updated 7/17/2007 12:35:39 PM ET 2007-07-17T16:35:39

Guests: Frank Gaffney, P.J. Crowley, Taryn Southern, Jim Gilmore, Mike Papantonio, Matt Continetti, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Capehart

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Baghdad, we have a problem—you.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Who are we fighting for? 

Thousands have died so that somebody named Maliki can sit at the head of an Iraqi government.  But who is this guy who says he can do quite well without U.S. help?  Is he the sort of leader the new Iraqi army would fight and die for?  Is his the cause that will unite the passions of the Iraqi people and join together the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds?  Have we bet the lives and lost already 3,600 of Americans on the right horse, or will this guy and the government he heads fall as soon as we clear out of the country?

This weekend, we finally saw the man behind the curtain, this man Maliki who calls the shots on Iraq‘s future.  Is he a true leader, or merely the guy that, with all our elections and declarations of victory and inaugurations and false starts, has been kicked up to the top of a government that may or may not claim any hold on the Iraqi people?

That‘s the question tonight.  What are we fighting for in Iraq?  Who are the people we‘re fighting for?  Are they a winning bet or a failure ready to happen the second we clear out of that country?

Also in the hot corner tonight, two U.S. senators turn “MEET THE PRESS” into Fabiania‘s (ph) mat (ph) time (ph), and for good reason.  They‘re fighting over the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  Somebody needs to speak up for them, rather than simply defending what this president has been doing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yo, Hillary, ready for your close-up?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (SINGING)  I have a crush on a girl named Hill, but she‘s not with me, she‘s with this guy named Bill.  But there‘s one thing I know, I just can‘t sit still until I see Hill up on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And sidewalk Cindy Sheehan gets hit by a sidewinder.

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki this weekend spoke about a potential U.S. withdrawal.

NOURI AL MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator):  We are able to take complete responsibility for security if the international forces withdraw any time they want.

SHUSTER:  The political implications of Maliki‘s statement was huge.   In one breath he had completely undermined President Bush‘s rationale for keeping so many U.S. troops in Iraq, the argument that Iraqi security forces, if left on their own, would get overrun by insurgents.

Today, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, Maliki backpedaled, but he insisted Iraqi security forces should be ready to take over by the end of December.

MALIKI (through translator):  I hope to this year will be the end of rebuilding of our forces so that we are prepared to take control of security.  This needs the cooperation of everyone involved, both us and the coalition forces.

SHUSTER:  This morning on the “TODAY” show, former Democratic representative Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, called Maliki‘s comments “off the wall.”

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN:  There is no chance that the Iraqi forces could completely take over by any time, and certainly even by the first of the year.  These Iraqi forces that we have been training now for several years simply have not measured up overall.

SHUSTER:  A growing numbers of U.S. lawmakers, including crucial Republicans, say the failures in Iraq now belong to the Iraqis.

Against all of this today, in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, it was chaos.  A suicide truck bombing, followed by two car bombs killed at least 85 people and wooded nearly 200.  Many of the victims rushed from the carnage had been trapped in vehicles and were burned beyond recognition.  At a nearby hospital, where doctors were overwhelmed, authorities say the attack was the deadliest in the city since the start of the war.

As the debate rages on over the level of control by Prime Minister Maliki and his government forces, a controversy is growing in Washington over the Bush administration‘s latest strategy to rebuild public support for the war.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in American on September the 11th.

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Al Qaeda did 9/11, and al Qaeda has made Iraq the central front in the war on terror.

SHUSTER:  But experts point out that al Qaeda in Iraq identifies with Osama bin Laden‘s terror organization in name only.  The Iraqi offshoot, according to analysts, is incapable of attacking the U.S. homeland.

By contrast, analysts suspect that Osama bin Laden‘s group, based in Pakistan, may have already sent new terror cells to the West.  Furthermore, U.S. generals believe al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, as the Iraq offshoot is called, accounts for just 20 percent of all the Iraqi violence.

Critics say the president is playing on American fears to keep the Iraq war going.

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  Politically, it‘s one of the few arguments he can make.  The problem is, it‘s a dishonest argument to make.

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, the argument over the U.S. military‘s proper role in Iraq is becoming increasingly emotional, especially between members of the U.S. Senate.  Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS”...

GRAHAM:  Nobody ever asked the consequences posed, the consequences of this idea to just wash your hands of Iraq...

WEBB:  It‘s been hard—it‘s been...

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM:  I‘m going to listen to this general, and I‘m not going to let any politician take the place of the general.

WEBB:  Whether you want to stay for 10 years, or whether you want to stay...

GRAHAM:  I want...

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB:  ... or six months—excuse me.  Excuse me, friend.  We need to find a formula that takes care of the wellbeing of our soldiers and our Marines.  And there is no...

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB:  There is no operational policy.

Somebody needs to speak up for them, rather than simply defending what this president has been doing.

GRAHAM:  Well, they reenlist in the highest numbers anywhere else...

WEBB:  You know, this is one thing...

GRAHAM:  ... in the military...

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB:  This is one thing I really take objection to...

GRAHAM:  ... let them win.  Let them win.

WEBB:  ... is politicians—may I speak?

GRAHAM:  They want to win.  Let them win.

WEBB:  ... is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers.  You can look at poll after poll, and the political views of the United States military are no different than the country at large.

SHUSTER (on camera):  And most of the country at large and most U.S.  soldiers believe the war was a mistake and is being mismanaged.  Complicating matters even more for the Bush administration is Prime Minister Maliki, whose wild statements are raising even more questions.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Should we have confidence in the Maliki government over there in Baghdad?  Frank Gaffney‘s a former Defense Department official under President Reagan.  He‘s president of the Center for Security Police.  And P.J. Crowley worked on the National Security Council under President Clinton.  He‘s a fellow with the Center for American Progress.

Let‘s start with you, Frank.  Do you have confidence in Maliki as the head of that Iraqi government?  Do you have confidence in that government to lead those people when we‘re gone?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER REAGAN DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I think that Maliki is a very mixed bag, at best, Chris.  I think when he talks about them being able to manage the situation if we go, he‘s looking at his sect, his community, and a lot of help from his friends in Iran being able to manage the situation.  That‘s not exactly the same thing as what we have in mind, nor, I think, is it the same thing that a lot of Iraqis have in mind, and why I believe that what we should be investing in is not the Maliki government, per se, but the government of Iraq and the institutions that we‘ve been trying to help it build and to get greater confidence in on the part of their people for the long haul.

Maliki may be a transitional figure.  The kinds of statements he‘s making now and the kinds of the future for Iraq that he may have in mind is not, I think, what we should be expressing our confidence in or endorsing.

MATTHEWS:  P.J., do you have confidence in the government over there, not just the man, but the people around him, the institutions we‘ve put up?  Will the Iraqi army, or the Iraqi people, rather, fight for that government when the chips are down, when we‘re gone?

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER CLINTON NSC STAFFER:  Well, that‘s part of the problem, Chris, is that there is no national interest right now.  There‘s only a combination of sectarian interests.

You know, we shouldn‘t personalize this.  Maliki is a transitional figure.  He is a parliamentary leader.  He can be replaced any time by his leadership.  The real issue is...

MATTHEWS:  But do you have confidence, P.J....

CROWLEY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the government we‘ve set up?  Do you think the military...

CROWLEY:  No, not at all.

MATTHEWS:  ... could overthrow it, the Shia militia could overthrow it, Muqtada al Sadr could step in?  Do you believe the Iraqi army that we‘ve been training and paying and putting uniforms on and giving bullets to, will they fight for that government when the chips are down?

CROWLEY:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  When we‘re gone.

CROWLEY:  Small pieces will, but the large—largely, no, the answer is.  You know, and among other things, you‘ve got political interference within those Iraqi units.  There are leaders who are willing to step up and do the national interest, and they‘re being replaced on sectarian grounds.  But you know, the key point is that today and six months from now, the Iraqi military, while there may be discrete improvements, is not ready to take over responsibility for Iraq‘s security.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Frank and a larger question.  Let‘s enlarge the problem here, not just Maliki—do you have confidence that that Iraqi army will fight and die, if necessary, to defend that government that we have stood up?

GAFFNEY:  Some are now.  The community of people from which they‘re drawing these forces clearly have greater loyalties, in many instances, to the sects, the ethnic communities from which they‘re drawn.  But I think, again, part of why I say this guy Maliki is a transitional figure is this is a transitional experience for the people of Iraq.  They‘re trying to move into, I believe, an arrangement in which all of the sects, all of the ethnic communities are represented, and that out of it comes a government and a military that has the national interest put first.

But Chris, again, it comes back to the point that we‘re debating so feverishly here in Washington.  Will we help them get through this transition or will we say...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to get in a question of—do you think it‘s a good bet, that we‘re on the winning side here when we say American soldiers go over there and fight and some die, some get wounded, we kill a lot of Arabs, and Arabs hate us for this—fine.  But if there‘s a prize at the end of this contest, it‘s justified.  Do you believe, Frank, that we are winning over there, that we are building a government of all of the various communities over there that will unite and hold that country together after we‘re gone?  Do you believe that‘s where we are headed right now?

GAFFNEY:  I think that‘s what we‘re working towards.

MATTHEWS:  No!  Is that where we‘re headed?  Is that what we‘re getting done?

GAFFNEY:  Chris, let me answer the question.  We‘re working towards it...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not answering the question.

GAFFNEY:  I‘m trying to answer the question.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not an answer.

GAFFNEY:  What I think we‘re...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a hope.

GAFFNEY:  Let me tell you...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you, are we winning the fight or not?

GAFFNEY:  We are—the answer is a transitional answer, just like the government is a transitional answer.  Where we‘re headed with this is in the right direction.  I don‘t think we‘re getting as fast in that movement as we‘d like to.  But Chris, what‘s the alternative?

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no, no!  No, I don‘t want to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll debate that in the B block tonight.

GAFFNEY:  If you ask—if you ask...

MATTHEWS:  I want to know whether we‘re getting done...

GAFFNEY:  If you ask...

MATTHEWS:  ... what we‘re doing over the to fight—are we winning this...

GAFFNEY:  If you ask...

MATTHEWS:  ... fight?

GAFFNEY:  If you ask the question, Are we on the right side, are we winning, is this going to come out right, my answer to you is, we‘re doing the right thing, and whether we get there or not will depend in part on whether we keep undermining the effort here at home by saying it‘s all lost, forget about it, we‘re cutting and running.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, let me go back to P.J.  I‘m asking a question because a lot of Americans are wondering, are we on a winning side over there?  This guy Maliki, his government that we‘ve set up there and have hopes for, as Frank expresses as well as anybody—we sure have hopes that they‘ll put together a winning combination of Sunni, Shia and Kurd to hold that government together so it doesn‘t become a clone of Iran.  But is that happening or isn‘t it?  We‘re going to have to decide this pretty soon. 

P.J.?

CROWLEY:  Well, I‘m not sure this is our decision to make.  I do think that the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s damn well our decision whether another soldier gets killed over there on our side!  That‘s our decision!

CROWLEY:  Well, sure.  No, I mean, it is in our interest to have a unified national Iraq.  But it‘s quite possible, if not likely, at this point, you‘re going to end up with two or three different cantons, not a single Iraq.  So—but that is ultimately a decision that they will have to make.  There is a civil war going on in Iraq, and that civil war will determine the extent to which the Shias will dominate the Sunnis or the Sunnis will participate.  The Kurds still have their interest in independence eventually.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CROWLEY:  So can we say today that we will be successful in keeping Iraq unified?  The answer is we can‘t make that statement.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to have to...

GAFFNEY:  And we shouldn‘t make it right now, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GAFFNEY:  ... despite your best efforts.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you, are we winning?  Are we moving toward victory or moving away from it?

CROWLEY:  We‘re not winning.  We‘re definitely not winning.  If that‘s your...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the direction of the battle?  You can say that, can‘t you, Frank?  Which way is it headed?

GAFFNEY:  You—listen, you can say it, but it is at an early stage of the battle.  The battle is something...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in the fifth summer...

GAFFNEY:  ... Chris, when you‘re in the middle of it...

MATTHEWS:  ... of war!

GAFFNEY:  When you‘re in the middle of it, you don‘t necessarily know exactly how the battle‘s going.

MATTHEWS:  Is this a 10-year war?

GAFFNEY:  The point is...

MATTHEWS:  If we‘re in the middle of this war, it‘s a 10-year war. 

We‘ve 5 years into this war, Frank.

GAFFNEY:  You may well be into a 20-year war because the war is not—as I‘ve said to you many times on this show, the war is not just in Iraq, Chris.  The guys who keep telling you that are misleading...

MATTHEWS:  No, the war in Iraq is what...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  ... global war, and it is probably a multi-generational war.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m just asking about the war in Iraq.  Do you think it‘s a 10 or 20-year war?

GAFFNEY:  I‘m not calling it a war because I believe it is one front in the war.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s get back to...

GAFFNEY:  And when you confuse the two, you suggest that you have, A, the option of walking away from Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  All right...

GAFFNEY:  ... which I don‘t believe we have...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GAFFNEY:  ... and therefore, the answer to your question is, we are on the right side, trying to help this come out right.

CROWLEY:  Well, it is something that we created.  This did not have to be...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  ... a front we needed to address, I believe.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s an argument.  Fine.  Frank, let‘s get back and look at it from your perspective, which is the question I know you want to raise.  Why are we fighting in Iraq against al Qaeda?  And is the war in Iraq that we‘re fighting in any way going to stop the al Qaeda forces who are around the world, perhaps, from coming at us here in the U.S.?

We‘ll be right back with Frank Gaffney, from his perspective, and P.J.

Crowley.

Coming up later: Are you hot for Hillary?  I guess that‘s the right phrase.  We found somebody who clearly is.  She‘ll be here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with a former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney and former Clinton administration security official P.J. Crowley.

P.J., along the general lines of this war against the terrorists, against al Qaeda, is fighting in Iraq, our fighting in Iraq, and the price we‘re paying in lives and treasure stopping al Qaeda worldwide from hitting us here?

CROWLEY:  Oh, not at all.  You know, quite the opposite.  You know, what the president says is mythology, that we‘re fighting them there so we don‘t have to confront them here.  London and Glasgow prove that we are fighting a threat with two or three different dimensions.  You have an Iraqi threat in al Qaeda now that is affiliated with al Qaeda.  We helped invent it.  But they are focused inside al Qaeda (SIC), not to the United States.

You do have that guy that is truly responsible for 9/11.  He‘s sitting in Pakistan, and we‘ve diverted our attention from that region, which is the central front, to Iraq.  But you also have these, you know, evolving militants, you know, self-militants, like you saw in Britain this past week, and those people would be very hard to detect.

When Michael Chertoff last week said he had a gut feeling that we‘re vulnerable to attack, he‘s absolutely right.  But you know, what he is saying is right, what the president‘s saying is wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Frank?

GAFFNEY:  Chris, I think this is a mythology that is unhelpful.  What we‘re dealing with, I believe, is a truly global phenomenon.  Al Qaeda is one manifestation of it.  It happens to fall within the Sunni group of islamofascists, the political ideology that I think we‘re challenged by.  Iran has its Shia elements, Hezbollah, as well as its own.

We are dealing with people who have lots of differences between them, and they will kill each other as soon as they finish with us.  But by and large, the have a common agenda, and that is domination on a global scale, forcing everyone to submit to a form of political totalitarianism they call Sharia, political Islam.

I believe that whether there are more card-carrying, if you can believe there is such a concept—card-carrying al Qaeda members today than there were on 9/11 completely misses the point.  There are a large numbers of islamofascists, probably growing numbers, some of whom are operating in Iraq and are determined to try to get a safe haven from which to operate there—vastly more interesting place to operate from, by the way, than Afghanistan.

They are in Pakistan.  They are in Afghanistan, of course.  They are elsewhere in Asia.  They are in Africa.  They are in Latin America.  And I am sorry to report they are in Europe and even here in the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you get back, Frank...

GAFFNEY:  And that is what we‘re up against and why it‘s a global problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you get back to the question?  Is our fighting in Iraq and the price we are paying to keep up that government over there protecting us from being attacked by al Qaeda in the United States?

GAFFNEY:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Does it have any connection? 

GAFFNEY:  I think there is a connection.

To the extent that we were to do what I think you and a certainly a lot of people have here in mind is to end—cut our losses, cut and run, whatever you want to call it, from Iraq will greatly compound the problem. 

The alternative of insuring that Iraq does not fall to the Islamofascists, their enablers, their friends, I think, does, in fact, help keep us safer, not perfectly safe, because these guys are here in our own country already, to some extent. 

But the inevitable effect of losing Iraq will be greatly to compound the danger we face both here and elsewhere around the world. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Do we have a bigger or—or smaller chance, three or four years from now, because that‘s about as long as we can stay there, P.J., of losing Iraq in three or four years than we do today? 

In other words, if we stay there for three more years, back up this government, lose lives, lose treasure, for three more years, and then pull out, do we have any better chance that the government we have in place right now under Maliki or anyone else who replaces him will survive? 

CROWLEY:  Well, I think that...

MATTHEWS:  In—in other words, is there any real reason to stick around the three or four years, which is probably as long as we can stick around in that country in force? 

CROWLEY:  Well, we, the United States, in my view, now have a moral commitment to the people of Iraq. 

We broke their system.  We have to help replace it with something better.  The real key is...

MATTHEWS:  But will we have a better chance in three or four years...

CROWLEY:  Well, Chris, let—let...

MATTHEWS:  ... if we stay three or four?

CROWLEY:  All right.  Let me finish, though.

You know, the—the real question is, we have a military-dominated strategy.  We have to go to a politically-dominated strategy, a regional strategy, and—and then the military may play a role, may not.  But we have to make sure that—that, while we should, in fact, starting very soon, reduce our military commitment to Iraq, we cannot eliminate our—our, you know, moral commitment that we have had here. 

I want to just say one thing about Frank.  You know, he—he—what a great 1950s retro he just did.  They‘re everywhere.  They‘re behind every tree.  He just aggregated the Sunnis and the Shias together into one phenomenon.  They‘re not.

We have to make sure that we understand the threat that al Qaeda in Iraq now face—now—now confront—we now confront.  We created it.  We—we can‘t ignore it.  But we should not think that what is happening in Iraq is central to our security here in the United States.  It is not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much...

GAFFNEY:  Sunnis—Sunnis and Shias can agree on one thing, when they‘re Islamofascists.  And that is that we are the enemy and they have to destroy us.  That‘s a demonstrable fact.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wish it was—I wish it was as simple as...

CROWLEY:  Way oversimplified.

MATTHEWS:  ... coming up with new names for the enemy every couple months.

GAFFNEY:  A demonstrable fact.

MATTHEWS:  If we could—if—if this was a contest, Frank, for coming up with interested new names, like Islamofascism, we would have won this thing a long a way ago, because Madison Avenue would have won the fight.

Anyway, thank you, Frank Gaffney.

GAFFNEY:  Calling it—calling it what it is helps clarify what is at stake.

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  Answering the questions would help, too. 

And I still want to know if you think that we‘re winning in Iraq. 

GAFFNEY:  I think—I think we‘re on the right track, Chris. 

CROWLEY:  We‘re not winning.

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  And losing—losing here at home assures that we will be defeated.

CROWLEY:  We have change...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  The sooner we do it, the better.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  Did I answer the question again?

MATTHEWS:  No, because the question is really, do you think Maliki has the confidence of the Iraqi people?  And should we have confidence in him? 

GAFFNEY:  I don‘t.  I don‘t, but I think it is in our interests to ensure that the government institutions that we have helped build there have the confidence and deserve the confidence of the Iraqi people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question you...

GAFFNEY:  And—and helping them get through...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GAFFNEY:  ... this transition is the key to that. 

MATTHEWS:  The trick is to believe that the government we set up over there will survive the people running it. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Frank...

GAFFNEY:  We didn‘t set it up.  We‘re helping them.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

GAFFNEY:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  ... we will see how long they last without—we will see how long they last without us, unfortunately. 

Frank Gaffney.

And thank you, P.J. Crowley.

Up next: the start of the “New For Hillary‘ video that is heating up the Internet. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HOTT4HILL”)

TARYN SOUTHERN, ACTRESS (singing):  But she‘s not with me.  She‘s with this guy named...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The young woman who starred in that Obama video may have started something new.  Taryn Southern has made a Web music video expressing her admiration for Hillary Clinton. 

She entitles it “Hott4Hill.”

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HOTT4HILL”)

SOUTHERN:  I have a crush on a girl named Hill.  But she‘s not with me.  She‘s with this guy named Bill.  But there‘s one thing I know.  I just can‘t sit still until I see Hill up on the Capitol Hill. 

Hillary, I think I want you.  Hillary, I think I need you.   Hillary, I like your hair, the pantsuits you wear, and the shape of your derriere. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome, Taryn.  Thank you for joining us.

Is that you, the woman in front of the Lincoln Memorial there? 

SOUTHERN:  Yes, it is me in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

MATTHEWS:  What is this?  Is this really a secret tryout for Hollywood greatness, and you are using politics as a vehicle? 

SOUTHERN:  No, absolutely not. 

You know, in Hollywood—I just moved here about a year ago, by the way—on a day-to-day basis, I‘m always going out for auditions and—and reading other people‘s lines.  So, for me, this was just a really fun project for me to be able to write my own material and do something fun and interesting. 

You know, I saw the Obama Girl video, just like two million other Americans.  And I thought it was brilliant.  And I just wanted to even the playing field a little bit.

MATTHEWS:  How much does it cost to make a video like this for you? 

(LAUGHTER)

SOUTHERN:  I am working on a 21-year-old shoestring budget, so not much. 

MATTHEWS:  How much?  Come on.  Cuanto?

SOUTHERN:  I don‘t know.  Probably around $1,200, maybe?  I haven‘t even looked at how much, but probably around $1,000.

MATTHEWS:  Well, where did you get the money from?  Where did you get the money from? 

SOUTHERN:  Out of my own pocket. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?      

SOUTHERN:  Out of my own pocket. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a business...

SOUTHERN:  I know everyone would like to believe that I was funded...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  This is—this is...

SOUTHERN:  ... by some camp or another camp, but...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  I‘m asking you if you‘re...

SOUTHERN:  No, this was....

MATTHEWS:  ... writing this off as a business investment in your career?

SOUTHERN:  Oh.  I hadn‘t thought about that.  No, I mean, it...

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be a tax—is this going to be a tax write-off, or is this going to be a political contribution?  How are you going to handle this with the accountant?

SOUTHERN:  I hadn‘t thought that far in advance, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on.  You have thought all this through.  You even thought through this interview.

SOUTHERN:  No.  I mean, I literally...

MATTHEWS:  You had it all figured out.

SOUTHERN:  From the time that I put this video together and started writing the lyrics to the time I put it up on the Web was—was a frame of about five days. 

You know, it took me a day to write and record the song, two days to shoot it, two days to edit.  And, then, lo and behold, it‘s up online.  And, when you do something like a parody of a parody, you never know how many people are going to watch, because it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SOUTHERN:  You know, it might be considered a little convoluted.  But I am thrilled that people are watching.  And I am on your show. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You sure are winning this one.

Let me ask you, have you heard from the Hillary folks?  Have they unofficially or officially gotten ahold of you and said, we like it; we don‘t like it?

SOUTHERN:  They have not contacted me as of yet, but I am interested to see what their reaction was. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard from any Hollywood producers or writers of directors who like the cut of your jib?

(LAUGHTER)

SOUTHERN:  You know, it has been pretty—it has been pretty quiet here in Hollywood, actually.  Everyone is on vacation right now. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you haven‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, you haven‘t heard from anybody about this—this audition tape? 

SOUTHERN:  No.  I have gotten—I have gotten a lot of messages and e-mails complimenting the video.   

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SOUTHERN:  And, you know, that‘s—that‘s great.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, you are a cutie-pie. 

Let me ask you.  What are your politics?  I‘m a little bit interested, not a lot.  But are your politics pro-Hillary or anti-Hillary?  I can‘t tell from this thing. 

SOUTHERN:  Well, it‘s funny.  

This is actually the second time we have met on political circumstances, although you wouldn‘t remember the first.  You were down at University of Miami for the political debates in 2004.

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

SOUTHERN:  And I had won an essay contest to—to write about the debates.  And, so, I was there, and actually spoke to you briefly. 

I—you know, I didn‘t make this video for political reasons.  I did not have a political agenda.  But now that I have gotten such a massive reaction from the video, and I have got a lot of people out there saying that I did this video to maliciously hurt Hillary Clinton, which is so untrue that I—I feel a responsibility... 

MATTHEWS:  No, I think it hurt...

(CROSSTALK)

SOUTHERN:  ... to say that, yes, I...

MATTHEWS:  Look, I am with you on that. 

SOUTHERN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I am with you on that, Taryn.

But let me ask you this about yourself.

SOUTHERN:  But I...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think women feel a responsibility, as a gender, to support a woman who has the first real chance to be elected president?  Do you sense any gender loyalty among your friends, your peers, your relatives, parents, whatever? 

SOUTHERN:  I don‘t think so.  I think that females actually are going to be more hard on her because she is a female, ironically,  I mean, I hope that everybody votes on...

(LAUGHTER)

SOUTHERN:  ... on the presidency based on the merit of the work and how well they‘re going to do in the office.  But I am encouraged.  And I think that it is great that we actually have a female that‘s up for the presidency.  Twenty years ago, that would not have been the case. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you might ever run, after you‘re done this—this Hollywood gig? 

SOUTHERN:  I don‘t think so.  I think I‘m going to leave politics to you, Mr. Matthews.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you. 

I think you sound... 

SOUTHERN:  That‘s what you‘re here for.

MATTHEWS:  You sound smart.  I am not talking down to you.  I think you are great. 

Anyway, Taryn Southern, a great piece of work. 

I think this is the kind of thing that is going to excite people about this campaign. 

Now that you have seen what Taryn has done, we want to know what you can do.  Tonight, we now announce here on HARDBALL the HARDBALL campaign ad challenge.  Make your own 30-second campaign ad, just like hers, for your favorite presidential candidate or the one you like the least, either way.  We will play the best ones on HARDBALL and announce the winner on August 7. 

That‘s coming up pretty soon, so get something done. 

According to Taryn, it takes about a couple weeks.  Get them into and upload them on HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  Is the Bush administration really educating us as to what is going on in Iraq, or are they trying to confuse us and giving a story that they think will help their case?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

It was a record day for the Dow, but stocks closed mixed overall this Monday.  The Dow Jones industrial average just flirted with that 14000 mark, closing up 43 points on the day, the S&P 500 down three, the Nasdaq down by more than nine. 

And IHOP is buying Applebee‘s for about $2 billion.  IHOP plans to sell most of Applebee‘s 508 company-owned restaurants as franchises to pay down acquisition debt.

A report is out that Britain‘s Vodafone is considering a $160 billion buyout of Verizon.  And that generated plenty of buzz in the market today.  However, Vodafone says in a news release that it has—quote—“no plans to make such an offer.”

Oil prices were up slightly today, rising 22 cents in New York‘s trading session, and closing at $74.15 a barrel.  Meantime, gasoline futures plunged almost 10 cents a gallon.  That came as refineries restarted some key processing units. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A mixed report, that‘s how President Bush described the progress in Iraq last week, but do we know all the facts about what is going on in Iraq?  And how much is the Bush a administration involved in misinforming the public?  That‘s our debate tonight.

With us is former Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore of Virginia, who dropped out of the race this past weekend, and Mike Papantonio, founder of GoLeft TV, a sort of, well, left-wing YouTube. 

Let me go to Mike first.      

Mike, your thoughts.  Do you believe we are getting misinformation?  Are we getting bad information from this administration about why we are in Iraq, how we got there, and how we are doing? 

MIKE PAPANTONIO, FOUNDER, GOLEFT TV:  Yes.  There is an attempt to redefine the war. 

We saw it with the weapons of mass destruction.  That—that lie did not work.  That‘s spin didn‘t work.  Then there was the—then there was the angle that we‘re going to create a new democracy.  And, when they looked at numbers, the American public was clear that they never would have gone to Iraq to create a new democracy.

So, they changed course.  Now the new fight is that we are there to fight al Qaeda.  I think the last time I heard Bush in a press conference, he used the term al Qaeda about 30 times in that press conference, even though, four months ago, he admitted al Qaeda was less than 10 percent of the problem in—in the insurgency in Iraq.  So, there is a very serious attempt to redefine why we are there. 

And I think it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Governor Gilmore on that.  Let me give him a chance. 

Governor Gilmore, your thoughts.  Do you believe this administration has talked turkey, been straight with us, about why we went into that war and how we‘re doing? 

JAMES GILMORE ®, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR:  You know, Chris, I think the key at this point is what we‘re trying to do there. 

I...

MATTHEWS:  No, but do you think they‘re being honest with us, is the question tonight?

GILMORE:  Well, how am I supposed—Chris, how am I supposed to know?  I am not in Iraq and I‘m not sitting in the inner circles of the White House or the—or the Pentagon.  I think that the press can probe these things and we can try to get to the bottom of those facts. 

But I am telling you that it‘s a side game.  The real issue that we have to address here is, what are the nationals interests of the United States?

And I‘m telling you that the men and women in uniform who are out there are serving the interests of the United States, and we shouldn‘t tell them anything any different.  But I also...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you know they are?  How do you know they are? 

GILMORE:  Well, because of the open letter that I sent to the president several weeks ago, while I was still a candidate as president, in which I suggested that we redeploy and that we make sure that we cover what the strict national interests of the United States are.  And I laid out what they were. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this. 

Are you confounded, Governor—I want to start with you on this—are you confounded when you read polls, legitimate polls, that show that two-fifths of the American people, two out of five, believe that Iraq was involved heavily in attacking us on 9/11, when the administration hasn‘t officially said that? Where do we get this misinformation from, if it‘s not because of Cheney and the president somewhat lending a hand in that misinformation. 

GILMORE:  Well, I think there‘s a lot of confusion and a lot of discussion right now in the media and everywhere else.  But I think this: I think what maybe is coming through is the fact that we have a growing and emerging challenge, not just in Iraq, but across the entire Middle East.  It‘s a lot of different crosscurrents, all the way from Iran through Pakistan, through all the different areas of Saudi Arabia, and it is a major national interest of the United States. 

I think people understand that.  You get into some shorthands about it.  I think that is probably what you are seeing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Mike.  It seems to me that Dick Cheney used to come on weekends on “Meet The Press” and do his dance, and say they‘re going to have nuclear mushroom clouds and nuclear explosions and nuclear weapons, and he did it so often; I wonder if it just sank in.  And the country music was playing in the backdrop to it and people said, remember how you felt on 9/11? 

It is as if everybody bought the argument; we bought the Brooklyn bridge, that somehow al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11.  We got back at them.  Here we, as you just pointed out a minute ago—here we are fighting them legitimately in Iraq, which makes it sound like the president was right all along.  We chased them back to Iraq, when, in fact, there is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. 

PAPANTONIO:  Chris, it didn‘t happen by mistake.  It was well done.  You have to give them credit.  Cheney, Bush, and Karl Rove were very good about this misinformation campaign.  What you are seeing now is part of that.  There are some nuances to it.  First, what you‘re seeing is this misrepresentation that we are there to fight al Qaeda.  Everybody knows that has looked at this that that is a ridiculous argument.  Al Qaeda is only a minor part of the problem. 

But the second part of it is that we are seeing this blame game, blame the Iraqi government for not being able to bring order; blame the Democrats for tying the president‘s hands; blame the media for not reporting all the great things that have happened; blame the public for not being patient; blame the Republican senators and Congressmen for not acting like brain dead circus monkeys every time they ask a question. 

So there are all these parts to this misinformation, as you put it.  I think it is very accurate to say that it is working to some degree.  Although, when you look at the numbers, 70 percent of the American public opposed the war; 62 percent say invading Iraq was a mistake.  They are mad at bout the fact that we spent 400 billions dollars there and we are on our way to two trillion dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I got to go back to governor.  I‘ve got to give Governor Gilmore a chance.  Governor, do you think it is a good cause to fight for Maliki to lead Iraq? 

GILMORE:  I think stability in Iraq would be in the American national interest.  I don‘t know whether Maliki as a person is a person that we need to be fighting for.  But I want to respond a little bit to what we were saying, because he was blasting away in a whole variety of things, and a lot of it has some substance to it, so it is a nice arguments.  But there are several things we do need to point out. 

Number one, a precipitous withdrawal, as proposed by the Democrats, is very dangerous to the national interests of the United States.  Number two, OK, so maybe it is a different al Qaeda than it was in 9/11, sure.  But the fact is that if we allow radical Islamists to take over Iraq because of our precipitous withdrawal, it‘s dangerous to the United States of America.  It is dangerous to Israel. 

There are a lot of issues that we have to address here, not the least of which is Iran.  And these matters have got to be conducted by somebody who understands something about foreign policy.  My hope is that we are going to take do that in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that Israel and we will be better off if we stay there three years, take the casualty‘s we are taking at the rate we‘re taking them, governor, spending the money we are spending and winning the hatred of so much of that part of the world, that three years from now there‘s a better bet that the government we leave in place will hold on?  Do you believe that?   

GILMORE:  No, that is not my policy, and that is not the policy that I laid out in my open letter to the president. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that is the Bush policy. 

GILMORE:  I broke with that in my op-ed piece, which was published, as you know, in the “Washington Post” and elsewhere.  But I think you can protect national interests of the United States without having to take that kind of radical position. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we make some news tonight?  Governor, will you run for the U.S. Senate for Virginia now that you are not running for the presidency? 

GILMORE:  Chris, thank you.  There were a lot of people who, of course, even while I was running for president, who suggested that the Senator or the governorship in Virginia would be good options for me.  I‘m into public service.  I always have been.  I like the opportunity of serving the people of Virginia and the people of the United States, so I will look for those opportunities as they emerge. 

MATTHEWS:  So it will be you against Davis, Tom David, in the primary, and maybe Mark Warner against you in the general.  What do you think? 

GILMORE:  I think let‘s not cross those bridges until we get to them. 

We do not know what Senator Warner is going to do yet. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we are starting to move across that bridge, governor.  Thank you very much Governor Jim Gilmore, maybe a candidate for the Senate for Virginia.  And Mike Papantonio; Mike, you‘re a great arguer. 

By the way, up next our round table will dig into the top political stories of the day.  Plus, Cindy Sheehan‘s angry show down with that side winder on the sidewalk that went after her the other day.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now to dig into some of the hottest political headlines and the hottest video across the Internet.  Here to do it, the “Weekly Standard‘s” Matt Continetti, the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Jill Zuckman, who just returned from covering John McCain up in New Hampshire, and Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post.”

First up, the heat of battle.  With tensions over the Iraq war higher than ever, two U.S. senators pummeled each other over the war this weekend.  This comes as Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki says the Iraqi forces are now ready—or at least he said so—are now ready for the United States to leave.  They can still take care of themselves. 

Here they are, Jim Webb going at Lindsey Graham on “Meet the Press.”  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  Somebody needs to speak up for them, rather than simply defending this president. 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  They reenlist in the highest numbers of anybody else in the military. 

WEBB:  This is one thing I really take objective to. 

(CROSS TALK)

GRAHAM:  Let them win.  They want to win.  Let them win

WEBB:  Is politicians who put their political views into the mouths of soldiers.  You can look at poll after poll and the political views of the United States military are no different than the country at large. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Jonathan on that.  Jonathan, I have watched “Meet the Press” for many years.  I like it.  That was pretty hot.  It was very hart.  What do you make of this?  Is this where we have gotten in this country, where two very distinguished senators, young guys, smart guys, military guys, can‘t seem to have a civil conversation. 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think this speaks to where the country is right now.  We saw it right there in living color on “Meet The Press.”  On the one hand, you have a Democratic senator who is expressing the frustrations of a lot of Democrats.  Remember, he was swept in last November with the Democrats taking control of Congress.

And on the other hand, you have a Republican senator who also wants to do the right thing, but is in a party that is slowly but surely, one senator at a time, moving away from the president and saying to the president it‘s time to do something different.

MATTHEWS:  Jill, did Lindsey Graham get caught using some old boiler plate argument; the troops want to fight, let‘s back them up?  And he got jammed by Jim Webb, who said that is not an excuse.  We do not fight wars because of soldiers.  Soldiers fight wars for the country. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Chris, this is a fight that has been going on for the last week, since the Senate started debating the Iraq war.  Tempers have really been frayed.  Last week, Senator Webb suggested that he knew better when he was offering an amendment because he was a combat veteran.  Well that really set off Lindsey Graham and John McCain on the Republican side, who opposed his amendment, because they had served in the military also.  And they did not feel like they needed to have his identical experience to be able to evaluate that.

So I think that clash on “Meet The Press” was sort of the obvious evolution from where they had been on the floor last week. 

MATTHEWS:  Matt, do you think the Democrats have finally said they are not going to let the Republicans play the soldier card, of saying, hey, we are on this side of the soldiers, you are not? 

MATT CONTINETTI, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Well, they haven‘t been letting the Republicans play the soldier card since 2004 when they nominated a decorated war hero for the presidency in John Kerry.  And they have seen the limits of that approach, Chris.  At the end of the day, I don‘t believe biography trumps policy.  Since both parties are using the soldiers for their own end, I think we need to step back and look at what is in the best interest of the country. 

And at the moment, public opinion is with Senator Webb. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s go right now.  Next up, video 2008, Cindy Sheehan meets the side winder.  Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, known for her stunts and confrontations, just got confronted herself by a Bush supporter out there on the streets. Let us take a look at the street fight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What happens in Iraq after we leave?  What happens in Iraq after we leave?  She does not know anything. 

CINDY SHEEHAN, ANTI-WAR ACTIVIST:  Are you going to let me answer? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fine.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Your piece, go ahead.  

SHEEHAN:  How many Iraqi people in Iraq have you talked to?  Zero. 

The people of Iraq want us out.   

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What happens in Iraq after we leave?  You think there‘s going to peace?  You think there‘s going to peace?

SHEEHAN:  I can‘t answer because you won‘t be quiet. 

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So Saddam Hussein was better, right? 

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the answer to that, Saddam Hussein was what? 

What was Saddam Hussein?

SHEEHAN:  George Bush has killed 700,000 innocent Iraqis. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George Bush did not have anything to do with that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Not exactly Roberts rules.  Anyway, Cindy Sheehan is going to be hear on HARDBALL tomorrow.  But in the meantime, I want Matt to talk about that.  Cindy Sheehan has become the iconic anti-war figure.  Is she helpful to the war effort, that she seems to be so extreme?

CONTINETTI:  When Cindy Sheehan announced her retirement from politics a few weeks ago, there were some on the Democratic left blogosphere, Chris, who were saying, well, she‘s kind of hurting us more than she‘s helping us now that her opinion is really in the mainstream of the country, to get out of Iraq now being.  We don‘t need her anymore. 

I look at that video; what strikes me is you look at footage from the waning days of the Vietnam War—I was not around, so I have to rely on the footage—and you see thousands of people marching, huge clashes between government forces in some cases.  I look at that video and I see five people, mainly Cindy‘s entourage, and then one guy.  

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, me to you, the draft.  The draft; that explains it all.  If you were vulnerable to the draft right now, you would have a much less frisky attitude about this war than you might have right now.  Jonathan, your thoughts?  I think it‘s the draft that explains why this has become a microcosm of a fight in the streets, rather than hundreds of thousands of hard hats going up against lefty college students.  It does not look the same, because the stakes at home, unfortunately, are not being shared. 

CAPEHART:  I think you make a very good point, Chris.  The other thing

though is when you watch the rest of that tape, the reporters ask the guy -

after Cindy Sheehan walks away—why don‘t you serve.  He says they do not want me.  They said why?  He said, well I‘m 31 years old.  Someone pointed out to him that they are taking them at 40. 

So let‘s go.  Let‘s go down.  He is like, no, my role here is to stay here and make money to fund the war.  It was a very weird moment.

MATTHEWS:  I used to hear those arguments by the right when I was in school.  By the way, I think Scooter ought to get some time out there on the front.  Anyway, we will be right back with the panel.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Are you ready for your close-up, Hillary?  Campaign parody videos have become major hits online.  First they did Obama, then Rudy Giuliani and now Hillary Clinton.  Let‘s take look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there she is Matt Continetti, Jill Zuckman and Jonathan.  I want to Jill to start this so we will have no attraction to this obviously beautiful young actress here.  Jill, what do you make of this person?  Is this an audition tape?  What is this thing?  Or is it a political statement.

ZUCKMAN:  I think we should all have a sense of humor about this.  I really don‘t think there‘s a political statement going on here.  And I think anything that engages the public is good for democracy.  It gets their attention.  They think about the candidates.  I think it is funny. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you on that.  Anyway, thank you very much.  And thank you, Matt, and thank you, Jonathan.  Coming right up now, “TUCKER.”

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

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