On this afternoon's Hardball, the old lawyer's adage rose up and bit Chris Matthews hard: never ask a witness a question to which you don't know the answer. Matthews's guest was retired Marine Corps Major General Arnold Punaro, Chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. Matthews's substance and tone left no doubt that he wanted his questions as to the availability of sufficient troops to pacify Baghdad, and the advisability of using Guard and Reserve troops as part of such a "surge," answered in the negative.
Matthews: "Do we have the troops to dramatically increase our complement of troops in Iraq, sir?"
Punaro: "Absolutely. Between our active military and the number of troops we have in the Guard and Reserve, should the Commander-in-Chief, on the advice of the combatant commanders in the field and with the concurrence of the Congress make the decision that we want to increase the size of the force in Iraq, we certainly have the ability to surge those forces."
Whoops! Matthews tried a tactical retreat, thinking he might achieve his goal by denigrating the abilities of the non-active military: "What about the National Guard people and the Reservists, are they the kind of people it's appropriate to send into house-to-house combat in the middle of that huge city of Baghdad, where they'll be getting shot at every moment and where they'll be killing Arabs. Is that the right place for them?"
Again, the Major General wouldn't sing Matthews's song: "First of all, over 550,000 Guard and Reserve personnel have been mobilized since 9-11. Many of them have served extensive tours in Iraq and Aghanistan. They've been side-by-side with their active components. They've been in the thick of the combat. The Marine Corps and Army ground forces are trained the same as their active duty counterparts. They're every bit as capable of closing with and destroying the enemy as their active counterparts."
Matthews gave it one last try: "And you believe that's an appropriate use of Guardspeople to put them into house-to-house like we're talking about? We're talking about going in and cleaning out Baghdad, something that the Iraqi forces haven't been able to do, that the 17,000 regular Army and Marine forces haven't been able to do. You're saying throw in the National Guard to do it?"
Punaro: "Well the question you first asked was are they capable of carrying out those kind of missions, and the answer is 'yes'."
Surge that, Chris.
View video of the Marine's mano a mano with Matthews here.
Finkelstein spent 10 days in Iraq in November, largely on Marine bases in Anbar Province. Contact him at email@example.com