updated 9/11/2014 6:29:50 PM ET 2014-09-11T22:29:50

HARDBALL
September 10, 2014

Guest: Bill Maher

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Fight night.

This is HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington, overlooking the U.S.
Capitol.

Tonight, the president must make an impossible argument, that we can
protect ourselves in this country from harm at home or entanglement abroad
and still defeat our new and frightening enemy, ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic
State. We`re still having a hard time agreeing on what to call it, but a
much harder time agreeing on how to confront it.

My first guest is our friend, Bill Maher. He joins us on this big
night, when the president addresses the American people, and because of the
beheadings of two American journalists, it`s a time when the people of our
country have an extraordinary focus on this terrorist group that has taken
over much of Iraq and Syria.

New polls show the American people want to go at the enemy with air
power but not on the ground with troops. But when has a war like that ever
been won? Our people want to close off the possibility of the enemy
hitting us here at home, but how is that possible if we refuse to go all
out and destroy it? And what kind of a war is it that we focus most of our
debate on the ways we refuse to fight it.

As I said, I just spoke with Bill Maher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: The president of the United States is speaking to the
American people tonight, Bill Maher. What should he say? What do they
want to hear him say?

BILL MAHER, HBO "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": I think they want to
hear him say what Ted Cruz said the other day, I`m going to take them out.
They don`t think things through, the American public. You know, they just
feel scared right now. I`m not sure why. I`m not really scared of ISIS.
I know they`re a bad group, but I don`t think they`re going to come here
and behead me. But they saw two grisly videos, and I guess they think
that`s going to happen to them next.

But that kind of tough talk seems to be what the American people want.
They don`t want to think it through into, Well, what actions should we take
to back up the talk? I heard Chris Christie talking the other day about
Vladimir Putin. And he seemed befuddled by the question and what was going
on there in Ukraine. But he said something like, Well, if I was president,
he wouldn`t have tried that with me. Why? Because you`re fat? What does
that mean?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: He wouldn`t have tried it with you? What would you have done?
Are you saying that you would have threatened him with nuclear war?

Obama has made this point himself often, that the Republicans seem to
want more out of him, but then when he says, Well, what? Should we send
boots on the ground? No, not exactly that. Well, what is it? Because I`m
doing it. I`m already bombing them. What should I do? Talk more like
John Wayne, is what they want. Talk more like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Talk
more like Reagan. We win, they lose!

MATTHEWS: Yes. But the problem is, the American people -- and we`re
looking at all the polling, Bill, and it shows, as you said, that people
want to get rid of ISIS. They want to get no casualties at home, certainly
no homeland casualties. They don`t want any casualties in the field. They
don`t want to have any of our troops in the field, but they want to beat
them.

MAHER: It reminds me very much of the same view they have of
economics. They want to solve the budget deficit, but they don`t want to
do it by either raising taxes or cutting spending or any of the programs
they like. They want magic. They want to elect someone who can perform
magic. And unfortunately, that person is not on the ballot.

MATTHEWS: OK, the president speaks tonight at 9:00 o`clock at night.
Will he build up the heat towards the enemy or bring it down? Because if
he brings up the heat and says, These are real bad guys, they beheaded our
people, we got to get them, then he has to follow up. Do you think he`ll
lower the temperature tonight and say, Look, there`s a bad group. They`re
in another part of the world. They`re not that dangerous right now. We
can live with them right now. They`re not an existential threat. Do you
think he`ll do that or...

MAHER: No.

MATTHEWS: ... he`ll keep the heat going?

MAHER: Absolutely. Because first of all, as a -- as a number of
other issues in recent years, like gay marriage, Joe Biden has already kind
of forced him to up the ante. You know...

MATTHEWS: He gave the cris de guerre this week already.

MAHER: Very good, Chris. I didn`t know you were bilingual like that.
But yes, the -- We`ll follow them to the gates of hell.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: Really? Do we really need to make a bogey man out of
everybody? I get it that ISIS is bad, but they`re not that different than
so many other Islamic villains. I read in "The New York Time" about a
month ago, they said there were thousands of Islamic militant groups around
the world, Boko Haram, al Qaeda. We can name many of them.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: You can put Hamas perhaps in that category. This is a problem
we`re going to be dealing with for the rest our lives, for everybody`s
lives, and the lives of their children. This is not going away any time
soon. It`s so easy to bait Americans. I mean, it`s horrible that they
killed two journalists. But when you think about it, it`s the fact that
most Americans, like, something like 94 percent of Americans, are aware of
that. They saw that or heard about it...

MATTHEWS: Biggest news event in five years.

MAHER: Is that what it was?

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) our polling.

MAHER: OK. So it seems to be we just lurch from one emotional
response to the next. And that`s not really a way to conduct foreign
policy. And on these matters -- I mean, whatever Obama says tonight, what
assures me, makes me feel assured is that he`s a calm guy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: He doesn`t do things rashly. He may throw them a little red
meat, but I don`t think he`s going to do anything that a president
shouldn`t do in this situation.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about what he`s probably going to do,
based on the leaks already today. He`s going to do something on air power,
something in terms of air strikes, drone strikes, I suppose, against ISIS
in Syria, as well as in Iraq. But when it come to defeating ISIS, the
Iraqis don`t want anybody else in their country but them. They don`t want
our ground troops back in. Syria obviously doesn`t want us in there.
Who`s actually going to -- you can`t count on the Jordanians to bring an
army in. They won`t cross the border. The Saudis will spend some money on
this, but they`re not going to send any troops in.

Who is going to defeat ISIS?

MAHER: But that`s what we -- exactly what we should do is make them
defeat ISIS. We should do the same thing with Ukraine. Make the Europeans
get involved. Make people take care of their own neighborhoods! Why is it
always...

MATTHEWS: The only way to do that is us to stand back and let them do
it.

MAHER: Let me -- exactly. Take the training wheels...

MATTHEWS: But can a president risk...

MAHER: Take the training wheels off! Let...

MATTHEWS: That`s an alternative to what he`s probably going to do
tonight, stand back, let them deal with it regionally.

MAHER: Exactly. That`s what -- we should be the last resort, not the
first resort. We`re like helicopter parents, always hovering over
everybody, making the kids do things exactly the way -- let them work it
out for themselves!

MATTHEWS: You think they`ll stop beheading our people if we do that?
They might. Do you think they will? They said they`re beheading our
people because we attacked them by air. ISIS said that. I don`t know if
you believe them or not, but that`s what they say.

MAHER: Does it matter why they do it?

MATTHEWS: No, will it -- if they continue to do it, can a president
of the United States stand back and let it happen? Any president.

MAHER: Yes. Yes, absolutely, a president can stand back and let it
happen, just the way Reagan, who they are all pining for -- where is he now
-- when the Marine barracks were blown up in Beirut, George Bush went over
there and stood in the rubble and said, We will not be cowed by terrorists.
And then we bugged out. So thanks a lot, Reagan and Bush, you cut-and-run
cowards, for letting the terrorists follow us home. I`m being facetious.

MATTHEWS: But there weren`t any crazies...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... other side politically that were willing to say, Let`s
go back in. When I -- Tip O`Neill -- I was on the other side working for
the opposition, and we never said go back in. We thought he was crazy to
go there in the first place.

MAHER: But we can`t organize our foreign policy based on what the
crazies will say and do, and that is something I think Obama has been
pretty good on.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the guy you mentioned up front, Ted
Cruz. We`ve been tough on him on our show. He is on the hard right. He
is crazy all the way over there. He reminds me of Joe McCarthy in the way
he goes after people like Hagel. And he`s got the hot hand in the
Republican Party. If they actually like a guy like him, what`s that tell
that you about the politics of this country? Bomb them into the Stone Age,
that kind of talk.

MAHER: Right. But we know what the politics of this country is,
especially in the Republican Party and especially the people in the
Republican Party who are most fervent and do the most voting. And we have
an election coming up. Who comes out to vote? It`s those kind of people.

And you`re right, Ted Cruz -- I always say Ted Cruz is the worst.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

MAHER: No matter who you bring up in the Republican Party, he is the
worst because he`s not stupid. He knows exactly what he`s doing. I don`t
think he believes half the things he says. I think he runs it be his staff
-- Is this stupid enough? Is this really stupid enough...

MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that!

MAHER: ... or is this just somewhat stupid because I want to get the
stupid people out...

MATTHEWS: I`m -- I`m thinking about...

MAHER: ... there to vote with me.

MATTHEWS: ... the Pat Robertson mentality, the guy goes to Yale law
school and he`s other guy selling this stuff. I keep -- could there --
could be a scam.

MAHER: Well, Pat Robertson actually once in a while says something
smart, like we should legalize pot. I`ve never heard Ted Cruz say anything
smart.

MATTHEWS: I want to talk to you about Rand Paul in a minute. What do
you think of him? Because he`s an anti-war Republican.

MAHER: Not so much in the last couple of days. He really bothered
me. I was -- I was looking at him, like as somebody who I actually might
consider to vote for as a Republican, which I have not done...

MATTHEWS: But isn`t he anti-war in his heart? Isn`t he an anti-war
guy?

MAHER: Well, the other day, Hillary Clinton said something I thought
was very smart, which was that global warming -- we got some more bad news,
as we do every week, but this was really shocking, about carbon in the
atmosphere. She said, you know, this is the biggest issue that we should
be afraid of. And I agree. I am much more afraid of ice, as in melting,
than I am about ISIS.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: And Rand Paul basically said exactly what Dick Cheney said
about a month ago, which is that, Why is the president talking about
climate change when we have this terrorist group? And that`s just a
terrible reordering of priorities. Hillary Clinton was right about that.
She won me back.

MATTHEWS: Yes. That`s why I really don`t like people like Glenn Beck
because they laugh at it. You know...

MAHER: Everybody on the right thinks it`s a hoax.

MATTHEWS: It`s some kind of a joke.

MAHER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Bill Maher, you`re a smart guy. We`ll be right back. I
want to talk to you about what`s looking up -- what`s going to happen
tonight, a little further down the road about the Ray Rice case and some
other matters. We`ll be back with Bill Maher.

And still ahead, we`ll look forward to President Obama`s big speech
tonight. It`s coming up at 9:00 o`clock, but we`re going to have Chuck
Todd come and joining us tonight, also Richard Engel. He`s on the ground
over there in Iraq right now, and Eugene Robinson, who met with President
Obama today. Plus, Howard Fineman and Kasie Hunt with the word from
Congress up on Capitol Hill. We`re right near it here.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re coming right back with Bill Maher. And at the top of
this hour, stick with MSNBC as Rachel Maddow and I are joined by Chris
Hayes, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Andrea Mitchell as we all gear up for
President Obama`s speech at 9:00 Eastern.

Back with Bill Maher after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So often,
President Obama responds to crises by announcing all things that he will
not do, and here again, we can only hope that pattern ends tonight. Our
president must understand we are at war and that we must do what it takes
for as long as it takes to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was Dick Cheney today, doing the same thing he
does time and time again, his Dr. Strangelove number. Of course, Cheney
was giving the same advice he always does, escalate. No matter what the
crisis is, the Cheney solution is always to escalate -- more bombs, more
fighting.

We`re back now with Bill Maher, who`s the host, of course, of "Real
Time." Cheney keeps acting like he`s the new kid on the block. He`s the
guy that put our troops into the holy land of Mecca...

MAHER: Oh, I know.

MATTHEWS: That basically gave a trigger to the whole al Qaeda
movement. He`s the guy that de-Ba`athicized, or knocked out all the Sunnis
out of the government in Iraq, when we went in there. He`s the guy that
took us into Iraq. Now he acts like somehow, this whole messing-up of the
Middle East, all this fragmentation and craziness, he had nothing to do
with.

MAHER: It reminds me of what he said about Benghazi. Of course, it
was on the anniversary of 9/11, and he said, you know, Obama should never
have let that happen because, you know, we were always on our guard on the
anniversary of 9/11. Yes, there wouldn`t have been an anniversary...

MATTHEWS: How do they get away with that?

MAHER: ... if you hadn`t...

MATTHEWS: If Obama had been president when the American people lost
3,000 lives in New York City, would he have been blamed by the right?

MAHER: Of course! Constantly! They would never stop talking about
it. It`s -- it`s ridiculous...

MATTHEWS: He lost New York. Right?

MAHER: Right. That would be the catchphrase, he lost New York.
Exactly.

MATTHEWS: So why is politics so asymmetric? Why is it that the right
is so much tougher that the left these days? Not that the left wasn`t
tougher before, but now they`re not.

MAHER: It`s in their DNA, I think. You know, look at polling.
Democrats are afraid of polls. Republicans aren`t afraid of polls.
Republicans make polls. Democrats run from polls. If something is polling
at 43 percent approval rating, Democrats go, Oh, better not touch that.
Republicans go, 43 percent? You mean we only to have fool another 8
percent of the people? Piece of cake! We`ll meet in our evil lair. We`ll
get our evil-to-English dictionary. We`ll get the words that get them on
the page. We`ll spread out on the talk shows with every exact same talking
point, and we`ll have it done in two weeks. No problem.

I mean, the public option was polling at something like 70 percent
approval before they got ahold of it. And they were, like, 70 percent?
Piece of cake. We`ll get it down below 50 by the fall, and they did.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me ask you about the -- what do you think about
the idea of Cheney coming back and all these people coming back that were
the ones behind the war in Iraq, which is enormously unpopular? This is
where the polling is a little bit offbeat here. If you have people that
say Iraq was a mistake, this whole macho, or rather neocon thing, and we
got to go over to the Middle East to take over -- bring down one government
after another, we`ll bring down Syria, we`ll bring down Iraq, we`ll bring
down Afghanistan, we`ll bring down Libya. Actually, we lost -- Egypt also
went down.

And somehow, that`s going to create democracy. And it`s going to be
better for Israel and better for us. I mean, it never was. And how come
they come back now as the experts, the people that brought us that?

MAHER: Because they have the advantage of working in a country where
the people are not very well informed. They certainly don`t know history.
They certainly are not interested in foreign affairs very much, unless it
comes right to their doorstep. They all think about -- we learn history
through wars. We learn geography through wars. Crimea -- did they know
what that place was? They thought it was an artificial sweetener until
three months ago.

OK. So I read in the paper today a Republican congressman -- I can`t
remember who it was -- he said about Iraq, Well, Obama`s been in office six
years now. We can`t blame Bush and Cheney for that anymore. What? This
goes back to the seventh century! We`re only going back six years now?

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about glistening (ph) objects, and one is, of
course, this debate over Ray Rice, the running back for the Baltimore
Ravens. And it looks like they didn`t quite get to this thing in time.
The NFL looks like they`re now waking up to the video, which we`re told in
an Associated Press report late today, that apparently, somebody claims
that they gave that to an executive at the NFL back in April, and they
didn`t want to look at it or they averted their glance from it or whatever,
they looked at it and said, We`re not bringing that into evidence here.

MAHER: OK. That could be true. I don`t know if we`ll ever find out.
I don`t know if it`s really the most important part of this situation. It
kind of reminds me of the Ferguson situation and the police brutality in
New York the week before. Sometimes, things happen in this country that
shed a light on a problem that`s been going on for years, decades,
centuries, and suddenly, everybody`s all over it, which is -- you know, the
bright side of it is good. We`re finally looking at it. And I guess we`re
finally looking at this now.

MATTHEWS: Pictures. If you didn`t have the picture.

MAHER: Yes, the picture. Right. That meant everything. Same thing
with the cop situation, perhaps. For some reason, choking that guy, seeing
that, something clicked in people about something that`s been going on for
a very long time.

I think a point that needs to be made is that he didn`t go to jail,
and he should have. I mean, it`s a private organization -- a private
business, I guess, the National Football League. They can do what they
want, but...

MATTHEWS: Suppose he had slugged a guy in the elevator like that.
Isn`t that assault and battery?

MAHER: It`s assault. Absolutely. That`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER: I think you should go to jail, and then when you get out of
jail, you`ve paid your time, and if you want to resume your career -- I
mean, if he was in the insurance industry and he slugged his wife and he
went to jail -- and of course, we don`t usually send people to jail. Why?
Because they`re full of non-violent drug offenders...

MATTHEWS: I know.

MAHER: ... so full, they have no place for a guy like Ray Rice. But
they should. He should go to jail. And when he gets out, he should have a
clean slate. This idea that everybody has to pay in perpetuity...

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER: ... some crimes, yes. Obviously, murder you go to jail
forever or else give you the chair. But it`s a horrible thing he did, and
he should pay a horrible price, which is going to jail for a couple of
years. And then when he gets out, new life.

MATTHEWS: That`s very Christian of you.

MAHER: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: It really is. And I think it`s forgiveness based on, We`re
through this now, you paid your debt to society.

Anyway, it`s great having you on.

MAHER: You converted me back, Chris.

MATTHEWS: If I could.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Bill.

MAHER: Great to see you.

MATTHEWS: You have some very good values within your heathen soul.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Bill Maher.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And Bill Maher returns this Friday with back-to-back live
shows from here in Washington at 9:00 Eastern. And "Real Time" premiers
for its 12th season, then at 10:00 Maher`s back for a live stand-up special
from the Warner Theater here in D.C.

Up next, President Obama`s speech tonight on the war with ISIS just
over 90 minutes from now. And we`re going to be joined on this program by
NBC`s Richard Engel on the ground in Iraq, plus Chuck Todd, the moderator
of "MEET THE PRESS," on the president`s big opportunity tonight to get
things organized, and also, "The Washington Post`s" Eugene Robinson, who
met with the president earlier today.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

White House officials say they`re building a U.S.-Arab coalition in
the Middle East to support efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS in Iraq and
Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry is in the region tonight to firm up
those commitments. He`s meeting with members of the new Iraqi government,
before traveling to Jordan for supper tonight with the king, where he spoke
with King Abdullah.

President Obama also worked the phones this morning himself, speaking
to the king of Saudi Arabia before meeting with his national security team
to work on the address he will deliver just over 90 minutes from now.

But while the administration`s diplomatic effort is well under way,
the exact role that our Middle Eastern allies will play in the president`s
new strategy needs additional clarity.

In his press conference in Baghdad today, Secretary Kerry began --
actually again to stress that neither American forces nor those of regional
allies will be directly combating ISIS in Iraq, that is, he said, unless
something dramatic happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me emphasize, Iraq has not
asked for American forces on the ground, nor other forces, and Iraq doesn`t
want those other forces here. And we understand that.

In addition, the president of the United States and other leaders of
other countries have eliminated the notion of their forces being engaged in
direct combat, unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic changed.
That`s the way it is today, and that`s the way it is going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now from the city of Irbil in Iraq is
Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News.

Richard, it just seems to me that despite all the talk tonight we
we`re going to hear about a broad coalition of that region to fight ISIS,
we`re the only soldiers in that battle and we`re doing it by air.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: There is a big
difference between a coalition that offers finances, that offers media
support, moral support.

I think we`re going to get that. And we`re already starting to see
that. When you turn on Arabic television over just the last couple of
weeks, there are more programs denouncing ISIS. Some Islamic leaders are
coming out describing them as barbarians who have nothing to do with Islam,
and that helps to dry up the pool of recruits, to dry up the extremism and
confront ISIS` message.

But in the actual battle, the U.S. doesn`t have any real partners,
except for where I am right now. I`m in Kurdistan. In Kurdistan, there
are Kurdish fighters. They are called the Peshmerga. They are old U.S.
allies. They were the best allies that American troops had during the last
war in Iraq.

And the U.S. works very closely with them. We saw them -- we saw that
in person. American airstrikes will come. They will destroy ISIS targets.
They will kill ISIS militants and then, over that debris and over the
bodies, Kurdish forces will move in. The problem is, the Iraqi army, which
is supposed to be doing the same kind of thing, collapsed and needs to be
rebuilt, and now is very closely tied to Iran and Shiite groups.

And in Syria, there are absolutely no groups. The president talks
about these partnered forces on the ground that will be doing the fighting,
taking the fight to ISIS, while the U.S. drops bombs from the sky.

Those moderate rebels, those ground forces in Syria simply don`t exist
right now.

MATTHEWS: So when we do bomb an area in Syria where we believe ISIS
is deployed, perhaps we can stop them from doing certain things, but who
would come in and exploit that situation and grab control of the territory,
perhaps capture or kill the ISIS people that have been damaged by the air
attack, by our air attack?

ENGEL: Well, the most likely group that would come in and take over
those territories would be the army of Bashar al-Assad.

The army of Bashar al-Assad desperately wants to regain control of its
entire country. And it has been making advances and then its advances were
stopped by ISIS. So if ISIS is degraded, we could see very likely the -- a
counteroffensive being launched to take advantage of that vacuum being
created by the United States by Bashar al-Assad.

So we bomb Assad`s enemy, ISIS, an enemy which, by the way, he very
much helped to create, and then Assad could end up walking away with the
trophy and walking away with his country back.

MATTHEWS: What a strange war. Jordan doesn`t cross its border into
Syria. Iraq doesn`t really go out into the Sunni areas and take down ISIS.
We don`t go in on the ground. But Hafez -- Assad, the head of the hated
government of Syria, does move in. What a strange development this is
going to be for a war front.

Thank you very much for your great information and reporting there,
Richard Engel, who is in Irbil, Iraq, tonight.

When we return: President Obama`s challenge tonight is to explain how
he is going to confront ISIS. Americans want a war without casualties.
The word ground troops -- what kind of war is that? And it could be the
biggest audience this president will have until the end of his presidency.

We are going to be joined right now by the moderator of "Meet the
Press," Chuck Todd. He is coming here in a minute, plus "The Washington
Post"`s Eugene Robinson, who met with the president today.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRANCES RIVERA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Frances Rivera. Here`s
what`s happening.

There have been new arrests in Ferguson, Missouri, as protesters
gather near Interstate 70. The suburb was the scene of regular protests
following the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in August.

U.S. forces conducted another airstrike on an ISIS position in Iraq.
The strike destroyed an armed vehicle near Irbil.

And the clinic where Joan Rivers was treated prior to her death is
defending its safety record, saying it far exceeds the national average --
now we take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The audience for the president`s prime-time speech tonight, carried
live on all the broadcast networks and cable news channels, may represent,
as I said, the biggest audience President Obama will address between now
and the end of his presidency. And those are certainly high stakes.

And with his job approval rating down at 40 percent, an all-time low
for him, and his job rating on foreign policy at just 32 percent, President
Obama has a lot on the line tonight.

Joining me right now is Chuck Todd, moderator of "Meet the Press," and
Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post"
and an MSNBC political analyst.

Chuck, it seems the American people want something that is almost
impossible to imagine. They want a war against ISIS that destroys it. Of
course, they don`t want any casualties at home, certainly, nor do they want
any troops involved over there fighting them.

This could be -- this is going to -- can he continue to allow the
American people to believe that they can have a cost-free victory?

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": He is going to try to do
that tonight. That`s what he is going to try to do.

That`s what he is going to try to sell. Essentially, he wants to give
the public what they`re asking for. This is sort of an odd moment.
Usually, a president has to rally the country to sort of convince them that
a military campaign is necessary at a moment like this.

Instead, the public is already there, as we have seen in some of these
-- in some of this polling. And I have to say, the questions that I have
about all of these operations that they`re planning, I don`t think he is
going to address tonight, which is, what happens -- how do you know when it
is over? When it is over, then what happens to Syria? How exactly does
this training operation work?

That`s going to take place, perhaps in Saudi Arabia, not even, as you
pointed out, not even in this -- these sort of un -- what eventually might
become ungoverned parts of Syria. And how do we not repeat this cycle,
right, which is -- the al Qaeda example is what he is going to hold up as a
success story.

OK. They have degraded al Qaeda. But now we have a new threat. How
do we know when, you degrade ISIS, that when that vacuum appears, that
there won`t be another group that shows up there?

MATTHEWS: Right.

TODD: So, I think that he has a public that doesn`t -- isn`t
demanding those answers right now. He has a public that is absolutely
fearing what happened to those American journalists and saw those
beheadings and thinks, OK, we have got to do something.

MATTHEWS: Gene, I agree completely with Chuck on the quandary here,
because we went to -- we went into Saudi Arabia, planted tens of thousands
of troops in there for a decade leading up to 9/11 in order to get Saddam
Hussein, but we created something over there that became al Qaeda.

Then we went into Iraq the second time and got rid of all the Sunnis.
We de-Baathicized the government, sent all those soldiers and generals out
looking for something to do. All of a sudden, we find ourselves with ISIS.
We bomb ISIS, we end up with beheadings. There is always going to be a
reaction to what we say.

How does the president end the series of actions and reactions if he
can? How does he do it?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good question, Chris.

You know, I was at an off-the-record briefing at the White House
today. Since it was off the record, I can`t say who it was and exactly and
specifically what was said. But I did come away with a much better
understanding of how the president and the White House see this situation.

And it`s -- I think he does really have something to accomplish in
this speech tonight, which is letting the American people know that the
White House sees this as a commitment. And it is not. This isn`t, wham,
bam, thank you, ma`am. This isn`t just a little shock and awe with
airstrikes.

But it is a commitment to degrade and eventually destroy ISIL or ISIS
in order that -- to not have what some commentators have called a
jihadistan in the middle of the Middle East, and -- and which -- which the
White House again sees as -- as intolerable and as something that has to be
moved against.

This is fraught with fraught, as an old editor of mine used to say.
And the possibilities of how this can go wrong are almost endless. And,
frankly, the White House can`t see around all the corners.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to the most immediate way to judge the
situation.

If we continue our airstrikes, in fact escalate them over Syria and
Iraq, can`t we expect more beheadings, Chuck?

TODD: Well, that`s possible.

Of course that that`s -- that`s going to be, that there`s going to --
some fear of retribution. You have some people fearing that, right now,
the administration says, you know, ISIL aspires to potentially threaten the
West, but who is to say you don`t have a lone wolf that decides to
retaliate? We know that there`s a lot of Western fighters and there are at
least fighters that have Western passports, be it in Europe or the United
States.

I think that fear always sits there. But, look, our -- two of our
closest allies, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, do see this as an existential
threat to them. And, obviously, if those two countries -- if this seeps
into those two countries.

We have -- you know, it is understandable the national security
decision the president is making. You cannot allow this to happen and see
Jordan threatened, see -- you know, it is chaotic enough there. If this
seeps over the border into Jordan and we lose that ally, it puts Israel in
danger, it puts a lot of things in danger.

But, again, what is -- how do you -- how do you get out of this? How
do you stop? And that`s what I don`t quite understand. He is not going to
apparently put an end date tonight. So how do you know when it is over?
And then how do you get out of Syria? If we bomb the heck out of that
country, are we responsible for helping to rebuild it, and whose country is
it?

MATTHEWS: Well, the question you raised there, I want Gene to take
this, the question of Jordan, of course, and Saudi Arabia.

From what we`re hearing about the speech tonight, they are not going
to get involved in the fight against Syria. They`re offering to protect
their border in the case of Jordan and to send us some money for this
campaign from Saudi, which is typical of them, paying for their problems.
But, again, it is an American war.

We are going to be the ones flying the sorties over Syria and Iraq for
weeks and perhaps months, perhaps years. And all that killing, which is
going to end up killing innocent people, hospitals will get hit, schools
will get hit, kids will get hit, and, eventually, these things turns where
we`re the bad guys again.

We, the United States, looks like the aggressor, killing Arabs on
international television again. And we`re right back where we were in Iraq
in terms of the look of the thing, the reality, not just the look.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: No, I think that`s absolutely right.

And I think -- I think this is seen at the White House as, yes, it
will look this way to a lot of people. And, yes, this is not a situation
that anybody wanted to be in.

I think -- my understanding is that specific roles of some of the
allies -- and, frankly, I think there`s a lot less to this coalition than
meets the eye, just from what we know -- but specific roles may come out
later, it is my understanding.

But I think Chuck asked one of the really central questions, which is
Syria. What -- once you -- once you get involved in the Syrian conflict,
how on earth do you get out? How do you avoid any U.S. action in Syria
essentially handing the country back to Assad? Is it deemed necessary to
basically do that even for a short term, for the greater good or not? It
is a mess. And it`s going to get messier.

MATTHEWS: Chuck, Richard Engel was just in from Irbil over there in
Iraq and he said the likely outcome of bombing campaign over Syria by us,
conducted by us, where we`re blowing up sites and blowing up perhaps
deployments of ISIS forces there, the people who will pick up the pieces in
h estimation will be the government of Assad. It won`t be the Free Syrian
Army. It will be Assad that goes in and grabs that land that we`ve just
blown apart.

TODD: That`s the most likely. I understand yes says that. Assad has
an army. Assad hey would be able to hurry up and get troops there to
secure territory, for instance, that he has lost to ISIS.

Now, look, part of this plan that the president is going to lay out,
apparently is going to involve trying to train this moderate Syrian
opposition. But is it going to be big enough? And if the United States is
taking on this cause of training, this moderate Syrian, that has slippery
slope written all over it, Chris, because then we are for trying to
essentially prop Syria back up, and it -- it becomes, how does it not
become a similar situation as to the responsibility feel it had over Iraq.

MATTHEWS: You broke it, you bought it.

Thanks so much, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Gene Robinson. That was Colin
Powell`s view.

Up next, should President Obama call Congress`s bluff and ask for a
war resolution against is? Say within a week, when it would matter. Will
there be a vote in Congress over this new war? We`ll get reaction from
Capitol when we come back.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at a couple of new Senate polls out today and
some strong showings by Democrats. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

First in Michigan, where U.S. Congressman Gary Peters, the Democrat in
the race, will either or not has opened up a 10-point lead over Republican
Terri Lynn Land among likely voters. Their the key voters in a new Detroit
news poll. It`s Peters, 47, edging towards 50. Land, down at 37. And
that matters. Those are likely voters.

Next to Iowa, where a Loras College poll out this has Democratic
Congressman Bruce Braley leading Republican Joni Ernst, the castrator, by
four among likely voters. It`s Braley, 45, Ernst, 41.

Good news in the blue states. Michigan and Iowa, two more blue states
where Democratic voters are coming home to the party.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the American people will be paying close attention tonight to
the president`s words in his primetime address. And so will the
representatives in Congress right behind me. As the president prepares to
explain his strategy to the American people, he`ll also be looking for buy-
in -- that`s the new phrase -- from the legislative branch. He wants
Congress to be part of this.

But in this case, what does buy-in from Congress actually mean? Will
they hold a vote to authorize the president`s actions against ISIS, the
terrorist group? Will they foot the bill for a prolonged American
intervention?

NBC News learn today, for example, that White House is pushing hard
for the House to authorize at least the training and arming of Syrian
rebels as part of the upcoming vote to fund the government -- anyway, as
part of the ongoing continuing resolution.

And today, GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the House side
announced they will delay the vote for the continuing resolution which was
schedule for tomorrow so the Republicans can consider the president`s
request to pay for it.

Franklin Roosevelt, for example, asked for a declaration of war
against Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the Congress
held a vote within minutes of his famous speech. So, what will Congress do
now after the president makes his plan known tonight?

Kasie Hunt is MSNBC`s political correspondent. She covers up here.

And Howard Fineman is editorial director, of course, of "The
Huffington Post", and an MSNBC political analyst.

First to you, Kasie -- buy-in. Why doesn`t the Congress just belly
up. Go up there and vote for a war. Explain that? Why doesn`t the
president want them to, Democrat and Republican alike? If he`s going to
war, why doesn`t he force them to go with him?

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: At this point, buy-in is
basically anything that`s short of complete rejection and public
condemnation. And, you know, I was talking to sources today on the Hill
who essentially said this vote is extremely unlikely. The only people,
particularly in the Senate, who are asking for it, are people who are not
up for re-election.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mitch McConnell is.

HUNT: Or invested on it.

Yes, he is but that`s because he knows that it puts Senate Democrats
in particular in a really tough position. If you think about how this
midterm is shaping up, it`s shaping up as a base election. This is going
to be about how excited voters on the left and voters on the right are.
And even if the president needs to reassure voters tonight, they don`t want
to be on the record of saying I voted to go to war again.

Remember how Iraq plays with that progressive left base, not very
well.

MATTHEWS: They`re afraid the left won`t show up.

HUNT: Right.

MATTHEWS: But how it is an advantage for Mitch McConnell, you know
this guy, you cover him -- I think he likes this. Nobody likes war really,
but this makes him look like a heavyweight. This gives him a chance to
sell his gravitas, his experience, even his age against a much younger
candidate.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, all politics is local.
And in the case of Mitch McConnell, all politics is Kentucky, no matter
what`s going on in the Middle East. He`s got an ad up right now in
television in Kentucky showing all of the chaos in the world, leading off
with ISIS chaos, basically saying, I`m Mitch McConnell, have the gravitas,
have the experience. This young woman I`m running against, Alison
Lundergan Grimes, doesn`t.

So, I think Mitch McConnell is inviting the Democrats in the Senate,
Harry Reid in particular, to hold a vote, during which time Mitch McConnell
and every other Republican will spend all their time saying what President
Obama did not do last year, did not do six months ago. They will stir the
waters as much as they can for their own immediate benefit in the midterm
elections.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Now, let`s talk about the center-left, the progressives.
Where are they? Is this is split? If they had a vote with people on the
progressive left, with McDermott, for example, with Bernie Sanders, vote
for war resolution, or would they say no?

HUNT: They`re in a pretty tough position, because a lot of them do
want to be seen as supporting the president. But on the other hand, if you
listen to -- you know, the way they`re framing this, they`re framing it as
something to be concerned about because it could end up being a much
longer, deeper commitment than we expected it to be. And that`s sort of
the flag they`re waving.

And that`s why I think, you know, you`re hearing administration
officials when they talk about it, be very careful to emphasize that point.
They say, yes, we`re going to potentially bomb Syria, yes, we`re going to
potentially make this, you know, a new front in the war, but it is not
100,000 combat troops, and it is not something we`re dealing --

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to crazy part of this whole night. The
American people, according to our polls at NBC and "The Wall Street
Journal," we`ve all read them, seem to say we want to do something against
ISIS. We want to make war. But we don`t to get in the ground, and we
don`t any casualties at home or over there. We don`t want the homeland
hurt. We don`t want the soldiers.

A war without casualties, a war without troops, but it has to win.
What kind of a war is that? I don`t know what that war is.

FINEMAN: Well, two things, first of all, Chris, I think in reality,
virtually everybody up there on the Hill -- not everybody but the
preponderance of people on the Hill and in the country agree on what should
be done. We should have Iraq be a real country. We should have a
coalition with NATO people and Arab countries and Muslim countries. We
should carefully pinpoint bomb in Iraq and Syria and no troops on the
ground.

That -- all of this arguing up here is a dumb show in that everybody
really agrees --

MATTHEWS: They agree on that, but that win a war? Would that win a
war?

FINEMAN: No. That`s the problem. What everybody agrees on is short
of what we`re really facing if we look at the past.

I went and read the president`s anti-war speech from 2002. I reread
his other speeches.

If he stood for anything, it`s been to be cautious about the
unintended consequences of war. And now, that`s what got him elected --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- in 2008.

Now, he`s standing on the precipice of another situation like that. I
think what he wants to say is let`s be really careful. Let`s be cautious.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he`s saying more bombing.

FINEMAN: But the American people right now and everybody in
Washington and the chatter is, you know, you better be strong, Mr.
President, you only have a 32 percent approval rating.

MATTHEWS: OK. We`re not talking four years from now. We`re talking
the next couple weeks case. Just imagine the horror.

He does announce more bombing, more sorties more casualties. So, the
head of ISIS, Baghdadi says, OK, we`ll find somebody else to behead.

And American people are watching this sequence of events. We do one
thing, they do another. We do one thing or another, it all began when we
put our troops in the Holy Land over there and all of a sudden there`s an
al Qaeda group didn`t like this desecration. We knock all the Sunnis out
of the Iraqi government, we de-Baathisize.

Guess what? They join ISIS. We bomb ISIS, they behead our people.

This is a series of reactions and actions that`s just going to
continue tonight. It`s not going to end tonight.

HUNT: And I think also, you know, you`re starting to see this sort of
element of an "I told you so" from the hawkish wing of the Republican
Party, not necessarily the political Mitch McConnells of the world.

MATTHEWS: What about going back to "I told you so" to how we got into
this situation?

HUNT: Well, what they would say is that the president`s caution has
gotten us to the point where ISIS is this big of a threat. They would say
if the president had acted more strongly, maybe if Congress had stood up a
little taller a year ago --

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me give you a poll number. What`s the latest poll
number on whether we should have gone into the Iraq war? It`s in the 70s
against it.

So, the American people, if they were reminded of the problem, we had
a lot of difficult, you can call them SOB governments, to be crude about
it. You know, Hafez Assad, his father, we had Saddam Hussein, we had
Gadhafi. We`d be better with those bums than what we have right now, and
yet we took step after step to bring them down.

FINEMAN: I agree with you that if you`re going to judge Barack Obama,
President Obama, by his own standards, that is the speech he should give
tonight.

MATTHEWS: What I just said.

FINEMAN: Yes.

Now, he should say, here`s what we`re going to do, but you have to
understand the context here. And that is his whole being. That`s the way
he would normally operate, but he`s being jammed into --

MATTHEWS: Who`s pushing him, Dempsey? The chairman of the Joint
Chiefs?

FINEMAN: I think the number -- I think the numbers are pushing him
there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HUNT: Right.

FINEMAN: Having a 32 percent approval rating on foreign policy,
having a 40 percent approval rate overall, knowing that your Senate and
House candidates and maybe even gubernatorial candidates are being dragged
down by your unpopularity, he`s responding to the immediate polls, not to
history. He`s going to make history of a kind that he`s not sure he wanted
to make.

MATTHEWS: You are so smart and subtle, and that`s the sad, tragic
reality, I think.

Thank you so much, Kasie Hunt. And thank you, Howard Fineman, as
always.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this key fact.

What the president says to the American people tonight will have a
short life. What the enemy hears from him tonight will have a far longer
one. They will react. They always do. Every time our country makes a
move in that region, those on the other side have made a more fateful one.

When Dick Cheney as secretary of defense put our troops into Saudi
Arabia back in 1990, we knew that we were desecrating the holy land of
Islam. So did the people of al Qaeda who struck back on 9/11.

When President George W. Bush overthrew the Sunni-led government of
Iraq, when the neocons went further and threw them out of the Iraqi army,
they created the seabed for ISIS.

When President Obama hit ISIS with airstrikes, ISIS reacted by
beheading the two American journalists.

So, the question we have to ask tonight, what will be the reaction to
the other side of what the president orders tonight?

I know the anger of the American people at the beheadings of our
fellow citizens. I know the gut desire for revenge. I share it.

But the president of the United States needs to take this
understanding of the back-and-forth, this eye for an eye to another level.
He needs to know where it is heading.

One thing we`ve learned the past 14 years and that is how to escalate
the American fighting in the Islamic world. We know how to kill Arabs on
international television. What we haven`t figured out is how to bring this
fight from a boil down to a simmer, to take the rage of the Islamist,
Islamism down to the usual, regional set of resentments we`ve been living
with for a very long time.

The most important goal for the president is to tell us what to
expect. There`s a lot of fear out there, a lot of anger, which always
comes from fear. And what we need is a leader to help Americans find our
way through this, knowing its costs, recognizing its dangers, sensing in
our gut that our best ally is our ability to see this thing for what it is.
And see with that our limited but effective ways to deal with it.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Stay with us. I`ll be joining Rachel Maddow
for MSNBC`s live coverage of President Obama`s address to the country
starting right now.

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

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