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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 23

Read the transcript to the 9 p.m. ET show

Guest: Wayne Downing, Sue Niederer, John Wroblewski, David Ignatius, Tony Perry, Jesse Jackson

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight on HARDBALL, investigators say the suicide bomber who killed 22 on a U.S. base in Mosul was wearing an Iraqi military uniform.  How can soldiers stay safe when  the enemy could be disguised as an ally?  We‘ll have the latest in a report from Iraq. 

And two parents, two devastating losses, both their sons killed while serving in Iraq.  But their opinions on this war could not be more different. 

And Jesse Jackson on values, morals and the holiday spirit.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Campbell Brown sitting in for the vacationing Chris Matthews.  The commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq is reviewing security procedures in the wake of Tuesday‘s suicide bombing on a military base near Mosul, as FBI agents and military officials continue to  investigate who was involved in planning the attack. 

NBC‘s Tom Aspell is in Baghdad. 


TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Military investigators and bomb experts from the FBI went from Baghdad up to Mosul to carefully inspect the site of the attack.  After they concluded it was a suicide bombing, they also began to think perhaps it had been an Iraqi getting inside the base, maybe even a member of the Iraqi national guard.  And that‘s what Carter Ham, the brigadier general in charge of Task Force Olympia up in Mosul, said today. 

GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. ARMY:  What we think is likely, but certainly not certain, is that  an individual in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest-worn explosive device, was inside the facility and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy. 

ASPELL:  Meanwhile in Baghdad, one American soldier was killed and two others wounded in a roadside bombing.  They were members of Task Force Baghdad, which is in charge of security in the capital.  And to the west in Anbar province, the U.S. military says three Marines were killed there today, conducting security operations.  There has been heavy fighting in the town of Fallujah, which is in Anbar province.  Today, a trickle of refugees going back to try and inspect their homes for damage after that big offensive there in November. 

There was fighting on the southern edge of town.  Marines were using tanks to quell a gun battle with insurgents on the edge of town there, and at one point had to call in air strikes from FA-18 Hornet  aircraft there, firing missiles and dropping bombs on insurgent positions.  It does appear the fears of the military are being realized, and insurgents are either creeping back into Fallujah, or there are still some pockets armed and ready to put up a fight.


BROWN:  Our thanks to Tom Aspell in Baghdad tonight.  Retired General Wayne Downing commanded a joint special operations task force during the first Gulf War.  He also headed the inquiry into the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers into Saudi Arabia and he is now an MSNBC military analyst.

Good evening to you.

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Good evening, Campbell.

BROWN:  General Downing, as you know, we spent a lot of time over the last couple of days talking about the adaptability of the insurgency, their level of sophistication, how the insurgency is learning from its mistakes.  Given all that, was a suicide attack at a military base almost inevitable? 

DOWNING:  Yes.  The answer is yes, Campbell.  They‘ve actually been trying to do an attack like this for probably the last 18 or 19 months and I think the fact that the coalition forces have been able to stop 99.9 percent of these efforts, just shows you how good their security efforts were.  What happened in this case?  I don‘t know.  But in this game of escalating tactics, escalating violence, these guys must have found a way.  They must have found a seam or a crease and got somebody in.  Or perhaps a—you know, a wolf in  sheep‘s clothing.  Perhaps it was an actual Iraqi national guardsman who they had turned and talked into being a suicide bomber. 

BROWN:  Well, they are saying now that apparently the suicide bomber was wearing an Iraqi  military uniform.  Is there any way to avoid this when U.S. forces are training and having to work with Iraqi  forces? 

DOWNING:  You know, Campbell, there is no 100 percent way to assure security.  It just cannot be done.  Security is always a trade-off.  It‘s a trade-off between protecting yourself and doing  your mission.  I mean, if you put 100 percent of your effort on security, what it means is you‘re going to sit inside your base camps, not let anybody in and not go out.  That‘s obviously unacceptable.

So you‘ve got to get the right type of balance.  When you‘re fighting an  insurgency, Campbell, you always have a problem with double and triple agents.  There are many times that—you know, we saw this during the Vietnam War when the North  Vietnamese finally conquered the south in 1975.  We had people rise up in the South Vietnamese government that we had no idea, not an  inkling that they were North  Vietnamese or Vietcong agents, and they were. 

So this is just something you have to live with.  You have to be cautious.  You have a lot of procedures and safeguards so that this doesn‘t happen.  But there‘s no 100 percent guarantee, Campbell. 

BROWN:  Is it part of the insurgents‘ strategy to create this divide, this distrust between Americans and Iraqis? 

DOWNING:  Sure.  Oh, absolutely.  Sure.  They‘re going to—I mean, one, they‘re going to do it because they want to hurt us, they want to weaken us, they want to make us look bad.  One of the perhaps unintended consequences that they get out of this is that the American forces look very, very carefully and warily at the Iraqis.  And, again, I don‘t want to overuse this Vietnam analogy, but the same thing—I saw the same thing as a young officer serving in Vietnam 35, 40 years ago; where, you know, you see a rice farmer out there in his rice paddy during the day.  He waves at you.  That night, he goes out and puts a  bomb on a highway and blows up your truck the next morning.  You‘re having the same kind of thing go on in Iraq. 

Now one thing, though, Campbell, that we have got to remember, this is not all of Iraq.  You know, the northern part, the Kurdish part, very safe.  You know, it has been practically liberated now for 13, 14 years.  It‘s a very safe area.  They‘ve got things under control.  The south now, the Shia areas are now relatively safe.  So there‘s a different  relationship with the people.  But certainly the American forces who are fighting, conducting combat operations in the so-called Sunni Triangle, the triangle of death, south of  Baghdad, they‘re very wary of the Iraqis, as are the Iraqis wary of them. 

BROWN:  Well, you make a fair point that there are large parts of the country where we will see  people actually going to the polls on election day and feeling like it is safe enough to vote.


BROWN:  But focus for me on the Sunni Triangle, on the places like Mosul and Fallujah where people  -- and they are still having street fights there every day.  There was another fire fight in Fallujah where three Marines were killed today.  Do you really expect people in these places to go and vote on January 30th

DOWNING:  Well, I‘ll tell you, Campbell, it is certainly going to be an imperfect election in those areas.  It‘s going to be a miracle in some of those areas if they get anybody to vote.  But, you know, let‘s look at the numbers.  You know, we‘re looking at that Sunni Arab population is about 17 percent of the population.  You know, if they do not vote, if they do not participate in this electoral process, that means they‘re going to be frozen out of what happens.  Now not totally frozen out forever, but they‘re going to  miss this first round of truly elected self-government.  And of course, what we hope happens...

BROWN:  But doesn‘t that...


BROWN:  Well, I was...

DOWNING:  Go ahead, Campbell.

BROWN:  If even that percentage is left out of the process, do you not create the seeds,  potentially, for civil war after the elections? 

                DOWNING:  Well, you certainly create some seeds there.  Now how bad that‘s going to be, I don‘t know.  But, you know, let‘s just say for the sake of argument that 10 to 15 percent of the Sunnis do vote and do participate.  Yes, that‘s not a bad percentage.  It‘s not a pretty—this election is not a pretty, tight   process, but it is going to be a process and it‘s going to happen and, of course, that‘s going to  get this country on the road to self-rule with an elected government, elected themselves, a constitution that they, the  Iraqi people, wrote themselves, that they‘ve never had before, and a chance about 12, 13, 14  months from now for an election under the provisions of this new constitution. 

                So the stakes are enormous and the Sunnis need to participate or they‘re not going to be   represented.  Will there be civil war?  That‘s a small part of the population and I can tell you, the Kurds have always been and still are armed to the teeth and as are the Shias.  The Shias learned a very valuable lesson, Campbell, 80 years ago when they elected not to participate in the political process when the British formed Iraq after World War I.  They‘re not going to repeat that mistake, but looks like maybe the Sunnis are going to do it this time.

BROWN:  OK.  General Downing, stay with us.  We‘re not done with you yet.  We‘re going to take a quick break and be right back with more from General Downing.  Also tomorrow, it‘s HARDBALL Holiday, the brightest moments of 2004.  Chris Matthews recaps the biggest stories and best interviews from the past year, including Donald Rumsfeld, Zell Miller, and P. Diddy.  That‘s tomorrow, Christmas Eve at 7 Eastern.  

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 letters 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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