I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gen. Montgomery Meigs on Hardball -- Oct. 14, 2005

MATTHEWS: This weekend, it`s a crucial step for the future of Iraq. Iraqis will go to the polls for a referendum on the new constitution. But Sunni insurgents are trying to keep the constitution from being approved. Power, by the way, is slowly being restored after the insurgents sabotaged power lines that plunged much of Baghdad into darkness.

NBC military analyst and retired Army General Montgomery Meigs is just back from Iraq and joins us now.

Well, I don`t know many generals just back from Iraq I can talk to like I can with you, General, so is it better than you thought it was going to be, or worse than you thought it would be? Please be blunt.

GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS (RET), U.S. ARMY: It was better. Commanders have a bit in their teeth, they have a mission, they understand what they`re doing. They have a plan that`s paying off.

Let me give you some data points, Chris. We have policed up 100, roughly 100 people connected to Zarqawi`s networks, six of his lieutenants, 36 of his regional bosses, and another 56 of his foreign fighter shooters in the last 10 months. That`s a statistic that hasn`t gotten out. That`s amazing.

MATTHEWS: But how many people have joined the insurgency and joined the terrorist organization since that time?

MEIGS: Oh, they do that, but the nice thing about getting the emir (ph) of Mosul three times, the fourth guy that steps up is just not as talented, he`s not as well versed in it as the other guys were, and he will be on the way to Abu Ghraib very shortly, I`m sure.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to leave that country with some success in the next couple of years, or are we there for the longest duration you can imagine? Are we just going to be there for -- interminably amount of time?

MEIGS: The next 120 days are critical, to get that new government seated. By the way, I believe the constitution will be approved. Secondly, we are going to be there through that first government`s term, about another four years, but not with the number of troops you see now. As the Iraqi forces come online -- and they have come online -- you`re going to see us be able to draw down the troops to a certain extent.

Another data point for you. Recently in the battles around Tal Afar, which were very successful, killed over 100 insurgents, policed up another 400. Eleven Iraqi battalions in the fighting, three American.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, we have lost about 1,000 troops a year. Are we going to continue to suffer those kinds of casualties?

MEIGS: I don`t think so. I think it will taper off as the new government gets into place and as the Iraqi security forces take on an even greater role.

MATTHEWS: Who is going to run -- is it going to be like Iran? What is this new country going to look like over there?

MEIGS: It`s hard to say. Iraqis had a pretty secular tradition. People I was talking to, they stressed the point that there is a lot of inter-marriage between Shias and Sunnis. I think that one is too close to call. We`ll just have to wait and see.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, General Meigs. I do trust you, and I am glad to hear there`s an optimistic voice coming back. Let me ask you one last question...

MEIGS: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... about this election. If it goes the other way, if the constitution is rebuked by that three districts or whatever the rule is, what will that mean?

MEIGS: It means that you have to rewrite the constitution with the new government that will be formed with the election in December. It`s a minor setback. It means another one of these tedious deals, but the Sunnis will have voted, they will be in the play. That`s not all bad.

MATTHEWS: OK, certainly not. Thank you very much, General Montgomery Meigs.