updated 8/20/2004 9:46:45 AM ET 2004-08-20T13:46:45

Guest: Larry Thrulow, Jim Vandehei, Joel Mowbray, Frank Luntz Alexander Haig

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY:  Tonight‘s top headlines, John Kerry fights back at his war critics.  The “Real Deal”, he still has more work to do.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY where no passport is required, and only common sense is allowed.

John Kerry fought back today, saying that swift boat vets are challenging his Vietnam hero status are lying, and are a front for the Bush campaign.  But for American voters, will it be too little too late?  We‘re going to be talking to one swift boat vet who earned the Bronze Star the same night John Kerry did.  He is going to tell us why he deserves his, but John Kerry didn‘t deserve his. 

Then a showdown in Najaf.  As al-Sadr reneges on a promise to disarm his militia, Iraq‘s interim government says if al-Sadr‘s not going to do it then they are.  We‘ll ask going to be asking Former Secretary of State, General Al Haig if the new Iraqi government is up to the challenge. 

Welcome to our show.  Now, the Kerry swift boat controversy continues churning the campaign waters.  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.”  Last night we give Senator Kerry some friendly advice, in part because the Kerry camps followed some of our suggestions before.  My first bit of advice, attack the swift boat detractors personally.  As I said last night, if I had served honorably in Vietnam and had war critics attacking my record 30 years later, I would hunt them down and eat them for breakfast.  So to speak.

And this morning, that‘s exactly what John Kerry did, accusing the swift boat of veterans being nothing more than a political hit squad for George W. Bush.  Don‘t know if it‘s true or not.  But it‘s a good move politically.  As they teach in law school, he who doesn‘t deny admits.  Unfortunately for the Kerry camp, the senator has yet to take my second bit of advice, but I am going to repeat it tonight.  Because it is the single most important thing John Kerry needs to do, to close the book on his anti-war activities in 1971. 

I say it again, John Kerry needs to apologize to all Vietnam veterans for accusing them of being war criminals in 1971, and he needs to do it now.  This isn‘t about winning over those Vietnam vets who are against him.  This is about convincing swing voters, and in Philadelphia suburbs, and in Tamps, and in Cincinnati, and in Des Moines, that John Kerry is not a Jane Fonda, loving blame America first liberal. 

Just like George Bush in the 2000 campaign in black neighborhoods, not because he thought minorities would go out and vote for him, but because he thought it would moderate his image among white suburb voters in swing states.  Yes, I know it sounds cynical, but it‘s the way politics is played. 

This developing swift boat story is critical to the presidential race.  That‘s why John Kerry needs to get in front of it.  And that‘s why we‘re fighting so hard to get to the bottom of it, figuring out who is lying and why.  Our Democratic viewers are taking notice, like Tom in New York City.

He said Dear Joe, “Your interview with John O‘Neill and John Hurley of Vietnam Veterans for Kerry was extremely fair.  You projected an unbiased aura throughout the interview.  I‘m a Democrat, but it is refreshing to hear an intelligent level-headed Republican like yourself”.

And from Scott, in Maryland.  He wrote in to say this of our coverage.  “Joe, I‘m a lifelong Democrat from Maryland.  I think you do a great job, and you try to be fair, even though I don‘t always agree with you.  I thought your piece tonight with O‘Neill and Hurley was great.  And I was embarrassed that Robert Reich lumped you in with “all the other Republicans” in some sort of smear campaign.  Keep up the great work”.

Hey, we will.  Thanks, Scott.  You know, somebody that served in the public arena, I know firsthand how lies and smear campaigns can derail a campaign.  That‘s why on stories like this one, we are not on the side of any political party, or any candidate.  We‘re on the side of truth.  And the truth in this matter is in great dispute.  We‘re going to keep fighting to get to the bottom of it so your vote for president will be informed, intelligent, and based only on facts, not rumors, not lies, not smear campaigns.

Because only an informed electorate can assure us that America‘s greatest days will lie ahead.  That‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, questions of credibility, character, and courage are at the heart of the swift boat controversy.  And we‘re committed to an impartial review of the facts as they are reviewed.  As part of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY‘s continued fact-finding mission, we interviewed a Vietnam vet Larry Thurlow earlier this evening.  Thurlow appears in the swift vets for truth ad.  He says, “When the chips were down you could count on John Kerry”.  Today “The Washington Post”  reports, “Thurlow‘s  military records,  portions of which were to be released to the “Washington  Post,” contain several references to enemy, small arms  and automatic weapons fire directed at all units of the five-boat flotilla”. 

Last month, Thurlow swore in an affidavit that neither he nor John Kerry were under fire in the rescue of Jim Rassman.  Now, earlier today, I asked him to explain the discrepancy.  This is what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY THURLOW, ANTI-KERRY SWIFT BOAT VETERAN:  Well, the discrepancy lies in the fact that when my award was written up, I had no knowledge of it.  I got my award not only after I left Vietnam, but after I was out of the navy.  And I had absolutely no input in the writing of my award.  Now, I ask a man named Michael Dobbs who got this yesterday when he called me, who wrote my award, and who was the witness since one is required.

Commander Elliott wrote up my award.  He was my division commander. 

That makes sense that he would write it up.  The witness was an R.D. 

Lambert (ph) and I don‘t know this man.  What I really believe is R.D.  Lambert said that I went to the three-boat, helped save the guys that were seriously wounded, and then helped keep that boat from sinking.  After this, there was an after-action report filed, and it was filed by John Kerry. 

And in it, it says among other things, after traversing 5,000 meters of enemy automatic weapons, small arms fire he came back and rescued Lieutenant Rassman who had fallen off his boat.  And initially they said our boats had all fled and that he came back.  The truth is our boats never left.  The boats other than John Kerry‘s, because the three-boat was dead in the water.  We went to the rescue of the thing, and it couldn‘t go anywhere.  And we stayed with it. 

The other three boats that were functional at that time.  John Kerry did come back and pick up Lieutenant Rassman.  There was no fire during any of this.  The only fire that came from our boats when we initially put it on the banks when the mines went off.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me interrupt for a second.  I want to nail down one point here.  Obviously, a discrepancy.  You‘re saying that you got your award after you came back from Vietnam, and that what you found out yesterday, regarding this discrepancy between your story, and the story in the report, was based on a misunderstanding of facts, of what you were getting your citation for?

THURLOW:  What I was given my citation for, I‘ve always thought, was  for rescuing the men on the three-boat, and then for keeping the boat from sinking, and get it back out to the LS (ph) team (ph) we were operating on.  Now where the report in there—keep in mind that commander Elliott only  had one report to go on.  The one that was filed by John Kerry after this incident.  And as all young officers are supposed to do, file a truthful report, Commander Kerry had no doubt to believe this.

Now, keep in mind our boats are in extremely close proximity here.  We‘re within audiable (ph) hailing distance.  If, based on John Kerry‘s report, where he says he was under this intense fire, from both banks, if this were the case, then all the boats were under fire. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you‘re saying that—and you are telling us tonight, 32, 33 years later, that that is a lie.  That that never happened while you were helping, you, and your fellow swift boat captains were helping the boat that got blown up by a mine; you are telling us that is a lie. 

THURLOW:  I‘m telling you that the lie is we were under no fire.  At no time were we under enemy fire.  Now, I want you to keep this in mind.  We‘re in close proximity, so when the commander writes up this citation, he goes to the after-action report.  If in fact that is correct, then if John Kerry‘s under fire, and we are this close together in the river, fire from both banks, we‘re all under fire.

Therefore he takes what he thinks is a legitimate report, and writes in that, I was also under fire, as I went through the rescue operations.  But this is not the case.  I wasn‘t under fire, nor was anybody else.  And here‘s one of the reasons that I think is a little bit compelling.  If we were under this intense fire for so long, from both banks, and here we are dead in the water—we‘re helping this boat that can‘t move—that kind of fire, and not one single injury, casualty or even a bullet hole in boats that are sitting ducks?  It makes no sense to me.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me tell you what‘s so frustrating about this.  I know—if you step back and look at this, you‘ll understand why I‘m frustrated.  Why a lot of Americans are frustrated, hearing this.  Because you have Vietnam veterans who have served honorably in this war, this unpopular war.  But they went over to Vietnam, served their country proudly.  People like you got awarded.  John Kerry got these awards.

And yet, 32, 33 years later, long after not only the fog of war, but the fog of decades, have gotten in the way of clear memories.  We have this he said, he said version of events.  Not only between you and John Kerry, but you and Jim Rassman, obviously John O‘Neill, John Hurley.  And it‘s one group of vets versus another group of vets.  Are we ever going to be able to sort through this and find out what really happened on the river that day? 

THURLOW:  You know I‘m not sure that we ever can, Joe.  It is a frustrating thing.  And it‘s a mind-boggling thing.  You‘re right.  The incident we‘re talking about, slightly over 35 years ago.  However, there are some things that are quite clear in my memory about that particular incident. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Is it possible that John Kerry may have just gotten confused in the fog of war?  Or do you believe, in your opinion, that John Kerry is deliberately lying to the American people in hopes of being elected president of the United States as a war hero?

THURLOW:  Well, in my opinion, I do think this is the case.  And what is interesting about it, one of the reasons...

SCARBOROUGH:  A case of what?

THURLOW:  I think it‘s a case that he‘s lying to the American people. 

Because in my opinion, John Kerry, and this is one of the reasons I‘ve spoken out, has used his war record, his heroism as he calls it in Vietnam, as basically, certainly his central plank, and virtually his only plank in his campaign.  So if this is what we‘re to judge the man on, I think it‘s extremely important people know the truth, and then can make a judgment from that point.  What I‘m telling is what I perceived.  It‘s what I saw that day.  And what I strongly believe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Larry, tell us, give us tonight your most compelling evidence that John Kerry was lying about what went on that day, to get elected president of the United States, 35 years later.

THURLOW:  Well, I‘ll start with what happened that day when we went to a V.C. village before we started out at the river and the boat got mined.  We went into a V.C. village.  John blew up a bit of rice there that he had found.  It was considered to be V.C. contraband.  And in the course of doing so accidentally got hit in the backside with a few pellets of rice, embedded in his backside.

Really, he doesn‘t mention it to anybody, and he goes back to the boat

·         keep in mind this is a man that now has two Purple Hearts in hand. 

Three Purple Hearts and he can go home.  Accidental or self-inflicted wounds do not constitute a Purple Heart.  The accident in the river that day became a great chance to embellish the situation that made it look like he got hurt, then under hostile fire, which is a requirement for being awarded the Purple Heart. 

I think John Kerry fabricated this thing, in other words, made up a lie.  One, to get the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star almost came along as  frosting on the cake in some respects, because the way he wrote the report made the actions so dramatic, that based on his report, he deserved one. 

SCARBOROUGH:  One final question.  Will you be coming forward today, talking about what John Kerry did in Vietnam, had John Kerry kept his mouth shut when he came back home, and had he not gone before the United States Senate, and accused veterans, like you, of committing war crimes?

THURLOW:  Joe, I‘ll tell you the truth.  I think it would have been much easier to give him a free pass on what he lied about in Vietnam and said, you know, I know for a fact guys embellish this tremendously, and he‘s done it all for his own benefit.  But he‘s probably not the only guy that‘s done it. 

The truth of the matter is you are right.  The thing that nobody is forgiving him for that served in that war is when he came back, branded us with this long list of atrocities, and he did it not because he gave a whip about any citizen of Vietnam, but because in his really fledgling political career, he wanted to grab headlines. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  We‘ll be talking more to him tomorrow night.  But stay right there.  Because tonight, coming up next, we will bring you an expert panel to help us in our search to find out the real version of events that happened that night, in Vietnam.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Who is telling the truth?  John Kerry or the Swift Vote Veterans for Truth?  We‘re going to be talking to a “Washington Post” reporter who has been following this story very closely, when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Welcome back.  We asked the Kerry campaign to let us talk to somebody about the Swift Boat Vets for Truth and these latest developments.  They told us in no uncertain terms, no.  So this is what John Kerry though, himself had to say about it this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Over the last week, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been attacking me.  Of course, this group isn‘t interested in the truth.  They are not telling the truth.  They didn‘t even exist until I won the nomination for president.  But here is what you really need to know about them.  They are funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas.

They are a front for the Bush campaign.  And the fact that the president won‘t denounce what they are up to tells you everything that you need to know.  He wants them to do his dirty work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, so now you have heard from John Kerry.  You have heard from the swift boat captain Larry Thurlow.  Let‘s bring in now Jim Vandehei.  He is a national political reporter at the “Washington Post”.  Jim thanks for being with us.  I tell you what; this is a messy story isn‘t it?

JIM VANDEHEI, WASHINGTON POST:  Very messy.  It‘s a very hard story to cover, because it‘s hard to ascertain what the truth was 35 years ago.  On the one hand, you‘ve got these veterans who don‘t like Kerry, who are all making these accusations.  Then you have seven or eight guys who were on the boat with Kerry who are campaigning alongside of him, saying that what Kerry‘s saying is true.  That he was under fire.  That he did save Jim Rassman.  That he did deserve the medal.  I don‘t know that we‘ll ever know what the truth is, because some of the players are no longer here, and a lot of people‘s memories are foggy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jim, we obviously—you just heard Larry Thurlow come on, he talked a good bit obviously.  He was a central focus in your story this morning in the “Washington Post”.  We‘ve had John O‘Neill come on; we have had also John Hurley, who is a very articulate spokesman for John Kerry on these issues.  It‘s very obvious, isn‘t it from your reporting, from hearing what these guys are saying, that one group of these people are bald-faced liars, and the others are being slandered and maligned? 

VANDEHEI:  It certainly seems like the two sides are very far apart on what actually happened that day.  It‘s truly remarkable.  We‘re sitting in a campaign where we have Iraq, terrorism, the economy, and all these big issues.  And what everyone is focused on now is a $300,000 or $400,000 media buy by a group of veterans.  And that has become the total focus of the campaign.

And a bunch of people are paying attention, a new CBS poll out tonight shows that Kerry‘s support among veterans is  plummeting.  That‘s why I think, you saw him come out today and forcefully respond to this ad.  And I might add, probably frankly too late, he should have done this two weeks ago, should have been out here.  Politics 101 is when someone attacks your character you have to respond, and you have to respond forcefully. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It really what is surprising to me, as I‘ve said before, if somebody had attacked my war record, and I was a war hero like John Kerry in Vietnam, I‘d be out kicking and scratching and clawing, and I would confront them.  I‘m surprised he didn‘t.

You heard Larry Thurlow.  How about for all of our viewers out there that listened to that interview, and want to know what the facts are, how about fact checking Mr. Larry for us.  Did he say anything during my interview with him that didn‘t ring true to you?

VANDEHEI:  The thing that really stuck out to me is there is a debate about who actually wrote that after-action report.  He claimed that John Kerry wrote it.  That he is the one who gave himself and Thurlow a very glowing assessment.  But Kerry‘s campaign says it‘s not true, he didn‘t write the after-action report.  So we don‘t know, and we are still trying to find out what the truth is there. 

I think that is the big sticking point.  Because that will give us an idea if in fact Kerry is the one who is the only person who actually wrote down in writing for the military the events of that day, for which  his medal is based on.

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re close to both campaigns.  You have been following them since Iowa.  I saw you in Iowa, in the snows of Iowa right before the caucus.  I‘m going to ask you a question about both campaigns. 

First, let‘s talk about the Bush campaign.  Do you get a sense by talking to Bush supporters, or people that are working on the campaign, that they‘re closely following this, that they‘re orchestrating it in any way, or that they‘re—you and I both know there‘s no black and white here.  But there is a lot of nods and winks in politics.  Have you picked up a nod or a wink from the bush campaign on this one?

VANDEHEI:  Are they involved in it directly?  Probably absolutely not.  But are they sort of cheering them on, privately?  Absolutely.  I mean obviously this is starting to hurt Kerry.  It erodes his credibility.  It fits real nicely in the Bush campaign as saying John Kerry is a candidate who says one thing, and does another.  They see the polling numbers.  They see how many people are tuning into this.  So they want to have it. 

President Bush had the opportunity to condemn the content of the ad, and he didn‘t, which a lot of people consider tactical brilliance.  Because had he done that, that would have taken this issue, and it would have just moved it to the side.  Because now you would have had Kerry discrediting it, and you would have had the president discrediting it. 

By not doing it, it remains a very live issue.  And today, I mean it‘s haunting Kerry.  And it‘s forcing him to adjust his campaign schedule and respond to it.  Tomorrow this group is going to come out with another ad.  And I think it‘s going to be on the topic you talked about in your intro.  The idea of what he said before the committee about members in Vietnam, committing war crimes. 

I think that might even have more resonance.  This stuff really sits with veterans.  When Kerry spoke before the Veterans of Foreign War yesterday, he got a real cool reception compared to the one Bush got a day earlier.  Kerry notices this, and he takes it personally, and he has to fight back. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was going to ask you, that was going to be the next question about the Kerry campaign.  How concerned are they right now?  Do they believe that this is an issue that could have a great impact as they go into the fall?  I ask that question because we have had a good, open relationship with the Kerry campaign.  They have always provided spokespersons to come on the show and talk about issues.  They refused tonight.  They refused for other shows.  Are they sort of hunkering down right now, and trying to prepare for the next bombardment? 

VANDEHEI:  I think two things.  One, they‘re definitely preparing for the next bombardment.  A lot of this stuff is very complicated, and they‘re going through the process of figuring out exactly what happened, and then getting people to corroborate their story.  Until they have those facts in mind, they‘re probably not going to send somebody on your show who will have to do sort of verbal warfare on these issues.

It does seem they were caught by surprise.  A lot of us saw that people were talking about this.  It was a small ad buy.  But a lot of people were writing about it, particularly in the conservative press.  People seeing it.  People were hearing about it.  And it started to hurt—it sort of hurt Kerry‘s standing among veterans.  So a lot of Democrats I talked to today were really surprised that it took John Kerry this long to respond to this. 

I mean like I said before, in politics you have to respond right away when you‘re talking about the character of the candidate, particularly at a juncture in an election where people don‘t know much about that candidate.  And that‘s where Kerry finds himself.

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you remember on “Meet the Press,” this is the last question for you.  But do you remember on  “Meet the Press,” when Tim Russert was asking John Kerry about what he said in 1971, and they dusted  that off that 1973 “Meet the Press” coverage?  Where he talked about committing war crimes, and his band of brothers committing war crimes in Vietnam?

Do you think there is any chance that John Kerry will step forward—are you talking to Democrats who are saying he should apologize for testifying before the Senate Committee saying that veterans committed war crimes in Vietnam, or going on “Meet the Press” and saying, hey, I committed war crimes, other vets committed—is there any chance he may do that?

VANDEHEI:  It will be interesting to see how he handles it.  If my memory serves me correctly, when he was on “Meet the Press,” he basically said, yes I probably said things too heatedly.  I shouldn‘t have said them like I did.  In retrospect, I wish I had could have been a little calmer in how I presented the facts.

SCARBOROUGH: That‘s exactly what he said.

VANDEHEI:  Right.  And if this comes back, and this is going to become an issue again, he wasn‘t that far in “Meet the Press” from apologizing for it.  I don‘t know that he would apologize for it now, because I think it would become a much bigger campaign issue.  So he‘s really going to have to handle the next charge delicately.  It will be interesting to see if he handles that charge like he did the one that we‘re dealing with today. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Jim Vandehei thanks for being with us.  Good to see you again.  Your coverage throughout this entire campaign has been great.  I start every morning by going on the internet.  Yes, we have that in Northwest Florida.  And seeing what you have written about the campaign the night before.  Keep up the great work out there.

VANDEHEI:  Take care.  Bye.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks.  Let‘s bring in columnist Joel Mowbray.  And also Lawrence O‘Donnell, MSNBC senior analyst.  Lawrence, let‘s start with you.  Let‘s talk about the latest development, the Kerry campaign.  Do you think they‘re handling this appropriately as this swift boat story continues to churn? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Joe, as you knew it was going to continue to churn, it does.  And it looks to me, now, like the Kerry move has been a very careful one, but now a very strong one.  Which is, John Kerry seems to have been waiting to see two things.  Will this story rise to a level where it merits the candidate‘s response?  That was a threshold number one that he has to see it get to.

Threshold number two is was, when the candidate Kerry responds, is there a way for him to deliver this response directly to the president he‘s running against?  And he found that by laying out this set of conditions.  Not him, but John McCain and others laying out this set of conditions that developed, which John McCain was coming out, condemning the ads on behalf of John Kerry, and saying that President Bush should refute and condemn those ads.

President Bush then chooses not to do that.  John Kerry then comes out and condemns the ads that are taken out on his side of the world, by moveon.org that are aimed at President Bush‘s military non-service, or service during Vietnam, however you want to look at that.  Then Kerry takes the higher ground of, I have condemned those negative ads, President Bush has not condemned those negative ads.  So Kerry‘s attack today, his—he moves out of defense and straight into an attack saying this is President Bush‘s fault. 

President Bush is in effect sanctioning these ads by not condemning them.  His money people are backing them.  He made it anti-Bush attack, and he had to wait until all of those elements were in place to do that, and wait until he could make the judgment that this had risen to the level where it was worth doing that.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Stick around, Lawrence.  Also, Joel, stay with us, because up next we have much more.  We‘re going to talk more about John Kerry‘s fighting back today, and if the damage to his credibility has already been done in the minds of some voters.  All that and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  A CBS poll released tonight shows that the swift boat vet ads may be causing damage to John Kerry.  How does he reverse the damage?  How does he stop the bleeding?  We‘ll talk about that next.  First let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk. 

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Of course the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country.  Instead he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that.  Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer.  Bring it on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s a good political line.  So what should we believe about John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam?  Joel Mowbray and Lawrence O‘Donnell are with me.  And also, let me bring in Professional Pollster, Frank Luntz.  I want to start with you though, Joel.  John Kerry comes out today swinging.  You think he may have come out a little bit too late?  And how much of an impact do you think these ads and this discussion is having on the campaign? 

JOEL MOWBRAY, POLITICAL COLUMNIST:  I think he made a monumental mistake by engaging this directly with Bush today.  I know Lawrence disagrees with my analysis on that.  But John Kerry created a briar patch for these swift boat veterans, because he knew these attacks were coming out.  He knew the book was coming out when he gave his acceptance speech when he doused himself in self-adulation and congratulation.  You can‘t deify yourself, and then expect to be completely unchallenged.

Not only that Joe, it‘s like those in glass houses.  If you know they‘re credible people coming to attack you—by the way, I don‘t know which one to believe.  It really does seem an either/or proposition here.  But you have to know as a political move, don‘t set up, -- and make yourself such a large target.  He spray-painted a big eight on his back. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But Joel he is running for president of the United States. It‘s the biggest target.  Come on.

MOWBRAY:  John Kennedy in 1960 when he was running, he talked about his military service once.  A child asked him, what makes you a hero?  I believe his answer, I‘m paraphrasing here I think, they sunk my boat.  And that was it.  That was it.  You know, it would have been in the backdrop anyway.  I think if John Kerry had played it more subtlety, I think he could have, by the way.  I don‘t think he gains anything by talking about his band of brothers and the boat—my gosh, the boat.  I want to take that boat and smack him upside the head with it.  I‘m sick about hearing about the boat.  I‘m sure most voters are. 

O‘DONNEL: Lawrence, where do we go from here?

O‘DONNEL: Well, Joe, one place John Kerry is going is up.  I mean as much as we want to make of this issue, there is a poll coming out of Iowa today  that shows him with the biggest  lead he‘s ever had in that state.  And that‘s where these ads against him have been running.  I think where we‘re going is where John Kerry has brought it today. 

He has now legitimized this issue in the campaign as a candidate-to-candidate issue.  And it was the only way that he could use it, in the campaign.  That‘s his analysis of it.  And I do think he‘s right.  I think if he were to attack John O‘Neill no one has heard of, or you know, these guys that you‘ve had on the show, Larry Thurlow.  He could spend all day picking apart things they said. 

By the way, Joe, there is a lot more fact checking that I could do right here on the show about what Larry Thurlow said tonight.  Three things off the bat that were not true.  And in addition to what we‘ve already talked about.  And so that‘s not where John Kerry should be.  He should be saying, why is President Bush doing this, and it gives him an opportunity  then, to talk about where  President Bush was during  Vietnam.

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  Go after the president.  I tell you what, that is exactly what I would do.  What he said, bring it on.  You want to talk about Vietnam service, yes let‘s talk about where I was in 1968, 1969.  Let‘s talk about where you were in 1968, 1969, 1970.  Frank Luntz, I want to bring you in.  Take a listen to John Kerry talking about his medals earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Thirty years ago, official navy reports and every person there, documented my service in Vietnam, and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.  Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth.  It still is.  And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Frank Luntz is that exactly what John Kerry needs to do to get this issue behind him?  Face it straight on?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER:  It really is a very powerful line that John Kerry just used.  I got to tell you there will not be a single voter in America that in exit polling that‘s done of 3,000, 4,000 people that is going to name the swift boat as the reason why they voted for or against John Kerry.  What this does do is—this is the opposite of credibility.  This is doubt. 

If I were the Bush campaign or those who supported Bush, it‘s important for them to basically keep on casting doubt.  Is this a man who says what he means, and means what he says?  Is this a straight shooter?  Is this someone that you can count upon in times of crisis?  Those are the attributes, that the president has the greatest lead over John Kerry.  And if we look at the internals in all this polling, this is the first time that Kerry has actually been on the defensive. 

So what does John Kerry do to get off the defensive? 

LUNTZ:  He starts talking about what‘s happening right now, and he says, this is 35 years ago.  What the American people are most concerned about is what‘s happening today, tomorrow, next week, next month next year.  It really is that simple. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  I‘m sorry.  I couldn‘t hear you there.  So Frank, how is the ad playing in Middle America?

LUNTZ:  We‘ve been testing all the ads from the beginning of this political season.  It‘s one that‘s got people‘s attention.  It‘s one that‘s attracting them, that people are talking about.  The CBS poll shows there really is the potential for damage here among that one group that John Kerry was taking away from George Bush, veterans. 

This was a group that traditionally votes Republican, overwhelmingly, yet Kerry was able to make inroads in them.  And now they‘re starting to doubts.  Joe, it‘s not just what happened back 35 years ago.  It‘s the comments that Kerry made afterwards, the ones you have spoken of.  About how people behaved over there.

Veterans aren‘t going to change their votes because you‘ve got this battle going back and forth over what happened.  But they may change their votes each time that they hear John Kerry talk about how the troops behaved, and those so-called war crimes.  That‘s very upsetting to that segment of the population.  They don‘t want to hear it.  They resent it.  And that‘s why you see those people going away from John Kerry at this point.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Frank Luntz thanks a lot.  Joel, appreciate you being here.  And Lawrence O‘Donnell, as always, great to have you in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Coming up next, the very latest from Najaf where the new Iraqi army struggles to oust al-Sadr.  Can they do it without American help?  We‘re going to be asking Former Secretary of State, Alexander Haigs.  So don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to our program.  Tonight, al-Sadr has ordered his militia to turn the mosque they‘re holed up in over to authorities.  The fighting in the holy city of Najaf is not over.  Al-Sadr‘s followers bombed a police station just this morning, killing at least seven people.  This standoff is perhaps the first real test of the Iraqi interim government‘s ability to control the country.

The U.S. State Department today insisted that it‘s completely up to the Iraqi interim government.  But is this too much responsibility too soon?  With me now is Former Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig.  General, it‘s a great honor to have you with us tonight.  I‘m going to start off by  telling you what more and more people are saying to me when I go to the grocery store, when  I‘m walking through airports,  when they talk about this  issue.  I know it‘s going to shock a lot of your friends in the state department. 

But they say enough‘s enough.  This guy‘s holing up himself in mosques, killing American troops.  It‘s time to blow up the mosques, kill this guy, and stop dealing with terrorists.  We know they can‘t do that.  But what can the U.S. army do?  What can marines do, to stop basically playing this cat and mouse game with this thug? 

GEN. ALEXANDER HAIG, FMR.  SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, and I think if we look  at past history with this fellow, we know he‘s totally unreliable, and is a liar, and that everything he agrees to, he withdraws at the right  moment.  On this occasion I think we can be pleased to say that this sovereign government, such as it is, in Iraq, has laid the ultimatum.  And the forces are now moving in such a direction, and they are already in action today, before darkness. 

I‘m sure the undertaking of this fellow is underway, and is being done by the sovereign government of Iraq.  So that‘s good news.  Now the question is, is to recognize how serious this issue is.  You‘ve just had a whole program on the performance of one of the candidates in Vietnam.  Let me tell you.  What his performance gives me concerns about, is how he is addressing this issue, this war, this global conflict that we‘re in as a nation, and all free nations are in. 

And that has to do with not just the outcome in Iraq, but the fact if we fail in Iraq, and this new government doesn‘t meet its needs today, and the needs of the people, why then Iran is going to take over the Shiite movement in Iraq, and they are already very instrumental in it.  That means that we‘re going to see some things that most Americans haven‘t even dreamt of.  And that is a movement of Islam, fundamentalist Islam.  Not modern Islam, into a global configuration that will really bring trouble to the United States and to the free world. 

And we‘re looking at it in Iran; incidentally, as the state department said this week, can be only a matter of months or a year at the outmost away from producing its own enriched fuel for nuclear weapons.  And it is already armed with missiles that can hit well into Israel and throughout the Middle East region and will is soon have longer-range missiles.  So we‘re dealing with a serious problem. 

And we have a man who has throughout his government career—I‘m not talking Vietnam.  Who has voted against defense, who has quibbled on every issue involving intelligence?  He cut a $6 billion refurbishment, five-year refurbishment for our intelligence services.  He has today in his speech in  Boston, indicated he doesn‘t even understand the nature of  this conflict, by pointing out that it needs to be more sensitively dealt with, and  then we got our troops out as  quickly as possible.  I‘m afraid that‘s not the destiny of the United States in this struggle.  And only George Bush seems to understand that.

SCARBOROUGH:  General, what do you say to those people who say that George Bush is fighting a sensitive war when you look at Najaf?  You look at the fact again that these people have been holed up in mosques.  And it seems that  American troops, allied troops aren‘t able to go after al-Sadr  because they‘re afraid they‘ll offend the sensibilities of  Muslims not only,  and Shiites especially, not only in Iraq but across the Middle East? 

HAIG:  No question about it.  If it turns out that this government can‘t handle this situation, and their forces can‘t handle it, then we‘re just going to have to move in and handle it for them.  We‘re going to obviously provide major, major backup support for every phase of what they‘re going to do, hopefully starting as early as tomorrow.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  General Alexander Haig, stay with us.  We‘ll be right back with much more in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back.  General, this morning, Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came out with a very strong demand for al-Sadr.  Let‘s hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IYAD ALLAWI, IRAQ INTERIM PRIME MINISTER:  This is the final call to them to disarm, vacate the holy shrine, engage in political work, and to consider the interests of the homeland above the faction of personal ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  General, can this prime minister, and this new government survive without taking al-Sadr down?

HAIG:  No, I think they are doomed if they fail in this last chance.  It‘s really their first chance too.  But obviously, they have got to face up to this.  The Shiite movement in Iraq, those that were in Iraq and did not defect already to Iran, of course are very nationalistic as well as religiously motivated.  But if they fail in this issue now, and are unable to produce, and that means we are going to have to help them, why, then, clearly, that‘s the end of them.  And I think Iran will be in with both feet, all over the Shiite regions of Iraq.

And listen, that means a great deal more than most people understand, I think.  It means a movement to the Mediterranean.  And a swift movement, they already dominate Syria.  They are already the catechus, the logistician, and the overall director of this global terrorism.  Hezbollah, all the other so-called radical movements, are all geared together.  This is a global contest.

It goes as far as Indonesia, Malaysia, Central Asia, and possibly even into the Baltics, if we fail here in Iraq.  And this is a problem that the American people have got to understand, and have got to choose their next leader as one who can lead them through this, and doesn‘t have a record of equivocation, and less than courageous acts when it comes to defense and our security needs.

SCARBOROUGH:  General, one final quick question.  The epicenter of this sort of terrorism, since 1979, has been Iran.  What do we do?

HAIG:  I‘m sorry.  You are coming in very weakly.  I don‘t know why.

SCARBOROUGH:  I was just saying that Iran has been the epicenter of terror since 1979.  What do we do to face the threat that is rising out of Iran even today?

HAIG:  Well, clearly, this is a very difficult and complex question, and a dangerous one.  But one thing we know is that the Mulas (ph) are not as popular in Iran as they would like to be.  They, in fact, -- there‘s a strong undercurrent against them.  I wish we were doing more to help that undercurrent.  Maybe we are.  I don‘t know all the facts.  But we should be making life very difficult for them. 

If we fail here in Iraq, they are not going to have any trouble dominating wherever they move, throughout the Middle East, throughout central Asia, throughout Western Europe.  And then we are going to be really hunkered down.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  General Haig, that‘s going to have to be the

last word for tonight.  Thanks so much for being with us.  We greatly

appreciate it.  We will see you tomorrow night.  Thanks.  We will see all

of you tomorrow night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END   

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