updated 8/15/2006 11:37:51 AM ET 2006-08-15T15:37:51

Guests: Seymour Hersh, Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Bush is at the lowest job approval of his presidency, pulled down by his war in Iraq, the number one concern of the American people.  And now the charge that Bush pushed Israel to bomb Lebanon as a prelude to us bombing Iran.  Are the president and Dick Cheney both at the bottom of the polls, going for broke, trying to score big before leaving office?  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, will fear be the biggest factor in the upcoming American elections?  Today, President Bush returned to Washington.  His first stop, the Pentagon.  Riding shotgun in the presidential limo, the elusive vice-president of the United States, Dick Cheney.  Their focus, four hot spots.  Number on, Iraq with American soldiers caught in the middle of a civil war. 

Number two, Israel and Hezbollah.  The cease-fire starts today, but will it last?  Who won?  And what‘s it mean to the American people.  Number three, the domestic terrorism threat.  The Brits caught the terrorists before they attacked, but is the United States prepared and equipped to ward off another 9-11? 

Number four, Iran, a new report says that the Bush administration is seriously planning attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities.  In a moment, we‘ll talk to the man who broke the story, investigative reporter Sy Hersh. 

The political mission, Republicans are caught in the danger zone of losing their control Congress in the upcoming elections.  Can Bush and Cheney ride national security to another victory this Fall and will they attack Iran before leaving office in 2008?  Later, we will talk politics with Buchanan, Barnicle, Smerconish and Shrum.  But first, is the cease-fire in the Middle East working? 

NBC‘s Richard Engel is in Tyre, Lebanon.  That‘s the question Richard, is this cease-fire the one we‘ve been looking for, the long-term solution to the war there? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It is working, in the sense that today there was no fighting on the ground, but this is not necessarily the solution that the United States and Israel were looking for.  Hezbollah is claiming victory today.  Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, said that his organization had defeated Israel.  His organization is not at all afraid of this international force or of the Lebanese army. 

Hezbollah is also refusing to disarm, that was effectively a precondition that both Israel and the United States wanted to be able to declare victory.  Both Washington and Israel, however, are saying that it was a victory, that Hezbollah will no longer be the sovereign state within a state here in south Lebanon.  I can tell you today, when we were crisscrossing the south, we saw dozens of Hezbollah people, very much in charge.  These were both humanitarian workers from Hezbollah, fighters.  Some of them were just trying to resupply and bring out their wounded and their dead, but they seemed very much in control, watching reporters, talking on radios. 

The Lebanese army could deploy Wednesday or Thursday, but how effective it will be and if it will really confront Hezbollah, most people here don‘t think that it will. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to figure out when we see real peace here.  Israel, it‘s government has said just recently that they‘re not leaving Lebanon until there‘s an international force, combined with the Lebanese army, to replace them on the border, as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah.  Hezbollah says they will not stop fighting until Israel completely leaves the country. 

Now if it takes two or three weeks for a full fledged multinational force to come into that country and the Israelis have to leave after that and Hezbollah has to stop shooting after that, are we talking another month or two or all out war? 

ENGEL:  All out war, perhaps not, but there will certainly be skirmishes.  It might take a day or two for Hezbollah to reorganize itself, but most people here expect that the group will certainly start to attack Israeli positions within Lebanon or that Israel is going to continue to attack Hezbollah.  Israel today, on this day of the cease-fire, killed at least five Hezbollah fighters, so there will certainly be some fighting in south Lebanon, particularly along that border region, while this force is being put into place. 

Will there necessarily be the same scale of the fighting, hundreds of Katyusha rockets being fired at Haifa, airstrikes along the major bridges and into parts of Beirut and even north of Beirut, that scale of the fighting might not continue, but I think there will still be deadly skirmishes along the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a tough question for a reporter, but you are on the scene and you are in the field, Richard Engel, does it feel like Hezbollah won on the ground? 

ENGEL:  From Lebanon‘s perspective, talking to people here and this is also a very divided country, but where I am right now, it certainly feels like that.  There were celebrations in the streets in south Beirut and then across south Lebanon.  People feel that this was a victory for Hezbollah, that Hezbollah put up a fight, that a common refrain we‘ve been hearing is that Israel, in 1967, took over half of the Middle East in just a week.  Now after more than a month, it was only able to take a few villages along the Israel-Lebanon border.  That‘s the way it is being presented on the ground. 

Already Hezbollah is positioning itself as something of a savior and Hassan Nasrallah tonight promised that his organization would lead the rebuilding effort of all those homes that were destroyed and he said that he can‘t disarm because it‘s clear that the Lebanese army and an international force can‘t defend the country against another Israeli attack, that only his group can do that. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great having you.  Take care of yourself.  Richard Engel, NBC bureau chief in Lebanon. 

We go now to NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  Andrea, we‘re going to have Sy Hersh on in a moment.  He‘s sitting right with me right now.  He has a big article on the front page, if there is a front page, of the “New Yorker Magazine.”  It‘s their main piece this week.  Basically three charges, that the United States gave something of a green light to Israel going into Lebanon, your assessments. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well the State Department, of course, denies that and the Pentagon has vigorously denied this article today that they had any advance warning.  But there‘s no question that diplomatically everyone believes that there was a green light because Condoleezza Rice said initially that it was not time for a cease-fire and then when they finally did accept a cease-fire, it was only after Israel proved on the ground and in the air that it could not successfully combat Hezbollah.  Four weeks into the war, the state department, the diplomats went back to the U.N. and basically accepted the kind of cease-fire that they initially said that they had opposed. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like us in Vietnam. 

MITCHELL:  If that‘s not a green light, I don‘t know what is.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Iran.  I know that‘s a bit elusive because it‘s several years off, perhaps, but in Sy Hersh‘s piece, which we‘re going to be talking about in a moment, he makes the point that within the administration there‘s still some division with moderates against the hawks, but the hawks, the vice president, his office, Addington, Elliot Abrams, perhaps. 

The hawks are still there and they have the ear of the president now, again, if they ever lost it and they‘re pushing for a follow up to this campaign in Lebanon, with a direct attack by the United States on nuclear facilities in Iran.  Is there a coordinated look at that?  Was the United States looking at the Israel advance and its use of bombing as a prelude to our bombing of nuclear facilities in Iran? 

MITCHELL:  They keep denying that.  I have to tell you that when Ehud Olmert was here and visited extensively with the vice-president and his team and also, of course, with the president, I got the distinct impression from Israeli sources that they had discussed the possibility of taking out nuclear plants. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t David Brooks of the “New York Times” deny that ever happened and said that Olmert was denying, his account of that meeting with President Bush, that there never was the discussion of coordination of the United States attack on Iran? 

MITCHELL:  Well I did have Israeli sources who told me that it did come up, American officials consistently denied it.  That said, how would the U.S. go after Iran right now.  There may be some people within this administration who want to and they are the very people who are criticizing Rice‘s diplomacy and her overtures and the fact that she did get the president‘s ear, clearly for a diplomatic initiative toward Iran, one that, so far, Iran has clearly rejected.  They‘ve got until August 31st under this latest U.N. resolution, the one directed against Iran.  So the diplomats had taken sort of ascendancy over the more military wing of this administration, if there is one, on the subject of Iran. 

That said, how do you go after Iran.  They don‘t know where this stuff is buried.  They don‘t know how to go after it and if the Israelis couldn‘t go after the Hezbollah successfully, which were Iranian trained, with Iranian weaponry, buried in Iranian styled bunkers in southern Lebanon, if anything, this lesson over the last four weeks has been that it would not be that easy to go after Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the diplomats have the high ground on the possibility of us attacking Iran.  So it looks like we‘re not going to attack Iran right now, but what about going back to a lot of the buzz, a lot of the scuttlebutt we heard at the very highest level, field rank generals complaining about the fact we‘re facing an incipient civil war in Iraq.  The meeting with the president over there at the Pentagon today, did he hear some of that buzz? 

MITCHELL:  That I can‘t really report accurately because we‘ve been talking to folks over there, but nobody yet to me is reporting, and I have to tell you, I was out of pocket at the State Department, waiting for the president‘s news conference, so for two hours I was in a holding area.  I don‘t know that. 

MATTHEWS:  I shouldn‘t have asked you that question because I know you‘re being at State.  I asked you this earlier, and I know now, but the fact is you don‘t think that the United States is planning, actively, to attack Iran right now.  That‘s not going to happen?   

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think so, but let me tell you this.  If Iran is resupplying Hezbollah in violation of the U.N. resolution, I wouldn‘t rule anything out.  Because if they can somehow intercept any attempt, and it would have to be by this international force, but obviously we have eyes in the sky there and Israeli proxies, so if there is any attempt by Iran, through Syria, to resupply Hezbollah, I would say all bets are off.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  That‘s how we got into Iraq, but catching them breaking the deal.  Hey, thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, chief diplomatic correspondent, foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News. 

We go now to the man who started the big fight this week, “New Yorker” investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who has a big report, as I said, in this issue of the magazine, “New Yorker” magazine.  Here it is, a great quote from it.  I think this is a pretty good nut for the whole story.

“President Bush and Vice President Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence officials and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombings campaign against Hezbollah‘s heavily-fortified underground missile and command and control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel‘s security concerns, and also serve as a prelude to a potential American, preemptive attack to destroy Iran‘s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.”

How sound are you, Sy, on the fact that we‘re planning to go into Iran with an attack on their nuclear facilities? 

SEYMOUR HERSH, “NEW YORKER” INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  Well, we‘ve been planning this for a year.  I mean, there‘s been a fight.  I‘ve been writing about it in the “New Yorker” in previous articles.  There‘s been a internecine warfare between the Air Force—the American Air Force says we can do it.  Strategic bombings can work in Iran. 

And, you know, the Iranians have been digging holes for what, eight, nine centuries now.  And they‘re deeply buried underground.  Most of the—the suspected facilities.  We‘re not sure where anything is.  We really don‘t know.   

MATTHEWS:  But these are like the pyramids.  These are way down, right? 

HERSH:  Seventy-five feet under rock. 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of a bunker buster would you have to use, and how many people would that kill? 

HERSH:  Well, you know, one of the early thoughts was something attack a nuke, of course.  That was ruled out only after the Joint Chiefs protested personally.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s our biggest conventional bomb? 

HERSH:  Five thousand pounder, and we‘ve got a—well, the ones they‘re talking about, that there are bunker busters that are 5,000 pound bombs that the Israelis know quite a bit about.  So what happens ...

MATTHEWS:  Is that what Israel was asking for last week in the “New York Times”?  They leaked something.  Somebody leaked.  That may be political.  They put it in the “New York Times.”  They are having trouble getting it from us.  I assume somebody was facing some static in getting them the weapon they wanted.  I don‘t know what happened. 

HERSH:  I don‘t know that part of it.  I know that Israel has—knows much more about these kind of bombs than we think we have do and we started working with them.  What happened is the Air Force plan got into a lot of heat over there. 

The Army, the Marine Corps, and the Navy said are you kidding? 

Strategic bombing doesn‘t work.  Look at Chakano (ph) in Iran—and Iraq. 

We‘re going to end up putting boots on the ground and we don‘t have them. 

MATTHEWS:  Who says that bombing Iran would stop their nuclear production?  Who says that?  The Air Force?

HERSH:  The Air Force pushes it hard. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re trying to sell a weapons system? 

HERSH:  Well, because they believe in strategic bombing.  You know, bomb them back to the Stone Age, Curtis LeMay.  That‘s ...

MATTHEWS:  Did that work in the Second World War? 

HERSH:  Of course not.  Studies show that ...

MATTHEWS:  Hitler was still fighting when the Soviets got to his bunker. 

HERSH:  He made more tanks in ‘44 than he did in the previous years after intensive bombings of all the wars that he did.  But, nonetheless, you know, McNamara, by the way, Robert McNamara was one of the leaders of the study—the strategic study after World War II, and he, of course, pushed for bombing in Vietnam.  Everybody wants to bomb. 

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t work.  So Curtis LeMay didn‘t know what he was doing?

HERSH:  No, he was a pretty good officer.

MATTHEWS:  But he wasn‘t right about this?

HERSH:  You know what he said?  He said at one point—and I think in February of 1945 -- I actually spent a lot of time looking at this.  And he said, “I‘m out of targets, I can‘t bomb anything, I‘ve leveled everything and they‘re still fighting.”

MATTHEWS:  In Vietnam.

HERSH:  No, Curtis LeMay in 1944 in World War II.  His point was that even though we had been bombing everything with B-29s—you know, once we got control over the islands, you know, at Okinawa we got some bases, we could hit Japan.  In—three months before, five months before the war that he was out of targets, but the Japanese kept on resisting. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this, because it‘s so critical to the next two years.  We‘re not going to have a presidential election for a couple of years now.  We won‘t have an election for more than two years.  It‘ll begin to be the process by the end of next year. 

It looks like we‘ll have a primary up in—we‘ll have a caucus in Iowa probably by this time next year, practically.  But we‘re stuck with this president for better or worse.  He‘s our leader.  Do you believe he wants to bomb Iran before he leaves? 

HERSH:  Absolutely.  No, I should say this.  I believe that he does not want to leave his office with Iran still posing a threat.  I believe he sees a nuclear arm, Iran as an existential threat to his policies, the policies of Israel, the whole notion he has of making the Middle East, turning it into a democracy, which he still holds onto.  I do believe that, and as part, one of the options ...

MATTHEWS:  Does he—let me cut you off here, because we always conflate these issues.  Does he see Iran as a regional threat to countries who are on our side, like Israel and the other so many Arab countries, or does he see it as a strategic threat? 

Because this was the whole fight over Saddam Hussein.  Of course he was a regional pain in the butt, of course he was a problem to some tactical extent to Israel—he wasn‘t a strategic threat to Israel—but is Iran a strategic threat to the United States?  Does he believe that?

HERSH:  I don‘t know what he believes. 

MATTHEWS:  How could he be a strategic threat to the United States? 

HERSH:  I don‘t know what he believes.  He said today Hezbollah lost the war.  I mean, I don‘t know.  Is the moon made of green cheese?  I don‘t know what he believes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president says what he believes? 

HERSH:  Oh, yes.  I believe he‘s—one of the things ...

MATTHEWS:  You think he‘s totally genuine in what he presents to the American people?  He believes what he tells us.

HERSH:  I think you really have to listen to what he says, and I think one of the problems—you know, one of the reasons this story came about is somebody on the inside said, you know, these guys, here are the—they pushed the Israeli air force for the same reason you said in the intro.  They wanted—it‘s sort of a demo for Iran. 

They wanted a—there were reasons.  You know, he‘s a terrorist, Nasrallah, he has got some missiles and we want to beef up the Lebanese government.  The real reality is it‘s a test case for Iran.  He pushed them into it.  It was a disaster.  They ended up sending in ground troops, just like all the guys in the Pentagon would say, and yet guys on the inside tell me there‘s no learning curve there.  These guys ...

MATTHEWS:  You know what it brings into question?  Here‘s an administration that for political or other moral reasons or historic reasons—maybe because his father was pro-Arab—is the most openly pro-Israeli administration in history, in terms of the P.R. 

And you have to ask yourself, has the loss of our power brokering ability in that region been a bigger loss for Israel than anything we could have done for them?  Seymour Hersh is staying with us from “New Yorker” magazine.  He‘s made the big story this week.

And later, what does the debate over national security mean for the midterm elections, and is an election going to be decided by the issue of Iraq?  We‘ll be right back on that one. 

And are the Republicans and their biggest problem in the dove-ish Northeast?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with the “New Yorker‘s” Seymour Hersh, who writes that the Bush administration pushed Israel to bomb Lebanon as a prelude to us—we Americans—bombing Iran.  The White House is pointing to this quote from national security adviser Stephen Hadley for a reply there, saying this is what the truth is. 

Quote, “The suggestion that the U.S. and Israel planned and coordinated an attack on Hezbollah and did so as a prelude to an attack on Iran is just flat wrong.”  Your response?

HERSH:  Well, I never quite said what he said, of course, because it‘s not necessarily a—there‘s no decision made on Iran.  It was just a demo.  So I think we‘re talking about words.  Look, the White House can‘t like this story.  How are they going to like a story that says...

MATTHEWS:  But what did you just correct here?  I thought that‘s what you did say.

HERSH:  As a prelude.  No...

MATTHEWS:  Let me quote you.  “We told Israel, look, if you guys have to go, we‘re behind you all the way.  But we think it should be sooner rather than later.  The longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.”

MATTHEWS:  But the word I used in the second paragraph of the piece had the word “potential” in there.  There‘s no decision made about it by...

MATTHEWS:  This sentence doesn‘t. 

HERSH:  No, but that‘s quoting somebody else. 

MATTHEWS:  You know how I read your piece?  You know how you‘re going up 95 on the East Coast and you get to a tunnel and they say don‘t slow down when you get in the tunnel, keep going fast?  That sounded like the signal we were giving to Israel.  If you‘re going to go in this tunnel, pick up speed. 

HERSH:  Because if you‘re going to do it, don‘t wait around until he‘s almost out of office.  Let‘s get this done before he‘s out.  That‘s what...

MATTHEWS:  So that Bush has a chance to follow it up with an attack on Iran?

HERSH:  After this election.  I don‘t think he‘s going to do anything before this election.

MATTHEWS:  But do you think that—let me just try to say this in common sense terms.  A person walking away from listening to this show tonight should think that Sy Hersh, maybe the most famous investigative reporter in the country, next to Bob Woodward and maybe Carl Bernstein, is reporting that the United States gave a green light to Israel, to the Kadima government over there, if you‘re going do this, do it and get it over with, because we want to come in there later, sometime between now and ‘08, and we want to bomb Iran. 

HERSH:  Yes, with the caveat...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a yes?

HERSH:  Yes.  They want to—yes, that‘s the way to interpret it. 

With the caveat being—I‘m just protecting myself a second here, Chris—the caveat being nobody‘s made a decision on Iran.  They want the option.  They want to keep it going.  And they want to learn...

MATTHEWS:  How close are we to going? 

HERSH:  Who knows?

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the factor to consider—the president will consider? 

HERSH:  Well, I tell you...

MATTHEWS:  The feasibility—you say the strategic guys at the Air Force believe it can be done. 

HERSH:  Yes, but they‘re...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re digging up bunker busters to try to hit it—to hit it.

HERSH:  But nobody else does in the military.  They think it would be insane.  We‘ll end up with—we don‘t have the forces to go.  And you‘re going to have ground troops—these guys think that they can go and bomb Iran and knock down a lot of things, knock off the civilians, do the infrastructure, the same thing the Israelis...

MATTHEW:  And then that Iran will take it?

HERSH:  And then—no, the people in Iran will come out, look around, and they‘ll come out of their bunkers after a day and-a-half of bombing, look around and say, oh my God, it‘s the mullahs‘ fault, the mullahs did it.  Let‘s overthrow the mullahs.  This is what they think.

And by the way, if you look at what happened in Israel, when the Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon began, what did they hit first?  The runways, the streets, the bridges.  The Israelis had the same—right away, you could just—knowing what I know about the planning for Iran, I could see the way they bombed, the infrastructure bombing there, and said oh my God, they‘re together on this one. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a tough call.  Because who wants a nuclear weapon in the hands of these guys?  And secondly, however, that if we do go in and bomb Iran, we will have an enemy to deal with.  You‘re supposed to pick your enemies carefully.  Who wants Iran as an enemy? 

HERSH:  If you think Hezbollah was tough, let me tell you—and let me say one—quickly—more thing.  What‘s wrong with talking to the guy?  I‘m not talking about Ahmadinejad, he‘s off the wall.  But the leadership there will talk.  I‘m talking about the guys above him.  There‘s a lot of people who known Iran better than we do, some of our allies, the Brits, the Germans...  

MATTHEWS:  Why is President Bush so against talking to enemies? 

HERSH:  I just—I don‘t know.  If you have a kid, a little boy in fourth grade, in pre-nursery and they get in a fight, two little boys in a sandbox, they go at it, teacher takes them, pulls them apart and says shake hands and go back to the box.  They do.  Why doesn‘t he want to talk to these guys? 

MATTHEWS:  I want to try to find out what George Shultz thinks about this.  There‘s some people who are hawks out there who don‘t think being a hawk means don‘t talk.  They think it goes together.  Anyway, thank you, Sy Hersh.

HERSH:  You‘re welcome.

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations.  The man who broke the My Lai story, by the way.  He‘s got some street cred in this department.

Up next, can a national security debate be the key to who controls Congress?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  With the midterm congressional elections just around the corner, the political landscape shaped by the Iraq war is becoming even more important.  It‘s a landscape Republicans hope to change through fresh concerns about 9/11 style terror attacks.  But the mood of the electorate has changed, and the strategy that has worked in previous elections may be as reliable this time—may be not as reliable this time.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On his first day back from vacation and with 12 weeks until the congressional midterm elections, President Bush headed to the Pentagon today to talk about national security. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s very important for the American people to know that we‘re constantly thinking about how to secure the homeland, protect our interests, use all assets available to do our jobs. 

SHUSTER:  This was the first event in weeks where the president and vice president have been pictured together, and it underscores the White House decision to focus on the GOP signature issue, fighting terrorism.  The Bush administration has proven skillful at building on news stories to frame elections to their advantage, such as when a videotape of Osama bin Laden surfaced just days before the last presidential election. 

BUSH:  Let me make this very clear.  Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. 

SHUSTER:  The terror plot thwarted last week provides another political opportunity, because even though the British government unraveled the threat, President Bush has benefited.  According to “Newsweek,” the president‘s approval rating in handling terrorism now stands at 55 percent.  That‘s an 11-point jump since the last “Newsweek” poll in May.  And when voters were asked which party can be trusted to do a better job on terrorism, 44 percent Republicans, 39 percent said Democrats. 

Still, the spread is not as wide as the 23-point advantage Republicans had on fighting terrorism before the last midterm elections in 2002. 

CHARLIE COOK, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT:  The biggest thing is that there was a time when President Bush had an enormous amount of credibility on national security issues.  And bit by bit by bit, the war in Iraq has eroded that credibility. 

SHUSTER:  In fact, with more than 2,500 American soldiers killed in Iraq and 20,000 wounded, the war is harming Republicans across the board.  And on every issue aside from terrorism, Democrats have a strong lead.  They have a six-point edge on handling Iraq, a 27-point lead on gas and oil prices, a 19-point advantage on the economy, and a whopping 30-point edge on a top Democratic signature issue, health care. 

And when it comes to protecting the homeland against terrorism, this weekend one of the 9/11 chairmen said the United States has not done enough. 

LEE HAMILTON, FMR. CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION:  We do not think that there has been sufficient urgency, priority, resources, people, put into the protection of the people here at home. 

SHUSTER:  And that opened the door for Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean. 

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  The fact is, Iraq is a distraction.  Iraq never had anything to do with the war on terror.  And that‘s just a fact and that‘s what the 9/11 Commission said.  So it‘s not enough to listen to the right wing folks that claim that we‘re fighting the terrorists off the shore so they don‘t come on the shore.  That is hooey!

SHUSTER:  Still, Americans tend to rally around the president and his party during a time of crisis.  And to reinforce the idea that Republicans are tougher than Democrats, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman offered this.

KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN:  We know that 9/11 taught us how dangerous it was when you had a failed state in Afghanistan.  Imagine a failed state on the second largest oil reserves in the world.  That‘s what would happen if we cut and run in Iraq, which unfortunately, which is what the Democratic party has now made their orthodoxy. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The problem for Republicans it that a growing majority of Americans want the U.S. to start getting out of Iraq and despite Bush Administration arguments that Iraq and the war on terror are linked, voters increasingly see the two wars as separate.  It all spells big trouble for the G.O.P. 85 days until the congressional mid terms.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Up next, Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum will break down the political news and what the issue of security means to the country politically.  Will Republicans hold on to power if the public is scared enough?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  With a foiled transatlantic terror attack and a fragile Middle East cease-fire, national security is back at the top of the agenda for the politicians.  How will it play in the midterm elections?  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst. 

Welcome back to both of you.  Well the fact is, gentlemen, no matter what we say here, the American people are more concerned about one thing than anything else he, it‘s their kids over there in Iraq.  There‘s killing going on every day, the casualty figures are terrible.  I want to ask you why, Pat, do you think that Iraq still stands at the top of the polls, in terms of our concerns in this country?  Not anything else, the Middle East or terrorism even.  It‘s Iraq. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s one of the longest wars in American history and almost as long as World War II and at that period the president of the United States said the situation in Baghdad, the capital of our ally, is terrible.  And we see the pictures every day and every night of these kids coming home and of Walter Reed and what‘s going on there and people regret we went in and every time people think of it, they think these guys, whom we like maybe for other reasons, Bush and Cheney, made a terrible mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob, is that your view.  I mean, I‘m looking at the numbers today, a number of polls and I‘m seeing the president at 33 percent, pretty much rock bottom for his handling of Iraq.  It‘s also his number for overall job performance, but then if you look at the CBS poll, the number one concern facing the voters, even after what‘s going on now, with almost getting hit this coming weekend and the problem with the British-born Pakistanis over in Britain, that it‘s still the number one issue, Iraq.  It keeps bothering us, it‘s working at us. 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, sure, and the truth is that if you read Jim Rutenberg‘s piece in the “New York Times,” the administration, the Republicans were almost happy about this plot in London.  It gave them something to unite around, the article said, and it gave them a figure leaf that they could try to put over their colossal failure in Iraq.  But I think that fig leaf is transparent. 

I think the American people have decided that Iraq was a disaster, it‘s an ongoing disasters that‘s cost 300 billion dollars and at the same time we‘re not putting the money into airport screening here at home, into modern technology.  That‘s the body armor of the home front and we shortchanged that just as we shortchanged body armor for our troops.  I think if that‘s the issue in November, the Republicans are in big trouble. 

BUCHANAN:  The political problem Chris is also this immense sense of frustration on the part of the American people.  I was anti-war, but I‘ll tell you, I don‘t know what we should do now.  If we walk out, you could have a blood bath like Cambodia, every friend we got there is going to have his throat cut.  You could have a civil war in there.  This thing could collapse. 

The Turks and Iranians are moving on Kurdistan now.  Nobody knows what would happen and so the American people say gee, we shouldn‘t have gone in there, but we can‘t walk away from it because this could be a disaster, so then we watch all the pictures night after night.  It‘s a very frustrating thing for a so-called super power.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you a deeper question.  Remember guys back in 1983 when we had that horror over there in Lebanon, our soldiers were given the odd role of guarding the airport, basically holding the flag to support our diplomatic efforts, which didn‘t exist.  But we all got, a lot of good guys got killed over there, about three hundred.  Within days we attacked Granada, changed the subject, the president was a hero. 

Do you think it‘s possible that this president is thinking, all right, Iraq is a disaster, why don‘t I go for Iran, put a cap on this baby, and leave the presidency having beaten Iran, taking its nuclear weapons away from it?  And people will forgive me for Iraq.  By the way, is that a crazy idea or is that the way politicians think? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You think it is, Bob?  You think it‘s crazy to go to Iran? 

SHRUM:  I think it‘s a crazy idea.  I think the president will leave the presidency in disgrace if he does that.  The one thing we‘ve learned in this whole Middle East war is that there was a failure, I think not just of Israeli intelligence, but of American intelligence.  We underestimated the support of Hezbollah and the strength of Hezbollah and I think what‘s going to happen if we go into Iran is we‘re not going to get all the targets.  We‘re going to further inflame the situation and we have 130,000 American troops sitting in Iraq as hostages. 

MATTHEWS:  And they would be the targets if we went into Iran? 

SHRUM:  In a Shiite population surrounding them, that I think would instantly come to a boil. 

BUCHANAN:  But look, you have to look at the president of the United States.  First let me just say about Reagan, those were coincidental.  The guys taking over and killing Bishops down there in Granada and then the Marines being killed and Reagan made the decision, and Shultz‘s recommendation on a golf course.  Those happened coterminously.  This is different.  Take a look at Bush‘s eyes.  I believe he, as Seymour Hersh said, he generally does not want to leave office without smashing the nuclear facilities in Iran because he believes that is the greatest impediment to his democracy project.  He‘s a democratic fundamentalist.  I think he believes it‘s a great threat to this country. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s go to do?  Again, I don‘t like these terms being thrown around. 

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  But here‘s the thing...

MATTHEWS:  What is the threat of Iran to America? 

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  You and I don‘t agree it is, but that‘s not

the question.  The question is what does he agree on?  He‘s being pushed by

the neocons and the war party because, Chris, if he walks out after the

Israelis been beaten in Lebanon and we got a disaster in Iraq, and he walks

out and Iran is moving toward a nuclear policy, nuclear program, he‘s got -

he‘s a failed president, in their eyes, and probably in his own eyes. 

It‘s not what you and I think.  It‘s what he thinks. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob, do you want to respond to that? 

SHRUM:  Yes, look, Iran is a threat.  It‘s a threat to us.  If it got a real nuclear arsenal, I think it would be a threat to us and to our vital interests.  But the way to deal with this is to keep going down this negotiating track, which the administration refused to take for four year.s  Now that I‘ve agreed with Pat on something, I want to say I profoundly disagree on something else.  Over 60 percent of the American people want us to get out of Iraq.  I think that number will continue to grow. 

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  I have know it‘s high.  But what I‘m saying is the reason why I don‘t think a Ned Lamont running nationally would go for the Democratic Party is the American people say, this guy doesn‘t know what he‘s doing.  If we get out, it will be a real disaster...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what the big question is for guys looking down the road politically—at some point, John McCain is going to announce for president.  I think we all agree on that. He will be the Republican frontrunner, liked immensely by the American media, liked immensely by most Americans for his war heroism and for the way he presents himself.  He seems like a straight shooter.  He‘s going to have to make a decision, whether he supports this ongoing escalation of war in the Middle East or not.  Is he going to support bombing Iran or not as he goes—runs for office?

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  I think he will say I will support the president if he does it.  But Chris, the missing link here is the president doesn‘t have the authority to attack Iran.  That‘s an act of war.  You‘ve to get the Congress of the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Why would that stop him?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking about state of mind here?  The president of the United States may well believe he can do that as commander-in-chief...

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  That‘s an impeachable offense.

MATTHEWS:  ...and I believe the problem I have with a lot of these Democrats and all the politicians in this country is, for fear of being called a traitor, the day he attacks Iran and commits an act of war and kills us in that region forever, people like Hillary Clinton and all those politicians on Capitol Hill will be saluting.  It won‘t just be Joe Lieberman.  They‘ll all be saluting, for fear of looking like they‘re chicken.  You know what the problem is.  Nobody stands up against the president on this stuff. 

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  A lot of folks forced the president to go to Congress to get an authorization for war on Iraq.  And if Congress comes...

MATTHEWS:  Did he think he needed one? 

BUCHANAN:  Listen, yes, he did.  Eventually he came to believe he needed one. 

SHRUM:  No, he didn‘t—Pat, he didn‘t...

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  And I think he did the same now. 

SHRUM:  Pat, he didn‘t think he needed one.  He just fell the pressure to do it...

rMD+IN_rMDNM_BUCHANAN:  He felt he had to invade...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  I think he thought he could do that, and I think, Chris, where you‘re wrong is that a lot of those Democrats who stood up and saluted in 2002, would think of this as a disaster, would look ahead to their own party primaries and to the country, and would not stand there and cheer if the president launched some kind of crazy war on Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be a refreshing change from the bootlegging we‘ve seen for about three years.  Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Up next, will winning in the Northeast help Democrats win control of Congress?  Northeast HARDBALLers Michael Smerconish of Philly and Mike Barnicle of Boston will be here.  This is sort of an interesting baseball game coming up here, in our league of course.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Joe Lieberman‘s loss showed Democratic voters were unfriendly to a Bush-friendly candidate.  It‘s also a hostile environment up there for Republicans in the Northeast, Connecticut included. 

In today‘s “Washington Post,” Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach says, quote, “It is a combination of things, from the war in Iraq to gas prices, to what they‘re experiencing in their local areas.”  Could close races in the Northeast be the key to who controls Congress?

Our HARDBALLers today are two Northeastern people, two Northeasterners.  Michael Smerconish, a radio talk host in my town of Philadelphia, WPHT, and Mike Barnicle, an enormously famous person up in the Boston area.  He‘s on—he‘s also on MSNBC contributor and radio host for WTTK.

Mike Barnicle, let‘s look at the Connecticut race, just a state away from yours.  Joe lost there because of the war in Iraq, right? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Seventy-five percent of the war in Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  Does that mean danger for Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson and that other person running up there, Simmons? 

BARNICLE:  I think, Chris, anywhere in New England—I don‘t know about Pennsylvania—but anywhere in New England and even northern New York, anyone with an R after their name is an endangered species this fall. 

MATTHEWS:  Even Linc Chafee?

BARNICLE:  Linc Chafee might be a bit different because of his father, because of Rhode Island, the nature of Rhode Island, and because he‘s being challenged from the right.  He‘s being challenged from the right by a guy who I don‘t think fits the overall Rhode Island profile.  He might be able to sneak by in a narrow GOP primary, but I doubt it. 

MATTHEWS:  Actually, Laffey reminds me more of Michael Smerconish.   Michael, in the Pennsylvania area, we got three Republican congressmen, including an all-Irish race there in Bucks County.  You‘ve got Fitzpatrick, beaten (INAUDIBLE) by Murphy.  You got this lowest Murphy running—who‘s she running against, Gerlach?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO - PHILADELPHIA:  Gerlach.

MATTHEWS:  Is there—are those three guys going to get smashed by the anti-Iraq tsunami? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I don‘t know that they‘ll be defeated, but, you know, first and foremost, we‘ve got the hottest race in the nation, in terms of Santorum and Casey, which I think is a dog fight, despite all these polls that suggest that Bob Casey has a double-digit lead. 

And then the three suburban congressional races, I think that three Republicans, Chris, are suffering.  Because the Republican party, when faced with this choice of either going to the base or trying to appeal to moderates, in my opinion, is making a mistake and pursuing the base instead of the moderate vote.  I don‘t think that suburban Philadelphia voters went to hear about stem cells and what the president did.  I don‘t think they want to hear about gay rights from the president‘s standpoint.  I think on those issues, they‘re a stone cold loser. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, so therefore, we‘re seeing Mike and Mike, that Republicans trying to save themselves, they‘re talking about how well they‘ve delivered for their states or districts.  They‘re trying to the all politics is local argument, and trying to avoid nationalizing their elections.  Is that right, Mike Barnicle? 

BARNICLE:  Chris, it‘s not going to work.  It‘s not going to work, at least in this region of the country, because of the two fears that people have pinned to right now: economic security and physical security.  Terrorism, obviously, we‘ve seen that play out again over the past week.  But economic security—and the Republicans have been playing the fear factor card over the past six years.  People now asking, well, who‘s been in charge over the last six years?  You‘ve been talking about the tax hikes. 

And Michael is right, nobody‘s listened to stem cell or gay marriage now because they‘re losing whatever tax break they thought they got.  If you go up and buy one pair of Nike football cleats for your son for fall football practice, your tax break is gone.  Or you‘re losing it on your second trip to the gas station each and every week.  People are asking who‘s been in charge for these past six years, and I don‘t think they‘re going to buy into the fear factor. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, take a—Mike Smerconish, let me ask you about this big—the thing that happened up in Connecticut.  We were covering it last week.  Joe Lieberman lost because he supports the Iraq war.  I think everybody agrees that‘s the one issue up there. 

And all the Republicans are showing, as Bob Novak said in the paper today, “crocodile tears.”  Oh, it‘s too bad about old Joe, too bad about Joe.  Oh, it makes us feel so sad that he lost the primary, but yet the president is not endorsing Joe Lieberman.  Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican Party who had a lot of crocodile tears for him on this show last week, he‘s not endorsing him.  Why are the Republicans able to show such sympathy for a guy they have no intention of supporting? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think that they‘re conflicted because by all accounts, the Republican candidate in that race is a non-entity.  In fact, one wonders if when push comes to shove, he‘ll even be in the race at the end of this election, and they like Joe Lieberman. 

Lieberman has been a standup guy for the administration relative to Iraq, and there aren‘t too many of those, particularly in the Democrat Party.  What I think, my conclusion is that partisans and hardcore ideologues are the ones who come out in these primary elections and that‘s why a guy like Steve Laffey could give—and Barnicle is closer to it than I, but could give Chafee a run for his money. 

MATTHEWS:  Actually, Laffey is closer to you, Mike Smerconish.  You‘re the same kind of guy.  Let me ask—let‘s look at the new Joe Lieberman ad.  We‘re showing it to you here now free.  He‘s a freebie for Joe Lieberman.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  This week we had round one of the U.S. Senate race.  Now round two begins.  I want to thank my supporters and explain to all of you why I‘ve decided to fight on.  I‘m staying in this race because I want to keep working for the things that matter to you. 

I‘ve led the Senate on issues like national security, the creation of the 9/11 Commission, efforts to stop global warming, protect Social Security, and find cures for diseases like cancer and diabetes.  And I‘m staying because I want to help end the war in Iraq in a way that brings stability to the Mideast and doesn‘t leave us more vulnerable. 

So much needs to get done, but so little is actually getting done in Washington because our politics have become so partisan and polarized.  My 30 years of experience has been about bringing people together.  I‘m Joe Lieberman, and I approve this message because it‘s time for a new politics of unity and purpose. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I see dead people—that‘s Joe Lieberman pretending he‘s still running for the Senate.  He already lost.  We‘ll be right back with Mike Barnicle and Mike Smerconish. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia radio and Mike Barnicle of Boston.

President Bush‘s approval rating in the Northeast is 12 points lower right now than the national number, just 28 percent, according to the “Washington Post”-ABC News poll, compared to 40 percent nationally.  Do you feel, Michael Smerconish, in Philly even? 

SMERCONISH:  I absolutely do.  As a matter of fact, registration numbers, Chris, were just released over the weekend that show for the first time since the Civil War, the Philadelphia suburbs on the Pennsylvania side of the river are less than 50 percent in the GOP column. 

And in the past, you used to say, well, that‘s folks moving out of the city, but now I think it‘s disenchantment on the social issues on the part of folks who were Republicans, and that‘s what is going to hurt the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Mike.  Is that an issue?  Is the intervention attempted by the Republican leaders in the Schiavo case down in Florida, does that aggravate suburban Republicans, Michael Barnicle? 

BARNICLE:  I think up here in New England, Chris, there is a simmering rage over the behavior—the political behavior of this administration.  People are tremendously upset at the conduct of the war and how the war has been carried out, and now it appears we are in a civil war.  They are tremendously upset about that. 

They are not stupid, and they know that whenever the president or Karl Rove or any other major Republican stands up and plays the stem cell card or the gay marriage card, it‘s an insult to people around here.  It has been for quite some time, and it‘s a slow boil that is about to erupt, I think, in November. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s your bet looking nationwide?  I am looking at these races.  Of course, we all know about Santorum in Pennsylvania, Chafee up in Rhode Island, Talent in Missouri, DeWine in Ohio, Conrad Burns out in North Dakota.  Could we see a smasheroo, Michael, where they all go—all the marginal guys go in this next election in November, all the Republicans, because of what you just said? 

BARNICLE:  Well, I will tell you this much.  Events have yet to play out in Iraq, Chris.  We are inserting 7,000 troops from within the country, American soldiers, back into Baghdad in a police action.  That‘s an insurgent‘s dream, to have a collective target gathered in one large city, a collective target right there.  The casualty rate will increase. 

I think it‘s going to be a huge factor.  It‘s going to play against Republican incumbents, almost any incumbent, who waivers at all on the conduct of this war.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, I want to run that same list by you.  Everybody knows these are endangered Republicans, obviously, Santorum in Pennsylvania, Linc Chafee of Rhode Island, Talent down in Missouri, Mike DeWine in Ohio, and Conrad Burns for another reason, having to do with Abramoff, et cetera, et cetera.  But do you think we could see them all knocked off, all the ducks go down? 

SMERCONISH:  It‘s possible.  I don‘t think that it‘s a slam dunk for the Ds, unless they articulate an alternative.  I mean, look at that Santorum, Casey race right now. 

Santorum and Casey are indistinguishable on an exit strategy for Iraq, indistinguishable on Alito, indistinguishable on guns, abortion and stem cells, and all that he‘s articulated so far—Casey—is, well, I am not that guy, Rick Santorum, and I think that there is a lot of that going on across the country.  I don‘t think that‘s enough. 

BARNICLE:  That‘s clearly the Democrats‘ biggest vulnerability too, Chris.  Michael is absolutely right.  It‘s a case of, you know, well what do you believe?  And what is your plan?  The first Democrat running statewide, nationwide, whatever, who stands up and says look, this stuff at the airport is crazy, we have to get into the business of profiling.  The first Democrat who does that, people are going to rush for that.

SMERCONISH:  Amen to that.  I totally agree.

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, we have got to watch how the Israelis do it.  They‘re professionals at this.  They check people out, not what they‘re carrying. 

SMERCONISH:  Right, it‘s like, Chris—thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Mike Barnicle, thank you.  Michael Smerconish.  Play HARDBALL with us again tomorrow.  Tomorrow on Tuesday our guests will include Nevada Senate candidate Jack Carter, son of the former president.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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