Two military veterans almost came to blows on MSNBC's "Hardball" Wednesday evening as they debated the war in Iraq, and what presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-New York) would do if she wins the White House.
On the left was anti-war activist Jon Soltz of VoteVets.org, who became known to most conservatives when he prevented a uniformed soldier from speaking at a YearlyKos breakout session last Friday.
On the right was Move America Forward Vice Chairman, and two-time New York Times bestselling author Buzz Patterson.
As the sparks began to fly early, I'm going to just role the tape (video available here), and allow you to read along with the transcript that follows (h/t Melanie Morgan):
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It is time for tonight`s HARDBALL debate. Is Hillary Clinton a hawk or is she a dove? Jon Soltz is an Iraq War veteran with votevets.org. And Buzz Patterson is the vice chairman of Move America Forward, and a former military aid to President Bill Clinton. He is also the author of "War Crimes."
Jon, is Hillary the kind of candidate who we can trust to get us out of Iraq and not go to war with Iran?
JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: I think Hillary is someone who has all of the strengths of a strong commander-in-chief. She understands how we fight. I mean, when you talk to her privately, she can tell you the difference between an old brigade combat team and a new unit of action and how we have, you know, combined our mechanized infantry and armor. It is absolutely fascinating to speak with her behind the scenes.
Her last eight years in the Armed Services Committee she has learned from. And she understands why we fight. You know, I was at a large event with her several months ago and she pulled me aside and she asked me about staying in the Army or not staying in the Army. And I said, well, ma`am, I do not know.
You know, I love the Army, and my greatest hour was ever -- I ever had in my life was leading soldiers into war. And she says to me, you know, you are right, Jon. There is no greater honor than being in charge of our troops in a combat zone. And for her to understand that, like I said, she understands how we fight and why we fight. And she is somebody that.
MATTHEWS: So she is a hawk.
SOLTZ: She is not either. She is someone who represents sensible foreign policy. I mean, she is someone who will take the fight to al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: OK. Help me out here. Should a hawk vote for her? Somebody who believes in this war in Iraq, should he vote for Hillary Clinton?
SOLTZ: I think people should vote for Hillary Clinton if they want someone who will protect America, take the fight to al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: Well, help me out here, help me out here. If you are for war in Iraq, you want to keep the troops over there, you want to keep them fighting over there, should you vote for Hillary?
SOLTZ: I do not think you should vote for Hillary Clinton if you want to retreat and defeat against al Qaeda. If you want to defeat al Qaeda, you need to vote for Hillary Clinton. If you want to keep American troops stuck in the middle of a civil war in Iraq, you should go vote for a Republican.
But if you want a strong national security, someone who will rebuild the Army and Marine Corps, someone who will destroy al Qaeda in the Afghan/Pakistan region, you should support Senator Clinton.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to Buzz Patterson. How do you see Hillary, hawk or dove?
BUZZ PATTERSON, MOVE AMERICA FORWARD: Hey, Chris. She is a dove in hawk`s clothing. I mean, I know her personally, worked for her for two years, with her husband from 1996 to 1998, and she is anything but a hawk. I mean, she wants to pull us out of a Iraq. She voted for the war before she voted against the war, to coin a phrase from a previous candidate.
She will say anything she has to say, Chris, to get elected president. See, she is a pathological liar. She does not understand the military. I can speak first and foremost personally, knowing her intimately. She is not a hawk. She is anything but. She is a Wellesley College, socialist, anti-military, anti-American.
SOLTZ: That is absolutely ridiculous. That is so ridiculous.
MATTHEWS: How did you get that insight on her working -- were you her military attache or her husband`s military attache?
PATTERSON: Yes, I was President Bill Clinton`s Air Force aide from 1996 to 1998.
MATTHEWS: What did you hear sotto voce that we haven`t heard from her? What insight did you get from working at close quarters?
PATTERSON: Well, the fact that she wanted to outlaw military uniforms in the White House when I first arrived in 1996 is a perfect example. And she talks about President Bush now, Chris, not having the gumption to support our troops. Look at Bill Clinton`s record in the 1990`s. Drawing the Army divisions from 18 down to 10, drawing Air Force fighter wings from 24 to 12, reducing Navy ships from 586 to 324, cutting the military troop strength -- Josh know this better than anybody.
SOLTZ: He is wrong. He`s making the argument for us.
PATTERSON: John, I was there, pal. You were not.
SOLTZ: I was there.
PATTERSON: You weren`t in the White House. By the way, let me tell you --
SOLTZ: Let me tell you something, you weren`t in Kosovo when I was in Kosovo under Bill Clinton.
PATTERSON: I was in Bosnia.
MATTHEWS: OK, OK --
MATTHEWS: Here`s what I need -- Let`s pretend this is a court room. We need facts. John Soltz, you believe Hillary Clinton is a credible national defense expert. You believe that she is the strongest candidate of the Democrats running to defend the country, including continuing the campaign in Iraq.
SOLTZ: I think that all of the Democrats are stronger than the Republicans, because the Republicans right now have opposed increasing the size of our military for last seven years. It`s absolutely ridiculous.
PATTERSON: That is so incorrect.
SOLTZ: They have dedication of super duper missile defense systems in the sky that have alienated our allies. And the Democrats have a position where we can take the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan. I was in Kosovo when we had --
SOLTZ: Why did we have armor equipment under Bill Clinton in Kosovo, but when I was in Iraq, we didn`t have it?
SOLTZ: Bill Clinton was a better commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.
MATTHEWS: John, nobody`s hearing anything here. Let me ask you, Buzz Patterson -- this is a question. Based on all that you know about the Clintons, including the former president, six months into office, how many American troops will remain in Iraq.
PATTERSON: She will yank about half out, which will be a debacle. It will be a nightmare. John, I`m so happy you`re not serving in Iraq right now, stabbing your fellow men and women, like you`re doing --
MATTHEWS: OK, John Soltz, six months into the Clinton presidency, how many troops will we have in Iraq?
SOLTZ: You will see an offensive against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. You`ll probably see a redistribution of troops to take the fight to the enemy, to the people that attacked our country, and keep America safe.
MATTHEWS: You both agree that she will cut the number of troops dramatically in Iraq?
MATTHEWS: You say that two, Buzz?
PATTERSON: I agree with that. I think we will be out of there in about 12 months.
PATTERSON: We are fighting Iraq -- we are fighting al Qaeda in Iraq.
SOLTZ: You know what, I don`t need the memo. I was in Iraq. You read the newspaper, I was in Iraq. That`s the big difference between you and I.
PATTERSON: I have been to Iraq too.
SOLTZ: Are you talking about your ra ra sis boom ba cheerleader tours the White House takes you on?
PATTERSON: Are you still in the Reserves, John?
SOLTZ: I`m a private citizen right now, chairman of VoteVets.org.
PATTERSON: are you getting a DOD paycheck?
MATTHEWS: You guys can settle this outside. I want to thank Buzz Patterson and John Soltz.