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During a segment focusing on Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential prospects on the November 19 edition of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews and his panel discussed what Matthews called McCain's "formula for getting back" into the presidential race and suggested that a key component of McCain's future political success could involve his call for sending more troops to Iraq. During the discussion, U.S. News & World Report contributing editor and CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger asserted that McCain is "a smart hawk" who could "sell" the "[un]popular position" of calling for a troop increase, while syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker declared that McCain's Iraq proposal is "an act of ... a leader" and would show McCain to be a "man of principle." New York Times columnist David Brooks later agreed with Matthews' suggestion that McCain is "a better hawk than anybody else," stating that McCain's so-called "hawk on defense" strategy would benefit him as a presidential candidate in 2008.
But during the segment, neither Matthews nor any member of the panel, which also included New York Magazine columnist John Heilemann, addressed significant questions about the feasibility of McCain's plan for Iraq or the possible political utility of taking such a position when it is unlikely to be implemented. By contrast, National Public Radio senior news analyst Cokie Roberts noted on the November 20 edition of NPR's Morning Edition that the military is unlikely to adopt McCain's proposal to increase the U.S. troop presence in Iraq by 20,000 because, she said, referring to a comment by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the "Army is so depleted." For that reason, she stated, McCain's plan is "a somewhat convenient position, because he can always say, 'No one tried to win the war the way that I suggested to win it.' " Roberts added: "I think that this is a position that is useful for Senator McCain."
Roberts also noted that "the generals running the war in Iraq who testified [on Capitol Hill] last week ... argued with McCain about" his plan to send additional troops to Iraq. Indeed, as a November 16 Los Angeles Times article noted, U.S. Central Command head Gen. John P. Abizaid "conceded that sending 20,000 additional troops into Iraq might temporarily quell violence," but he "insisted it would also frustrate American efforts to get the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for the country's internal security." The Times added that, according to Abizaid, "it would be difficult for the Pentagon to find additional combat troops without expanding the size of the active-duty military." Despite Abizaid's criticism of McCain's call to increase U.S. troop numbers in Iraq by 20,000, the Times reported that Abizaid had actually requested that 2,000 additional U.S. Marines be deployed to the western region of Iraq, but as the article noted, the troops "had been on ships in the Persian Gulf for months as a backup reserve force."
Media Matters for America also documented other instances of the McCain gush-fest on the same edition of The Chris Matthews Show. Matthews praised McCain's office as "really a senator's office out of the movies." Heilemann added that McCain "is willing to just do his own thing." Media Matters has documented other instances of Matthews gratuitously praising McCain (here and here), and other Republicans, such as President Bush (here, here, here, here, and here).
From the November 19 edition of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Hi, I'm Chris Matthews, welcome to this show. Today, we launch our special "Eight For '08" series. Today, it's John McCain -- and today's panel knows an awful lot about this senator from Arizona.
BORGER: You know, he's a reformer; that works now, given what we've seen in this election. He's also a smart hawk, not just a hawk, but he's a smart hawk. He says, you know, "I want more troops in Iraq, let me tell you why. I know it's not a popular position but the way we leave is really important to America," and I think he can sell that.
MATTHEWS: So, he's kind of like a -- he's kind of like a Martin Luther. He's going back and reforming and finding the pure conservative movement. No extra spending, no earmarks, and a very clear idea of going after the enemy like we had right on -- remember when the president was at the rubble on -- right after 9-11 -- that sense of purity and toughness.
PARKER: Yeah, but his position on the war is a perfect example. I mean, he's saying put in more troops when everybody clearly doesn't think that's a great idea. But McCain can say, "Look, I'm a man of principle. This is what we have to do. I'm not looking here to please everybody. I'm not going to sit around and wait for everybody to hold hands and say 'Kumbaya, isn't this a great idea?' " He thinks that's the right thing to do, and he's going out on a limb; so that's an act of -- that's a leader.
MATTHEWS: This is so great but, you know, the thing about him is, I think there's a thing he has that people like me like, people -- a lot of journalists like --
MATTHEWS: -- because journalists are supposed to be really independent. They're supposed to be.
MATTHEWS: Tell me that the formula he's applying when you look at these speeches -- like the one we just looked at this Thursday night -- what's his formula for getting back -- how -- what's the combination he's working to get back in? Is it: "I'm a better hawk than anybody else. I'm a superhawk. I'm not buckling like everybody else, and I'm a cleaner guy in terms of spending, earmarking, all the bad things of this Congress." Is that the formula that would work?
MATTHEWS: Will it work?
BROOKS: It's hawk, hawk, hawk defense -- hawk on defense, hawk on spending, and you know, I think the core problem he faces, frankly, is: He is not a -- he is not in his core a religious conservative.
From the November 20 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:
RENEE MONTAGNE (co-host): And while the president is abroad the debate over his policy in Iraq continues here at home. Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Hello.
ROBERTS: Good morning, Renée.
MONTAGNE: Now, Republican Senator John McCain continues to say "more troops should be sent to Iraq." That's a view that runs counter to most other voices we're hearing.
ROBERTS: Including the generals running the war in Iraq who testified last week and argued with McCain about this. Look, he filed his papers last week to start an exploratory committee to run for president, and he is -- this is the position he's taking. I'm not saying that he doesn't believe it; I'm sure he does. But it's also a somewhat convenient position because he can always say, "No one tried to win the war the way that I suggested to win it" because I don't think that there is going to be a commitment of a lot more troops. The majority leader-elect of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, said yesterday there aren't any more troops to increase because the Army is so depleted. So, I think that this is a position that is useful for Senator McCain, as well as one that he believes. And he is one of many Republicans who is already testing the waters for the presidential run in 2008; former mayor Rudy Giuliani is in there, former Massachusetts governor -- right now -- Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. So, this is a position that he can take that distinguishes him from the others and, meanwhile, the White House is waiting to hear from that Baker commission and has set up a commission of its own to look at alternatives in Iraq.