updated 10/23/2006 12:43:36 PM ET 2006-10-23T16:43:36

Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Howard Fineman, Dana Milbank, Hilary Rosen, Melanie Morgan, Jonathan Alter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Bad news from Iraq.  One of those Shia militias storms a city in the south, while the two-month American effort to secure Baghdad is called disappointing.  Rumsfeld now says the Iraqi government wants to take over the war from the U.S. sooner rather than later.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I am Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

It is war.  President Bush meets with the top U.S.‘s top military commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, today.  And tomorrow, the president holds a teleconference with Abizaid and General Casey, America‘s top commander in the field.  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, are expected to be in that meeting tomorrow. 

With daily reports showing an increase in sectarian violence, and with the death toll mounting for U.S. troops, the pressure on the president is building.  This less than three weeks out from the election. 

War is breaking out in the Capitol as well here in Washington.  A new ad put out by Republicans is being compared to the infamous daisy ad that Lyndon Johnson ran to scare people against Barry Goldwater back in 1964. 

And the fighting over the House page scandal is turning into a bar room brawl, with economic conservatives blaming the religious conservatives, and religious conservatives blaming the Foley scandal. 

More on all this political warfare in a moment, but first, as promised, our nightly report on battleground Iraq, direct from Richard Engel in Baghdad.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS:  Chris, what is troubling about what‘s going on in Amara, a takeover of a radical Shiite militia group of a major southern Iraq city, is that it is showing how weak and ineffective the central Iraqi government has become. 

The fighting in Amara right now is between two rival Shiite factions:

Muqtada al-Sadr‘s Madhi army one side that, for the last few days, has taken over police stations, set fire to three of them, killed at least 15 people; and the militia group that was already in control of the city, the Badr Brigade, both of them tied to Iran. 

The Iraqi government is now effectively just acting as an intermediary, trying to work out peace between these two rival factions, not exert its own authority in any real way. 

This is the pattern, or a troubling pattern, that could emerge across the country for not only the British troops operating in southern Iraq, but also American forces.  If they intervene on the ground, they find themselves increasingly in between an Iraqi on Iraqi fight, as is the case down in Amara. 

But if they pull back, it has become clear that the central Iraqi government does not have the authority to exert its own power over most of the regions of the country. 

Just yesterday radical Sunni insurgents were declaring an independent state in Ramadi, an independent Taliban-like regime.  It was mostly a show for the cameras, but that is their tendency. 

Today, a militia group taking control of a city in the south.  The Kurds in the north have already effectively broken away from the country.  So if American troops pull back, they lose control.  If they go out and try and establish their presence, they are caught up in increasingly bloody and deadly Iraqi on Iraqi fighting—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Richard Engel in Baghdad. 

Retired general Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry division during Desert Storm, and he visited Iraq last spring.  He is now an MSNBC military analyst. 

General McCaffrey, your assessment of this situation where two Shia militias are battling over control of a city in southern Iraq with the government we‘ve put up over there almost irrelevant. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Well, I think that‘s increasingly what we are seeing, is a lack of the ability to do governance on the part of the al-Maliki regime.  It is not just that there are Shia fighting Sunnis.  It‘s—within the Sunni insurgency, there are dozens of factions.  There are foreign fighters.  There are criminal elements. 

And in the Shia part of the country, particularly, the Brits are darn near out of the country.  They‘re down to 9,000 troops now.  They‘re leaving a mess.  It‘s neighborhood against neighborhood in Basra.  So there is no coherent insurgency we are dealing with. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the front in Baghdad, where American forces were sent in two months ago to get control there.  How does that look? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, it is an odd situation.  You know, General Abizaid properly reports that in Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, these people are begging U.S. combat infantry battalions to stay because they see them as their protectors.  It‘s the darndest reversal of fortunes imaginable. 

But, Chris, this is a city of five million people.  We have got 8,000 troops there, primarily from the 4th Infantry Division, reinforced of other elements of the Stryker Brigade.  We cannot maintain order unless we are willing to take on the Sadr regime in that part of the city, and also, I might add, going into Ramadi which is an open rebellion. 

Right now, we are trying to hope that the Iraqis will step forward and they will take control.  Thirty-five thousand Iraqi security forced in Baghdad—so far, they are not up to it. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of Secretary Rumsfeld‘s call today for the Iraqis to act sooner or later to take responsibility for security from the United States coalition forces? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think that is where we are right now.  I think it was sort of a widespread assumption on the part of the political leadership in Washington that, by Christmas, we have got to see that they can demonstrate control, particularly in the urban areas.  We cannot do that. 

Chris, we‘re going to take significant casualties trying to create law and order in Baghdad, 72 dead so far, probably several hundred wounded.  We are losing a battalion a month.  So Maliki has got until Christmas, in my judgment. 

We won‘t have a sensible conversation in the U.S. until after 7 November, and then we had better sit down and figure out what we are going to do, because this is not working right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Try to imagine if you can—well, we have to be careful here.  What do you think that Abizaid was called into the president for today?  He called him up from Tampa from Central Command to the White House, a surprise call ahead—a day ahead of the general meeting with Pace and the others and Secretary Rumsfeld.  Why do you think he was called for a special meeting with the president, General Abizaid? 

MCCAFFREY:  Everybody deals with this guy.  He is one of the best people we have had in uniform in the last 50 years.  You know, he is an incredible scholar, Stanford fellow, Olmsted Scholar, Harvard Master‘s degree, bilingual in Arabic.  He has tremendous grasp of the region. 

He and our ambassador on the ground in Iraq, Khalilzad, are real national treasures.  I‘m sure the president wants to listen to him.  He has got pretty good judgment.  He will probably give them a good feel for what is actually going on on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any scent out there, do you detect any movement that would suggest, or any evidence to suggest there may be a change in U.S. policy?  I mean, I was struck by the fact that Rumsfeld came out and publicly said to the Iraqi government get your army out there in the field, take care of security faster than we had planned.  Let‘s get it going. 

MCCAFFREY:  Current strategy is unsustainable.  Once the election is passed, the American people will walk away from the war.  It is $7 billion a month.  I think we‘re going to reassess this.  We have got to engage Syria, we‘ve got to engage the Iranians, the Turks, the Saudis, get them involved in trying to find a solution.

At some point, I think we‘re going to tell the U.S. armed forces, step in and break heads and Sadr City.  We can‘t tolerate a situation where 20 percent of the Iraqi population is in the national Capitol, and you cannot drive around there as a contractor, diplomat or reporter during the day or night hours. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are saying what?  Make our army more aggressive over there?  Take over more responsibilities in this effort to stabilize the country?  

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I don‘t think we‘re taking over more responsibilities.  We can‘t root out insurgents neighborhood by neighborhood.  We can go in and break heads, and right now, I think we have lost control in the streets of the Ramadi, in the streets of Sadr City.  We are going to need a breathing spell.  At some point we‘re going to have to fight.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t get it.  Do you think the United States should move forward and take over more responsibility for winning this war, or pull back and exceed the responsibility to the Iraqi government.  Which is it?   

MCCAFFREY:  I think we are going have to adequately resource the Iraqi Security Forces.  Only they can maintain law and order, particularly in the urban areas.  However, I believe right now it is drifting in the wrong direction.  We are going to have to put down a marker, a stronger marker. 

We have got to regain control in Baghdad in the Sadr City, and in Ramadi, without which I think it‘s going to increasingly escalate.  We have got to dampen this thing down.  It may be U.S. combat power that does that in a short run, 60, 90 day campaign.  I‘d be unsurprised.  If that does not happen once the election is over, as well as calling up U.S. National Guard brigades for subsequent combat tours. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a possible historic parallel.  The president said the other day that he thought there may be a parallel between what happened back in Vietnam in ‘68 with the Tet Offensive, and what‘s going on now.  In other words, a major push by the enemy for the TV cameras, for the election politics here in the U.S.  Do you see that similarity? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, Tom Friedman is a genius.  He has got this thing from the start.  The president was favorably commenting on his article, as he should.  But I think we are talking about U.S. domestic politics, not the reality on the ground. 

The reality on the ground is our combat companies move anywhere in Iraq day and night and cannot be stopped.  The U.S. armed forces are unassailable in this combat environment.  The problem is, how do we build political consensus, jump start the economy?  That‘s the piece that isn‘t happening.  How do we build an Iraqi security force given the equipment and the material, I might ad, where they actually step forward.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about another parallel.  Back in the fall of ‘63, President Kennedy was trying to get the government of Diem, Ngo Diem, to try to get tougher in fighting the Viet Cong... 

MCCAFFREY:  Don‘t go there, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  He was talking to Walter Cronkite, he was talking to David Brinkley.  He would have these conversations on the telephone or in public, on television, and he would say, look, if you don‘t get your act together, you have got to fight the thing.  We can‘t fight it.  Do you think the president is trying to tell Maliki right now, look, you‘ve got to win this war, we are not going win it for you?

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, I thought you were going to say that eventually, we told Diem‘s generals to kill him, and they did. 

I think the rumor right now floating around is we are going to overthrow the Maliki regime, install another one.  We‘re not going to do anything of the sort.

MATTHEWS:  What about pressuring him?  Pressing Maliki by threatening to withdraw? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think that‘s legitimate.  I think once the election is over, we ought to put down some private markers and say, we are going be down to seven to 10 brigades by next summer, or we‘re going to start breaking the U.S. Army, Marine Crops and Special Operations command.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey. 

Coming up, we are going to talk about the politics of this with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank.

And later, HARDBALLers Hilary Rosen and Melanie Morgan are going to be here.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s 18 days now until the election, and big questions still loom large.  Will President Bush bring his party down?  Will the Iraq war drive voters to the polls negatively?  Will Mark Foley keep conservatives at home? 

Here to answer those questions directly and completely are “Nesweek‘s” Howard Fineman and “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank. 

Let‘s take a look at some numbers here right now.  We have got here “The National Journal” is our partner here, and of course, this magazine.  It‘s some magazine I got here, “The National Journal.”  Absolutely amazing. 

I get it on weekends.  It has got some hot stuff. 

Let‘s look at their insiders poll.  I love this stuff.  What issue would most motivate your party‘s base in the midterm elections?  In other words, you are a Republican, you‘re asking the expert Republicans what is really working out there to get your base to show up. 

Here it is, for the first time on our stage, ladies and gentlemen, not tax cuts, not terrorism—fear of Democratic majority.  I just love that.  Along with, Dana, finally they‘ve done it.  They said the worst thing is going to happen is we‘re going to lose and we‘re going to win.  That‘s the bogeyman here. 

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST:  That‘s about—and it works the opposite way for the Democrats.  Their best issue is, they think, is just run against Bush, run against...

MATTHEWS:  War in Iraq and Bush.

MILBANK:  Well, what was interesting to me is they are devoid of issues—certainly, both sides are devoid of anything positive in this whole thing—and it‘s just frighten everybody to death about all these possibilities.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Howard, there you have it.  The Democrats, the Republicans are saying the worst thing is happening is Pelosi is coming, they‘ve got to build her up, and here is the Democrats saying what you already have is pretty bad.  You have got a war and you‘ve got a president you don‘t like. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Well, I went over to the Mayflower hotel here in Washington today to hear the president speak to a not quite full ballroom of Republican donors, and he said they—meaning the Democrats—are the party of cut and run.  He used that phrase again.  And he said on Iraq, we are going to stay in Iraq, we are going to fight in Iraq, and we are going to win in Iraq.  I thought I was listening to the football coach at halftime at Odessa (inaudible)...

MATTHEWS:  Sounds like veni, vidi, vici.  

FINEMAN:  But the point was, he was saying, after us, the deluge.  You know, we‘re going to lose the war on terror, Osama bin Laden is going to be emboldened, we‘re going to show weakness, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  That‘s their mantra right now, and it worked reasonably well in that crowd. 

But if it didn‘t work well in that crowd, it is not going to work anywhere. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it obvious that someone about to be bumped from office will cling to office with scare tactics?

MILBANK:  Sure, although these things, scare tactics, were used in 2002 and 2004.  The difference is, they don‘t seem to be working anymore this time.  And they are getting a little bit harsher in terms of, you know, making stark comparisons, suggesting the Democrats are with bin Laden.

It‘s not just running against the possibility of a Democratic Congress.  It is against this woman who would be the speaker.  It‘s against these two black guys who would be the chairmen of these powerful committees... 

MATTHEWS:  Have they gotten ethnic like that...

MILBANK:  This gay fellow in (inaudible)...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They really actually said Conyers or someone else is going to be chairman—or Charlie are going to be chairmen of those committees? 

MILBANK:  The president yesterday spoke about the man who would become the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the woman who would become the speaker of the House, and then went through all these votes.  The president is not going to come out...

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think they‘ve gone as so far as to talk about race here, and they haven‘t talked about Nancy Pelosi as a woman per se. 

MILBANK:  Of course not.  But that‘s the subtext, and that‘s what the others are saying.

FINEMAN:  I don‘t necessarily disagree.  I think all you have to do is say to the Republican base, all you have to do is say that Nancy Pelosi is a Republican from San Francisco.  And to the Republican base, that still has meaning.  I mean, they have been using—Republicans have been using that for 22 years, ever since, you know, the so-called San Francisco Democrats were invented.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hasn‘t their readiness to blame the San Francisco Democrats for everything been flagged somewhat by the Foley scandal? 

FINEMAN:  One would think so.  One would think so.  And if you look at the numbers—we have a new poll in the field right now, and we‘re starting to ask about likely voters, not just registered voters.  But as you get close to the election, you ask people, well, are you really going to show up?  And the difference in the generic preference between Democrats and Republicans grows wider...

MATTHEWS:  Meaning Democrats are more likely to show up.

FINEMAN:  The Democrats are more likely to show up, and the Republicans are not—and I think one reason why the Republicans are not is that the Foley scandal has become a kind of emblem for everything.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ve talked about so far what excites Democrats is the chance to get rid of Bush and the war in Iraq.  What excites Republicans is to keep the Democrats from doing that.  Now, let‘s look at, according to “The National Journal”—again, these are insider, sort of Washington types, inside-the-Beltway types who follow politics relentlessly—the issues that will most discourage the Republican base.  And it‘s how the Republicans run the Congress.  That makes a lot of sense to me, Dana.

MILBANK:  Sure, and that‘s where—that‘s sort of a catch-all. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s all the slop with the overspending, the Bob Ney, the Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley...

MILBANK:  You have a sex scandal, you have an influence scandal, and then you have a Congress that they say is complicit in an unpopular war.  So you add those three things together.  Then the possibility of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How about the president‘s day the last 24 hours?  He campaigns in Scranton for a congressman who‘s got an infidelity problem.  He‘s been begging for forgiveness on public...

FINEMAN:  Dana drove all the way up to Pennsylvania to cover that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you wrote about it.  And then they have this thing down here, where you still got the macaca attacks on George Allen.  He now defends a guy accused of racism and infidelity.  This president is on quite a moral majority tour here, isn‘t he?

MILBANK:  And of course, last week, on October 13th, proclaimed that this would be a national character counts week.

MATTHEWS:  So is he heading down to West Palm to save the Foley seat now?

MILBANK:  You never know.

FINEMAN:  He may.  But here‘s the point.  Those are places that...

MATTHEWS:  He must be holding his nose, the president.

FINEMAN:  I‘m sure.

MATTHEWS:  He must say, why do I have this job?

FINEMAN:  But Chris, here‘s the thing, he has to go to places and the Republicans have to put money in places where Bush ran well in 2004.  In other words, they are looking at a landscape that is collapsing around them, the Republicans are.  So Bush and all the money have to go at what are Republican strongholds and places like Virginia and northeastern Pennsylvania have been that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s smack the Democrats now on equal time here.  What is their biggest weakness.  What is going to really discourage Democrats, liberals especially, from coming out?  It is the timidity they‘ve shown in opposing the war in Iraq and the lack of a message. 

Well, let‘s start with that first one.  It‘s only a nod, or a point ahead.  They still—have they been ever willing to just say we think the Iraq war was a mistake, as a party?  If you read the literature, they don‘t quite say it.  They say the way the war was fought, the way it was run, blah, blah, blah.  They are not going to come out say no, this was a blunder. 

MILBANK:  Yes, and that‘s why I‘m sure we heard in the president‘s speech today—This is exactly what he did up there.  IN fact, he brought out Joe Lieberman and said look, they ran him out of the party for his position.   

MATTHEWS:  So, he has got the Scoop Jackson role now forever.  He‘s not going to be the guy that they—he used to be the leader of the party, now he‘s been cast aside, right?  

FINEMAN:  Well, but, I think that that is interesting, because what that poll says there is that a lot of people in the Democratic base want a stronger, more activist message.  But I think those people are going turn out anyway.  Even without the Democrats doing it, those people are angry.  They think they have a better chance of getting policy somewhat near what they want if they have a Democratic Congress. 

So even though the Democrats are kind of inept on this, they are still going to benefit from it.  Because the numbers in ours and everybody else‘s polls show that the war in Iraq is so unpopular that they‘re going to turn out—the opponents are going to turn out. 

MATTHEWS:  -- all the way to the top, like John Kerry, and all the way down to Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, and sometimes—you see that ad they are running up in Pennsylvania, because he won‘t answer my question.  Mr. Murphy, you fought in Iraq, was it smart to go there or not. 

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back.  He gives me the Jack Benny pause.  We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman and Dana Milbank.  That‘s for younger people, that‘s a slow response. 

And later, our HARDBALLers Melanie Morgan and Hilary Rosen will fight it out.  That will be interesting, over the party and who has the plan, 18 days to go to win this election.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank. 

Howard, what do you make of this new ad now, we can show it while we are talking.  It has got a sort of a ticking, tick tock going on and pictures of bin Laden.  And it sort of suggests that if we don‘t do something about bin Laden, he is just going to gradually build and build and build his strength and blow us up, not one terrorist attack, but blow us up.  It‘s pretty strong.  What do you make—there‘s that tick, tick, like “60 Minutes” there.

FINEMAN:  Well, this is the heart of the Republican‘s last and they think strongest, and in some ways, only argument.  Ken Mehlman, I had a long talk with him the other day.  He said don‘t you think that this is the defining issue of our time, Howard.  That‘s what he said.  And George Bush is the man, in their view, who has the position of strength, who has the attitude of taking the war to the enemy.  They want to talk about this.  They don‘t want to talk about Iraq.  They want to make the picture as big, as big, as big as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  But we, unfortunately for that argument, know the NIE argued, the National Intelligence Estimate, which says that the war in Iraq as created further recruitment, more recruitment than before.   

MILBANK:  Yes, I mean, a couple of things on this ad, one is, it is not apparently such a huge ad-buy.  This is sort of the Chris Matthews ad, so that they can get you to talk about and maybe they will get --  

MATTHEWS:  Just for us.  Well they‘ve got to put the letters—they‘ve got to put them bigger sized letters so people can read the damn ad.  That would help.  I just can‘t see it. 

MILBANK:  They should consult with you before they put these things out.  The other danger here, of course, is that by putting bin Laden on the screen, and getting larger and larger, it is a reminder that he hasn‘t been brought out. 

MATTHEWS:  Could that be before the 2004 presidential reelection of President Bush, that that weekend, that Friday, there was a bin Laden tape release.  Is this the (INAUDIBLE) way of releasing a new tape?  Put out your own?   

FINEMAN:  But Dana‘s point is a good one, which is, it doesn‘t have the impact to help the Republicans that it used to have for two reasons.  First of all, the war in Iraq looms larger than this big picture thing they are talking about.  And secondly, I think people wonder why we haven‘t caught bin Laden and they also don‘t think we‘re safer as a result of having gone into Iraq.  So this ad begs the question of who is smarter about how we fight what everybody agrees is the enemy. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t the Democrats put out an ad for the last two weeks of this election called “Blunder, biggest mistake in history/”  We wanted to get the people the president said he was going to get, the people that knocked down the buildings in New York and at the Pentagon.  He said he was going to go get them, the bin Laden people.  Instead, he went—it would be like attacking China after Pearl Harbor.  He went the wrong way.  Why don‘t they run that ad?

MILBANK:  They may yet do it, but they don‘t even want to have the

whole fight on those ground.  They—look, if we‘re talking about Mark

Foley

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How‘s that for a philosophical question?

MILBANK:  Which gets back to that “National Journal” poll about the biggest problem being they don‘t have a coherent message.  So, look, we spent a year saying the Democrats don‘t have a message so they can‘t win.  Now we‘re saying—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How can they lose by calling Iraq a blunder.  How can that hurt them at this point?  Look at the numbers, they grow every week, of people who think it was a mistake.  It didn‘t reduce the number of terrorists.  It didn‘t make us safer.  That‘s the people talking.

MILBANK:  Not only that, but the polls show now that the American people regard the Democrats as better on the issue of who can handle the wider war on terror, not just Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one way to handle the wider war on terrorism is not having the entire U.S. army bogged down in the desert. 

MILBANK:  Exactly, and I think you are right.  As a matter of political morality, as well as strategy, they should be doing it now.  They should be. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the best.  You‘re the best.  By the way, your “Washington Post” is lucky to have you, but I‘m sure “Newsweek” is going to get you soon.  Anyway, thank you Dana Milbank and Howard Fineman.  Up next, HARDBALLers Melanie Morgan and Hilary Rosen will battle over who may have the winning political strategy to close out this campaign. 

It‘s only a couple of weekends away.  And then we‘re going to have “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter talk.  And by the way, this weekend on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert interviews the man with the hot hand these days, Barack Obama of Illinois.  Is he going to run or not?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now to the news that the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, on the House side, Pete Hoekstra, has suspended the security clearance of a Democratic staffer over allegations that that Democratic staffer leaked parts of the National Intelligence Estimates.  Here with the details is NBC‘s Mike Viqueira.  Mike, thank you.  This is kind of inside baseball, but it is rare for a chairman of a committee to whack a staffer so publicly.   

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I‘ll tell you, Jane Harman, the top Democrat on that committee, and Pete Hoekstra, the newly installed chairman, are at each other‘s throats lately.  And what has happened is that the chairman, Pete Hoekstra, has in fact suspended the security clearance for a top Democratic staffer. 

The suspicion is that that staffer went to the committee on September 20th and pulled a copy of that now famous National Intelligence Estimate, the one that said that Iraq had become a cause celebre for jihadists.  Three days later the story appeared in the “New York Times,” and Republicans are calling into question the timing of that staffer having pulled that report, just three days earlier.  It was known that President Bush himself suspected that the leak had come from Congress.  A letter was written back at that time, demanding an investigation of this staffer. 

Now, Democrats are incensed.  They say this is completely unfair.  First of all, they say that hundreds of staffers have had access to that document since last May.  Secondly, they say, it is clearly a case of retaliation.  On Tuesday there was an enormous fight, again between Hoekstra and Harman, over Harman‘s unilateral release of an unclassified Intelligence Committee report that pointed out that Duke Cunningham had thrown about 70 to 80 million dollars worth of business to his cronies in return for favors and bribes. 

They say that there is no way that this guy could have done it, this gentleman, this staffer, who pulled in for, incidentally, Representative John Tierney of Massachusetts.  Tierney is out tonight with a statement.  He wants an investigation.  Everyone is outraged.  The staffer has hired Jonathan Turley, of George Washington University, to defend him.  He just called me and said there is no way that this staffer is the leaker of that document, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Viqueira, thank you very much for that report. 

With 18 days before the midterm elections, Iraq and Mark Foley still dominate the news.  Here to break down what both parties need to do to win that day, that‘s election day, is Hilary Rosen.  She‘s a Democratic strategist.  And Melanie Morgan.  We are great to her here from the West Coast.  She‘s a radio talk show host.  She‘s been on many times.  She‘s got a hot new book out called “America Mourning.” That is M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G.  The new book details the tragic loss of two American soldiers in Iraq and how the reactions of their families were so very different.  Tell us about it.   

MELANIE MORGAN, AUTHOR, “AMERICAN MOURNING”:  The book is about really our efforts to honor American soldiers who have died in Iraq and the vastly different reactions that people are having.  It‘s almost a micro-chasm of what is happening in the country, Chris.  We are riven by this war.  We have split apart.  Our families are arguing and we are all doing it among ourselves, but this book is about the extreme grieving process that takes place among gold star families. 

One is Cindy Sheehan‘s family.  The other is Justin Johnson‘s family.  These two young men became best friends at their military training in Fort Hood, in Texas, went to Iraq and were killed within six days of each other. 

And then, of course, what happens afterwards.  It is a compelling story,

really more from the Johnson side of the family than it is from the Sheehan

side, because the Sheehan side -

MATTHEWS:  Well, we know the Sheehan side.  She‘s been on.  She‘s explained the policy that took her son, took her son‘s life.  Let me ask you, what is the other family like—story like? 

MORGAN:  The other family is Joe and Jan Johnson.  They come from six generations of military men and women and, who have served their country honorably and what happens is that after September 11, like so many people, they joined.  Justin, the youngest, joined first.  Joshua, the oldest, joined second and then Joe Johnson joined third. 

And then after Justin was shipped off to Iraq and he was tragically killed in that teaming slum of a Sadr City, Joe Johnson decided, at 45, that he was going get himself assigned to replace his son as a gunner on a Humvee, one of the most dangerous jobs, and avenge his sons death, because he rightly blamed the terrorists for murdering his son and all the others, Casey as well, and all the other young American men and women. 

He didn‘t blame the president.  Cindy Sheehan directed her anger and rage and grief at the president of the United States.  He directed it at the terrorists. 

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGISTS:  I look forward to reading the book.  I think it‘s—those two young men probably would have no idea what their deaths have wrought, in terms of how emblematic it is of how divided this country is.  Just this week, we are going through is this being used politically or not.  It feels like overwhelmingly it is. 

The president has gotten signals from the James Baker, the chairman of the Iraq Study Group.  He‘s gotten signals from all of the generals that they need to change strategies, that they need to do things differently.  And everything that comes back is we can‘t do anything until after the election.  So—

MORGAN:  And that‘s unfortunate Hilary, you‘re right.

ROSEN:  It‘s unfortunate.  The fact that we are now in this position where what we do as a country to deal with a horrible war, that shouldn‘t have happened in the first place—

MORGAN:  I disagree.  It did.  It should have started in the first place. 

ROSEN:  That now we can‘t actually figure out how to save our own soldiers‘ lives until after the election.  How is it—How many soldiers is it OK to die between now and the election because they have to say, oh no, no, no, we need to maintain power at all costs. 

MORGAN:  How many American lives are protected as a result of our soldiers being overseas and fighting in Iraq and making that the central theater. 

ROSEN:  Melanie, you know these were not the terrorists who attacked us.  When you call them terrorists, they are not the terrorists that attacked us. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  The only thing we are doing is generating more terrorists. 

MORGAN:  They are the ones who want to kill us now. 

ROSEN:  We have guns in their faces.  Of course they want to kill us.

MORGAN:  Are you suggesting that because of their extreme fundamentalism, that they would not want to kill us?  We are just over there irritating the heck out of them for the fun of it? 

ROSEN:  No, I think that they are in the middle of a religion sectarian war that we have stepped into. 

MORGAN:  They are in the middle of a Jihad, a Jihad against the west. 

ROSEN:  There is no question that there is danger for the West in the Middle East, but we are not addressing that problem by fighting in the streets of Baghdad. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the American voter out there.  The

numbers are shifting against the war, we all know

*

MATTHEWS:  ... in support. 

MORGAN:  I have to—they have to say, “Look, what‘s the alternative?”  Are we just going to leave Iraq, pack up our guns, our Humvees and our kids and come home and leave that to the people of Iraq, the jihadists and the terrorists and the sectarian violence?  I don‘t think so. 

We need to honor the deaths already of almost 3,000 young men, because if we don‘t, we‘re going have some serious problems in keeping our military forces motivated in the future.  And we would be dishonoring their deaths if we did. 

We also need to think about what‘s going to happen with Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  You like—we had John McCain on this week.  He said we need 100,000 more troupe troops over to win this war?  What do you think?

MORGAN:  I think that‘s probably right.

MATTHEWS:  More troops?

MORGAN:  I think that—yes, we should have had a lot more troops in the very beginning. 

Look, I‘m not a cheerleader for the president of the United States.  I believe that he made the right decision, and he did it for the right reasons.  I don‘t agree with all of the way the war has been prosecuted.  I think we should have gone in and just blitzed Iraq.  We haven‘t had a serious war, really, since World War II. 

MATTHEWS:  What would—what would that mean, please?

MORGAN:  It would—it means that we should have gone in and been prepared to win it, not just to do—to avoid collateral damage.  And I think that‘s one of the mistakes that this administration has made. 

MATTHEWS:  How many Iraqis do you figure have been killed so far?

MORGAN:  I have no idea, because there‘s figures all over the map, Chris.  I mean, it depends on who‘s doing the survey and asking the questions. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you hearing from the administration?

MORGAN:  I am not hearing from the administration.  I‘m not in close contact with them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re saying something like 50.  And the other experts are saying 600,000.  So it‘s probably in the low hundred thousands, you take a middle position.  You think that‘s not enough violence over there?

MORGAN:  I didn‘t say that. 

MATTHEWS:  Use a blitz and don‘t worry about collateral damage?

MORGAN:  I said in the very beginning when we came in, we needed to win.  We needed to use our guns and we needed to use our superior air forces.  And we needed to win.  We didn‘t choose that path.

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t the problem—I don‘t want to get into that.  Wasn‘t the problem that the army that was supposed to face us in the field sort of melded back into the cities, took off their uniforms and disappeared? 

MORGAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So who would we have fought?  I remember—we all remember those first couple weeks was relatively calm.  The statues were coming down.  I thought then I was wrong all along, that the president was right.  For a couple weeks I said, “God, he was right.  It is going be pretty easy. 

They do want us come in there as liberators.” 

And then it began to slowly creep back, all the people in the military on the other side, with their uniforms gone, start building IEDs. 

MORGAN:  Because we did not...

MATTHEWS:  And then all of a sudden the Shia militia took over and they started fighting.  Well, you get in here.  But we saw how this thing evolved.

MORGAN:  We did see it.  We all saw it together.  And what we did not do, which is what we should have done, was in Ramadi and Fallujah we should have gone in and killed the enemy.

MATTHEWS:  Who?

MORGAN:  Killed the jihadists.  They were there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Who‘s the enemy?

MATTHEWS:  They only fight people if they fight you.  How do you figure out who the enemy is unless they‘re fighting you?

MORGAN:  They were fighting us at the time, at the very beginning of the war.  And instead, we let them slip into the shadows. 

ROSEN:  And the reason I wasn‘t talking is I think that the more that they keep doing this, the American people aren‘t buying it.  And so let them talk to themselves forever. 

We were going in and toppling Saddam Hussein‘s army.  When we let the army go, they became a bunch of angry, disaffected soldiers, who joined loosely with terrorists in other countries.  And all of the sudden terrorists came in to Iraq to see this as a potential opportunity to fight the Americans. 

That‘s what happened.  We weren‘t going in there to fight al Qaeda. 

Al Qaeda wasn‘t in Iraq. 

MORGAN:  Oh, yes, al Qaeda was in Iraq. 

ROSEN:  There‘s no evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq was actually connected to this... 

MATTHEWS:  Al Zarqawi was there. 

ROSEN:  Well, Zarqawi...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know if there was a force (ph).  And by the way, the best government (ph) military estimates so far, only 5 percent of the people we‘re fighting right now are terrorists.  The president was very clear in his press conference this week. 

We face problems with the militia from the Shia neighborhoods.  We‘ve got the insurgents‘ hold-outs, the old Ba‘athists fighting us from the Sunni areas.  And we have this other element called the terrorists.  The president was very honest about that.

And the question is, how big a problem are the terrorists even today?  Are we really sitting in the middle of two big forces, the Sunni and the Shia, and the terrorists are sitting out there, ready to exploit the situation?  And the question is when can we finish the job?

We‘ll be back with Hilary Rosen and Melanie Morgan.  They‘re staying with us.

And later “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter is going to be here. 

And on Tuesday, it‘s a full day of politics on our whole network, MSNBC.  Decision 2006.  We‘re calling it “Battleground America”.  Join David Gregory, Campbell Brown, Joe Scarborough, Lester Holt, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell and myself with all the political news just two weeks before the election. 

Plus interviews with candidates in hot races nationwide, including Rick Santorum, Harold Ford, Jim Talent, Claire McCaskill.  That‘s Tuesday beginning at 9 Eastern on MSNBC.

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.  I love that term.  Like Bull Halsey (ph) or you know, Patton.  And radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, the author of a new book called “American Mourning”. 

Melanie, you‘re never with us.  Now you are.  Explain the Foley scandal. 

MORGAN:  The Foley scandal was—I‘m a mother of a 14-year-old, so I absolutely found it disgusting and a little creepy and weird.  But the fact of the matter is that a lot of the conservative base that I talk to go, “OK, yes, we get it.  It‘s over.  Done with.  Next.  Let‘s move on.  He‘s gone.  He‘s gone.”

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a political—but that‘s a—let me ask you, are you satisfied that Denny Hastert didn‘t know about it?

MORGAN:  No, I‘m not.  And I frankly—you know, I don‘t really care about Denny Hastert. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to see him stick around?

MORGAN:  No, I would not.  And I‘m more mad at him about the pork spending and what‘s going on on there. 

MATTHEWS:  What is that—put them both together and what do you get?

MORGAN:  You get an angry...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... some leadership?

MORGAN:  You get a disaffected base is what you get.  You get a lot of people going, “OK, I don‘t know that I like that.” 

But again, as you said earlier in the show, there are a lot of people who go, “OK, well, let‘s say Nancy Pelosi,” who is from my city, San Francisco, “do we really want her in charge of moving the levers of power in Washington D.C.?”  And then say, “Mm-mm.” 

MATTHEWS:  Do you really think that either party would have expelled this guy?  I mean, the Republicans, they‘re all saying, “Oh, we would have expelled him, we knew about his somewhat over-the-top—let‘s put it that way—sexually innuendo laden e-mails and IM messages to these kids.” 

But do you think they really would have expelled him over this if they caught him by themselves quietly?  If they knew about it and we didn‘t know about it would they have expelled him privately?  Or was it only because it went public?

ROSEN:  The issue is whether it would have gone public or whether they would have just gotten rid of him. 

MATTHEWS:  You think they would have gotten rid of him?

ROSEN:  I think the Democrats would have gotten rid of him. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

ROSEN:  I think that everything has changed now, and I think that what has happened...

MATTHEWS:  They didn‘t get rid of Gary Studds.

MORGAN:  Yes.

ROSEN:  That was many years ago.  And they didn‘t get rid of Dan Crane, a Republican, either.  So everybody keeps talking about Gary Studds and not Dan Crane.  It was a Republican and Democrat.

MORGAN:  You know, I heard some rumors from... 

MATTHEWS:  I want to hear.  This is rich.  Everybody says—because you think times are getting tougher.

ROSEN:  I think times have changed and standards have really dramatically changed.  People do not feel safe letting their kids out of their sight, much less going away. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s get the—the D.C. age of consent, which means you can have sex without being involved in a statutory rape situation, is 16.  Now of course, in loco parentis situations, changes that a bit.  Clearly—obviously, if a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old have sex, you‘re not going to put the guy in jail for life or anything.  You may not like it, but it‘s not a capital, big-time offense. 

But in this case, do you think that 17 or 16 -- when is it?  Eighteen? 

ROSEN:  First of all...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not pedophilia.  We keep using that term.  It‘s not pedophilia.

ROSEN:  These e-mails from these kids clearly show they were uncomfortable with this guy‘s advances. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROSEN:  So then it is pedophilia.  Then it is an unwarranted abuse of power.  I‘m not saying you can‘t have a consensual relationship at 17 or 18 with an older person. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to stand her and say I don‘t think either party would have kicked anybody out if they found out about this. 

MORGAN:  I agree with that.

MATTHEWS:  If nobody caught them.  It‘s all public exposure.  It‘s all politics.  They would have said, “Go see a doctor.  We‘ll get you a shrink.  Leave the kids alone.  We‘re going to watch you closely.”  But they would not—do you know how many guys have been expelled in the history of the Congress?

ROSEN:  They wouldn‘t have had to worry about expulsion if they would have exposed it, though.  And that‘s the difference.  Because the public would have expelled him. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe you‘re right.  Maybe you‘re right.

ROSEN:  And that‘s a big difference.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so rare that these guys kick each other out.  It‘s so rare.

MORGAN:  It is.

MATTHEWS:  They look out for each other.

ROSEN:  It doesn‘t matter.  What matters is whether they were actually engaged in a cover up because they had too many scandals going on.  They had Tom DeLay‘s scandal going on.  They had Bob Ney‘s scandal going on.  These guys didn‘t want another scandal.

And Jeff Trandahl, who‘s the clerk of the House at the time, he‘s a guy of the institution.  I know him very well. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROSEN:  He is not a partisan person.  He is—he cares more about that institution than anything.  And when—if he says that he told the leadership about this, I believe him. 

MORGAN:  Let me ask a question and you, Chris, because I wonder if you think that the American public thinks that one side or the other, the Democrats or the Republican, are—are more guilty or less guilty.  I think they all think that everybody does it.  And...

MATTHEWS:  I think a lot of conservatives out there in the bushes are very surprised at the number of gay staffers on Capitol Hill, the number of people at the top who are sympathetic to the gay world, orientation.  I just think they‘re surprised at the tolerance level, and they don‘t like the tolerance. 

ROSEN:  Well, they don‘t like the tolerance, and it feeds into this notion of, as long as we are in power we keep our power.  Then we don‘t have to live by rules that we—that we want to set for everybody else.  And I think that disconnect is connecting with both bases. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Republicans have lost their revolutionary fervor.

Anyway, Hilary Rosen, thank you. 

And Melanie Morgan, nice to—thank you for coming back.  The book is called “American Mourning”.  A good argument.  You don‘t have to agree with it.  I‘m holding it here.  I‘m just holding it.  There it is. 

And next, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter will talk about the focus on Iraq, who gets more out of that fight, Republicans or Democrats.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Is the Bush administration cooking up one of those October surprises for Republicans to hold onto power in Congress this November? 

Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC News analyst and columnist for “Newsweek” and author of “The Defining Moment” about the Roosevelt administration, a great book out there. 

Jonathan, what do you think?  I put it together: the Jim Baker leaks, about what they‘re up to, Tony Snow‘s denials, the Bush meeting with General Abizaid today.  Is there an October surprise in the works?

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC NEWS ANALYST:  I think there very well could be.  Because the history of these things, if you do them right you can really pick up some ground. 

Look at what happened with Lyndon Johnson.  Later than this point on October 31, 1968, there was a bombing halt that he announced on national television in Vietnam, and the Democrats surged in the polls.  They would have won that 1968 election.  Humphrey would have beaten Nixon, except that Nixon cut a deal with the South Vietnamese to undercut the diplomacy. 

But the president has a lot of power to shape events very close to an election, and I could see a situation where, for instance, President Bush called for an international conference, a fresh start in a diplomatic approach to Iraq, that actually brought them something. 

The problem is that their candidates, these Republican candidates, have dug in with “stay the course” for the last four months, and they would all have to turn on a dime. 

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t we a different country than we were back in ‘68, more skeptical of politicians?

ALTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And something like an October surprise might be made up? 

We‘d say, “Wait a minute.  That looks like wag the dog”?

ALTER:  Yes, and even the idea of an October surprise, which just dates back to the 1980s, is something that would create some suspicion. 

It‘s like the gas prices right now.  They‘ve come down a lot.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ALTER:  And Republicans aren‘t getting credit for it because the voters go, “Hey, it looks suspicious.  Bush was able to manipulate those.”  Even if it‘s not really true, that‘s what voters conclude.  And they might react the same way to some sort of Iraq initiative. 

In that sense, the president‘s in kind of a box.  He doesn‘t want to be talking about Iraq in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ALTER:  I talked to a Rahm Emanuel earlier today, and he said the Democrats are the ones who want to close on Iraq.  The Republicans want to close on terrorism.  So if he does something on Iraq, he kind of gets off message anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the collusion in our politics or an interference by the bad guys over there, as we see them?  The people over there shooting at our guys and shooting at each other, could they be operating at a higher level of intensity, more bloodshed, more firepower, more actions against us and against each other, because we‘re facing an election and they know that this is going to hurt Bush?

ALTER:  I think it‘s conceivable.  The global media now, you know, they are well aware that there‘s an election coming up.  It‘s not at all beyond the possible that Osama bin Laden is going to pop up again in the next couple of weeks, in the way he did in... 

MATTHEWS:  But that helps Bush.

ALTER:  I‘m not so sure this time, for the reasons that you just indicated a few moments ago.  People might at this point go, “Hey, where is he?  Why don‘t we have him?”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ALTER:  They might react in a different way than they did last time.  In other words, they might be playing this terror card, the Republicans, a little too strongly, going to the well one time too many on this and not get much mileage out of it. 

MATTHEWS:  John, thanks for joining us.  Once again, Jon Alter of NBC, an analyst for them.

Play HARDBALL with us again next week, and don‘t forget to watch our full day of political coverage on Tuesday, two weeks before the election.  It starts at 9 in the morning, including Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman, Elizabeth Dole and a whole slew of candidates hoping to win in a couple weeks. 

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.

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