May 7, 2003 — Bill Maher played ‘Hardball’ with Chris Matthews on Tuesday, May 6, 2003, on a stop of ‘The Hardball College Tour’ at the New School University. Maher’s late-night “Politically Incorrect” was canceled after he made what was viewed as an anti-U.S. military comment in the wake of 9/11. Now making his debut on Broadway in “Bill Maher: Victory Begins at Home,” Maher goes head-to-head with Hardball’s Matthews on the war, being “Dixie Chicked,” and who shot Kennedy. Below, highlights.
On the conflict with Iraq:
I was wrong about the war itself because I predicted the war would be a lot bloodier. I thought it would... my analogy was Waco. I thought he [Saddam] was like Karesh, you know, here is this mad man and we’re going into his private domain and that’s when he’s going to set off his stuff. Why he didn’t, I still don’t know. I’m glad he didn’t.
On Iraqi civilian casualties: I would wager that the number of civilians that were killed under a typical week under Saddam Hussein was probably more than we killed during the weeks we were at war there.
On the French: You know, I defended the French for a while because I said they at least stood up to the Bush administration, which is more than the Democrats ever did. But when the war ended and they would not go for lifting the sanctions, I thought, you know what? Maybe there is something to this thing with the French being not exactly playing cricket.
On why the war was fought: I don’t like being sold a bill of goods and there’s no doubt that this war was first sold to us as a war we had to do for our own self-preservation because the evil one was growing stronger every day. Which was baloney, because I mean, let’s face it, Saddam Hussein compared to
Hitler, excuse me— Hitler was taking over other countries. This guy couldn’t even keep his own country. He was basically the mayor of Baghdad at the point that we went in there. He had lost the north, he had the no-fly zone in the north, the no-fly zone in the south. He was not an imminent threat, so that I never bought.
And when people didn’t buy that, Bush changed tactics and it suddenly became all about ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom.’ It suddenly became all about he gassed his own people. Bush basically was making the point that a police state like Iraq is morally intolerable.
And I would agree with him, but then what do we say to the other 12 or 15 police states around the world? I think some of these states are scrambling now to get nuclear weapons, because they realize that if they have one, then it’s a deterrent. If you don’t have one, then we can go in and crawl up your butt.
On Bush’s motivation for war: My personal view is part of it was personal because ‘He tried to kill my daddy.’ And I think a lot of it was just because we’re going to kick some Arab’s (expletive) because that’s what we need to do to show the world to get reelected and it’s a lot easier than playing defense.
You know, this kind of war, they knew they were going to win it.
On the comment that got him fired: I was the first one to be Dixie Chicked. But as far as the Dixie Chicks go, you know, what we have in common is that they said something that was not a critique of the military. I said something that was in no way a critique of the military. And our enemies tried and, successfully in many ways, connected what we said falsely to a critique of the military.
Somehow the Dixie Chicks, by saying “we’re ashamed to be from the same state as President Bush,” somehow, that got to be something that hurt the morale of the troops. Because you know, our poor troops, they just couldn’t continue fighting because the Dixie Chicks had made President Bush feel bad. How did they find the strength?
On profiling: I was always for this. I say in my act if they call profiling ‘proactive intelligence screening’ and get rid of that word ‘profiling,’ people would go “It’s about time!”
On the consequences of going into Iraq without the UN: This why I keep saying to people who were against this war as a method of fighting terrorism, “You are not unpatriotic, because we do not know what the long-term effects of this war are going to be.”
And one effect may be that many nations around the world may take up this doctrine of pre-emption and say, “Well, if it’s good enough for the United States, why isn’t it good enough for us? Why can’t we do that?”
The United States was not being imminently threatened by Iraq. We’re certainly more threatened by Pakistan than they were by Iraq. They’re right on our border, and they’ve got nukes, and you know, whatever. So if that becomes the case, then I think we will find in the years to come that this was not such a good war to undertake.
On politics and believing in this country: I do very much believe in this country. That’s why I fight for it constantly. That’s why I get out here and take a beating. Politics is the art of saying things that is going to appeal to a vast mainstream. It’s going to offend the least amount of people. It’s not the art of telling the truth. And especially during times of war, and times of hysteria, and times of emotionalism and patriotism.
On who killed Kennedy: [Matthews tries to get Maher to expand on his theory that more than one person killed Kennedy.] You know, I haven’t seen the Oliver Stone movie in awhile. But I know when I walked out of it, I was quite sure that it was Joe Pesci.
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