September 21, 2009 MSNBC HARDBALL
MATTHEWS: We begin with the American war in Afghanistan and today‘s leaked report from our commanding general there, General McChrystal, who says we need more troops or we lose. Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont who organizes with the Democratic Party in the Senate, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is a Texas Republican. Thank you both, Senators, for coming on.
The first is the question, what do you make, Senator Sanders, of the statement by General McChrystal, the commander in the field there, that basically, we have two choices, go in big with a larger complement of troops, enough to protect the people there, or we leave and lose? We have no more...
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Yes. I‘m not overly impressed by that statement. This is my fear. My fear is that we can get sucked into a quagmire like we did in Vietnam, like we did in Iraq. We have already lost over 700 troops. We‘ve spent $200 billion.
And you know what? We have not, as a Congress, been clear about what our goal is in Afghanistan. Originally, it was to capture Osama bin Laden. We did not do that. And now it presumably is to rebuild one of the poorest countries on earth, which is rampant with corruption. So Chris, what I think we need to do is we need to really—a national debate about what our goals are, what our exit strategy is, and I don‘t think the alternatives are simply pull out tomorrow or put in tens of thousands of more troops.
MATTHEWS: OK. Senator Hutchison, McChrystal‘s statement seems to be if we want to win there, we have to protect the people of this country. We can‘t simply be available to attack al Qaeda on occasion. We have to have enough troops to fight an insurgency and protect the people. In other words, we need more troops or we‘re going to lose. Given that choice—well, what do you make of that choice, first of all? Do you think that‘s the real choice, more troops or leave?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS: Well, I think that is the choice, and we have to listen to the generals who are there and who have the experience here. But I don‘t think the choice is just American troops. Here is where I would call on President Obama to get more help from NATO.
I think the NATO alliance is at stake in the success in Afghanistan.
And I think the goal is very clear. The goal is to wipe out al Qaeda and the Taliban in every respect where it can export terrorism all over the world. And that‘s what al Qaeda and the Taliban have been gearing up to do. Taliban doesn‘t really export now, but certainly al Qaeda does and Taliban can. And we need—and they may be doing it in Pakistan, as well. I think we‘ve got to have the clear goal of wiping them out so that they will not terrorize other countries, freedom-loving countries, of the world.
MATTHEWS: How can we get European countries to send more troops to Afghanistan or anybody else to send more troops if we have our own questions about doing it? And if we could have done it, wouldn‘t Bush have done it, President Bush of Texas? Wouldn‘t he have gotten other countries to go in, if it was so easy to do that?
SANDERS: Well, that‘s a good question, and...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator Hutchison, how in the world do we get other countries to put more troops into a country that we question whether we want to put more troops into or not?
HUTCHISON: Because NATO made the commitment to do it. We have come to the defense and the support of NATO time and time again. We did Bosnia, even though Bosnia was in their back yard, Kosovo. We have been there. Certainly in Iraq, we pretty much went alone, except for the Brits, who were great—they always are—Australians, Canadians. But now the Canadians even say they‘re going to move out of Afghanistan by 2011.
And I think we call on NATO to keep their commitment. They have a commitment. We have defended European countries all during the last century, and it‘s time for them to step up and say, Yes, this is a war against all of us. It is a war against freedom. It‘s very clear that terrorism is a threat. It‘s a global threat. And if NATO can‘t succeed in it wiping it out, NATO should—is not really going to be an effective alliance, and I think the terrorists will know that.
MATTHEWS: OK. I think we have a real division of position here. Senator Sanders, you basically think if the choice is between going in big with a larger complement of American troops or getting out, you would prefer the alternate route. Is that true?
SANDERS: No, I don‘t think it‘s an all one-way or the other way. I think there are alternative ways. But I am very fearful of just getting stuck in a quagmire. And there is a reason why the Europeans are looking very hard at this. They understand that the Karzai government is totally corrupt. They had an election now, which was a fraudulent election...
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s this middle way you see? What middle way?
SANDERS: The middle way...
MATTHEWS: ... says you can‘t take the middle way. You can‘t take the Richard Haass approach of just being off-shore.
SANDERS: In all due respect to the general, that is an opinion, but that‘s not the end of the discussion. I think what Senator Hutchison will agree with me on is that we have not had that kind of debate on the floor of the Senate, or in fact, the floor of the House in terms of what are our goals.
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to me there‘s...
MATTHEWS: OK, there‘s two sets of consequences...
MATTHEWS: OK, General—Senator, let me just ask you about the two sets of consequences I think you both agree on. One set of consequences, if we stay in there indefinitely, it is a quagmire, by definition. We‘re stuck. We‘re in a country we don‘t belong in. Ultimately, it‘s their country. Ultimately, the people who live there will decide the future of that country. So ultimately, it will be a quagmire by definition.
The second alternative is if we pull out right now, al Qaeda comes back in there heavy, al Qaeda begins to attack—or build plans to attack us again. Senator Hutchison, those two choices, neither one looks too good.
HUTCHISON: Well, I don‘t think it‘s a matter of, really, the governance of Afghanistan, except as it relates to the export of terrorism throughout the world. I mean, we do want to help the Afghan people, of course, and get their confidence, but this is a war for freedom in the world and we cannot lose sight of that. It‘s not nation-building for the purpose of nation-building. It is trying to make sure that al Qaeda cannot export terrorism to our country ever again...
HUTCHISON: ... to kill Americans ever again. And Europeans should be as concerned about their own populations.
MATTHEWS: OK. But General McChrystal made clear in his report that there is no alternative to protecting the people over there. You can‘t simply go in there and say we‘re going to play Wyatt Earp and look around for al Qaeda. You have to protect the people from the Taliban and al Qaeda if you‘re ever going to succeed in that country. He says you can‘t just go after the bad guys, you have to nation-build. You don‘t agree with that, Senator Hutchison.
HUTCHISON: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t believe we have to—he says you got to nation-build.
HUTCHISON: ... he is making the point that I made. I think he is making...
MATTHEWS: No, he‘s making the opposite point!
HUTCHISON: ... the point that I made-
MATTHEWS: He‘s saying you have...
HUTCHISON: No, he‘s not.
MATTHEWS: He‘s saying you have to protect the people of that country or you cannot defeat al Qaeda.
HUTCHISON: That‘s because the people of that country so fear the Taliban and al Qaeda that they help them, and we will never be able to defeat them if the people are helping them. That‘s why he is saying we have to get their confidence so they know that they can rely on us and not be really brow-beaten or helped by al Qaeda. And therefore, that‘s what he is saying, we have to nation-build, get their confidence, get our intelligence capabilities not have the people helping the Taliban and al Qaeda defeat us.
MATTHEWS: Well, unfortunately, Senators, you both disagree with General McChrystal because McChrystal says, as our commanding leader of our forces over there, we have to increase the complement of our troops to do the job you, Senator Hutchison, want done over there, or find some other forces to do it because he said there‘s insufficient forces in the country right now to protect the people against the Taliban, that we‘re left—leaving those people...
HUTCHISON: No, I‘m saying if we can‘t get the Europeans to help us and the NATO alliance, we will have to. America is the only country that will have the commitment to fight for freedom, and we will do it and I will support it.
HUTCHISON: But I think we ought to go to NATO first.
MATTHEWS: Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: I‘ll jump in. Everybody knows what the Taliban is and how awful they are. But number one, al Qaeda is sitting in Pakistan, protected
there. And when the senator talks about fighting for freedom, the Afghan -
the people of Afghanistan don‘t believe that they are living in a free country because you just had a corrupt election. It is a corrupt government. A lot of the money that we are sending in there is stolen. And they are the largest producers of poppy, which is converted into heroin, in the whole world. So this is not exactly a fight for freedom.
I think, on the other hand, we should be very vigorous in doing our best to train the armed forces of Afghanistan and the police forces of Afghanistan and help them stand up to the Taliban.
HUTCHISON: It‘s a fight for our freedom, Bernie.
MATTHEWS: Senator Hutchison, your response.
HUTCHISON: It‘s a fight for our freedom. We must defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda so that Americans can live in freedom, so that we will not have another 9/11. And the European countries have the same concerns, or should have. That is why we‘re fighting.
We need to build up the Afghan people. And I agree with General McChrystal on that. I am not in disagreement with him because I think we need to listen to the generals on the ground and I think we need to give them the resources they need to fight. But I‘m saying to the president, Go to NATO first. We need to have relief. Our National Guard troops are being overused and overdeployed. We need to build up with NATO forces, if we possibly can. But if they will not come through, then, of course, we will keep our commitment.
MATTHEWS: OK. Last question. I only have a second or two here. Each of you, as briefly as you can—how long are you willing to keep American troops in Iraq? We‘ve been there eight years now. It‘s the longest war we‘ve had, the combat troops going into Vietnam in ‘65, the longest war so far in our history. How many years would you stay in there, Senator Sanders?
MATTHEWS: How many more years would you stay in...
SANDERS: Ironically, the Iraqi government wants us out sooner than the American government does. I would...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m talking about Afghanistan. Afghanistan.
SANDERS: Oh, Afghanistan? I thought you said Iraq. In Afghanistan, as I said, I think we should train the Afghan police force, the Afghan army. And I would be very, very cautious about bringing more troops in there unless we knew what our exit strategy was and what our long-term goals are.
SANDERS: We don‘t know that now.
MATTHEWS: OK. Senator Hutchison, how many more years should we fight an eight-year war?
HUTCHISON: On this, I agree with Senator Sanders. I think we need to assure that we have an exit strategy, that we have the goal, which I think is very clear, and that is to wipe out the Taliban and al Qaeda so they cannot export terrorism throughout the world, and however long that takes. We need to have, though, the clear vision so that we set the benchmarks and we know that we can leave and keep that country from exporting further terrorism.
MATTHEWS: However long it takes. Thank you very much, Senator Bernie Sanders. Thank you, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.