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MSNBC Hardball - Transcript

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MSNBC Hardball - Transcript
Monday, May 30, 2005


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As we continue to pay tribute to our veterans and military, we turn to two members of the Congress involved in policy-making for our armed forces.

Congressman Peter King of Long Island, New York, he served in the New York National Guard and visited with DFW members today. And Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of suburban San Francisco sits on the Armed Services Committee and attended the opening of a veterans facility in her district.

Congresswoman Tauscher, how are we treating the veterans right now?

Are we treating them better than they were several years back?

REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I certainly think the American people have a groundswell of emotion for our veterans.

What is disappointing to me, unfortunately, is, this year's budget, the president's budget, actually cuts funding for veterans hospitals, health care and other issues. And, obviously, we have new veterans being created every day. And the question is, how are we going to bring them home sooner and safer?

MATTHEWS: Congressman King, how are we doing with the veterans?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: First of all, I agree with everything General McCaffrey said before that. I think the American people have a tremendous feeling of affection for the veterans, also for the soldiers fighting over there today.

This is very different from the way it was 30 years ago. I would have to disagree Ellen, though, on the whole issue of veterans care. We've increased spending more in the past five years than the previous eight. I think we can debate certain aspects of it. But, listen, everyone is committed to doing what we can to make sure the veterans get proper health and coverage.

MATTHEWS: OK, I wanted you to start on this. You think we're doing


Let me ask you about recruiting, because we all know that there's problem now because we're at war. And the price of joining up is pretty high. You risk your life, men and women of every rank. What can we do to increase recruitment, Congressman King?

KING: Well, for one thing, I think we should have more universities to allow ROTC on campus. I think that would be a step in the right direction. It would also bring in more of the so-called elite classes, expose them to the military.

But, also I wouldn't even-listen, this is an almost expected diplomat that you're going to see. This is the first time we've had any type of prolonged military action since the voluntary Army came into being. I think, by accentuating and by setting up by-you know, by advertising more, by going more to the schools, by letting people know the benefits of the armed forces...


KING: I think those numbers are going to come back.

But, all told, we are still coming very close and there is no shortage at all at the Navy and the Air Force.

MATTHEWS: But, Congresswoman Tauscher, are we realizing or don't we realize that, when a kid looks at the TV set at night, even if he doesn't or she doesn't pay much attention to the politics and the news, they see what's going on over there in Afghanistan and Iraq. And they know it's a tough situation to put themselves in.

TAUSCHER: Well, so do their moms and dads and their spouses.

Look, the key to recruiting and retention is, first and foremost, keeping promises to our existing military, both in the active duty service and the Guard and Reserve. About 40 percent of the Guard and Reserve are now serving in Iraq. Many of them are serving for longer tours than they were told. And, certainly, for our active duty forces, many of them are going back for the second, third, and I was with the veteran today for his fourth tour.

I led the effort in the House Armed Services Committee to increase the size of our active duty forces. And, once again, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed to disagree. We marginally increased by 30,000 the Army and 9,000 Marines last year. This time, we only got 10,000 increase. This is really about making sure that we have a military, an active duty, volunteer military that is right size for the kind of asymmetrical, nonconventional conflict we have now.

We need a bigger military. And we waited too long to begin active recruiting to get that.

MATTHEWS: Are we meeting our goal over there in Iraq?



KING: I think, we are, Chris.


KING: I'm sorry.


KING: Go ahead, Ellen. I'm sorry.

MATTHEWS: Tauscher first. I'm sorry.

TAUSCHER: I think that we need a sober reassessment of exactly where we are. I think that the Pentagon has got to take off their rose-colored glasses and understand, look, as wrong as it was to preemptively strike, it would be wrong to preemptively exit. But, at the same time, our coalition of the willing is diminishing, because we never created a coalition of the capable.

And we are really in a situation where we need to know that we are recruiting and retaining Iraqi military and that they're actually able to fight. We're going to find out in the next week or so if they're able to do that. That will say a lot about whether we are going to be able to come home in the next couple years or not.

MATTHEWS: Congressman King, are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel or does the tunnel just keep going? Are we going to be stuck over there for years to come?

KING: I don't think so.

I think, listen, there may be a garrison force there. But I think General Petraeus is doing an outstanding job. I think we've made extraordinary progress politically. It's tough. Every casualty is tough. Every death is tragic.

But, Chris, I want to go back to something Ellen said. And that's about the National Guard. My old unit, the 69th, they're over there now. They've had 15 fatalities, a large number of casualties. I stopped by the armory. The morale is still up. The families are still-they're behind the troops.

And I think, also, when I've been in Iraq, I make a point of visiting the Reserve and National Guard units, especially those from the inner cities, from East New York and Brownsville, Bedford Stuyvesant. And the morale, whether it's black, Hispanic, white, I find the morale extraordinarily high over there. I know there's going to be problems. But this is a tough war. It's a tough situation.


KING: But, overall, I think our soldiers are doing a great job.

MATTHEWS: How do we demonstrate to the Arab world and the world at large that we're helping a country build itself and then getting out there if we keep a garrison force? If we keep a garrison force like we do in Guantanamo or even more so like a colonial power, doesn't it looks like they're protecting the government over there? In other words, it's not the people's government in Iraq eventually. It is always going to be protected by our military. Therefore, it is our government.

Peter King.

KING: Well, the other side of that, Chris, is, if we pull everyone out, it looks as if we're abandoning the area. So, I think having a garrison force at the invitation and the request of a duly elected government is similar to what happened in West Germany after World War II.


What do you think, Congresswoman Tauscher? Do you think we should keep a permanent force in that part of the world, in Afghanistan and in Iraq?

TAUSCHER: Look, they've obviously asked to us stay because they frankly can't live without us. And that is a situation that was unpredictable apparently to the Pentagon after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.

We have gotten so much of this wrong. But, in the end, this is about stabilizing a very, very difficult situation in Iraq, which is a very volatile region. We need to stay as long as we can. But we should have a long time ago. During the time the CPA accelerated turnover of power to indigenous Iraqis, we should have moved much more quickly to stand up the Iraqi military. That wasted year that we did not do things, we're now paying a huge price for.

MATTHEWS: I guess we're trying to do it now. Anyway, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California.


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