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When President Bush committed our country to addressing the threat of Saddam Hussein, he had no bigger ally in the congress than Senator John McCain, an on-again, off-again rival...Now that Baghdad has fallen and the people liberated, what’s our next challenge in Iraq? Have we achieved our political objectives? We asked McCain about what it will take to bring democracy to that that country and to the region. Sen. McCain joined the ‘Hardball College Tour’ at the University of Notre Dame on April 23.

PLUS, TOP BUSH administration officials have accused Syria of harboring senior Iraqi leadership, producing weapons of mass destruction and aiding Iraq during the war. Does McCain agree with Bush on Syria and how should they be dealt with?

Also, Bush is facing a big challenge from moderates in his own party in Congress over his tax cut package...McCain has long been a critic of Bush’s tax cutting agenda and we’ll get his take on where the current proposal is headed..

A full hour with Chris Matthews on the Hardball College Tour at the University of Notre Dame, Wednesday, April 23, 7 p.m. ET.

The Hardball College tour aired live from Stepan hall.

LINKS

McCain official homepage

His biography

Read about his last appearance on the College Tour

To get news on the Hardball College tour delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Hardball Briefing. Click here to subscribe.

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READ THE COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT TO THE SHOW

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Up next, the HARDBALL college tour. Our guest, Senator John McCain. Our question, how do we protect our victory in Iraq? But first, the news.

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS: I’m Chris Matthews, and this is the HARDBALL college tour here at University of Notre Dame. Our question tonight, we won the victory in Iraq. Can we protect it? Our special guest tonight, Senator John McCain, let’s play HARDBALL. (applause)

It’s great to have you here. All across the country, we have the alumni watching the show. And a huge, huge alumni at this university. One of the greatest universities in the country, right up there with Holy Cross.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Where were you when I needed you?

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it’s great to have you. And you do seem Catholic.

Let me ask you...

MCCAIN: Can I mention an item of trivia?

MATTHEWS: OK.

MCCAIN: The last time that the Naval Academy defeated Notre Dame was when Roger Staubach was the quarterback.

MATTHEWS: And no one here was alive.

MCCAIN: That’s right.

MATTHEWS: But he’s still in great shape.

MCCAIN: One of these days. Yes, he’s in great shape.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you-You were a POW for all those years, an American hero. Everyone here agrees. I certainly do. Let’s talk about your reaction on hearing that they have found the initials “MSS” in Baghdad on the wall of a cell in a government prison. What’s that mean to you?

MCCAIN: I think it’s an encouraging sign. Scott Speicher, Commander Scott Speicher...

MATTHEWS: Michael Scott...

MCCAIN: Michael Scott Speicher was shot down in the first Persian Gulf War and apparently, the airplane was found but not the ejection seat. And so it gives hope to his family and at least one thing is that we can get this issue resolved, I think, one way or the other. But it is certain is a good sign. It was great, wonderful. A man who served his country.

And we’re-one of the things we always do, and the reason why we welcome back our seven POW’s with such love and affection is we take care of our own. And that’s the great thing about America.

MATTHEWS: When you’re watching those return pictures over the weekend, of those returned POWs, including Shoshana Johnson and her mother, actually, was so wonderful when she said, “I hope they treat her like a lady.” That was powerful stuff.

Did that feel anything, any memories of coming back from Vietnam after all those years in the Hanoi Hilton?

MCCAIN: No, I didn’t, Chris, to be honest with you. I didn’t feel any different than the same joy that most Americans felt.

But I also felt a bit of sadness. Her roommate, Lori Piestewa, who was a Hopi Indian, who lives up on Tuba City-from Tuba City, Arizona, wonderful young woman. She was killed. And so we share the sorrow of not only all Americans but the Hopi and Navajo nation who are so proud of her. She was the first Native-American woman that we know of that was killed in combat. So we honor her memory.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about, are you proud of the work, and the leadership of the commander-in-chief in this war?

MCCAIN: Yes, I am. I think the president has led with great clarity and I think he’s done a great job leading the country, don’t you all? (applause)

MATTHEWS: One of the goals going in, of course, was to find the weapons of mass destruction. Another goal was regime change. The phrase basically shaped by those advocating the war.

Is it important, and how important is it that we find Saddam Hussein?

MCCAIN: I think it’s important that we find out what happened to him.

MATTHEWS: Dead or alive?

MCCAIN: Dead or alive. By the way, I’ve heard from three reliable sources, one, he’s dead, one he’s wounded, the other, he’s alive. So you can-it’s whoever you want to listen to.

MATTHEWS: That’s two out of three. Seriously, don’t we-don’t we have to get him?

MCCAIN: I think it’s important to find out what happened to him. He represents the Ba’athists and the era of terror and oppression. I would love to see him in a war crimes tribunal so that all the world could see how really awful this person was.

MATTHEWS: He tried to knock off the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush. We know all about that. Do you think in his escape, if he does escape to say, Syria somewhere underground or escapes to Mauritania or some welcoming state, do you think attempt something like that again? Is he still potentially dangerous in his escape?

MCCAIN: I don’t think he’s potentially dangerous any more, but do I believe he’s a symbol. And one of the great things about a war crimes tribunal is that people would appreciate-you know, this guy’s crimes are up there with some of the worst in history. And we’re finding out a lot of this information. But we’d know a lot more when people came forward at his trial.

But I think-I think we’ll find his whereabouts and I think we’ll find weapons of mass destruction, as well.

MATTHEWS: Were you impressed when we did find those torture chambers, those cells where they were holding all the people down in, especially in Basra?

MCCAIN: I was. I was, but not surprised. We heard so many of those stories before.

And the other thing, I think, that Americans are gripped by is here you have people who live in abject poverty, in the worst kind of conditions. And here are these palaces, the most kind of conspicuous excess, opulence and degenerate lifestyles that I think justify to a large degree what we’ve done.

And maybe now the Iraqi people will be able to enjoy some of the benefits of this enormous oil revenues that will continue to come into the country.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the other open question. Weapons of mass destruction. They were the international reason for us going in there. Do we have to find a large cache of such weapons to prove that we were right?

MCCAIN: I think we will find weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s important that we do.

I don’t think that those Iraqi soldiers had all those gas masks all around there just because they felt we were going to use chemical weapons. I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious that they were, had some intentions or plans to use them.

You know, Chris, in this conflict, Saddam Hussein had two Russian generals about a year ago, as you know, maybe some of our audience doesn’t, come to Baghdad. They gave them a plan, a strategy. And it was basically the World War II strategy that the Russians used against the Germans. Attrite, harass, get them into a battle inside Baghdad, move your heavy equipment and tanks, get into house-to-house fighting.

Meanwhile, you bolster the Iraqi people, erode American and world public opinion, arose the Arab world.

And the strategy was great for 1944, 1943, I guess, the battle of Stalingrad. We just overwhelmed them.

When the Army went downtown Baghdad and the way we went north with our Marines, it was just an overwhelming victory for technology capability and most of all, these incredible men and women that are serving in the military. They’re the absolute best.

MATTHEWS: It was like the Jetsons against the Flintstones.

MCCAIN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And did you know all that capability was at hand? That we could send a rocket in a window, hit the right floor, don’t hit the piano, hit the bar, I mean, that kind of thing?

MCCAIN: Yes. Because of what we did in Afghanistan, I knew. And of course, having some briefings and all that.

But the guy I miss, and I know we all do. And I sure hope we find him, is Baghdad Bob, you know, the information minister. He’s a great guy, you know. There’s a slot for him on “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE,” you know? You could do a campus tour with him. I mean, the guy was really, he was a piece of work, old Baghdad Bob.

MATTHEWS: Bring him along next time.

Let me ask you about the question of the terrorism. That’s the other American question here. We’re worried about another bin Laden. We’re worried about the possibility that a bin Laden-type person or organization could get a hold of those weapons over there.

How do we stop that from happening? The weapons that are all-They could be anywhere.

MCCAIN: Well, I think the war on terrorism is going to go on for a long time. I think that as long as in the Middle East, there’s young men standing on street corners, with no job, no opportunity, no hope for a better life for the future, and there are Saudis who will pay for schools, who will take these young people off the street and teach them to hate America, hate the western values and culture and want to destroy them, we’re going to have a breeding ground for terrorists.

And really, we’ve got to understand that until we get at the root cause of this problem, we’re going to have the manifestation of it.

But let me just say, a lot of people predicted there would be a terrorist attack at the time of the war in Iraq. I never believed that they were holding back because of any conflict with Iraq.

And second of all, there was this belief that somehow the, quote, “Arab street” would rise up and there would be bloody demonstrations. None of those happened. And one of the reasons is because of the rapidity of the victory.

And another reason is because there’s an elite in the Arab street that hates America. We all know that. But I’m not sure the average Arab citizen doesn’t harbor the same hopes and dreams and he aspirations that all of us in this room feel and the fundamental belief that all men and women were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Then we will end the war on terrorism.

MATTHEWS: The man responsible for preserving the victory won on the battle field is General Jay Garner. He’s over there now trying to put together an interim government.

NBC’s Tom Aspell has this report on the challenges that Mr. Garner faces.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since the war, Iraqi crude oil is flowing through pipelines. The destination today, Basra, so water and electricity can soon be turned back on. It’s a crucial step in getting the country running again and also placates southern Iraq’s Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population.

As life returns to normal in the south, Shiite leaders have moved quickly into the power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, organizing local councils, calling for a big share of power in any new government.

Today some of the million Shiites making a religious pilgrimage in Karbala marched, demanding Iraq become an Islamic republic like neighboring Iran.

America’s man in charge on the ground in Iraq, retired General Jay Garner, said the Shiite demonstrations were expected.

GEN. JAY GARNER, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I think what we see right now is the first part of those people who have always been against us, organizing demonstrations and things. It’s probably been planned a long time. I think it’s Iranian based.

ASPELL: Today the White House warned Iran it would not tolerate any interference.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shiah population clearly fall into that category.

ASPELL: Garner, who is charged with helping Iraq form a democratic government, also today took time to look at reconstruction priorities up north.

Only 15 of Iraq’s 75 oil fields are capable of pumping. Today most are littered with broken pipes and rusting equipment. Yet in the north, crude oil is literally bubbling up from the ground.

(on camera) Black gold under the ground. Reserves of 10 billion barrels. There’s so much of it here, it comes out of ground, catches fire, and just burns away.

(voice-over) General Garner says the oil wells can be brought online fairly quickly and help pay Iraq’s reconstruction bills.

GARNER: The last estimate I got from our people that are looking at the oil wells was they thought somewhere between 30 and 60 days.

ASPELL: But legal experts say U.N. sanctions on Iraq have to be lifted first. Then Iraq could start pumping as much as one million barrels a day, a stop on the road to recovery.

Tom Aspell, NBC News, Sulamaniyah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Senator, most of the people in Iraq, we know from population statistics, are Shiah. They are represented by these very zealous people here. What happens if they win the elections and call for an Iranian style theocracy that doesn’t like us?

MCCAIN: Well, that would be a bad outcome, obviously. I’m not sure that that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to go through a period of several months where we set up some kind of interim government that would have, would hold elections.

We’ve got the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis, of which Saddam Hussein was a part of. And the Shiahs have been repressed and oppressed for a long time. Some of this is a natural manifestation of their ability to express themselves.

It’s a bad neighborhood. We know the Syrians allowed, or sent Syrians in to fight Americans. Iran, as we know, would love to see the same kind of government. Although the Iranians are experiencing a lot of discontent themselves, particularly on the part of young people.

So it’s a complicated situation. And this is even more difficult because these people have never known a democracy. Never known a democracy. Their country’s lines were drawn in the sand by some British colonel, I believe, in a tent following World War II. And so they’ve always been a bit of artificiality. But I am convinced that over time, we will be able to install the beginnings of a democratic government.

MATTHEWS: How much time-How much time do we have to put up with these kind of demonstrations? They look to me like the ones against the Shah back in ’79. Can we fight these demonstrations for months and still stay in there?

MCCAIN: Well, I think a lot of what we’re seeing is this religious occasion in Karbala and Musharraf-Nasiriyah.

But no, I don’t think we would but I think we ought to be very, very careful about repressing any demonstration. Because that would not be-the sooner we get some kind of Iraqi police force and law enforcement and that kind of thing, which we are making great progress at, both in Basra and Baghdad.

Look, I never-I said the war would be quick on your program on several times.

MATTHEWS: I’ve got the tape.

MCCAIN: But I never said the post-war period would be easy. But if we can set up an entity that gets these oil revenues and starts putting them in to build a social infrastructure, these people aren’t going to become extremists.

MATTHEWS: OK. More with Senator John McCain here at the University of Notre Dame. Thanks to the Changing Times Foundation who’s welcomed us here. More with Senator McCain and the war and its aftermath, in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, American won the war in Iraq, but what about Syria, Iran and the Palestinians? More with Senator John McCain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Nobody, Senator, I don’t think there’s the person in the world who knows the Harvard fight song but everybody knows the Notre Dame fight song.

MCCAIN: Sure is.

MATTHEWS: And there it is. And by the way, in our audience to celebrate this evening, Cindy McCain. The Senator’s wife is with us. Right there.

Let’s-Toughest question tonight: How long do we need boots on the ground in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I don’t know because I don’t think it’s clear yet exactly how long they’re needed. But our goal is clear and that is to get out as quickly as possible. The longer we stay, the more difficult it will be but we can’t, you know, leave and leave chaos. So it will be a tough decision but the sooner, the better, and the president has said that time after time.

MATTHEWS: Would you want to introduce Irish or Danish or Ethiopian or some other national troops from the U.N., or leave in it there just us to be the gendarmes of the peace?

MCCAIN: I think we need help from every nation in Europe and in the world who is willing to contribute. There are so many things that could be done. There’s so much help that’s needed.

The U.N. can play a fine role with some of their agencies, not as running the country. They’re still running Kosovo several years later. But we certainly can use relief and help from every agency and every country that wants to contribute.

MATTHEWS: How about the French? Boots on the ground. A tough one, huh?

MCCAIN: I wouldn’t think the French troops would be appropriate. But certainly we would appreciate any help and assistance.

MATTHEWS: Why not? Why not appropriate?

MCCAIN: I think that the only military presence required right now would be American and British.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MCCAIN: And once we leave, then would I hope there would not be a requirement for any more military.

MATTHEWS: First question, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, with what you’ve already said about the powerful presence of the Shiah majority in Iraq, how would you propose we represent that majority in the new democracy?

MCCAIN: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt that as the largest population segment, that they would play a major role.

I think one of the tricky areas, of course, is the relationship they have with the Kurds. There’s not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shiahs. So I think they can probably get along.

But the Kurds are the largest minority in the world without a state of their own. It’s clear that if we gave them a state, that it would trigger a crisis with Turkey. The Kurds have said themselves that all they want is autonomy. That’s easy to say. But how you put autonomy into being with the Kurds and then their relations, because they’re ethnically different, as you know, is going to be a very difficult proposition. But I think we can do it.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator, are we-another question here.

MCCAIN: Did that respond?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Should we go into Syria?

MCCAIN: No. I don’t think so.

I think it’s appropriate that Colin Powell is going there. Colin Powell is perfectly capable of talking as tough as anybody, that...

MATTHEWS: So you don’t agree with Newt Gingrich dumping all over him?

You don’t agree with Newt Gingrich dumping on the Powell trip?

MCCAIN: You know, Dick-Richard Armitage is Powell’s deputy. And he’s a wonderful guy. He served in Vietnam. And he’s a really tough guy. And he was quoted someplace today that Newt Gingrich is out of therapy and ought that-

MATTHEWS: I love it. We’ll be back more with John McCain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to the home of the Fighting Irish, University of Notre Dame.

Next question for Senator McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Senator McCain, I want to know, what should we do if we find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Syria?

MCCAIN: I think we’re going to have some difficult decisions then. The question really is, did they move some of those weapons into Syria? We would expect the Syrians to cooperate and to turn that over.

But I want to say that, remember that conflict and war are the absolute last options because people die, children get maimed. We’ve seen the graphic demonstration, a little boy without arms. And we have to exhaust every other option before we would result to military effort. And I think the president is making that very clear.

They’re not good people. And Bashar is a captive of some of the extremist elements, and we’ve got a problem. But I don’t think we contemplate military action.

MCCAIN: Right. Back with more with Senator John McCain at Notre Dame. Thanks for the Changing Times Foundation, we’re here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to the HARDBALL college tour. This half-hour, the growing battle between the Pentagon and the State Department. And what about Secretary Powell’s promise to punish the French?

But first, the news.

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS: Senator, this may surprise you but there’s a petition apparently circulating among Republican business leaders, CEO types, to get rid of Colin Powell. What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: Really?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I’m very proud that he’s served his country in so many capacities. Second of all, he’s the most popular man in America by all polls.

Look, this thing about the tensions or arguments between him and Secretary Rumsfeld, it’s good for the president of the United States to get opposing views. Yes, the State Department needs to be reformed. So does the Defense Department need to be reformed. All institutions need it from time to time.

But I think that the job that Colin Powell has done is outstanding.

I’m proud of him. I’m proud that America produces a man like Colin Powell. I really am. And so-and I’m a great admirer of Rumsfeld. They just have opposing viewpoints.

MATTHEWS: How do you put together a guy who is basically tough on foreign policy, the secretary of defense, I guess he wouldn’t mind being called a hawk. He’s surrounded by hawks. He’s got them ins and outside his administration.

You’ve got Secretary Powell, who’s a diplomat, he ironed out that Chinese mess we got into with the BP-3, the plane, at the beginning.

How do we put together, if you’re the president of the United States, smart diplomacy and tough foreign policy and hawkish behavior?

MCCAIN: I think the president is blessed to have two extremely talented people, experienced people, working for him, and others, but particularly those two.

And may I point out, to my friends on the right, I don’t think Colin Powell decided to go to Syria on his own.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCCAIN: I think the president of the United States told him to go. I think the president told him to go, which is an obvious first step when you’ve got a problem, that Colin Powell is going to look Bashar aside in the eye and say, look, you know. You better clean up your act here. It’s a new day in the Middle East. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to do that.

So to have tensions and infighting and powerful, ambitious people in Washington should come as no surprise to any of us.

MATTHEWS: There are two kinds of hawks, I discovered. They’re not all of one nest.

One of them says what we’re really doing is getting tough with Iraq. We’re going to get tough with Syria with the idea of getting the Palestinians to get the message. It’s time for you guys to democratize, create a good government and stop supporting terrorism, in fact put down the terrorism.

There’s another school of hawks, further right, who say, let’s just chase the Palestinians off the land, larger Israel and the United States should support that.

Where are you on that one?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, Syria is important to the peace process. Syria controls Lebanon, which by the way, is in violation of every normal behavior. The Becca Valley has been a training camp for terrorists for 20 years. And they’ve been feeding them into Palestine. And then, of course, they’ve committed acts of atrocity against Israeli citizens. So Syria is an important player in this peace process.

But even Sharon has said that he realizes that he has to make some concessions on the settlements and a recognition of a Palestinian state.

I think a major event may have happened just today or yesterday, whenever it was, when a prime minister was agreed to who could appoint his own cabinet.

MATTHEWS: A Palestinian prime minister.

MCCAIN: Yes, a Palestinian prime minister. Yasser Arafat is physically and mentally incapable, I believe, in seriously negotiating peace with Israel.

MATTHEWS: Is Rumsfeld capable of supporting a Palestinian state?

MCCAIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: He refuses to say so. He keeps saying the so-called Palestinian entity, when the president says he wants the two state solution.

MCCAIN: Donald Rumsfeld will disagree, argue, do a great job on television. My mother, my 91-year-old mother says, “I love to watch Mr. Rumsfeld.” You know, I mean, he’s a star.

But he will do what the president tells him to. He is loyal to the president of the United States. And the president is now committed to the peace process.

My friends, there’s a lot of great thing that are going to happen out of this conflict. And one of them is, as in 1991, we will have a new opportunity for peace between Israeli-the Israelis and the Palestinians. And if that happens, this could have a profound and significant effect on the entire world.

MATTHEWS: It would be a great day.

Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What effects do you think what’s been deemed as the Bush’s doctrine on preemption will have on the American presidency, which already has a very prominent role in foreign policy?

MCCAIN: I think that this issue of preemption is a little bit misinterpreted.

We live in a different world because for 200 years, we were protected by two oceans and for a country to be able to attack us would require a great deal of warning and preparation, et cetera. Now we have missiles and weapons that can reach the United States. The North Korean, apparently, according to our Intelligence agencies, have nuclear weapons and a missile that can strike the west coast of the United States without warning. Only a few seconds warning, or minutes.

So we now to have take more seriously these challenges, because there’s no wait. There’s no delay.

And so I don’t think that this policy of preemption is that anybody that we think is threatening us, we’re going to immediately move in militarily and attack them. But it means that we’re going to have to respond a lot more preemptively in a broad variety of ways.

As I said before, there’s diplomatic, economic, there’s still the U.N., what’s left of it. There’s plenty of other ways to try to address a threat besides that of military action. But to completely remove the military option, then obviously, weakens your position throughout.

So it’s not, the policy of preemption is not-they’ve got a weapon of mass destruction so we’re going to attack them. It is that we will sit and train a series of actions with military action being the ultimate last option and therefore, we can preserve the United States from being attacked by people who want to do bad things to us.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the question of North Korea lends itself as easily to that formulation? Let me ask you: the Pentagon apparently wants to let the word pass to Kim Jong Il, the nut case who runs North Korea, that he might better figure we’re trying to get a regime change.

The State Department’s approach is, Colin Powell’s approach is let him know he’s safe there as long as he does business with us. In other words, we’re not trying to get rid of him. He with just want him to do business with us.

The example of Saddam Hussein is unclear. Do you think Saddam Hussein could have saved himself in the last three or four months if he’d played ball with us, or was he gone to start with?

MCCAIN: I think if he had come clean on the weapons of mass destruction, he could have saved himself right up until the day the first missile struck, the first example of “shock and awe,” most misnamed...

MATTHEWS: What about Kim Jong Il? Should it be that you can stay even though we think you’re crazy or that you’ve to go and it’s just a matter of time of time before we get rid of you?

MCCAIN: I think the message to the former, dear leader now, great leader, who used to kidnap Japanese citizens, who according to Russian diplomats, goes across Siberia on a train having 15-course meals while two million of his citizens are starving to death and he’s got 200,000 of his citizens in a gulag we haven’t seen the likes of which since Joseph Stalin, I mean, this is really a nut case, as you said. But it’s a very dangerous one.

The message is this: you’ve got to get rid of these materials and you’ve got to either give them to us or you send them to a third country.

MATTHEWS: The nuclear stuff?

MCCAIN: The uranium that they’re reprocessing, and a fuel rods that are in a reactor called Pyongyang, which they are now removing the rods and say that they are reprocessing.

MATTHEWS: What’s our stick?

MCCAIN: Well, I think there’s-our stick is, to start with, is China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

China has taken some small actions. That’s why we had this meeting going on, which may not be too productive, by the way, but at least there’s some talks going on. China controls, really, the economy of North Korea. China has to understand, it’s not in their interests to have a nuclear armed Japan. Japan would have no choice but to acquire nuclear weapon if North Korea has them. That it’s not in their interests to see a destabilized Asia.

I saw a little thing, dare I say, on MSNBC the other day, that China’s GNP this year has grown 8 percent. That’s phenomenal. The Chinese don’t have an interest in seeing a major military confrontation in Asia.

And by the way, I’m not sure about the long, long term prospect of what China would do, but in the short term, they don’t have that.

So we need to have China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, put all the pressures on them to say, look, give up this stuff. If we don’t have them give up the stuff, what is it six months from now they ask us for another oil for fuel?

MATTHEWS: Right.

MCCAIN: My friends, let me just finally say. My friends, it is outrageous morally when we give $1 billion in food and oil to a government that starves two million of its people to death. That’s not right. That’s not-That’s morally wrong. We were offended when 500,000 people died in Rwanda. Right?

So we’ve got to demand a complete turn over of all these weapons of mass destruction and an obtrusive...

MATTHEWS: Or?

MCCAIN: Well, we cannot rule out the military option but we have to go through all of these, including going to the U.N. for economic sanctions against...

MATTHEWS: If they refuse the get rid of the nuclear material, should we effect a regime change as we did in Iraq? That’s what the Pentagon is circulating as their proposal.

MCCAIN: I think we have to go through all these various options and see how they react before that decision is made.

MATTHEWS: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, how did your experience in Vietnam affect your opinion on the war in Iraq?

MCCAIN: It didn’t too much. Except that I have been committed from my experience in Vietnam never to get into a conflict that the American people would not support over time.

I felt that the difference between the Vietnam conflict and this one we just went through is that in Vietnam, we didn’t have clear cut objectives. We didn’t have a strategy for victory. And obviously, we didn’t have, over time, the support of the American people. I didn’t feel that the Iraqi challenge in any way could be equated to that in Vietnam.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator John McCain. We’ll be back with Senator McCain here at the University of Notre Dame. We’re here thanks to the Changing Times Foundation, which helps young people here in this school get into careers where they can help society.

Back in a moment to talk about that and other things with Senator John McCain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back at the University of Notre Dame.

Who do you root for in these big games between Notre Dame and those Protestant schools? Who are you rooting for? Just kidding.

Like USC Plays. Your wife went to USC, Cindy. How do you root in these games? Do you root for big school or do you root for that California school? How do you do it?

MCCAIN: I usually vote-I usually root for Notre Dame, usually. (cheers and applause) Unless, of course, they are on the field against my old school, the Naval Academy, and usually that’s not much of a contest, although they gave them a pretty good fight just this year, anyway.

MATTHEWS: But not since Roger Staubach.

MCCAIN: Not since Roger Staubach.

MATTHEWS: I’ve got to tell you something about this school...

MCCAIN: They have a pretty good basketball team.

MATTHEWS: Senator, I want to lighten up a serious question of life and death and peace and war, which we’ve been talking about, and say this is one of the great schools that has a tremendous investment in public service. I don’t mean by running for office but doing good in the community here in South Bend. Lots of good things for homeless people and all kinds of services, in fact teaching people general education downtown. The professors are all involved.

And one of the great groups here is the Changing Times Foundation, which invited us out here. And we have three guys who organized it. And I want to have John Cannon talk about it. He’s one of the founders: John Cannon, John Mirshekari and Charlie Ebersol.

John, tell us about this group quickly.

JOHN CANNON, CHANGING TIMES FOUNDATION: Well, college students today have a wealth of options and opportunities ahead of them, whether it’s in business or in medicine or in politics. The toughest part for us, I think, is figuring out what we want to do with our lives and where we want to go.

If you’re lucky enough, blessed enough to be a college student in the United States of America, in this day and age, then we believe that you owe something back, not only to yourself, not only to your family, but to society in general. And that’s our message. And that’s what we’re about.

Our first magazine issue, “Changing Times” magazine, went to 10,000 students at 10 schools around the country. Two weeks ago we printed a new issue. It went to 25,000 students at almost 50 colleges and universities around the country.

MATTHEWS: So their program is basically to encourage people to go out and do their career but at the same time find a way to do good things for society at the same time.

MCCAIN: The theme of my presidential campaign was to serve causes greater than your self-interests. And it kind of evolved because we would have town hall meetings like this. In fact, the first we ever had was at Clemson University when we were about to lose the South Carolina primary.

MATTHEWS: If everybody had seen that, you would have won. You would have won.

MCCAIN: We had old World War II veterans, our greatest generation, come and young people. And I was often asked, if-what would I do different from the president of the United States? I would ask more of Americans.

This Changing Times, community service, Americorps, Peace Corps, service in the military, in your neighborhoods and community, young people in America are responding in a greater fashion than ever before in the history of our country and I think we ought to give them more opportunities to do so.

MATTHEWS: How many kids-how many students here are doing community service as part of their college?

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you very much. God bless.

MATTHEWS: Now we can have some fun and ask you some awful questions.

HARDBALL.

MCCAIN: The show is over.

MATTEHWS: Rick Santorum, the senator from Pennsylvania, made a comment the other day. In legal terms, he compared, basically, gay sodomy with incest and polygamy and big me and a number of other things.

Do you think that was an impolitic way to say something or there was something wrong with the way he said it?

MCCAIN: I think that he was trying to make an argument that there are Supreme Court cases between the United States Supreme Court and, on this very difficult issue.

I think that he may have been in-artful in the way that he described it. I believe that coming from a person who has made several serious gaffs in my career, that the best thing to do is to apologize if you’ve offended anyone. Because I’m sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone. Apologize if you did and move on.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you apologize if you believe what you said is what you believe?

MCCAIN: I’m not sure he meant it that way. I’m sure that Rick didn’t mean to offend people. And so if I were him, you just...

MATTHEWS: Do you think the press, and you deal with the press all the time. You’re always kind to accept our invitation to come on the show as many times as you can. You look to the case like Rodney Paige, going after the secretary of education recently about something he said. Going after Trent Lott.

Do you think the press, especially, is looking for conservatives to bite the mousetrap? Do you think that’s going on right now? I mean, these cases seem to be pretty much predictably a conservative who gets nailed.

MCCAIN: I think the press are equal opportunity attackers. I think that a lot of the liberals who predicted that the war would, you know, be a morass, another Vietnam, hundreds of casualties, I think they’re paying a price for that now.

MATTHEWS: You mean people like me?

MCCAIN: No. I think that there’s-the job of the press is to keep us honest.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MCCAIN: And to point out when we fail. And when we’re wrong.

Without that, then we obviously don’t have a democracy.

This is going to be, by the way, one of the major challenges in Iraq, my friends, is to set up a free press. Because it’s unheard of in that country. Absolutely unheard of.

MATTHEWS: But a lot of people watch cable television and believe that the mainstream press and the mainstream television networks are liberally biased. And a lot of people believe that Fox News, for example, is conservatively biased. What’s your view on both those questions?

MCCAIN: I think that...

MATTHEWS: This is HARDBALL.

MCCAIN: I think that clearly, Fox is to the right of center. I think CNN is to the left of center. And I think that MSNBC, it depends on who the host is.

But that’s why I’ve got — (laughter) But seriously, that’s why-that’s why I have a little thing in my hand where I can go from one channel to another. That’s the wonderful thing about a channel changer. It’s up to me and the viewer.

MATTHEWS: And you say you regularly go to MSNBC. We’ll be right back with more with Senator John McCain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I just want to remind everybody that HARDBALL is back again at 7 on the East Coast. We’re here in the Midwest at Central Time Zone at the University of Notre Dame, one of the great universities of the country. Probably one of the best.

MCCAIN: With a great president, Mr. Malloy. Father Malloy.

MATTHEWS: I just spoke with Father Hessberg (ph). What an amazing figure.

Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, it might be a little difficult to challenge an incumbent president of your own party in 2004, but do you still have presidential ambitions for 2008?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, you’re obviously a very intelligent, well informed, really great American, as I can see.

MATTHEWS: Did you get the T-shirt from the senator about an hour ago?

I saw him handing out T-shirts somewhere in here.

MCCAIN: No, the-My dear and beloved friend, Mark (ph) Udall, who is a member of the House of Representative, and as you know, the House of Representatives sometimes from time to time doesn’t think a lot of the Senate. And he said, Mark (ph) Udall said, if you’re a United States senator, unless you’re under indictment or detoxification, you automatically consider yourself a candidate for president of the United States. He was probably right.

But no, I don’t have those ambitions. I don’t know the-can’t envision the scenario. But people like you come up to me all the time and say I voted for you. I voted for you, I voted for you. I should demand my own recount, don’t you think?

I thank you.

MATTHEWS: But could you knock Jeb’s block off, couldn’t you?

MCCAIN: I-I...

MATTHEWS: How about Hillary, could you take her down? (cheers and applause)

Well, you were a POW and she was sort of a POW for all those years.

Next question.

MCCAIN: This is-This is P.G. Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, why are U.S. interests not served by the reinvolvement of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I think that the U.N. weapons inspectors would probably do an adequate job but I think the people that we have, including recruiting former U.N. inspectors are probably, can do the job.

I have the feeling, and I may be wrong, that Mr. Blix in some times was more interested in continuing inspections than he was in finding results. And maybe that’s not fair to Mr. Blix.

But I think the team that we have over there now would do the job adequately. Thank you for the question.

MATTHEWS: Next question. Come on up. Let’s go. Squeeze this in.

We’ve got a minute to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assuming that democracy in Iraq works, how do you feel this will change the geopolitical scheme of the Middle East, given it’s such a volatile region with so many ethnicities and minorities vying for power?

MCCAIN: I believe the most profound words ever written, I mentioned them earlier today, that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

I believe that these people have the same longing and desire and hope and dreams that all of us do, that all men and women have. And when they see democracy in Iraq, they’re going to want the same thing, in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, in Egypt, and all of these countries. There’s not one freely elected government in all of the Middle East with the exception of Israel. So I believe it’s going to have a very profound effect.

And the first one, as we mentioned earlier, could be an acceleration of the Palestinian and Israeli peace process. If you could bring peace between those two...

MATTHEWS: That’s the most famous fight song of the country. Notre Dame. We’re at Notre Dame. Thank you, Senator John McCain, very much, Senator.

Keith Olbermann is coming up with “COUNTDOWN” right away.

END

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