tv The Chris Matthews Show NBC October 4, 2009 11:00am-11:30am EDT
chris: will the commander in chief send 40,000 more troops to afghanistan? will he make it obama's war? if he does try to build that nation, will he divide this one? how tough will it be for this president to challenge the generals, defy the hawks and begin the long goodbyes? finally, israel's choice, if iran doesn't step back from its nuclear brink would israel choose to attack and could it without us? hi, i'm chris matthews. welcome to the show. katty kay covers washington for the bbc, bob woodward is associate editor of "the washington post," elisabeth bumiller covers the pentagon for "the new york times" and howard fineman is senior washington kobe bryant at "newsweek." first up -- senior washington editor at "newsweek." will the president send the 40,000 troops his own commander says is needed to avoid losing? the key questions, where is al
qaeda? they weren't in afghanistan when we were fighting, are they still there? mike mullen says no. >> the focus is feeding al qaeda and their extremist allies and where the original 911 attacks came from that region and they've now moved to pakistan. chris: question two is the taliban in afghanistan where we're fighting a threat to the u.s.? is controlling the taliban worth the fight? some insist they're not a security threat to the west but general mcchrystal spoke out thursday after the big meeting in washington to argue al qaeda would return if we don't fight the taliban. >> transnational terror threats absolutely remain and i believe the loss of stability in afghanistan brings huge risks to transnational terrorists like al qaeda will operate inside afghanistan again. chris: and question three, can afghanistan be transformed? critics of the war say this country where the british and
soviets both failed miserably cannot be tamed. listen to lee hamilton, foreign house affairs committee. >> i do not personally think we can modernize afghanistan. there are historical, political, cultural, economic forces that are massive in that country and we can't turn them around. chris: bob, that's the conundrum, al qaeda which we went in to catch has moved to pakistan. is fighting the taliban who are threatening us with insurgent forces in afghanistan worth the fight, and can we beat them with the 40,000 troops if we put them in there? >> i don't think anyone thinks we can beat them. the question is what is the goal here and the president previously has said stop al qaeda from attacking the united states. that seems to be working. it has not happened. the other is to check the taliban in afghanistan. some would argue we've checked them, we've got enough troops. that's happily the debate
they're now having in the white house. so one of the things the generals talk about among themselves, they say we're not self-employed. we don't decide what to do. general mcchrystal has given the counterinsurgency mission in atching. he said, so i need 40,000 troops. the white house can, and there is some evidence they may come back and say we've changed the definition of the mission. given that, lots of generals will say, oh, ok, i'm not self-employed, i now have a new mission, maybe i need no troops. chris: what would be the argument of not sending the 40,000 troops if they decide not to? >> there are some people who know an awful lot about this who say to a certain extent we've won. al qaeda is experiencing a dramatic setback and in afghanistan we have enough troops for not nation building, not turning it into virginia or
maryland or montana, but it is stable enough that we can live with it. chris: is the military one mind on this? mcchrystal speaks with such authority and spoke in london and said we're going to lose if we don't put the 40,000 in, is the military united? >> the top of the military is united, and mcchrystal is united with general mullen and petrais. but if you talk to others at the pentagon, there's a lot of skepticism among the top officers that served in iraq and afghanistan about whether these extra troops will make a difference. people are admiring general mcchrystal generally and think he's a smart, capable general, but they just don't know given the history of afghanistan what these 40,000 troops will do. chris: even with the extra 40,000 we may not be able to beat the taliban? >> i don't think there's anybody at the pentagon that think they can wipe out the taliban. it's an indigenous movement and you kill the bad guys but the
other ones that are the local tribal leaders who can be bought off. chris: we're not there alone, we have the british with us and are they losing faith of the operation of staying in afghanistan and they have a history there before. >> i think the british public is to some degree losing faith as well as the american public. on our television screen we are watching the coffins come back of british soldiers and proportionately we're losing more men and women fighting in afghanistan than the americans are. that said, gordon brown has hinted he would give a few more troops, a couple thousand more troops to the mission if obama asks for them but more generally there's confusion in europe about american strength at the moment because obama went to europe in the spring and found it resolute and asked european capitals for more troops to stick out this mission and now people in washington are looking at them and saying hold on for a second, you want a resolution from us but you look like you're wobbling. chris: in march it was
different. howard, fascinating picture of the people in the room. we study the pictures like the kremlin wall. who is at the fable and who is along the wall? are they supposed to figure out in that room what america is willing to fight for as well as what's worth fighting for in afghanistan? >> i think the answer is yes there are a lot of people who are political and a lot with political experience who are weighing in including vice president joe biden, hillary clinton, secretary of state, recently senator, knows as much about politics in america as anybody. and i think what's happening is the democratic party, the face of the democratic party, which is impatient with barack obama on a number of fronts politically could really be ignited by a massive increase in troops, 40,000 from 68,000 is pretty darn big. it's a major commitment just in numbers. that's going to be very hard to sell to the base of the democratic party at a time when obama has so many other things he's trying to do politically but the problem you raise is an important one, he put
mcchrystal in after firing the last guy, ok. mcchrystal comes up with the policy. now mcchrystal comes back and says, ok, in this war that you've hired me to run here's how we have to do it, we need 40,000 more troops. for obama to then say, you know what, never mind, is going to cause him political problems in the world, maybe not so much here within his own party but in the world. >> howard is right, there's going to be a lot of throwing on this political context. the question is, is a new strategy actually the right thing to do? and if they figure that out and then we have president obama playing the card he always plays well, can he go out and explain it to the military, to the public, to the international community? it's possible. and i'm trying to understand this in depth. and if you really look at it, it's quite explainable. you know, you don't have to
transform afghanistan. elisabeth is right. you can't. it's 40,000. they are talking about 400,000 afghan local police and military might help stabilize it. chris: it's a strange thing to see contenders in a room, generals, head of the joint chiefs, the vice president out there as an advocate. is that the view of the military this is up for grabs? >> i think there is a lot of concern in the military about the political implications of this and there's concern that obama is beholden to the democratic base of the party. there's a lot of worry right now. chris: over at the pentagon where you cover? >> right, there is. and also he really hasn't made up his mind. and i think the person who will be influential -- chris: is he respected over there at the pentagon, the president? >> yeah, he is. he does not have the background with the military the previous presidents have had, and you know, he worked very hard on it during the campaign. he did not have a great first
off meeting with general petrais in iraq in the summer of 2008. there was a lot of concern in the military about the statements he was making during the campaign. he wouldn't say the surge was working for a long time, if you may recall. >> what you've got to say, what's he trying to do? and there's a lot of history here. they're trying to avoid another iraq. and you go back and look at the history of the decisionmaking on that and it gets about a d or a d-minus. vietnam, probably an f. and they're looking at this and they're saying now, wait a minute, let's really study it, let's look at what we want to do. now, they may come up with the wrong answer. the process of debate may be totally inadequate, but they're pausing. chris: let's look at a categorical bottom line question and we asked the matthew meter of 12 of our regulars, will the president send the additional 40,000 troops to afghanistan? you get a bottom line question out there and get a true
divide, i hate these, 6-6, split on whether the president will or will not give general mcchrystal those 40,000 more troops. howard and katty, you're both in the meter and both of you say yes he'll give them the 40,000. >> it's important to say what are the 40,000 doing? it's important we have not just the biden plan and mcchrystal plan. there are ranges of options. some of these troops are more combat. chris: it's the number. >> it is the number but shouldn't be seen as an assumption as 40,000 more. chris: sticking to your guns? >> i do but i yield back the balance of my time. chris: i want bob to join us in this final bottom line question. is this one of those moments in a presidency that really matters, choosing between counterinsurgency, which is bigtime and counterterrorism which is pulling back to a lesser role, is this the point of no return he has to make that decision now? >> i think he is choosing counterinsurgency or counterterrorism but the decision can be remade.
chris: you can remake it once you begin to pull out? >> it's not a black and white decision that has to be made now. chris: bob, you think it has to be made now? >> no. and look, care is the issue here. and looking ahead -- we all talk about options. does the president really have real options? and what they're trying to do is develop some real options. chris: options later as well? >> sure. chris: elisabeth, can he do this again? >> this is a point of no return because he has to decide now if he wants extra troops. if he decides now, most of the troops will not get there for six more months. >> if he goes all the way with the request, fully fulfills mcchrystal's request, goes over 100,000 troops to try to do this protect the people plan because that's what the mcchrystal plan is, protect the people. that's not nation-building, by the way, protect the people and then it's a huge decision, it's obama's vision combined with
mcchrystal's both politically and strategically. chris: i agree with you. the big chicago push for the olympics had a lot of hometown boosters like hillary clinton. hillary clinton, remember, she was from chicago before she was from arkansas and then from new york. >> as a native chicagoan, it's a pleasure to address you in support of the city's bid for the 2016 olympics and paraolympic games. chris: return with me now to those days of yesteryear, 1999 when we loved watching hillary play that internal political game, rooting for the home team. >> well, now, the fact is i've always been a yankee fan. >> i thought you were a cubs fan. >> i am a cubs fan but i needed an american league team because when you're from chicago you cannot root for both the cubs and the sox. there's a dividing line that you can't cross there. so as a young girl i became very interested and enamored of the yankees. chris: rudy giuliani, her opponent back then was not buying. >> i'm going to be with my hero
joe torre and i've been a yankee fan since the day i was born. >> are you saying there's some fair weather yankee fans like your opponent? >> i didn't say that. chris: while all this gave "saturday night live" a chance to pile on. >> people of new york, i want to be your senator. now, rudy giuliani says i'm not a real new yorker. to which i say, hey, forget about it. i love new york. >> she is so good and sharp. chris: think about it, in all seriousness she's been really good at these transitions and went down south for her husband and developed something of a draw and was authentic and went to new york and became a new york politician, probably the number one politician and now is a woman of the world, a global figure. i think she makes these transitions effectively.
>> no one works harder at it. i saw her at the state department the other day and looked every inch the all-serving, all-knowing secretary of state. she's made another transition. chris: when we come back we'll look at another hot spot that makes the president say up, iran, israel has been insistent they won't tolerate a nuclear iran. our question, will the u.s. help israel attack iran? plus scoops and predictions from the notebooks of these reporters.
>> life, liberty and the pursuit of politics. chris: i hate to teach politics to the experts but it's fun. >> hardball with chris matthews. chris: welcome back. as if afghanistan weren't enough, now there's iran's move to get nuclear weapons. if iran does not respond to international pressure, israel has made it clear it will not wait long. the prime minister netanyahu has said the end of this year is the deadline for us to get it done peacefully. president obama was strong in his support while on campaign trip to israel last year. >> the state of israel faces
determined enemies who seek its destruction but it also has a friend and ally in the united states that will always stand by the people of israel. i will take no options off the table. in dealing with this potential iranian threat. chris: how do you read that? do we have a policy of supporting or not supporting israel should they go with military means to stop the iranian nuclear effort? >> i think the general american policy is don't do it because it won't work. there are too many iranian facilities. one was exposed recently. i believe there are others. they are buried in mountains and military attack preemption may set it back a little bit, months or a couple years but you don't stop it. and of course if we attack or if israel or anyone attacks militarily, you inflame the iranian public. you have the leadership saying, see, everything we told you
about the great satan or about israel -- chris: what about israel, how impatient are this? >> they're impatient but the tougher line on iran has given them a little bit of breathing space and i don't believe netanyahu has the deadline the end of the year but people have been telling me look for this spring. bob is right, any kind of a strike could only put it back perhaps a couple years but that's something to israel. it's a couple years. chris: you hear the argument. katty, this is the toughest question, is there any way israel could attack, effectively attack the sites in iran? as we said, they're all over the place. but by getting us involved, i mean getting involved by giving the ok? >> iraq is a sovereign country and presumably they'll have to give us the right and they're not giving it. the effect is america has given them a free pass over iran.
chris: could they stop them from going over the country? >> i don't think they have the military capability to stop them. i can't see americans letting israeli jets taking off and suddenly do something about it flying over iraq. >> i'm not sure it will get to that point because the canaray in the coal mine, i always listen for american support for israel is senator joe lieberman and he was very cautious in his comments picking up on the notion that iran is diplomatically back on its heels right now and obama has taken a tougher line and we actually have a chance to get things done diplomatically. i think the israelis are hoping against hope that there's some truth to that. believe me, nobody was following the events in geneva more closely than they because they, my sense is, that they understand the complications that bob is talking about better than anybody. chris: when we come back, scoops and predictions coming back from the notebooks of
these top reporters. tell me something i don't know. >> if your home runs out of room before you run out of family,@ you might need a sunroom. if the only place in your home you can find peace and quiet and relax is the bathroom, you might need a sunroom. and if bringing the outdoors indoors at your house means a goldfish bowl and an ant farm, you might need a sunroom. a betterliving sunroom is the simple, efficient way to add useful living space to your home. call or log on right now and learn just how easily your family could be enjoying a valuable new space that really does change the way you live.
>> it's a completely different atmosphere. it's not just the room,@ it just completely changes your life when you put one of these rooms on your house. >> call or log on for this free information right now. and see why a betterliving sunroom is an investment in your home you'll enjoy for years to come. >> we expected it to be maybe on weekends hang out,@ but never really saw it as being so integral to just everyday hanging around. >> this is our main room of the house, this is where we live. >> when you call, you'll also receive a special savings offer, which could save you thousands of dollars on a new betterliving sunroom for your home. learn how you can add new enjoyment as well as space to your home, at the same time you're increasing its value. >> it's amazing what a room just this size can do for a house. it's hard to say what's best about it, because there's so many good qualities to it. >> call or log on for your free information and don't forget the money saving offer you'll receive
simply for calling us right now. so whether it'more space,@ room to relax, or a way to enjoy the outdoors all year long, contact betterliving today and find out about the difference a new sunroom could make in your life. call or log on today. chris: welcome back. katty, tell me something i don't know. ? >> we've been looking at foreign policy but the white house is focused on the economy and one thing is the commercial real estate market they reckon will be an indication whether we go back in recession. chris: bob? >> i never thought i'd be on this show this fall and not talk about health care and we
have not. and the reason is i think there are people in the administration who acknowledge that they didn't do it right. >> why is the pentagon spending $100,000 for iraqi and afghan army uniforms and burqa's, the black head to toe uniform they wear. are we buying them clothes? no for training exercises in the united states so american soldiers have a simulated sense of what it's like. chris: hey, we're rich. howard? it's all borrowed money anyway. >> some of the big banks are doing better but the agency of government that protects the depositors are in serious trouble and having to borrow from the banks but that might not be enough and treasury may have to loan money to those agencies to make sure the banks are solid and the banks and treasury don't like it. chris: the big question of the week, no drama obama, avoid the big rift among the big shots in his administration. is it still no drama?
so far has no drama obama avoided a personality rift in his administration? >> all the big stories about the egos going to the obama administration on foreign policy and economic policy he avoided them. >> not yet but then again, just think what we're going to learn about next year. chris:, elisabeth bumiller, any fights so far? >> not yet. we already have the political advisors with odds with the military advisors. chris: you have a book coming out? >> there is an opportunity and the luxury of time when you do a book to dig in to what these things are. at the same time, at this point he has managed it well. and still, the question again, not only does obama sell to the public, he sells to his staff and his cabinet. he's very effective. >> where were we at this point in the bush administration in the first term? very quiet. >> anybody with stories of massive conflict, please call