Hardball | January 31, 2013
>>> hawks or buzzards? let's play "hardball."
>>> good evening. i'm chris matthews down in washington. let me start tonight with this. the boiling hatred of the american right poured over today in hearings on chuck hagel 's nomination to be secretary of defense. hatred, pure and simple. from the mouths of john mccain and lynn say graham as they slashed away at war hero hagel . badgering the witness is too nice a description. the haushtion swirled like buzzards sweeping down, pecking and pulling at the skin of a former colleague who dared to say this country's been too ready to enter wars the american people quickly wish we'd never gotten into. what's with this hatred? now centered in the american sunbelt. what do we make of this poll shows two out of three texas republicans now want our president impeached? why the cussedness, why the range war , why the hatred of anyone who dares to stand with obama ? why can't politics be a batter matter of belief and honest disagreement, not hatred? why the sick little intermurals we saw today? we begin with senator jeanne shaheen of new hampshire. i want you to watch this back and forth between john mccain and the witness today, chuck hagel . let's take a look.
>> were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since vietnam ? were you correct or incorrect?
>> my --
>> yes or no.
>> my reference --
>> can you answer the question, senator hagel ? the question is were you right or wrong. that's a pretty straightforward question.
>> well --
>> i would like to answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.
>> well, i'm not going to give you a yes or no answer --
>> well, letted record show you refused to answer this question. now please go ahead.
>> if you would like me to explain why --
>> i actually would like an answer. yes or no.
>> well, i'm not going to give you a yes or no. i think it's far more complicated than that, as i have already said. my answer is i'll defer that judgment to history. as to the comment i made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since vietnam was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into iraq .
>> i think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it.
>> senator shaheen, i don't know what to make of that. it looked like badgering the witness. i mean, it was mccain with some vendetta against this guy. it looked personal. and i don't know what it had to do with his qualifications, his abilities, to simply pound away trying to get him to agree on john mccain on something mccain believes in.
>> well, this was the longest hearing for a nominee that i have ever attended in my years here. i think -- i thought senator hagel answered as forthrightly as he could all the tough questions that were in front of him. i would hope we could all be respectful and be willing to give the witness an opportunity to answer when there are serious questions. i was pleased to hear senator hagel . i didn't ask him about the surge in iraq . i wasn't there for that interchange, but i was pleased to have him recommit, as he did when we met privately, his support for maintaining the defense of israel and point out that his voting record has consistently been to support israel . i was pleased to hear him talk about iran and his support for international sanctions and the president's position on iran . so i think he is -- and this hearing is still going on. i think he's been trying to be very forthrite and responsive to all the questions that have been asked by the committee members.
>> it seems like a rear guard action on the vietnam war . a few minutes later in the very hearings i was showing you there, chuck hagel returned to the topic of the surge in iraq and gave a more thoughtful response. it related to his decision making in his time as mccain had time there, too, in vietnam . let's watch.
>> i saw it from the bottom. i saw what happens. i saw the consequences and the suffering and the horror of war. so i did question a surge. it wasn't an aberration to me ever. i always ask the question is this going to be worth the sacrifice because there will be sacrifice. in the surge case in iraq , we lost almost 1,200 dead americans during that surge and thousands of wounded. now, was it required? was it necessary? senator mccain his own opinion on that shared by others. i'm not sure. i'm not that certain that it was required.
>> senator shaheen, we have had so many wars recently, some of them bite-sized but they always involve casualties, vietnam , granada, iraq , iraq again, afghanistan, iran , libya to some extent. now mccain is pushing us to go into syria. some people are hawks pure and simple. every war is good to them. every war is justified from the second it's discussed. all wars that even come up as potential wars are good wars for these characters. why is this a standard for whether you can be a good secretary of defense? that you have a knee-jerk love of war.
>> well, i thought and believe that --
>> didn't you hear that today? i mean mccain seems crazed on this issue like if you're not for every surge, every war that comes along, you're not to be trusted and the other guy said i served in vietnam as a grunt, i know what it's like. i know the grunts are the ones who take it. the big shots take them into war, the big shots talk about climate change two weeks later, they're still in the ditch fighting the war. your thoughts.
>> and i think it will be good to have somebody with senator hagel 's perspective on war, somebody who understands that sometimes we have to go to war because there aren't any other alternatives and we've got to defend our values, but who also understands the horrible consequences of war, and certainly senator hagel does that as the former enlisted man who was -- got two purple hearts in vietnam . he knows what the human fallout is from war, and i think that's a perspective that it's important to have, and, you know, i think it's unfortunate to impugn people's motives.
>> i agree.
>> we look at two sets of circumstances, and we can have very different views on what we should do, but the important thing is when it comes to the bottom line , we all need to work together, and we all need to respect each other's point of views.
>> quickly, what happened to the u.s. senate you and i grew up with, where people actually respected each other? it doesn't have to be a club again, but what about mutual respect? this rat pack attack on people led by the so-called amigos, mccain and lindsey, it looks personal as hell. what did you think on that question? is this personal, this vendetta you're seeing today against chuck hagel ?
>> you know, i don't know if it's personal or not, but i think it is important for us to set a standard for the american people because we need to keep our comments civil. we need to be respectful because that then plays for the rest of the country.
>> like you do, senator. thank you so much. jeanne shaheen of new hampshire. we have more reaction to the hearing now from peter by nart, editor of the daily beast . you're always interesting to watch. here is lindsey graham , one of the amigos you might say, not an amigo of hagel , also grilling the witness. listen to how he went after his past reference to, quote, the jewish lobby . let's watch.
>> name one person in your opinion who is intimidated by the israeli lobby in the united states senate .
>> well, first --
>> name one.
>> i don't know.
>> well, why would you say it?
>> i didn't have in mind a specific person.
>> name one dumb thing we've been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the israeli or jewish lobby .
>> i have already stated that i regret the terminology.
>> what is he trying to do there, peter? i mean, he's trying to bait him it seems to me. i'll answer my own question, into saying something against a fellow senator. first of all, if he were to name a fellow senator that would be the headline tomorrow morning and tonight on the news, it would be mccarthyism. this guy got prodded into voting a way he didn't want to vote because he's worried about some influential people somewhere. what kind -- it was like did you stop beating your wife? it's that kind of question. there's no good answer to that question.
>> you're right, it was entirely gotcha. look, the problem here with hagel is that he came into a gun fight with a water pistol. these guys, as you said, were going after him. they had made up their decision, and instead of hagel actually defending the arguments that he's made saying, yes, we should have a military action against iran on the table but we should be very open about how dangerous military action would be. yes, we support israel . yes, we want to give it military aid , but we also think that some of its policies in the settlements are bad for israel and the united states . he didn't really depend those policies.
>> i think that's what they wanted him to do. i think lindsey graham was trying to get him to sake some shots at israel . the minute did he -- you're good at analyzing the news, how the headlines will run, then the headline will be nominee attacks israel .
>> that's right.
>> and the pro israeli press or analysts will say there he goes again taking a shot at netanyahu or somebody over there and lindsey gets what he wants. maybe i'm being machiavellian here.
>> no, i think that's exactly right. but i think barack obama chose chuck hagel because he doesn't agree with lindsey graham and benjamin netanyahu on everything. most of his real security establishment doesn't agree that what netanyahu is doing --
>> most of the israeli security establishment doesn't agree --
>> not at all. and hagel has a good case that he could have made there.
>> he didn't do it. so what do you think? was it obama 's first debate? just a bad night or was it a rope-a-dope meaning he said i'd rather take the punches today, i'll still get a 14-10 vote out of that committee but if i were to attack back, it's almost like ted kennedy in the old days when he was attacked by an opponent. he decided if i attack back i'm in the mess with them. if i don't attack back, i'll be okay.
>> i think it was a mistake. it was like obama 's first debate. it's like let's not try to lose this ping. i don't think that works in sports. i don't think it works in poll picks tp.
>> prevent defense wasn't the answer here.
>> that's right. hagel has a good case for why he believes -- for goodness sake, the last ten years of american foreign policy , these disastrous wars reaffirm hagel 's basic instincts about the danger of taking america into war casually. he should have made that case. that's why obama chose him.
>> do you think he has an articulation problem? is this endemic? he's going to have to stick up to a lot of people in the world, fight with generals. do you think he just doesn't have it or do you think he didn't have the strategy for today? all day today?
>> i think whoever was counseling him did not say to him, you go out there and say what you believe because that's why we want you. they went and they said you basically try to show there's no difference between you and john mccain . there is a difference and that's why he should be secretary of defense.
>> just remember, watch the tape. mccain never gave him a chance to explain himself.
>> lindsey graham , his amigo, never gave him a chance. they sat badgering that guy to answer their yes or no questions for their own personal gratification. anyway, peter, you're the greatest analyst i have ever heard of. thank you. just kidding. i love it because i can't predict you, buddy. i think you're very honest.
>> thank you.
>> coming up, gun fight . what did we learn at yesterday's gun hearings? that the pro- gun lobby tries to have nonsense to oppose background checks. take wayne lapierre 's assertion. we shouldn't have any laws at all because criminals will break them. that's why we have the laws because they're bad things they shouldn't be doing. this is "hardball," the place for