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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Aid to the Middle East


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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Before we get into another war, shouldn`t we have a vote or something?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. We Americans enjoy our traditions -- the U.S. Open up in Philadelphia this weekend, the NBA championship heading back to Miami, the Stanley Cup. We had another tradition, remember? It`s called democracy. It`s called giving the people -- yes, the people out there beyond Washington and New York the final say in whether we get involved in a war or not. You know, I`m talking about the people who aren`t on the Sunday TV shows, who don`t hold the big megaphones of power, who don`t get to the blow the bugles of war.

Who voted to send weapons to the rebels fighting the government in Syria? Did you? I didn`t. Who voted to commit an act of war against a government with whom we do have diplomatic relations, a government -- a government we recognize as the legitimate government of Syria? Did the Senate we elected vote to do this? Did the House of Representatives vote?

The big shots say we should pay no mind to what the people in the country think. Bill Clinton even said the other day that presidents shouldn`t bow to the pollsters. But forget the pollsters. What are they telling us about what the people think?

Is it important or not that just one in five Americans wants us in the business of arming rebels in the Mideast? Is that important or not? Are the people considered so out of it that we just go skipping off to Syria with guns, ammo and whatever else? Do the people think what they think matters? Is that how it works today?

Well, again, back to where I started. We have traditions in this country. And I liked the one where the people have to be convinced of getting into a war, excuse me for living, before we get into a war. We should decide it up front. You get a better idea of how to run a country that way.

Anyway, joining me right now is Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut. He joins us at first.

You know, I have to ask you this, Senator Murphy, your views on this. I have never seen a slip-slide into a war situation so easily, so delicately that nobody even thinks of having a vote in the Congress, even, just we`re taking sides. We`re going to send guns. People are going to get killed. That`s what guns are used for in war. And nobody gets to vote.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: You know, people paper over this in part because the president has said that he`s not going to put boots on the ground, meaning he`s not going to put American soldiers there. But there are serious national security consequences to arming these rebels. You know, first and foremost, this is an enormously complicated proxy war. Already on the ground there, you have the Russians and the Iranians. We wouldn`t be declaring war on the Russians and the Iranians, but we would effectively be fighting them on the ground. Second, he has not ruled out a no-fly zone, which would put American lives at risk because you`re talking about having to take out very complicated Russian-built air defense systems.

And then lastly, you know, this isn`t a six-month engagement. This isn`t a one-year engagement. Even if you are successful at toppling Bashar al Assad, which I have doubts about, you then would own this government and the reconstruction of Syria for perhaps a decade to come. That`s a, you know, $100 billion-plus investment for the U.S. taxpayer. We should absolutely have a discussion about this in the United States Senate and in the United States House of Representatives.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question. We`re sending guns because we want to stop the bloodshed. We send in guns because we want to end the war. And all the guns do is continue the war. All they do is keep it going a little bit longer.

Then I say to myself, Well, maybe it`ll end the war faster. And no one thinks small arms is going to end this war any faster. It`s just going to kill more people with blood on our hands. And then I go, Oh, he`s aiming it for some kind of phony war, where nobody really gets hurt, it`s sort of a stalemate, like in 1939 to `40, in World War II when it first began, the so-called phony war, where nobody really shot at each other.

Well, is that what he`s aiming for? Do you know what the president`s aiming for? I can`t figure it out. A transition peacefully where Putin (sic) goes off to Russia or perhaps to Iran? How does this thing end, according to the president? What is he telling you people?

MURPHY: Well, listen, I mean, I acknowledge that the president is in an impossible situation here. If he does nothing, it appears that he is essentially endorsing the murder of civilians. If he does something he steps into...

MATTHEWS: Who says that?

MURPHY: Well, listen, I think there`s a lot of pressure on him to try to stop this bloodshed. But you have to both identify a problem...

MATTHEWS: Excuse me!

MURPHY: ... and a solution, Chris. And I...

MATTHEWS: Iran and Iraq fought each other for eight years and we cheered from the sidelines. Nobody ever said we should stop the bloodshed. It seems like we have particular wars we want to get involved in. The only war that`s going on in the Middle East, that has gone on for centuries, is between the Shia and the Sunni. We take the Sunni side in this war. We took the Shia side in the Iraq war. We`re irrelevant except for providing guns. It`s not our war.

MURPHY: Well, listen -- listen, you`re arguing my points here. I`m simply identifying that you`ve got to show that there`s a problem and a solution. My contention is that we`re going to make this worse, not better. I was one of three votes against giving the president the power to arm the rebels in the Foreign Relations Committee, against 15 on the other side. Here`s another problem. You identified the fact that you can`t just give them automatic weapons. That`s not going to turn the balance. But if you give them more serious weapons, then, you know, al Qaeda is allied with the people that we`re supplying weapons to. If you give them more serious, more high-powered weapons, they could just ending falling into the hands of people that want to do enormous damage to us.


MURPHY: I mean, this thing is so hyper-complicated, it deserves a lot more debate than we`ve had so far.

MATTHEWS: And nobody sane is talking about giving them Stinger weapons -- Stingers to go after helicopters because that`s what we did with the mujahedeen who became al Qaeda.

Anyway, after a two-hour bilateral meeting today, President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin essentially agreed to disagree on Syria. Here`s what the president said after the meeting. Let`s watch.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they`re neither used nor are they subject to proliferation, and that we want to try to resolve the issue through political means, if possible.


MATTHEWS: Well, we`re just watching the president talk in tactical terms about chemical weapons and all, but I`ll tell you, I didn`t see Putin joining in there. I don`t know what common ground we`ve got with Putin on this except we start shooting at his defense systems over there and his people, as you point out, Senator, that`s a shooting war between us and the Russians, something we`ve avoided since 1945. In fact, we`ve always avoided.

MURPHY: Well, and listen, you know, what normally happens here, right, is that you have a rebellion. Often sometimes, they go without as much bloodshed as we`ve seen here. And then you have a civil war. And this is about as complicated a civil war as you get, one in which the Iranians and the Russians are not going to run away from. Jabhat al Nusra, who thinks they have played a big role in the weakening of Assad, is not going to walk away from this fight.

And so the United States could potentially be successful in getting the rebels over the hump, but then there`s going to be a follow-on civil war that the Russians could be involved in, the Iranians could be involved in, al Qaeda could be involved in.

And you mentioned at the outside, you know, what is the plan here? What are we really trying to accomplish? And if we`re trying to accomplish a U.S.-friendly permanent government in Damascus, that is a 10-year commitment that could involve American deaths and certainly involves billions and billions of dollars.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Thanks so much for coming on.


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