Olbermann: Guard on Border 'Backdoor' Way for Bush to Remove Troops from Iraq

Following President Bush's Monday night prime time address on immigration, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann ruminated to Chris Matthews: “Could he also be kind of back-dooring changes in the personnel totals in Iraq with this because, as Dick Durbin did point out in the Democratic response, an assignment of 6,000 National Guards troops is not just 6,000 guys going to the Southwestern borders of this country, it involves a lot more people and could provide at least a reason to bring people back from Iraq and Afghanistan out of the Guard. Could it not do that? Could he not be, in a sense, saying that?" Matthews called Durbin "generous in his math" in estimating 150,000 National Guard members will be needed over two years to maintain 6,000 on the border, before Olbermann again prodded Matthews with his contention: "Don't they have to come from Iraq? In other words, could this be the way, you know, as I said, a backdoor way for the President to say, 'Well, I've got to bring these people in for this pressing urgent issue on the Mexican border and we have got to just coincidentally reduce troop levels by removing the National Guard from Iraq and Afghanistan?'"

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth caught the exchange from about 8:32pm EDT during MSNBC's May 15 shortened Countdown coverage of Bush's speech and Democratic response:
Keith Olbermann, after Matthews listed areas, such as Iraq, where Bush has lost the public: "Do you think, and not to get too cynical too fast in the wake of the President's comments, but do you think that to any degree, given that this speech was not even scheduled until last Friday, that this was an attempt to change the political headlines from the subjects that you just mentioned."

Matthews: "Yes. That's what I was thinking all weekend. I kept thinking look what this president's looking at. He's looking at a war for which he has a minority support now, where most Americans think it was a mistake to go to Iraq. He's looking at a gas price situation, again an issue he can't change in the near term if he can change it at all. So he has two big bits of bad news out there. He's got a Vice President who seems to always show up as the hard guy in the administration, rightly or wrongly. I think he might be right on the NSA issue. In the days just after 9/11, I'm glad we were using our electronic ability to check on what's going on. But in terms of the CIA leak case and having the Vice President's own handprints and writing right on that article shows him getting very close to being part of this thing. I think the President couldn't have picked an issue which he'd be popular on, but at least now he can pick something he's not hated on by most Americans. But I'm with you. I think he wanted to change the subject tonight."

Olbermann: "Could he also be kind of backdooring changes in the personnel totals in Iraq with this because, as Dick Durbin did point on in the Democratic response, an assignment of 6,000 National Guards troops is not just 6,000 guys going to the Southwestern borders of this country, it involves a lot more people and could provide at least a reason to bring people back from Iraq and Afghanistan out of the Guard. Could it not do that? Could he not be, in a sense, saying that?"

Matthews: "Yeah, I just did the math. I thought Dick Durbin, although he's a very partisan Democrat, I thought he was generous in his math. He said that this would be 150,000 Guardspeople over the next two years at the rate of 6,000 every couple of weeks. Well, he figured it out on the basis of 6,000 every month. If you do it every couple of weeks, there would be like 300,000 National Guardspeople over the next two years, which is a huge complement, obviously up against a very overreached National Guard to begin with, so I think the present use of the number 6,000 was a very minimal way to do it. I thought also, if you look at his other number, 6 million stopped trying to get into the country illegally. Now we're bringing down a paltry 6,000 at a time to face a job which is already creating 6 million turned back over a period of time. That's a hell of a small complement to bring to the border in a support capacity."

Olbermann: "Don't they have to come from Iraq? In other words, could this be the way, you know, as I said, a backdoor way for the President to say, 'Well, I've got to bring these people in for this pressing urgent issue on the Mexican border and we have got to just coincidentally reduce troop levels by removing the National Guard from Iraq and Afghanistan?'"

Matthews answered that he doesn't know if we'd have to do that, but it "will be more of a stretch" for the National Guard.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center