May 31, 2006 | 6:44 p.m. ET

Chris Matthews pays tribute to Couric.  He says, "If this accomplished woman can hold her own in the nightly news rivalry, times are truly achanging in this country."

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Video: Matthews pays tribute to Couric

May 31, 2006 | 6:30 p.m. ET

Hillary laying the groundwork for '08? (NBC producer Huma Zaidi)

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Ask anyone in Sen. Hillary Clinton's camp if she's running for president in 2008 and they'll tell you she's focused on being the "best" Senator she can be for the state of New York. But the woman who avoids addressing any rumors or suspicions that she has her eyes on the White House certainly seemed to be laying the groundwork for a run for national office this morning.

Clinton, who officially kicked off her re-election campaign by accepting her party's unanimous endorsement at their convention in Buffalo earlier today, addressed both local and national issues in her address, but focused more on her vision for the future of the country as a whole.  She didn't waste any opportunity to criticize the Bush administration for their handling of foreign policy and called on the delegates to "stand with" her to "reclaim" the nation.  "I believe that we need a fundamentally new direction and we need to work towards solutions that help us meet our 21st century challenges of expanding our economy, defending our security and preserving our values," Clinton said. "Let’s start building alliances instead of alienation around the world. Let’s win back the respect that the people of the world should have for our country," she later added.

Before her address, delegates watched an 18-minute biographical video of Clinton featuring praise from her husband and from colleagues and lawmakers. Clinton, who has distanced herself publicly from her husband, some say, to build her own political image, called him "an inspiration and a mentor, a friend and a partner." She also thanked her supporters who "took a chance" on her six years ago when she first ran for office.

If she does decide to run for president, she may need many more Democrats who might be on the fence about her to take "a chance" on her candidacy. A poll released this week shows that while 37% of Democrats say they would "definitely" vote for her in a presidential election, 48% of them are somewhere in the middle. 

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May 31, 2006 | 3:44 p.m. ET

Al vs. Hillary: Democrats looking for the wrong fight?

As a long time friend and admirer of both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton,  it is difficult to watch the increasing noise around their supposed fight for the presidency.  To be sure, they are both fascinating, brilliant and capable public servants.  There is not much question in my mind that Al Gore is more prepared to actually be an effective president than Hillary Clinton, but I believe he has that over any possible leader, Democrat or Republican.  And not to be too sycophantic about it, Mrs. Clinton does have as much or greater ability to be an effective President than certainly anyone else on the shelf right now.

But for Democrats to torture ourselves or the Clintons and Gores for the next 24 months with this side by side seems to me to be beyond stupid, not to mention exhausting and exasperating.

First of all, there is a Congressional mid-term election to win.  And there are huge questions on the table for both elected and voters alike as these races are considered.  Is there enough war-weariness to overcome doubts about Democratic commitment to national security and safety?  Does the public understand that much of the mistakes of the post-invasion Iraq war could have gone differently if Democrats were in charge of at least one house of Congress in order to exercise oversight of the process through it's spending and intelligence authorizations?  Do voters understand the real financial cost of this "shoot first never ask questions later" president on the domestic priorities that have been too-long neglected? How impossible it is to invest in education and technology and environmental solutions and healthcare and domestic safety when we are sending so much money to fund those priorities in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

What we are not spending through the military occupations we are giving back to the wealthiest Americans in tax cuts with no incentives for job creation to make such an investment worthwhile.  Both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have a great deal to say about the importance of these issues.  Their time out in public in the coming months should be left to articulating the right solutions to them, not in fending off inquiries about a primary feud.  While I have been against the war from the start, I am glad to have the voices of Gore and Clinton articulating the choices involved and what is at stake.  It is more truth than we are getting from the current president.

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May 30, 2006| 7 p.m. ET

Was there a cover-up at Haditha?

The retired two-star general who addressed the San Antonio congregation on Memorial Day had to preface his remarks with a stern reminder that American military forces go to extraordinary lengths to avoid collateral damage — much less shoot unarmed Iraqi civilians. The congregation spontaneously applauded. Yet that story — about a massacre apparently committed by Marines reacting to the death by an improvised explosive device of one of their comrades — was a punch in the gut to everyone who heard it.

There is every reason to avoid overreaction until allegations are replaced by facts; even when the inevitable court-martial charges are preferred, the presumption of innocence must be maintained. But there are only the most disturbing questions to be asked about why a massacre perpetrated in November was revealed only in May: Was the chain of command asleep or incompetent — or was there a cover-up? Because there are rarely good answers to such questions, look for a quick resumption of the calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation — just as there were in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

My first exposure to the laws of land warfare came in basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. — more years ago than I like to recall, but in the immediate aftermath of the My Lai massacre, which became an indelible stain on our Vietnam experience. Those lessons are still valid: that war crimes surrender the moral high ground to the enemy; that they complicate the process of reconciliation that must end any war; and that the U.S. government prosecutes to the limit those soldiers who so forget their duties that they commit such acts. Or who forget the more fundamental lessons in faith, values and human decency that should have been learned long before basic training.

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May 30, 2006 | 2:04 p.m. ET

Bring them home

When Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania received the Profiles in Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy Library last month, the right-wing blogosphere frothed with righteous indignation. The bloggers, many of them armchair warriors like their commander-in-chief, were not only angry at Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, for advocating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Even more, they denounced him as disloyal and unpatriotic for publicly disclosing a Pentagon investigation into an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines.

Now we know that episode may be the My Lai of the Iraq War, and charges are reportedly pending. When they come, the armchair warriors owe John Murtha an apology. He was right about this — and right about the larger question of American disengagement in Iraq. To counter his comments last fall, the Bush administration committed the kind of leaking it likes, its own, to predict that, while it was wrong to set a date for withdrawal, troop reductions would be under way this year — certainly, and conveniently, by Election Day. But that, too, has turned out to be another mission unaccomplished; the only thing President Bush is bringing on is more troops, with another brigade ordered into Iraq just today.

This is a willful march of folly, of invincible arrogance, which ignores the plain and painful lesson that American occupation forces don’t quell the Iraqi insurgency; as in Vietnam, they fuel it. The president may cry, “progress, progress,” but whom do you believe, him or you own eyes — yesterday’s speeches and spin or yesterday’s reality?  This year’s Bloody Memorial Day in Iraq brought the killing of two members of a CBS news crew, the near-death of a correspondent, another U.S. soldier blown up and at last 32 other people lost to bombings and shootings. And with America bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan is again threatened by the Taliban, anti-American violence rolls across Kabul and Osama bin Laden dances defiance on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

George Bush, once the absentee weekend warrior, stubbornly persists in a war he lied the United States into, to settle old scores or vindicate the grandiose schemes of the neoconservatives. What we need now is not more Americanization, but Iraqization. If we put the Iraqi pols in Baghdad on notice that our forces are leaving by the end of the year, maybe they’d even manage to appoint defense and interior ministers. Nothing will concentrate their minds short of the prospect of having to protect and police their own country. If they are not ready or willing after three years, then when?

John Murtha deserved that Profiles in Courage Award, just as he deserved the decorations he won the hard way in Vietnam. For Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, we’d have to invent a different kind of award — for Profiles in Bombast and Post-Hoc Rationalization. It takes no courage for them to continue sending others into their march of folly. All Bush is losing are points in his approval ratings; Americans and Iraqis are losing their lives. As this Bloody Memorial Day came to an end, I despised the empty rhetoric of redemption offered by the president at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s time to honor the soldiers, not the lie. Bring them home.

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May 4, 2006 | 1:04 p.m. ET

We can be proud of trial's outcome
(Roger Cressey, NBC News Terrorism Analyst)

There are bound to be many people disappointed with yesterday's verdict in the sentencing phase of the Moussaoui case.  As one who worked the terrorism issue at the White House and was in the Situation Room on September 11th, I would have liked nothing better than to have a death sentence returned.  There's no doubt in my mind that he deserved to die.  But I also understand that the jury must cast aside such emotion and base their decision on the information presented to them in court.  I will be interested to hear from the jurors if the Defense's plea not to give Moussaoui what he wanted - death - resonated at all with them.

The trial tried to answer a basic question- would the 9/11 plot have been stopped if Moussaoui had cooperated with law enforcement and disclosed what he knew?   What I can say with a high degree of confidence is that the counter terrorism policy community in Washington would have acted on the information if it had been given to us.  At a time of heightened alert, when we had run out of actionable intelligence, it is inconceivable to me that we would have done nothing if the FBI learned Moussaoui's information and shared it with the interagency.  Would it have led to the plot's disruption?  Impossible to say.  But, it is certainly possible that some of the co-conspirators would have been identified and maybe part of the plot would have been uncovered.  That could have led to the postponement of the attack by the remaining terrorists and bought US law enforcement that most valuable of commodities: time.  Time to run to down leads, time that may have led the remaining terrorists to make mistakes.  We just will never know.  

Some will ask what signal this verdict sends to the rest of the world.   At a time when our detainee policy at Guantanamo and elsewhere continues to be under fire, sending a 9/11 co-conspirator through our judicial system and then putting him behind bars for the rest of his life should remind critics that our judicial system is an important component of our fight against the al-Qaeda movement.   But beyond that, the impact will be minimal.   Prosecuting Moussaoui was more about bringing closure to the 9/11 attack than sending a signal to the rest of the world about our commitment to the rule of law.  I doubt this verdict will result in many jihadists having an epiphany about the virtues of the US legal system and or questioning their commitment to jihad against America.  

This verdict closes an important chapter in our nation's 9/11 experience.  Moussaoui will now be sent to a maximum security prison in Colorado, the same one where Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, is rotting away.  It may not be the outcome all desired, but it's an outcome we can still be proud of.

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