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updated 5/28/2004 12:20:40 PM ET 2004-05-28T16:20:40

Guests: Bob Dole, Wesley Clark, Tony Coelho

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, U.S. troops in Iraq suspend operations in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.  But are Iraqi security forces ready to take control? 

Plus Bob Dole and General Wesley Clark, two veterans of the political arena.  They‘re coming here to talk about Iraq and the battle for the White House. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

In a minute Bob Dole and Wesley Clark talk about the war in Iraq and the battle for the presidency between George W. Bush and John Kerry.  But first there‘s a breakthrough in Iraq where troops have been battling the forces of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. 

NBC‘s Kevin Sites is in Baghdad and has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN SITES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, after weeks of bloodshed, a possible peace deal in Najaf. 

Now, the U.S. has agreed to suspend its offensive operations there after Shiite members of the Iraqi Governing Council initiated a peace agreement with radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. 

Now, the U.S. has agreed to pull back its troops, but the militia has to pull back, as well.  And here‘s what Dan Senor, the coalition spokesperson, had to say about the agreement in his daily press briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

DAN SENOR, SPOKESMAN, CPA:  The coalition did not participate in the negotiation of the text of the letter but was kept aware of its progress.  We understand its terms to apply to Kufa as well as to Najaf. 

We are hopeful that Moqtada al-Sadr will live up to the commitments he made in this letter.  If Moqtada al-Sadr does, in fact, live up to the commitments he made to the Shia house, we will play our part. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SITES:  Now what the agreement doesn‘t clarify is the arrest status of Moqtada al-Sadr.  That‘s what got everybody into this mess to begin with.  The U.S. wanted to arrest him for murder and wasn‘t able to do so.  He retreated into his southern provinces, and the U.S. surrounded Najaf and Karbala, leading to all the fighting in that region. 

But now we‘re hearing reports that his militia is already moving away from those fighting positions in the city, which is good news for everyone in the region. 

Now, there may be a peace deal under way in Najaf but more violence in western Iraq.  The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force says that three Marines were killed in the al-Anbar province, although they won‘t provide any details on their deaths—Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, NBC‘s Kevin Sites, who‘s in Baghdad. 

Bob Dole is a former Republican Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican nominee for president.  He was the candidate that year. 

Let me ask you about this president.  He is a candidate for reelection.  How‘s he doing?

BOB DOLE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, it‘s tough times in Iraq.  The economy is going great guns, you know, but the Iraq thing the last two months has been bad news, bad news, bad news almost every day.  And he needs to get a break over there fairly soon. 

But otherwise he‘s doing well.  I think it‘s just Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. 

It‘s dragging him down.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s made two big points in Iraq to try to build hope for his administration.  One is that we‘re going to turn it over to the Iraqis, and secondly, we‘re going to get some international help afterwards. 

Do you believe either one of those?

DOLE:  I think we‘re going to turn it over, and then of course, then you‘re going to hold your breath for I don‘t know how long.  I mean, God, if something bad happens, you know, but then you‘ve really have got a problem even though you will have U.S. troops there to sort of back everything up. 

International help, I think it will come.  I think maybe Russia, maybe Germany, France.  I don‘t know how much they‘ll do, but you know, they don‘t want to isolate themselves from the United States.  And they don‘t know who will win the presidency, so they can‘t play the game until after November.  So I think there will be some help. 

MATTHWS: What‘s your—What‘s your impact statement if there‘s a big thing go off, a big attack?  You know, we‘re all worried this week about a possible attack. 

Do you think—Which way do you think that blows politically?  I know it‘s a crude thing to do.  If you were on the other side and you—would you—do they think if they hit us like they hit the Spanish we‘ll switch?

DOLE:  It‘s like when I was—in ‘96 the economy is good.  Am I supposed to go out there and say “What we need is a bad economy.  Vote for Bob Dole”?  What do you do?  You don‘t do anything.  You just don‘t talk about it.  Like you don‘t talk about it once something bad happens.  I think it would favor the president if it happened. 

MATTHEWS:  Rally around the flag? 

DOLE:  I think so.  I mean, here‘s a guy that‘s been pretty steadfast. 

You may not agree with him, but he stuck with his guns. 

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s good on terrorism.

DOLE:  He‘s been on message on terrorism and this another indication that it hasn‘t gone away.  I mean, people are out there saying don‘t worry about the war on terrorism.  It‘s still here. 

And a lot of speculation.  There will be a lot of security around this weekend.  So who knows?  But I hope not. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Republicans were smart going to New York? 

They‘re going to go there this September.

DOLE:  Well, I think it was sort of a tip of the hat after 9/11.  But to carry the state of New York, and you‘re going to have to live with pickets for weeks, you know.  I don‘t know how many demonstrators they‘re going to have but thousands. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s going to be like Chicago in ‘68, isn‘t it? 

DOLE:  Yes.  I don‘t know.  I think that would have been my—I think I can understand why at the time they said this would be, you know, New York is coming back, we want to be part of that.  It‘s going to look good on the marquee, Republicans showed up. 

Well, I hope that‘s the case.  But I think Kansas would have been a better choice. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—That‘s where you‘re from.  Let me ask you about the Republican Party these days.  It seems like part of it‘s the party you represent, lower taxes, less government, classic you know, plains state Republican. 

DOLE:  No deficits either.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And the other part of the party is this sort of fanatical, ideological party.  They don‘t care about deficits.  They‘re supply siders.  They‘re very ambitious about world—controlling the world.  They‘re not traditional conservatives in terms of sort of a humble foreign policy. 

Are you comfortable being in the Republican Party today, as it‘s changed?

DOLE:  I‘m comfortable.  I mean, you know, we all would like to have things different.  If I were Democrat, I still would like to change some things.  They are worried about Kerry, whether Kerry is overplaying his war record, whether he‘s doing this. 

I don‘t know.  We go through these cycles. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s the game.  I‘m asking you about the big stuff. 

You were loyal to George—even though you fought against him, trying to beat him a couple of times.  George Bush Senior was for balancing the budgets.  He was not for big deficits. 

He was in the Middle East.  He was even handed right down the middle.  It hurt him a little, but he was even handed    between the Israelis and the Arabs. 

There‘s a lot about him that seems to be different.  And he was sort of—He wasn‘t an evangelical.  He didn‘t push that sort of religious thing the way the son does. 

DOLE:  He didn‘t have a majority, either, in Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DOLE:  So he did all of this the tough—the hard way. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you more of a Bush Senior or a Bush Junior?

DOLE:  Well, I guess maybe I‘m a Bush Senior.  I‘m generational, and of course we had—we knew each other quite well.  And the thing that made him sort of a Bush, No. 1, is we fought each other and got real nasty at the end.  We said things we shouldn‘t have said about each other.

MATTHEWS:  In the campaign.

DOLE:  But when it was over it was over.  And I remember when the John Tower fight, I got a call from the White House, Bob Dole has, you know, proved that he‘s a Republican first. 

MATTHEWS:  You stuck—You stuck with John Tower and all that. 

DOLE:  So I think George Bush, the son...

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you a little worried about the son sort of playing everything 180 from the old man?  Everything he‘s done, it seems—Well, you know.  You know this better than I do.  You know what he‘s up to.  Are you comfortable with this kind of...

DOLE:  He wants to get re-elected, but I think his tax cut policy is right on, the economy is picking up.  I mean, I think the economy is gone as an issue.  If we get another 284,000 a month job increase, what are you going to talk about, we didn‘t get half a million; we only got 300,000? 

MATTHEWS:  So I can mark you down as a guy that likes big deficits, wide open borders... 

DOLE:  I hate big deficits.  No, no. 

MATTHEWS:  And foreign adventures. 

DOLE:  I didn‘t—you know, Pete Dominici and I stood up against Ronald Reagan and that crowd on that.

MATTHEWS:  I know you did.

DOLE:  But we got rolled. 

MATTHEWS:  You lost a bunch of seats in ‘96. 

DOLE:  Yes.  We got rolled, because we tried to—tried to balance the budget.  We even touched Social Security.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DOLE:  And they used House guides—we had a deal with Donald Regan, the secretary of treasury and Jack Kemp.  And some of these guys got on the House side and killed the whole package.  And...

MATTHEWS:  You lost Florida and you lost—Alabama...

DOLE:  Yes, but I think if we had not, we might have had a big plus, too, but who knows.  That was another time. 

But no, I don‘t like deficit spending.  We don‘t it.  You don‘t do it, and I don‘t do it.  Most people don‘t like to do it personally.  Sometimes you have to do it; you have to prime the pump, get the economy going. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Dick Cheney‘s comment that deficits don‘t hurt?

DOLE:  Well, that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Politically.  He‘s just being completely cynical about it, politically.  It doesn‘t hurt so who cares?  You say the economy‘s coming back, so who cares? 

DOLE:  I think what he‘s saying is people don‘t pay any attention to deficits.  If I‘ve got a job and my kids are taken care of, who‘s going to worry?  Who‘s going to watch that big figure up there, 200 and some, whatever it is?

MATTHEWS:  But guys like you do. 

DOLE:  I do.  But I only have one vote. 

MATTHEWS:  But you have a conscience.  I‘m trying to figure out the Republican Party is changing the way you‘d like it to see change.  And I‘m not going to ask it again.

DOLE:  What I‘d like to see is a big Republican majority in Congress the next four years and then, if we don‘t do it right, you know, throw us out.

MATTHEWS:  OK, good.  Let me ask you about the war.  Do you think the war this is going to be a plus or a minus for the president, come November?

DOLE:  Right now it‘s a push.  I mean, it‘s 50-50.  If we succeed and get a few breaks, maybe Osama bin Laden, maybe something else, they start trying Saddam. 

MATTHEWS:  You know the rumor that he‘s being held somewhere right now. 

DOLE:  Yes, I think down at the Watergate Hotel. 

MATTHEWS:  How come we can‘t find a guy, six foot eight, he‘s riding a mule and he‘s on dialysis.  How come we can‘t catch this guy?  You‘d think that he‘d stand out in a crowd, wouldn‘t he?

DOLE:  Well, he could be in the NBA, you know.  All those guys are seven feet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Do you think John Kerry is wrong to play it so cautious?  He‘s the most cautious guy I‘ve ever seen.  He won‘t come out against the war. 

DOLE:  He used to sit and put his hand like this in the Senate, sort of calculating would I vote yes, would I vote no.  And he‘s very—I don‘t want to say it in a critical way. 

MATTHEWS:  Careful.

DOLE:  I think he‘s very careful.  Almost maybe too careful.  Too cautious.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he should just come out and say I don‘t—I think this war was a blunder.  It‘s not in our interest.  It‘s a distraction from the war on terrorism instead of this sort of vague thing he does now.  I don‘t know whether he‘s for or against the war. 

DOLE:  I think it depends on Ralph Nader.  If Nader sticks to six percent, you‘re going to see Kerry getting further and further away from Iraq.  Would be my guess.

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll go left to knock him out?

DOLE:  Yes.  He‘ll...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what killed Al Gore. 

DOLE:  It become—for some reason, we‘ve got to get out of there right now, and—but, you know, John Kerry is a formidable candidate.  I don‘t think he‘s going to win, but I think the American people are finally going to realize this guy does change his mind a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you see the new poll out that says who would you like to go to a barbecue with?  Come out today.  I mean, it sounds idiotic.

DOLE:  Neither one, right?

MATTHEWS:  Well, only Bob Dole would say that.  No, people do prefer the company, apparently, of George W. Bush. 

DOLES:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  At a barbecue.  What role do you think that kind of question plays in an election?  Because I think it helped Gore lose last time.

DOLE:  A lot of the average people out there who go on picnics and things lake that, go to baseball games, NASCAR races, maybe even—it‘s no longer soccer moms, maybe even some soccer moms.  Now it‘s NASCAR dads. 

But Bush is a likeable guy.  And in the end that‘s going to—that‘s going to make it for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you my favorite question about politics, because you would do well on this question.  If you had a free ticket.  You‘re up in B1 on the airplane.  You‘re flying to Australia tomorrow, free ticket, right?  Just for a junket.  Just for a fun trip.

DOLE:  I‘m flying or I‘m just a passenger. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a passenger.  You‘re a passenger. 

DOLE:  I want to...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you‘re a passenger.  And who do you want sitting next to you, George Bush Senior or George Bush Junior for the whole trip?

DOLE:  I‘d like to put Bush Senior in the middle seat.  There‘s three seats.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DOLE:  I‘d have the aisle, of course.  It‘s more convenient.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DOLE:  And put—and then put young George by the window so he can see what‘s going on.  We don‘t have to worry about that any more.  We‘ve already seen it all.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But so you‘d feel more comfortable sitting next to George Bush Senior?

DOLE:  Well, I mean, in the three seats.  We‘re all in economy class. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re hopeless.  You‘re going to get a poll question like this.

DOLE:  We‘re all Republicans.  We‘re going to sit in the economy. 

We‘re not first class.  We‘re going back to...

MATTHEWS:  Any chance he‘ll dump Cheney? 

DOLE:  No.  No chance. 

MATTHEWS:  No chance?

DOLE:  Well, I mean, I don‘t know.  I haven‘t talked to either one of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he have permission to do it?

We‘ll be more—we‘ll be back with Senator Bob Dole.  We‘re going to talk about a lot of things. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, more with Bob Dole.  And later, former presidential candidate Wesley Clark on the war in the Iraq and the battle for the White House, when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bob Dole. 

What I was getting at in the last segment—I didn‘t realize it, but I was, is the difference between the new Republican Party and the old party.  George Will, the columnist, Robert Novak, the columnist, say the GOP, the Republican Party, should go back to being a conservative party and not this neoconservative party that believes in this war and all this aggressive international stuff. 

Do you agree with them?

DOLE:  I don‘t know.  Novak used to attack me for being against the deficit.  I don‘t know.  Maybe he‘s changed his position, which I‘m happy to hear. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking about foreign policy here. 

DOLE:  Foreign policy.  I think they may be—I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you comfortable with preemption, prevention, all that kind of war...

DOLE:  Preemption is not a policy.  I think that‘s an exception to any policy.  No, I don‘t think that could ever be a policy.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s an exception with this crowd?  They want to go on—they come on this show and sit in that seat, these neoconservatives, and they want to got to Iran next.  They want to go on to Syria.  You wouldn‘t believe theses characters.  They‘ve been quiet lately, but... 

DOLE:  Some of these fellows need a vacation.  Get out and get a little fresh air. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this whole thing.  We had Terry Holt last night, a young staffer for the Republican—for the president‘s re-election campaign, nailing John Kerry, saying that he—he went to war.  He went—let‘s take a look at what he said.  Let him speak for himself.  This is—we had the following exchange with Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

Let‘s watch, Senator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry went to Vietnam.  He volunteered.  Why didn‘t the president volunteer?  He‘s for the war. 

TERRY HOLT, BUSH-CHENEY SPOKESMAN:  Well, the president flew his air...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t he volunteer to go to Vietnam?  He was for the war. 

HOLT:  Well, you see...

MATTHEWS:  Shouldn‘t people who support wars go and fight them.

HOLT:  In fact, he was one of the—he served in the National Guard honorably. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn‘t he go and fight in the war?  He believed in it. 

HOLT:  Everybody made a decision about how best they served.  He served as a fighter pilot in Texas Air Guard. 

MATTHEWS:  Well—but if you believe in a war shouldn‘t you fight it rather than someone who doesn‘t believe in it, a draftee getting drafted in the war?

HOLT:  In John Kerry‘s case he went to Vietnam.  He took his own photo camera, by the way, so he could get some good pictures. 

MATTHEWS:  But he was getting shot at.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  A couple of points there.  Do you think it‘s fair for a Republican operative to attack John Kerry, the candidate, for, quote, bringing a photo camera with him when he went to war?

DOLE:  Well, they‘ve all got them now in Iraq.  That‘s where we get all these stupid pictures.  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Call the guys in the prisons, Abu Ghraib.

DOLE:  He was ahead of his time, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that a cheap shot?

DOLE:  Well, I don‘t know why.  What difference does it make?  I think

·         you know, I think John Kerry was planning to campaign for Congress over there.  Maybe, maybe not.  But...

MATTHEWS:  When he ran—when he went to war?

DOLE:  Yes.  He had a few good shots for his brochure. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how about when he ran up on the bank there of that river and he started shooting and killing people who had attacked them.  Do you think that was part of P.R. stunt?

DOLE:  I didn‘t see that.

MATTHEWS:  Or when he pulled the guy into the boat who was being shot at and he went out and reached over the side of the boat and pulled the guy in, Rasmussen, in. 

DOLE:  Yes.  Well, I think he‘s got a good record.  I think you‘d want to watch that record.  Don‘t push it too hard because a lot of people weren‘t in uniform, and you know, they get tired of hearing what a great man I am and how I did all these—got three Purple Hearts and never bled and all this stuff, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the president.  Does he suffer from a, having not going to Vietnam?  And having supported the war?

DOLE:  People ask you, being a veteran or not, does that make any difference when you‘re president?  Some people used to ask me in ‘96, “You‘d be afraid to do it, because then somebody might get hurt like you did.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DOLE:  I don‘t think that makes any difference. 

MATTHEWS:  You think it‘s a wash?

DOLE:  I think it‘s a wash.  He got an honorable discharge from the National Guard.        And I‘m his veterans chairman, the Bush veterans chairman, not that that will make a great difference.  But we‘ll be doing some things. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that a lot of this war is being pushed by ideologues in the Defense Department, people like Wolfowitz and Feith and all the people in the—in the journalism world that love this war.  None of them, right down to the last man, has ever had any military experience, but they love this war in Iraq. 

DOLE:  Yes, I don‘t know where that goes.  I haven‘t made a list of people, but there are a lot of them on the other side, saying we oppose the war, ideologues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s consistent, at least. 

DOLE:  And if I don‘t have any service, either.

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s consistent, isn‘t it?  If you‘re going to be a hawk shouldn‘t you get a uniform on? 

DOLE:  Well, you can‘t all wear—you‘ve got to create a war first. 

You can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re doing that. 

DOLE:  Well, maybe they‘ll volunteer before this is over. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we‘re better off without the draft?

DOLE:  We don‘t need the draft.  I remember—I remember speaking.  I think Charlie Rangel made a speech for the all-volunteer army.  I‘m trying to find it in the record.  He‘s always out there saying we ought to have a draft. 

We had a volunteer army so we don‘t give preference to some of these rich guys so we get people who really want to be in the service.  That‘s their job.  And it‘s worked very well. 

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line, as a political sage and seer and experienced gentleman, do you think this election is going to be close or do you think one of them is going to basically knock the other guy out?

DOLE:  I think it will be Bush by six or more. 

MATTHEWS:  Pretty comfortable. 

DOLE:  I think so. 

MATTHEWS:  But not as much as Clinton beat you, by eight? 

DOLE:  I hope not.  I mean—Well, I want made Nader to do well.  I think Nader has a lot of qualities people need to look at carefully. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he might be helpful to the country, to get six or eight points? 

DOLE:  Like Perot helped Bush and me in, you know, ‘92 and ‘96. 

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t be causing trouble, would you?  Senator Bob Dole, thank you very much. 

Up next John Kerry outlines his vision of U.S. foreign policy but is it any different than President Bush‘s? David Shuster will have a report.

And General Wesley Clark will be here to talk about Iraq and why he says John Kerry is the right man to get America out of Iraq.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

John Kerry launched a new effort today to underscore his vision of foreign policy, but when it comes to the plans—his plans for Iraq, voters might not see many differences between him and the president.  That‘s frustrated some Democrats and prompted Kerry to try to reframe the debate. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Seattle today, John Kerry kicked off an 11-day focus on national security, and he argued that, under the Bush administration, America‘s image can‘t be repaired. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In short, they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership.  And that is what we must restore, and that is what I will restore. 

SHUSTER:  Kerry has increasingly argued only he can provide that international leadership.  And portraying President Bush as damaged goods may now be a crucial Kerry theme because when it comes to specific plans for Iraq, Senator Kerry and President Bush largely agree. 

Both support the June 30 transfer of sovereignty and providing whatever security forces are required long-term. 

KERRY:  If our commanders believe they need more American troops, then they should say so.  And they should get them and get what they need. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  General Abizaid and other commanders are constantly assessing the level of troops they need to fulfill the mission.  If they need more troops, I will send them. 

SHUSTER:  Both candidates say it‘s crucial to rebuild Iraq‘s infrastructure. 

BUSH:  We‘re urging other nations to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction. 

KERRY:  Well, they need to see the tangible benefits of reconstruction in the form of jobs, infrastructure and services and the advancement of Iraqis themselves. 

SHUSTER:  And President Bush is now echoing John Kerry‘s call for more international help. 

KERRY:  To bring NATO members in and others, the president must immediately and personally reach out and convince them that Iraqis‘ security and stability is that global interest that all of us must contribute to. 

BUSH:  At the summit we will discuss NATO‘s role had helping Iraq build and secure its democracy. 

SHUSTER:  The problem in all of this for Kerry is as the president has moved left on Iraq and embraced internationalism, the distinction Kerry once offered has been eroded.  And making matters more complicated, the Democratic base increasingly opposes leaving troops in Iraq indefinitely. 

It‘s an election quandary similar to 1968, when Hubert Humphrey was associated with Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam. 

HUBERT HUMPHREY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The first reality is the necessity for peace in Vietnam and in the world. 

SHUSTER:  Americans agreed.  But they gave the election to Richard Nixon because he implied he would bring troops home. 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The first priority foreign policy objective of our next administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Nixon ended up leaving troops in Vietnam for the rest of his presidency, but it was his presidency, not Hubert Humphrey‘s.  And that may be a lesson for John Kerry. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  When we come back former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark is going to be here to talk about Iraq and whether John Kerry‘s foreign policy plan is really any different from the president‘s.

But, first, the latest headlines right now.                

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Retired General Wesley Clark served as the NATO supreme allied commander.  He is now supporting Senator John Kerry after dropping his own bid for the White House. 

General Clark, it is an honor to have you on the program.  Let me ask you, back in 19...

WESLEY CLARK (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thanks, Chris.  It‘s good to be with you.

MATTHEWS:  In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower ran for the presidency and he was such a commanding figure and we were bogged down in the Korean war.  He simply had to say, I will go to Korea and the people gave him a great election to the presidency.  Do we need that kind of leadership today, someone who could take this Iraq mess and straighten it out for us? 

CLARK:  Well, I don‘t think it is the same kind of mess, so I don‘t think a single person could do it.  But I think John Kerry doesn‘t need to go to Iraq.  I think we need John Kerry as our president. 

I think he, with his values, his plans, his insights, his experience, he can pull a team together that can work with our allies and bring us successfully through the mess in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we bogged down in Iraq? 

CLARK:  Well, we are certainly very heavily committed there.  I would like to see us do a turnover of sovereignty on the 30th of June, work out the arrangements with an interim Iraqi government, put the Iraqis back in charge, build an international organization to help advise and support the Iraqis.  We will be part of it, but take it off and take it out of the sole hands of the United States, so we are not on the blame line for everything that happens over there. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think this thing will work? 

CLARK:  And maybe it will work.  It might. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it will work?  Do you think that the government over there that we pick is going to somehow pull that government, the country together and be respected after we and a couple of Europeans picked their leaders, and then they are going to go out and they‘re going to vote for a government something like we would like?  Do you think that—all this thing is going to work over there? 

CLARK:  Well, I‘m not sure we are going to get exactly who we want in the government. 

But I think that it is too early to give up on the mission, Chris.  I think that there‘s still a chance that responsible people in Iraq will hold the country together.  I think we have to be careful not to continue the pattern of alienation which we have done through things like the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the other places.  But I do think that we need to have resolve, we need to have vision, and we need to bring others in to help us from the international community, so that the Iraqi people don‘t feel like they are under an American occupation after the 30th of June. 

They shouldn‘t be.  We have no desire to occupy the country.  All we want to do is help them as they move forward.  And if we share that common interest, surely there must be a way to make this work out. 

MATTHEWS:  But when you look at pictures of Iraq, it looks like the West Bank or Gaza.  It looks like we are the Israelis and we are fighting with the Third World people and they are getting hit hard and they‘re shooting back.  Isn‘t it possible that we are making more enemies over there than friends? 

CLARK:  Well, I think right now we are.  I think that is the danger.  And that is the reason why I and John Kerry and so many of us have advocated for so long for an international organization, so it doesn‘t, so it is not and does not look like an American occupation. 

I‘m very concerned about the tactics we are using over there.  I think we‘ve got to get the Iraqis up to speed early on.  I think we didn‘t have enough forces and a plan when we concluded the active operations.  And a lot of this has come from very bad decision-making by the Bush administration. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  I hope the American people will hold them accountable for it.  

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about some of those people. 

We had Rumsfeld on a couple of weeks ago.  It was about a month now ago.  And I asked him what surprised him.  He said, I‘m surprised there was this occupation with all of this negativity.  He was surprised at all.  And we also had—we had Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, a week ago or so saying, I‘m surprised at their impatience. 

If either of these guys had spent 15 minutes in the Peace Corps, they would have known that Third World people don‘t like First World people coming in with tanks and yelling orders and taking over their country. 

CLARK:  Well, Chris, both those people are in very difficult positions and they don‘t want to admit the mistakes that they made. 

They were warned.  Everybody was warned.  Everybody in the administration was warned about what was likely to happen afterwards.  A lot of us testified, a lot us talked to them privately.  And they said it wasn‘t their concern, it wasn‘t their job.  They blew it away. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  

CLARK:  And by, the way, it doesn‘t stop with Rumsfeld.  It goes right up to the commander in chief.  And that is where I think we need to start when we are looking at how to put a new policy in place. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, earlier this week, General, I spoke to General Anthony Zinni.  And I asked him if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the other Pentagon civilians should have been fired over this because of what‘s happened in Iraq so far.  Let‘s take a look at what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Somebody should pay the price.  Why don‘t you just tell me right now, it should be Feith, Wolfowitz, Cambone and Rumsfeld? 

RETIRED GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER:  Well, why not all?  I mean, the buck stops at the—whoever heads up the organization that provides that misleading information. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we have a problem with the fact that the president of the United States only seems to have his ear open to those people from the neoconservative right, that there were not people in the administration with strong voices saying, be careful, Mr. President?  You may not like Saddam Hussein, but you better be damn sure he has got weapons that are going to be used against us and you better be damn sure we can go in there and take over that country to our advantage before you go in.

Instead, he was listening to all these people selling him on how easy it is to go in there, how dangerous Saddam is, how we have to do it, and once we‘re in there, it‘s going to be a cake walk. 

Do you think he had the right circle around him or did he have a circle around him? 

CLARK:  Well, had he Colin Powell there.  He had Dick Cheney there. 

I remember the discussion as you do, that he was having—he had the best, most experienced foreign policy team that had come to office in a generation.  But, Chris, I don‘t want this to sound partisan.  I don‘t actually mean it to sound partisan.  But the American people, through the electoral process, picked a Republican Party nominee who became president who didn‘t have any foreign policy experience and didn‘t have any interest in foreign policy. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  I don‘t know if he was duped by the people or came to share their ideas just through a lack of experience and intellectual inquiry. 

And it takes a lifetime of study to learn foreign policy, just like it does a lifetime of business or a lifetime in the legal profession to understand the law.  You don‘t just get it because somebody walks in and says, here‘s three options, pick which option you like.  And that is with why I have been very concerned about the leadership of the country.  That is why I ran. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to talk to you more about that when we come back, General.  I think there‘s some big questions about what has been going on with these prisons.  I have got so many questions for you. 

More with General Wesley Clark in just a moment.

And later, we will talk to—we will talk campaign tactics with Democratic strategist Tony Coelho and our own Pat Buchanan. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Sign up for our free daily e-mail.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, with the election less than six months away, Pat Buchanan and Tony Coelho, two seasoned politicos, talk politics in the battle for the White House—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with General Wesley Clark. 

General, there‘s been a dispute over the last couple weeks in the media and I guess in every home in America.  Do we blame this embarrassment, this humiliation of the prisoner abuse situation over in Iraq at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere apparently on a few bad apples from Western Maryland and Virginia, enlisted people from the reservist forces, or do we blame it on a system over there that has been used to try to get more intel?  How do you see it as a general?

CLARK:  Well, I see it as both. 

I‘m waiting to hear the results of the investigation and I don‘t want to prejudge it.  Clearly, these reservists, the soldiers, got way out of line.  They went beyond the standards.  It is awful.  It doesn‘t represent the men and women of the armed forces and I feel badly that the United States Army has been tarnished by their actions.  They‘re the actions of a very few people.

But, on the other hand, if you look back at what has happened since 9/11, there has been a systematic effort to undercut the Geneva Conventions, to declare it inapplicable.  It has gone to the highest levels of the White House with memoranda and instructions passed back and forth and so forth.  And I think this is a very, very slippery slope.  It is very dangerous ground.  The Geneva Conventions were put in place to protect American men and women fighting in war.

And when we tamper with international law like that, we injure ourselves, in addition to which we would be acting illegally if we went beyond the bounds of the law.  I‘m not a lawyer.  Someone needs to really sort through this.  But I hope that we won‘t conclude this by simply going after the military chain of command at Abu Ghraib, because everything I have seen indicates this is a much wider, deeper problem that goes right up to the top. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it gets to the heart of the mission, which was to go to that country and try to take it over and not recognizing the fact that there was going to be resistance and an underground, that you had to fight?  And the only way to fight an underground, as you know, and insurgency is to get intel, and that they had to be rough to do so. 

In other words, could some of this rough play have been part of the overall challenge we faced going in, because you had to get the intel? 

CLARK:  Well, the intel was part of the challenge going in there.

But you get the intel not by the rough play, Chris, but by the befriending of the people that are in there and by bringing them over to see things your way, so they cooperate with you.  The rough play didn‘t make friends in Iraq.  Most of the people that were picked up apparently were—you know, when you are in a culture like this, you don‘t speak the language, you don‘t know what is going on, you‘re making raids in the middle of the night sometimes, you are going to get a lot of people in there who had nothing to do—have no information to offer.

But by golly, you can sure make them an enemy with the way you treat them.  And it sounds like we have made a lot of enemies over there.  I really regret it, because we‘ve got the greatest armed forces in the world.  We‘ve got tremendous leaders over there.  The families have sacrificed so much for them.  We want to protect the men and women in our armed forces and the reputation of our armed forces. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the presidency and who is going to win this election as a person who has been in this politically.  How many votes did you get altogether in the primary season, General? 

CLARK:  I couldn‘t tell you, but I was very...

MATTHEWS:  You won the Oklahoma. 

CLARK:  You‘re darn right.

MATTHEWS:  You came close in a couple of places. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  Yes.  We came in second three times.  We won Oklahoma.  We finished at the top of the non-New Englanders in New Hampshire.  No, I—we had a very good campaign.  I really enjoyed it.  But I didn‘t count the number of votes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you will get to it some day in the history books.

Let me ask you about this new Quinnipiac poll that shows that, when they asked the voters, or people out there, I guess, adults, who they would like to go to a barbecue with, and it came out John Kerry losing to President Bush 50-39.  You know what they are asking.  Who do you feel comfortable with?  Do you think that is going to be a problem for Kerry? 

CLARK:  Well, I think the American people will go beyond barbecues when it comes time to selecting the president.  This country is in—it got has some serious challenges. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they didn‘t last time.  They picked Bush over Gore because he was more likable, so don‘t tell me it doesn‘t matter. 

CLARK:  Well, no, be careful, Chris, because they actually didn‘t. 

Al Gore won the popular vote.  We all know what happened in Florida.  It was a disputed election.  And again I think that what we‘ve got to do and what I want to help do is bring the real issues to the American people.  John Kerry is a serious, thoughtful, dedicated public servant. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CLARK:  He spent his life there.  He fought in a war.  He spent the rest of his life in public service.  He ran for public service.  He was held accountable.  He had his financial struggles. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  It wasn‘t handed to him.

MATTHEWS:  But Gore had all of these financial advantages over George Bush when he ran against him and yet it was basically a tie.  You could say that Bush won or lost the thing, but it was basically a tie.  He got close enough to take it and it‘s because of his personality.  George Bush was more likable than Al Gore.  And that is how he even got even close enough to grab it, right?

CLARK:  Well, I don‘t know if it was because of his personality.  There were a lot of other factors in that election, just like there will be a lot of other factors in this election.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CLARK:  But I think the March people want a president who can represent this country and lead effectively. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who would you rather go to a barbecue with, with George Bush, the president, or with John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts? 

(LAUGHTER)

CLARK:  You are asking me? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘m asking you.

CLARK:  like John Kerry and I would like to go to a barbecue.

In fact, when he was down in Arkansas, we hung out together.  John did a very, very good job down there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  People liked him.  They said he was warm.  They said he was thoughtful.  They liked him a lot.  I think he will be a great president. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, General Wesley Clark. 

When we come back, Tony Coelho and Pat Buchanan talk campaign politics and whether John Kerry should be taking off the gloves or not to battle President Bush.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, in Seattle today, John Kerry laid out his vision for American foreign policy and attacked the Bush administration in the process. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They have looked to force before exhausting diplomacy.  They have bullied, when they should have persuaded.  They‘ve gone it alone, when they should have assembled a whole team.  They have hoped for the best, when they should have prepared for the worst.  In short, they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  When it came to the topic of Iraq, however, Kerry‘s plan was not significantly different than that—what President Bush has laid out and did on Monday night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Earlier this week, the president again said that he wanted to create stability and establish a representative government in Iraq.  He did acknowledge what many have known all along, that we would be far better off if our allies were with us.  What is important now is to turn this late realization and acknowledgment from words into action. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  One of Kerry‘s foreign policy advisers said it this way in “The New York Times”—quote—“They‘ve basically made the strategic decision not to attack.  Their polls have told them that they should let events take their course, let Bush wallow in their own problems, and that Kerry would suffer from going on the attack.”

Well, let‘s talk about whether Kerry is playing it too cautious. 

Tony Coelho is a Democratic strategist and former chairman of Al Gore‘s presidential campaign.  And MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan is a three-time presidential candidate. 

Well, what we heard there was not exactly “Henry V.” 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t exactly, once more into the breach or we band of brothers.  It was kind of intellectual. 

Why isn‘t this guy fighting President Bush?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘s doing—frankly, he‘s doing politically the right thing, this whole events are in the saddle and ride mankind right now.

There‘s nothing he can do about Iraq.  I think he should stay back.  This is 1968, Chris, with Nixon, with the riots in the streets, assassination, the Democratic Party exploding.  There‘s a problem Kerry has, though.  I think he‘s doing the right thing.  And that is the same problem Nixon had.  He froze and he lost his ability to go on the offensive.  We were at 43-29 coming out of the Democratic Convention September 1. 

At the end of the election, it was 43 all.  So Humphrey gained 43 points.  We didn‘t gain one. 

MATTHEWS:  So once you get in a strategy of holding back, you get frozen in that strategy. 

Tony, do you agree with that?

(CROSSTALK)

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I totally agree with that. 

I think what happens is that you kind of tone yourself down and if you‘re not careful, you can‘t bring yourself back up.  Pat, I agree with him 100 percent.  He‘s absolutely right.  This is the thing for them to do.  Let Bush fight Bush.  That‘s what‘s going on.  Let the Republicans fight the Republicans.  Republicans in the House and the Senate are panicked because the numbers are turning against them. 

Those guys up there, and those gals, they‘ll run.  If they ever think they‘re going to lose, they run.  They‘re running right now.  So let all that take place.  But Kerry has to be careful that he doesn‘t tone himself so much that he can‘t come back up. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is John Kerry‘s message on Iraq, Tony? 

COELHO:  Well, I think what he is trying to do is that the American people today are really disgusted with the Bush policy.  They don‘t think he had a plan.  They don‘t think—so what Kerry...

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s execution.  It‘s not philosophy.

COELHO:  Yes.  So what he has got to do is, he has got to be careful.  He has got to, in effect, saying:  I am stable.  I am comfortable.  I can do it right.  Don‘t get too hot on that issue. 

That‘s a mistake to get hot there. 

MATTHEWS:  But how about a fact of lack of leadership?  You say Nixon squeaked.  He did squeak in over Humphrey.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  But he lost with a huge lead, as you point out.

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t this candidate, John Kerry, have to realize that, yes, Bush is having a lousy season, a lousy couple months here, but you can‘t count on this whole year being lousy, can he?

COELHO:  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He not only can‘t count on that.

Look, Humphrey was all over the lot.  His party was divided.  They were riding in Chicago.  But suddenly, October 1 or so, he calls for this bombing halt.  He sort of catches fire.  And it is the old Hubert Humphrey, old Hubert Humphrey. 

MATTHEWS:  Out in Salt Lake, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Now, what you call him, Bush has this ability, in my judgment.  He‘s a fighter.  If he‘s down by 10 points and he comes fighting back as president, I think he is sort of a Harry Truman type.  And if Kerry then has been freezing the ball so long, he‘s lost the ability to run and gun, the race could be all over. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, name an elected president in our recent—in the last 50 years who was popular, who had a nice personality, like Bush does, who lost. 

BUCHANAN:  Ford. 

MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Carter lost because he couldn‘t connect with the American people. 

BUCHANAN:  Ford.  Ford.  Ford‘s a nice guy.

MATTHEWS:  He was never elected. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  George Bush Sr. couldn‘t connect with the American people, Jimmy Carter.  But this guy can connect.  You know that Bush, when it comes down to it, puts on that cowboy jacket, puts...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Goes out to the ranch, stands there at the fence.  He looks like a regular guy. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s a likable guy, even with these misunderestimation statements and things. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  People laugh at that, but they laugh with him.  They say he‘s a good guy.  He‘s a Texas guy.  He‘s no genius, but he has guts and he‘s a straight guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about this barbecue question?  Who would you like to -

·         I never would have thought—I would in a million years not care who goes to a barbecue.  My question, who do you want to be sitting next to on an airplane seat for 13 hours with, Bush or Kerry?  The people much prefer Bush.  Why? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, because—I mean, Bush is an entertaining guy.  He is an engaging guy.  If you‘re a young guy, who do you want as the fifth guy in the car when you‘re driving around?  John Kerry?  Come on.

MATTHEWS:  Is he the face man up front?  Just kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That was the old question.  Face man up front.

Let me go with this.  I‘m getting lost here.  Let me ask you about this.  Would you rather hang out with George Bush or John Kerry? 

COELHO:  I wouldn‘t want to hang out with George Bush because I don‘t think he‘s intellectually curious about anything.  That disturbs me a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  At a barbecue, what do you need? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  He never asks any questions. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s why it is important.  We have four and a half hours of presidential debates scheduled for late—for this early fall. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And once they get up there and they do stand there for an hour and a half, you do make a judgment.  We‘ve seen it in all the polling.  You decide, you know, I don‘t like this guy Kerry.  He‘s a little too stilted.  I think he‘s a fraud, a little too cold.  You know, Bush ain‘t so bad after all. 

Isn‘t that the danger that Kerry faces? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, everything depends on the debates, I think, because everybody knows Bush.  They know his mistakes, his weaknesses, what he can do.  And he‘s not great in a debate format.

MATTHEWS:  And I am what I am, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  And if they make up their mind that maybe we need something new, the whole focus is going to be, who is this guy the Democrats have nominated?  And, quite frankly, so far, post-primary, Kerry has not come across as an individual you want to be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Why do I hear Republicans in Pennsylvania, not crazy Republicans, moderate Republicans, who are saying, I‘m kind of disappointed in Bush and I sort of like—like my dad says, I like the stature of this guy Kerry?  Here‘s a Republican.  And they do like the formality, if you will, of John Kerry.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  There is a plus to being somewhat presidential. 

COELHO:  Well, particularly presidential at a time of crisis. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COELHO:  And we‘re in the middle of a crisis.  This guy is not a good world leader.  And people suspect that.  And so we‘re in a situation where we really need help. 

John Kerry carries himself as somebody with stature, somebody who could be respected.  That‘s a positive.  Also, Pat ignores the point that Weld was a very nice guy.  And John Kerry beat his butt at the end.  I think that George Bush is a good guy.  But don‘t underestimate Kerry‘s closure.  He has an ability to close.  He always has and it will be interesting to see if he can here. 

MATTHEWS:  This is going to be a horse race. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A close race, right?  A close race, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Close race.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Close race, Tony?

COELHO:  It‘s going to be a close race.

MATTHEWS:  Real close?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  As close as last time? 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  It can‘t be any closer. 

COELHO:  It can‘t be any closer. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Bush loses if it‘s that close.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who wins?  You don‘t know yet.  We don‘t know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s not.  I don‘t like asking those questions, because nobody knows yet.  I don‘t know.  Nobody really knows.  We don‘t have want any clairvoyance here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, experts.  Such expertise. 

Tony Coelho.

Pat, you‘re a smart guy when it is not about ideology. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Pat Buchanan.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Actor Tom Selleck is going to be here to talk about his new movie.  He plays Ike.  What a great performance.  I‘ve seen it, “Countdown to D-Day.”

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” to Keith.  

END   

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