Hardball 's Matthews lobbed softballs at Rice

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

MSNBC host Chris Matthews played softball during an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the June 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, supplementing his questions with ready-made answers to help Rice dismiss concerns about the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces and the Bush administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Instead of challenging Rice on recent reports that Iraqi security forces are far from ready to assume full responsibility for keeping the peace in Iraq, Matthews downplayed a New York Times article on the subject -- asking if she found "frustrating" the report's use of "anecdotal cases" to demonstrate that the performance of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops has been "pathetic":

MATTHEWS: Did you find the front-page story in The New York Times today frustrating? The top-of-the-fold story that said it was pathetic? They point to anecdotal cases of where, sent out on missions, the Iraqi security force don't even know what the mission was. They don't even pick up the hostage. They leave the hostage when there's an attempt to try to grab somebody. They seem to be missing the point of what they're being trained to do.

In fact, the Times article extended well beyond "anecdotal cases." It quoted bleak assessments by numerous U.S. military officers and soldiers and reported that "unease" over Iraqi troop effectiveness is evident "at the highest levels of the American command, and at the Pentagon." The Times noted that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, "has barked his exasperation" over the lack of Iraqi command abilities, "saying that having new divisions of Iraqi troops means little unless the troops 'are connected to something,' meaning an effective command-and-control network," according to U.S. officers.

Matthews avoided challenging Rice directly on the Bush administration's recent rhetoric on the topic. The Times reported: "Despite the Bush administration's insistent optimism, Americans working with the Iraqis in the field believe that it could be several years, at least, before the new Iraqi forces will be ready to stand alone against the insurgents." Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) have offered similar evaluations of Iraqi troop capabilities after meeting with U.S. commanders in Iraq.

Matthews also aided Rice by taking it on himself to deflect criticism about the Bush administration's use of intelligence in initiating the war in the first place.

Rather than asking Rice directly to address the language from a secret British intelligence memo, known as the Downing Street memo, stating that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" to build a case for the Iraq war, Matthews offered up a ready-made dodge, explaining that in Britain the word "fixed" really "means just put things together." Not surprisingly, Rice readily agreed with Matthews' semantic conjecture: She simply repeated his formulation, then proceeded to discuss how "the entire world thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction":

MATTHEWS: Before we go on, that second memorandum that has been talked about, the one that was originally dubbed the Downing Street memo, said that the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.

What do you make of that word, "fixed"? Is that an assertion, that we were fixing the argument, making a case for intel that said there was a connection with Al Qaeda, a connection with the WMD, just to get the war started?

RICE: Well, I don't understand -- I can't go back and judge what was said.

MATTHEWS: Well, there's an American sense of the word "fixed," which is like "fixed the race," "fixed the World Series."

RICE: Right.

MATTHEWS: There's a British sense, which means just put things together.

RICE: Put things together. And I know the people who were involved in this, and someone like the head at that time of the British intelligence service was very much involved in the discussions we were having on intelligence. A lot of the intelligence was from Great Britain, from British sources. And the entire world thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
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