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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The battle for Afghanistan, the battle for America.
Let"s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I"m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off tonight: Split-screen Tuesday. The eyes of the country were on two hearings today that could determine the future of the war in Afghanistan and the future of the Supreme Court here at home. The Afghanistan war was on trial when General David Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill today. Here the division in Congress is not simply left versus right. There are many veteran conservatives who wonder if Afghanistan makes sense. Can the most respected man in the U.S. military save a war that"s losing ground and popularity?

Meanwhile, the American culture war is playing out in Elena Kagan"s Supreme Court hearing. For a second day, Jeff Sessions of Alabama accused Kagan of being anti-military for her role in barring recruiters from Harvard Law School. Arlen Specter is on the committee, and he joins us here tonight.

Plus, it"s been overshadowed by other news lately, but the oil keeps gushing out of that BP well at the rate of some 60,000 barrels a day. There it is live. And today we read in "The New York Times" that not everyone is so sure that even those relief wells will do the trick. And by the way, we want to hear tonight. Give us the worst.

And sit tight because perhaps the most important number of the year comes out on Friday, the June unemployment rate. Well, that number, it could be anything, but it will decide whether we"re facing a second dip economically, and therefore, who"s going to control Congress in the next election.
And "Let Me Finish" tonight by telling conservatives and squeamish liberals that this is exactly the time for the government to push for major domestic job-creating investments.

Let"s start with General Petraeus"s testimony today, and of course, our war strategy in Afghanistan. Democratic senator Claire McCaskill is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Senator McCaskill, I guess the hardest question in the world is the one you"re asking--I think everyone"s asking--as you review the case for General Petraeus to lead our forces over there. If we"re going to leave Afghanistan next July, why not just leave now?

of all, we"re going to begin the process of leaving next July, but it"s
going to be conditions-based. And General Petraeus has said it over and
over again in two Senate hearings over the last several weeks, that this
will be a conditions-based decision. So it"s not as if we"re--it"s not
like turning on a light switch or turning off a light switch. We will have
we"ll have 50,000 troops still in Iraq (SIC) in the coming months.

So this is a process. When you fight--when you do a counterinsurgency, when you go after a Taliban and al Qaeda, this is a process. It"s not just one battle.

MATTHEWS: Would you imagine supporting a removal of most U.S. forces, Senator, if we weren"t sure that al Qaeda wouldn"t come back into that country? Would you ever pull our troops out en mass, knowing the possibility that al Qaeda could come back in, even if it takes 5 or 10 years or 20?

MCCASKILL: Well, here"s the thing. We--I think the president had a very tough decision on this strategy. I think he took a long time because it was a hard decision. He listened to the military and he listened to all of the advisers about the entire region.

I"m not sure everybody understands what Pakistan means right now to the security of this nation, and we have now got them in the fight. Is it perfect? No. But they are much better today than they were before we went to Afghanistan in terms of helping us get al Qaeda out of the mountainous region in the northern border of Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan.
One of the reasons they"ve come to the fight is because we"ve been willing to lay out a clear strategy in Afghanistan. I think that was essential, and that"s why I think the president made the right decision. Now we have to listen to General Petraeus. We have the best in the world now on counterinsurgency leading this effort, and I think the president will be listening carefully to what he advises.

MATTHEWS: Well, let"s hear what he had to say today. Here he is talking about that July 2011 drawdown date. Let"s listen to General Petraeus today in testimony.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: It is important to note the president"s reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights. As he explained this past Sunday, in fact, we"ll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come. It is going to be a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the security tasks in Afghanistan on their home--on their own. The commitment to Afghanistan is necessarily, therefore, an enduring one, and neither the Taliban nor Afghan and Pakistani partners should doubt that.

MATTHEWS: You know, Senator, if you look at the long history of decolonization, of European countries basically pulling back from third world countries, inevitably, it takes a year or two or five years or so (INAUDIBLE) those countries become the countries they want to be, in many cases, the countries pretty much like they were before. The influence of the outsider fades, the longer you"re gone. What reason, based upon all of our knowledge of history, teaches us that al Qaeda won"t go right back into Afghanistan, as they did before we went in there?

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all, we"re going to have much better contacts and a much better alliance with Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: With Karzai?

MCCASKILL: We are integrating into their military, Chris.


MCCASKILL: We are integrating into their police departments. We"re mentoring them, shoulder to shoulder. They"re becoming friends with and understanding the ethics and the culture of our military and our police officers. That will have an impact long-term on those communities, especially if we give it a little bit of time.

And this is something--we have a different enemy now. This isn"t like it was in the days where you would bring up an army and you"d fight a battle. This terrorist fight is worldwide and it is going to be ongoing. We"ve got to be strategic with our resources. We"ve got to be focused in our strategies. But we also have to realize this isn"t something we can just check in and check out.


MCCASKILL: It"s not going to be possible, not and keep us safe.

MATTHEWS: Well, let"s take a look at this fight between Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republican, and General Petraeus about what Vice President Biden said about that July 2011 deadline. Let"s listen.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The vice president of the United States has been quoted in a book widely published in the United States, which I am sure the enemy can have access to, that come July 2011, we"re going to be leaving in large numbers, you can bet on it. Is he right?

PETRAEUS: Well, first let me just state something that he said that I could share with you and others. In the National Security Council meeting that followed the meeting that I had with the president in the Oval Office, at which the president laid out what the future was going to be and described his expectations, the vice president grabbed me and said, You should know that I am 100 percent supportive of this policy.

GRAHAM: He"s saying one thing to one person, allegedly, and he"s saying another thing to you, and they don"t reconcile themselves. And that is exactly my point.


MATTHEWS: Well, that"s a pretty interesting point. What do you make of the difference between what Vice President Biden has been saying to Jonathan Alter in his book about how you"ll see large numbers leaving next July, and the president saying, We"re not switching off the lights?

MCCASKILL: Well, there"s a difference between beginning to pull out and switching off the lights. And it is conditions-based. I think that Vice President Biden had a lot to contribute in the decision-making process as regards to Afghanistan, and I"m sure the president listened carefully. But ultimately, the president, the commander-in-chief, made a decision, and I know the vice president supports that. And that"s the policy that we"re going to support and that"s the policy the military is going to support and try to execute it.

You know, this isn"t--you know, you can"t--you can"t say to Afghanistan, Step up and take responsibility, without giving them some date that they need to work toward. We tried to do that in Iraq, and it didn"t work until we started sending the signal, We"re not staying here forever. I think it"s important we send the signal we not stay forever, but it"s also important the decisions that we make be based on conditions on the ground.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Thanks for joining us.

MCCASKILL: Thanks, Chris.


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