updated 6/1/2006 12:10:30 PM ET 2006-06-01T16:10:30

Guests: Condoleezza Rice, Bob Baer, Michael Smerconish

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Look, I knew I was taking a big risk and I knew it would get really hard, really ugly even. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  She could have had a much  easier and more lucrative life but it wouldn‘t have been her life. 

H. CLINTON:  The United States Senate is where decisions are made that affect people‘s lives.  Why should I shrink away and not do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Two big political stories today, one domestic, the other international.  Hillary eyes the White House and Condi eyes Iran. 

Today in a major shift in U.S. foreign policy, the secretary of state announced if Iran halts its program to build a nuclear weapon the United States will join other nations to talk about Iran‘s nuclear energy program, but what if it doesn‘t? 

NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory talks to Secretary Rice later in this program. 

And in American culture, there are few women known simply by their first nails, Cher, Madonna, Charo (ph), but in the political world there‘s only one and her name is Hillary.  A protean figure in American politics, we first met Hillary Clinton when her husband ran for president in 1992. 

When Bill Clinton was elected, Hillary became one of the most powerful first ladies in history.  A woman less interested in being the holiday hostess than hosting high level meetings on health care.  As President Bill Clinton finished up his political career, Hillary was just getting hers started and she changed the political world when she announced she would run for the Senate from New York where she had never lived.  But she did and won. 

Today, Senator Clinton, may be president some day, kicked off her reelection bid, but will Hillary run for president in 2008 and can Hillary transform herself from first lady to U.S. senator to commander-in-chief? 

We‘ll talk about the senator‘s future plans with one of her closest advisors, Howard Wolfson, but first, MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell has the report.  Norah.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, remember six years ago, Hillary Clinton was an out of state candidate who had never held elective office?  Well today in New York, Senator Clinton was the star of the Democratic Party at her state convention.  She kicked off her Senate campaign for 2006, but in some ways, it was more like a coronation than a nomination, and many also see today as the beginning of the campaign of Hillary for president in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Promising to take the country back, Senator Clinton, who has steadfastly supported the war in Iraq, came out swinging against the president. 

H. CLINTON:  It‘s an environment where it‘s more important to say mission accomplished than actually accomplish the missions. 

O‘DONNEL:  Her campaign produced a slick and emotional 18-minute video. 

H. CLINTON:  The United States Senate is where decisions are made that affect people‘s lives.  Why should I shrink away and not do that. 

B. CLINTON:  From the time Hillary was a child, she was imbued with the notion that in order for her life to have meaning, she had to do something more than succeed in personal ways, that she had to give something back. 

O‘DONNELL  It‘s the latest in a series of Clinton biographies, like “The Man from Hope” in 1992, produced by their Hollywood friends. 

B. CLINTON: I was born if a little town called Hope, Arkansas. 

O‘DONNELL  But this year‘s Senate race is a cakewalk for Clinton, fueling speculation she‘ll use this campaign as a launching pad for a presidential run. 

H. CLINTON:  We‘ll just have to let the future be the future, whatever that might turn out to be. 

O‘DONNELL  Her war chest is already bulging, a total of nearly $40 million raised, $20 million still in the bank, which she can transfer towards a presidential run.  She spent $30 million getting first elected in 2000. 

A new poll by “The Washington Post” shows two-thirds of Americans think Senator Clinton is a strong leader, and has strong family values.  But she is also a polarizing figure, with 42 percent saying they wouldn‘t even consider voting for her in 2008. 

Her husband was by her side today, one other factor in a presidential race could be their marriage. 

PATRICK HEALY, NEW YORK TIMES:  Well the personal baggage that he experienced before he became president and as president that led to the House impeachment vote, will any of that play a factor in her bid if she runs for president? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL  Now, at this point, Chris, as you know, the polls show that Senator Clinton is the front-runner for the Democrats if she chooses to run in 2008.  There are, however, some reservations among some Democrats, fears that she may be too polarizing or simply could not win a general election, In fact, hand the Democrats a third straight loss in the upcoming presidential race.

So that has fueled perhaps some of the more focus recently on former Virginia Governor Mark Warner or recently Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Joe Klein has that piece in “Time” magazine about Obama this week.  I know you will talk to Howard Wolfson and they will tell you right now the senator is focused on her Senate race for now. 

MATTHEWS:  thank you very much Norah O‘Donnell.  Howard Wolfson is a top political advisor to Senator Clinton‘s campaign up in New York.  Howard, I‘m gaining increasing admiration for you over the years.  I hope you know that. 

So does Senator Clinton believe that “The New York Times” front page story about their marriage, hers and Bill‘s is out of bounds or in bounds in terms of political coverage of her career? 

HOWARD WOLFSON, SR. HILLARY CLINTON ADVISOR:  Let me tell you what we think.  We‘re a nation at war, we have the largest deficits in our nation‘s history, and the earth is warming at a rapid rate.  And some people would prefer to focus on the Clinton‘s marriage. 

I think voters in New York are a lot more interested in the issues that I just talked about, the issues that matter to them and their lives than they are about the Clintons‘ marriage.  If the media chooses to focus on this, there‘s not much we can do about it, but I do not think this is an issue that voters care about. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Bill Clinton a good news topic for you folks?  Do you want a lot attention on him in the next couple of years?  Him, Bill Clinton, the former president? 

WOLFSON:  The former president was a great president, he has been a great former president.  I mean, he has done—

MATTHEWS:  So you would like to see focus from the media on the positive things he‘s done since leaving office? 

WOLFSON:  Absolutely.  Look, even in 2000 --

MATTHEWS:  So you want selective news coverage on the former president? 

WOLFSON:  Even in 2000 when we were asked this question, we believed and we said the then president was an asset and I believe he‘s an asset today.  He was up in Buffalo, people love him, he‘s been a great former president, he‘s doing great things around the world.  He‘s a huge asset. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make the statement by Paul Healy on the front page of “The New York Times,” which was about politics.  It said that prominent Democrats are abuzz about the Clinton marriage.  The marriage is a topic of political conversation, not journalistic, but political conversation within the political world of the Democrats, is that an accurate statement or not? 

WOLFSON:  I think that journalists are really too big at this point to be trying to climb under their bed.  I mean, this is not an issue that people care about.  You know, maybe this was in 1998, or in the 1990‘s, people could distract themselves with these issues, but we‘re a nation at war, we have the largest deficits in our history.  There‘s a lot of serious things going on in this country that need solving and I don‘t think people are interested in their private lives, they‘re interested in what any politician can do to affect real change. 

MATTHEWS:  You read “The New York Times,” don‘t you? 

WOLFSON:  I do, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect it? 

WOLFSON:  Sometimes.  On that day, less than other days. 

MATTHEWS:  Weren‘t you stunned that they named another woman in that front page story, the Canadian former minister, as someone that Bill Clinton has been spending time with?  This is “The New York Times” front page.

WOLFSON:  It is not a journalistic decision that I would make but nobody is paying me to make journalistic decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Your preference would be the country, the media, focus on the accomplishments of post president Bill Clinton, all the good things he‘s doing and he‘s doing great things, but not talk about his private life.  You‘d prefer that has a spokesperson for Senator Clinton. 

WOLFSON:  I think the American public would prefer a discussion of issues. 

MATTHEWS:  And not about—do you think the American public is not interested in Bill Clinton‘s private life? 

WOLFSON:  Look. 

MATTHEWS:  Just tell me.  Just say so.  You don‘t think they‘re interested, that‘s a judgment you can make? 

WOLFSON:  I think that Bill Clinton is always going to be the focus of attention, but when you come down to the decision of how you‘re going to vote, no, it‘s not of interest. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you fear this kind coverage continuing to distract you from the merits of Senator Clinton herself? 

WOLFSON:  That‘s a good question.  In a lot of ways it‘s a decision that the media is going to have to face.  Again, I think, you know, your colleagues could indulge themselves with this kind of thing in the late 1990‘s.  I think there are a lot of other serious things going on right now that require our attention. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I was surprised by that piece.  I was taken with it and being a student, not a critic of the media, I‘m not a critic of the media, as a student I think that stories like this really do carry a kind of subtext, they‘re trying to tell us something without sticking their neck out and telling us.  Is that your sense in reading that article?  They‘re trying to hint at something that they‘re not willing to stake their reputation on? 

WOLFSON:  You know, that I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that your reading of that piece? 

WOLFSON:  That I don‘t know.  I don‘t understand why a great American institution and a great newspaper like “The New York Times” puts a story like that on the front page.  It got an awful lot of criticism, but you know, I‘m in politics, not journalism and I‘m sure there are journalists who would disagree. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about policy, the most important policy of this presidency or the next one.  The war in Iraq.  People argue over this.  Is Hillary Clinton a genuine hawk. 

In other words, you see a neoconservative, a liberal turned hawk, a Bill Kristol, a Wolfowitz, someone who really deeply believes, particularly in that part of the world that we have to be damn tough in terms of terrorism, in terms of Islamic zealotry, that sort of thing.  Really tough, go to Afghanistan, go to Iraq, maybe go to Iran next.  Is she really out there as fiery as those people who push that kind of front all the time, or is she positioning herself as a political centrist, security-minded centrist for political purposes, which is it?

WOLFSON:  Well there was, I think, a pretty thoughtful piece in the “Washington Post” this weekend that Dan Baltz wrote about...

MATTHEWS:  ... I love that piece. 

WOLFSON:  Yes, it‘s a good piece.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t answer the question though.

WOLFSON:  Well it did in a way.  He basically said, look, this was someone who supported our activities in the Balkans in the ‘90s, so she has a record here.  And that she‘s not easily definable or put in a box with this label or that label.

MATTHEWS:  She voted aye to give the president the power to go to war.  That‘s a very critical decision.  It‘s not in the middle.  In this case it was on the hawkish side.  She doesn‘t resent that, she doesn‘t recant that, SHE sticks with that decision in interview after interview after interview.  Will she stick to that decision through 2008?

WOLFSON:  She has taken responsibility for her vote.  She doesn‘t believe that you get a do-over.  At the same time, Chris, as you know, she has been very critical of the way the administration has prosecuted the war.

MATTHEWS:  Well there are a lot of people that supported the Vietnam War in ‘63 and by ‘68 said it was a mistake to proceed that far.  Has she made that kind of a judgment?  She doesn‘t have to recant like an inquisition, but can she say looking at it from all the perspective of these last three years, we‘re just getting deeper and deeper into the sand.  That‘s not recanting, that‘s not reconsidering, that‘s looking at new facts.

WOLFSON:  Well, she has certainly said that the administration has not gone about it the right way and that the administration misused the authority that Congress gave them.

MATTHEWS:  So there was a right way to fight the Iraq war this time?

WOLFSON:  There certainly was a right way that the administration could have gone about what they did after they invaded, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And we could be winning then?  In other words, we‘d be winning.  It‘s a how problem, not a whether.

WOLFSON:  If we had—if the administration had listened to the generals who said that there were not enough troops on the ground and we weren‘t doing enough to restore order after we invaded and took over the country, we would be in a much better place today. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Howard?  Do you believe that Howard Wolfson, that this war was a good war for America to fight and it was just the way it was handled, that it was the right decision to go into a third world country and occupy it, take on an insurgency, hold the ground, get involved in what looks like an incipient civil war, that was a smart move for America in this part of our history?  You really believe that personally?  I just want to have this on the record.

WOLFSON:  OK, if you want to know what I thought at the time.

MATTHEWS:  No, right now.

WOLFSON:  Well I believe that the—what the president told us, that we had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  And you believe that was the reason he went to war, you believe that personally, that that was his reason for going to war and Cheney‘s reason for going to war.  At the time they admitted that was a sales pitch, but you believe it was the reason?

WOLFSON:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  ... You‘re smart.  Come on.

WOLFSON:  We‘re now getting above my pay grade.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re exactly at your pay grade.  You‘re a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, who is running for reelection and may well run for president some day as commander in chief.  Do you personally subscribe to this war as good U.S. policy?

WOLFSON:  I think if the administration had not made the mistakes that the administration made, we would be in a much better place today.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s fair enough.  I can say most people would agree with that.  But I think there‘s a larger question and we‘ll get to it in private some day. 

Let me ask you about Iran.  I fear we‘re going to get up some morning and I really mean this, I‘ve told it to friends, and we‘re going to hear that the president has attacked Iran, has sent our forces in knowing that there‘s some kind of a state-of-the-art material ordinance we have where we can actually blow out, at least postpone their nuclear plans. 

Not knowing in any way what‘s going to be the reaction of that from Tehran, from Ahmadinejad, who may be pretty far out in terms of what he‘s dangerous about.  And I can only guess at that in terms of what he uses Hezbollah for, what he uses the oil lines for, the counterattack, the declaration of war against us.  All those things that could come from the Arab and Islamic world and Hillary Clinton will be saluting that morning.  That‘s what scares me.  Her instincts now seem to be to support the president on everything.

WOLFSON:  Well there‘s a lot of conjecture in that statement.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she might do that, get up that morning and say “Let‘s back our commander on this one?”

WOLFSON:  I think that there are too many hypotheticals there.  When I was on the way over here, I just saw on “The New York Times” Web site that the secretary of state is laying out some conditions for discussions with Iran.

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like an ultimatum to me—a slow-burning ultimatum that leads to, if they develop nuclear weapons, we attack.

WOLFSON:  Well look, I‘m not going to defend this administration‘s foreign policy, far from it.

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m afraid Hillary might, that‘s what I‘m worried about it, because then we won‘t have a choice.

WOLFSON:  Well I hope that we don‘t find ourselves in that situation.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, please come back.  I was as tough with you as I can be.  I think it‘s vitally important, you guys think Hillary Clinton is the front-runner,  If she chooses to run for president, you will at her side, there will be more of these sessions. 

WOLFSON:  I look forward to it.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Howard Wolfson, adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Bush administration announced just today that it will join European countries in holding direct talks with Iran, if the big if, it agrees to suspend its uranium enrichment program, that‘s about building weapons.  NBC White House correspondent David Gregory interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today after she made the announcement.  Let‘s take a look at the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Let me start by asking you about timing.  How far along are the Iranians toward building a nuclear program and is that driving today‘s announcement?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well you will certainly get different estimates about how far the Iranians are along, but I do think that it is clear that since the Iranians lifted the suspension on their enrichment and reprocessing activities, that they have been moving steadily along. 

They talk about trying to reach production scale capability by the end of the year and that is something that we as an international community should try to prevent.  So it is important to get a clear read now on whether negotiations are indeed a viable option and if they are not, to begin to build the kind of pressure that might lead to the kind of isolation that would lead Iran to change its policies.

GREGORY:  Do you consider this a ratcheting up of pressure, and with the idea of talks now on the table, do you have a breakthrough with U.S. partners about pursuing U.N. sanctions?

RICE:  Well I certainly believe that it puts a kind of moment of truth if you will, a moment for decision for Iran before us.  The Iranians have been—want to say, “Oh, we might be interested in negotiations on the Russian package.  Oh, we might be interested in the European negotiations again.”  But this is a clear choice for Iran. 

That if they‘re prepared to suspend, they can go to the table and we can go in a new configuration that includes the United States.  Our partners are also—understand that this is a moment at which there are two paths for Iran.  We will, in Vienna, I am quite certain, get to a package that has a set of incentives should Iran negotiate, and a set of penalties if Iran does not.  So there is an understanding among the partners that should Iran not be willing to negotiate and negotiate seriously, we have no choice but to move down the course of the Security Council. 

GREGORY:  And that a breakthrough, right, because China and Russia particularly have not been on board to do that, so if talks were to fail now, you‘ve got them on board to go for economic sanctions in the U.N. Security Council? 

RICE:  Well this package that we‘ve been developing was actually done independent of our decision to offer to join the talks should Iran suspend, so the package has within it both a path of incentives and a path of sanctions, but I do think that the offer to make the negotiations more robust does strengthen our hand with the allies, strengthens the coalition‘s view that we are really at a moment of decision. 

GREGORY:  Secretary Rice, why make concessions to Iran at this point, the offer of talks, after the Iranian regime has thumbed its nose at the U.S. and its partners for months now? 

RICE:  Well, first of all, what the Iranians are being offered is not concessions.  They‘re being offered a set incentives, if they are prepared to do what the world needs them to do, which is to suspend these enrichment activities, return to the negotiations and come up with a civil nuclear program that is acceptable to the international community.  That‘s what is happening here. 

We‘ve supported these negotiations all along, so in that sense, this is not a new policy.  The only addition here is to try to give those negotiations more weight and more strength, by offering to be involved in them directly. 

GREGORY:  But the United States, said do this or else, and Iran did nothing and now the United States is saying OK, we‘ll do what you want, we‘ll get into multiparty talks, we‘ll talk about certain incentives.  Why shouldn‘t the Iranian leadership say our strategy of thumbing our nose at the U.S. is working? 

RICE:  Well, because it‘s not working.  Iran has moved steadily from an E.U.-3 negotiation, and a break in that, to an IAEA board of governors resolution that 27 countries agreed to for referral to the Security Council, where there‘s been a presidential statement, to now a package in which, yes, there are incentives, but there are also very clear penalties.

So Iran is continuing its behavior at its own peril because this process of moving Iran toward isolation has also been continuing.  What this does is to put a very clear choice before the Iranians, so that we know where we are. 

It‘s really time to know whether negotiations are indeed an option, because we—it will take some time for the pressures to build.  If we have to go the Security Council route, we he simply need to know if negotiations are an option or not. 

GREGORY:  Do you think that Iran looks at the United States in Iraq, says, the United States is bogged down, President Bush can‘t force us to do anything, he‘s weakened, the administration is weakened? 

RICE:  I think the Iranians must be saying what are we going to do with the situation in which we now face a clear choice, and I hope they‘ll make the right choice.  But the Iranians have to do what the world has been requiring them to do.

And let me just be clear that the requirement that Iran suspend its enrichment activities is not a U.S. requirement.  It‘s a requirement that was there with the E.U.-3 and it‘s a requirement that is there in the board of governors resolution and in the presidential statement.

So Iran is looking at a choice, and this sharpens the contradictions, it sharpens the choice before Iran, and it will give us a very clear indication of whether Iran intends to negotiate or not. 

GREGORY:  What can the U.S. live with in Iran at the end of the day? 

RICE:  Well, we can certainly agree that Iran has a right to civil nuclear power.  That‘s not at issue, but it has to be a civil nuclear program that does not have the proliferation risk associated with the fuel cycle. 

And so Iran—there are many ways to achieve that goal.  And this package will show Iran a path to a civil nuclear program that would be acceptable to the international system. 

GREGORY:  Given everything that the Iranian leadership has said and done, do Americans have to be prepared for military action at some point? 

RICE:  Well, the president certainly doesn‘t take any of his options off the table, but he has said all along that he was going to give these negotiations the very best chance, that diplomacy had had a chance to work. 

I‘ve been asked several times, well, is diplomacy at an end?  Is diplomacy at an end?  Well, clearly, it‘s not and we have now put forward another diplomatic move that would allow us to move this forward diplomatically.

But the next step, if Iran is not prepared to take the negotiation route, really is to recognize that we‘re going to have to go the route of isolating Iran, and that would be through the Security Council, but also if like-minded states wish to do things outside the Security Council, in the financial or economic realm, that‘s also a possibility. 

GREGORY:  But you think that tonight Americans should be more assured that the military option is not a major option?

RICE:  I think the American people should know that the president is not going to take any of his options off the table.  They should also know that this move today is another indication of the seriousness of this president in making the diplomatic and negotiated option work.  That‘s really what was offered to the Iranians today.  We hope they‘ll take the opportunity. 

GREGORY:  Secretary Rice, thank you very much. 

RICE:  Thank you very much. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  When we back, and it‘s going to be right away, we‘re going to talk about what that meant, what Condoleezza Rice is really saying there with the former CIA operative Bob Baer who knows all about Iran.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.  More on that interview on “Nightly News” on NBC tonight. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Is participating in direct talks with Iran the right move and what can we offer them that will put a permanent end to their nuclear activities?  Bob Baer is a former CIA officer who was stationed in the Middle East.  He is now taking a crack at fiction with his new novel, “Blow the House Down,” which centers on Iran‘s involvement in terrorism.

Let me ask you—Bob, thanks for coming on tonight and good luck with your book.  Let me ask you about the hot story of the day, that‘s Condi Rice‘s discussions at what are the new ground rules.  Are we issuing a soft, let‘s say a fuse, a long-burning fuse, to say to Iran, if you don‘t play ball with us and stop your nuclear weapons program, we‘re going to attack.  Is that the message really from today?

BOB BAER, FMR. CIA OPERATIVE:  Oh, I think absolutely, Chris.  And she said we‘re not taking any options off the table.  This administration, in particular, the Pentagon knows what they‘re up against in this new president of Iran, Ahmadinejad.  He was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he was involved in attacks against Americans, kidnappings, a whole slew of—he was at war with the United States for 20 years. 

MATTHEWS:  Who started that war? 

BAER:  They started the war.  They took over our embassy in 1979. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about what was our role in putting the Shah in power?  Did they elect the Shah or did we put him in? 

BAER:  In 1953 the CIA was accused of keeping the Shah in power and there‘s a certain truth to that.  There was a coup in 1953 the CIA was involved in, but this historical memory has carried on in Iran and certainly carried on in this man‘s mind who has been fighting back.  No question about that.

MATTHEWS:  Countries have memories.  What is their anger against the United States, is it cultural or is it because of what we did to their country in terms of controlling it to get the oil? 

BAER:  It‘s the general conflict in the Middle East.  Our support for Israel, the war in Iraq, they‘re very upset about that.  I was in Iran last year.  They hold us responsible for the violence against the Shia.  They believe that the United States is trying to control The Gulf. 

This president in particular believes we‘re approaching a final confrontation.  We, Iran, with the United States, and he‘s going to take it right to the end. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the end because that‘s fascinating what you know.  If the United States has the technology and maybe we do, to “take out” their nuclear capability for five years, for example, slow it down dramatically, what would his reaction be?  What would Ahmadinejad, would he close the Straits of Hormuz, would he declare war on the United States, would he attack Israel, what will would he do? 

BAER:  I can tell you exactly what he‘s going to do because he‘s advertising it.  He‘s going to hit the oil facilities in the Gulf.  Saudi Arabia, the pipeline system, he‘s going to close down the gas facilities in Qatar, he‘s going to go after the Kuwaiti system, he‘s probably going to leave Israel alone because he knows our vulnerability in the Gulf is oil. 

They‘ve made this very clear, he‘s sent representatives to the major Gulf states saying, you guys picked the wrong side in this war in Iraq, we get hit, we‘re going to hit your facilities and if we can, we‘re going to overthrow you.  The message has been that clear and I‘ve heard it consistently. 

MATTHEWS:  What stops a general war for the United States.  In other words, if we say all we want to do is knock out your nuclear because it‘s in our interest to do so and it may be in our vital interest to do so, certainly in the region it would be nice to do it, good fore everybody.  But once we say that‘s it, the game is over, and he says no, no, you‘ve just started the game.  I‘m now going to unleash Hezbollah all over everywhere the world, I‘m now going to start shooting down planes, bombing planes, do everything I can to disrupt the oil and drive it up so high that your stock market crashes and we saw how sensitive the stock market is the last couple days to oil prices. 

Can he do all that and does George W. Bush and his people around him recognize the full impact of an attack on Iran? 

BAER:  They do.  And I don‘t think they want a war with Iran, because what they know they have to do, if they go into a war, is more than just take out the nuclear facilities, they have to decapitate the regime, in particular, this president and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which is almost a parallel government.  This is a huge undertaking and I think in fact at the end of the day they would like to see the negotiations, diplomacy work, they know the dangers. 

MATTHEWS:  Can Israel do the job on their own? 

BAER:  No.  They don‘t have the Air Force, they can cause trouble, they could kick off a regional war, but at the end of the day, they don‘t have the bunker busters, they don‘t have enough air planes. 

MATTHEWS:  They can‘t do an Entebbe style raid of people going in using human intelligence, people that can pass as Arabs, Sephardic people, they can‘t do that inside job that they did with other situations? 

BAER:  Chris, they can‘t do it.  It‘s too dispersed, the nuclear facilities, the regime leadership is dispersed, the Iranians have a very strong army, a strong Air Force, combat effect. 

MATTHEWS:  All I know it‘s a modern first world war machine.  That‘s the trouble.  We‘ll be right back with more with Bob Baer.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with former CIA officer Bob Baer, who has written a novel called “Blow the House Down.”  Your novel, Bob, is about the horrors and evils of the terrorism that comes out of Iran. 

Tell us, if you can, just looking forward the way you and your thoughts run on this, are we headed towards a war with Iran that is going to escalate into a general war, perhaps a regional war?  Are we headed forwards a fait accompli where we just have to live with the fact that one more country has nuclear weapons, a country we think is scary? 

BAER:  I‘ve been trained to be pessimistic.  I think we‘re facing a regional war in the Gulf against Iran.  The new president of Iran is taking over gradually, the rest of the government and he‘s looking at the next millennium as the Shia millennium.  He think he‘s been handed a great victory in Iraq and intends to capitalize on it and go of after the Gulf. 

He wants to assume the Shah‘s position as policeman of the Gulf, start Shia insurrections in the Gulf and he‘s determined to do this and you look at his rhetoric about Israel and it sounds like he‘s going to back it up and I think he‘s going to go for a nuclear weapon, whether it is this year or next year it doesn‘t really matter simply because he wants to be the predominant power in the Middle East and we are the country standing in the way.

Neither this or any other administration can sit back and let this happen.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take your pessimistic posture here, your outlook that way.  Here‘s a guy we‘re looking at him now, Ahmadinejad.  Would he see, even at the outskirts of his mind at midnight, a use for a nuclear weapon?

BAER:  Absolutely, he would use it.

MATTHEWS:  How so?  Give me a scenario of horror here.

BAER:  The horror is, as I—the theme in my book is these guys have got American blood on their hands.  They blew up the marines, the Islamic revolutionary guard corps, they kidnapped Americans.

MATTHEWS:  In ‘83.

BAER:  They were the first ones to prepare the operation on Pan Am 103, and Ahmadinejad believes in the apocalypse, the Shia apocalypse and the apocalyptic war is going to be against the United States, which brings back what they call the Mehdi.  He is looking at this in monumental, final...

MATTHEWS:  ... OK, how do they use the nuclear weapon?  He wants to be the new Mahdi from the 21st century, but how does he play that role?  Does he drop a bomb ole on Israel, how does he deliver one to the United States?  He must know he will be leveled for eternity if he attacks us.  Israel would have to face a terrible choice about how they respond.  We would eliminate him.

BAER:  We would, but he‘s—he‘s looking at the world differently.  Elimination, death, is life itself for him.  I think the scenario is that he gets in a confrontation with Israel, puts some sort of weaponized, dirty bomb possibly on a Shahab missile, fires it at Tel Aviv, the Israelis respond.  We come in.

MATTHEWS:  But a dirty bomb kills 20 people, right?

BAER:  I don‘t know if you could put one on the end of a Shahab, I‘m not an expert on this.

MATTHEWS:  No a dirty bomb isn‘t an explosive device, it just puts radioactive material into a particular location.  It‘s awful to deal with, but it‘s not genocidal, it‘s not a strategic weapon, is it?  Does he have the ability to put an explosive nuclear device into Israel for example?

BAER:  He will, he will.

MATTHEWS:  And what will he do?  Will he do it?

BAER:  He has the capability—his mentality, the way his mind works, he is capable of pulling the trigger.  And this is the problem of the administration.  These guys don‘t want another war.

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, I was just in Israel three weeks ago and I‘ve got to tell you, it‘s not just Likud and the further out people.  It‘s not Netanyahu.  Everybody with a brain over there is worried about this. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Bob Baer, great author, name of the book “Blow the House Down,” all about the evils and dangers of Iran. 

Coming up, Hillary Clinton gears up for 2006, but is she already pulling, already rolling towards 2008?  I think so.  We‘ll talk about that with former Clinton White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers and Philadelphia radio host Michael Smerconish.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  The current administration and the Republican majority are trying to turn Washington into an evidence-free zone.  If they don‘t think it is part of their agenda, they want it to go away.  They want to turn their backs against reality.  They don‘t want to hear the real-life concerns of people.  It‘s an environment where it‘s more important to say mission accomplished than actually accomplish the missions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Hillary Clinton launched her Senate reelection campaign today up in Buffalo, New York and here to talk about her White House dreams are Bill Clinton‘s former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, a big friend of the show.  And Philly radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, a big friend of mine.  Let‘s start here.  Michael, you‘ve got that smile, that grin of delight already on your face.  You don‘t believe this act will fly nationally, do you?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  No, I don‘t and I think there are no undecideds and earlier in your program, there was a poll that you relied upon that said 42 percent of Americans said under no circumstances would they even consider voting for her.

Hey, you know who I‘m upset with, Chris?  The New York Republican Party.  Are you telling me in that great state with all that talent, they couldn‘t field a real candidate?  And I‘m not deluded into think she‘s vulnerable, but for goodness sakes, somebody should be beating her up this year and it‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right, she won‘t have to face any distraction up there from the former mayor of Yonkers.  Let me go to Dee Dee Myers.  Let‘s actually respond to each other on this show.  What do you make of that chart?  Why do you think the New York state Democratic Party of Jay Javitts (ph) and all those Republicans, Pataki and DiMotta (ph), they‘ve been able to elect people statewide for years up there.  It‘s a competitive state.  Why no competition for Hillary Clinton this year?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think she‘s just such a huge figure and she has such a huge advantage financially.  She‘s been able to raise a tremendous amount of money.  Who knows whether she‘ll need to spend all that on her Senate campaign.  She was, as Michael said, invulnerable.  There never really a, I don‘t think, a realistic expectation that she could be beat and yet the Republicans couldn‘t field a candidate which tells you that Mrs. Clinton is a pretty formidable candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s something I find to be a mystery and it just came to me, Dee Dee, and you can answer it.  You can solve it.  You know, when I think about the people who are really loyal to Mrs. Clinton, to Senator Clinton, they‘re all pretty much liberals.  And I mean liberals, I don‘t mean just on big spending programs at home, but they really care about peace, and they care about human rights, and they‘re very suspicious foreign policy intrigue and overreach. 

And yet Hillary Clinton is for that.  She was for the war with Iraq, she still is.  How can she build a campaign for president on the backs of people who don‘t agree with her on the central issue of our time?

MYERS:  Well I‘m not sure—who are you talking about, Chris?  Who are the people that you‘re referring to?

MATTHEWS:  Well, Isikii‘s (ph) a hawk.  Is Wolfson a hawk?  He didn‘t sound like he was on the show a few minutes.  And Susan Thomas is a hawk, is Mandy Grunwald a hawk?  I don‘t know these people.  I never think of them as anything but straight hour liberals.

MYERS:  Right.  Well first of all, you haven‘t mentioned anybody whose portfolio is foreign policy.  I‘m not sure—I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Well everybody has a foreign policy in America.

MYERS:  ... that Hal (ph) or Mandy, for all their talents, advised Mrs. Clinton on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS:  No, but everybody in America has a foreign policy.  We live in the world, we have a point view about it.

MYERS:  I don‘t think that‘s true.  I mean, Chris, I worked at the White House, you worked at a White House.  I don‘t think that the domestic policy people were weighing in on foreign policy.  I think that‘s a creation of this administration, where you have the political people...

MATTHEWS:  Are you telling me that the average American doesn‘t make a vote on foreign policy?  The Iraq war is the number one issue in the country.  Now, everybody has an opinion on this car. 

MYERS:  No, I mean, Chris, what I‘m telling you is that, you know, Mrs. Clinton‘s political advisers don‘t give her foreign policy advice.  I was just raising the question of who are you talking about in terms of the liberals.

MATTHEWS:  No, Dee Dee you know what I‘m talking about. 

MYERS:  No, I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Why are they loyal to a hawkish foreign policy?  Why are all those people that liked the Clintons who were—why are they supporting a hawkish foreign policy, because that‘s her policy right now?  That‘s all I‘m asking.

MYERS:  Well, you‘d have to ask them.  I think that Mrs. Clinton has policies on a wide variety of issues, most of which they agree with.  I don‘t think I have ever worked with anyone with whom I have agreed on every single issue.  Now, you do raise a fair point which is Iraq is a complicated issue for the Democrats.  There isn‘t a consensus within the party, there isn‘t even necessarily a consensus with ...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there is.  Three-quarters of the Democratic Party oppose the war and think we should never have gone.  The latest polling shows that.  Three-quarters say we never should have gone. 

MYERS:  Well, we‘re going to have a campaign to resolve some of that, Chris, and we‘ll see. 

MATTHEWS:  Resolved?  It‘s been resolved?

MYERS:  It hasn‘t been resolved.  It‘s two years before the presidential election.

MATTHEWS:  How many issues are 75/25.  OK.  OK, Dee Dee.  I think I‘ve got a point here which is the Democratic Party is against this war and Hillary is for it and that is a problem. 

MYERS:  And I think—I mean, I disagree with that point.  I think the Democratic Party hasn‘t come to a consensus on exactly how to move forward from the war.  I think there is a lot of opposition to the war, Chris, but there isn‘t a consensus on how to move forward.  This—and that‘s something the party is going to have to work out.  I mean, if you‘re saying that‘s disqualifying for Mrs. Clinton, you‘re wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Howard—I mean, Michael, your thought—one last thought.  Is that a problem when a person who wants to lead a party wants to go in a different direction than the party wants to go? 

SMERCONISH:  Of course it is.  I mean, the situation in Iraq today, I‘m sorry to say, is a disaster and the irony is that John McCain‘s numbers are escalating, Hillary‘s numbers appear to be escalating, at a time when the president is plummeting.  Why?  Because of Iraq.  And what it tells me is that at this stage, it‘s a popularity contest pure and simple.  Issues don‘t yet matter, but they will. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you may be right because John McCain is as much of a hawk as Bill Kristol, all the neocons.  He‘s a fanatic hawk, he‘s totally in bed with them in terms of the issues.  And yet, a lot of people who are against the war like John McCain.  We are befuddled.  You‘re right and Dee Dee‘s right.  We‘ll be right back with Dee Dee and Michael.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers and Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish.  Dee Dee, one last try at this apple, one last bite.  Do you think it was good for America, smart for us to go into Iraq.  You personally.

MYERS:  Well, no.  You know that, Chris.  I mean, I‘ve been on this show.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking.  I don‘t know. 

MYERS:  I was against the war from the beginning.  I said if I had been a member of Congress at the time, I would have been against it.  I said that on this show.  I got scoffed at by a lot of our Republican friends.  But no, I don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  But good for you because you stood up for your beliefs. 

Let me ask you this:  Do you think Hillary Clinton made the right decision in authorizing the war? 

MYERS:  You know, I‘m not going to come on this show and second-guess Mrs. Clinton‘s decisions.  I already said I would‘ve made ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what you‘re here for.  You‘re a pundit.  You‘re a commentator. 

MYERS:  I made a—but I‘m not in the business of doing that.  I would have made a different decision. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s a good point.

MYERS:  Now, I think it‘s important that she have a plan to move forward, Chris, and that‘s going to be the key.  I mean, she‘s got—we‘ve heard her energy policy, we‘ve heard her economic policy.  We haven‘t yet heard how we‘re getting out of Iraq policy. 

MATTHEWS:  How did she deal with this “New York Times” story last week, do you think?  What do you think they‘re—what are they saying about—they got it from the “New York Times,” which is a pretty conservative newspaper in terms not of it is politics, but in terms of its manner.

The front page story at the top of the fold, this Pat Healy story about prominent Democrats all buzzing about the Clinton marriage and the fact that he‘s out at dinner and she‘s not with him and all that stuff, didn‘t that more earlier or earlier than you thought it would come? 

MYERS:  Much earlier and in a different venue.  I mean, I didn‘t expect to see that story this early in the “New York Times,” but I always expected that questions about their marriage, because of who they are and what they‘ve been through, would become, in some ways, relevant to the campaign. 

I don‘t know if they‘re relevant.  They would become there.  They‘re there.  They would have to be addressed by the Clintons.  They‘re just questions they‘re going to have to answer.  They‘re going to be something that voters are going to talk about.  And whether it is fair or unfair is almost beside the point.  It is just a fact. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised they threw the name in of another woman? 

MYERS:  Yes, I was. 

MATTHEWS:  I was too. 

Let me go to Michael Smerconish.  I knew you are a radio talk jock, and you‘re a tumbler like I am.  I mean, you‘re concerned with people being interested in what you‘re talking about.  Is this going to be an irresistible topic for the next couple of years now, the Clinton personal life, Bill Clinton personal life? 

SMERCONISH:  I think if you walked up to people on the streets of Philadelphia and just said what, if anything, do you wonder about Hillary, the answer would be, I wonder what‘s going on in that marriage.  And the “New York Times” did as good a job as they could have done in answering that question.  I don‘t think that it was a cheap shot, by the way.  I also don‘t believe this is ...

MATTHEWS:  But why—let me try this on you, because I‘m rarely this tough on you but I‘ll get nasty right now. 

SMERCONISH:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Why in—why does it matter?  Suppose the worst is true.  Just imagine the worst.  Bill Clinton has got a problem with self-control in this area.  Just imagine that.  How does that affect the ability of Hillary Clinton, who is clearly able to lead her own career, her ability to become a great president?  How does it affect that.

SMERCONISH:  Do you want me to drink some Kool-Aid and then answer that question? 

MATTHEWS:  No, do it straight. 

SMERCONISH:  Just give you the answer.  The answer is it doesn‘t matter.  I mean, there is a prurient interest in this couple and the health of their marriage.  But we‘ve litigated this issue and Americans, frankly, they don‘t give a damn.   

MATTHEWS:  And you think that she can carry on then and basically put up with the bad press if it shows up?  If names are mentioned in the gossip columnists, if the Safeway, you know, checkout counter is filled with this stuff, she can muddle through?

SMERCONISH:  Chris, the guy is a net gain.  He‘s a net benefit to have at her side.  I would like to be able to say differently, but if he keeps himself out of trouble, he‘s a big plus having him there. 

MATTHEWS:  How about if he‘s in trouble?  Still a plus?

SMERCONISH:  If he‘s in trouble, well, then she‘s the victim.  See, that‘s the irony here is then you end up feeling sorry for her.  She‘s not the bad actor.  He is, at least on those issues as far, as we know. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Dee Dee, not the same subject.  Let‘s move on.  As you‘ve spotted, does Hillary Clinton have a problem with still learning how to be good public speaker? 

MYERS:  Well, I think she knows how to be a good public speaker.  I don‘t think she‘s always at the top of her game.  I think she can be a little inconsistent.  Sometimes I think she is terrific and she can really wow an audience.  She certainly has that presence. 

When she walks into a room, people know that she‘s there.  And I think candidates can continue to grow and certainly Mrs. Clinton has a lot of the qualities that you can‘t teach a candidate.  She‘s really very natural in a lot of things.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know you‘re right.

MYERS:  And yet I think this is one area that she could work on her consistency. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree completely.  I think she‘s uneven.  I think she‘s great when she flashes into a room.  It‘s dynamite.

MYERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Dee Dee Myers, thank you.  Michael Smerconish, thank you.

MYERS:  Thank you.

Play HARDBALL with us again on Thursday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now it‘s time for the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Transcript

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,