Guests: George Tenet, John Bruhns, Eric Egland, Howard Fineman, Ed Rogers, Jenny Backus
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: With Bush at a new low, his CIA chief blames Cheney for pushing bad intel.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Philadelphia. The man whom Dick Cheney and the hawks blame for the faulty intelligence on Iraq is now speaking out. Former CIA director George Tenet has come out swinging against the Bush administration for misrepresenting intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq, but he‘s also taking some heat for breaking his silence a little too late and not standing his ground before the war started. Tonight, George Tenet answers for his actions.
Plus, Democrats are moving toward putting conditions on the next war funding bill, and the latest “Newsweek” poll has the president‘s approval rating down to an all-time low of 28 percent. More on that in a moment.
But first my interview with former CIA director George Tenet, who was at the center of the storm on 9/11 and in the run-up to the Iraq war and has now written a book about his experience called “At the Center of the Storm.”
I began by asking Tenet how 9/11 could have been thwarted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TENET: I don‘t think there‘s a silver bullet, Chris. Now, you look back at this and you look back at what we were doing around the world at the time, in the spring and summer, and the concern that we raised—obviously, there were some people—we made mistakes at the back end. FBI made mistakes. CIA made mistakes.
But here‘s, I think, the larger systemic point. The country never thought about this as something that was going to happen here. And as a consequence, did we have a system of domestic protection in place? You go back to the millennium period, we told the president five to fifteen attacks. That fellow tried to cross the border from Canada coming into the United States—visa policies, border policies, security policies, infrastructure policies.
So at the end of the day, we were playing relentless defense—or offense. We were playing relentless offense overseas in that spring and summer, and what we never had is a back end with a defense that matches the offense. It‘s a big systemic point.
MATTHEWS: Do you—but you probably—but I‘ve been listening to your interviews, George, and I‘ve been hearing you talk about how there was a lot of noise, a lot of noise going up to July, a real sense that something spectacular was coming.
TENET: It was more than noise, Chris. There was hard data about plots overseas—the embassy in Rome, the embassy in Paris.
MATTHEWS: How about the Hamburg crowd, the ones who were up there, Mohammed Atta? Had you—did you have a tail on him? Did you have a sense of where he was going?
TENET: We did not at the time. We did not at the time.
MATTHEWS: But remember the day of—the reason I‘m asking you, because I get the feeling that it wasn‘t impossible that we could have caught this gang before it struck on 9/11. The day of, you were having breakfast at the St. Regis, right down near the White House. I think I was right on that corner, going to a funeral that morning because I remember the craziness of the crowd that morning, when all this hit.
MATTHEWS: You had Moussaoui on your brain. You were speaking with David Boren, your former boss, the Senate Intelligence chief, and you said, God, it must have been that guy that was trying to get the airplane training, to fly the big planes. What was your mind thinking then? Because something was—you were close to something.
TENET: The immediate—the immediate thing I thought about is—I remembered the 1995 Manila air conspiracy, where they were going to hijack 10 planes and explode them over the Pacific. And I remembered that one of those plotlines included flying an airplane into CIA headquarters. And I thought about Moussaoui, and I knew it was al Qaeda immediately.
MATTHEWS: Yes, you did. You didn‘t think the first plane hit was an accident.
TENET: No, there was no accident, in my mind. So...
MATTHEWS: So your brain was wired for these kind—had you gotten a dream the night before, or if something had—what would have had to stick in your brain for you to put together, My god, why would a guy want to fly a 747, and he didn‘t want to learn how to take off or land? Why don‘t we get that guy and get it out of him?
Maybe if we put that together with the news we got from Arizona or somewhere else, could you have put it all together?
TENET: You can go back, and you go to Arizona, you go to the Phoenix memo, you watch-list 19 -- you watch-list these guys 19 days before the event. Not a great effort is made to go find them. You put all of these things together, and we sat around and thought about it, was there a silver bullet, was there something that could‘ve been done domestically to get on top of these guys? I thought about Moussaoui. He was in our custody. He was under arrest. That was a good thing.
We didn‘t get FISA on him. We didn‘t get into his luggage. You think about all these things, and at the end of the day, Chris, I don‘t know that there was a silver bullet. I do know that what we were doing and what we were warning—we had a keen sense of something big and spectacular‘s going to happen, we just didn‘t know when and how.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about now, because the average person right now, going into the next election—this is a political show, HARDBALL—wants to know how they should vote, in terms of getting hit again. I was talking to someone this morning who said, states like Ohio—I know you‘re not in politics, but if states like Ohio went one way because of fear of the so-called soccer mom that we‘re going to get hit again, and so they might vote a little more right wing than they would normally.
You said, in one of the interviews recently that, in your gut—I think it‘s in the book—that in your gut, you know al Qaeda‘s out there. Give me a picture of what‘s out there right now facing us.
TENET: If you think about this from my perspective, this is still the crown jewel target for this group. We‘ve done very well against them. We‘ve hurt them quite badly. We‘ve hurt their leadership quite badly.
Between 19 -- it took eight years between the World Trade Center and 9/11. They have an enormous sense of patience. They are a sophisticated intelligence organization.
MATTHEWS: Where are they? Are they in Hamburg, Germany? Are they in Afghanistan? Are they—where are they? Are they in Pakistan?
TENET: In the mid-1990s—where are they. This organization, in the mid-1990s, we told the president of the United States this is an organization that operates in 68 countries. They‘re in Southeast Asia. They‘re in North Africa. They‘re in Central Asia. They‘re probably in the north—the leadership is probably, on the basis of what I‘ve read, in the northwest frontier of Pakistan. They‘re in Europe.
Here‘s the point...
MATTHEWS: You guys have them under NSA security, under NSA surveillance right now. They can‘t get on a radiophone. They can‘t get on a cellphone.
TENET: This is a—Chris, this is a very agile intelligence organization. We worked very, very hard at them to put bits and pieces together that help us try to understand what they‘re going to do next.
My operational presumption has to be—I don‘t know this to be true.
They come in with the first wave, on 9/11, right? They‘re smart guys.
They understand the country‘s going to react. Is there a second wave here?
There‘s nothing I ever heard—particularly as the summer of ‘04 came about and we had an election coming on, and Madrid occurred, and then we had reporting that there was a group inside the United States, a non-Arab group. Then we had reporting that said there were people who were going to infiltrate in through Mexico. There‘s nothing I ever learned that relieved my anxiety that these are people who are here and maybe patiently waiting.
The point of this whole matter is—as you said, well, the politics of this and how should people vote. You know, we know...
MATTHEWS: No, no. I‘m wondering how they‘re going to vote, based on fear and what they should be afraid of.
TENET: Well, everybody needs to de-politicize this thing. I mean, this is not—this is a generational challenge that will face Republicans and Democrats over the next 25 years. We‘re going to have to make decisions as a country about what—we should be having a conversation right now. What do we need to be doing to deter the prospects of another attack?
You cannot build a perfect mousetrap. How vigilant should we be? Have we lost our sense of urgency? Should we continue to think about our infrastructure in different ways? The game here is about constant vigilance.
MATTHEWS: Where do you lean, towards more law enforcement, less civil liberties, more torture, more checking of people at airports? I mean, where would you go if you were president?
TENET: What the country needs to do, what the political leadership of the country needs to do is figure out where on that continuum we want to reside.
MATTHEWS: How far are you willing to go?
TENET: Make those—no, it‘s not an intelligence...
MATTHEWS: No, I want your advice. No, I want to ask you a question. You know more than we know. Do we have to be tougher in letting people through airports? Do we have to be tougher with immigration?
TENET: You have to get more agile. You must be tough. You have to be agile. You have do risk—you cannot protect the entire country. It‘s not possible to protect everything.
MATTHEWS: OK. You believe, I have heard your interviews, that they would go for iconic targets, big things like the World Trade Center. They don‘t—because I‘ve always wondered, we have got missionaries all around the world from America, you know, Christian missionaries all around the world. We have got business people all around the world. We have tourists in every capital of the world right now.
They could pick off 20 Americans on any capital on any day they wanted to. Why don‘t they do that?
TENET: In foreign countries, Chris, they do go after softer—if you look at the attacks...
MATTHEWS: Well, why aren‘t they—I thought after 9/11, they‘d be going around the world, grabbing Americans and killing them. Why aren‘t they doing that?
TENET: Well, they‘ve killed a lot of people, and sometimes—you know, in 2003, in the Riyadh bombings, 10 Americans died. They‘re killing Muslims. They‘re killing Americans. They‘re killing foreigners. They did it in Bali. They killed Australians.
You need to think—they think about the rest of the world somewhat differently than they think about us. This target, multiple spectacular attacks, we want to hurt the United States commensurate with its standing as a superpower, which is why my big worry is their fixation with the development, acquisition of a nuclear capability, chemical and biological weapons.
They understand, you‘ve got thousands of nuclear weapons in your arsenal, one makes those irrelevant, from their perspective and how they would be viewed by people they are trying to recruit, get money from, because they look at this—you know, they look at this in broad historic terms.
You know, I‘m convinced they look at this and say, You know, the Roman empire once fell. Well, we‘re going to make this American empire fall, and we‘re going to do it in a way that demonstrates that, fundamentally, they‘re weak and can‘t stop us. So we‘ve got to be vigilant. We‘ve got to be tough.
MATTHEWS: Where do you think they are going to get it from, an old Russian engineer who needs money?
TENET: I don‘t know the answer to that question.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask—you do know...
MATTHEWS: Are they more likely to buy it than build it?
TENET: They‘re trying to buy it. So we need to make a Manhattan-like effort. Where‘s the fissile material? Where are the scientists? We‘ve got to go talk to countries and say, Where is your fissile material?
MATTHEWS: Have we done a good job with Ukraine and the other Soviet republics, at making sure that their nuclear capabilities have been locked up or not?
TENET: We‘ve done well on the weapons side. I think that that‘s not in question. Nunn-Lugar and all those things we did, those are very positive things.
Now what we need to do is make the same kind of effort on the fissile material that‘s running around the world, make sure countries can account for their inventories. Look, we had a non-governmental organization, a Pakistani non-governmental organization—people who used to work on the Pakistani nuclear program—meet with bin Laden, share crude weapons designs. The head of that organization looked at bin Laden and said, You know, the hard part about this is getting the fissile material. And bin Laden looked at him and said, What if I already have it?
We know in 2003 that they thought they might be able to buy Russian weapons to use against the Saudis. Saudis went crazy. We went—everybody—everybody...
MATTHEWS: So right now over at Langley, your successors are worrying about what you‘re talking about right now.
TENET: I absolutely believe that they are. And it‘s not just about the intelligence. You‘ve got to bring our labs, our scientists, our engineers, our policies—all have to be synchronized. Look, we have to guard against the conventional attacks.
We now have an enormous amount of data in our possession about how these guys think, train, operate. The interesting thing about these guys is, history matters. Even after 9/11, we found out about plotlines to use airliners again against the East and West Coast of the United States, in Europe and Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be back with the political part of my interview with former CIA director George Tenet.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with former CIA director George Tenet. His book is called “At the Center of the Storm.”
George, I watched “Meet the Press” yesterday, and I learned some things. First of all, it seems like, if you put it all together, the reasons we were given for the war in Iraq—the connection with 9/11, which the vice president liked to make all the time, the nuclear threat from Iraq—weren‘t there, in the end. In fact, you believed, even beforehand, we didn‘t have a case to make that there was a connection to 9/11.
TENET: Chris, we could never make a linkage to 9/11, but let‘s be clear. We believed that he had weapons of mass destruction, and we said so. And we believed it across two administrations, not just this administration.
MATTHEWS: Did you believe he had nuclear weapons?
TENET: No, Chris. We believed and said that it‘s going to take him five to seven years to have...
MATTHEWS: The vice president said fairly soon.
TENET: Well, I should have corrected him. I‘ve said that, but...
MATTHEWS: The president said mushroom cloud. The impression left with the American people, as came clear on “MEET THE PRESS” yesterday, was 71 percent of the American people believed that we faced this threat, we faced the threat of a connection—of a 9/11 connection.
Now all I can ask you, if those reason ended up not—what was the reason for the war?
TENET: Well, Chris, there—there—you know...
MATTHEWS: The president didn‘t have any evidence to believe they were a nuclear threat. And the 9/11 connection was never made. Most Americans were for this war for two reasons. One, payback. It was even in our country music, Remember how you felt. And the fear of a nuclear weapon, that they actually had a delivery system, this balsa wood plane they were going to use to bring over here and attack us with. And all that wasn‘t true. OK. So why did we go to war? What was the motive here?
TENET: Well, Chris, there were many. You‘d have to talk to everybody...
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s start with...
TENET: So let‘s start...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s start with these people you mention in the book, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith. These guys were for this war because they had signed that Project for the New American Century document in the ‘90s.
TENET: Chris, let‘s put this in different buckets, OK? There are some people who believe this was unfinished business. There were some people who believed we needed to change the face of the Middle East. There are people who were concerned about the fact that Saddam Hussein might surprise us.
We said that he had weapons of mass destruction. Every—but we also were concerned that what we didn‘t know might accelerate timelines for him acquiring things. So people were fearful.
We remember back in the 1990s, when we thought the biological weapons file was closed. His son-in-law told us it wasn‘t. We remember back to the 1990s when we said it was going to take him eight years to develop a nuclear weapon. He was six months away.
So history mattered to some people on the weapons side. There were issues—there were concerns for terrorism. In the end, there were many, many reasons. Countries go to war because of their geo-strategic interests and how they view the world.
MATTHEWS: I covered (INAUDIBLE). Let me tell you what I watched in real time. The polling was very close on this war. People said, We‘d support the war if we thought there‘d be very few casualties. Well, it was 3,000 guys, and many more seriously and permanently wounded.
So they didn‘t—we didn‘t anticipate the terrible damage this war would do to our own troops. But they bought the war because—not because of all of this ideological, We‘re going to move the Rubik‘s Cube around the Middle East. We‘re going to make the road to Jerusalem through Damascus, and all that stuff, or through Baghdad. They bought it because of a fear of nuclear weapons and because of a sense that somehow Iraq was involved with 9/11.
Just a minute.
MATTHEWS: They weren‘t involved with 9/11. How come the American people were lead to believe that? Why did you let it happen?
TENET: Well, it‘s not what—Chris, when the vice president wanted to give a speech before the war about Iraq and al Qaeda, I walked in and told the president, He can‘t give that speech.
When the secretary of state was going to talk to the U.N., we looked at the input provided. We didn‘t use that data. When Doug Feith presented his analysis to the Congress about Iraq and al Qaeda, I testified that he mischaracterized that data.
So we—look, this is a contact sport. There were three legitimate
areas of concern. There were contacts. There was training. There was
safe haven in northeastern Iraq. We never believed this was more than two
organizations trying to take advantage of—notwithstanding the concerns -
and we could find no complicity.
Now on the nuclear question, people say, You guys just watch, this will happen. We took the Niger uranium piece out not in one speech, in two speeches.
MATTHEWS: But not in the State of the Union.
TENET: It got into the State of the Union speech. OK?
MATTHEWS: But the bottom line, George, is that despite your efforts, to the extent that you made the effort, the message got to the American people that there was a 9/11 connection -- 71 percent of people believed there was, that the Iraqis were involved in attacking us on 9/11 -- and the nuclear—I‘ve talked to some really smart people who are not political. And they supported this war because of the nuclear piece, not this WMD phraseology, nuclear, because that threatens us. And these weren‘t true. The war was fought on bogus grounds.
TENET: Chris, our intelligence was wrong. I have to—we have to take that responsibility. On the nuclear question, what our National Intelligence Estimate said...
TENET: ... five to seven years. If a terrorist group provided them fissile material, he could have it within a year.
MATTHEWS: A couple of questions. We know that there are certain ideologues in this administration in great positions. Paul Wolfowitz argued with me for three-and-a-half hours one day at lunch about this war.
We know Doug Feith was a hawk. We know Perle, of course, was a hawk because he went to you and said, Let‘s go to Iraq, right afterwards. Scooter Libby had a lot of influence. He was for the war. We know a lot of people ideologically around this town, who weren‘t in government, were for this war.
What moved the president? Why did President George W. Bush, who said when he came into office, I want humility in foreign policy—what led him to take the American Army into Arabia and place it there, where it is right now?
TENET: The president has—you know, you will have to ultimately talk to the president.
MATTHEWS: But you are close to the president.
TENET: Well—well, I think he was moved about what we said about WMD. I think he—now, whether he went farther on these other issues, he didn‘t want to be surprised again.
MATTHEWS: Did he take—was he getting surprised—was he getting channels of—of intel from people at the Defense Department like Feith. Were they feeding him stuff behind your back that led him more into this war than you would have done then?
TENET: Chris, the only—the only...
MATTHEWS: Were they...
TENET: Chris, the instant...
MATTHEWS: ... stovepiping?
TENET: Chris, I was the director of central intelligence. I saw the president of the United States every day. I believed that what I was telling him represented the view of the American intelligence community.
MATTHEWS: Was it all that he was getting?
TENET: Well, I—I can‘t say that. I don‘t know. You know, people say to me, well, didn‘t you know people were running around you?
Well, I didn‘t see it.
MATTHEWS: Well, they had that special unit at Defense Department, I mean, which—which was working against you.
TENET: Well, Chris, I know—I know that the president understood what we were saying. I know that he understood where we were exactly on these issues.
TENET: I can‘t speak for him.
MATTHEWS: Do you know when he decided to go to war? I don‘t know. I can never—I read every book. I can‘t find it.
TENET: My personal view, Chris, is after the military mobilization was ordered in December of ‘03, my personal view was...
TENET: ‘02 -- my personal view was, is that we were going to war.
Now, did the president tell me that? No. But my instinct was we were going to war.
MATTHEWS: Why did everybody—why did—I‘m sitting on the outside looking at this administration. I thought we were headed towards war starting in December of 2001, when I would hear from people about meetings at Camp David where Wolfowitz was yelling at the president, we have got to go to Iraq, right off the bat.
And you know about that. Right off the bat, they were pushing for war.
TENET: Well, that—that made no sense to anybody at the time. I can only...
MATTHEWS: Well, he ended up winning the argument, though.
TENET: I—I can‘t...
MATTHEWS: You—you—the others lost.
TENET: I can‘t tell you that I...
Did Colin Powell have any influence in this administration?
TENET: Well, of course he did.
MATTHEWS: To what—what did he accomplish?
TENET: Well, I mean, the secretary—I think the secretary did a great job.
MATTHEWS: Did he?
TENET: He did a great job around the world.
MATTHEWS: But he was against the war.
TENET: Well, Chris, you know, at the end of the day, the secretary and I served. And we did our best.
Do you wish you had resigned?
TENET: No. No. You know, I have heard people talk about this.
MATTHEWS: It is up to you. I‘m just asking.
TENET: No, no, no. And I will—and I will tell everybody why.
Intelligence and policy on Iraq is a contact sport. We had a war with al Qaeda that consumed me.
We had clandestine—we had British and American intelligence officers working to disarm Libya. It worked.
We had an effort under way to take down the A.Q. Khan network. It worked. We were rebuilding...
MATTHEWS: In Pakistan, yes.
We were rebuilding the American intelligence community. It was important. We were looking for WMD on the ground in Iraq. It was important. We were working on so many issues.
My days were filled...
TENET: ... with tough issues. My view was, you stay in your job.
You do your job. And you do the best you can.
MATTHEWS: Last—last question. You stay on the job. You have—you have access to all the intelligence we gather every day at the CIA. You also have people with historic backgrounds who understand the Middle East, understand the culture, know about the Sunni and the Shia long before I did.
MATTHEWS: They know the history of what happens to Western governments like the Brits or the French that go into Arabia and what happens to them. They get gobbled up in occupation. They end up having to resort to torture and fighting resistance with counterinsurgency.
All the hell we have going through for the last four years , you guys knew was coming, right?
TENET: Chris, what we didn‘t know was how we would implement what happened after the conflict, after the invasion phase. We didn‘t know that. It‘s—it‘s interesting.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it could have been handled better.
TENET: Well, to be certain, it could have been handled better. And there are—there are a number of lessons. You cannot walk into a big country in the Middle East and command an entire country to do what you believe...
MATTHEWS: Whose brilliant idea it was to de-Baathisize, to tell the entire government of Iraq: “We want you gone. We want the army gone. We‘re going to disassemble you. Go away. Don‘t come back. We‘re going to rebuild this country from the ground up”?
TENET: Well, I...
MATTHEWS: Whose idea was that?
TENET: I don‘t know whose idea it was, Chris.
I do know this. I do know this. The de-Baathification and the disbanding of the army was never something principals sat around and made a decision on. I know that.
MATTHEWS: Well, who decided? Doug Feith at the Defense Department?
Who made these calls?
TENET: Chris, you know...
MATTHEWS: You have got to tell me, because nobody will tell me.
TENET: I don‘t—you know, I can‘t tell you how that—you know, it‘s ironic. I sit here. I can‘t tell you how that decision was made.
Here‘s what I need to tell you. When we—when we understood what was going on, on the ground, was the intelligence clear? Did we—did we ring the ball? Did we say, you have an insurgency? Did we say we needed a program of Sunni outreach? Did we say, we need to figure out a way to get this army back together as fast as we can? The answer is, yes.
And—and the moral of the story is, is when the data gets bad, you have to make—you have to make more agile decisions than we made.
Who got into the president‘s company, and, despite all the knowledge of history—it must have been available to him—about how difficult an occupation would be, how there would be—even the president said, nobody likes to be occupied—and put in his—idea—this idea that—this dreamy idea that we, the American people, with our vast military—although it‘s not always useful on the ground—we could go into a Third World country and create a democracy where there has been none before, can create the spirit of sacrifice on behalf of democracy, that can bring peace among the warring factions, in the interests of democracy, because we have got more guns than they do?
MATTHEWS: Who told him that that would be true?
TENET: ... if you—I don‘t know him it was true.
MATTHEWS: Was it Wolfowitz?
MATTHEWS: But you‘re with him.
TENET: Chris, I don‘t know who told him this would be true.
But here‘s the lesson you have to...
MATTHEWS: Somebody did.
TENET: Let‘s just talk about this part of the war.
MATTHEWS: Am I right, that somebody taught him this?
TENET: Well, I don‘t know if somebody taught him.
MATTHEWS: Well, why—he says it in all his speeches.
TENET: Chris, let me just—let me just make a very important point to you.
TENET: What have we learned? If democracy is only equated with elections, and we scream, we‘re going to have elections, it‘s never going to work. You‘re never going to remake the world in your image, in the absence of a vibrant civil society...
TENET: ... institutions, educational systems...
TENET: ... the preparation and the ground work. Simply having votes is not going to work in this part of the world.
You have to prepare people with a foundation that makes a difference.
And here‘s—at the end of the day, these countries are all different.
They have a different cultural history. They have different religions. They‘re going to do this in their own ways. Is it important—if you tie it back to the terrorist phenomenon...
MATTHEWS: Did you ever give this lecture to the president, when it mattered?
TENET: Well, I—I don‘t lecture—I don‘t...
MATTHEWS: No, because I think we could have all benefited from that.
TENET: Well—well, Chris, you know, I have—I have written a book where I have reflected...
MATTHEWS: I know. Here‘s your book.
MATTHEWS: And I hope people read it. I hope people buy this book, because there‘s so much of this in there, “At the Center of the Storm.”
But this information would have been very valuable in a sit-down with the president—a couple cigars, talk about the world, and what happens when you invade an Arab country—would have been helpful.
TENET: Chris, I think that, if you look at what we said before we understood what it was going to do, and you looked at our analysis, we—we said a lot of these things all over town.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t hear it from the president. I hear the same delusional talk that we heard from the neoconservatives before we went in the war from the president now.
That‘s what worries me. We haven‘t learned our lesson.
TENET: Well, we‘re in a—we‘re in a tough place.
TENET: And we have got to come together as a country...
TENET: ... and get to a better place.
MATTHEWS: George, best of luck.
TENET: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on HARDBALL.
TENET: Thanks. Appreciate it.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, George Tenet.
MATTHEWS: If you would like to read the full transcript of my interview with Tenet, go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
Coming up: What can Democrats do to get President Bush to agree on in Iraq? Will he buy conditions for the war funding?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: Can Democrats come up with a plan for Iraq that President Bush won‘t veto? Will he agree to getting an allowance to fight a war? We will talk with two Iraq veterans, one who thinks U.S. troops should stay and one who thinks they should get out a soon as possible.
And later: Bush‘s approval rating is the worst of any president in 30 years. Can it get any worse?
“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman will be here—more HARDBALL when we return.
SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a record high for a fifth straight session, ending the day at 13312, gaining more than 48 points. The S&P gained almost four points. But the Nasdaq lost a point.
Alcoa made an unsolicited $27 billion takeover offer for Canadian rival Alcan. It came after two years of private negotiations failed. Alcoa shares rose more than 8 percent today, while Alcan shares jumped more than 34 percent.
Ford announces it has completed the closing of a plant near Cleveland;
1,100 hourly workers lost their jobs. It‘s the 10th plant closure under Ford‘s restructuring plan. Six more closures are planned.
And Bank of America announced it is offering no-fee mortgages nationwide. The nation‘s second largest bank says it won‘t charge for applications, appraisals, loan originations, title insurance, and flood certifications.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After getting their withdrawal plan vetoed by President Bush, what can Democrats in Congress do about Iraq? If it is benchmarks, then, what are they?
We‘re joined right now by two Iraq war veterans. John Bruhns is an adviser to VoteVets.com—actually, dot-org—VoteVets.org, which supports withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. And Eric Egland is an adviser to Move America Forward, which backs President Bush‘s strategy.
Let‘s go—let‘s go, first of all, to John Bruhns.
John, what do you make of these benchmarks? I‘m not sure the word means anything. How about conditions? Do you think the president would ever agree to conditions for funding of the troops?
JOHN BRUHNS, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: No, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Or should he?
BRUHNS: No, Chris, he shouldn‘t. And I don‘t believe that he will.
Just last week, Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, they sent him a bill which fully funded, which—which gave him all the funding that he wanted, and even more. In that bill there was language for a timeline, just—just saying to the president, hey, meet us halfway here.
I thought it was a great display of bipartisanship among the congressional leadership. Just—all they did was ask—ask the president to wind this war down on his watch, and not be so irresponsible as to leave it off to the next administration.
The president has—he vowed to veto the bill—the bill. He did veto the bill. And I think we‘re at a point now where leaders in Congress need to say, if—need to—need to evaluate the situation, and say, if the president is going to be this stubborn and this petulant, and while we‘re willing to work with him, but he is unwilling to work with us, we‘re going to have to ratchet up the pressure and we‘re going to have to fight fire with fire.
MATTHEWS: OK. Say what you...
BRUHNS: I believe that is the only—only way you deal with this—with this administration.
MATTHEWS: Well, then, what you‘re saying is cut off the funding.
BRUHNS: No, not cut off the funding.
And I‘m—I‘m glad you brought that up. If I were the Democrats, I would keep sending him the same bill over and over again, and, every time he vetoes it, say, Mr. President, we gave you every dime you asked for, and you cut the funding off. You vetoed it.
MATTHEWS: And you think that would—you think that would sell to the American people?
BRUHNS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I believe it would.
Let me go to Eric Egland.
Eric, do you—where do you stand on this issue of Congress setting conditions, or benchmarks, for how much money they give the president for war?
MAJOR ERIC EGLAND, IRAQ/AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERAN: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me on.
If the benchmark came from General Petraeus, who the Senate just voted 97-0 to confirm and to support his plan, then I‘m all for it. The fact is, those timelines and those conditions are coming from inside the beltway, not the generals in the field.
We have got—the president is proposing a plan that listens to the general in charge in Iraq. And the Congress needs to support that. Give him—they said they support the surge. They need to give him the time that it takes to let that surge strategy function as designed.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK. Let me try some things by you.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you about micromanaging wars. We saw that in Vietnam—it didn‘t work—with Lyndon Johnson.
But let me ask you.
MATTHEWS: The politics over there, nothing to do with military actions in the field—what is wrong with the Congress setting a policy, which is, we will not support the Iraqi government, unless it agrees to stop the civil war, unless it agrees to allow full participation by the Sunnis, full distribution of the gasoline money, the oil money over there?
What‘s wrong with saying things like that? That‘s political. That‘s not military.
EGLAND: Well, those types of things are—are fine, especially if they‘re coordinated with General Petraeus, who...
MATTHEWS: No, but wait a minute. Why coordinate that with the general? A general follow orders. We‘re talking policy here, not orders. A general does what he is told. He‘s told to go over there and stabilize certain areas of Baghdad. He‘s doing that.
The policy question, does the United States intend to keep its troops under fire, in the line of fire, if the political conditions are not being met that would allow a solution over there?
That‘s a—I‘m asking you a political question. Are you saying Congress should or should not be in the business of setting political conditions on the Iraqi government?
EGLAND: Well, it is fine for—for Congress to state what they—what they believe is the right path to go. But it is wrong for them to tie it to the funds that the troops need to carry out the mission they were sent to do.
MATTHEWS: Well, how does Congress, then, set a policy for the war?
EGLAND: Well, Congress is not the commander in chief. The commander in chief ultimately sets the policy.
MATTHEWS: No, a policy for. I‘m not talking about prosecuting...
EGLAND: So, Congress is welcome to put the policy forward.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not talking about—I‘m not talking about prosecuting the war.
MATTHEWS: The government tells the—the civilian government, by the way, people inside the Beltway, including the president of the United States, who is a civilian, give orders to the military and they carry it out. That‘s what loyal soldier do. They don‘t set policy. Do you believe the generals should set policy?
MATTHEWS: General MacArthur thought that and Harry Truman fired him.
I don‘t think General Petraeus thinks he sets policy.
EGLAND: Of course not. But he is also given broad policy guidance of how to accomplish the mission. And the things you‘re talking about kind of cross over into an operational strategy of how you accomplish that.
MATTHEWS: Explain that. If I asked you: if the American people are fighting for a stable Democratic government in Iraq, and the government of Iraq is not becoming stable and it is not becoming Democratic, then what is the military ambition there? At that point it becomes impossible. You can‘t achieve a political purpose with just guns.
If the politicians over there, inside their beltway, if you want to make fun of politician, and they‘re politicians—by the way, I don‘t know what your problem is with politician. That‘s what we do. We fight in the world. Now, it wouldn‘t be my idea for democracy. That mean politicians run countries. Do you have a problem with that?
EGLAND: Of course not. What kind of a straw man is that?
MATTHEWS: Because you‘re saying things like they shouldn‘t set policy. We shouldn‘t set policy inside the beltway. The last time I looked, the president lives in the White House, which is right in the middle of the beltway. He is a politician. What‘s wrong with that? Why do you guys resort to these cliches about, we don‘t want politicians setting policy. The president does it too. Does he know that he‘s a politician. I‘m sorry. He was elected.
EGLAND: Absolutely. That‘s my whole argument here. The president is commander-in-chief. He sets policy. Congress can voice—
MATTHEWS: Because he was elected president of a civilian government.
EGLAND: Right, exactly. Getting the underlying issue, putting pressure on the Iraqis is a good idea. We also have to help them stand up and—
MATTHEWS: I think we‘re closer. I think, Eric, we‘re closer, you and John, than anybody agrees here. I think we all agree, there is a military ambition, which our gutsy troops over there are achieving and giving their lives for. But it is only good if it achieve this ultimate goal of democracy over there. You know, whether that is possible or not is up in the air right now.
But let me ask Eric to make the final—John to make the final --
John, what do you want Congress to do here? What is Congress‘s role here?
BRUHNS: I think Congress should not succumb to the Bush veto. I think Congress should send him the exact same bill back. If need be, put stricter language in there. Chris, look at the situation. There were no weapons of mass destruction. OK? We liberated the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein is dead. We gave them three Democratic elections. We built a new security and police force.
It is now in the hand of the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny. The president‘s policy of keeping American troops in Iraq indefinitely, being attacked by an enemy that they cannot see --
MATTHEWS: Do you know what? John, Eric, I like this idea by Tommy Thompson, who‘s the former governor of Wisconsin, had in interesting idea in the debate tonight. He said, why don‘t we have the people of Iraq vote on whether we stay there or not. That would be very interesting to see the result of that political action. Thank you John Bruhns and thank you Eric Egland both.
Up next, President Bush‘s approval rating is approaching a Watergate low of 28 percent. We‘ll talk about that and the poll results from the 2008 match ups, which are interesting, with “Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Dark days for President Bush; the latest “Newsweek” poll shows his approval rating at an all time low, 28 percent. Here to talk about the president, plus the 2008 race to succeed him, is “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent and our own Howard Fineman.
Howard, let‘s take a look at the question of whether Democrats or the Republicans are satisfied with who is running for 2008. Seventy seven percent of Democrats are satisfied with their presidential choices. But only 52 percent, just about half, of the Republican. Does that surprise you?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Not really, given what I‘ve seen out on the campaign trail. There have been bursts of enthusiasm for some of the candidates occasionally, like Rudy Giuliani sometimes, McCain sometimes, Mitt Romney sometimes, a straw poll here and there. But basically the Republicans are unhappy and they may be unhappy because they need a super hero. They need Spiderman to get out of the situation they‘re in.
MATTHEWS: Well after the Rockettes the other night, I guess that didn‘t help things any more, when we had 10 of those guys across the stage raising their arms. We should have said raise your legs for different things. Maybe that wasn‘t the kind of show—it helped Romney apparently marginally, and it may have hurt Rudy marginally.
What do you think? In the long run, is it too early? Is the long run too long for any one of these debates to have much impact?
FINEMAN: I thought they do have impact. I thought the one you moderated did have impact, because it did help Romney. It was the first time he was on a national stage with the others. He was articulate. He was the CEO type.
MATTHEWS: Are we allowed to use that word, articulate?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think we are. I think we are. Especially when it is a matter of comparison. The problem the Republicans have, with that 38 percent unhappy number, is really interest. The other thing that is going to happen, Chris, Florida is moving up its primary it looks like to January. We may have a situation here where both parties are going to nominate somebody that they‘re sort of not wildly enthusiastic about. And then there is going to be seven months, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, until after the Olympics in China, for everybody to have buyers remorse big time.
It is really a remarkable situation and a potentially dangerous one.
MATTHEWS: Let me take a leap beyond what you suggest to maybe where you‘re thinking, which is that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton—you can‘t beat Bill Clinton‘s, the former president‘s, popularity in California. You‘ve been out there. You know it. He is a movie star out there. And Hillary is as well. And you go down to Florida with all of those retired New Yorkers down there and they automatically have a connection with Hillary, a lot of them liberals, some of them not, but a lot of connection with her.
She could roll it up on those corners of the country, California and Florida. Maybe New York will have a primary early. You‘re suggesting maybe she rolls it up. Even Giuliani, with whatever questions about him there are, because the first tests are in those big states, which are polyglots, which are more liberal, if you will. He could win early too.
FINEMAN: I agree. That‘s what the number in our poll tend to show at this point right now. Both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, despite some surges from Barack Obama on the Democratic side and a lot of interest in some other Republican candidates, still are in pretty strong shape. And yes, if the schedule for the primaries ends up with California, Florida and New York that early in the process, right on top of Iowa and New Hampshire, it could be over by February 1st.
MATTHEWS: You know what it says to me, again leaping beyond to where you‘re really thinking. It says third party, because after two or three months of a continental wide subway series between Rudy and Hillary, people might be dissatisfied with the options, as we‘ve been saying, about the party picks. And they may be looking to a Bloomberg or a Hagel or someone else to jump in then as an anti-war or some alternative. Right?
FINEMAN: I absolutely agree. You read my mind. That‘s where I was headed. I think that‘s what this is set up for. So we‘re going to have an act play, at least, maybe a five act play. That‘s partly because it‘s starting as early as it did last week.
MATTHEWS: That guy got 19 percent back in 1992. Right?
FINEMAN: Yes, as a matter of fact, there was a time when Ross Perot in 1992 --
MATTHEWS: Imagine a real sane third party candidate, what he could do. Anyway, thank you very much, Howard Fineman. As always, you‘re thinking beyond your words, sir.
Coming up next Jenny Backus and Ed Rogers. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The races for both parties‘ presidential nominations, as early as they are, showing signing of tightening. They are getting closer at the top. Is that an indication for an even more interesting 2008 campaign down the road? Republican strategist Ed Rogers, a former advisor to senior President Bush, and Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist, who just did great work for the Democratic party down there in South Carolina.
Let‘s take a look at these numbers and look at these screens. Between February and now, that‘s about three or four months, Obama has not closed the gap much. He is still 12 apart from Hillary, but he‘s down from 14 behind Hillary. Since February, Giuliani‘s lead, on the other hand, has come down. It was 25. Now, he is only 15 ahead. Let me start with Ed on that more interesting shift there. Is McCain picking up ground on Giuliani.
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the Republican primary race is wide open. I think the polls are interesting, but they are not particularly relevant right now. So it‘s hard to take a snapshot of the entire Republican universe when so many people really aren‘t engaged. Having said that, the debate last week mattered. It put into focus some of where the candidates are and how they performed.
Romney continues to have the best run of anybody. McCain did a little bit to right the ship. Giuliani didn‘t meet expectations and nobody else broke through. So the talk and the atmosphere surrounding the race are beginning to define the candidates.
MATTHEWS: Does Romney have enough time? Now we are getting into the summer now next month, and there is going to be a break in interest in this election for a while. And it will pick up big time in September, October, November, when we really get to decide these candidacies. Do you think that Romney has enough time, money and opportunity, events like the one last week, to sell himself into the top two or three?
ROGERS: I don‘t think time is anybody‘s enemy right now. It‘s not going to be until November or so of this year that some of the people in the back of the pack are saying, gee, more of the same are just freezing the board and I am going to lose. I have got to do something reckless—
I‘ve got to do something to break out of the pack here. That‘s when you will begin to see some people do some things that are different and try to break out of the pack. Right now, time is not anybody‘s enemy.
MATTHEWS: You believe Romney can catch Giuliani?
ROGERS: Well, I believe that Romney is one of several people that could be our party‘s nominee.
JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Romney is actually pretty scary from a Democratic perspective. I do. I thought he gave a very convincing performance. He is an actor, but he gave a great performance.
MATTHEWS: You put the shiv in there Jenny. You think that was a performance rather than a genuine article.
BACKUS: Probably. Yes, definitely authenticity is important on both sides in this presidential election, in ours and in theirs. It is a change election. So I think Romney helps himself, because he seems like a fresh face, sort of a different kind of politician. McCain, I thought he came across looking very nervous and tentative and a little bit older, which, you know, normally he has been someone that has terrified the Democrats. He has terrified a lot of us for years. He seems more like an insider establishment figure.
Romney has an ability to become the change candidate, but also the one that‘s the most reassuring, because he is doing this great Ronald Reagan redux performance.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I thought so to. Let me go to your party for a second, Jenny. It seems to me that Obama is sort of stuck there in a distant second to Hillary. People like him. He is romantic. He‘s idealistic. He reminds people of Bobby and maybe Jack and maybe Lindbergh back before Lindbergh got political, back when he is popular, back in the 1920s. I have to always be careful about that particularly personality. But he is not catching up.
BACKUS: Oh, I think it‘s very early in our race. I think you made a very good point at the top of the show, where you said the front runners have fallen. If you talk to Ed and I in 2006, 2007, it was supposed to be Hillary and McCain‘s race, running away. They both made a calculation that Iraq wasn‘t going to matter. It does in this primary. I think that our race—I think Hillary still is the front runner, but our race is much tighter than the Republican‘s race.
And Obama, going back to that same change we were talking about with Romney, Obama has captured the imagination of the people. I think he is going to pick up independents. I think he has to fill out the resume. He is. He gave a pretty substantive speech today in Detroit. He finally did a foreign policy speech. I am interested to see what‘s going to happen now on the ground in those early states. I think that‘s where the battle is going to --
Edwards is trying to stir things up with the war in Iowa.
ROGERS: He is the big loser in all this.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s that?
ROGERS: Edwards. Edwards didn‘t see Obama coming and he‘s been smothered.
BACKUS: I think both Hillary and Edwards didn‘t see Obama coming. I don‘t even sometimes think Obama—
MATTHEWS: Let‘s see if Haley Barber gets in this thing Ed and Jenny. That‘s what we‘re waiting for Haley Barber. I am wondering if this Fred Thompson hasn‘t been over sold. We will talk about that next time. Thank you Jenny Backus. Thank you Ed Rogers. I am here in Philadelphia tonight to moderate the Democratic candidates debate for mayor.
It‘s a hot race. I don‘t know who‘s going to win tonight. I might have a big part in it. Play HARDBALL with us again tomorrow.
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