updated 8/19/2004 9:32:31 AM ET 2004-08-19T13:32:31

Howard Dean, David Dreier, Wil Hylton, Deborah Orin, Chuck Todd, Dennis Ross

John Kerry aims directly at President Bush‘s plans to withdraw 70,000 troops from Europe and South Korea.  President Bush announces two new initiatives to help reservists and those on active duty.  Former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross discusses his book “The Missing Peace” and what really makes Arafat tick. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Candidates continue to fight for the veterans‘ vote.  Addressing the VFW convention, John Kerry aims directly at President Bush‘s plans to withdraw 70,000 troops from Asia and Europe, while President Bush jabs back, announcing two new initiatives to help reservists and those on active duty.  Tonight we talk to the man who did declare himself the anti-war candidate, Governor Howard Dean.  Plus California congressman David Dreier.

From Los Angeles, let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Both President Bush and Senator John Kerry are hot after the military vote.  Two days after the president announced his redeployment plan before a veterans group in Ohio, Senator John Kerry spoke about the very same group and criticized the president‘s plan to withdraw.  70,000 troops from Europe and South Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  Let‘s be clear.  The president‘s vaguely stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror.  It in no way relieves the strain on our overextended military personnel.  It doesn‘t even begin until 2006, and it takes 10 years to achieve.  And this hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And President Bush announced two new benefits for reservists and members of the National Guard.  NBC White House correspondent David Gregory is traveling with the president in St. Paul, Minnesota.

David, the whole pattern of presidential elections and reelection situations like this is for the focus to be on the president.  Is Bush trying to shift it to Kerry?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  You know, it‘s a good question, and it really is on point, Chris because one of the things that we‘ve seen consistently here is that—hold on one second.  I got a little hard time hearing—OK.

One of the things that we had seen consistently is that the president‘s trying to more or less paper over some of the anxieties about the war in Iraq by making this a referendum about where Senator Kerry has stood on the war, yes or no questions about whether he would vote for the war again, or whether or not he stands by his initial vote, the vote over the $87 billion.

So one of the things that has the Bush team quite pleased with themselves right now is that they believe that they got Senator Kerry kind of tongue-tied over the war in Iraq, and it helps them make a fundamental argument, which is that they can essentially be tougher in the war on terror, that they will mean what they say, and that even if there are people who are concerned about the current direction of Iraq or the original decision to go in, that this president is a president who‘s sticking by his guns, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so ironic because now that the polls are showing perhaps more of the American people that support the war, going to Iraq, now oppose it, the president is saying, Maybe you don‘t like the direction I‘m taking you, but Kerry says he takes us in the same direction because Kerry‘s saying he still would have voted to give the president authority.

GREGORY:  Right.  And it‘s all being used to make the point that you can‘t trust John Kerry.  There‘s sort of a movement here to suggest that John Kerry is a politician without a soul.  And what would he do when it really mattered?  If there was another attack on the United States, would he be tough enough against the terrorists or does he want to kind of retreat to a pre-9/11 mindset about going after terror?  That‘s the image that he‘s trying to create.

The truth of the matter is, Chris—and polls indicate this—this is not a yes or no question.  There is anxiety about Iraq.  There are a good many people, even some Republicans and independent voters, who believe this was the right war done the wrong way.  What the president calls “nuance” in John Kerry‘s position may, in fact, have some traction with voters who say, We want a president who‘s tough in this war on terror, but we want to fight this war on terror in a way that‘s smart.

MATTHEWS:  Amazing.  He‘s playing it smart, too.  It looks like the president‘s going on the attack against Kerry, not the other way around.  Thank you very much, NBC‘s David Gregory.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean ran for president as a Democrat and is now supporting John Kerry.  Why is your candidate playing defense when challengers for the presidency always play offense, Governor?

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t know that he really is playing defense.  I think he put a pretty good lick on the president today over the president‘s hastily conceived plan to withdraw troops from all over the world except Iraq.

It seems to me that the president‘s in trouble.  Would you trust a president who sent reservists and National Guard to Iraq a year-and-a-half ago, and lo and behold, 76 days before the elections, suddenly comes up with a new benefit the day that John Kerry is addressing veterans?  Very similar to what went on two weeks ago, when the president suddenly had a terror alert based on information that was three years old because it was two days after the Democratic convention.

George Bush is a politician.  Unfortunately, he‘s not a leader, and that‘s why he needs to be replaced.

MATTHEWS:  But the first part of that is OK.  Isn‘t it normal for presidents to play their incumbency and to play the cards they have?

DEAN:  You know, I think if you want to be a strong leader and a good president, you probably ought to do what you think is right and not just make promises during election years that you can‘t keep.  I think he shouldn‘t have sent the National Guard and reserve to Iraq in the first place, but he did, and then he didn‘t tell them the truth about how long they were staying.  They were ill-equipped.  There weren‘t enough of them.  And now, all of a sudden, 76 days before the election, he‘s promising the veterans all the things that he‘s denied them for the last year-and-a-half.  That is not a leader.

MATTHEWS:  Governor, the tide has turned in terms of your campaign because now 8- percent of the Democratic Party believes it was wrong to go to Iraq.  Why is John Kerry still insisting that he was right to vote for the war resolution?

DEAN:  Well, first of all, I think it‘s a little late for the tide to turn on my campaign.  But I appreciate the sentiments, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re true because—I‘m not kissing you.  I‘m telling you the fact that 80 percent of the Democratic Party agrees with you, not with Kerry.

DEAN:  Well, more importantly...

MATTHEWS:  Kerry is still resisting an easy opportunity to say, They gave me bad intel.  I was confused by bad intel.  It‘s not my fault.  I did the right thing.  Now that I know there was no WMD, no connection to 9/11, it wasn‘t going to be the happy Iraqi scenario, we‘re going to get a thousand guys killed, I think I made a mistake.  What‘s wrong with saying that?

DEAN:  I actually think Kerry shows a lot of guts here.  I wouldn‘t have voted for the resolution.  John Kerry voted for the resolution not because he was in favor of going to war with Iraq but because he is a creature of Washington, he‘s been there 20 years.  John Kerry thinks that the president of the United States ought to be the one who exercises foreign policy in this country.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Governor, is that your endorsement of Kerry, that he‘s a prisoner of Washington?

DEAN:  No.  My endorsement of Kerry is he has the guts now not to say the easy thing.  He gave the president authority to go to war because he thinks the president ought to be running foreign policy.  In olden times, i.e., before this president, we used to have a bipartisan foreign policy. 

We now have the radical right controlling the White House and the Congress,

and you don‘t get bipartisan anything.  John Kerry did what was the right -

·         what he thought was the right thing, and I commend him for sticking to list guns, even though I don‘t personally agree with him.

MATTHEWS:  If a criminal is charged with having a gun, and some cop shoots him and it turned out he didn‘t have the gun, can‘t the jury say, Well, wait a minute.  I thought he had a gun.  What‘s wrong with acting on new evidence?  Why do you say it‘s gutsy to stick to the fact you had the wrong evidence before you, and that‘s why you voted the way you did?

DEAN:  Chris, you got to understand why John did what he did.  John Kerry believes what most Americans believed until this president came into office, that foreign policy and presidential leadership in a military situation...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... ought to be left to the president.  This president didn‘t do what he said he was going to do.  He did not keep his word, which is a chronic pattern with this president.  Think of all the promises he made during the election: there‘d be more jobs, balanced budget.  We have a half-a-trillion-dollar deficit under a supposedly conservative...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DEAN:  ... president.  There‘s nothing conservative about this president.  He‘s radical and inept.  And I am cheerfully supporting John Kerry.  Whatever differences John Kerry and I have, I want a competent, qualified person to lead this country, and that‘s going to be John Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  John Edwards went out after the vice president today.  He said that Halliburton just got a new $4.5 billion from the federal government because a phone call made.  Are you as tough as John Edwards on that front, blaming insiders in the vice president‘s office, perhaps, for getting money for the old company?

DEAN:  Well, I don‘t know if a phone call was made or not, and so I can‘t comment on the phone call.  I do know, though, that this administration has had a lot of trouble with an appearance of impropriety: the close relationship between Ken Lay, the former chairman of Enron, and the president, the fact that Ken Lay was a big backer of the president‘s when he was in Texas, the fact that Dick Cheney continues to take money from Halliburton under deferred compensation, which is a violation of the federal ethics code.  I can‘t understand why Dick Cheney‘s not being investigated by the Congress, other than for partisan reasons.

So I think John was right to take a shot at Dick Cheney, and he is—he sets a terrible example...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... in terms of morality in government.

MATTHEWS:  You know, back after 9/11, we were all warmed by the fact that the world cared about us when we were hit.  Latest polling shows that two thirds of the American people believe we‘re not respected in the world, we don‘t have the reputation we once had.  Do you fear—I do—that the next time we‘re hit, the world won‘t care?

DEAN:  I think we are rapidly losing our influence under a president that has no idea, in terms of what the biggest—the big context, the big picture.  I thought it was very interesting that Kerry said that he disagreed with the president‘s withdrawal.  On the surface, it looks like some withdrawal of troops is not a bad idea.  But Kerry‘s point, that it‘s the wrong time to withdraw when we‘re trying to disarm North Korea, is exactly the right point.  The president, in fact, has ignored North Korea.

I said before, we are no safer since Saddam Hussein has been captured, and that‘s absolutely true.  I think most Americans now agree with me.  We‘re certainly no safer with George Bush in the White House, who has essentially allowed the North Korean...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... to build a nuclear weapon program while he is diddling around with a third-rate dictator who they found in the bottom of a hole someplace.  We just need a president who‘s a grown-up.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s interesting that we targeted Jong Il as part of the “axis of evil,” and now we‘re dropping troops from his front.

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  That was exactly John Kerry‘s point.  What are we doing saying that North Korea‘s the “axis of evil,” allowing them to develop nuclear weapons, which is the real threat to the United States, and then sending them a message by withdrawing 12,000 troops?  What are these people thinking in the White House?  We need some adult leadership.  We need to listen to the military.  We need to listen to the secretary of state.  We‘ve got to get this crew out of there.  They‘re endangering the future of the country and the safety of the country.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Governor, I hope he‘s not throwing back those quarts of Jack Daniel‘s up there in Pyongyang right now because he‘ll be very confused by our move back from the DMZ.  Thank you very much, Governor Howard Dean.

Coming up, Congressman David Dreier.  And later, the story of the American soldier who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congressman David Dreier‘s a California Republican.  He join us right now.  This big dispute—you never know what‘s going to come up in a campaign—the fight about where we should have troops in the world—the president‘s called for a 70,000 number reduction from, basically, Germany, Wiesbaden, and South Korea.  Smart move?

REP. DAVID DREIER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, let me just start by saying, Chris, that, you know,...

MATTHEWS:  You mean my question doesn‘t help at all.

DREIER:  Yes, your question does help.  There was an invitation extended to me to come on and debate Howard Dean.  And you let him get by with his opening statement, which was just absolutely outrageous.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what did I let him get by with?

DREIER:  You know what he said?  He described what you just went through as a “hastily drawn” plan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DREIER:  I remember the summer of 2001, when a guy who had served as secretary of defense, Don Rumsfeld, had come back.  And we sat a Republican leadership meeting, and he talked about his quest to bring about major reform, including defense sharing, which would focus on both Western Europe and Asia...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DREIER:  ... the Korean peninsula.  And that was something that was in the works long, long ago.  And you let Howard Dean get off with his opening statement by describing this, and you know it wasn‘t a hastily drawn-up plan, Chris.  So, clearly, this is something that...

MATTHEWS:  It is—it is—and I do give you leeway in that regard because it is a political season.  I give people the right to any adjective they want to anything they want to talk about.

DREIER:  Yes, well, but let me—that was an adverb, by the way, not an adjective.  But the...

MATTHEWS:  Hastily drawn?

DREIER:  Hastily.  Hastily.

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t a gerund?

DREIER:  Yes.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DREIER:  But—no, but my point is, is, Is this the right thing? 

Well, we‘ve got the head of the coordinator of U.S.-German relations in the Schroeder administration saying, Yes, this is a right thing to do, supportive of it.  Then we also...

MATTHEWS:  Well, public opinion in Germany‘s not too happy about...

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  Well, but listen...

MATTHEWS:  People don‘t like breaking this relationship.

DREIER:  The Schroeder—the Schroeder government is supportive and understanding of this.  Similarly, the South Koreans...

MATTHEWS:  That was an official statement?

DREIER:  The South Koreans—it‘s an official statement.  It‘s the statement...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me—let me...

DREIER:  The South Koreans are also working with us on it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a point of view from an American point of view.  This is General Norman Schwarzkopf on last night, on this decision to pull troops out of South Korea, 12,000 of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF, U.S. ARMY (RET.), NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: 

What‘s it say to North Korea when we pull the troops out of there, after—you know, and what‘s it say to the South Koreans?  Those sort of sensitivities I don‘t think were really considered, or may have been considered and just ignored, in coming up with the final plan of what—you know, the final plan has yet to see what exactly is going to happen and how it‘s going to transpire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s worried about the South Korean measures.  We‘re telling the South Koreans that North Korea‘s an “axis of evil” country, and the same administration says, Oh, by the way, we‘re yanking 12,000 troops in your defense.

DREIER:  The fact is, the South Koreans...

MATTHEWS:  Does that make sense?

DREIER:  I‘ll tell you how it makes sense.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DREIER:  It makes sense because of the fact that we‘ve been working with the South Korean government on this.  This is something that has been done in concert with them.  And so for that reason, I believe, working with the German government—you know, we‘re talking about a post-cold war world.  And it‘s amazing to me that we‘ve been able to go through this initial reform proposal that started in the summer of 2001, right when Donald Rumsfeld came into office.  We went through the extraordinary tragedy of September 11, and we‘ve gone through challenge in Iraq.

And by the way, we‘re obviously having great success at turning over power in Iraq.  Iyad Allawi has made it very clear that he‘s now forced, you know, al Sadr in Najaf—and it looks as if they‘re seeing some movement there.  So we‘re having all kind of success.  And at the same time, we‘re dealing with a post-cold war world with success.  And so I think that this is something that should be lauded and supported.  And you know, traditionally...

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe we have a cease-fire in effect in Iraq now, revolving around that mosque?

DREIER:  About—well, it appears that—I mean, this is what al Sadr—these are the reports that we‘ve gotten.  I mean, I‘ve got the same reports...

MATTHEWS:  Except the trouble with...

DREIER:  ... as you have.

MATTHEWS:  The trouble with the reports tonight are that al Sadr says he‘ll have a cease-fire around that mosque, but he‘s not going to turn over his little peace flag in the five cities he‘s involved in.

DREIER:  Chris, we don‘t know that with certainty.  But I‘ll tell you the thing that is important for us to note, and that is the fact that we have successfully seen moves towards this transition to Iraqi control.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s very optimistic.

DREIER:  It‘s something that‘s happened.  We‘re in the process of training 260,000 troops.  We‘ve got an international coalition that includes two Arab nations, Jordan and Yemen.  We are doing a great deal to bring about the kinds of things that the president outlined in his five-point plan.  I think we‘re having success with it.

MATTHEWS:  So on the record, you support the withdrawal of the 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia.

DREIER:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And you think we‘re doing well in Iraq.

DREIER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Dreier.

DREIER:  Always fun to see you.

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, the story of Joseph Darby, the Army reservist who blew the whistle on the abuse at Baghdad‘s Abu Ghraib prison.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  That old adage, “Damned if you do, damned if you don‘t,” has never been truer for Specialist Joe Darby.  He was the MP who alerted superiors after discovering photographs of fellow 372nd Military Police Company personnel abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.  His life has never been the same afterward.  The media hounded him.  Congress and the Pentagon commended him, while most of the community he came from condemned him.  And now he‘s under protective military custody after receiving death threats.

Wil Hylton is the editor-at-large for “GQ” magazine, and he wrote about Joe Darby in the September issue.  I began by asking Wil how Darby blew the whistle at Abu Ghraib.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WIL HYLTON, “GQ” MAGAZINE:  He actually got disks from Graner, who was sort of the ringleader, it seems, in the Abu Ghraib incident.  And he got these CDs full of photos from Graner to just make some copies of them.  And it was because Darby had taken a little bit of an interest in a death that had happened in one of the cellblocks, and he wanted all the pictures from Graner‘s camera.  And Graner just handed over these CDs without saying a word to him about the other things that he would find on them.  And as soon as Darby saw these pictures, he just—he said, No way.  I can‘t sit by on this.  And then...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how did they get proliferated around the country, around the world?

HYLTON:  Well, that‘s the thing.  He actually did sit by on it for a little while because he didn‘t know what to do.  And then he found out that Graner was going to be going back into that same area where he—where all those pictures were taken, all those torture pictures, and that Graner had been on a leave from it for a little while.  And when Darby found out Graner was going back in there, he did not want to it happen again.  So he slipped it under the door of the CID, the Criminal Investigation Division, and said, you know, You got to do something about this.

MATTHEWS:  So everybody back in the home town where Joe Darby himself comes from, which is where a lot of these guys from the 372nd come from, including Lynndie English (SIC), they know that he was the one who—who called the—who basically—what do you call it...

HYLTON:  Who blew the whistle.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he was the stool pigeon.

HYLTON:  Yes, and that‘s how they saw him.  You know, instead of seeing him as a hero who had told the truth in the face of some, you know, personal risk to himself when they found out, the people back home—and we‘re talking about civilians, not just the family members of the accused, but a lot of civilians back in their town made him feel very unsafe.

MATTHEWS:  How‘s Lynndie English?  She‘s under trial now.  How‘s she being viewed at home?

HYLTON:  She‘s a hero.  And that‘s one of the most bizarre things, is where they‘re coming from, out in western Maryland and western Pennsylvania, there‘s a staggering number of people who are celebrating the actions of Lynndie England and Jeremy Sivits and Charles Graner and the people who did this stuff, or who are accused, anyway, of doing this stuff and who seem very obviously to have done it.

MATTHEWS:  On a much lighter level...

HYLTON:  There are banners...

MATTHEWS:  On another level, is this like Lieutenant Calley, where

people are rooting for him, even though they knew what he had done, because

he was an American, and damn it, they didn‘t like the other side?-

HYLTON:  I guess so.  Although, I mean, in this case, we‘re all—they‘re all Americans.  And I mean, there are banners hanging out there calling these people heroes.  There are candlelight vigils in their honor, hoping they won‘t get in any trouble for what they did.  And there‘s nothing like that for Joe.

MATTHEWS:  Has Joe Darby been hurt by the military?  Have they come down on him and tried to hit him with the blame?  Because he‘s exposed not just some people, enlisted people, he‘s exposed the United States military, the United States military effort in Iraq, and us as a country.

HYLTON:  The military command has been great to him, and they‘ve put him in protective custody on the fear that...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?

HYLTON:  ... on the fear that maybe, you know, some of the other grunts might come after him.  And Darby definitely has a sense, and so does his family, that it‘s a good thing they‘re protecting him.  The military command has celebrated him and they‘ve given him a promotion, and they‘re talking about, you know, giving him a job in the States.  But no, there—

I mean, a lot of his peers, even in the 372nd, still just don‘t understand why he would do something like that.  And it‘s really—it‘s bizarre.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s get to the heart of this thing, as it is so often in American life these days, in the early 20th century, the picture -- 21st century.  What were the pictures taken for?  Obviously, the people doing this crazy stuff in the middle of the night at Abu Ghraib were taking pictures for their own—what were they taking them for?

HYLTON:  Well, Karpinski thinks that they were taking the pictures because they wanted to show those pictures to other detainees and scare them into thinking that even more was going on than what you can see in the pictures.  For example...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s—then it is, in some perverse way, attempting to carry out their mission.

HYLTON:  Right.  Except that there are other pictures that we haven‘t seen yet.

MATTHEWS:  Well, when we first started to do this on the show here—

and I‘m sure other television shows that did it—we got the sense—I

got the sense—that these were pictures being taken to send home to maybe

·         a little gross, because you do get brutalized in war—to the relatives or friends back home.  Hey, look at this crazy stuff going over here, kind of like bragging at a pretty low level.  But I can understand it.

But that wasn‘t the case.  In all those weeks we covered this, we thought that‘s why those pictures were taken.  You‘re saying those pictures were not taken to be shared with anybody at home.  They got to the American view, to our view, we got to see them because of Joe Darby.

HYLTON:  Yes.  I mean, look, there‘s a couple categories of pictures, and then there‘s theories about each one.  For the pictures that we‘ve seen, Karpinski certainly believes that those pictures were part of military intelligence operations to extract information from prisoners.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s where you saw the MI...

HYLTON:  Then there‘s...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s where you saw the MI people standing right there.

HYLTON:  Right.  Then there are the pictures that we haven‘t seen...

MATTHEWS:  Now, Karpinski, just to remind everybody, was head of the prison at Abu Ghraib.  Go ahead.

HYLTON:  Then there are the pictures we haven‘t seen, that, for example, Congress has seen.  And I‘ve heard it firsthand from Congress people about some of the pictures that are just outright pornography.  They‘re just sex acts.  It‘s not even clear if they‘re between two soldiers or between one soldier and a prisoner.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HYLTON:  And those things clearly were not intended to humiliate the prisoners.  They‘re outright pornography.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the role of the United States Congress in this?

HYLTON:  Congress has been staggeringly quiet, so their role is one of almost criminal negligence.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean?

HYLTON:  I mean, they watched all these videos.  They saw all these pictures.  When you call them for comment, they won‘t comment on it, a lot of them.  I mean, it was amazing...

MATTHEWS:  Are they afraid of the military?

HYLTON:  So many of them were giving me “No comment” that I had our entire research department on it for a while.  And we called so many of them, it was unbelievable, and they all said, No comment.  I can‘t confirm or deny anything that I saw on those videos.  But they‘ve seen this stuff, not just the pictures, videos, not just the pictures we‘ve seen, pictures and videos that go way beyond what we‘ve seen.  And people just don‘t want to talk about it.  I guess it‘s because it‘s an election year.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Wil Hylton, “GQ.”

HYLTON:  No problem.

MATTHEWS:  Big story, September issue.  Thanks for joining us.

HYLTON:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up tonight at 9:00 Eastern on “DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT,” two FBI whistleblowers on whether the FBI fixed its security failures.  Colleen Rowley and Sibel Edmonds tonight at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.

And up next: the newest ads and polls in the battle for the White House.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Seventy-six days now before the election.  And the president‘s plan to bring home some U.S.  forces from around the globe generated a sharp response from Senator John Kerry today.  Kerry is dueling with President Bush this week for the military vote. 

Here‘s HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the same veterans conference where the president this week announced the plan to withdraw a third of all U.S.  forces from Europe and Asia, John Kerry today denounced it. 

KERRY: Nobody wants to bring troops home more than those of us who have fought in foreign wars.  But it needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way.  This is not that time or that way. 

SHUSTER: Kerry‘s way would be after the U.S.  and our allies have made progress in negotiations with nuclear-armed North Korea.  General Norman Schwarzkopf agrees and says the Bush proposal is premature. 

GEN.  NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF (RET.), COMMANDER, OPERATION DESERT STORM:

That‘s going to send a very, very, very wrong signal to the people in South Korea.  They‘re ones that are going to be looking at what this is going to result in. 

KERRY: And this hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers. 

SHUSTER: But when it comes to Iraq, Kerry‘s commitment is different.  Last week he said he would try to start withdrawing U.S.  forces from Iraq within six months; an idea the president ridicules. 

BUSH: It is a bad signal to send to the Iraqi citizens who wonder whether or not America will keep its word.  I believe when America speaks, we must mean what we say.  We will complete the mission so Iraq and Afghanistan are free and peaceful countries. 

SHUSTER: The president and Senator Kerry have been trading shots all week. 

KERRY: The first definition of patriotism in my judgment, beyond service to country, is keeping faith with those who have worn the uniform of the United States of America. 

SHUSTER: But today, Mr.  Bush stole John Kerry‘s thunder by using the powers of the presidency.  He announced he will push for new education and relocation benefits for reservists and members of the National Guard. 

BUSH: What I‘m telling you is we‘ll continue to stand side by side with those who wear the uniform and the family members of those who wear the uniform. 

SHUSTER (on camera): The Kerry campaign was quick to call the Bush plan an election-year ploy.  But Kerry himself seems to understand, his campaign has announced that the only event he will conduct while the Republicans are in the midst of their convention is the speech to a veterans group. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Thanks, David.  We‘re joined right now by Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline” and “The New York Post” bureau chief in Washington, Deborah Orin. 

You know, P.T.  Barnum, Deborah, once said that if you want a crowd, start a fight.  It looks to me like President Bush has brilliantly the last couple of weeks started a fight with his opponent, close-in jockeying.  They keep the focus off the record of the administration, which is troubling to voters, and make the issue.  Who do you like better in the fight, Kerry or Bush? That‘s an easier one for him to win. 

DEBORAH ORIN, “THE NEW YORK POST”: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that?

ORIN: Not really.  I mean, there‘s a fight going on.  We‘re in the middle of an election.  And no, I really don‘t agree with that.  I think...

MATTHEWS: Because all the polls—let me tell you why, Deborah.  There‘s some logic to this question.  If you look at all the polls, they say they want a change in leadership.  If you look at all the polls they say they don‘t like the direction the country is going in.  If you look at all the polls now, they show most people say we shouldn‘t have gone into Iraq.  On all the factual, “what” questions, the Democrats should be leading.  When it gets the “who” question, who is winning this fight, it looks to me like the president is better at the inside fighting.  So he says, let‘s jab and jab and jab and so the people stop thinking about conditions and realities and start thinking about who they would like to be president. 

ORIN: Well, no, I don‘t think so, Chris, because on most of those issues, it is pretty close.  And on one issue it is not close.  And that is, who do you think would do a better job in the war on terror? And that‘s the issue where the president is still clearly, clearly ahead.  I actually think, in many ways, in this campaign, the Kerry campaign has been trying to turn this campaign away from issues because on many issues, Kerry‘s positions are somewhat to the left of most of the country and certainly to the left of swing voters, and focus it instead on character and try and portray himself as the war hero who would make a great commander-in-chief.  So no, I really don‘t see it the way do you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS: OK.  Let me check it with Chuck.  What do you think, Chuck?

CHUCK TODD, “THE HOTLINE”: No, I think—look, I think the entire Bush campaign strategy is about making John Kerry unacceptable as commander-in-chief because what you said.  I mean, you can‘t find a poll that doesn‘t says that people think we‘re going in the right direction.  The majority of the people think we‘re going in the wrong direction.  That usually means you through out the incumbent. 

So I have to completely agree with the premise because I think the entire strategy of the Bush campaign, starting from March, when they went all negative, all the way up until about two weeks ago on their TV ads, has been about making John Kerry unacceptable.  If they make him unacceptable, they think they can win.  If he becomes acceptable as a commander-in-chief, he‘s going to win.  And I think that‘s what they worry about. 

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he has gotten in the box with Bush, in that little ring in arguing about what he said last week, whether he should have said the word “sensitive” or not, whether it‘s medals or ribbons? It seems like these puny arguments he‘s gotten drawn into them and can‘t seem to get out of them. 

TODD: Kerry gets drawn into every one of these arguments.  I mean, he started by accepting this challenge that Bush made about 10 days ago in New Hampshire, about “knowing what we know now, how would you vote on Iraq?” I mean, he has gotten sucked into every one of these little personal spats.  And I think it is the reason why, if you look at all the national polls, there has been an inching up in Bush‘s favor.  And I think it is because Kerry has not looked good in these little battles. 

MATTHEWS: Let‘s see, Deborah, if the other side will be trapped as easily.  Today John Edwards said that Halliburton got this last $4.4 billion they got for a government because, quote: “I guess someone made a phone call.” Well, clearly we know who he meant on the phone.  The phone call came from the V.P.‘s office, he‘s claiming.  Will he draw Dick Cheney into a fight over whether Halliburton is getting special treatment or not?

ORIN: I don‘t think so.  I think the Bush campaign understands that it is not a useful fight for them to be engaged in.  And I think they will be careful to stay out of that fight and say, this is a matter that the Army will have to decide.  Halliburton gets paid what it deserves and not a penny more. 

MATTHEWS: What will happen if he keep doing it? If Edwards finds the soft mushy spot here in Cheney‘s armor and just keeps pounding him every day and saying, this guy is part of the problem, Halliburton is making a killing because its former CEO, he is where he is in the vice president‘s office?

ORIN: Well, here‘s the problem.  John Edwards isn‘t getting very much coverage.  I mean, in fact, it is almost like the incredible disappearing John Edwards.  He has been out all this week but he‘s not going to be the focal news point.  He is not the vice president.  He is the wannabe vice president.  And the reality is in every campaign, the wannabe vice president virtually disappears. 

MATTHEWS: Well, how come when Dick Cheney attacks John Kerry, he gets ink?

ORIN: Well, Dick Cheney is vice president, he‘s not wannabe vice president.  And that‘s the difference.  I have to say...

MATTHEWS: Have you looked at the latest polls as to who is more popular, Cheney or Edwards? There‘s a dramatic spread.  That‘s not a close call, Deborah. 

ORIN: No.  It‘s not a close call.  But I have to say to you as somebody who was a big believer in John Edwards as a great candidate in the primaries, I really thought he gave a great speech.  I‘ve been sort of stunned by—it‘s like the incredible disappearing or the incredible shrinking john Edwards.  And I scratch my head a lot trying to figure out why it is that this guy who, many of us, me included, wrote about as the next Bill Clinton, the greatest speaker we had heard in forever, somehow now is not coming across that way and... 

MATTHEWS: Deborah, could it be—you‘re a reporter, could it be we just can‘t keep writing the same story, the “two Americas” speech?

ORIN: I think that‘s part of it.  You know, for the primary season, it didn‘t go on long enough that we got bored with that speech.  And maybe when you get beyond that speech, he doesn‘t have that much to say. 

TODD: Chris, let‘s not get...

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree—I‘ll come back to both of you, to Deborah and Chuck, I agree with you on this last point.  We disagree about the earlier point.  I think he switched the terms of engagement here.  I think the president has taken the fight to the opponent and he‘s winning on that tactic. 

Coming up: A liberal advocacy group returns fire on the swift boat veterans against Kerry in a new TV ad.  Don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s free daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We‘re back with “The Hotline”‘s Chuck Todd and “The New York Post”‘s Deborah Orin.  This week, the liberal advocacy group Moveonpac.org released this ad countering the recent anti-Kerry swift boat ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is said of war that it sometimes brings out the best in a man and sometimes the very worst.  Two men, the first went to Vietnam, a lieutenant in a boat riding up the Mekong River.  An ambush, nowhere to hide.  A harrowing escape, then the more harrowing realization that one man was left wounded in the water.  The lieutenant chose to go back through the gunfire because he couldn‘t leave even one man behind. 

The second man sailed to the top of a list on his father‘s name, was trained as a pilot, but failed to show up for a required physical.  He was grounded, wasn‘t seen for months, and then was released eight months early to go to Harvard Business School. 

This election is about character.  It is between John Kerry who left no man behind, and George Bush, who simply left. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Moveonpac is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: John Kerry denounced that had ad yesterday.  Why do you think he did that, Deborah?

ORIN: Well, he did it, I think, for two reasons.  One because John McCain had denounced the ad and he doesn‘t want to be on the opposite side of John McCain.  I think he also thought that if he denounced this ad, that would increase his ability to demand that President Bush denounce the swift boats ad.  I think that‘s a little too subtle and it is a bank shot.  And I think all he did by denouncing the ad was actually give more attention to the whole swift boat controversy which is not a controversy that serves Kerry very well. 

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Chuck?

TODD: I think the Kerry campaign has mishandled this from day one. 

They let this fester for two weeks.  Moveon went up with this ad.  I‘ve talked to a lot of these 527 -- out of frustration that the Kerry campaign and the DNC had not fought back hard enough on these swift boat guys.  And now they‘re in this awkward position of having Kerry denounce what they did.  So you know, Moveon has actually redone the ad a little bit to try soften that blow and look like they are responding. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It didn‘t seem very soft to me. 

TODD: No, it‘s not soft, but they... 

MATTHEWS: And it also seemed very cold-mannered, too.  It didn‘t seem like the kind of ad that makes you want to root for the guy that made the ad. 

TODD: Well, Chris, you know, that ad was up—that ad—they ran that ad for about a week back in April.  They had a new ad that they cut with the swift boat guys that has John McCain—uses John McCain‘s words in it.  That‘s the one that they seemed to have pulled out of rotation after McCain and Kerry denounced it. 

But boy, the Kerry campaign, you know, I disagree with Deborah here, I think not only did they say they‘re quote-unquote, “bringing attention to it,” well, look, attention was going to be brought to it anyway.  There‘s enough conservative outlets to bring attention to this stuff.  They should have turned this around within 48 hours and shoved this down the Bush campaign‘s throat and they never did. 

MATTHEWS: OK.  Let‘s take a look at how they‘re going to change the strategy.  It looks like they‘re going to try to change the topic following the old political rule when you‘re in a hole, stop digging.  Here‘s the new ad the Democratic National Committee just released today on healthcare. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘ve never heard President Bush even talk about it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s like he doesn‘t know it‘s a problem. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Health insurance premiums skyrocketing four times faster than wages, employers dropping health benefits, 43 million Americans uninsured. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think President Bush has no plan to deal with this. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry does have a plan.  Tax credits to help small businesses provide health insurance, and reimbursing employers for catastrophic costs. 

The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Deborah Orin, the latest Zogby poll just out shows that women are going to vote for Kerry, according to today‘s polling, 50 to 39.  That‘s an 11-point spread.  Bush leads among men 3.  Is that why they‘re shifting to issues generally more oriented toward women voters?

ORIN: Well, no, it wouldn‘t make sense, actually.  You would think that the Kerry campaign needs men rather than women.  So no, I don‘t think that‘s why they‘re doing it.  I think this ad is sort of an “eh” (ph) ad.  There‘s nothing wrong with it but I don‘t think there‘s much in it that is going to get a swing voter to switch to John Kerry. 

And one of the fascinating things about the ads this cycle is I think most of them have been pretty blah.  They‘re no big deal.  They don‘t move voters.  And that is why the swift boat ad is such a problem for Kerry.  There are some studies suggesting it is moving people.  And it is a very powerful ad in a season where we haven‘t had very many really good ads. 

TODD: I think we‘re going to get...

MATTHEWS: Chuck, do you agree, why are they shifting to the issue of health rather than war?

TODD: Well, I think they want to make sure that they don‘t lose their advantages that they already have on healthcare, that they have on most of these domestic issues.  Look, healthcare is a huge issue with the No.  1 swing voting block in this group, which is about these—it‘s the 35- to 55-year-old white women who are both worried about their own healthcare, their kids‘ healthcare and their parents‘ healthcare. 

And that is one reason—they don‘t want to mess up that block.  And if you realize it, that‘s a 50-50.  When you see these numbers about, oh, women are going with Kerry, well, he is winning minority women by 80-20.  White women, it is a toss-up.  It is really a flip of the coin.  So that‘s where this is going after. 

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so.  I think he‘s going where he has to pick up the—anyway, thank you very much, Chuck Todd, thank you Deborah Orin. 

Up next, former U.S.  envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, joins me to talk about whether peace in the region will ever be accomplished.  And I mean ever. 

And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on Hardblogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to hardball.msnbc.com. 

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: For more than 12 years under the first President Bush and President Clinton, Dennis Ross tried to broker peace between the Israeli and the Palestinians as America‘s chief Middle East negotiator.  He has now chronicled his experience in a new book, an historic book entitled “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.” 

Dennis Ross, thank you very much for being here. 

DENNIS ROSS, AUTHOR, “THE MISSING PEACE”:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you about really, not the tricky little things, you deal with everything in your book.  I want to talk about the two massive problems faced by both communities in that part of world, the Mideast, and the politics here at home as we approach an election.  Number one, is there a fear on the part of Israelis that there might be an Arab majority in Israel proper at some time in the near future unless a massive amount of immigration is permitted?

ROSS:  There is a fear about the demographic time bomb.  It is driving, in fact, the prime minister‘s decision to withdraw from Gaza and to pull back at least, in part, of the West Bank.  There is... 

MATTHEWS:  How does that help, if we‘re talking about the Israel

proper?  Is there chance there will be a Palestinian majority within Israel

·         within the Green Line—the ‘67 borders?

ROSS:  Right now there is about 19 percent of the population is Arab. 

So the real issue is not within Israel.  The real issue is if Israel stays in the West Bank and Gaza, by the year 2010 there are more Arabs than Jews between the West Bank and the Mediterranean.  So that means if you are going to keep a Jewish democratic state, you can‘t stay where you are in the territories.  That is why Prime Minister Sharon made the decision that he is facing a lot of problems with within his own party, to pull out of Gaza and to pull out of the northern part of the West Bank.  That‘s why the deputy prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, is saying not only do we have to get out of Gaza but we should get out of 80 to 85 percent of the West Bank on our own, unilaterally. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So that‘s the Israeli problem.  And I‘ve been reading about this since ‘67.  It has been the fact ever since Israel got the West Bank because the war then—they have had this problem of democracy versus Zionism.  That‘s a pretty clear challenge for anybody who pays any attention, especially people watching right now who are Jewish or interested in the Middle East.  This Arab thing, which is so revealing in your book, you know, we can never figure out the game of Yasser Arafat and you figured it out.  He will cut any deal as long as it doesn‘t permit the long-term existence of a Jewish state. 

ROSS:  That‘s the essence of it.  I mean, the reality for Arafat is he doesn‘t mind making all sorts of limited deals where he‘s not making an irrevocable commitment.  For him, the irrevocable commitment would guarantee a two-state solution and he is not prepared to live with a two-state solution, meaning the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine. 

MATTHEWS:  So he wants to have the entire Palestinian area, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean to be dominated by Palestinians numerically in one state?

ROSS:  He does.  Look, I actually think that he looks at the historic Palestinian mandate, which would be the Mediterranean Sea to the Iraqi border.  That‘s where—Arafat sees himself as a great leader in history.  He can live with Israel for 10, 20, 30 years but what we won‘t live with it is in history where he would be recorded as the Palestinian leader who gave up the dream of having one state. 

MATTHEW:  And the monkey wrench in having a Jewish state is to demand “the right of return,” not the way we understand the right of return for Jewish people from around the world to go to a Jewish state, as he used the term “the right of return,” he means the right of Palestinians to go to Israel and live there. 

ROSS:  Absolutely.  That‘s what he wouldn‘t buy off with us.  But the real problem he had with  what we presented at the end of Clinton administration is, we said you have got to end the conflict, which means you give up your claims, you give your grievance, you end the conflict once and for all, and you give up the right of return to Israel.  You believe in a two-state solution, right of return to your state makes perfect sense.  Right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel means you believe in a one-state solution. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  A Palestinian-dominated state.  Here is Yasser Arafat talking to me two years ago. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY:  We are looking for his attempt, President Bush, and the American administration and the American people with all the international forces to push strongly so that we can bring back the peace of the brave for which I have signed in the White House with my partner Rabin, who had paid his life from these fanatic groups in Israel.  Because peace is not only for the Palestinians, this is a “terra sancta (ph),” the land of peace, the holy land.  It is for the whole international world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What is your reaction to that fellow I‘m talking to right there, Dennis? 

ROSS:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  He gives that very suffocative kind of call for peace, almost in religious tones. 

ROSS:  Look, what it reflects is Arafat appealing to the Western world.  It reflects appealing outside of the context that he is operating  in.  Arafat is a master maneuverer.   I once described him as someone who was born with a maneuver gene.  This is someone who is going to find some way to try to survive.  That‘s what drives him.  But what also drives him is the Palestinian cause which in his eyes is the same as his own being.  The real reason he can‘t end the conflict is because somehow it means giving up the cause, giving up the struggle. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And if he gives in to the recognition, in permanent relation, an actual Jewish state, for a long-term period, he has given up his purpose of his life, you‘re saying?

ROSS:  That‘s the way I see it.  I mean, look, I spend more time with him than any non-Palestinian.  We did five deals, I negotiated several of those almost entirely.  What was clear is he could live with the process but not with the conclusion.  It was OK for him to keep talking.  But he also, in the year 2000, after Camp David, after Camp David he came to believe maybe violence was a tool he could use again. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s great having you.  Good luck with the book, “The Missing Peace.” It has got all the facts in there about our efforts to try to find peace.  Thank you and Ambassador Dennis Ross.

Join us again tomorrow night 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for the COUNTDOWN with Keith.

END   

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