On the April 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews acknowledged that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) “doesn't use the term 'permanent bases' ” to describe her support for a continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq, but nevertheless repeated his false claim that Clinton has called for keeping troops in Iraq “permanently.” Matthews asked: “Why is she so sensitive every time I say she wants to keep a permanent base there? What's the difference between keeping forces there permanently ... and having a permanent base? Is there a distinction without a difference here?” Matthews also falsely claimed that a March 15 New York Times article supported his account of Clinton's position.
As noted in the March 15 article, Clinton explained in a lengthy March 13 interview with the Times that she would “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.”
Moreover, Clinton's proposal for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq after a substantial withdrawal is similar to the provision included in the Democratic conference report on the Iraq war spending bill expected to be voted on in the House and Senate this week. On April 23, CQ.com reported: “The conference report would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Iraq to protect U.S. personnel and infrastructure, train and equip Iraqi troops, and engage in targeted counterterrorism operations -- exemptions that were included in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.”
Clinton's position is also consistent with the 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, introduced February 16, provides for a “limited presence” of U.S. troops without specifying number or duration, similar to the Senate resolution. In January, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) introduced legislation that “allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces.”
From the April 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Thank you, [MSNBC correspondent] David Shuster. Senator Dick Durbin [D] of Illinois is the majority whip in the U.S. Senate. He visited Iraq late last year. Senator Durbin, are we going to get anywhere with this back-and-forth between the Democrats in Congress and the president on the war date? Is anything going to happen here?
DURBIN: I hope we can make some progress, Chris. But I have to tell you something. I don't think that the Bush administration is really envisioning any change. They just want to send more troops, more American soldiers, into the midst of this civil war. We've lost 3,324 American soldiers, as your lead-in said. This war has gone on longer than World War II. This president does not have a plan, and that's what we're trying to force, a new plan, a new direction in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: What would you like it to be?
DURBIN: Well, I think the president should take an honest look at it. We'll use the benchmarks he's given us, see how Iraq is doing. If they're doing well, then we can start bringing our troops out slowly and turn this war over to them. If they're refusing to respond to their own deadlines, their own benchmarks, then I think the writing is on the wall. At some point, the Iraqis have to stand up and defend their own country, and American soldiers need to start coming home.
MATTHEWS: You just set up an option plan where both options call for removal of U.S. troops.
DURBIN: That's right. That's right. And --
MATTHEWS: Well, then, why do conditions matter, if under any condition, you want to bring troops home? If things are going swimmingly over there, we bring the troops home. If they're going disastrously, bring the troops home. So why even look at conditions? Just bring them home.
DURBIN: If things are going well enough, we would continue, of course, our troops for obvious purposes, to hunt out Al Qaeda terrorists, to train the Iraqis and to make sure that the force removal is safe. But honestly, if there are people within the Bush administration who now want to accept the permanent presence of 100,000 or more military troops in Iraq, I think they're just -- in a policy or at least pushing a plan --
MATTHEWS: Well, that's where --
DURBIN: -- that's indefensible.
MATTHEWS: -- Hillary Clinton is, isn't she? She said she wants to keep a residual force.
DURBIN: Well, everybody's talking about some residual force.
MATTHEWS: But Hillary's talking about -- your party's probable candidate is talking about keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely. She doesn't use the term “permanent bases,” but she damn well says keep troops over there after this surge.
DURBIN: But the Democrats have been consistent about bringing the combat troops home, leaving behind those troops necessary to hunt out Al Qaeda terrorism, train the Iraqis and to protect our troops as they're leaving, but not a permanent military force. I haven't heard her say that, nor many Democrats, if any.
MATTHEWS: Well, you ought to check her statement out because she talks about a residual force to protect U.S. vital interests in the region, including Israel. It's a very clear statement about enduring interest and an enduring force to meet those interests. I mean, she's not -- maybe this is politics on her part, but she's not talking about getting out of there. She's talking about staying there.
DURBIN: Well, Chris, I haven't heard Senator Clinton's plan. I know Senator Obama's plan, and it's a plan that would start bringing these troops home.
MATTHEWS: Are you for Obama over Hillary?
DURBIN: Yes, I am.
MATTHEWS: What do you think is the reaction in the Arab world to the following? Because I think they're always suspicious -- and you tell me if I'm wrong -- that we're back to recolonize east of Suez, that the Brits pulled out; they -- we want to go in there and take over those parts of the world with all the oil.
Hillary Clinton -- and this I'm reading from The New York Times, her paper, March 15th of this year, just a month ago -- she foresees a remaining military, as well as political mission in Iraq, remaining -- because we have remaining vital national interests in the country. And she says that, if we don't stay there, it will be a vital -- it will be a failed state. It's in the heart of the oil region. She said it's directly in opposition to our interests to pull out. It's in the interests of regimes, to Israel's interest for us to stay there, to keep a force of -- a military force in Iraq.
Why is she so sensitive every time I say she wants to keep a permanent base there? What's the difference between keeping forces there permanently --
DAVID IGNATIUS (Washington Post columnist): Yeah.
MATTHEWS: -- and having a permanent base? Is there a distinction without a difference here?
IGNATIUS: You know, well, you know, bases sound permanent, sound colonial.
But I think you're -- you're dismissing too easily the realities that she's describing there. We do have interests. This part of the world is really --
MATTHEWS: Well, I'm just -- I just want to know her policy.
IGNATIUS: Well --
MATTHEWS: She's the front-runner for president. Does she want to keep a permanent force in Iraq or not? And, if so, let's get it clear.
IGNATIUS: Well, I -- you know, it's a good question. It's a good question.
MATTHEWS: Her own -- her own colleague, Durbin, Senator Durbin, didn't seem to know about this statement she has put out. She hasn't corrected it. She wants -- I know that they negotiated back and forth between her people and The New York Times --
IGNATIUS: Don't do a gotcha if you discover that she wants to keep troops there for -- you know, because, you know, we have -- we have --
MATTHEWS: No, I think -- because the Democratic majority, most Democrats don't like the idea of being there, and they like even less the idea of staying there.
IGNATIUS: Let me -- let me tell you something that an Arab ambassador --
MATTHEWS: Don't you think?
IGNATIUS: -- an Arab ambassador --
IGNATIUS: -- told me last week. He said there are two kinds of land mines. There's one kind that detonates when you step on it, and there's another kind that detonates when you take your foot off of it.
And what is Hillary is thinking about is, maybe this is the land mine that detonates when we take our foot off.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, that's her policy, not to take her foot off?
IGNATIUS: And you do have to think about that.
MATTHEWS: That's her policy?
IGNATIUS: Well, it's to keep enough troops that, if that land mine goes off, it doesn't blow us all up.
MATTHEWS: So, why is she and her people so sensitive to being reminded that she supports the policy that you --
IGNATIUS: They're --
MATTHEWS: -- that you admire here?
IGNATIUS: Well, I think it's -- I think it's responsible to say that we may need to keep troops in that part of the world for a while.
MATTHEWS: In Iraq?
IGNATIUS: Well, in -- in -- if the Iraqis -- I mean, at the end of the day, this is about what the Iraqis want. We're not going to force our troops on anyone.