to talk about exactly why we started this war in the first place, and that is maybe not surprising.  This current president is a look-forward, not look back kind of guy.

But on the day the war ends, what the war was for is sort of the elephant in the room.  As long as nobody talks about that, that touchy issue, about what the war was for, congressional Republicans were actually more than eager to talk about Iraq today.  But what they wanted to talk about was how President Obama should be thanking George W. Bush and apologizing for having opposed the surge that was supposedly what won this war in the end.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results.


MADDOW:  In addition to House Republican leader John Boehner, who you saw there, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also said today, quote, “I think we should also be thankful that another president had the determination and the will to carry out the plan that made tonight‘s announcement possible.”

And then there was this from Republican Senator John McCain, quote, “It would be nice if President Obama could finally find it in himself to give his predecessor the credit he deserves.”

“The credit he deserves.”  While we are refusing to go down the memory hole here, can we just remember what the idea behind the surge was?  Why we did the surge in the first place?

This is not an unknowable thing.  The justifications for the surge, why we did the surge—all this stuff is on tape.


BUSH:  We will help this Iraqi government succeed.  And the first step for success is to do something about the sectarian violence in Baghdad so they can have breathing space in order to do the political work necessary to assure the different factions in Baghdad, factions that are recovering from years of tyranny, that there is a hopeful future for them and their families.  I would call that political breathing space.


MADDOW:  Political breathing space—that was the justification for the surge.  The point of the surge was to set up a political resolution in Iraq, among Iraqi politicians, to provide the breathing space necessary for a functioning government to be formed in Iraq.  It has now been more than five months since Iraq held its last elections, and there is no government in Iraq.

The surge strategy got a lot more attention than the agreement for U.S. troops to get out of Iraq next year, that President Bush had to sign before he left office.  So, the surge strategy did provide some good political cover in that respect for President Bush.

But in terms of the goal of the surge, a political settlement in Iraq? 

No.  Not yet.  That has not happened.

The war was started under the pretense that Iraq had some connection to 9/11 and al Qaeda—which it didn‘t.  Or that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction—which they didn‘t.  Or that we were going to somehow democratize the Middle East by invading Iraq—which we didn‘t.

Who knows?  Maybe it really was all about stopping fraud in the U.N.

Oil-for-Food program.  I don‘t know.

The surge strategy employed in 2007 in Iraq was about creating the political breathing space necessary for a political settlement in Iraq.  That also has not happened.  And yet, the critics of President Obama today say that they want credit.  They want credit for all that‘s transpired in Iraq in this war.

Former Bush administration officials, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, remarkably turned up in the op-ed pages today to make new suggestions about what they think should happen in Iraq since, you know, their old advice was so spot-on.  Republicans arguing today that George W. Bush deserved to be thanked by name by President Obama tonight.  Republicans are clamoring for credit here as this war finally ends—credit where credit is due.

Two American things have been accomplished in Iraq.  Tens of thousands, more than a million Americans served their country in a horrible war for 7 ½ years under horrible circumstances and under political leadership that was not honest about why they had been sent there.  Those Americans are to be honored for what they did and what they gave and they are to be taken care of as veterans now that they‘re home.

The other accomplishment in Iraq is that we have finally found a way to leave, to get combat troops out, now.

Those two accomplishments belong to this president, who‘s overseeing the withdrawal from Iraq, and to the people who served—the people who served honorably for these 7 ½ long years.

Credit for all the rest of it, for the made-up reasons for going in, for going in in the first place, for letting Afghanistan spill out of control in favor of this war, for the constant revisions for the justifications for war to obfuscate the craven petty radicalism that really started—Republicans, you guys can go right ahead and take that credit.  Go right ahead.  Credit where credit is due.



RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  This is a city that‘s bracing itself for a war that could come at any moment.  I‘m the last person standing right now at the Ministry of Information.  A lot of people think that this building could be destroyed, and as soon as I finish with you, I‘m going to get away from this place.

I could see some anti-aircraft fire and here some explosions off in the distance.

This opulent room is inside what was once Saddam‘s main palace here in the city of Tikrit, a stark contrast to the hole in the ground where Saddam was discovered just 10 miles from here.

I am right now on top of a Stryker vehicle. it‘s a fighting vehicle.  And we are with the last American combat troops in Iraq.  But as soon as all 440 of these soldiers are into Kuwait, the combat mission in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, will be over.


MADDOW:  Joining us now is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who spent more time in Iraq than any other American I know.

Hi, Richard.

ENGEL:  How are you?

MADDOW:  I‘m all right, I think.

The president‘s speech tonight, I guess I just want your overall reaction to him marking the end of the war this way.

ENGEL:  No mention of democracy.  You talked about all the reasons that the U.S. went to war.  The one that was—that we heard all the time when we were in Baghdad was democracy.  That this was going to bring a new flourishing society.  Nothing.

Instead, it was thank you to the troops, but didn‘t exactly say thank you for what they did.  Just thank you for achieving what was asked.

MADDOW:  Well, there was—

ENGEL:  Thank you for doing what we asked you to do.

MADDOW:  There was—I‘ll just interrupt for just for one second.  “A war to disarm a state,” he said, “became a fight against an insurgency, a war to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people, a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born.”  A very—

ENGEL:  What is that?


ENGEL:  Thank for sort of something.


ENGEL:  There was no real sense of, thank you for what you have done. 

Have you made the world safer?  Have you made America safer?


ENGEL:  He talked about thanking the Iraqis for creating an opportunity for the Iraqis to find their own destiny, emerge from the ashes and start their own society.

And that‘s a tough lesson, a tough message to hear.  Thank you for the

for fighting.  Thank you for doing what we asked.  But I can‘t really pin down what I‘m thanking you for.



Let me ask you about one specific thing he said about essentially what‘s going to happen in Iraq next.  He said, “Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission.  Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife.”  “But,” he said, “ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals, Iraqis are a proud people.  They have rejected sectarian war and they have no interest in endless destruction.”

What‘s your reaction to that?

ENGEL:  I hope he‘s right.  And Iraqis themselves don‘t want civil war.  And they didn‘t want civil war when it happened.  And a lot of times, people don‘t get what they want.

I‘m a firm believer that no people want war, yet wars happen.  And they happen quite often.

And Iraq right now, even if the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites don‘t want to fight each other, there are groups pushing them in that direction.  And if there is a major catastrophe, a big bomb in Najaf, I don‘t think the country is strong enough to prevent another round of civil war, especially if they don‘t have a government.  They have security forces that have been created by the United States and are pretty good, but if you don‘t have anyone leading them and you have fewer American troops, then you don‘t have effective security forces.

MADDOW:  Right.  President Maliki in—Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq today gave his own televised speech in Iraq, marking the same transition, just as Obama did.

ENGEL:  Yes.  He shouldn‘t even be prime minister.  He was not elected.  He didn‘t win the elections.  He‘s hanging on to power.

We could be—we‘re backing him right now.  I‘ve spoken with a lot of people who are involved in these negotiations.  The deal is, we‘ll try and reduce Maliki‘s influence and weaken his post a little bit and we‘ll bring in Ayad Allawi, the person who actually won the elections, and we‘ll try to create some kind of power-sharing agreement.

One, I think it will be a tremendously weak government that cannot handle the real problems, the people who are trying to push Iraq back into a civil war.  And it‘s not anything that Iraqis are used to.  They had a centrally-controlled government.  Now, they have no government.  And if the American plan going forward is to give them some sort of weak consensus government, I don‘t see how they‘re going to get out of this.

MADDOW:  Richard, we all know the list of justifications for the Iraq invasion, the predicted effects of the Iraq war that turned out to be bull.  I went through all of those in my initial segment.

ENGEL:  Yes, I heard.  The blossoming of democracy across the Middle East.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Democracy has not broken out across in the Middle East.

ENGEL:  No, it hasn‘t.  Actually, if the idea is to stop weapons of mass destruction, Iran has been unleashed, and Iran, by all accounts, is trying to find and create a weapon of mass destruction.  So—

MADDOW:  And you think Iran has been strengthened?  They‘re the big winner from the Iraq war?

ENGEL:  Of course, they are.  Of course, they are.  Most Iraqis, if you ask them what they‘re afraid of, they‘re afraid of Americans leaving because they are concerned that Iran will be the biggest player.  There are people who fought against the United States in Ramadi and Fallujah and the Sunni areas who now—and they didn‘t join—not the people who join the awakening, people who were with the resistance, and who now saying, you know, maybe it‘s not a good idea for Americans to leave, because we really don‘t want Iran to come in and take over.

MADDOW:  Wow.  I mean, it is—it is amazing to think that even without a new government being formed, even without us not knowing exactly where things are going, even with, as you‘re describing, the prospect of another civil war, the probably most accurate generalization we can make about what the effect on Iraq has been of this war is that we turned it from a Sunni dictatorship into the world‘s only Shiite/Arab state.

ENGEL:  Shiite, failed, sectarian, corrupt oil patronage state.  It has been—it is a basket case in the Middle East that is now being influenced by Turkey, by Kurdish nationalists, by Iranian religious parties, by Lebanese religious parties.  It has become the world‘s playground and a place where you can make a lot of money, if you‘re an Iranian contractor, if you‘re an American contractor.  It has not been a stable state that can—that can contain itself or certainly contain Iran.

MADDOW:  If people who are—who care enough about this story, not only about the war, but about the world, to know how bad things are in Iraq, how bad things are on the occasion of American combat troops leaving -- do you believe that if combat troops weren‘t leaving, that any of those things wouldn‘t be true?

ENGEL:  No.  It‘s the—for the last year or so, the combat troops really haven‘t been doing anything.


ENGEL:  So, what‘s on the ground in Iraq today or two weeks ago or three weeks from now doesn‘t change very much.  The combat troops there were just kind of waiting to leave.  A lot of them were in Iraq still to give the Iraqis a little bit more time to try and create a government, which they never were able to do.

The real challenge is, if there isn‘t a government, American troops are truly now confined to their—confined to their bases and the militant groups are somewhat energized by this moment.


ENGEL:  They say, this is our time to try and bring this whole project down.  That‘s the danger going forward on the ground.

MADDOW:  It is one thing to recognize that things aren‘t good.  It is another thing to recognize our—the limits of our ability to make them any better, essentially.

ENGEL:  Well, it‘s been—a lot—the troops have achieved a lot.  And they‘ve achieved, the speech tonight was they have achieved everything they asked for.  And they were there—and we were talking about it—they‘ve been going through Iraq, tour after tour, a tremendous sacrifice to their families, but they didn‘t have that much contact with the Iraqi government.  They weren‘t asked to set up an Iraqi government.

MADDOW:  Right.

ENGEL:  But Americans were.  So this idea of—well, you know, it‘s up to the Iraqis now, maybe America will accept that narrative, but Iraqis won‘t.  And I don‘t think anyone else in the world will accept that narrative.

MADDOW:  Richard, let me ask you one last question, and I will—I will not hold it against you if you demure and do not want to answer this, because this is much more my bailiwick than yours, but you probably, you heard my initial statement.

ENGEL:  No, I‘m not answering.  Sorry.

That was me, actually—I stopped your audio earlier.

MADDOW:  You actually cut my mike.  That was great.  Boy, did I not think of you.

ENGEL:  I was preempting what you‘re about to ask me.  Now, this drama.

MADDOW:  What do you have to do to be discredited as an authority on foreign policy and worse?  Like, today, the headlines are full of, honestly, Paul Wolfowitz.  Paul Wolfowitz who said the war would pay for itself.  A trillion dollars later, he wants to give more advice about what America ought to do in Iraq.

In the foreign policy world, has any American ever been kicked out for being so stupid about the Muslim world that people can tell?

ENGEL:  They don‘t seem to be.  Because I read a lot of op-eds, I watch a lot of news channels, and people who have really very little credibility often end up being the ones quoted on television.  I don‘t know exactly why that is.

Yes, there should be a disqualification or a blacklist for people who are consistently wrong, but I‘ve never noticed one.

MADDOW:  I hereby vote you, Paul Wolfowitz, off the island.  That doesn‘t count.

ENGEL:  That was the tough question?

MADDOW:  That was the tough question.

ENGEL:  I thought it would be more personal.  Something, you know, that would really embarrass me.

MADDOW:  Well, you can come back tomorrow and do that.

NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, my friend, Richard Engel—

Richard, thank you.  Really appreciate it.

ENGEL:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Still ahead on the show: straight-up, un-cynical, non-snarky, unqualified praise for a conservative Republican United States senator.  Praise from me.

Plus, a very, very, very bad idea from one of the two political parties about how to celebrate our own country‘s Election Day this year.  That is all ahead.


MADDOW:  If you have watched this show regularly since the last election, you might have heard me say that I think the greatest show on earth, the greatest show in U.S. politics is watching the Republican Party find its way out of the wilderness—watching them find their post-Bush, post-McCain identity.

Here is a perfect story to show how far they have come as of today.  During the presidential campaign, this happened at a John McCain for president rally.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The stooges from “The New York Times,” CBS, the Clinton broadcasting system, NBC, the “nobody but Clinton network,” the all-Bill Clinton channel, ABC, and the Clinton news network at some point is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama.  That day will come.  At some point, the media will quit taking sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama, the same way they covered Bush, the same way they covered Cheney, and the same way they cover every Republican.  I‘ll look forward to that day.



MADDOW:  Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama.  Again, this was two years ago.  It‘s February of 2008.  This guy was the warm-up act at a John McCain rally.

John McCain reacted to that introduction with horror.  It was seen as a big campaign gaffe.  Sen. McCain repudiated the remarks and apologized the same day the remarks were made. 


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ):  I have repeatedly stated my respect for Sen.  Obama and Sen. Clinton and that I will treat them with respect.  I will call them senator.  We will have a respectful debate as I have said on hundreds of occasions.  I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans. 


MADDOW:  I regret those comments.  Hold up.  Wait a minute. That right there - that was offensive.  That language should have never been used.  His bad, my bad, I‘m sorry.  That guy doesn‘t speak for me.  Not when that guy makes repeated references to Barack Hussein Obama. 

Not when he refers to the fake Obama Kenyan birth certificate, as he did later that summer by saying, quote, “Maybe it is accurate,” and certainly not when the same guy who alleges as he did just before the election that, quote, “Obama wants to gas the Jews.”

That whole incident was not that long ago when the Republican leadership, John McCain, was aghast that this talk show host was being associated with his campaign.  What a difference a couple of years makes.  In this year‘s election, Republican leadership is all about that same guy, who so horrified them in 2008.  At least they are, if the guy who called out the man who would become our first Kenyan anti-Semitic president can be believed. 


BILL CUNNINGHAM, AMERICAN TALK RADIO HOST:  I‘m going to do my show that day from the portico of the Speaker of the House‘s office in the U.S.  Capitol.  I‘ve been invited there by the new speaker of the house, John Boehner, and I‘ll be the only radio talk show host in the speaker‘s office, doing my show from the portico overlooking the Washington monument. 


MADDOW:  And by “that day,” he means Election Day.  So if we believe him, the “Obama‘s a Muslim” radio guy who so horrified the Republican leadership in 2008 that they apologized for him and repudiated him and said they regretted him being at a John McCain event, he now says he‘s been invited by the Republican leadership to broadcast from House Republican leader John Boehner‘s office on Election Day. 

Now, we asked John Boehner‘s office to confirm talk show host Bill Cunningham‘s claims about this invitation.  Mr. Boehner‘s office replied to us tonight saying in part, quote, “Leader Boehner has made no plans for election night.”

So maybe it will happen, maybe it won‘t?  But if the anti-Obama attacks that were deemed out of line and out of bounds by Republicans during the smash-mouth presidential campaign are now back in bounds, that stuff‘s now OK.  Then I want to know is there any new line?  Is there anything anymore that is too much of a low blow? 

Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” senior editor and columnist and MSNBC contributor.  His latest book is “The Promise:

President Obama Year One.”  Jonathan, thanks very much.


MADDOW:  Hi.  Is there less of a downside in a midterm than there is in a presidential election to a latching the party on to one of these “Obama‘s a Muslim” far-right guys?

ALTER:  You know, I don‘t think they‘re even kind of making that kind of cool, political judgment.  They have just become a talk show party.  You know, Obama asked them, the Republican leadership, pointblank in February of 2009, in a private meeting that I have in my book, “Do you want to be the party of Rush Limbaugh?” 

And they didn‘t answer the question, but the answer is apparently yes.  They are willing to latch themselves to these extreme folks.  And this represents a pretty big change in American politics, because we‘re not talking about obscure back benchers. 

We‘re talking about the leadership of one of our major political parties, and there is a very strong possibility that John Boehner will be the next speaker of the House of Representatives, in line, in presidential succession. 

MADDOW:  In terms of John Boehner‘s role, though, we talked a week ago about whether or not him becoming an opposite number to President Obama for these elections was a good thing for Democrats, or a good thing for Republicans. 

We thought it seemed like a bad choice for Republicans.  But if they really are having talk show hosts broadcast from his office on election night, that not only says they think that they‘re going to win, but that they really do want him to be the center of attention, doesn‘t it? 

ALTER:  Well, they‘re just, you know, looking forward to a big victory.  I mean, Boehner is getting kind of cocky at this point.  So whether they‘ve made these plans with this guy Cunningham or not, who knows?  Cunningham insists that he has been invited in there. 

But the larger point still obtains that they are willing to be associated with people who are out of bounds.  Now, the clip just showed, you know, that he called him Barack Hussein Obama.  At this point, since Obama decided on inauguration day to be sworn in as Barack Hussein Obama, that insult doesn‘t sound that terrible. 

But this is a guy who has said that Obama has the mark of the beast on him.  That he‘s the anti-Christ.  Cunningham has said that.  So we‘re talking about some pretty wacky stuff.  And I think one of the big stories of our politics is that the wacky has now moved from the fringe into the center of our politics. 

MADDOW:  But it does imply some sort of calculation that that‘s a good move, that the excitement that you get for people who are far right, from bringing in people like that, compensates for any price you‘ll pay with anybody who considers themselves a moderate.  Is it just a calculation that there are no moderates anymore? 

ALTER:  Well, remember, they‘re still in primary mode.  And in primary mode, there‘s a great danger within the Republican Party in seeming moderate.  It‘s almost a dirty word to seem moderate. 

Look at what happened to Sen. Bennett of Utah, which is a classic example, a very conservative senator.  But you know, he dared to work with some Democrats on some moderate legislation.  And he was just, you know, thrown out of the party. 

So this is not your father‘s Republican Party.  This is a different kind of political party nowadays.  And I think the entire political system is just beginning to accommodate itself to this. 

You know, it began in 1994.  That was where we got radical Republican leadership for the first time.  The reason that they succeeded was that the moderate Republican leadership of the old days had failed to regain control of the House of Representatives.  So the lesson after ‘94 was, be radical and maybe you can come back into power. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Count on your base.  Don‘t count on the middle. 

ALTER:  Yes.  So the message is not really for other Republicans.  The message is for Democrats and how much do Democrats care about turning over a branch of our government to extremists, to radicals.  And so if this can‘t close the so-called enthusiasm gap, you know, what can? 

MADDOW:  The enthusiasm gap, yes. 

ALTER:  And I do think it‘s a challenge for progressives, who are saying, “Oh, I‘m not - I‘m disappointed in Obama.  I‘m not that excited, you know.  I‘m not going to work the way I did the last time.” 

Well, they need to learn a little bit about what the stakes are.  So an incident like this reminds us that we‘re talking about a different crowd with a radical agenda that they want to impose on our country. 

MADDOW:  Jonathan Alter of - Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC contributor, the author of “The Promise” about President Obama‘s first year in office.  It is great to have you here.  Thanks, Jon. 

ALTER:  Great to see you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” in Alaska, the Republican candidate is suspicious of other Republicans.  Coming up on this show, Nevada‘s Republican Senate candidate and hilariously kook-and-cloak machine, Sharron Angle, gains membership to an exclusive club, all of whose members get on this show when they join.  Another induction ceremony is just ahead.

But first, one more thing about religion and politics.  Every so often, a self-professed Constitution conservative comes through with actual support for something found in the Constitution, something like freedom of religion. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has told the Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City that he supports the rights of Muslims to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, the so-called Ground Zero mosque. 


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT):  Let‘s be honest about the First Amendment, religious freedom, religion expression, really express matters of the Constitution.  So if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have a right to do so. 

There‘s a huge - a huge I think, lack of support throughout the country for the - for Islam to build that mosque there.  But that should not make - that should not make the difference if they decide to do it.  And I‘d be the first to stand up for their rights. 


MADDOW:  Sen. Hatch, I have wondered aloud many times on this show, when someone considered to be an adult and a serious figure in the Republican Party, someone in power, in D.C. now was going to brave the bigoted headwind and stand up for freedom of religion here.  You did it.  Thank you very, very much.


MADDOW:  What do these seemingly disparate things have in common?  The John Birch Society, Sen. Scott Brown, Florida Senate candidate, Marco Rubio, that Fred Thompson “scare the old people” ad about the Bush tax cuts, and the former Republican candidate for governor, “This is Alabama, we speak English,” Tim James? 

What do all of these disparate things have in common?  They‘ve all, in the past year, tried to use this TV show to raise money.  I know, we‘re very, very scary.  Someone new has joined their ranks now.  A cheer went up in the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” newsroom today when we heard about it.  That is coming up next.


MADDOW:  The excitement that most Nevadans have for their senior senator, Democrat Harry Reid, is roughly approximated by the sound of one hand clapping, which I can do it like that.  Yes. 

Even back in 2009, only a third of voters surveyed in the state of Nevada told pollsters that they would re-elect him.  By January of this year, Harry Reid‘s un-favorability rating was over 50 percent. 

Meanwhile, for the first half of this year, three Republicans duked it out for the chance to run against Harry Reid.  It seemed like the prize in that primary wasn‘t just the Republican nomination, but the near-guarantee that the winner would be the next senator from the great state of Nevada, because no offense to ham sandwiches, a ham sandwich could have beaten Harry Reid at that point. 

Harry Reid‘s numbers were so bad in Nevada that even months before the primary, when Sharron Angle, the one on the left there, had zero name recognition.  With more than 40 percent of the voters, Sharron Angle was still polling better than Harry Reid. 

Sharron Angle, of course, went on to win the primary, thank you, “chickens for checkups.”  And by the time that the primary happened in June, Sharron Angle had a double-digit lead over Mr. Reid. 

But then, all changed.  Much as Sharron Angle tried to keep the focus on Harry Reid and away from herself, Nevada started to get to know Sharron Angle.  Sharron Angle who has said that liquor should be made illegal, that she would like to get rid of social security and Medicare and the Department of Education.  And she would also like us to withdraw from the U.N.  Why?  Who knows? 

She says a woman who is raped should be forced by the government to give birth to the rapist‘s child, because she calls that God‘s plan.  As Nevadans started to get to know Sharron Angle and her ideas, this is what happened. 

You see that red line?  That line charts Sharron Angle‘s poll numbers.  The blue numbers charts Harry Reid‘s numbers.  The Senate primary happened here.  And that‘s when, if your name is Sharron Angle, the line started really going in the wrong directions. 

Things are not really working out for the Sharron Angle campaign.  It turns out people do want to talk about her.  They want to talk about more than just Harry Reid.  They want to talk about Sharron Angle, holy mackerel. 

No matter how much she runs away from the press at her own campaign events, it‘s just not working out.  And because things aren‘t working out with the old strategy, because she hasn‘t surged past the super-vulnerable incumbent the way she was supposed to, the way any Republican was supposed to, Sharron Angle appears to be making a change. 

Instead of trying to keep the focus on Harry Reid, Sharron Angle has now decided that she will run against Keith, against Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews and me. 

Jon Ralston with the “Las Vegas Sun” first reported today that a new Sharron Angle E-mail to her supporters says this, quote, “Will you send a message loud and clear that we won‘t back down by adding $50 or $100 to our total today?  Will you let Harry Reid know that we can‘t be intimidated, that we won‘t be shouted down by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow?” 

Sharron Angle running against Harry Reid means that Sharron Angle means that Sharron Angle is losing to Harry Reid.  But no matter what she says, she‘s not actually allowed to swap Harry Reid out as her opponent for one of us here on MSNBC. 

It‘s very flattering when politicians think that TV jerks like us are famous enough and scary enough that they can convince their generous supporters that they are running against us instead of their actual opponent, if they can convince their generous supporters of that will scare up some loose change for their campaign. 

It‘s very flattering to be considered in these terms.  I‘ll admit it.  I‘ll also tell you that it‘s pathetic. 


MADDOW:  As we‘ve noted at the top of the show tonight, it is tomorrow already in Baghdad because of the time difference.  In Iraq, the handover to mark the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom is taking place today - there today. 

I want to introduce you to someone that I met in Baghdad when I was there about a week-and-a-half ago, as the last U.S. combat brigade was pulling out. 


(on camera):  Oh, really?  Where are you going? 

WALEED(ph), IRAQI TRANSLATOR:  I have too many friends in New York. 

MADDOW:  Have you ever lived there before?  Your accent is perfect? 

WALEED:  I was coming to apologize.  I‘m not that good. 

MADDOW:  No, you‘re really good.  I‘ve talked to a lot of different people, the ones that are trying to - and you are really good. 

WALEED:  I am still working on it, you know, to get better. 

MADDOW:  No.  You sound like you‘re from New Jersey. 

WALEED:  Really? 

MADDOW:  Yes.  It‘s good.  Do you know where you‘re moving to or anything? 

WALEED:  Well, I‘ve got friends in North Carolina. 


WALEED:  And Washington, Seattle, not D.C.

MADDOW:  Yes. 

WALEED:  And New York.  And you know, I still haven‘t decided yet.

MADDOW:  Yes. 

WALEED:  Well, it depends on where I can find a job, actually.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Have you worked around the sort of security contractors in the military?  Have you been doing translating stuff for years here? 

WALEED:  Yes.  I‘ve been doing this job for seven years. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Is it dangerous? 

WALEED:  Yes.  I was kidnapped. 

MADDOW:  Were you? 

WALEED:  Yes, back in 2007.  I was stayed in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for 20 days and I got released after I paid $20,000, American dollars, as a random. 

MADDOW:  Your family had to raise $20,000? 

WALEED:  Yes.  And also, they forced me to abandon my house about six times - six times.  And it was a very bad experience, really. 

MADDOW:  And specifically because you‘re working with Americans? 

WALEED:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Have you had trouble in terms of getting a visa and being able to go to the U.S.? 

WALEED:  Well, yes.  Well, the first time back in 2007 - actually, in August 2007 - I was invited to Jordan to the U.S. Embassy to make an interview for the special immigrant visa. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

WALEED:  And for some reason - I don‘t know - they suspected me as a

Jordanian citizen.  And we had a big fight, actually.  I mean -

MADDOW:  Yes. 

WALEED:  Talking and saw the ambassador.  And they say, no, go back to where I came and wait again. 

MADDOW:  So you think that you have - you have now -

WALEED:  I‘ve got the chief‘s permission and approval. 

MADDOW:  Oh, good.  OK. 

WALEED:   On the 5th of August, I got it.  So hopefully -

MADDOW:  Will you be able to bring your family?  Or are you going alone? 

WALEED:  Well, I‘m going to take them, all of them.  I‘m not going to

leave them here.  But unfortunately, to cover all traveling expenses it‘s

very -

MADDOW:  It‘s very expensive. 

WALEED:  Yes.  Very expensive.  I don‘t know.  We‘ll see. 

MADDOW:  What‘s your name? 

WALEED:  Willy.  My name is Waleed, but everybody calls me Willy. 

MADDOW:  Willy - just that? 

WALEED:  Willy. 

MADDOW:  Well, thank you.  It‘s good to meet you. 


MADDOW:  Waleed (ph) - Willy - Waleed has been kidnapped, held for 20 days, threatened, ransomed, chased out of his house six times for committing the grave crime of working with Americans in his own country. 

He and I spoke a week and a half ago in Baghdad.  When I was leaving Iraq, I took this picture of the wacky architecture inside Baghdad Saddam Hussein International Airport. 

Actually, I thought it was such a weird-looking place that I took a bunch more photos than this, but I deleted most of them, deleted them under pressure, not under pressure from police or guys with guns, but actually, just from an Iraqi citizen, a guy who worked at the airport who very carefully avoided getting in any of my pictures. 

But he was still so worried that the fact that he worked at the airport would be itself enough to put his life in danger if anyone happened to see even a ghost of him in my photo.  And he had me delete those photos.  I did. 

Working at the airport in Iraq is close enough to working with Americans that it threatens your life in Iraq.  In 2008, the U.S.  government tried to do the right thing to repay Iraqi citizens who helped us in Iraq and whose lives were in danger because of it. 

Instead of the navigating the notoriously arcane and slow process of applying for refugee status, Iraqi civilians who worked with Americans could apply for a special immigrant visa to be able to come here to safety because their working for us made it impossible for them to be safe at home.  It was a very good idea and it has had bad execution. 

You heard Waleed(ph) in my discussion with him explain how he first applied for a special immigrant visa in 2007.  He still hasn‘t got it although he thinks he‘s on his way.  I heard that story again and again and again from Iraqis I spoke with on my trip there, Iraqis that had worked with Americans in some various capacities during our seven-and-a-half year long war there. 

They applied for the special immigrant visa.  They were hopeful, but nothing had come through yet.  They were all somewhere in the process and they were happy that the program existed.  They knew everything about the program that had been changed in 2008, but they haven‘t been able to work it out totally and finalize it yet. 

And the numbers about this actually tell the tale.  This 2008

program for Iraqis to help us out, that program made available 15,000 visas

15,000.  How many have been given out?  Not even 2,200. 

Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis, translators like Waleed(ph), who you met there, who I told - I told him he sounded like he was from New Jersey.  He took that exactly the right way, which is a total compliment.  My girlfriend‘s from New Jersey.  I meant it in a good way. 

Guys like Waleed(ph), working as translators, people who work as translators with contractors, people who work as translators with trainers, people who work as translators with troops, fixers, people who work with western news organizations, people who did all sorts of work with Americans during the American war in Iraq - their lives are on the line every day even though this program exists. 

Right now, seven U.S. senators and 15 members of Congress are petitioning the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon to try to fix the problem with the special visas for Iraqis who helped us, the problem with them being held up in pointless red tape. 

Whatever you think about the war, whatever you thought about the war then or now, we promised these folks if they helped us, we would keep them safe.  Keeping that promise is not about the war.  It‘s about doing the decent thing - keeping our word, trying to make something that is very wrong slightly more right. 

That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. 




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