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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 23

Read the transcript to the 7 p.m. ET show

Guest: David Ignatius, Tony Perry, Jesse Jackson, Sue Niederer, John Wroblewski, Karl Vick, Richard Shelby

CAMPBELL BROWN, ANCHOR:  Pentagon officials say one of the worst attacks against American soldiers overseas is the work of a suicide bomber.  How did he infiltrate the base, how safe are our soldiers?  We‘ll talk about the attack and its potential political fallout.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown sitting in for the vacationing Chris Matthews.  General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs said today that attack that killed 13 U.S. troops and five American civilians on a military base near Mosul appears to be the work of a suicide bomber.  U.S.  forces responded to the attack by sweeping through Mosul, sealing off certain areas as they hunt for the killers.  Karl Vick is the Baghdad bureau chief for the “Washington Post.”  Karl, bring us up to date.  What‘s the latest there on the ground? 

KARL VICK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, it‘s like you say.  Mosul is really locked down, today.  The streets were largely empty, except for U.S.  forces patrolling in their striker armored vehicles and sealing off a couple of neighborhoods, children sent home early from school, university students were told not to come.  Not only were the U.S. forces out but the Mujahideen, the local insurgents had put out the word to people they should not be out today, that there could be fighting in the streets.  Meanwhile, these investigators were looking at the scene of this very bad bombing yesterday and coming to their conclusions, so a lot going on but no fighting up there, just a lot of waiting and alertness. 

BROWN:  Karl, yesterday, shortly after this happened it wasn‘t clear, obviously, whether this was a rocket or mortar attack or whether it was, in fact, a suicide bomber.  Now it does appear that somebody essentially walked into the dining hall and blew the place up.  What‘s the reaction to that, this new level of sophistication? 

VICK:  I mean, it really is quite a significant and startling breach of security at a U.S. base.  These are really very heavily protected facilities.  Force protection is really just rule one for the American military.  They‘re extremely heavily fortified places.  But now we‘ve seen an attack on a U.S. base as we‘ve seen an attack inside the Green Zone, which was almost as startling when it occurred for the first time a couple of months ago.  You will remember that double suicide bombing in a cafe. 

BROWN:  Are you seeing anything specific there on the ground, either in the Green Zone or at these military bases, or are they talking about anything that they can do to sort of—to deal with this?  Specific action especially leading into these next weeks, are certainly going to get ugly as we get closer to the elections. 

VICK:  You‘re going to see a new level of vigilance, in the Green Zone, for instance, after that attack you went from an area that basically was heavily fortified at its perimeter, it was very hard to get into but once inside you could move freely, even take taxis and move about as you liked to a place where there‘s military checkpoints every few blocks, hard checkpoints where every passenger in the car has to produce I.D., you‘re eyeballed, you‘re examined not by private security guards but by American soldiers.  It‘s hard to imagine an environment like that inside a military base but it‘s not beyond the pale.  This has happened.  How not only the parts and the bomber got inside but—how he got into the base but how he got into the mess hall which is a place where you don‘t see Iraqis except for Iraqi security forces, Iraqi army, Iraqi national guard and translators working with the American army, so who did this?  We don‘t know. 

BROWN:  Are you getting the sense—and this has got to be the case -

·         that when something like this happens, how it undermines any trust and cooperation between the U.S. forces who are having to work with the Iraqis?  Not only security forces but the average Iraqis. 

VICK:  Well, exactly.  I mean, there‘s been this chasm between the American forces here and the population that‘s widened steadily as the insurgency has grown, and mistrust has grown.  You know Americans.  They sort of want everyone to be their friend.  They‘re good-hearted.  They want to help out.  Americans here, who are working with the military and with the contractors say they just want to help build this country, and they can‘t understand why some people don‘t want that to happen. 

Iraqis see the American military that‘s here coming on two years after the invasion, which was supposed to be for liberation, and they regard—many—more and more Iraqis regard it as a genuinely occupation force, and greet it with skepticism, so there is this difference in perception about why Americans are here in the first place, and then, you see incidents like this deepening sort of mistrust on a personal level.  You don‘t know the person you‘re looking at, whether he‘s friend or foe.  You hear that from soldiers all the time, and to think that they‘re going to be feeling that about people who are even in their midst, on their base, supposedly helping them, working beside them, fighting beside them, you‘re right, it is going to take a real toll. 

BROWN:  Karl, thank you very much for your time and stay safe over there.  We‘re going to return to Republican senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who is the former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.  Senator Shelby, does this suicide attack on a military base in Iraq reflect a more sophisticated insurgency? 

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY ®, ALABAMA:  Absolutely.  It shows that the insurgency is very sophisticated and also very adaptive.  We‘ve got to face up to the fact that we‘re looking at a determined, resourceful enemy with a lot of imagination that would stop at nothing, and it‘s hard to determine friend from foe here, but we‘ve got to do it.  We‘ve got to do everything we can to protect our soldiers, knowing that they‘re in harm‘s way. 

BROWN:  Well, Senator, let me ask you, then—this is a question I want to ask everybody tonight.  What needs to be done to keep our soldiers safer after something like this happens? 

SHELBY:  That‘s an excellent question, and it‘s one that the commanders on the ground—the people on the ground are going to have to answer.  It‘s not one for politicians to answer or outsiders.  But if you‘ve got a mess hall, you‘ve got to do everything you can to protect the people once they‘re in that—from people outside the perimeter.  But if you don‘t know who the enemy is—and I think that‘s part of the problem there.  We‘ve got that adaptive, resourceful enemy, and they‘re—and they‘re everywhere.  I‘ve talked to a lot of people who have been there, and it‘s hard to distinguish between the enemy and people who might be trying to help them, or people they‘re training. 

BROWN:  Does this set an intelligence problem?  Is our intelligence on the ground not up to snuff? 

SHELBY:  Oh, absolutely, it‘s an intelligence problem.  It‘s been one from day one.  We had great military success early on.  Our military is—there is nothing to—to challenge it, in a sense, but on the ground, we‘ve made some big mistakes and I think we‘re going to have to face up to it.  One, we don‘t have the information, which is intelligence, about where the people are, who they are, where they‘re going, and that is a challenge deep and the military knows it.  Our intelligence agencies know it.  And they‘re trying to cope with it.  But at the end of the day, one thing we can‘t do is cut and run.  We‘ve got to sustain our soldiers.  We‘ve got to provide for our soldiers.  And we‘ve got to provide them with the best equipment and the safest place to train and live while they‘re there. 

BROWN:  Senator Shelby, you have said that time and time again that you can‘t cut and run, that you have got to stay the course, but in light of what happened isn‘t it time this administration took a really hard look at whether or not they‘re on the right course? 

SHELBY:  I think the administration has taken that—they‘ve done a lot of in-depth analysis, and there will be more in view of what‘s happened recently.  I think the question that we ask a lot, do they need more troops?  It‘s obvious they need more something over there because a lot of our soldiers—and I hear from them—they don‘t feel as safe as they should.  They wonder, at times, what are they doing?  In other words, are they trained for this?  They‘re trained for warfare.  And a lot of this is police action.  Maybe, we need to do a deep analysis and change some things over there, but the commanders on the ground are going to have to do that. 

BROWN:  You are hearing a chorus now and it‘s getting louder and louder of people who are saying there are essentially options.  You‘ve got to put more boots on the ground or the administration has to start thinking long and hard about when and how to get out.  Where are you?  Do you think it‘s more troops?  Or is it pulling back in some way? 

SHELBY:  Well, I think we cannot run because the same people who hunt us there would hunt us at home, and I think nothing like success.  We‘ve got to succeed.  We‘ve got the elections coming up.  The tempo will be harder and we‘ll see more attempts at disrupting the election, disrupting our troops, killing a lot of people in the weeks to come, but do we need more troops?  People said yes.  Some say no.  It‘s obvious we need more something.  But we will not run.  We will prevail.  But sooner or later, we‘ve got to have an end game.  And the end game, I believe, is to let the Iraqi people rule their own country. 

BROWN:  More of something—you have a background in this.  You know this stuff.  More of what?   Can you say definitively that you think there should be more troops on the ground? 

SHELBY:  Well, I believe that we need to look at what we need over there.  Better equipment, yes.  And if we need more troops, the commanders on the ground will make that decision.  A lot of the leaders in the military have already said we need more troops. 

BROWN:  Well, it doesn‘t seem like anybody quite has the answer just yet.  Senator Shelby, I want to thank you very much for your time. 

BROWN:  Coming up, did the pentagon underestimate the strength of the insurgents in Iraq?  We‘re coming back with General Wayne Downing when HARDBALL returns. 


BROWN:  We‘re back with General Wayne Downing.  And General Downing, this is not an ideal situation we‘re in heading into these elections. 

What do you think the biggest mistake was that the Pentagon made to get us to this point? 

Did they just underestimate the strength of the insurgency? 

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, (RET) U.S. ARMY:  Well, Campbell, there were probably 100 assumptions that were the underling foundation for the plan to do Iraq.  Out of those 100 assumptions, 95 were correct.  There were five that were not correct.  We were not viewed as liberators.  You know, the Iraqi Army fled, it did not stay on.  And the Ba‘ath Party, you know, we took that out of the roots.  We probably shouldn‘t have doesn‘t it.  Because we didn‘t have these immediate security force, we had no infrastructure there within the government.  that hurt us very, very badly.  And will take a long, long time to recover from that. 

BROWN:  Let met interrupt you for just a second.  Do you think disbanding the army, do you think that the Ba‘athist Army is now the backbone of the insurgency? 

DOWNING:  Well, I think some are.  I think the insurgency is probably composed of five different components.  There are Ba‘athists in this insurgency.  There are former Iraqi security forces in it.  There are a lot of people who are actually mercenaries.  a lot of them are former soldiers whose are fighting in this insurgency.  Now interestingly, some of these same former soldiers are in the new Iraqi security forces that we are training.  Not all, but a significant number of the leadership come from the old Iraqi Army, and some of the Iraqi special units.  So, yes, that is a problem. 

BROWN:  But do you think if we had brought more members of the disbanded army, this has been a debate going on almost nonstop since that decision was made...

DOWNING:  Sure. 

BROWN:  Would that have caused a revolt among the Shiia who are still the majority in the country? 

BROWN:  No, because there were Shiias in the army.  And, you know, that was a tough decision.  In hindsight, I think we probably, after that army dissolved on us, we probably should have taken some key leaders and brought them together.  And brought a lot of that army back together to do not only do security duties, which had to be done, but also reconstruction duties and that was the original plan.  That‘s what they were going to do with the Iraqi Army.  You know, one of the interesting things is, Campbell, the Iraqi Army, the regular army, not the Special Republican guards and the Fedayeen Battalion, but the regular Iraqi Army was one of the most respected institutions in Iraq by all the Iraqi people.  Because they have a long tradition and a long history.  I think we probably should have capitalized on it.  I think the other mistake that we made was going down into the third, fourth, and fifth levels of the Ba‘ath Party and banning these people from government service. 

BROWN:  Right. 

DOWNING:  Because, I mean, we needed them.  We needed that civilian infrastructure. 

BROWN:  Finally, general, let me ask you.  There‘s so much focus now on the army and retraining Iraqi security forces to take the burden from American forces. 

DOWNING:  Sure.  Right. 

BROWN:  What is, in your opinion, a realistic time frame for that happening? 

DOWNING:  Well, I mean, I‘ve got to say that it‘s two years.  And I mean, I‘m not just grabbing it out of the air, but it‘s going to take two years.  We‘re about 40 percent there right now.  And, you know we‘re going to have to go back and probably retrain and reequip some units.  We‘re putting some of our best, young people doing that.  I mean, the general in charge of this, Dave Petraeus, his Deputy, Brigadier General Jim Squitter (ph), the colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors and captains that they have working this are some of the finest people we have in the armed forces.  So, I mean, we‘re certainly putting the emphasis there, I just wish we would have doesn‘t it 18 months ago. 

BROWN:  Right. 

DOWNING:  So—and, Campbell, they‘re the key.  The Iraqis are the key to this entire thing.  the political process, rebuilding the country, and security. 

BROWN:  General Wayne Downing, always good to get your insight and your expertise, thanks very much for talking to us tonight. 

DOWNING:  OK, Campbell.  Thanks very much. 

BROWN:  And happy holidays to you.  Yes. 

DOWNING:  OK.  Happy holidays to you, too. 

BROWN:  And when we return, two parents who each lost sons in Iraq debate whether the recent criticism aimed at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is justified.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


BROWN:  Criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been intense and personal in the past couple of weeks.  It started with an answer many considered dismissive to a soldier asking why troops weren‘t better protected.  And this week, Rumsfeld admitted some condolence letter he sent to families were signed by machine.  In a rare show of emotion, Secretary Rumsfeld defended himself yesterday. 


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I hope and pray that every family member of those who have died so bravely knows how deeply I feel their loss.  When I meet with the wounded, with their families, or with the families of those who have been lost, their grief is something I feel to my core. 


BROWN:  I‘m joined now by two parents who lost sons in Iraq.  Sue Niederer was upset when she received a condolence letter with an automated signature from Rumsfeld, her son First Lieutenant Seth Devoren (ph) was killed in Iraq in February.  And John Wroblewski supports Secretary Rumsfeld, his son, Marine Second Lieutenant John Wroblewski was also killed in Iraq.  Let me say good evening to both of you and thank you for joining us.  I know this is tough given the losses that you both have suffered and I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. 

Sue, let me start with you.  I want to get your reaction to a couple of things Rumsfeld said.  But first, he has now said that in the future, he is going to personally sign these condolence letters.  But you‘re still angry about it.  Tell me why. 

SUE NIEDERER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  A little bit too late for him to apologize to the families, and now say that he is going to sign the letters.  This is a man that does not have a conscience.  He does not know how to be sympathetic to the families of the fallen.  He‘s extremely cold and callous.  This is something that he had to do to try to make up to the families of the fallen, to show them that maybe he has some sympathy within him.  But he really doesn‘t.  It was a show.  A total show. 

BROWN:  But Sue, when you heard his comments just a second ago that we replayed, you know, what he has said and what a lot of his defenders would say is this is a matter of style.  He‘s not one to show emotion.  And it appears that with those comments, he‘s trying to reach out.  Are you buying it or no? 

NIEDERER:  I think it‘s totally false.  This man could have showed his emotions prior.  There is nothing wrong with the man reaching out to the fallen and speaking with them.  I‘ve invited him to speak directly to me.  He has never responded.  Who has he spoken to?  I‘d like to know who some of these families are.  This is a man that has ice running through his veins.  He doesn‘t care about the troops.  He doesn‘t care about the families of the fallen.  I seriously believe that unless this had come to light, nothing would have been done.  He would have continued in the way and the manner in which he had been doing it. 

BROWN:  John, let me turn to you.  I know even in light of your loss, you think this situation or the uproar that‘s come up over these condolence letters is a bit overblown.  But what do you think of Secretary Rumsfeld more generally? 

JOHN WROBLEWSKI, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  Well, first, if I could, I‘d like to, you know, convey my condolences to Sue and to all the parents, wives and husbands of all the fallen heroes because that‘s exactly what they are—heroes.  With regards to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, I feel he‘s doing a good job.  I think his comments that were made were sincere, they were heartfelt.  I believe that he means what he says.  You know, he‘s a rough and tumble type of guy and I think that‘s the kind of persona that he gives.  But he‘s a caring individual.  He‘s made trips to Walter Reed Hospital a number of times.  Look how many trips he‘s made to Iraq.  He travels around and for someone to really think and believe that he would do something or make a decision that would put our troops in harm‘s way, I—

I just can‘t believe that one bit.  I think he is a stand up guy and he means what is he says. 

BROWN:  But, John, do you understand the anger that Sue feels and a lot of other families who have been through this as you have? 

WROBLEWSKI:  Yes.  I can definitely understand their anger and I‘m not disputing it, you know, or anything like that.  I see where it‘s coming from.  I guess my opinion is a little different.  It might be from the situation that we went through, the marine corps, with our family has just been tremendous.  I mean, anything that we‘ve asked, they‘ve gotten.  To this point in time, just two days ago, we went out to dinner with Major Paulsen (ph), because he was the major that came to our house and they still keep in touch with us and there is a great relationship, very personal still with the marine corps. 

BROWN:  Sue, how was your son—how did he feel about the war before he went over?  Was there any reluctance on his part? 

NIEDERER:  He didn‘t have enough time, Campbell, to know anything or say anything.  He reported to duty at Fort Drum on a Monday and on a Tuesday, he was told that he was leaving for Iraq.  He had just finished all of his training or his training, I should say, and his commanding officer in turn asked his own commanding officer, why are you sending a rookie over there without any training and has never had a command?  The answer to him was he has two arms, two legs, is extremely intelligent.  We need an officer of his caliber over there.  Seth didn‘t have time to think. 

But I will give you Seth‘s last words to me, Campbell, which is very important, I think.  I asked Seth before he went back to Iraq if he wanted to go back to Iraq and what he felt about the war.  And I think this is a point that needs to be brought out.  He said, “mom, I do not want to go back to Iraq.  It is a useless, senseless, terroristic war which we will never win.”  How do you send a child back to a war that they do not want to go to and do not believe in?  This is why I speak out and this is why I feel the way I do and I have not had the experience that John has had with the marines and I‘m very thankful that John has had that experience.  It has not come from the army, whatsoever. 

CAMPBELL:  John, let me ask you, because there is a debate, as you know, raging now, given what‘s happening on the ground within the military, frankly, about how to move forward beyond these elections.  What do you think?  Do you think this administration is on the right track? 

WROBLEWSKI:  Yes, I do.  I think they‘re entirely on the right track and I think, you know, people talk about exit strategy and they say what is it.  I think the exit strategy is to have the Iraqis be in charge of their country.  And this isn‘t something that‘s going to happen overnight.  The things that are taking place over there I believe after the surrender of Germany, the year after the surrender, I believe, we lost up to 1,000 men after Germany surrendered.  And similar situations where, you know, from terroristic attacks and things of that nature. 

So, I believe the administration is on the right track.  I think what people have to constantly remember is that we‘re at war.  Everything still goes on.  You go out to the malls and the people are still shopping and everything goes on.  But I think we have to remember, this country must remember we are at war and war is an ugly thing.  You know, nobody is for war, OK?  But now that we‘re there, I think we have to complete the mission and people must understand war is ugly and we are at war. 

BROWN:  Well, Sue and John, to both of you, it‘s an important point, certainly during the holidays, and I know this can be a tough time when you‘ve had a loss and I really do appreciate you again coming on the show and talking to us about it.  Sue Niederer and John Wroblewski, happy holidays to both of you. 

WROBLEWSKI:  Thank you very much, Ms. Brown.  Appreciate your time

NIEDERER:  You, too. 

BROWN:  When we return, the “Washington Post” David Ignatius and Tony Perry of the “Los Angeles Times” of the rising level of sophistication among the insurgents in Iraq.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


BROWN:  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.

In this half-hour on HARDBALL, is Tuesday‘s attack in Mosul evidence that Iraqi insurgents are becoming more sophisticated?  Plus, the Reverend Jesse Jackson says the Bush administration‘s policies run counter to the true spirit of Christmas. 

First, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 


BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In Iraq, this week‘s suicide bombing in Mosul has reminded U.S.  soldiers and their commanders of the nature of their enemy.  It‘s an insurgency that has become better organized and more fierce since the occupation began. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest. 


DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Iraq, the security screenings have been increased, as U.S. military officials try to figure out how a suicide bomber got into this mess tent, killing 14 soldiers. 

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN:  I assure you that everything possible is being done to get to the bottom of what happened. 

SHUSTER:  But there is wide agreement now that the insurgency has become more sophisticated than ever.  This video, obtained by NBC News, was posted on an obscure Islamic chat room.  It gives insurgents details on how to make a bomb vest, along with a demonstration of the blast range using a mannequin. 

RET. LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Every military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan should be aware of this film.  This video shows someone how to more effectively attack American troops. 

SHUSTER:  It is a different story than a year and a half ago, when U.S. troops first entered Baghdad.  As the looting demonstrated, it appeared Iraqis were not organized in any fashion, and U.S. soldiers faced tonight occasional shooting or sniper fire. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

SHUSTER:  But weeks after that declaration, with the Iraqi army disbanded and the border open, U.S. convoys were being attacked by small groups armed with rocket-propelled grenades.  Were the conditions improving for the insurgents? 

BUSH:  My answer is, bring ‘em on.  We‘ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation. 

SHUSTER:  By the fall of 2003, the insurgent groups seemed to be getting bigger.  A group of 100 fighters ambushed a coalition convoy in Samarra.  During the winter of 2004, insurgent attacks remained steady at 15 to 20 a day. 

This past April, the average spiked to 70 a day.  The insurgents also stepped up their kidnappings and beheadings, posting the gruesome videos on the Internet.  In June, the coalition transferred power to a new interim Iraqi government, whose leadership and police also came under daily attack. 

In August, U.S. troops battled 1,000 fighters in the city of Najaf.  Earlier this month, the battle was in Fallujah.  But when it comes to suicide attacks, the front now seems to be everywhere. 

BUSH:  No question about it.  The bombers are having an effect. 

MYERS:  As this insurgency has changed in its nature and its character and it‘s become more intense, our resolve just has to be all that tougher. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  While nobody is doubting the toughness of U.S.  troops in Iraq, an increasing number of Americans are wondering what U.S.  forces are doing there.  And after a year and a half, even some military analysts believe the insurgency is getting worse. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 


BROWN:  David Ignatius is associate editor and columnist with “The Washington Post.”  He‘s written extensively about Iraq.  And Tony Perry of “The Los Angeles Times” will leave for Iraq next week with Marines from Camp Pendleton. 

And welcome to both of you.  Thanks for joining us. 

David, let me start with you.  And this is a question I don‘t know if anybody has the answer to.  Has the insurgency strengthened and why?  And why?  Why haven‘t we been able to get at it? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think it is growing stronger in the areas where it‘s able to operate, you know.  Where it was left alone in Fallujah and had a safe haven, it became very dangerous.

That has been happening the last several months in Mosul.  And that‘s really where we‘re watching the consequences of that.  Mosul is really a tragic example of a problem in Iraq.  It was the place everything was going right for the United States a year ago.  Starting in July, the provincial governor up there was killed, was assassinated.  Then, in November, the insurgents began going after the police and just took them down, a coordinated series of attacks. 

They had 8,000 police on the books in Mosul and then they went down to 400 cops, who just couldn‘t keep order.  They began assassinating people in all the neighborhoods of Mosul.  And finally, you just have no order in the city.  You have a campaign of intimidation.  In that kind of environment, people begin taking more shots at U.S. forces, like this horrific suicide bombing attack we saw this week at the mess tent. 

BROWN:  Tony, what do you think has happened in places like Mosul and Fallujah?  Is it a matter of us ignoring them and allowing the insurgents to create these safe havens there, that we‘re now having to sort of go back in and start over? 

TONY PERRY, “THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  Well, you have to remember the history of these places.

Fallujah, for example, where I was in April, when the 1st Marine Division had their first assault, Fallujah had been an outlaw city even under Saddam Hussein‘s repressive regime.  Even he couldn‘t tame Fallujah.  Fallujah is a very difficult, criminalistic city that defied anyone‘s control for a long time. 

Marines assaulted in April, pulled back, tried a compromise.  It didn‘t work, went in and assaulted much more successfully in November.  I would disagree with David to this degree.  I think in areas, Fallujah, Ramadi, I think the Marines, the Army have had great success in disrupting the command-and-control structure of the insurgents, killed thousands of them, taken down their hideouts, taken down their weapons caches. 

The problem is that Iraq is not one country.  It‘s many countries.  Mosul is one country.  Fallujah is another and Baghdad is yet another.  And success in one area doesn‘t necessarily mean success in another.  In fact, in some instances, I think success in Fallujah, which was wrought at a great price, has meant that many of the insurgents who fled successfully, probably, are in Mosul or somewhere else. 

BROWN:  Well, that—isn‘t that the problem, that we—you know, when the attack on Fallujah—or when they had the operation in Fallujah and they‘re now trying to get people back in there, I think, starting today.  They were trying to get some 200 people back into their homes.  But did the insurgency, the command-and-control structure, pick up and then go to Mosul? 

IGNATIUS:  It‘s amazingly robust.  And we began dismissing this insurgency, that haunting video that you showed at the beginning of the program with the president saying bring ‘em on, thinking that this was an easy enemy to defeat, has just proved wrong.  They are very resilient. 

What we‘ve seen is that, you know, where they can operate, they take they put down roots and they have a way of intimidating just through raw fear the people in the areas where they live.  They did that in Fallujah.  They just terrified the local residents.  They are tough people, as Tony said.  But, even so, they didn‘t like the insurgents.  And they‘re doing it now in Fallujah.  They‘re literally going into neighborhoods—in Mosul, rather.  They‘re going into neighborhoods in Mosul and distributing videos of some of these beheadings and other things, horrific things they‘ve done, to say to people, unless you cooperate with us, this is what‘s going to happen to you. 

BROWN:  Tony, you said you thought there had been some success in Fallujah.  But, as I said before, they were trying to get people back into their homes today and there were firefights going on today in the streets.  I mean, people are walking into their houses that are essentially destroyed.  Is Election Day, January 30, going to mean anything to people in these cities? 

PERRY:  It‘s going to be very difficult.  And this is a very adaptive enemy. 

If you take the long look, when we went into Baghdad April the 9th last year, on the fall of the regime, it was small-arms fire.  The insurgents were using small-arms fire.  That clearly wasn‘t going to stand up to the Marines and the Army soldiers.  They went to these improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs. 

Marines, in particular, have had a very good program of eliminating that or decreasing that as a threat, so they‘ve gone now to suicide cars.  Suicide cars, there‘s ways around that.  Now we‘ve gone to suicide bombers, individuals. 

This is a very adaptive, very relentless, very ferocious enemy with all the armaments in the world.  And don‘t forget, this is a country in which martyrdom and suicide to bring down the infidels was celebrated for years by Saddam Hussein.  I remember going in a year ago in Baghdad with the Marines and the Navy SEALs into where Saddam had hidden his armaments.  And we opened a closet and there were hundreds of suicide vests just waiting for someone to put them on and wade into a crowd. 

This is a country that has a violent nature and has been taught violence.  It‘s going to take a long time to suppress it. 

BROWN:  And we‘ll be back with more from David Ignatius and Tony Perry.

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to


BROWN:  Coming up, will Iran have more influence after January‘s election in Iraq?  More with “Washington Post”‘s David Ignatius and Tony Perry of “The Los Angeles Times.”

HARDBALL returns after this. 


BROWN:  We‘re back with David Ignatius of “The Washington Post” and Tony Perry of “The Los Angeles Times.”

We were just talking about the situation in Fallujah and Mosul.  And I think, given how bad it is there, there seems to be a consensus developing that you‘re not going to see a lot of participation with regard to the election in the Sunni areas.

And you wrote a very controversial column saying essentially, because of that, the government that we‘re going to see come out of these elections is a Shia-dominated government with close ties to Iran, which you believe is a real danger. 

IGNATIUS:  I‘m really worried that the elections, which we‘ve been pointing toward as an important positive milestone, could end up making the situation even worse, as bad as it is now. 

And the reason is that the people who vote on January 30 are likely to be overwhelmingly in the Shiite areas of the country.  The Shiites see this as their moment.  They‘re the majority, finally.  Democracy will rule and so we‘re going to have, inevitably, a Shiite-dominated government. 

The problem is that, in Sunni areas of the country, it‘s either going to be too dangerous to vote.  If you go to the polling place, you make get a car bomb.

BROWN:  Right. 

IGNATIUS:  Or people will boycott the election because they think it‘s unfair. 

So, after that election, the cleavages between the Shiites and the Sunnis could be even worse than they are now.  What do we do then?  If we have a Shiite-led government, with its army, do we train that army to put down a Sunni insurgency and in effect take sides?  What happens if we slip toward a civil war?  I‘m really worried about this. 

BROWN:  But, David, isn‘t this democracy?  You wanted—not you, but the administration wanted to bring democracy to the Middle East.  And, if you want democracy, this is what you get.  A majority are Shia.  This is what they‘re going to vote for. 


It‘s just that we have ended up empowering the very conservative clerical elements in the—Iraq was, for all of its nightmarish problems, a secular country, in which, you know, the traditional religious elements really were in the background.  We enfranchised them, both Sunni and Shiite.  The, you know, extremists on both sides have been enfranchised by what we did. 

And, you know, it is a fact that the list that‘s likely to dominate in these January 30 elections is headed by Iran‘s candidate and Iran‘s party.  Iran is pumping millions of dollars in to try to make sure the outcome it wants will happen in these elections.  That‘s a problem for us.  I mean, we really have to face up to this.  I‘m not saying the whole adventure is misconceived.  I‘m saying we have to look honestly at where we‘re heading. 

BROWN:  Tony, what‘s your take on that? 

PERRY:  Well, I agree with David. 

It‘s pretty stony soil that we‘re trying to plant this flower of democracy.  And there‘s a good chance that we‘re going to get a legislature dominated by the Shia.  And there is no history in this country of power-sharing.  The thought is, if you‘re out of power, you better grab a gun and get some power.  And we‘re trying to change that.  Very difficult.

If you look in the whole region, actually, every time there is an election, the most extreme elements win.  Look at Kuwait, neighboring Kuwait, very peaceful.  The legislature, such as it is, is to the right of the monarch.  That‘s what happens in that region when they get a taste of democracy.  It is a great gamble, but it strikes me as the only gamble we have, is to see if we can‘t get them on the road to self-determination. 

BROWN:  If there any benefit to delaying the elections, to give a more moderate, like Iyad Allawi, time to build his coalition?  And could you even see that, a more moderate coalition winning, given the dominance of the Shia? 


IGNATIUS:  There would be immense benefit to delaying the election in terms of getting the Sunnis maybe to buy in and be part of this process of writing a new constitution. 

The problem is that—Allawi I think would like to do that, in fact.  The problem is that, as soon as he moved, began moving in that direction, Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of the Shiites...

BROWN:  The most influential man in the country. 

IGNATIUS:  Everybody says the leading political figure in the country

·         began screaming—or not screaming, but he made clear that he found that delay unacceptable.  The Shiites want to lock in their advantage now. 

BROWN:  Wouldn‘t you? 

IGNATIUS:  Well, I would, unless the consequence of that was to destroy the country as a whole.  I mean, the Shiites don‘t want to governor a mini-state.  They want to governor Iraq.  And I think everybody has to think carefully, how do you use these elections to keep Iraq together, rather than to fragment it even more?

BROWN:  And we have to end on that note.

But our thanks to David Ignatius and Tony Perry, both of you, for joining us.  Appreciate it tonight. 

And when we come back, the Reverend Jesse Jackson will tell us why he thinks the Bush administration‘s policies defy the true spirit of Christmas. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With Christmas just two days away, the Reverend Jesse Jackson offered his view on the spirit of the season in a “Chicago Sun-Times” opinion piece today, entitled “U.S. Policies Defy the Spirit of the Season.”

And Reverend Jackson joins us now. 

Reverend Jackson, good evening to you. 


BROWN:  Let me read just a snippet of what you wrote today. 

And it says—quote—“War is not a present Jesus would seek, nor tax breaks for the wealthy, nor a spread of hunger and homelessness.”

What was the point you were trying to make with this piece?  Were you taking a shot at the president and the Republican Party? 

JACKSON:  Well, in the American public policy—and today‘s “New York Times” has an editorial called “America the Indifferent.”

We are the richest nation on Earth.  Our percentage of income to the poor is rock bottom.  With all the religious talk in the campaign about religion and moral values, you measure character by how you treat the least of these, by how you defend the poor, for how you deliver the needy. 

The great fault of Rome was a wealthy country left Jesus and Mary and Joseph, in a sense, homeless, and he was born an at-risk baby.  So, you measure character by how you invest in the poor.  And today, we are celebrating the wealthy and war, not the poor and peace. 

BROWN:  But did the election not show that, at least for the time being, the Republican Party has a lock, or has cornered the market on the issues you‘re talking about, about moral values and religion? 

JACKSON:  It may be a matter of language—marketing the language of religious values.  But Jesus says, you measure a tree by the fruit it bears, not by the bark it wears.

Today, we are the wealthiest nation with 45 million Americans without health insurance.  The rich are getting much richer with government subsidy and no-bid contracts.  And the middle class is sinking.  The poor are getting poorer.  In the last big budget, we cut housing again.  And that was Jesus‘ dilemma in Bethlehem, and he essentially ended up homeless. 

Here we are a nation—we are leading a war in Iraq.  We are a nation of 300 million people, Iraq 30 million people.  And without any provocation, and without threatening us, no imminent threat, no al Qaeda connection, no weapons of mass destruction, we invaded that country.  We have occupied and we have sought to conquer a country -- 1,300 Americans killed, 10,000 injured, maybe 100,000 Iraqis are killed.  This is not the highest and best expression of morality. 

BROWN:  Well, I know you‘re not a military expert.  You did run for president, though.  What ideas would you have, regardless of whether you agree or not with the decision to go to war?  What do you think the president should be considering now to try to resolve the crisis we‘re in? 

JACKSON:  Let me make it clear, that we were correct in a war of necessity to hit the Taliban.  They had hit us and we knew who they were, because we had been allying with them in Chechnya against the Russians.  We knew who they were.  We were right to go after bin Laden, but we left bin Laden alone, and we chose to go to Iraq. 

You know, back in 1998, a letter was written by Rumsfeld and Bennett and Kissinger and that group trying to get Clinton to attack Iraq in 1998, long before 9/11.  So it was a war of choice.  We thought we would go in quick, come out quick.  Now we are trapped in the mire of Iraq and we‘re losing our integrity.  We‘re into isolation.

And guess what.  While we are sinking in the sands of Iraq, at the expense of $1 billion a week, a million and a half people in the Sudan are sleeping on the ground dying every night.  Four million killed in the Congo the last five years.  We could be such a great source for good in the world.  We could lead the world by our values, but not by our guns and by these threats that have no basis. 

BROWN:  You do raise a lot of issues in your editorial that we are not talking about, frankly, those of us in the media, right now, homelessness, health care, education. 

JACKSON:  Well, I do think that the vision of—next year is the 40th year of the Dr. King-Lyndon Johnson era, when out of those two men came the end of Jim Crow and the right to vote. 

Johnson‘s great vision, the Great Society, we would do well to restore the Lyndon Baines Johnson vision, where we wipe out poverty, not wipe out the poor.  What a noble vision.  And we are rich enough to do it.  Right now, we‘re the richest nation, invest the least amount of our income in the poor nation of the world.

BROWN:  Do you think we‘re not talking about these issues as much in part because of what‘s going on in Iraq? 


Even before Iraq, the issue of addressing poverty was not on the agenda.  You know, in cold Appalachia today, a cold miner dies every six hours from black lung disease.  We appear to be indifferent about it.  In the last budget, we cut affordable housing and raised the bar on who can get into public housing.  We appear to be indifferent toward the poor as we seek tax cuts and no-bid contracts for the wealthy and as we engage in wars of choice, driving our nation into isolation. 

BROWN:  Well, they are fair points and certainly fair points to be making during the holiday season. 

Reverend Jackson, I want to thank you very much, especially heading in... 

JACKSON:  Christmas, we should focus on poverty and peace, not just wealth and war. 

BROWN:  Well, Reverend Jackson, again, thank you very much for your time.  And we do wish you a very merry Christmas. 

JACKSON:  God bless you. 

BROWN:  And tomorrow on HARDBALL, “HARDBALL Holiday,” the brightest moments of 2004.  Chris brings you the interviews and stories that defined the past year.  That‘s coming up tomorrow, Christmas Eve, at 7:00 Eastern. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”



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