Chris Matthews channeled his inner-Helen Thomas on Tuesday, railing against Barack Obama's "disastrous" plan for military action against Syria. The Hardball host mocked the proposed goal of sending a message to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, excoriating, "Will this mysterious signal get delivered? Will a signal go to Assad that he will never again use chemical weapons?" [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Matthews raged against air strikes on Syria, insisting, "In other words, the only thing we really know is we'll be killing poor people, committing an act of war with this notion that somehow it's smoke signals." The usually pro-Obama reporter Howard Fineman appeared perplexed by the administration's presentation to the U.S. Senate: "...The only message we're sending to the world is one of confusion....It's just utterly confusing."
Highlighting the politics of the issue, Matthews lamented, "...It's disastrous for the President because he's basically saying to the Republicans, If you want a free ride on this, I'll cover for you with Nancy Pelosi's Democrats."
The journalist's lecture that all the U.S. would be doing is "killing poor people" is reminiscent of the late Helen Thomas, another leftist reporter. This is how she questioned Obama on the war in Afghanistan:
When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse — and don't give us this Bushism, 'If we don't go there, they'll all come here!'
— Helen Thomas to President Obama at his May 27, 2010 press conference.
A partial transcript of the September 3 segment, which aired at 7:06pm ET, follows:
PETER BEINART: This kind of intermediary position is very unsatisfying, and I think it's - - Howard's right, it's also somewhat incoherent. On the one hand, we say we're only doing this to punish him for chemical weapons and we're not trying to change the course of the war. Well, then why are we arming the Syrian rebels, and it seems like, actually, going further and arming them even more now. We're trying to have it both ways, it seems.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Aren't we -- look, here's my problem. And this is a serious moral problem, too. If we bomb, use Cruise missiles against Damascus, people are going to die that night. They're going to die and there'll be hospital scenes the next day of people in the hospitals with legs missing and arms missing. That will happen. If this president pushes the button with the backing of Congress, people will die.
Will this mysterious signal get delivered? Will a signal go to Assad that he will never again use chemical weapons, and the Iranians, I guess, will never go nuclear with their weaponization program? I mean, we don't know that. In other words, the only thing we really know is we'll be killing poor people, committing an act of war with this notion that somehow it's smoke signals. We're using Western Union. What we're doing is killing people and calling it a message. Howard?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, I've got to say, Chris, that based on what I saw today of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the only message we're sending to the world is one of confusion.
FINEMAN: Again. As we said before, our stated policy goal is that we want Assad out. We would prefer to have it either by diplomatic means or have the opposition, which we refused to arm or help until recently, do it. It's just utterly confusing.
MATTHEWS: Isn't the safest move for the Republicans is to give the absolute minimum number of votes to the President and force the Democrats to come up with their maximum number of votes? That to me, Howard and Peter -- Peter first -- is the politics of this thing and why it's disastrous for the President because he's basically saying to the Republicans, If you want a free ride on this, I'll cover for you with Nancy Pelosi's Democrats.