Guests: William Odom, Duncan Hunter, Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton, Craig Crawford, Susan Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, the general who warned that Iraq could be the greatest strategic disaster in American history.
And Donald Rumsfeld blames bad Iraq news on the media.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.
This week on HARDBALL, a series of special reports on ending the war in Iraq. What kind of challenges is America facing in Iraq? No one denies the war has proven to be vastly more difficult than predicted. Are the critics correct in saying that war in Iraq is truly a hopeless mission?
The questions facing the president, Congress and the military and the American people loom large not only because of the tragic toll it is taking on our troops but because of the toll an American retreat could incur.
HARDBALL will take a look on Iraq and different exit strategies featuring voices from the battlefield to the political war here in Washington. More on this in a moment.
And what about the home front? Is America truly safer today than it was on September 11, 2001? We will talk to two former 9/11 commissioners who say we are still not prepared for another attack.
But we begin with the biggest question Americans want answered honestly. How do we realistically get out of Iraq right now? How do we begin to get out?
Retired Lieutenant General William Odom is the former director of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan.
General Odom, thank you.
LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM (RET.), FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR:
MATTHEWS: What are your thoughts, your big thoughts, about leaving Iraq and how we leave it when we can leave it?
ODOM: The longer we stay, the bigger mess we create. Once we invaded, we set in motion a group of forces that inexplicably has taken us to this point. We can‘t change that by staying longer. We can make it worse.
We essentially invaded for other peoples‘ interests without understanding it. We made Iraq safe for al Qaeda, therefore, we really encouraged or pleased Osama bin Laden.
The Iranians detested Saddam‘s regime. He had invaded them and fought them for eight years. Therefore, seeing Saddam and his regime overthrown greatly pleased the Iranians.
It has also created a situation inside Iraq, fragmentation, that‘s leading to the creation of a regime that will almost inexplicably will be an Islamic republic much closer to Iran than to the U.S. or anyone in the Arab world.
MATTHEWS: Would we be better off with Saddam Hussein? If the scenario you are drawing where we are headed and where we came from, what‘s worse?
ODOM: I would rather be containing Saddam.
MATTHEWS: Then being unable to contain this new Shia government?
ODOM: Well, to be able to—well, I don‘t know what detaining this Shiite government will amount to. I think we have essentially taken away the tools for containment by losing so many allies.
One of the reasons it makes sense to get out earlier rather than later, is that I don‘t think we can abandon the region. We don‘t have enough force, power, to stabilize the entire region alone. We need our allies in Europe, in particular, and also as many as we can get in east Asia.
And unless we get out, I don‘t think we will ever convince the Europeans to go with us into any kind of common strategy for the region.
MATTHEWS: Where do we concentrate our forces if we had an allied strength? If we were put together now the way we were before the Gulf War under President Bush the first, how would you arrange our power over there? Where would you put it?
Jack Murtha is talking about getting our troops out of Iraq and putting them nearby where they can be projected in on notice.
ODOM: I would try to keep some forces in Kuwait. But I don‘t really care where they would be in the region initially.
The main thing is to get out, let it develop and see where it makes sense to come back in. There are a number of things I would want to do before I raced back in with additional forces. I think getting back into the fight in Iraq would be almost as stupid as having gotten in the first place.
So I don‘t want to be spring loaded, ready to jump back in. I want to let the Europeans say what they think we ought to be doing there, because they are going to have to carry some of this load. And until they have had some say, they are not going to sign up.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the president‘s plan because that is one plan on the table. The president says stay there as long as necessary to build a defensible Democratic government in Iraq. What‘s wrong with that plan?
ODOM: We can build a Democratic government. They have one in Iran. And we‘re going to have one very similar to that in Iraq. I don‘t think that‘s really what he wants.
He wants a constitutional government where there is a law-based state.
That is not going to happen in that country in a decade or three decades. There is just no tradition of constitutional order in any Arab political culture. They may get there some day, but that is a very steep hill to climb.
MATTHEWS: And why is that bad for us, that they have a government that‘s ruled by—its Shia majority, but it doesn‘t follow the rule of law?
ODOM: It may not be so bad for us. One of the things you can almost be certain would happen if we leave, al Qaeda will be thrown out. Al Qaeda does not operate in Kurdistan today. The Kurds don‘t like them and won‘t let them in.
The Shiites barely tolerate them because they are helping the Sunnis. And the minute we‘re out, you can bet the Sunnis will find al Qaeda uncomfortable bedfellows and they will be facing the Shiites in a very serious deadly confrontation.
And so when that is settled, al Qaeda has no place in Iraq. So it will be—we will get rid of al Qaeda that way. It might be a better solution than what we had with Saddam. We just don‘t know. We have to wait and see how that government works out.
MATTHEWS: President Bush says to the American people and effectively so, that it was better to fight them over there than over here. What do you make of that?
ODOM: Well, I really don‘t understand that, because as the CIA told Congress not long ago, al Qaeda is sending in young recruits to get experience in Iraq and then come home to be dispatched to other parts of the globe to do other terrorist activities.
Therefore, I don‘t see that one can prove that we are safer as a result of that, and I see at least a prima facie case that we are in worst shape, because we are making them look strong compared to the U.S., which looks incapable of managing the situation, and willing to expose itself to losses it doesn‘t have to take.
MATTHEWS: We have a billion Islamic people in the world, 300 million Arabs in those towns from Jakarta to Cairo to Casablanca in the cafes right now. Who are the young men and women rooting for in this war in Iraq, us or the other side, the so-called insurgents and terrorists?
ODOM: I think you have to differentiate within the Islamic world. In the Arab world, I suspect they are pretty much rooting for the insurgency. They are rooting for anybody that is against the U.S. there.
When you move to other parts of the world, I think there are many Indian Muslims. I think there are Indonesian Muslims, and other parts of southeast Asia would have quite a different view on that. So I wouldn‘t want to generalize on that level.
But within the region, I think the hostility to the United States has grown dramatically as a result of our...
MATTHEWS: In that universe of 300 million Arabs, are we finding more terrorism being recruited, more terrorists being recruited, since the war began in Iraq?
ODOM: I suspect the answer is yes. I don‘t have the intelligence that would let me know that.
MATTHEWS: I know the secretary of defense can‘t answer it. But isn‘t it the central question we should be answering? Is this war in Iraq helping us win the war on terrorism? If it is creating more terrorists, it is not helping. If it is creating less, if we are defeating terrorism, we are winning.
Why can‘t anybody get the metrics straight so we know what war we are in here?
ODOM: We are put off on this confusing course with the axis of evil speech. The Europeans signed up to fight al Qaeda when the president delivered his speech to Congress in January of 2004 -- 2002.
MATTHEWS: Well that was just a setup for the war in Iraq.
ODOM: Right. It was to setup the war in Iraq. They said we didn‘t sign up to fight Iraq, Iran and North Korea. We signed up to fight al Qaeda.
So we suddenly paid no more attention to the al Qaeda issue or gave it second priority, turned our resources on Iraq and let the field much easier for...
ODOM: Oh, I think it really helped al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: When you look into our government today, our administration, the Bush administration, what turned the president‘s head?
As of November, after 9/11, as of sometime in December, I believe, he was still resisting the neo-conservatives who wanted to go to Iraq. He was saying, no, we are going to face al Qaeda down. We are going to catch them in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We are going to track them down and do what he promised to do after 9/11. Track them down, the people who knocked down those buildings, as he put it.
And then somebody turned his head in December of 2001 and said, oh, no, the big fight is state-sponsored terrorism. We have to go and go after this old enemy of ours, Iraq, and make that our primary focus of our war on terrorism.
Was it Wolfowitz? Was it the vice president? Was it Rummy? Who got to him and turned his head because he was resisting this. It wasn‘t Colin Powell.
ODOM: I clearly don‘t have the answer to this.
MATTHEWS: Well, someday I would like for you to tell us.
ODOM: You can look at the rhetoric. You certainly have to say Mr. Cheney was on the side of going in. You would have to say Mr. Wolfowitz was on the side of going in.
MATTHEWS: Would Ronald Reagan have accepted that advice?
ODOM: I seriously doubt it.
MATTHEWS: Why? What is the difference between Reagan and Bush?
ODOM: Reagan had a real sense of historical moment. He knew when it was time to not just change course by a few degrees, but more 90 degrees and to not just be purely political in your calculations.
Many people thought that he was going to sell the farm to the Soviets, to Gorbachev, and I have done research on the Reykjavik, others, and discovered that he had a personal breakthrough with Gorbachev. Gorbachev read it that way.
MATTHEWS: Because he insisted on SDI. He said, “I‘m not giving up on that to get rid of nuclear.”
ODOM: The reason more complicated than that. By that time, Gorbachev had confidence that Reagan would not take advantage of him, this army. And Reagan was very shrewd, taking the heat off, and letting him give away the Soviet Union. And it takes that kind of mind now.
MATTHEWS: A sophisticated mind. Reagan accused of being a basic guy was pretty sophisticated, wasn‘t he?
ODOM: I don‘t think it takes a terribly sophisticated—Clausewitz said, “In strategy, everything is very simple. But that doesn‘t mean it‘s easy.” The strategy issues are fairly clear. It‘s the person who has an eye for it.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you a question. Before the war started in Iraq, I wrote a column and I said: the smart thing to do next was go after Afghanistan, go after the al Qaeda camps in Sudan, Somalia, even in the Philippines if we have to. And track them down and destroy them. Meanwhile, to go at the other stuff diplomatically. Wouldn‘t we be better off have done that then to have gotten into this box canyon in Iraq?
ODOM: Hands down, absolutely. It was in our—al Qaeda is our enemy. The idea of a war on terrorism is ridiculous. What if the president—terrorism is a tactic, it‘s now said. What if the president declared war on night attacks or left-flanking movements?
MATTHEWS: Or after Pearl Harbor, declared war on surprise attacks?
ODOM: Right. We would think he‘s loony. Well, you‘d have to say the war on terrorism seriously begins to fall into that category.
MATTHEWS: What could we do now? What would you do if you were president of the United States right now, General? If you were advising the president?
ODOM: I would tell him to invite the secretary of defense, direct secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs to come over, and I would tell them: I want within two to three weeks, some alternatives on what it would take to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.
MATTHEWS: And that will give us a better future in that region than staying a couple of more years?
ODOM: Absolutely. And the second thing I would do—would try to arrange a meeting with key European countries under some kind of cover and privately I would tell them, “I made a strategic decision to get out. You‘re going to be worse off to this than we are. I admit that this was a strategic error, I‘m sorry. I know I don‘t have much credibility with you, but I‘m saying if you want to do something jointly with me, I‘m open to your suggestions.”
And I would come home and the third thing I would do is to push very hard through any channels I could, to get an opening to Iran. Iran is the one country that really could help us stabilize the region and particularly Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Can we do business with a country that‘s declared it wants to destroy Israel? And they said so rather openly.
ODOM: It‘s very hard. I have the impression, maybe wrongly, that a lot of the Iranian leaks are not very, very happy with their new president‘s language, in that regard.
And having looked at the record of Iranians‘ foreign policy in the last 15, 20 years, it can be misread if you just pay attention to the rhetoric. It‘s fairly consistent, not all that much changed in the Shah‘s period, even under these revolutionaries, except with regard to Israel. And that‘s what radically changed.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s a problem. Anyway, thank you, General William Odom.
Coming up, defending President Bush‘s plan in Iraq. U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, he‘s chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He‘ll be joining us here.
And tomorrow, former CIA officer Robert Baer will tell us what he thinks of the plans to end the war in Iraq. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. For another take on President Bush‘s war plan, and maybe 180 degrees difference, here‘s chairman of the Armed Services Committee, California Republican Duncan Hunter. Mr. Chairman, you were watching General Odom there. He‘s probably the most dramatic critic of the war. He said it‘s the worst strategic blunder in history, potentially, going into Iraq. And he says: let‘s get out now and cut our losses. Your response.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA: Well first, Chris, I heard him talking about how smart Ronald Reagan was and comparing President Bush to President Reagan. And actually, I remember, and I think you remember those old debates, Chris.
Those were very bitter, acrimonious debates, lots of chair throwing and Ronald Reagan was called a fool when he moved against the Soviets and pushed those ground-launch cruise missiles and SS20 missiles into Western Europe, responding to the Russians putting the SS20‘s in.
He stood up to the Russians. He was the guy who was going to cause World War III. And there‘s been some revisionism now, as there usually is. The conservative it‘s dead is a good guy, and a smart guy, and a practical guy. It‘s a conservative now who doesn‘t have it right.
And actually, we‘ve been through these wars, Chris, and the way I look at it is this. In the Cold War, we freed hundreds of millions of people. When that wall came down, literally, the United States by persevering, by enduring, making lots of mistakes, but doing some things right, freed 100 million people.
In the Contra wars, when the Russians were making real inroads in our own hemisphere, we had very acrimonious debates that I know you well remember. Lots of name-calling, back and forth. A very tough time for the president. He was called an idiot by those who were more on the left. And yet we persevered, we provided that shield of El Salvador.
And today, you have fragile democracies down there in Central America. Now I think that the key point here for us to remember is, coming out of 9/11, it‘s not just Afghanistan. For the liberals who say and others who say, “well, if we just would have gone into Afghanistan and kept it at that, we would have solved the problem about terrorism.”
Afghanistan happened to be the place that was the receptacle for the terrorist activities and the incubator and the safe haven, where they could train and prepare to operate against America. But we‘ve had tons of attacks on Americans coming out of places like Yemen, with operatives out of Saudi Arabia, people out of Iran. So that neighborhood in general, is a place that has spawned lots of terrorists. And if you come to the conclusion that America has to change the world, or the world is going to change America, and you have a successful operation in Iraq, one in which we have a modicum of democracy, one in which people are treated humanely and has a ripple effect.
And the general says we are going in the wrong direction, we are recruiting terrorists, he is ignoring what‘s happened in Lebanon, where the Lebanese got some spine and started to push out the Syrians.
He is ignoring what has happened in terms of the first multiparty elections being declared for Egypt. He is ignoring what happened in Libya with Mr. Gadhafi all of the sudden saying I don‘t want to be pulled out of a spider hole someday. Start taking our weapons apparatus and moving it to Oak Ridge in the United States.
And so, there have been ripple effects from this American incursion of freedom in that region of the world.
If this works, Chris, and I think if we hang in there, if we have endurance—and we had endurance in the cold war, we had endurance in the contra wars—if we have endurance we are going to have a country with a modicum of democracy, and it is going to be a country that has a ripple effect throughout the region.
That will accrue to the benefit of generations of Americans. If you take the long view on this, this is not something you can answer with a bumper strip, but it makes sense that there‘s only one nation in the world that has an ability to change that region in the world and that‘s the United States.
Incidentally, the general‘s idea that somehow if we are nice to the French and nice to the Germans, they are going to join us in expensive operations. The French and the Germans have one basic rule, they don‘t spend money if they don‘t think uncle sugar is going to spend the money. That includes places like Bosnia, in their own backyard.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, you make a persuasive case, if you assume that the cold war and World War II before it are good paradigms for the war on terror. If you‘re correct, you‘re correct.
But we were fighting a war machine with Hitler and we were fighting a war machine with The Soviet Union, involved in an arms race which you effectively described there.
When you‘re fighting people who are basically fighting you with their souls, they want to commit suicide to kill you -- 23-year-old guys who were 18 five years ago become killers because they hate us so much. Are we acting to recruit.
As General Odom said, of the 300 million person Arab world, are there more people sitting in cafes right now planning to become suicides than there were before we went to Iraq. And if so, we are creating more terrorism and not less if you accept that this is about hearts and minds.
HUNTER: I think that the real facts have rebutted General Odom because you had initiatives to push the Syrians out of Lebanon. The Lebanese are not demonstrating against the United States. They started demonstrating against the Syrians.
In Egypt they started pushing for multi-party elections after the elections in Iraq. So that was going in the right direction.
In Libya, instead of the Mr. Gadhafi saying I‘m going to join with my Arab brothers because the United States has pushed us too far, he said I think I will start giving up my weapons. The point is, we have had a ripple effect as a result of this initiative.
Nobody guarantees freedom for any country, including our own. If you have a free country and we hand the reins of control over, which we have already done politically, but we stand up this military which is capable of shielding this government, it could go either way.
I think we are going to make it work. And this is going to be the only foray that the Democratic forces are going to make in this region for the next 50 years.
MATTHEWS: If it works, we‘ll know it works. You‘ve done a great job, Mr. Chairman of explaining if it works.
If it becomes a democracy in Iraq, it becomes a role model for that part of the world and help to stabilize and end some of the hatred against Israel, perhaps, we know it worked.
How will you know that your proposition here doesn‘t work? What will tell you that what you are saying for the last 10 minutes is wrong? Is there any evidence in the field that will tell you, I blew it. I thought it was like the cold war; I thought we could turn the minds of those people and create a democracy over there.
In the next couple of years as we stay in Iraq, which we probably will, are there any signs that will worry you that you are wrong?
HUNTER: It‘s clear now that lots of people who 15 years ago didn‘t have—we thought they were a long way from having the capability and weapons of mass destruction, acquiring nuclear systems—it‘s clear now that that technology is spreading and spreading in some places faster than we would like to see it.
It‘s spreading in places like Iran, which is a major problem for us. The history of what occurs as terrorists come closer and closer to technology, immensely destructive technology, what happens in that marriage, in that converge, is going to be instructive to us as to which policy worked.
I think this policy of trying to spread democracy—we are not afraid of the British, even though they have nuclear weapons, because they are a free nation.
We are not afraid of the French, even though they have nuclear weapons, because they are a free nation. If we develop nation states that have a respect for people, and treat their people humanely, and have a modicum of democracy, they are going to be less chance of being incubators for that terrorism.
MATTHEWS: The only problem, the scariest country in the world right now is probably Iran. They do have elections. That‘s what I worry about. They elect the wrong people.
HUNTER: In theory they have elections. I‘m told that a lot of those ballot boxes are full, as you know, before the day of the election.
MATTHEWS: A lot of the people out there on the streets aren‘t exactly rooting for our side. Thank you Congressman Hunter, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Up next, how public opinion of this war has changed. MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson will be joining us. And a reminder, hardblogger, HARDBALL‘s political blog Web site is on fire this week with our special series on exit strategies from Iraq.
Today on the HARDBALL war council top generals tell us what they would do in the war. We want to know what you think about ending the war in Iraq, whether you are an armchair general or not, send in your thoughts.
Go to our Web site, hardblogger.msnbc.com
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Tucker Carlson is host, of course, of MSNBC‘s THE SITUATION, which airs weeknights at 11:00 eastern.
Tucker, you‘re getting up early for this. I appreciate it. You live, what should I say, a Spanish lifestyle: dinner at 10:30, work at 11.
Let me ask you about the poll data. I just got a new poll out that if you had a poll today, show this one in a minute, if you had a poll today, John Kerry would still get 48 percent he got last year, and the president, instead of getting 51 would get 47.
So, in other words, not much has change except the president‘s lost four percent. It‘s floating out there somewhere. In other words, the Democrats haven‘t picked up the president‘s losses. I find that fascinating.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”: Ralph Nader getting more popular by the moment, it sounds like, right? Or Dennis Kucinich.
MATTHEWS: Well, if you call Mr. Other, yes.
CARLSON: Yes, well I think that‘s absolutely right. I mean, that was the story of the last election, a party unable to capitalize on the weakness of its opponents.
I mean, I will tell you the event that tells you everything you need to know about the condition of the Democrat Party and its inability to take advantage of this great opportunity it has.
And that is Congressman Murtha comes out, who does have a lot of gravity and is respected by virtually everyone, gives this kind of history-making address about what we ought to do in Iraq, and the party, itself, has almost no follow up.
In other words, there was no strategy behind it. It was almost like he was freelancing, and they spent another week trying to figure out—and now two weeks—trying to figure out on where they stand. Nancy Pelosi comes out, but a lot of members don‘t. I mean, the party is just not cohesive and that‘s kind of the problem.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That‘s the kind of politics where you know the first step, but you don‘t know the second. You don‘t have a second step.
CARLSON: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Like because I heard he was—he speaks his own mind, but I heard he was encouraged to speak before the Thanksgiving break so that everyone would have a lot of time to talk about it, uninterrupted time.
But you‘re right they never came up with a then what we will do. Then what we will do is Steny Hoyer, the number two guy, will fight with the number one person, Nancy Pelosi, and demonstrate once again.
I want your reaction to this poll, latest gall poll. A majority of people, 55 percent, say President Bush doesn‘t have a plan for victory. Now that poll was taken—I have been trying to study this—that evening after the president addressed the troops, the midshipmen, at Annapolis.
What do you make of it?
CARLSON: I think it‘s not—I mean, it completely makes sense. But I‘m not sure it‘s a significant poll. I think the real poll question to ask is which party is more likely to get us humiliated in Iraq because that‘s the question. The question is not whether we are going to achieve our aims in Iraq as originally stated. Nobody thinks we are.
The question is are we going to leave with a kind of, you know, clinging to the struts of the helicopter on the roof of the embassy moment?
CARLSON: We saw in April of 1975 that it is bad for the country, and it affects everything about the country, the national mood, the economy. Right? I mean it is a big deal for America to be humiliated. And nobody on either side wants that.
And I think on a gut level most Americans, Independent and Republican, think that is less likely to happen under Bush even if they don‘t agree with the rationale for going to war in the First place.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s the best hope something like Lebanon in 1983 where we got out. We didn‘t get out in time to save those 300 Marines, but we got out.
CARLSON: Well, of course, but that was a war, you know. That was a civil war into which Israel placed itself, and then we sort of came in to do something. It wasn‘t even clear then. It is even less clear now. But it wasn‘t our fault is the bottom line.
This, I think, is a much sort of—I mean, it‘s obvious and easy for the average person to see how big a disaster this could be. So the argument that the president is making—you‘ll notice this from his speech the other day—is not so much about the rationale for war. That‘s an argument that is kind over. Nobody really knows.
Richard Haass, who used to work for the Bush administration, now the counsel on foreign relations said recently, he‘ll go to his grave without knowing exactly why we went. We‘re not even debating that anymore.
The question is will we get out honorably or won‘t we? And that is a debate question.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s a question. I don‘t think either side is going to accept this as the question, but I will put it.
If we have to stay two more years to get something done and that something, meaning a better shot for a stable government over there, a significantly better shot, because we have an army over there, more of a political process, is that two years worth it?
Because this choice between Jack Murtha splitting nails and this endless thing the president‘s proposing, so let‘s go to something reasonable. Is two years worth it?
CARLSON: It depends how you frame the question.
I think everybody is essentially Henry Kissinger now or Brent Scowcroft. I mean, I think People are very wary of the idea of, you know, creating Switzerland in the Middle East. People don‘t believe it can happen. They are not so interested in suffering for it in order for it to happen.
I think the way you frame the question is, this is how bad it could be if we pulled out prematurely. This is the disaster we could create. Do you want that or don‘t you want that?
MATTHEWS: Well, better yet, can we avoid that in two years is my question.
CARLSON: Yes, if you frame it that way, absolutely.
I mean, look, the situation is on a low boil. Every time I talk to someone in Iraq either covering it or in the service over there, you get the exact same response, which is, we don‘t think anybody over here state side is actually paying very close attention.
And I think that is probably a fair observation. People aren‘t paying super close attention here. I think the public, barring some complete disaster, some huge escalation, the number of casualties, are willing to stay behind the war as long as they think it will prevent this abject humiliation.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks, Tucker Carlson. It‘s great to have you on.
Good luck tonight at 11:00, “The Situation.”
Stay up late, 11:00. It‘s not that late. Skip the local news. Watch Tucker.
Up next the 9/11 commission gives the federal government failing grades for not doing enough to safeguard us here at home from terrorism. We will ask two of the commissioners in the 9/11 commission what should be done right now.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The 9/11 commission issued its final report card today and gave the federal government F‘s, failing grades for stalling on measures that would better protect the homeland from another terrorist attack.
Richard Ben-Veniste and Slade Gorton, former Senator from Washington state. Both served on the 9/11 commission.
Senator, you‘re first. What‘s wrong with this administration and what it has done in security?
SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I think perhaps our greatest single concern would be our policies towards weapons of mass destruction. There are things that the terrorists are seeking. They can do us the greatest degree of damage. We just have not given that the priority we ought to have given it.
But if we took two immediate things that we could do better right away, they would be the two issues before Congress of getting spectrum to our first responders. That is before Congress right now.
MATTHEWS: That means having the same radio frequency for the police and the firefighters?
GORTON: No, no, having more radio frequencies. There simply are not enough. There is spectrum that can be transferred over to the police and fire departments so they can communicate better.
The other thing is the distribution of money by Congress to the States is too pork barrel.
MATTHEWS: Where are all these hundreds of billions of dollars we‘ve been spending going?
GORTON: In that area, it goes to states.
MATTHEWS: Going to local favorite projects, or what?
GORTON: Unfortunately, all too much of it is. There are not only no priorities how local governments spend it, but amounts are going in disproportionate amounts to places that don‘t need it.
MATTHEWS: Who does need it, Richard? Who is not getting it? Let‘s follow up on these two points. First of all, the communications problem, we know from 9/11 that the Fire Department of New York and the Police Department of New York weren‘t talking on the same radios.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Two recommendations there which are dramatized by the terrible response to Katrina. One is dedicated bandwidth for first responders; inter operability of equipment so they can talk to each other.
The third there is preparation and incident command and control.
There has to be training for who will be in charge in a national disaster.
When a disaster strikes a local community, you need to prep for it.
We‘re not even ready here in the District of Columbia for it.
Incredibly, four years after 9/11.
On the issue of allocation of funds, it‘s pork barrel now.
Incredibly, it is the House of Representatives.
MATTHEWS: Are they earmarking the money? How are members of Congress, who are supposed to be trying to put the money where it‘s needed most—our port facilities, our airports, our big cities, our iconic targets like the World Trade Center. That money is not going there, right?
GORTON: It isn‘t that Congress is earmarking it and saying how it should be spent. In fact, they ought to do exactly the opposite. They ought to at least set guidelines for how it is to be spent.
The pork barrel comes in the fact that most of the money is distributed purely on a per capita basis, so that Wyoming is getting as much money as New York does. So much of the money is going into areas that don‘t need it. And when it gets there, it‘s being used for things that don‘t deal with homeland security.
MATTHEWS: This always comes down to an issue of city mice versus country mice. Are the big cities the main target?
BEN-VENISTE: Of course they are, and the iconic buildings, and the national monuments, and populations and the financial districts, and where our government is located.
The House of Representatives have come up with a reasonable bill. The Senate is blocking it. They haven‘t accepted it yet. So you have the most divisive body in Washington coming to agreement by a very substantial majority on how to do this.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s imagine you are an al Qaeda leader. You‘re over in Germany somewhere, and you‘re running your teams in the United States and connecting with the sleeper cells. You‘re plotting the next big one in 2007. And you are looking at America, you‘re reading the defense, what do you read? Is it any different than it was on 9/11.
GORTON: Yes, I think we would have to say it is somewhat different than it was at 9/11, and many of our targets are somewhat harder. After all we‘ve gotten through four years.
MATTHEWS: Is it bigger than being on a plane with a bunch of box cutters?
GORTON: It is. And the most important thing is it is almost impossible to get into the cockpit because the cockpit is really secured. I come back to the first point I made.
If I were those people plotting overseas, I would be plotting a way to get some kind of weapon of mass destruction here in the United States.
MATTHEWS: What kind? Are you talking nuclear, chemical or biological?
GORTON: All three of them.
MATTHEWS: I understand biological and chemical are hard to deliver, hard instruments of war.
GORTON: All three of them are difficult. But each of them can do a huge amount of damage and each of them would go to a big city.
MATTHEWS: What about Able Danger? I only got a minute here. There was some talk that we didn‘t quite do what we had the information on.
BEN-VENISTE: That is such a misuse of time in discussing this.
MATTHEWS: So we did get some early warning?
BEN-VENISTE: No. Able Danger is a distraction but ought to be investigated. We ought to have hearings on it. The American public ought to see what Able Danger was about, what it discovered, what it didn‘t discover, why it was shut down and what we ought to be looking at is what the Pentagon is doing in terms of the intrusiveness of its data mining programs: Son of Able Danger, Grandson of Able Danger, the Total Information Awareness Project.
MATTHEWS: Can we play hardball here for a second. One of the problems with 9/11 was the president was down there, wherever he was down south, and he was sent off to the do line somewhere by the vice president. The vice president took over and it was kind of a rump operation with the vice president acting as our leader.
This time around when we had Katrina, the president was so out of touch with daily events we were watching on television everyday, he had to be given a D.V.D. two days later to fill him in on what happened.
How do we make sure that the commander-in-chief is on the job when there‘s a national crisis. How do we make sure he is plugged in and told by his staff, get in the saddle, Mr. President, we have a national emergency here. Because twice, now, he has been out of the saddle.
GORTON: The buck always stops with the president. And when something of real importance happens, he has to not only give the orders, he has to make sure the orders are carried out.
One of the great myths of our federal government is the number of people who may get an order and never have it carried out at all. Really when you get right down to it, it is up to the president to see to it that the people serve him right, and if they don‘t, he ought to fire them and get new ones.
BEN-VENISTE: It‘s all about leadership as far as I can see. The FBI is not going to do what we ask them to do unless the President of the United States exercises leadership. He has got to require it.
He has got to involved himself on a day-to-day basis, see what‘s happening, see what‘s not happening, take a look at this report card and get some urgency and some giddy up into what he is doing.
MATTHEWS: Thanks very much. Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton.
When we return, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld goes to war against the press. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Craig Crawford is an MSNBC political analyst. He writes for “Congressional Quarterly.” He‘s also the author of “Attack the Messenger: How politics turn you against the media.” Couldn‘t be more of an apt title for this show.
Susan Page is “USA Today‘s” Washington bureau chief. She wrote a big cover story on Vice President Cheney today. The Velcro...
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY D.C. BUREAU CHIEF: ... the Velcro vice president.
MATTHEWS: The guy who takes all the hits.
PAGE: That‘s right. All the bad things that are happening with the administration seem to be sticking to them, unlike Ronald Reagan, who of course was the Teflon president.
MATTHEWS: All right. I get it. So Rumsfeld spoke today, or does now come out against the press. Let‘s take a look at what he said. He put pressure on the press today to cover the war in Iraq more positively. Here‘s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We‘ve arrived at a strange time in this country, where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth, by the press and reported and spread around the world. Often with little context and little scrutiny, let alone, correction or accountability after the fact. Speed, it appears is the critical determination, the determinant. In less so, context.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is that fair, Craig?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: No, it isn‘t. This is a bogus charge. I mean, there‘s plenty of legitimate criticism of the media to talk about. And this isn‘t one of them. I mean, to look at the events from yesterday. The coverage of the former interim prime minister was attacked. A candidate from the national assembly was killed. In those stories, all the major stories I saw, they also included plenty of paragraphs about how a bombing attempt on Hussein‘s trial was thwarted, the security forces were successful in that.
They‘re not saying, we‘re not covering good news. What they‘re really saying is, we cover too much of the bad news. And in particular, the killing of troops. I mean, if they want to make the argument to the American people that to support the troops, we should minimize coverage of the death of troops, then fine, make that argument. Let‘s see if the American people agree with that.
MATTHEWS: But isn‘t he also saying, the secretary of defense, that the press has jumped on this like the Abu Ghraib story, the story that we‘re manufacturing stories in Iraqi newspapers, those kinds of stories.
PAGE: Both of those examples, not only true, but very legitimate and important for the American people to know. The press absolutely doing its job in uncovering those stories. I do think the defense secretary makes a legitimate point, that you need to have context, you need to report good news, as well as bad news. And I think a lot of news organization try to do that.
MATTHEWS: Why do the soldiers over there, we keep hearing—not all soldiers—are saying that you know, we‘re building hospitals, we‘re getting electricity back online, we‘re risking our lives every day to do this, and nobody‘s reporting it.
PAGE: Well, that‘s just not true. Every Friday in “USA Today,” there‘s a feature about what‘s happening with some aspect of life in Iraq, like the electricity, or the opening of schools. And we‘re not alone in doing that. But of course, Americans are very interested in what‘s happened to the U.S. troops there, and that‘s not a story we‘re going to not cover.
CRAWFORD: And many of the reporters I‘ve talked to who‘ve been over there, make the point, they have to risk their lives to go cover the quote, “good news.” So I mean, is it really such good news if it‘s dangerous? If it‘s life-threatening to go cover it?
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk politics for one. Why is he doing this? Is Vice President Cheney going to do this tomorrow? Is this a new front here?
PAGE: I would not be surprised if Vice President Cheney does some attacking on the press. He‘s fulfilling now, a very traditional vice-presidential role of being the attack dog against administration critics and against the press. We‘ve seen most modern vice presidents do this when things get tough for the White House.
CRAWFORD: The point of attacking the messenger, attacking the media here, is to distract the public from the things they don‘t want to talk about. They can always get us talking about the media. And that‘s what they‘re trying to do.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come back and talk about this. Because I think a war is always about casualties and death. It‘s not about building schools, it‘s the way war coverage is. We‘ll be right back with Craig Crawford and Susan Page. We‘ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” and Susan Page of “USA Today.” So the question looms. Why is the president‘s people, obviously under the direct orders of the White House, going after the messengers?
CRAWFORD: Because it works. It‘s always worked, it‘s worked well for many years. The point is, when they do this, is to get the focus off what they don‘t want to talk about.
MATTHEWS: OK, that is conventional wisdom. But here‘s the new poll that‘s been taken by a group called Hamil and Batey (ph). To start, I‘m going to name some different categories of people. Of the categories I read, tell me which category includes the people who most often tell lies.
Press people, journalists, eight percent. Celebrities, six percent. Professional athletes, three percent. CEO‘s and business leaders, 11 percent. Politicians, 65 percent. So why does the president assume—or his people, in this case, Rummy, that he can blame this war on somebody else?
PAGE: I actually disagree with you, Craig, I don‘t think it works. I think the only thing that‘s going to convince Americans this war is going well, and it was the right thing to get into, is if events on the ground make that the case.
MATTHEWS: What would look good? What would say the people, damn, we were right coming in here.
PAGE: Successful elections on December 15, the government coming together. You know, some of the sectarian differences diminishing and more security on the ground. Reality will help the administration sell this war.
CRAWFORD: I think it‘s dangerous for the media to sit back and think that these charges are not working and we get bemused by it, and dismiss it sometimes. It has been very effective in the past and there‘s a receptive marketplace out there for blaming the media.
MATTHEWS: The name of your book gets about this?
CRAWFORD: Attack the messenger.
MATTHEWS: I think you have a point of view, as well. Thank you very much, Susan Page, great story today. And Craig Crawford. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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