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Debating Sheehan and the Iraq policy

FBI whistleblower and congress candidate faces off with talk show host
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Cindy Sheehan's son was killed while serving in Iraq and she began an anti-war rally weeks ago in Crawford, Texas, that continues despite her departure due to her mother's stroke. 

Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis-based 9/11 FBI whistle-blower, went to Crawford recently to show her support for Sheehan.  Now critics of Sheehan and the anti-war movement are mobilizing, too.  Mark Williams is a radio talk show host and one of the organizers of an anti-Sheehan rally called "You Don't Speak For Me, Cindy," a caravan of war supporters leaving California today and arriving in Crawford Saturday.

Both joined 'Hardball' guest host Norah O'Donnell on Monday to discuss the war and the protest in Texas.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

NORAH O'DONNELL: I start with Coleen Rowley, who just returned from Crawford, Texas, yesterday, and is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota.  ... Coleen, let me ask you, why do you support Cindy Sheehan's anti-war position? 

COLEEN ROWLEY (D), MINNESOTA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I happened to be a person who spoke out publicly against the war a couple of weeks before it was started and warned that it would prove counterproductive to our efforts to combat terrorism. 

And if you have gone through this chain of mistakes that started with the pre-9/11 lapses and you have seen all of these errors that have occurred since, very serious to our country's security.  I don't think you can do anything, except continue to speak out. 

O'DONNELL:  You're a Democrat running for Congress.  It was reported that Republican leaders in your state were just thrilled that you had decided to align yourself with anti-war extremists.  Do you think that this could affect your race for Congress? 

ROWLEY: Well, I will quickly correct the record, that they are not anti-war extremists.  The majority of the people I saw down in Crawford were actually veterans groups.  ...

O'DONNELL:  But, Coleen, they do oppose the war in Iraq, do they not? 

ROWLEY:  Yes, they do.  But that does not make I guess the term extremists.  They're really I think reflective of mainstream America in many ways. 

O'DONNELL:  All right.  Let me show you what President Bush said today.  He for the very first time named how many have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, actually had the numbers.  Here's President Bush. 

PRESIDENT BUSH (ON VIDEO):  We've lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom.  Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. 

Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. 

O'DONNELL:  The president also said today, Coleen, that the war in Iraq must be won and that a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety from terrorism.  Do you disagree with that? 

ROWLEY:  Well, I disagree with even the point about winning the war, because I don't think we have had an honest debate what winning will even look like. 

President Bush seems to use a very vague and ambiguous reference to these types of things, really to stifle people from asking the hard questions.  How are we getting there?  And what actually will "winning" look like? 

O'DONNELL:  Let me bring in Mark Williams, who is a radio talk show host and is launching his caravan tour from California, heading to Crawford today.  Why have you launched this tour? 

MARK WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, the pontifications of a self-serving Democrat political candidate notwithstanding, this tour is neither anti-Cindy Sheehan, nor is it pro-war. 

I have not spoken with a single individual in the last three years who is pro-war, nor anybody who is anti-Cindy Sheehan.  What we are against is the damage she is causing.  I just got back from Iraq, talking with the troops, talking with the Iraqis.  And I see the damage that's done by pathetic creatures like the woman I'm talking to and Cindy Sheehan. 

O'DONNELL:  What specifically do you mean, Mark? 

WILLIAMS:  ...When they get up there and they present this country as divided, as still arguing issues that were decided, debated and voted on three years ago, that both demoralizes our troops and invigorates the insurgency.  And it's no mistake that the lion's share of the violence is in and around Baghdad.  That's where there are more Western news cameras per capita than probably any other city on the planet Earth.  Where they see this kind of division, they use it as a fund-raiser and a recruiting tool.

ROWLEY:  Mark, if you don't mind, you're making the case that Cindy Sheehan is hurting the morale of our troops? 

WILLIAMS:  She is aiding and abetting the enemies of this country and the people who killed her son.  Right now, Casey Sheehan is spinning in his grave.

O'DONNELL:  Coleen, can I get your response to that? 

ROWLEY:  Well, I actually was called a traitor even for speaking out before the war was begun and cautioning officials that it would prove counterproductive. 

If we fall into this other speaker's mode, we simply will not have a country that is acting judiciously, because we will all simply have to be quiet.  We won't have our freedom of speech either and none of us will be able to challenge incorrect and actually very dangerous policies.

WILLIAMS:  Once again, this was debated, voted on, decided three years ago.  We have men and women right now dying on our behalf and on behalf of the Iraqis. 

It's our obligation as a society to stand up and support those men and women and make sure that the 1,800-plus who are now dead didn't die in vain.  And I'm not quite sure what your alternative is, but perhaps we should open the doors to Saddam Hussein's prison cell, reinsert him as the leader of that country, allow him to start feeding people into wood chippers again feet first, give him back the chemical weapons and nerve gas weapons that the United States and that the United Nations was in there destroying, rescind the war authorization of 1991, and just go along our merry way, with our apologies to all of his future victims. 

WILLIAMS:  What about the 300,000 in mass graves that he engaged in acts of genocide? If this was anything but an American action, the American left would be all over the White House to get involved in this country.

O'DONNELL:  Coleen, you may respond, but, also, what is the alternative?  The president saying again a policy of retreat and isolationism will not bring us safety.  What is the policy of the Democratic Party?  You're a Democrat.  What is it?  Cindy Sheehan seems to be advocating cut and run.  Is that what you embrace? 

ROWLEY:  Well, I'm just going to back up.  The last speaker, of course, kind of exhibits this mentality that has not allowed us to have a fair debate.  When he said that we debated this and voted on it, he is ignoring what most Americans now know, that the weapons of mass destruction arguments that were used were very misleading, false and deceptive.  ...

I think most Americans know that this was not presented in a very honest manner.
And I think there are answers now.  I think we actually do have a potential to stabilize Iraq.  That's what winning should look like.  It should be stabilizing that country and stopping the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

WILLIAMS:  And how do we do that?  By cutting and running and leaving them to their fate?  Well, that's exactly what we're doing.  I just came back from there.  I saw the soldiers going out.  I went out with them.  I saw them giving food and candy and toys to the kids.  I saw the Iraqis crowd around their Humvees and thank them for being there.  I had Iraqis walk up to me and thank me for being there and telling me to tell America not to leave them to their fate.  Stabilize it?  That's exactly what we're doing.

ROWLEY: Yes.  I think the other speaker is pointing to some of the problem with the deaths that have already occurred.  And I will agree to a limited extent that the nature of a quagmire is simply that it is very difficult at this point to resolve and still, you know, justify those earlier deaths.

But I think, if we have a good, new hard look-and, frankly, I'm not sure that the Bush administration is capable of doing this...

O'DONNELL:  But, Coleen, what are you specifically suggesting is done?  What is the position of the Democratic Party about how to do a better job than what the president is doing in Iraq? 

ROWLEY:  Well, this is the tough part, ... I keep quoting Albert Einstein.  You can't solve a problem with the same level of mentality that created it. And the Bush administration ... stay the course is their motto.  And I don't think, frankly, that's going to work. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, you know, staying the course, staying the course has brought us free elections.  It's got a constitutional convention under way, more free elections coming up, an Iraqi stock market that didn't exist before, no more innocents being slaughtered by weapons of mass destruction, no more people, no more soccer teams being executed because they lose a game.  Stay the course? ... That's exactly what we're doing.  And that's why we're doing it.  What would you have us do, lady?  Would you have us leave the place and let the Iraqis leave it to them?

O'DONNELL:  Mark, let me allow Coleen to respond. 

ROWLEY:  I don't think that most Americans do think that staying the course at this juncture has any potential for success. 

WILLIAMS:  Oh, God forbid they should have a country with a constitution and a representative democracy.  We can't possibly have that.

ROWLEY:  I agree, again, with the speaker that, to stabilize the country, the constitution, of course, is in the right direction.  Certainly, the factions, the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis, have got to come to a resolution on some very hard issues.  The U.S. government has got to end the perception of an occupation.  And perhaps setting a timeline and a strategy now for giving Iraq back to the Iraqis and again with hopefully a legal structure that will ensure their country...

Watch each night at 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.