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updated 6/23/2011 11:50:33 AM ET 2011-06-23T15:50:33

Guests: Mark Halperin, Julia Boorstin, Barbara Boxer, Matthew Hoh, Joan Walsh, Eric Bates, Bob Baer, David Katulis

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  War on trial.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Getting out.  When President Obama announced the troop surge in 2009, he said we must deny al Qaeda a safe haven, reverse the Taliban‘s momentum and help Afghanistan take control of its own destiny.  In three hours from now, the president‘s likely to say we‘ve made progress on all three fronts and it‘s time to pull back.

The withdrawal of surge troops will probably be too much for the right and too little for the left, but there‘s no question Americans are growing increasingly impatient with this war and its costs.  And that‘s our top story tonight.

Plus, the elusive Al Gore comes out to criticize the president.  In a 7,000-word piece in “Rolling Stone,” the former VP says President Obama just hasn‘t made the case for action on global warming.

Also, can it get any worse for Newt Gingrich?  Let‘s say—let‘s see

his staff as abandoned him, he‘s heading south in the polls, and now it turns out he had a second debt to Tiffany worth up to a million dollars.  What more can go wrong with this guy?

And apparently, it isn‘t enough for Republicans to go try to dismantle Medicare.  Now a growing number are going after Social Security.  Do they have a political death wish?

Finally, Steve Colbert solves the GOP‘s problems for 2012 with his version of—I love the phrase -- - the generic Republican candidates.  It‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And remember, MSNBC will provide complete coverage of President Obama‘s speech tonight on Afghanistan in just three hours, beginning at 8:00 Eastern.

We start with President Obama‘s strategy for Afghanistan.  “The Washington Post” reports that the president is expected to announce that we‘ll remove 5,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer, another 5,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and another 20,000-plus by the end of next year.  That means getting rid of the surge.  And the latest Pew poll finds that 56 percent of Americans, a strong majority, now say we should remove U.S. troops ASAP—as soon as possible.  That‘s certainly an issue tonight.

Senator Barbara Boxer‘s a Democrat from California, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and she joins us now.  Senator Boxer, I don‘t know, what do you make of this?  If he‘s getting out 10,000 troops coming back this year, 20,000 more next year, that ends the surge.  Still 70,000 in country.  Your thought?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Well, I think that, number one, we‘re not positive of what he‘s going to say.  It is three hours.  But I‘m going to say you may have the right information there.  And if you do, this is my response.

The good news for me tonight is that we‘re going to see, you know, this longest American war start to come to an end.  The news that may not be exactly what I want to hear is that it‘s going at a slower pace than I think is necessary.

Chris, when the president announced the second surge—he‘s had the first surge with 17,000 troops, I supported it.  He said we—this Afghan war was neglected, we have to catch Osama bin Laden, and I thought he was right.  Now that has been done.

The second surge, 30,000 troops, that mission must come to an end.  And that mission right now is counterinsurgency, which means we have boots on the ground going door to door almost side by side with the Afghans.  It is time for the Afghans to step up to the plate.

The president said the 30,000 surge was temporary.  If it was temporary—he announced it in December of ‘09 -- that—those 30,000 troops should be brought home by the end of this year, and the mission should change to one of counterterrorism and training the Afghan soldiers because we‘ve already trained almost 300,000, but they need more training.

Look, there‘s 50 al Qaeda left—that‘s according to Leon Panetta—

50 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan.  We don‘t need all of our troops there now.  We need just a small force, about 25,000, as I see it.  And we can get down there, according to the experts, to that level of force in 18 months, 12 to 18 months.

MATTHEWS:  If we can survive over there effectively with just a training mission of, say, 25,000 troops, why do we keep 70,000 there for the duration?  Why are we—what do we get done that we couldn‘t get done just by leaving tomorrow morning?  What‘s getting accomplished over there by a combat mission?

BOXER:  Well, you‘ve hit the nail on the head here.  It‘s a question of what the mission is.  You don‘t just say, I‘m going to bring home so many people, without putting it to a mission.  And that‘s the question.  Right now, it‘s a counterinsurgency mission.  I think it‘s time to change it so that it‘s counterterrorism and training the troops and protecting the personnel that we have there.  So the experts tell me you can do that with 25,000, and you could do that within 12 to 18 months.

But I have to just say, as I reread what our great president said—and listen—listen, we have to give credit where credit is due.  I may not agree with everything he says because I think the 30,000 ought to come home by the end of the year.  It was the surge.  It was temporary.  Change the mission.  Do it.  But we have to give credit.  This is the commander-in-chief that did finally get—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

BOXER:  -- Osama bin Laden and this is the commander-in-chief who is ending the Iraq war.  It‘s—we‘ll have all our troops gone out of Iraq by the end of this year.

So my heart is with the president.  I know that he‘s been, you know, really working this through.  He has voices on one and another, I hope he‘s listened to all the voices.  But I think at the end of the day, he said the 30,000 would be temporary, and I took him at his word and I hope that we‘ll see a quicker calendar than what I think we‘re going to see.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Boxer, I believe you became an activist in politics, maybe the way a lot of us did, because of the war in Vietnam.  And isn‘t it odd—

BOXER:  I did.

MATTHEWS:  -- to have a Republican like Huntsman to the left of the president on this?  Huntsman‘s saying that Afghanistan isn‘t really isn‘t the front.  It‘s dealing with the economics of the world, keeping our competitive edge with China, et cetera.  What does that make you feel like, to have a Republican president candidate to your—to use an old phrase, to your left?

BOXER:  Well, I think it‘s just great that, all of a sudden, the Republicans have decided that they don‘t love every single war.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOXER:  I mean, this is good.  And you know—if it‘s real.  I think it should be embraced.  But the fact is, this president knew when he came into office that Afghanistan was neglected.

Look, I voted to go after bin Laden, and George Bush turned totally around and went into Iraq and neglected Afghanistan.  The president came in, and I think he‘s done what he said he‘d do.  He went after bin Laden, he captured him, and he‘s training these Afghan troops.

The thing is, when I hear Karzai say some of the things he says, which is, You‘re occupiers, you‘re this, you‘re that, you know, I think it‘s time to change that mission and get our troops out of there at a quicker—at a quicker pace.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much, Senator Barbara Boxer, member of the Foreign Relations Committee from California.

Matthew Hoh‘s director of the Afghan Study Group and, of course, a former Marine Corps captain.  He‘s got a hell of a record behind him.  He served in Iraq.  And in 2009, he resigned from the diplomatic assignment he had in Afghanistan to protest U.S. policy over there.

So let‘s—let‘s get to your view.  I asked the question of the senator.  What are we getting done over there that we—in the next three years and all the lives—we‘ve lost 1,000 lives of Americans since the president took office, this president.  What will be accomplished if we string this out through 2014?

MATTHEW HOH, AFGHANISTAN STUDY GRP., CTR. FOR INAT‘L POLICY:  Not much, Chris.  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  What—

HOH:  -- false—false security, right?  Al Qaeda‘s not there.  You know, you look at where al Qaeda has attacked us from.  Look at the last several attacks against the U.S. by al Qaeda.  Where are they from?  They‘re from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  They‘re from Nigeria.  You had the guy from Denver.  You had that guy in Ft. Hood.  Al Qaeda is not—

MATTHEWS:  So what are we fighting over there in Afghanistan?

BOXER:  We‘re involved—

MATTHEWS:  You were over there.  What are we fighting?

HOH:  Yes.  We‘re involved in someone else‘s civil war, you know? 

When we went there in 2001, it was the right thing to do, Chris, you know? 

What we got involved in was we got involved in someone else‘s civil war.  When we intervened, we took one side.  And it‘s a multi-sided conflict.  I mean, there‘s ethnic things.  There‘s regional things, a lot of conflict.  Our kids are caught between Hatfield and McCoy type feuds, right?  So that‘s what we found ourselves in.

And now, 10 years later, after constantly taking one side in the conflict, that‘s why, over this last couple years, as we‘ve seen a 60,000 troop increase on the part of the U.S. over the last couple years, we‘ve just seen the insurgency blossom.  That‘s why when we spend tens of billions dollars more every year in Afghanistan, you see the insurgency blossom because that money is only going to help certain people in the population.  It‘s excluding others.  So our role there with troops or with money has been—

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about—

HOH:  -- disenfranchising—

MATTHEWS:  -- the McCain argument?  We bombed out (INAUDIBLE) got out of there after we beat the Soviets, after Charlie Wilson‘s war.  The Soviets left.  We left.  The Taliban took over.  If we leave, how long would it take for the Taliban to take over?

HOH:  I don‘t think they would.  Why would the Pakistanis back the Taliban the way they did in the ‘90s?  Most of the support—you know, I mean, it doesn‘t make sense.  (INAUDIBLE) go against our red (ph) lines (ph).  Why would the Taliban—even if the Taliban did take over, why would they invite al Qaeda back because it would pass—it would go past our red lines.  We bombed them once, took them out of power once.  They‘ve learned their lesson.

The other thing—why would al Qaeda want to go back?  They‘re in Pakistan.  They‘re in Dubai.  They‘re in New York.  They‘re in London.  They don‘t need to go back.  It‘d be like asking a modern company—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

HOH:  -- to give up the Internet—

MATTHEWS:  -- the soldiers over there, men and women over there, in harm‘s way—when they get up in the morning, who are they fighting?

HOH:  Each—who are they‘re fighting?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOH:  They‘re fighting—

MATTHEWS:  Because we‘re losing lives.

HOH:  Yes, we are.  Yes.  Lots of lives.

MATTHEWS:  So are we fighting the Taliban?  You say we‘re involved in a civil war.  Who‘s on the other side from us?

HOH:  It‘s this broad, multi-dimensional insurgency, right?  Some of it is ideological.  Some of it is religious.  But a lot of it goes back decades.  You know, they‘ve been fighting in Afghanistan since the ‘70s.  So you know, we‘re taking part in this war that‘s been going on for decades.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re fighting anybody that doesn‘t like the central government, right?

HOH:  Those who compose the central government, yes, as well as other

--

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re Karzai‘s constabulary.  We‘re Karzai‘s garrison force.

HOH:  We‘re propping Karzai up and making him and his cronies rich.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we leave in three or four years, will it be any different if we leave then than now?  And that‘s my central question—the most hawkish person in the world, besides John McCain and those guys.  Generally, we‘re probably not going to stay more than three or four more years.  At the end of three or four more years of combat operations, through 2014, the president‘s plan, how will it be different over there than if we left tomorrow morning?

HOH:  It won‘t be.  And that‘s why we made a mistake in 2009 escalating this conflict.  You know, the phrase I‘ve been using recently is, 2009 we‘re waist deep in quicksand.  Now we‘re chest deep in quicksand.  So what we don‘t want to see happen, of course, is—because we‘ve been there so long, Chris, spending so much money, we‘ve got 100,000 of our troops, 40,000 allied troops, 100,000 contractors, tens of billions of dollars—you know, we‘re propping the place up.  So if we just pull out now, leave tomorrow—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

HOH:  -- we‘re going to—you know, I mean—

MATTHEWS:  -- give the president his due right now.  He‘s going to get rid of 10,000 -- bring back 10,000 troops this calendar year, by the end of ‘11, then another 23,000, I think, next—this is a pretty good report we‘re getting on tonight‘s speech.  They leaked it, I guess.  And then sometime between then, the two subsequent years, 2012 -- rather, 2013 and ‘14, over that period, we‘ll get the rest of the combat troops out, reducing our complement over there to about 25,000, down from 100,000.

What does that all up to, as a plan?  What do you think of that plan?

HOH:  I don‘t—I don‘t think much of it, Chris, because if we don‘t change the strategy, right, if we don‘t go from being a belligerent to a mediator in the conflict, if we don‘t realize that we‘re just making things worse, then we‘re just going to be in the same conflict this time next year with 10,000 less troops or 20,000 less troops.  2014 getting all our troops out is—

MATTHEWS:  All our combat troops.

HOH:  Our combat troops.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll still going to keep 25,000 trainers over there, which is amazing to me.

HOH:  That‘s—yes.  You know, I mean, so getting to that point, though, is predicated on our militarily defeating the insurgency.  And we haven‘t seen it.  For all this talk of progress—

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the dangerous point.  Could the president be going into the most dangerous area, which is somewhere in the middle where nothing gets done?

HOH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He will have less troops over there to do a bigger job, and the job will keep getting bigger with us having fewer troops.  That sounds like a recipe for disaster.

HOH:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  In other words, instead of 100,000 troops fighting the same kind of war, they‘ll be down to 25,000 fighting the same kind of war.

HOH:  Yes, I mean, basically.  You know, I mean, what you get is, you get—I think the president is, similar to 2009, trying to please everybody, cutting the difference again, which—you know—

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll find out as the program goes on tonight—we‘ve got another edition tonight.  I want to find out why the president believes in this war.  You don‘t.  Senator Boxer believes we‘ve got to come home.  The president doesn‘t quite agree with that.  He believes we‘ve got to stretch this thing out and stick it out for three or four more years.  Anyway, thank you, Matthew Hoh.  Appreciate your service.

Coming up: Al Gore is back.  He‘s blasting President Obama over climate change.  The president‘s not doing enough, he says.  Does Gore think a President Romney or a President Bachmann would do a better job?  It‘s what you do with what you‘ve got.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  While, foreign policy dominates the news today, President Obama has new worries on the domestic front.  A new Bloomberg poll out today shows Americans are increasingly frustrated with his handling of the economy, and the number of voters who say they‘ll definitely vote for him in 2012 is dropping.  According to the poll, only 3 in 10 say they‘re certain to vote for reelection of the president in 2012, versus 36 percent who say they definitely won‘t vote for him.

But the news isn‘t all bad for the president.  The poll also finds that 6 out 10 say it will be very hard to vote for the Republican in the race because they‘ll have to move too far to the right on social and fiscal issues just to win the nomination.  That‘s pretty discerning.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  In 2000, when you overwhelmingly made the decision to elect me as your 43rd president—

(LAUGHTER)

GORE:  -- I knew the road ahead would be difficult.  We have accomplished so much, yet challenges lie ahead.  In the last six years, we have been able to stop global warming—

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was “Saturday Night Live,” and of course, that sketch probably has a bitter grain of truth for Al Gore.  If he had won in 2000, chances are we would be further along in combating global warming.

You may not have heard much about Gore recently.  Of course, he left politics, took a very low profile, grew a beard there for a while.  Now Gore has written in “Rolling Stone” magazine that President Obama has been a disappointment on the environmental front.

He writes, “Obama‘s election has accompanied—was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change.  Well, some things have,” Gore writes, “but others have not.  Climate change, unfortunately, is in the second category.”

Gore adds, “President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.”

Well, we got a friend here.  Joan Walsh is editor-at-large for Salon.  Eric Bates is executive editor of “Rolling Stone” magazine.  Thank you very much, Joan and Eric, for joining us.

Let me go to Eric.  This piece, you commissioned it.  Did he come to you or did you go to him?

ERIC BATES, “ROLLING STONE”:  We talked to him about doing this.  We felt that everybody knows the science.  Gore has made clear what the science says, that climate change is real, that the planet faces a grave risk.  The question is, why hasn‘t more been done to stop it?  And we thought he was in a real position to give us an analysis of that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think is the problem?  The Republican Party are basically aligning themselves as anti-science, with some exceptions like Huntsman.  They‘re willing to go out there and say they believe the world‘s about 5,000 years old.  They basically go back to fundamentalist views about creationism.  And they really don‘t have any problem being anti-science.

Isn‘t that really the problem, not that Gore has a problem with Obama?  Where‘s the problem with climate change?  Isn‘t it that half the country‘s being sold nonsense?

BATES:  That‘s right, and that‘s exactly what this essay says.  It‘s interesting, the essay is really about the press and the media and how they‘ve fallen down on the job in terms of being the referee in the fight between science and reason.  Gore really points out that the media hasn‘t done its job and has kind of taken a “He said, she said” approach to climate change, when, in fact, there‘s truth and there‘s falsity in this and—

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you on that.

BATES:  -- the two are being conflated.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, I‘m with you on that, Eric.  I hate that so-called evenhanded, so-called objective journalism.  You know—you know, you can‘t say something isn‘t true if it‘s true in the interest of evenhandedness.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Joan, your thoughts about this.  Let‘s go to Al Gore.  He‘s been sort of in and out of public life for a while after getting sort of screwed out of the election back in 2000.  We can argue about how it was done, but it ended up being—

WALSH:  Very bad.

MATTHEWS:  -- some bad calls by him in terms of the recount, and some very bad intervention by the Supreme Court, very bad.

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We can all agree on that, a lot of us.

WALSH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a qualified guy.  I think he ran a terrible campaign in 2000.  But here he is—he did “Inconvenient Truth,” which is a hell of a documentary, with Davis Guggenheim (ph).  And now he‘s back.  What do you make of his going after the president in this fashion?

WALSH:  Well, you know, Eric made a really good point, Chris. 

I did real the whole 7,000 words.  It‘s really inspiring.  It‘s a little bit depressing, but most of it is really spent on us—not the three of us, of course, because we‘re doing the right thing, but on the media and on this fog that has been caused by spending, by powerful interests who are against any action on climate change. 

That‘s really what it‘s about.  Then he comes to Obama.  And when he gets to Obama, give him some credit for things that he‘s done, but it‘s—he says that he hasn‘t used the bully pulpit.  And it‘s kind of bigger than that, because what he‘s saying is what other liberal advocates say, too.

He hasn‘t really told a story of, A., what we‘re up against, but also, B., what we can do about it. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

WALSH:  And this speaks to something that you are interested in.  He talks about we could have a great industrial renaissance, R&D on alternative energies.  We could be solving the unemployment crisis while we‘re solving the climate crisis and making national security less of an issue because we‘re not dependent on Gulf oil. 

So, he sees the way these things are interconnected.  And so does President Obama, but President Obama has kind of gotten stuck in the gridlock of Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, the gridlock and fact—let‘s go back to Eric and the journalism here.

Eric, I want to get back to a couple points here before we go back to this article by Al Gore.  And it‘s this.  The House Democrats who stuck their necks out on cap and trade have had their heads cut off.

WALSH:  Right. 

BATES:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  The Senate didn‘t vote.  The Senate never got to it.  You can argue it‘s the president‘s fault, but the Democratic Party is giving up whole states in the interest of climate change.  West Virginia used to be a Democratic state in the Bobby Kennedy and Jack Kennedy day.  It voted for Clinton.  It‘s gone. 

You can‘t talk cap and trade in South Western Pennsylvania.  There‘s a lot of places in coal country you dare not spend a nickel for climate change issues.  Isn‘t that the problem, not the president? 

BATES:  That‘s right. 

We have gone from a place where we knew the facts, where “Inconvenient Truth” has really laid it out, and we knew the crisis that we were facing.  And now you can‘t even talk reasonably about the solutions. 

And I think that‘s Gore‘s main point, is that—that the attack on climate science is really attack on the rule of reason.  It‘s an attack on our ability as a democracy and a society to hold a rational debate on what the facts say and what we need to do. 

MATTHEWS:  When we ever—going back to Joan—Joan—and, Eric, jump in, too.

Have we ever had a time where one side is willing to just say something—you can argue about wars.  And there are always issues of values and measuring facts, but here‘s fact on the table, global warming, climate change. 

Rush Limbaugh says stuff that is just non—well, it‘s just not true. 

I never use the word lie, but it‘s appropriate here. 

WALSH:  It is.  It is. 

MATTHEWS:  People like Glenn Beck, I heard him months—or years ago on the radio, before he was on TV, saying there‘s no climate change, playing, pandering to these business types, pandering to people that don‘t want to deal with reality.

These people are evil in what they‘re doing.  I‘m not saying their souls are evil, but what they‘re doing is really, really wrong.  And it‘s not the president.  It‘s this corrupt media on the right.  It‘s corrupt media. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re making good salaries telling people what they know is not true.  Rush Limbaugh is not a stupid person.  Glenn Beck is not a stupid person.  They‘re saying it on purpose.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts. 

WALSH:  They‘re serving the interests of people who are making a lot of money from our system being exactly the way it is, and they don‘t care.  They‘re not just doing this for entertainment.

And I think you‘re right.  I mean, the president has had himself blocked, but there‘s a need for more leadership on this issue.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

WALSH:  And I think there‘s a feeling that he could do more than he did.  I don‘t know what he could have done in the Senate, though.

I look at—I read the piece, and I know that there was a juncture back then when senators seemed interested and Lindsey Graham walked away.  I think it was very complicated. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re right.

WALSH:  I think that sometimes people ask the president to be Superman in these situations.  And that‘s his job, sort of, but we have to be really realistic about Congress. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Joan, as always, I agree with you 99 percent of the time. 

Eric, good editing there.  You have got a good piece there. 

I would just say about our president—and he‘s our president—on my issues, he‘s always my president, on some of the big ones, like climate change, and race, and things like that, and wars—I—my belief is this.  And Churchill, my hero, said this once:  I refuse to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire. 

The president is the fire brigade on this.

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He may not be the greatest fire brigade, but, damn it, he‘s not the fire.  Glenn Beck is.  Rush Limbaugh is the fire.  The Chamber of Commerce, “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page, they are the fire.  Let‘s not forget it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  What‘s George W. Bush doing with a crowd of people wearing sunglasses at night?  Well, that‘s just about right, isn‘t it?  That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow” tonight.

First up:  Steve Colbert has solved the Republican Party‘s problem for 2012.  This is great stuff.  Here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Obama leads all specific Republican candidates in the polls, even beating the Romney. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Now, thankfully, the Republicans do have a dark horse. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The generic Republican, if you find that person, beats President Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Guess what?  I found that person -- 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: -- on my way to work this morning. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Republican Party, say hello to your generic presidential nominee. 

Look at this guy.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  I mean, he‘s got everything you want.  He‘s got a strong stride. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He‘s well-known.  Plus, he‘s a family man. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  And, as you can see from the briefcase, he‘s got business experience. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  But he‘s also worked blue-collar jobs. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  This guy has something for everybody.  He‘s well-read. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He‘s outdoorsy. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He loves flags -- 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: -- or rectangles. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  The only knock on this guy, other than his head not being attached to his body, is that Republicans do not need another candidate who spends a suspicious amount of time hanging around men‘s rooms. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Perfect generic candidate.  He‘s any Republican candidate. 

He‘s no Republican person exactly. 

Next up:  The wheels on the bus go round and round, or maybe not.  2012 speculation exploded again when Sarah Palin‘s bus started to rumble up the East Coast, but then most of the headlines focused on her eating pizza with Donald Trump and turning Paul Revere‘s ride into an NRA commercial.

So, did her road show run off-course?  RealClearPolitics reports that Palin‘s aides had drafted itineraries that would have taken her through the Midwest and the Southeast at some point this month, but those travel blueprints are now in limbo. 

Sarah Palin knows how to dart out there, doesn‘t she?  Get lots of publicity, and then head inside somewhere and not be heard of for months.  That‘s good for publicity, not so good for actually doing anything.  Did you notice? 

And, finally, another history-making moment for George W. Bush.  The former president was part of the crowd at Tuesday night‘s Texas Rangers game to set the new Guinness world record for—Ready for this? -- the most people wearing sunglasses in the dark. 

Perfect, a war without purpose, sunglasses without purpose. 

Up next: We‘re just a half hour away from the President Obama‘s speech on Afghanistan.  He‘s announcing he‘s withdrawing 30,000 troops by the end of next year.  So, what have we accomplished in these two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Just about a half hour from now until the President Obama officially announces his plan to reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan.  Ten years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is dead.  Now, al Qaeda‘s numbers are diminished, but we still have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

What have we accomplished in the decade and what will be accomplished if anything from this point forward?

Former CIA field officer Bob Baer is a columnist for “Time” magazine and Brian Katulis is national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Bob Baer, what have we accomplished in the two wars we‘ve been fighting since 2001 and ‘03, certainly with Afghanistan there and Iraq—all the dead on both sides, all the wounded, all the civilian dead and all of the other un—well, what can we say, you can‘t count a lot of it in terms of damage.  What has it accomplished?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA FIELD OFFICER:  Very little.  We drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan into Pakistan early on in the war in October, November 2001.  But since then, pacification in the countryside, control of the mountainous areas, everything—the cities we haven‘t done much at all.  You know, we‘re still in the middle of the civil war.  There‘s been a few parts that we‘ve taken back around Kandahar in the south.  But at the same time, the insurgency has moved to the north and into Herat in the west.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, the president, President Bush, sold us on the two wars and he started both and said we‘re going to fight them there so we don‘t have to fight them here.  Is there any truth to the argument that we would be fighting Afghanistan people here in the United States if we weren‘t over there fighting them there?

BAER:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Afghanistan people would have come to America to fight us?  That argument, we‘re going to fight them there so we don‘t have to fight them there, doesn‘t have any meaning?

BAER:  It holds no water.  It wasn‘t the Afghans that attacked us.  It was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

You know, we weren‘t at war with the Taliban.  In fact, we had channels to the Taliban all through the ‘90s, up until9/11.  So, no, it‘s not—they‘re not coming here.

They can‘t get in the country.  They have no transport.  Our security is maintained here inside the country and not there.

So, if we were to leave, you know, could there be an attack launched out of Afghanistan?  Maybe.  But certainly not enough to keep 100,000 troops in that country indefinitely.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now with the same question to Brian Katulis, the same question.  What have we achieved in all of this death in Iraq and Afghanistan, these two wars that Bush started?

BRIAN KATULIS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, we start up a hornet‘s nest.  A big part of the problem was the Iraq war.  I think in Afghanistan, the initial response was warranted.  But then we got stuck and we diverted our attention to Iraq.  And then we squandered about $1 trillion and then actually created the best recruiting ground for al Qaeda.

This is what actually, if you go back it what bin Laden wanted in the 1990s, this is exactly what he wanted.  He wanted us to drain our national resources and reserves.  And I think this is what President Obama has got to face, is that we got to rebalance, you know?  We had a tenfold in our troop presence in the Middle East, in part.

And this is again, what al Qaeda wanted.  This is costing us, you know, tens of billions of dollars, more than $1 trillion, between Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we got to take care of our people here at home.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  When we start talking like that, we begin to talk like the Portuguese in Africa.  We‘re just another colonial power coming home because we‘ve run out of money.  And that‘s what scares me, if that‘s the way we make this judgment.

Let me get back to you, Bob, and the question of Afghanistan.  Who is the enemy in Afghanistan that we are fighting?  Isn‘t anybody who shoots at us becomes our enemy?  Because we are there, we shoot back and we target them.

What—if you are a fighting force over there, who confronts you each morning?

BAER:  Well, it‘s an ethnic war.  We are fighting Pashtuns, ethnic Pashtuns.  They are very distinct people.

And they look at us as having invaded their country without justification.  They are illiterate, uneducated.  They don‘t know what 9/11 is.  And they are very xenophobic and they want us gone.

And there, you know, 9/11 is not even in their minds.  They don‘t know why we‘re there.  There are a lot of them confuse us with the Russians who invaded in 1979.

What we‘re doing is just adding to the problems by staying there.  And there is, frankly—the point is, there is no way we can win this war.  We‘d spend another 100 years.  We could try to drag the people into the 21st century, but I doubt we‘re going to be the ones to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, it seems to me that President Obama ran for president effectively, won the primaries against Senator Clinton.  And I think the issue was Iraq, that he took a position very strongly against it.  And then he sort of took a fullback position, to say, well, there was one good war.  That was Afghanistan.

Did he sort of get himself screwed into that position by saying, “I have to support one of the two wars, so I‘ll support Afghanistan”?  And now, he‘s back that up and double down ever since.

How did he ever get into believing into the Afghanistan war that you believe isn‘t worth it?

BAER:  Well, it‘s—you know, the Democrats have the problem with national security.  They are looked at as being weak.  And he couldn‘t pull out of two wars at the same time.  He couldn‘t get out of Iraq, just get up and leave in 2011, and get up and leave Afghanistan at the same time and then have a terrorist attack occur.  Democrats would be, you know, on national security, ruined for a decade.

MATTHEWS:  Even though there‘s no established causality between the two.

BAER:  There is no causality between the two.  And this is purely domestic issue that he‘s fighting.  And people around the president know exactly what‘s happening.

As well as does Petraeus, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rest.  They know what the problem is.  But they can‘t be seen pulling out of two countries we got into wars unnecessarily.

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy that?  I thought Petraeus was a true hawk, who believed in the war that we were fighting because he believed that it was something to be gained by this out front.

KATULIS:  Well, General Petraeus is the master of this counterinsurgency strategy.  But you look at counterinsurgency, the number one measure, the number one metric, is you got keep the populations in those countries safe.  You look at Afghanistan last year, you have more Afghan civilians die since we‘ve been in the country for 10 years.  And this is after we‘ve implemented this counterinsurgency strategy.

Counterinsurgency—

MATTHEWS:  Well, again, the question of causality.  We didn‘t lead to the Taliban existing.  They were there before we got there.  They‘ll be there when we‘re gone.

KATULIS:  No, but these Afghan civilian deaths, most of them are caused by the Taliban and guess what?  It‘s in large part reaction to the foreign troop presence.  The Taliban don‘t want us there.  And that‘s the big part of it.

The one thing I might disagree with Bob on, yes, I think there‘s a politics of trying to stay in Afghan.  There‘s another political scenario that‘s developing, both from the Republicans and the Democrat, it‘s—why are we not only in war in Afghanistan, what are we doing in Libya and other places?  And I think—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to get into the others.  I want to get into Afghanistan tonight because that‘s what the president is talking.

Why did the president hawk up?  Why is he keeping basically more soldiers in there for the long haul?  I wonder if Bush would have been staying this long.  Who knows?

KATULIS:  I think Bush would have stayed this long if he made the decision to go back in there in the way that Obama did.  And I think there‘s path dependency.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  But Obama came up with about 30,000 troops, now up to 100,000.

KATULIS:  A hundred thousand, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s going the other way.

KATULIS:  And he‘s going—and the one reason I think he might be staying in there is, across the border from Afghanistan is Pakistan.  I think the signaling in terms of our troop presence is very important.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  This is very troubling.  Thank you, Bob Baer.  And thank you, Brian Katulis.

Coming up—we are going hear from President Obama at the top of the hour, of course.  We are waiting for that right now.  Getting ready with preparations here.

When we return, let‘s get into the politics of getting out of Afghanistan—very troubling.  Very troubling night.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just one day into his presidential campaign, Jon Huntsman has become the hunted.  He‘s already under siege by some Republicans for supporting civil unions and working as President Obama‘s ambassador to China.  Now, the right wing Club for Growth is tagging Huntsman as a big spender.  They‘re criticizing his record of spending while he was governor of Utah and for calling health care a right.

Huntsman is betting he‘s an electable general election candidate.  But the hard part is going to be winning the nomination, of course, in a party steadily tacking to the right.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back for more on the president‘s speech in Afghanistan, which comes 15 minutes from now.  Let‘s bring in our panel.  David Gregory is, of course, moderator of “Meet of the Press,” and “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson, and “The Huffington Post‘s” Howard Fineman—are both MSNBC political analyst.

Gentlemen, my first question for tonight as we set the table is what does the president believe can get done in Afghanistan by spreading the pull-out out over three years?

David Gregory, the next three years we will be there, in flux.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Well, I think the big thing is to try it learn the lesson of the past 30 years, which is you cannot allow a failed state it happen again.  Al Qaeda may be vastly diminished in Afghanistan and Pakistan region, but you can‘t have a failed state again.  That‘s what got us to 9/11.  That‘s what happened when the Soviet stopped.  We know that history.

The other thing is create space for political settlement.  From Henry Kissinger on and across the spectrum, there is real belief that you got to somehow broker a deal with the Taliban.  I mean, they‘re ultimately going to come back into power.  The question is: can you have a strong enough central government in Afghanistan that can share some of that power and prevent them from coming in and committing the atrocities they did in the past?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Gene Robinson, the next three years, because men will get killed, women will be killed, it will be a war for us, it looks like through 2014 under the president‘s timetable.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  The president believes we

can leave an Afghanistan that is good enough.  Not that‘s a great, not that

has an opinion democracy or an honest government, or necessarily a

government

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  but that is OK and that it fits the criteria of not being able to be turned back into a haven for terrorists.

MATTHEWS:  Again, the question that David raised there, we could bolster perhaps the secular forces that are still on Karzai‘s side.  But in the end, if the Taliban comes back with the passion they have, won‘t they do what they did hadn‘t we come there?  Once we leave, is it the same as when we left?  As if we‘d never come?

ROBINSON:  Yes.  And that‘s the same as today.

MATTHEWS:  So, you are skeptical?

ROBINSON:  I am skeptical.  I am skeptical.  I believe it will look better in three years but I‘m not sure it‘ll be better in three years.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the next—so we are moving along in my next question.  Will the Republican demand some kind of aster pull-out?  Will they jump to the president‘s left on this surprisingly?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, having talked to some of them and having talked to White House people—first of all, the White House people are expecting the Republicans to attack from both sides.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  And I think that‘s right based on the people I talked to in the Republican side.  Yes, there are some people who are going to say, you know, we can‘t afford it.  We got to get out.  This is, you know, this is nation-building that we can‘t do.  It‘s kind of a rejection of the Bush doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  That would be Ron Paul and Huntsman and perhaps

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Some people in the presidential race.  Some people in libertarian wing.  Then, there are going to be some others, the Cheney types—what is left in the twilight of the neocons, which is sort of what we‘re in.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And McCain.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Led by McCain.

MATTHEWS:  And Lindsey Graham, the three amigos.  Lieberman.

FINEMAN:  They‘re going to say on the floor—

MATTHEWS:  You think they met somewhere and divided, you hit it from the left, hit it from the right?

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

FINEMAN:  No, but I think in general, though, the president will settle for that because the Republicans aren‘t going to be unified as a peace party in Afghanistan.  They are focusing on Libya.  They‘re saying Libya is—that‘s Obama‘s war.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A divided command.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to David Gregory on that same question.  Unusually, you have covered the White House all these years as well as “Meet the Press,” is it unusual for a Democrat to be sitting in the White House facing fire from the left, if you will, about a war?

GREGORY:  Well, right.  I mean, from Republicans you mean.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  I mean, he‘s certainly getting it from the left of his own party, that you would expect.

But from the right, look, the Republicans have the wonderful position, the luxury of not having a Republican president who initiated the policy to have to defend, you know?  So they want separation from George W. Bush.  They want separation from a war that is 10 years on that is not producing great results, as Gene suggested, echoing what General Petraeus says.  We want an Afghanistan that‘s good enough.

This is not winning the hearts and minds of the people here.  This has diminished the definition of success.  But look, there‘s war weariness.

The dominant force in the Republican Party, as we all know, is the Tea Party, a smaller government—limiting the full scope of the United States around the world to focus on some of the needs that are here.  That may sound a lot like the liberals in this country, but the reality is that across the board, there is war weariness and I think that Republicans are reflecting that.

MATTHEWS:  Gene, does that unite all sides left, right and center, in the sense that—and I don‘t want to say we‘re colonial, but old powers, we‘re becoming an old power, end up quitting wars in third world countries or other countries because they run out of money.  Wars of attrition are lost by the home country time and time again because the locals never leave.  They just keep fighting.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Locals live there.  Imperial countries run out of money and they also—they run out of the will to continue these kinds of occupations.  And these sorts of -- 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what we‘re hearing, Howard?  More and more, it‘s not ideological that says we should be liberal or isolationists, it‘s simply the treasury is bleeding.

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  And, ironically, the killing of Osama bin Laden ended up allowing some Republicans on the Tea Party side to say, George Bush—let‘s give George Bush the gold watch.  I mean, he deserves some credit for that.

MATTHEWS:  Bingo.

FINEMAN:  Bingo.  And we‘re out.

So, yes, I think it‘s gathering and I think Gene is absolutely right about the will.  If you spend any time on the Hill, as we all do, you know, they‘re just—they have had enough.  They‘ve had enough.

People are worried about the crumbling bridges at home and not the ones in Kandahar.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Gregory.  Thank you, Eugene Robinson. 

Thank you, Howard Fineman.

We‘re going to wait a couple of minutes for the president to speak, a little more time before that.  But stay with us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, getting ready for the president‘s tough speech on Afghanistan, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back as we‘re waiting for the president in just a few minutes to make his announcement about the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan at the top of the hour.

MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post” and Howard Fineman of “The Huffington Post” are still with us.

And my third question tonight is: will it be the economy that drives us down?

The American people are watching tonight.  He‘ll get a good audience tonight, Gene, as we know, on this network as elsewhere.  And the question is: what are they listening for?  Are they listening for the end of the war or just bad news it‘s not going to end?

ROBINSON:  I think they‘ll be listening for when are we going to bring the troops home.  And I think in that sense, they‘ll be mostly disappointed.  It‘s nice that 10,000 troops will come home.

MATTHEWS:  So our Netroots friends that watch this network, as well as elsewhere, will be watching, the American left audience will be left out, you think?

ROBINSON:  Yes, I think so.  Even after all the 30,000 surge troops are home, there still will be 68,000 -- 

MATTHEWS:  Twice as many as he started with, just about.

ROBINSON:  Roughly.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re going two steps forward, one step backward.

FINEMAN:  One step sideways.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I mean, the problem you have to ask yourself is the American people, especially the people who got involved in the Obama campaign early on, were anti-Iraq war.  Now, in all fairness to him, he never really ran against the Afghanistan war.  But nobody thought he would double down.

FINEMAN:  Well, not only did he run against it, he ran toward it, because it was the counter balance to the notion that he was weak on defense and so on, and he argued, I think, persuasively that that‘s where the enemy was, or at least was a few years ago.

MATTHEWS:  And then we caught him.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And then we caught him.  And what the White House officials are saying now is, OK, we‘ve caught—we‘ve degraded—that‘s the phrase they always use.  We‘ve degraded the al Qaeda capabilities in that country.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a war of attrition language.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  So, but then it would follow that we would get out.  Not that we would take three years and still have 68,000 troops there after next summer.

MATTHEWS:  Let me offer my brief now.  I think all three of us if we sat around and did it in our sleep would probably say, who‘s smarter, Obama or Biden?  We‘d probably say Obama is close to a genius.  Biden is above average, smart guy, but not up there on Obama‘s level.

And yet Biden has been sharp on this since the analysis and has said counterterrorism should be our game.  We should try to catch bin Laden and the bad guys and stay out of these turf wars in that part of the world, because we‘ll always end up playing defense.

FINEMAN:  They‘re telling themselves that‘s what they‘re doing.  The White House people are satisfying all those troops are there basically now for one more punch, which is the last surge.

MATTHEWS:  At the Taliban.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And train—they are so proud of the fact that there‘s a military academy in Afghanistan.

ROBINSON:  Oh, yes.

FINEMAN:  As if—I mean, as if they have told themselves that they‘re creating this structure.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s fighting over neighborhoods in south Philly.  I mean, it just looks to me like who‘s got this block, who‘s got that block, and we‘re fighting a war which will eventually leave because we have to come home eventually.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Two years from now, three years from now.

ROBINSON:  They live there, the Afghans live there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think the Taliban is going to be running the country?

ROBINSON:  It‘s been Afghanistan for 3,000 years, 5,000 years.

FINEMAN:  It‘s the worst place in the world.  There‘s never been a nation really built there in 3,000 years.

ROBINSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think the Russians are thinking of this war? 

They are watching us—

FINEMAN:  They are saying we went through this movie.  The Russians are saying we lived through this movie.  The administration is also saying, well, we‘ve got to keep an eye on Pakistan.  Pakistan is the place where the real problem is.

But you‘re not saying, I don‘t think they have saying, that we‘re leaving 60,000 troops there for two or three years because we‘re worried about Pakistan, because we‘re not going to use the troops from Afghanistan in Pakistan.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  But that‘s a legitimate discussion to have about Pakistan. 

What sort of presence do we need in the region?

MATTHEWS:  Is that the jumping off point for Pakistan if we need it? 

Is that what he‘s holding the troops there for?

FINEMAN:  They‘re not saying that explicit, but that‘s the implication.

ROBINSON:  But let‘s have that discussion.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The problem is the Pakistanis don‘t want to hear that.

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson.  Maybe the smart thing is keep enough troops to jump into Pakistan if we need them.

Gene Robinson and Howard Fineman, maybe we‘ve gotten to the truth here.  We‘ll see it tonight in just a minute or two.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

President Obama is just minutes away from his speech on Afghanistan. 

Lawrence O‘Donnell picks up our coverage right now.

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