Matthews falsely suggested Clinton said she wants “permanent” U.S. base in Iraq

On the March 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, in response to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's assertion that, “I think we [the Democratic Party] do agree on a war policy. We believe we ought be out [of Iraq],” host Chris Matthews said, "[Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] does not say so. She wants to keep our troops in there permanently. And she said so this week. Permanent U.S. troops in Iraq." Matthews also said, “Hillary Clinton said this weekend that she wants a permanent base over there. ... She made a very clear statement this weekend we cannot take our troops out of Iraq.”

Matthews appeared to be referring to the Iraq position Clinton outlined in a lengthy March 13 interview with The New York Times in which she explained that she would, according to a March 15 Times article on the interview, “keep a reduced military force there [in Iraq] to fight Al Qaeda, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military” as part of her troop-withdrawal plan. Clinton did not, in the Times interview or elsewhere, say she wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq “permanently” or that she supported a “permanent base” in Iraq. A Media Matters for America search of the Nexis database did not turn up any instances of Clinton stating support for “permanent” U.S. troops in Iraq (search string Hillary w/2 Clinton and permanent!).

The same day Matthews made his comments, Clinton released a statement on the Iraq war anniversary in which she expressed strong support for “bringing our troops home”:

It is time to change the course in Iraq so that we can start bringing our troops home. I am fighting to cap the number of troops in Iraq in order to stop the President's escalation and have proposed a phased redeployment of our troops so we can begin bringing them home. I've introduced comprehensive legislation that, if followed, would provide a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope that George Bush ends this war. But make no mistake -- if he doesn't, as President, I will.

Clinton's position is consistent with the most recent Democratic Senate resolution on troop withdrawal, which, as The New York Times reported on March 16, “would have redefined the United States mission in Iraq and set a goal of withdrawing American combat troops by March 31, 2008, except for a 'limited number' focused on counterterrorism, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and protecting American and allied personnel.” Clinton voted for the binding resolution on March 15, which was defeated 48-50, largely along party lines. Clinton's own withdrawal proposal, which she introduced on February 16, provides for a “limited presence” of U.S. troops, without specifying number or duration, similar to the Senate resolution.

In an exchange with Dean later in the segment, Matthews falsely claimed that if Clinton voted for the Senate resolution, as Dean said he suspected she had, then, “she has offered a codicil ... And that is, she wants to keep the troops there.”

As Media Matters previously documented, Clinton co-sponsored and was one of 38 Democrats who voted in favor of a resolution by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (MI) and Jack Reed (RI), introduced on June 19, 2006, calling on the Bush administration to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2006.

From the March 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: You hear people say nobody expected this war to be so long and bloody. Nobody expected the Iraqis to resist our occupation. Nobody expected the Sunni to fight the Shia. Nobody expected so much of the world to condemn us. But leaders are not supposed to be nobodies. They are supposed to know things. Let's play Hardball.

Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to Hardball. Four years ago, today, the Bush administration led the country into war with Iraq, based, it said, on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Now we know there was no mushroom cloud awaiting us, and the danger posed by Saddam Hussein was regional at worst.

Over 3,000 American servicemen and women have been killed. And today we stand a nation divided by this war. In a moment, one of the earliest critics of the war, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean.

Later, we'll get a live report on today's violence in Iraq and take a look at the battles Iraq veterans have to fight when they get home.

But first, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who ran against the Iraq war in his 2004 presidential race. He is now chairman of the DNC.

Governor Dean, thank you for joining us. Why can't the Democrats agree on a war policy?

DEAN: I think we do agree on a war policy. We believe we ought be out.

MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton doesn't say so. She wants to keep our troops in there permanently. And she said so this week. Permanent U.S. troops in Iraq. And she is the frontrunner in your race for nomination.

DEAN: The Democratic plan to leave Iraq is something we have talked about for at least a year and a half, which is, we are going to bring home the National Guard and Reserves. Then, over a period of time, we are going to send some troops to Afghanistan, leave a permanent force in the Middle East, although not in Iraq. And then leave some small number of people there to train folks, all of whom will be out by the end of 2008.

Or, you know, depending -- it could be earlier depending on some other things. It is in the Senate bill. I think you have to -- I am not familiar with what Senator Clinton says, so I'm not going to reference that.

But in general, the Senate bill and the House bill, which are very close to each other, is what the policy of the Democratic Party is. And I agree with it. I think we need to be out of Iraq. We should never have gotten in. Now that we are in, we need to leave in an orderly, thoughtful way. And I think that is what the Democrats are trying to do. And I don't think this is a nation divided anymore, 70 percent of the American people agree with us, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton doesn't. Hillary Clinton said this weekend that she wants a permanent base over there. She said it's important for various reasons, including support for Israel. She made a very clear statement this weekend we cannot take our troops out of Iraq. She also -- I mean, also I hear her talking like a hawk about Iran and our need to get ready to fight them. Are you sure you speak for the whole Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton, on this issue?

DEAN: Well, I don't think anybody speaks for any of the presidential candidates except themselves. So I'm not going to respond to anything because I haven't heard those statements, haven't seen them. But I do believe that the Democrats -- the vast majority of Democrats support the bills that are in the House and the Senate. And I would be surprised if Senator Clinton didn't vote for those bills.

MATTHEWS: So I agree with you in terms of the numbers --

DEAN: Senator Clinton --

MATTHEWS: Clearly the Democratic Party, in every poll we get here at NBC and all of the other polls we see, supports leaving from Iraq, an end to this war. That is why I was taken aback by Hillary Clinton's strong statement of keeping our troops there permanently.

Let me move to the issue.

DEAN: Well, Chris, again, let me just say, I did not hear the statement, but I suspect that Senator Clinton voted for the Senate resolution last week which gets us out of Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Well, she has offered a codicil, Governor.


MATTHEWS: And that is, she wants to keep the troops there.

DEAN: All right.

MATTHEWS: So she is doing her own political business while the Democratic Party is doing its.