updated 3/20/2007 1:01:05 PM ET 2007-03-20T17:01:05

Guests: Howard Dean, Paul Krugman, Paul Hackett, Sen. Ben Nelson, Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  You hear people say nobody expected this war to be so long and bloody.  Nobody expected the Iraqis to resist our occupation.  Nobody expected the Sunni to fight the Shia.  Nobody expected so much of the world to condemn us.  But leaders are not supposed to be nobodies.  They are supposed to know things.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Four years ago today, the Bush administration led the country into war with Iraq, based, it said on the threat of weapons of mass destruction.  Now we know there was no mushroom cloud awaiting us and the danger posed by Saddam Hussein was regional at worst.

Over 3,000 American servicemen and -women have been killed.  And today we stand a nation divided by this war.  In a moment one of the earliest critics of the war, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. 

Later we will get a live report on today‘s violence in Iraq and take a look at the battles Iraq veterans have to fight when they get home. 

But first, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who ran against the Iraq War in his 2004 presidential race.  He is now chairman of the DNC. 

Governor Dean, thank you for joining us.  Why can‘t the Democrats agree on a war policy? 

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  I think we do agree on a war policy.  We believe we ought be out. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton does not say so.  She wants to keep our troops in there permanently.  And she said so this week.  Permanent U.S.  troops in Iraq.  And she is the frontrunner in your race for nomination.

DEAN:  The Democratic plan to leave Iraq is something we have talked about for at least a year-and-a-half, which is, we are going to bring home the National Guard and Reserves.  Then over a period of time, we are going to send some troops to Afghanistan, leave a permanent force in the Middle East, although not in Iraq.  And then leave some small number of people there to train folks, all of whom will be out by the end of 2008. 

Or, you know, depending—it could be earlier depending on some other things.  It is in the Senate bill.  I think you have to—I am not familiar with what Senator Clinton says, so I‘m not going to reference that. 

But in general, the Senate bill and the House bill, which are very close to each other, is what the policy of the Democratic Party is.  And I agree with it.  I think we need to be out of Iraq.  We should never had gotten in.  Now that we are in, we need to leave in an orderly, thoughtful way.  And I think that is what the Democrats are trying to do.  And I don‘t think this is a nation divided anymore, 70 percent of the American people agree with us, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton doesn‘t.  Hillary Clinton said this weekend that she wants a permanent base over there.  She said its important for various reasons, including support for Israel.  She made a very clear statement this weekend we cannot take our troops out of Iraq.  She also—

I mean, also I hear her talking like a hawk about Iran and our need to get ready to fight them.  Are you sure you speak for the whole Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton on this issue?

DEAN:  Well, I don‘t think anybody speaks for any of the presidential candidates except themselves.  So I‘m not going to respond to anything because I haven‘t heard those statements, haven‘t seen them.  But I do believe that the Democrats—the vast majority of Democrats support the bills that are in the House and the Senate.  And I would be surprised if Senator Clinton didn‘t vote for those bills. 

MATTHEWS:  So I agree with you in terms of the numbers... 

DEAN:  Senator Clinton... 

MATTHEWS:  Clearly the Democratic Party, in every poll we get here at NBC and all of the other polls we see, supports leaving from Iraq, an end to this war.  That is why I was taken aback by Hillary Clinton‘s strong statement of keeping our troops there permanently. 

Let me move to the issue.

DEAN:  Well, Chris, again, let me just say, I did not hear the statement, but I suspect that Senator Clinton voted for the Senate resolution last week which gets us out of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she has offered a codicil, Governor. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  OK. 

MATTHEWS:  And that is, she wants to keep the troops there.

DEAN:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  So she is doing her own political business while the Democratic Party is doing it.  Let me ask you about this president.  There is a strong pattern, I have noticed over the last several years, where every time something is wrong and everybody agrees it is wrong—whether it is Abu Ghraib or the leaking of CIA official‘s name to the press or whatever it is, or now this issue of firing of these U.S. attorneys, every time something goes wrong, they throw a little person to the bears, to the wolves. 

And that little person, whether his name is Scooter, or it is one of the lower-ranking officials over in Iraq, they get thrown the wolves and the big boys walk away.  How do they keep getting away with that? 

DEAN:  They don‘t anymore, Chris, now that Pat Leahy is head of the Judiciary Committee, he has said everybody is going to be testifying under oath, because the American people are tired of hearing one thing and then reading something else in the papers the next day.

The year of accountability is here.  Now that the American have elected us to make sure the president doesn‘t have a rubber stamp Republican Congress and doesn‘t get away with stuff like that anymore. 

You know, corruption turned tout be one of the top tree three issues in the last election.  And evidently the Republicans have not learned anything about corruption.  And so corruption is going be another big issue again in the 2008 presidential election.  These folks are not telling us the truth. 

The issue isn‘t whether somebody got fired for political reasons, the issue is they lied about it afterwards.  Senator Leahy is going to have folks under oath before the Judiciary Committee.  The American people—I don‘t care if you are Republican or a Democrat or a conservative or a liberal, the American—nobody likes lying in the government. 

And we have seen it again and again and again.  This time we are going to get to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS:  What happens if the president calls executive privilege and says—he thumbs his nose at Leahy and the rest of them and says, we are not going to go to the Hill and testify, Karl Rove is mine, I‘m not letting him talk. 

DEAN:  Well, Richard Nixon tried the same thing and it didn‘t serve him well to do that.  I think the American people deserve an honest response to this.  Again, you cannot continue to say one thing and then something else turns up that it wasn‘t true the day after that.

They say, well, we didn‘t know much about this, this wasn‘t political.  And then we find this was all Harriet Miers‘ idea.  And then we find e-mail saying Karl Rove knew full well. 

Here is what happened.  The Republican—the United States attorney, for example, in California investigated and led to the imprisonment of Duke Cunningham, the congressman.  He then started investigating another Republican congressman.  And then they began to send e-mails from the White House to the Justice Department saying, this is too much.  We have got to watch out.  We have a problem here. 

That is not OK.  You cannot fiddle with how the Justice Department works—excuse me, how the justice system works in this country.  If you do, you place yourselves above the law.  And that has been a hallmark of the Bush Republican administration.  And we are going to put an end to that.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going the mattresses on this one? 

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  Am I personally going to the mattresses?  I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It is an old mob term.  I learned it from “The Godfather.” That‘s when you bring the mattresses in the mob guys stick around until they have won the war. 

DEAN:  Look.  This is not a war between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  This is a war to stand up for American democracy.  Every time you get an administration that thinks it is OK to miss—to bend the truth and to abuse power, thinks they are more important than the Constitution, then you have these kinds of things. 

This is exactly what Sam Ervin, the Democratic senator from North Carolina did during the Watergate scandal.  It wasn‘t about Democrats versus Republicans.  In fact, at that time, the Republicans also went to see President Nixon, told him he had to step aside because this was going too far. 

So I am very proud of my home state senator, Pay Leahy, for standing up and doing the right thing.  And says, we will take testimony under oath.  We want the truth for once from the Bush Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  If Karl Rove switched sides and offered himself up to the Democrats to be their fire-eater, would you take him? 

DEAN:  We have actually had other operatives do that, and the answer is no.  We—you know, I admire how thorough the Republicans are.  I don‘t admire their divisiveness and I don‘t admire their dishonestly. 

MATTHEWS:  How is the Democratic Party doing this year towards winning the election for president for next year?  You have got some strong candidates.  You have got Obama out there getting 10,000, 20,000 people at a pop.  I have never seen anything like him.  You have got Hillary there with the establishment behind her.  What kind of a candidate are you going to have?  Are you going to have establishment candidate or are you going to have something brand new like Obama win this thing?

DEAN:  Well, the last thing—time I looked there were six or seven candidates.  And as you know, I not only am completely neutral, I think we would be well-served by having virtually all of the candidates become the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  But in your heart, you are an Obama guy.  I can see it in your face.  You have got the old ideals.  You are an anti-Vietnam, anti-Iraq guy.  In your burning soul, the little votive candle you light before you go to bed at night has Obama dedicated. 

DEAN:  Chris, what I.

MATTHEWS:  It is not Hillary—you don‘t like the Clintons.  Come on.

DEAN:  What I am, Chris, is a good management person.  I want somebody who is going to run the country properly.  And I think we have got a great many candidates on our side who can do that.  And I‘m going to work very hard to make sure one of them gets elected.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t like Obama as much as I think you do. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I am just teasing. 

DEAN:  You are a piece of work. 

MATTHEWS:  You are great.  But I totally believe that you are an idealist, a man of the fervent activist wing of the Democratic Party.  As you used to say, the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Thanks very much, Howard Dean. 

DEAN:  Don‘t forget I was governor for 12 years.  I know how to run things, right?  We need that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Obama might be able to run something.  Anyway, thank you.

DEAN:  I didn‘t say he couldn‘t

MATTHEWS:  He is a competent guy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I was going to say, “articulate,” but I think he is competent.  I am just teasing.  Senator, I am teasing.  Thank you.  It is always great to have you on, Governor Dean.  Thank you very much.

DEAN:  Thanks, Chris.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I know you are an executive.  And we need more executives like you and Bill Richardson running for president. 

Coming up, NBC‘s Richard Engel, he has covered the Iraq War on the ground from the very start. 

And later, retired General Barry McCaffrey, he just got back this Friday from over there.  He will tell you—he will give us a scorecard on how things look in the surge.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Four years into the war in Iraq, we go now to NBC‘s Richard Engel who has been covering the war since the very beginning.  He also has a new documentary coming out this Wednesday night on MSNBC at 10:00 called “War Zone Diary.” That is 10:00 Wednesday night.

Richard, thank you very much for joining us. 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  I look forward to seeing your big report, because you are the best out there.  OK.  I‘m going to pin you down.  You don‘t do opinion, you don‘t do attitude.  You do straight reporting.  As a straight reporter, can we get a scorecard on the surge from you? 

ENGEL:  I think so far there are indications that certain aspects of the surge are working.  In a sense you have the same strategy that was employed in certain cities in the United States.  More cops on more street corners.  So general violent crime is down.  Sectarian violence is down.  That is also because of the surge and because Shiite militia groups have—saw this surge coming, saw the wave of troops, and decided they were going to wait this one out. 

So you have more troops on the ground, fewer enemies to fight.  So the sectarian kidnappings and torturing, all the bodies that show up on the streets, that is going down.  But the attacks on U.S. troops are at the same level and the violence outside of Baghdad is, by some reports, increasing. 

So there are pluses and minuses of this surge.  But a lot of Iraqis, particularly Shiites, are so far encouraged by what they have seen. 

MATTHEWS:  So the Shiites are laying back and letting us do the fighting against the Sunni?

ENGEL:  They are not only letting us fight the Sunnis, they are also letting U.S. troops and Iraqi forces fight the radical Shiite elements.  You have Muqtada al-Sadr telling his militia, lay low, telling the most senior leaders to go to the south or go to Iran.  And then the most radical elements in his organization, which he couldn‘t control anyway, which were destroying Muqtada al-Sadr‘s reputation, those are the ones that are being systematically dismantled. 

So in the end you have U.S. and Iraqi forces trimming down or pruning Muqtada al-Sadr‘s organization, leaving a smaller, more disciplined fighting force that can reemerge when it would like. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So at the end of, what, six months, what are we talking about is the test zone here?  Six months, a year?  When?  The president says months not weeks.  How many months does he need to get a report card to decide whether we stay in Iraq or not? 

ENGEL:  Well, U.S. commanders on the ground don‘t talk about months, they talk about years, that we might have some indication of if the general level of violence in Baghdad is down by the end of the summer or by the fall, and then what? 

Then the big question is, say you do succeed in reducing the violence in Baghdad and that the Shiites don‘t get drawn back into a sectarian fight, that is what the Sunnis are doing by all of these massive attacks against Shiites right now. 

So let‘s say violence does go down in Baghdad.  Do you then declare victory and leave and then the violence returns again?  So unless you follow it up with something, what is the point in having the surge?  Military commanders I talk to say that there are going to be a large number of U.S. troops, 50,000, 60,000 in Iraq for several years to come, but that they will mostly be doing force protection and operating as trainers, even after the surge is over. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is not a surge, it is an escalation. 

ENGEL:  There is—surge, escalation, either—it doesn‘t really matter what you call it, you have more troops coming in... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But a surge implies you turn up the juice and then you are going to turn it down.  That is called a surge.  That is what we call a surge.

ENGEL:  I think that is what the U.S. forces would like to have.  And there is a major disconnect.  Commanders who operate these joint operating positions, these forward outposts, say, what is the point of going into these neighborhoods, setting up these small bases to try and secure neighborhoods if then you are just going to dismantle them in a few months?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ENGEL:  So it is going take some time.  If they have traction by the fall, by the end of the summer, then there will be some test cases.  And the operating bases will be handed over to Iraqi control. 

It is very much an experiment.  It is a new war plan. 

MATTHEWS:  It looks to me.

ENGEL:  And a lot of people say it feels like the war is starting over again. 

MATTHEWS:  The more we talk, the more it sounds like we are going to be a permanent neocolonial force in that country, we ain‘t ever leaving.  Anyway, thank you, NBC‘s Richard Engel. 

ENGEL:  Thank you

MATTHEWS:  Join Richard, as I said, for a special hour, “War Zone Diary.” That is his production.  Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. on MSNBC. 

Up next, retired General Barry McCaffrey is just back from Iraq.  He was there this past—he just got back this weekend.  He will be here to tell us his report on how well the surge is doing and whether we can leave that country at some point in the near future. 

And later, the latest on what Congress will do about the fired U.S.  attorneys.  Will they subpoena Karl Rove, you betcha.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Retired General Barry McCaffrey

well, he is not retired here, is an NBC News military analyst.  And he is just back from Iraq. 

I love when you come back, now you have got tell me, because you are objective as anybody out there, are we winning this surge? 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I am not sure “winning” is a good word to use.  There is.

MATTHEWS:  Is the surge working?

MCCAFFREY:  And there isn‘t much of a surge.  We have got a couple of brigades in-country.  Maybe by June we will have five more.  There were 15 there to start. 

MATTHEWS:  And how many people in a brigade?

MCCAFFREY:  Maybe 5,000.  Let me tell you what the chain (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But that is not—you are saying—how many more brigades have we added to our force in Baghdad?

MCCAFFREY:  Two got added to 15. 

MATTHEWS:  So that is 10,000 on top of.

MCCAFFREY:  One hundred fifty thousand. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCCAFFREY:  But some things have changed.  And I‘m trying to sort out in my own mind what is going on.  We have got a new general there, Dave Petraeus.  He has put people into 120-soldier elements with Iraqis all over the city.  The Maliki government said, go after the renegade Shia leadership and Sadr‘s army. 

Mr. Sadr himself went to Iran.  Most of his senior leadership fled south into Shia areas.  So the city is now occupied by Iraqi police, Iraqi army, and U.S. troops.  And then finally, in the Anbar province, to my astonishment, there is actually a coalition of Sunni sheikhs that have come together and said, we are going to send our boys to the police force, and we are going to take on al Qaeda in Iraq. 

So those are the changes that are observable on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  So the city is in lockdown, basically.  You have got all of these soldiers in the street, American and Iraqi.  A lot of visible presence.

MCCAFFREY:  In small groups all over the city.

MATTHEWS:  How is that different, like, from Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia when I was growing up?  He did the same thing.  Lots of police on the scene.  Everywhere, blue everywhere.  And then eventually you go home and the crime rate comes back again, doesn‘t it?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think the question is.

MATTHEWS:  Or in this case the violence?

MCCAFFREY:  . how do you break out of this situation?  What do you do while you have gain—regain more control?  The changes.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  What do you—how do you exploit it?

MCCAFFREY:  To change the underlying confrontation which is a civil war between the Shia and the Sunni over political power in Iraq.  So what is it that is going to change?  And that is the question at hand.

You know, I think you talk to Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, who is a very capable tactical commander.  He says, give me until February and I will know by then if this breathing spell can produce fundamental political or economic change. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would a Sunni, who had enjoyed control of that country for all of these years under Saddam Hussein, in fact, the whole history of Iraq, want to give it up because they see a bunch of guys in uniform from America where they—with automatic—semi-automatic weapons? 

MCCAFFREY:  The only argument would be that they—they are telling each other right now, they think they made a fundamental mistake by not taking part in the electoral process.  They got frozen out of the parliament largely.  They got—they were.

MATTHEWS:  This is the minority Sunni, right.

MCCAFFREY:  Right.  So they now say—some of them are saying they want back in the political process and are also suggesting, many of them, that al Qaeda in Iraq, with their terror campaign against Shia civilians, is non-Islamic and is not helpful to their own situation. 

Plus I think many of them are listening to congressional debate, by the way, which I think adds power to our position in Iraq.  And they are saying, these guys probably are going leave in the next couple of—or three years, I wonder what that means to us. 

If you are a Sunni, you have got be scared about it.  So I think that is causing, to some extent, their willingness to talk.

MATTHEWS:  Do they know that Bush is their last chance? 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think so. 

MATTHEWS:  They know that the Democrats get in, they will probably not keep the troops there that long.

MCCAFFREY:  It doesn‘t matter which party is in, the next president.

MATTHEWS:  Hillary will.

MCCAFFREY:  The next president is going pull the plug on this war, so... 

MATTHEWS:  You think Hillary will?  She said she wants a permanent base of troops in that country this weekend?

MCCAFFREY:  If it is working, we will stay.  But if it is a civil war going on with 1,000 U.S. casualties a month and $9 billion a month, then I think either president has us out of there in the first 12 months of the next administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?  Well, that is a stark statement.  Thank you very much for that report, General Barry McCaffrey, just back from Iraq. 

Up next, is the U.S. Congress going subpoena Karl Rove?  That is going to be fascinating.  And will the White House cooperate or go to court over this like Nixon did?

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The U.S. attorney firing scandal continues to plague the Bush administration.  Will the president‘s top political kid, Karl Rove, have to testify before Congress?  Will Attorney General Alberto Gonzales end up resigning? 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As White House officials considered today whether to let Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers cooperate with the congressional probe into the firing of federal prosecutors, Democrats stood firm, demanding public testimony under oath and answers by Tuesday.  Congress could order the testimony, but the White House could then try to assert executive privilege.  This weekend, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman declared he is running out of patience.

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  I‘ve reached the point where I‘m not here to negotiate, I want the answers.  They can either supply the answers voluntarily or we‘ll subpoena them.  It‘s as simple as that.

SHUSTER:  The key issue is the firing of these U.S. attorneys, who were leading federal prosecution efforts in eight districts.  Earlier this year, Attorney General Albert Gonzales told Congress the dismissals were performance-related, not based on political considerations.  But e-mails released last week between the White House and Justice Department contradicted Gonzales, forcing him to apologize and prompting calls for his resignation.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.  I accept that responsibility.  And my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here.

SHUSTER:  Some of the e-mails indicate that Karl Rove inquired about replacing all U.S. attorneys in January 2005.  That was a month before Gonzales became attorney general.  The e-mails also show Rove worked with Miers and former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson to get some of the prosecutors dismissed.  Sampson has now offered to tell Congress everything.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Just last night, we heard from his attorney that Kyle Sampson, Mr. Gonzales‘s chief of staff, is—really wants to come forward.  It‘s a real possibility that he will voluntarily testify.  He has said that he wants to do that, and I think that‘s a very likely possibility.

SHUSTER:  Democrats say they are increasingly interested in the firing of U.S. attorney Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Arkansas, who was going to be replaced by Tim Griffin, a Karl Rove White House aide.  Griffin has almost no courtroom experience, but did opposition research for the Republican Party.

Democrats are also increasingly focused on the circumstances that led to the dismissal of Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego.  Last year, after investigating Republican congressman Duke Cunningham and prompting him to resign and plead guilty to bribery charges, Lam notified the Justice Department her investigation was expanding.  On May 10, she told the Justice Department about search warrants for Republican defense contractor Brent Wilkes and a close friend of his, CIA official Dusty Foggo.

The next day, May 11, Gonzales chief of staff Sampson sent an e-mail to the White House counsel‘s office and referred to, quote, “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam.”  In December, the Justice Department dismissed Lam with no explanation.  Democrats now say it‘s clear the firing was pure politics and that Lam had become a thorn in the Republicans‘ side.

Meanwhile, amidst continued calls by Democrats and some Republicans for Attorney General Gonzales to step down, presidential press secretary Tony Snow said today that Gonzales has not offered his resignation and that White House officials hope he will stay.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The reason I said we hope so is we hope so.  He has the confidence of the president.

SHUSTER:  Democrats, however, predict Gonzales will not last.

SCHUMER:  I think it‘s highly unlikely he survives.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if a week from now, he‘s no longer attorney general.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Even congressional Republicans who used to defend the Bush administration are staying silent or they‘re accusing Gonzales of mishandling things.  This evening, Congress is receiving thousands of additional documents related to Gonzales and Rove as part of the ongoing investigation.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  We go now to “New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

Paul, you know, sometimes when I listen to this administration, I think of the old “Mission Impossible,” where the tape burns itself up after you get your mission.  I mean, are these guys told what to do and then they get total deniable—plausible deniability from above, whether it‘s Abu Ghraib or it‘s the leak of the CIA identity or it‘s this thing with the attorney generals—or the U.S. attorneys?

PAUL KRUGMAN, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST:  Oh, and many others.  I mean, talk about Halliburton.  Talk about—you know, this has been the administration—somebody said the “frozen”  scandal, where, you know, it‘s clear something‘s gone wrong, but they just—you know, they put a layer of ice on top it and it just goes away.  But all that changed last November.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they all—the people who work for the president, Howard, seem to know what they‘re supposed to do—behave politically in the naming of U.S. attorneys, which doesn‘t shock me, beat the hell out of prisoners and get some information out of them because we‘re in a war—basically, a war against the other side, screw anybody that challenges the administration, like Joe Wilson, but, Don‘t ask me for—say I sent you on that mission.  But make sure you do it.

KRUGMAN:  Yes, I...

MATTHEWS:  And then when you get caught—let me let Howard answer this.  And then when you get caught, I don‘t know anything about it, but I‘ll sympathize with you.  And by the way, I hope you set up a defense fund.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, George Bush was frosty, to use Paul‘s terminology there, in the extreme in explaining what Alberto Gonzales‘s mistakes were.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  They were that he didn‘t give the proper spin to the Congress about what he was doing.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  It wasn‘t about the underlying behavior, which by implication he approved of, even while he was denying that he did it.

MATTHEWS:  It was messing up the...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It wasn‘t clean.  It wasn‘t cleanly done.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Paul.

KRUGMAN:  You know, all of this is—these apologies, such as they are, are like somebody not actually apologizing for what they do but saying, I‘m sorry that you feel that way.  I mean, it‘s—it‘s like—it‘s like...

MATTHEWS:  If I offended anybody, I‘m sorry.  You know, this story in Iraq, I guess it‘s the bug I come back with.  I had a nice week in Mexico to think about this.  I do not accept the idea that the American people were snookered into Iraq.  I know it‘s a comfortable argument to make that we were all tricked into it, but back when we went into the war in 2001, I came across—or 2002, it was in the summer of 2002, the year before we went to war, the American people were asked whether they supported the war, and they said by 55 percent of so they were for the—or 57 percent, they were for the war.  But then asked if there were significant casualties involved, Are you still for the war, and a majority came out against the war.

Well, who the hell thought there wouldn‘t be casualties?

KRUGMAN:  Oh, look...

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder what we‘re thinking out there.  Are the American people rational?  You can‘t blame everything on Bush.  So he doesn‘t know what‘s going on over there, but at some point, the people have to say, Wait a minute, I had to go along with the war, the people.  It wasn‘t the president took us to war, the people went along with him.  Why did they think we could take over an Arab country, run the place, kick the hell out of the place, tell everybody what to do and nobody would shoot back? What were we thinking?

KRUGMAN:  Chris, you‘ve cut out the middleman there.  There were a lot of people in the news media telling them that it was going to be great.  I mean, it was...

MATTHEWS:  Not me, buster.

KRUGMAN:  I‘m sorry?  Not you.

MATTHEWS:  Not me.

KRUGMAN:  Not you.  But a lot of people were.  I mean, they—all the

every—all the selling was saying that this was going to be like the first Gulf war.  It was going to be, you know, a few—we‘ll honor the...

MATTHEWS:  We didn‘t invade Iraq...

KRUGMAN:  I know that.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the first Gulf war.

KRUGMAN:  Yes, but, you know, most people just thought it was going to be the same thing.  And look, this is—it‘s a hard thing for people to—we—I knew it wasn‘t going to be easy.  You knew it wasn‘t going to be easy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Iraqi people—look, anybody who‘s ever been in the Peace Corps knows this, Howard.  People don‘t like being taken over.  If you ask any African country, no matter how tough it‘s been since independence, Would you rather the white guys come back and run this place, they might run it a little bit better, maybe, maybe, maybe, they‘d say, To hell with that idea!  We want to run our own country.  Nobody likes to be invaded.  I think the president even said that a while back.  He must have known it intellectually, but he didn‘t act on it.

FINEMAN:  One of the problems here, and there were many, is that we, including the media, didn‘t define what victory really meant.  And we still don‘t know.  The American people haven‘t given up on the idea totally that we can, quote, “win” in Iraq, but they don‘t define what winning is because most of the American people have already concluded that going there made us less safe.  So even if we were able to achieve some kind of military victory, we didn‘t look long-term...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  We didn‘t look long-term at what the consequences of it would be.

MATTHEWS:  Any president with a military background—Paul, I don‘t know you as well as I know Howard, but I‘m going to try this on you.  Do you think General Eisenhower would have taken us into Iraq and taken over the country?

KRUGMAN:  I think—no.  I mean, look, the fact of the matter is, we actually know the military‘s top brass thought this was a terrible idea.  That‘s what Shinseki was trying 6to tell us when he said we needed several hundred thousand troops.  Nobody who—you know, this was—this was a war of the armchair warriors, the people who thought it was all going to be, you know, video games.

MATTHEWS:  But why?  Paul, I got to interrupt you.  The president of the United States had one thing going for him, the reason a lot of people voted for him.  He didn‘t trust intellectuals.  He didn‘t trust the guys he met at Yale.  He had a resentment towards them.  Why did he, once he got in office, start trusting intellectuals, the civilians at the Defense Department, the theocrats, the ideologues?  Why did he all of a sudden try theorists who write magazine and journal articles and believe in their thinking, instead of the real world he grew up in?

KRUGMAN:  That‘s going to be one of the great mysteries.  But I think part of it was that they—they basically told him, You can be a hero.  You can be a hero.  You can be better than your father.  Let‘s not skip that.  You know, it was—it was sold as...

MATTHEWS:  You mean they played Kissinger to him?

KRUGMAN:  Yes.  And you know, this -- (INAUDIBLE) a fourth-rate power. 

This looked like a pushover, except if you knew something about war.

FINEMAN:  Or if you knew something about the region.

KRUGMAN:  That‘s right.

FINEMAN:  And the fact is that we didn‘t—those who knew about the region at the State Department and the CIA were shut out of the process.  Now, a lot of us...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t know that the Islamic and Arab world resented invasion?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t—well, probably...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... having covered him for a long time, the answer is probably not.  And he was told—the wells were poisoned for him by his insiders telling him, Don‘t listen to what the State Department says, don‘t listen to what the CIA says because they‘re spinning you, sir, and we‘re telling you the truth.  And he didn‘t have enough independent knowledge to tell the difference.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Paul Krugman, thanks for coming on the show.  I love your columns.  Thank you, Howard.  I always love your columns, and being here.

Up next, “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter with a special report about the questionable deaths of Iraq war veterans at a VA hospital in LA.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Because of the reports of poor conditions at Walter Reed hospital, other VA hospitals are now under close scrutiny.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and NBC News recently uncovered exclusively some questionable deaths at a West Coast veterans hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK,” NBC NEWS (voice-over):  The VA in West Los Angeles is a top facility for veterans, but hospital officials now confirm a rash of overdoses from both prescription and illegal drugs.

DR. DEAN NORMAN, CHIEF OF STAFF, WEST LA VA HOSPITAL:  I can tell you that there‘s been five deaths.

ALTER:  That‘s five deaths in less than three months in dorm-like residential halls.  One was them was 28-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Justin Bailey.  After being injured in Iraq, he also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was abusing drugs.  Justin‘s parents relied on the VA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I always thought, you know, they were good health care.

ALTER:  But VA personnel apparently didn‘t notice when Justin was abusing his medication, says Vietnam veteran and fellow patient Mike Vasquez.

MIKE VASQUEZ, VA PATIENT:  You‘d see him in the yard loaded all the time.  Everybody knew he was loaded.

ALTER:  Justin‘s friend, Dimitris Rentzis, says he repeatedly warned hospital personnel that Justin should not be allowed to self-administer his medication.

DIMITRIS RENTZIS, FRIEND OF JUSTIN BAILEY:  I prepared a nine-page declaration that documents at least 17 attempts by me, by his mom and by other patients, trying to alert the staff, and that were totally, totally ignored.

NORMAN:  Our staff is denying this, that they received these multiple warnings.

ALTER:  Justin was already on five different medications when he was given a two-week supply of methadone.  The next day, he was dead, apparently of an accidental overdose.  Known for treating heroin addiction, methadone has recently been used for pain relief, with some dangerous results, according to the FDA.

(on camera):  Have you seen this FDA alert on methadone?

NORMAN:  I haven‘t seen this particular alert, but I know in recent weeks, there‘s been quite a bit on methadone and questioning its use in chronic pain.

JOE ROMO, AMVETS REPRESENTATIVE:  They‘re handing out the drugs like it‘s candy.

ALTER (voice-over):  The VA says it trusted patients to take their own medication, to help make their transition to life outside the hospital.  But when another patient died just a week after Justin, bringing the total to five in 10 weeks, they beefed up security and tightened controls on self-medication.

NORMAN:  Our idea initially would be to give them a single day‘s supply, maybe on the weekends a two-day supply.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It shouldn‘t just be place to hand out drugs.  We ask them to go, and they do things.  But when they come back, we got to fix them.

NORMAN:  The man suffered from PTSD, and this is a terrible tragedy.

ALTER:  And these tragedies will likely be repeated as more troubled Iraq war veterans come home.

VASQUEZ:  If you want to know what‘s going to be happening to the Iraqi veteran, look at the Vietnam vet.

ALTER (on camera):  And what would I find if I looked at them?

VASQUEZ:  Misery and pain.  I‘m just barely starting to get my life back together.  I‘m 57 years old.  Nobody deserves that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan Alter‘s here with us.  What a great, tight package that was.  Great work, Jonathan.

ALTER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I mean really good.  Let me ask you about this question you raised there with that last gentleman.  Let me ask you right there and then.  Is this a Vietnam syndrome problem again?  Is this the same thing we faced with Vietnam guys?

ALTER:  We may be heading for that, if this war continues much longer.  You know, most of the patient population within the VA, they‘re Vietnam-era veterans.  World War II vets are dying off.  And they have a lot of problems.  Some estimates say that in Los Angeles, for instance, a quarter of all homeless people are Vietnam veterans.  So we are talking...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I‘m not surprised at that.  But was that the result of letting these guys self-medicate?

ALTER:  Well, no, I wouldn‘t—I wouldn‘t go so far as to say that.  But what we‘re talking about here is a serious, serious problem coming down the road with Iraq war veterans.  They come back often with real problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems.  And right now, the supervision is just not tight enough on making them better.

And the thing that really concerns me, Chris, is that the budget submitted by the administration is flat for the VA after the next two years, whereas independent estimates say we‘re talking about a $300 billion to $400 billion pricetag that has not been accounted for in dealing with these veterans.

MATTHEWS:  God, I feel like Oliver Stone right now, all of a sudden, you know, in the attitude we take, which is we love the guys when they‘re shined up in their uniforms on their way off to war...

ALTER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... but on their way back, who knows these guys?

We‘re joined right now also by attorney and former Democratic candidate for Congress out in Ohio Paul Hackett.  He‘s a retired Marine and a veteran of the war in Iraq.  Paul, thanks for joining us.  Your thoughts on this point we‘re on right now, right now, treatment of guys, letting them self-medicate?  I mean, anybody who‘s been on morphine—I was on it.  I had three shots of it with my little problem before this Thanksgiving Day.  I got to tell you, I don‘t want to be self-medicating on something like that.  Somebody ought to be telling you what to take every time you take it.

PAUL HACKETT, IRAQ WAR VETERAN:  It‘s—it‘s a sad thing.  It is a further reflection on how this war was ill-designed and fought on the cheap, and unfortunately, we‘re seeing...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why don‘t we take care of our guys when they get back, the guys who gave half their body in this war?

HACKETT:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s necessarily anything new in history.  I mean, if you look back all the way to antiquity, the journey home from combat and the way that veterans and warriors are treated when they come home is not necessarily a pretty sight.  I mean, Rudyard Kipling made quite a healthy living writing poetry about how we honor them as they go to war and we talk so splendidly about them while they‘re there and fighting and sacrificing, but when they return home, we really don‘t want to look at the changes that we‘ve caused in these people.  And really, nobody...

MATTHEWS:  In the poem “Tommy.”

HACKETT:  Yes.  Well, there‘s “Tommy,” yes, sure.  There‘s “Tommy” and there‘s a number of other poems...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HACKETT:  ... that he wrote.  And it‘s—I think it‘s quite true.  So I don‘t really think it‘s anything knew.  The question is, Can we do a little bit better job this time around?  And I think the jury is out on that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about the soldiers who are still over there fighting for us over there in Iraq.  Let me ask you, Paul, that question.  You‘ve been over there fighting.  You know what it smells like and feels like and how scared it is over there.  Let me ask you this.  I just had General McCaffrey on.  He has a sense that whatever this surge accomplishes, one of the results immediately is going be more attacks on our soldiers, more guys dead, more women dead, of course, as well.  And clearly, it‘s going be a bloodier campaign because we have now taken on the point position in a war that should be fought between these two sides.  We‘re taking on the fight against the Sunni on behalf of the Shia, and there we are in Baghdad.  What do you make of that?

HACKETT:  Well, I think the question is what do we truly hope to achieve by that, and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s your answer?

HACKETT:  My answer is we‘re not going achieve anything, if—to echo what I think Mr. Fineman had said earlier, if we want to try to define success, I think that after four years of using our military over there and after four years we haven‘t had at least success in spreading democracy, I think we need to reevaluate the lack of strategy and implementation of the military.

This is not a military problem in the sense that throwing more troops at it is going to fix it.  And if you think that‘s going to fix it—I mean, you have to stop and ask yourself, you know, two years ago now, we were at about the same troop level as we are today, and we didn‘t achieve this political success that General Petraeus and this administration and this Congress is willing to believe is going work.  So I—you know, from my personal point of view, war‘s over, bring the troops home.  And the sooner Congress and this administration get their arms around the idea that killing more Iraqis and more sacrifice on the part of more Americans is not going to achieve whatever...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, killed 140,000 of them so far.  I wonder how many you have to kill to say we‘ve won this war.

Thank you very much, as always, Paul Hackett.

HACKETT:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, again, fabulous piece of reporting there.  Thank you very much.

ALTER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Stay on that story.

Up next, Democratic senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.  He voted last week against the Democratic resolution—Democratic Party resolution to withdraw U.S. troops out of Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was one of only two Democrats who opposed a Democratic resolution last week calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq next year.  Let me ask you, Senator, a principled question—a principled question.  Who should decide when the United States forces leave Iraq?  Who should make that decision?

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA:  Well, I think, you know, ideally, you would say that it‘s up to the president.  But I think under the circumstances right now, that probably is up in the air because I have always felt that we need to have the conditions for staying and they need to be measured, they need to be measurable goals, and we need to have an assessment of progress for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people meeting those goals.  That‘s a little bit more difficult, I think, than just simply saying the president should do it.  Ideally, yes.  Under the circumstances right now, I think it‘s a little bit more up in the air.

MATTHEWS:  You believe, then, that the president, as commander-in-chief, is the paramount figure in our Constitution in deciding where to send U.S. troops and where to keep them.

NELSON:  I agree that that‘s what it is, but it‘s not as though the Senate or the House together are potted plants here.  I think there is a very important role.  This role has gotten to be more than about the power of the purse recently.  I think it‘s been more about representing the people and the view of the land.

MATTHEWS:  Where do you see yourself playing a role in helping to direct our policy in Iraq, if not to support the Democrats generally, the Democratic position?

NELSON:  Well, I think there are two ideal issues.  Number one is we need to continue to fund the troops.  And two, we need to have a discussion about the future of our troops in Iraq and what their mission is.  I really believe that the—setting out the conditions, the benchmarks, and measuring those benchmarks is the best way in order to determine the future course in Iraq.  I think it‘s far better than just simply saying that we ought to do it another way.  I really believe people can understand measurable goals and the tests as to how the Iraqi government is meeting those goals.

MATTHEWS:  How will you decide in the weeks ahead whether this is just a civil war that we can‘t end, or certainly we can‘t stop, or it‘s something else that we can stop?

NELSON:  Well, one of the things that I‘ve been for and want to pursue is having General Petraeus give us a report at various times during this summer and into early fall, to give us a report on how the Iraqis are stacking up against those benchmarks, against those, if you will, conditions for stay.  Give us a report back whether they‘re making progress or whether progress is substantial or insubstantial.

So I think if we have that kind of information provided, then I think the decision about the future of our troops in Iraq can be more easily made.  It‘s never going to be easy, but I think it would be easier than establishing some other benchmark.

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t military people—we learned this in Vietnam—always give you the can-do answer?  That‘s their job.  Mr. President, give me the orders, can do.  Do you ever expect military men of the stature of Petraeus, or any military person, to say, This is a hopeless case, we ought to get our act out of here?

NELSON:  Well, I think General Petraeus is in a situation where it‘s not his war, it‘s not his mission in Iraq, that he has inherited the mission, but he‘s laid out his own mission.  And I think he can give us the right—I think the right balance of information as to whether or not the Iraqis are achieving the progress that we would expect from him on the benchmarks.

I don‘t think General Petraeus is going to tell us something that‘s not true, and I don‘t think he would in any way intentionally or unintentionally mislead us, as I think we feel we‘ve been misled in the past about intelligence information and other data that‘s been provided to us.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Thank you very much, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Play HARDBALL again with us in an hour.  At 7:00 o‘clock, our guests will include Massachusetts senator John Kerry and former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card.

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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