For years Chris Matthews has been proclaiming defeat in Iraq, on an almost nightly basis, on "Hardball" but on Tuesday night he finally admitted the success of the surge that John McCain supported. However, the MSNBC host claimed it would be Barack Obama that would get to enjoy the spoils.
After Newsweek's Howard Fineman suggested, "We're not losing," and pointed out the surge success would make it easier for a troop pullout, Matthews admitted the following:
MATTHEWS: Senator McCain wanted the surge to work, it worked politically and Barack Obama is the beneficiary. Not exactly the right development, politically, for him.
Matthews began the segment by playing a clip of McCain criticizing Obama on the war but then wondered if the Republican presidential nominee, "should take it back?"
The following is the full exchange as it occurred on the July 22, "Hardball":
CLIP OF JOHN MCCAIN: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I'd rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war, in order to win a political campaign.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Is he gonna reconsider that statement? Is he gonna have to take that back?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: No he won't take it back.
MATTHEWS: Andrea [Mitchell] says that's rough.
FINEMAN: It is, it is very harsh but the problem is that it's not accurate. We're not lo-, because in part of his, in part because of his efforts, paradoxically-
FINEMAN: We're not losing. Maliki says we're not losing. Even the Bush administration is beginning to talk about "time horizons." Everybody but McCain is getting ready to declare victory. And McCain is gonna have to decide whether he's gonna call this victory with honor or not or whether he's gonna say, "You know what? We gotta keep 150,000 troops there for many more years." Because everybody else is getting ready to say, "You know what? Sir, your surge worked. Let's get out of there!" That's what's going on.
MATTHEWS: You know you guys both point to this. Howard, you know, it seems to me in politics if you solve a problem you don't get credit for it because nobody talks about it any more.
MATTHEWS: If you're a Republican administration, you pounce down on inflation, inflation is not an issue in the next election. If you're a Democratic administration, reduce unemployment, unemployment is not an issue in the next election. Andrea it could be that he has the Chinese Curse. That, that Senator McCain wanted the surge to work, it worked politically and Barack Obama is the beneficiary. Not exactly the right development, politically, for him.
A little later in the program Matthews said of Obama's staring down of General David Petraeus, he's "acting like Harry Truman," and declared of Obama's swagger in Iraq: "You know he looks like he belongs over there," The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman chimed in: "He definitely owns the place," and the Washington Post's Lois Romano declared the trip a "home-run."
MATTHEWS: You know for months now it's been like "Simon Says," in this country. Every time the President says something, he says, "General Petraeus says," "General Petraeus says," "General Petraeus." And if he doesn't say it, it doesn't count. Here's a guy acting like – maybe won't be by November, depends on the results of this election – acting like Harry Truman saying, "You elect the commander-in-chief, he sets the mission, the best soldiers carry out the mission the best they can. You don't go to the soldiers and ask what the mission should be."
JILL ZUCKMAN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: I think that's exactly right Chris and voters are not gonna have any question, in their mind. If they vote for Obama they know what they are gonna get. And he's been extremely consistent over a couple of years now about what he wants, which is to bring the troops home, regardless of what things have been like there. What's ironic is that he's over there in a period of relative calm that is, I think thanks to, to Senator McCain and the surge.
MATTHEWS: How's this gonna sell, Del Waters, with the American voter to see a civilian who hasn't really been tested as commander-in-chief testing his chops and saying, "I know how to deal with Petraeus, watch me."
DEL WALTERS, EBONY/JET: I think the problem, if your John McCain, and you're watching the scenes that have been playing out overseas the Americans are finally being greeted in Iraq as liberators, the problem is they're the Americans that are getting off the plane with Barack Obama. I think if you look at the polls and the polls indicate that the majority of Americans want us out Iraq, when Barack OBama arrives there and says that he is going to be the commander-in-chief if elected and not, and calling the shots and not the generals on the ground, that might be exactly what the Americans want to hear.
LOIS ROMANO, WASHINGTON POST: I mean I think that, basically, Obama is coming in at an enormously good time for himself. Things are stable on the ground and it's time for everybody to leave and I think that he got enormously good luck when Maliki supported him. I mean look Chris, he's got total command of the world stage now. It's really extraordinary. And I will just say this, the bar for him was not very high. I mean only 25 percent of the country saw him as a commander-in-chief. He didn't have to go very far. And I would say he hit a home-run.
MATTHEWS: You know he looks like he belongs over there.
ROMANO: He does.
MATTHEWS: I mean the guy walks around like he's, he's never been there before, and he walks over like it's his high school reunion.
JILL ZUCKMAN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: He definitely owns the place. I mean all the, all the images we've seen on video, the photographs that have come back. I mean these are all great pictures for him to show the American people. And like Lois said, there was a recent poll, it showed Senator McCain 30 points ahead of Obama when it came to, "Would this person be a good commander-in-chief?" It will be interesting to see if they start asking voters that question again, after this trip, whether he's narrowed the gap.
MATTHEWS: And these are gonna be great TV commercials. Everyone of these pictures with the kids, with the young troops. I'm getting old now, I call the young troops, kids. Those young soldiers, black and white, with those delighted faces.