updated 9/14/2004 10:27:09 AM ET 2004-09-14T14:27:09

Guests: Jamie Gorelick, Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton, Fred Fielding, John Fund, Colbert King

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, is the violence in Iraq getting out of control?  U.S. jet troops attack the strong hold in Fallujah, killing at least 20 people.  This a day after surge in violence killed 78 across Iraq.

And will we ever capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and would it end the war on terrorism if we did?  More of my exclusive interview with the 9/11 commissioners. 

Plus two new political commercials hit the air, as the campaign ad wars heat up. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Violence escalated in Iraq over the weekend with four suicide car bombings in and around Baghdad.  And today U.S. war planes launched a surgical strike on suspected meeting of Zarqawi operatives in Fallujah. 

Retired general Barry McCaffrey commanded the Army‘s 24th infantry division, during Desert Storm, he‘ now an MSNBC military analyst. 

Lots of buzz in Washington over the weekend, general, about the possibility that we‘re holding back our troops, despite this increased level of violence, so that we‘ll minimize our casualties before election day? 

Any sense of that from you? 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, RET., MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think there are a lot of things going on.  One of which there are no Iraqi security forces that are adequate to get into a Sunni Muslim area and try to take control.  And there‘s a huge reluctance on the part of the U.S.  administration to get involved in a bloody knock down fight 50 days out from the election.  So I think it is a factor, and we‘re using air power and intelligence in lieu of controlling large swathes of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s good military policy to concede someone‘s land to the enemy? 

MCCAFFREY:  No, at some point we‘re going to have to do something about it.  And I think the situation is in danger of getting out of control.  You cannot allow the capital of the country, Sadr City, 2 million people to be no go areas.  You‘ve got to maintain the lines of communication back to the sea, to your ships.  We‘ve got a good bit of the northwest quadrant, the Sunni Muslim area is now under Ba‘athist, extremist control.  So, it‘s a very tricky situation, and in danger of getting worse in the next couple of months. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re a military historian, if you look at the American revolution, the British gave so much of our territory back to us when the war first started.  They gave away Boston, all of New England was basically under rebel control, our control if you will.  And finally we became quite a nation because of that.  At what point, if you concede a lot of territory and to the terrorist, outside terrorists, does it become a nation and you become an outside force trying to keep your foothold? 

MCCAFFREY:  It‘s clearly what we‘ve got is a struggle going on right now for control inside the Shiite Muslim population.  Inside the Sunnis.  Never mind who‘s the legitimate national government or who could be in the January elections.  I think, there is some risk right now by October, November, December, we won‘t be able to do legitimate elections.  We won‘t have a new government to turn over control of the new security forces.

MATTHEWS:  That is because large areas of the Sunni triangle, the Sunni controlled areas that are most loyal, I guess it‘s fair to say, to Saddam Hussein‘s legacy, that part we knew we‘d have trouble with.  And you‘re saying that part is a very hard for us to get into, civilize, pacify, and be able to hold even minimal kind of elections. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, exactly.  But many have stated, well, the Shiia population actual is grateful for their—it is just a small group of thugs.  It‘s Sadr‘s people.  I‘m not sure I buy that.  I think a huge percentage of that population is now anti-coalition, anti-American, and shooting at us. 

MATTHEWS:  Again, back to your historic context.  I know military men and women, now study military history.  That‘s part of your training, you have to know history.  Why didn‘t our president, why didn‘t our administration at least down to the deputy secretary level, recognize that when ever you go into a foreign country, especially on the other side of the world, with a different Islamic culture than most of us have, that they would resist the minute they got a shot at it.  The minute they saw a weakness on our side, they‘d try to throw us out? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I actually think Secretary Rumsfeld went into this war with a working set of hypothesis, many which were appealing.  And to be honest...


MCCAFFREY:  He didn‘t achieve.  He thought it would work.  And my own feedback during the lead up to the war was, if you‘re right OK, if you‘re wrong, we risk a political, military disaster.  I fear we‘re now reaping the downside to those early bad decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take those three strategic decisions.  The decision to go in, must have been based on the idea that we could pacify that country.  Was that a reasonable projection? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think the decision was based on an assumption that they wanted to be rid of Saddam, and I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  But did they assume—sure, you‘d like to get rid of bad guys, but if you want to take over the country, don‘t you have to assume military means success which means pacify the country? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, no question. 

MATTHEWS:  Who made that assumption? 

MCCAFFREY:  We needed military politics—Don Rumsfeld. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Then he made the assumption that we could do it on the cheap, with half the troops we probably needed, according to Shinseki, right? 


MATTHEWS:  Right.  And now we‘ve made.

MCCAFFREY:  Shinseki and others.  He was not the lone voice.

MATTHEWS:  And now we‘ve made the assumption.  And now we‘ve made the assumption, good for the United States to put off fighting over there.  To allow the insurgents, the people who are fighting, the nationalists if you want to call them that, some day they‘ll be called that probably.  To take over more and more territory, and isolating us.  All three of those strategic decisions dangerous.

MCCAFFREY:  The public argument is a brilliant one, that Dave Petraeus (ph), this bright three star and General George Case are going to build an Iraqi Army and police force.  They‘re going to do it, but it‘s going to be a year to five years and we don‘t have that long to tolerate this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

MATTHEWS:  Will we have enough territory for them to control at that point? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, as it stands now going into the election, a good bit of the country is going to be up in the air who is in charge.  Right now, There‘s not question in my mind, we don‘t control the national capital.  They‘re attacking in broad daylight the, embassy security. 

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE), doesn‘t the United States as a superior military force have to pacify the country, then turn it over to the locals? 

Can we simply give them mission, oh by the way, we‘re leaving sooner or later, two or three years from now.  Your job is now to go out into the cities in Fallujah.  Your job is to go into the Sunni Triangle and take over those areas that have become insurgents?  Because that is a hell of an assignment for an army. 

MCCAFFREY:  It won‘t even be a civil war, because I—it defies logic that a Sunni Muslim National Guard battalion is going to go into Fallujah and fight the religious extremists.  They‘re not going to do it.  Never mind, do it effectively.

MATTHEWS:  Please come back, we to talk more about this.  I think this is off the screens too much, this war.  The American people say it is the number one concern they have, this war. 


MATTHEWS:  Yet, we‘re not talking about enough.  Anyway...

MCCAFFREY:  It‘s going to decide the U.S. election.

MATTHEWS:  Well, lets talk about it a lot between here and November 2.

Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey. 

Coming up, new ads in the Bush presidential race.

Plus, my exclusive interview, boy this is good stuff, with the 9/11 Commissioners.  And boy do they talk out loud.  Is Osama bin Laden still the essential leader of al Qaeda?

Stay tuned they‘re going to talk about it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just 50 days to go before the election there, and the latest round of the ad wars, focusing on domestic issues.  HARDBALL election correspondent, David Shuster joins me now with the latest—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, the Bush campaign is trying to boost the president‘s standing on domestic issues like healthcare.  So the latest Bush campaign add tackles that issue, and suggests the president has a reasonable plan to fix the problems in a second term. 


ANNOUNCER:  On healthcare, President Bush and our leaders in Congress have a plan:  Allow small businesses join together to get lower insurance rates big companies get.  Stop frivolous lawsuits against doctors.  Health coverage you can take with you. 


SHUSTER:  Now, that is the first part of the ad. And the problem is, that some of those same parts of the agenda are identical to the Bush agenda on healthcare 4 years ago.  And despite Republican control of the White House and Congress, very little has been done. 

Furthermore, in the interim, the premiums for healthcare have gone up by 60 percent.  But now watch, though, the second part of this very same ad. 


ANNOUNCER:  The liberals in Congress and Kerry‘s plan?  Washington bureaucrats in control.  A government run healthcare plan, 1.5 trillion dollar price tag.


SHUSTER:  Now, a few factual problems with the second part of the ad.  And first of all, as far as the price tag is concerned, that is the Bush campaign‘s estimation of the Kerry price tag.  Kerry‘s campaign says it would be much lower.  Secondly, Kerry is not proposing that the government run a large healthcare plan.  He would just expand the government‘s role. 

But nonetheless, Chris as you know, anytime a campaign can tie in a candidate with words like government run or Washington bureaucrat, it is a fairly effective ad.  And even if factually it is inaccurate in some sense, the Republicans are banking on the idea that with suburban voters, with suburban house wives that portraying Kerry as going for a government system on healthcare, that that would be very effective. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would the Kerry people think they can sell the health financing of this country without a major program to sell it.  I mean, Hillary Clinton couldn‘t sell it.  How can you say, oh by the way, we‘re going to overhaul the healthcare system in the country? 

SHUSTER:  Well, what‘s interesting is the Kerry healthcare plan, they would try to expand healthcare, they would give tax credits to small businesses.  But the problem that Kerry has is even though it plays well, and he says look I want to give people the same healthcare that members of Congress have, it plays well.  The problem is, that his plan does open the door to charges that he is expanding the government role even if it‘s, at the margins or if there‘s more government regulation, but it does make him susceptible to that charge. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Schuster.  Up next, the 9/11 commission on the importance of capturing Osama bin Laden.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Three years after the attacks of September 11, and Osama bin Laden remains on the run.  How important is bin Laden to the terrorist network?  And could al Qaeda function without him?  I sat down for an exclusive interview with four of the 9/11 commissioners. 


MATTHEWS:  Fred Fielding was counsel to both President Nixon and President Reagan, Jamie Gorelick was deputy attorney general to President Clinton, Richard Ben-Veniste was head of the Watergate Task Force and Senator Slade Gorton was twice elected, in fact 3 times elected to the United States Senator from the state of Washington.

The big question the American people still have on their nerves right now is bin Laden.  Fred, is he still essential to running the al Qaeda operation as far as you know? 

FRED FIELDING, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  As far as we know, he is not as essential as one would have assumed.  But he is a symbol.  So even if he‘s dead or if he would be killed, he will still be a symbol and a rallying point.  And that is consistent with everything we‘ve been told and everything that‘s come up in our research. 


JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  What‘s really important to understand, Chris, is that we have an agile and entrepreneurial enemy.  And so the enemy we had in 2001 is not the enemy we have today.  He is a leader, but he is in no way essential to the threat that al Qaeda poses to us. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

GORELICK:  Because you can see it—first of all, this is not just our conclusion, I think it is the conclusion of the intelligence community at large.  You can see the dispersion of capability, power, autonomy in the actions that have taken place since 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the general contractor.  Does he still have to assign the contract if we get hit again?  Will he have to be the person on who says...

SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  No.  Not necessarily.  This is—

Jamie is entirely correct.  This is decentralized.  The philosophy that didn‘t start with him, of this virulent anti-westernism goes well beyond him. 

You know, we haven‘t heard directly from him now almost for a couple of years.  But this is a struggle that is going to last a long time, and it is going to last long after bin Laden is dead, whether he dies in a cave or dies naturally.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of al-Zawahiri‘s claim?  Or threat that he‘s coming again?  That they‘re coming back at us?  Bush, reinforce the security measures, the Islamic nation would sent you the New York and Washington brigades has taken a firm decision to send you successive brigades to sow death and aspire to paradise.  It sounds like he keeps going here.  He‘s promising us more hell. 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Well, it‘s interesting that it‘s not bin Laden who is making those statements. But on the other hand, Chris, we have heard from recent reports that bin Laden is giving messages, essentially combining the pony express with the Internet. 

Individuals coming to see him, getting either instructions on disk or getting instructions in writing, and then communicating those instructions through their network.  So he‘s not out of the loop.  There is no suggestion that he is. 

GORELICK:  One of the reasons we were so adamant in pointing to the danger that still lies in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, is that even though we‘ve toppled the Taliban, if Afghanistan is not brought further under control, it remains a place from which these kinds of actions can be taken against us. 

So bin Laden is a symbol, as Fred said.  He is still trying to direct activity as Richard said.  But as Slade and I pointed out, this will go on without him. 

MATTHEWS:  How much did 9/11 cost to carry out? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Less than half a million dollars.

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s not a lot of capital for these people to raise if they try to do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Of course.  Money‘s not the issue. 

BEN-VENISTE:  It doesn‘t take into account the kind of training and everything that preceded the actual operation, Chris.  So the 500,000 is really operational funds. 

MATTHEWS:  When we studied—you know, for years even through 1960 something, I remember seeing a play, “The Best Man” where they denied there was a Mafia.  They denied the notion of families getting together.  Is this like—what‘s the paradigm here?  What are we looking at when we say al Qaeda, when we say big-time terrorism?  Is it like a group of Mafia families?  How would you describe it to someone?

FIELDING:  You have to first not fall into a trap of talking about terrorism per se.  Terrorism is a vehicle.  It‘s a weapon.  But what you‘re dealing with, you have to rethink everything, what you‘re dealing with, for instance, your normal inhibition, the normal way to stop an enemy is to make them afraid, to make them afraid that you‘re going to kill them.  These people don‘t care.  That‘s part of their pay-off...

MATTHEWS:  So you can‘t have a regular war...

FIELDING:  So you have to have a whole rethinking. 

MATTHEWS:  But as a group of people, is it a political movement, it is like the Republican party, is it like the communist party?


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, is it like the Communist Party was in the forties here? 

GORTON:  No, it is not.  We Americans can‘t—I think we overpoliticize everything.  This is a religion that is indistinguishable from politics.  The politics and religious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are the same thing but the promise is eternal life.  You know, kill people, you know, you get rewarded...


MATTHEWS:  Is terrorism essential?  Is terrorism—the use of this method of war, killing the civilians by the thousands, is that essential to their belief and to their movement?  Richard?  Is this what they do, in other words? 

BEN-VENISTE:  It is essential to the core of what they‘re after now.  That this is what they are about is killing, and destroying those that they believe are firmly the other, that are dehumanized in their view.  Now how do you look at them though as a group?  They are not a religion certainly, per se.  They are a faction, an offshoot of a great religion.  But their beliefs are so contrary to the basic tenets of any of the great religions that it‘s hard to call them that. 

They are a political movement, and if you look at them, they are much more like an organized crime family carrying out their operations in that way.  We are using lethal force to get them because they‘ve used lethal force against us. 

GORELICK:  But it is very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I think that‘s very important.  If you look at even the plot of 9/11, the plot was not hatched in the first instance by bin Laden.  It was hatched by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and brought to bin Laden for his blessing, and his help.  The cell that originally formed and that became so key to the plot was formed in Hamburg. 

Now, were there lots of interconnections?  Was this a bin Laden operation?  Yes.  But as much evidence as we have about what happened on 9/11, that pattern has played out all over the world.  And that is why it is very important to not, as we say, blur the strategy.  This is not a war on terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s what?

GORELICK:  It is a war against Islamist, fundamentalist terrorists. 

These are jihadists who want to achieve certain goals.  They want to get us out of Afghanistan, they want to get us out of Saudi Arabia.  They want to get us out of Iraq, they want to do our country harm by using the techniques of terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, it‘s a terrible example but I‘ve been working on it. 

In the kitchen sink—if you see a lot of ants in the top of the sink when you go to bed one night, you kill them all, right?  And then you wake up the next morning and they‘ve come back on the table because there are a lot of them that you can‘t see.  Is that what it‘s like?  That if you kill everyone you see, like the president‘s policy seems to be.  We‘re going to kill all the terrorists as if there‘s a finite number of them?  Is there an infinite number of them, do they constantly get re-recruited by anger about Iraq for example?  Do they continually grow organically in a way that you can‘t kill them individually?  You can‘t say here‘s my top 50 I‘m going to kill or my top 10,000 because after that 10,000, there will be more growing up. 

BEN-VENISTE:  The one thing we did learn at one of our hearings from a CIA counterterrorism expert was that following the invasion of Iraq, there was a market increase in recruitment from al Qaeda.  That‘s what we know and there have been comments that the recruitment effort is growing far faster than we are killing. 


MATTHEWS:  President Mubarak said—President Mubarak, who was for

many years our trusted ally in that region, whatever is going on now he‘s -

·         a strong eye of the first President Bush, he said by going to Iraq we‘ve created 100 or 1,000 bin Ladens.  Is this the case?

FIELDING:  To get to your overall question, forget about—not forget but putting aside that issue, you‘ve got a problem here that you have people committed right now.  There probably is no redemption, and no way to change their thinking.

MATTHEWS:  The ones in league now? 

FIELDING:  The ones in league right now.  What you‘ve got to do, and the solution has got to be a long-term solution.  It took 50 years to knock communism out of the box.  It‘s going to take a long time...


MATTHEWS:  Do you know—this is such a basic question, so you start.  Do you know you‘re in al Qaeda if you‘re in it?  Is it something you join and say you have to make your bones like the mob or something? 

GORTON:  Yes.  You do.  But that doesn‘t mean there are not a significant number of people who aren‘t in al Qaeda who share their beliefs and who will engage in the same kind of activities.  Just look at what happened in Russia last week.  Those people had the same attitude toward human life. 

MATTHEWS:  The Chechens. 

GORTON:  Well, if they were all Chechens, we don‘t get straight answers. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s where it gets tricky.  We can‘t fight the Chechens, can we?  Americans can‘t take that responsibility, can we?

GORTON:  No, we cannot.  But there was much...


GORTON:  We can certainly do so.  Some of them had religious motivations as well as political motivations, but the same mind set, the same mind set governed them even though they may very well have not have been members of al Qaeda. 


MATTHEWS:  Fascinating stuff.  We‘re going to hear more from the 9/11

commissioners when we come back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC


MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL:  How can America defang al Qaeda?  We‘ll have more of my exclusive interview with the 9/11 commissioners. 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So how can the U.S. defeat al Qaeda?  More now of my exclusive interview with the 9/11 commissioners, Slade Gorton, Fred Fielding, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick.


MATTHEWS:  What is the motivating force behind people?  And maybe it‘s like it always seems to be.  When Poland was under Soviet rule, everybody became very Catholic.  When Ireland was under British rule, everybody became very Catholic.  It has always seemed religion is what you resort to when you‘re repressed. 

Is it culture that drives them against us?  Is it religion that drives them against us?  Or is it U.S. policy against their people in different parts of the Mideast and the Islamic world.  You suggest it was policy. 

GORELICK:  I think, if you read our report, it is an amalgam.  And this is a subject that we debated quite a bit. 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry. 


GORTON:  You are separating three things and saying, is it this, is it that or is it the third? 


GORTON:  The three are not indistinguishable among these people. 


MATTHEWS:  OK, let me be a policy analyst and say...

GORTON:  And it‘s been coming for some time. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose we didn‘t keep the troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia for all those 10 years.  We yanked them out after the first Iraq war.  Suppose we were seen as more even-handed in the Middle East in negotiations between Israel and the Arab world.  Suppose we had never done anything politically against them.  Would they still had this rage against our culture, against women being equal, against the fact that there is a different sexual more in this country, all the things that are usually associated with our culture?


GORTON:  Just ask bin Laden himself.  What did he say?  He said three things.  Get out of the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end all of the corruption, end all of the corruption of your society. 


GORELICK:  But I think it is really important here—Slate is absolutely right.

But it is really important here to distinguish between the hard-core and the recruited.  And that is why you have Don Rumsfeld asking the question are we breeding more than we can kill. 


MATTHEWS:  And the recruits may be joining for political reasons, rather than deep cultural reasons. 

GORELICK:  Well, because, look, if bin Laden says, if bin Laden says America is only—only wants to kill Muslims, and then there are pictures all over the television every night of Americans killing Muslims, or worse, what happened at Abu Ghraib...

MATTHEWS:  Right, humiliating them. 

GORELICK:  Yes, and clearly responsible for humiliation of Muslims, with no possible, you know, justification in the eyes of the viewer. 

Well, then he becomes defied, because he has predicted and told them how we would be, and we fulfill that prophecy. 


GORELICK:  So that‘s a breeding—that is what we say is a breeding ground for additional terrorists. 


BEN-VENISTE:  Our mission is to separate bin Laden and the al Qaeda and the al Qaeda wannabes from the Muslim world at large, to make it inhospitable. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you do that? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Because you make it—you make their policies, you show their policies to be so unsympathetic to the religion that they profess. 


BEN-VENISTE:  And your policies


FIELDING:  And you also have a big problem in that, for instance, the

educational system, that‘s how you


MATTHEWS:  The madras schools


FIELDING:  The madras schools are the only educational system in a lot of the area. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re taught to hate with your arithmetic. 

FIELDING:  You‘re taught to hate with your arithmetic. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this big question, because, as a person who has not gotten your expertise, I watched the world react to 9/11.  And we were all so taken with it.  It wasn‘t just countries like Germany and France and all the countries we were used to working with over the years and in fact liked for many years.

But all the countries of the world showed sympathy for us. 


MATTHEWS:  There was evidence of true human sympathy throughout the globe after 9/11.  Why did we lose that?  And isn‘t that essential, that sympathy, in fighting al Qaeda?  Why did we lose it? 


BEN-VENISTE:  Well, we have stayed away from the question of Iraq. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, jump into it just for the answer to the question.


MATTHEWS:  Why do you think we lost the sympathy of the world in fighting terrorism, not Arabs, terrorism?

BEN-VENISTE:  I think there‘s been a reaction to the go-it-alone philosophy, to the rejection of old alliances and their importance.  And I really don‘t want to go—now speaking only for myself, obviously.

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  But we‘re running a 6 percent popularity rating right now in Egypt. 


FIELDING:  You‘re too high.  You‘re too high. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Yes.  It‘s down below that.

GORTON:  And you‘re separating two things.  You know, we haven‘t lost sympathy with respect to fighting terrorism.  We‘ve lost sympathy with respect to some of our foreign policies. 

But, remember, at this point, three years later, there have been no more terrorist incidents in the United States.  But there have been lots of them elsewhere.  And the French are concerned about terrorism.  The Germans are.  Lord knows, the Russians are.  The Turks are.  They‘re beginning to see the fight against terrorism is a fight that involves everyone in the world.  But that is a separate issue in their minds. 

They‘re not—people in these countries that are unhappy with U.S.  foreign policy don‘t think terrorism is a good idea.  They don‘t want it in their home countries. 


FIELDING:  When you have a universal problem—and the only analogy I could think of when we were going through this was piracy—the world united to do away with piracy.  And that was the way they did away with it.  It became an unacceptable thing anywhere in the world. 


GORELICK:  But the one thing I want to say in answer to that question, Richard Armitage said something that affected me and I think all of us a lot.  He said...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the deputy secretary of state. 

GORELICK:  He said we are exporting our anger and our fear and not our hope and sense of opportunity. 

We have always found tremendous strength, and I mean strength in terms of our core and strength as a leader in the world, from projecting the ideals of America.  And we fault America for not doing that.  We are not conveying to the world our strength and our ideals and our sense of the benefits of freedom, and we really need to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, less dirty movies and more Peace Corps, wouldn‘t that be nice?


MATTHEWS:  And thank you.  It‘s been an amazing—I wish we could stay here all night.  This is better than college. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s better than a lot of things. 

Anyway, thank you, Fred Fielding.  Thank you, Jamie Gorelick.  Thank

you, Richard Ben-Veniste.  And, thank you, Senator Gorton,


MATTHEWS:  You can read a full transcript of my interview with the 9/11 commissioners on our Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com. 

Coming up, violence intensifies in Iraq.  How will it change the presidential race?  We‘ll be joined by “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund and “The Washington Post”‘s Colbert King.  

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, questions surrounding Kitty Kelley‘s book on the Bush family.

HARDBALL returns after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Joining me is Colbert King, deputy editorial page at “The Washington Post,” and John Fund, who is a columnist for “The Wall Street Journal”‘s OpinionJournal.com.  He‘s also the author of “Stealing Elections.”

Fighting in Iraq has intensified dramatically, as I said before.  This weekend, an Arab journalist was fatally hit by U.S. fire while on the air.  Today, U.S. warplanes pounded a suspected terrorist hideout, killing 20 people. 

The question is, Colbert, how will voters react to all this?  It looks like the front pages are finally getting back to war. 


Well, the war will never be off the front pages as long as it goes on this way.  And the voters are not just going to react to what happened today in Fallujah.  The voters are start to asking the question, where is the exit strategy?  When are we going to find a way of fighting out of this?  It hasn‘t come yet, but it‘s going to come. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to John.

John Fund, you know, General McCaffrey was on earlier in the program and allowed the fact, in fact, he was a little more direct than that, that a lot of the strategy over there is coming down from the top, which is, don‘t go out looking for trouble.  Don‘t go into those areas of the Sunni Triangles, etcetera, including in parts in the south, where you‘re going to get a lot of casualties.  Is this now becoming political strategy, to avoid casualties before the election? 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Chris, I think we have an election war on both sides. 

On one side, I don‘t think there is a lot of eagerness to flush out

the terrorists.  On the other hand, I think the terrorists are going to

escalate all of their violence right up until the election.  They probably

recognize that a major attack in the United States would probably redound

to George Bush‘s benefit.  On the other hand


MATTHEWS:  Who is they?  Who is they? 

FUND:  The terrorists. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no, don‘t use that word.  Help me out here.  You have got Sunni Triangle problems.  You‘ve the problems in Fallujah.  You‘ve got problems in the south, and you‘ve got problems in the Najaf.  You‘ve got problems with Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a Shiite zealot.

Who had this meeting you‘re talking about to decide to raise the level of violence in Iraq, all around the country of Iraq, to try to achieve something with regard to the election?  Who is the they? 

FUND:  Probably the ones the Iranians are backing, and they‘re backing several different group.  Many of them are also independent. 

But the escalation of the violence up until the election can hurt George W. Bush because it reminds people that this war could grind on.  So clearly both sides are looking to November 2 with an eye towards how it would impact the election. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s disaggregate this a little bit, John.  You‘ve got people like Zarqawi we‘re trying to hit in Fallujah.  You‘ve got people like Muqtada al-Sadr, where they‘re fighting, they‘re definitely fighting and there is escalation going on.  What is the political significance of the decision-making in the Pentagon right now?  Are they sensitive over there as far as you know to how much escalation goes on between now and November 2? 

FUND:  Of course, because every time that you crack down, you also have the risk of collateral damage, civilian casualties.  In addition, of course, you have to have a strategy.  If you‘re going to take those cities, what are you going to do with them?  Because, obviously, you can‘t flush everybody out of those cells and those holes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about newspapering right now. 

I will get to you, John, at “The Journal.”

I do believe that, for the last couple months, that it has been off the front pages.  Now maybe John has got a point there, that they know what time our election is.  They know the calendar.  They did it in Spain.  They may try to do it here.  Do you think that‘s possible? 

KING:  Well, it depends on who you‘re talking about, the they. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, certainly al Qaeda knows how to read a calendar, and they blew that government out of Madrid. 

KING:  But that‘s not what‘s going on in Iraq.  The election they‘re talking and thinking about in Iraq is the one that‘s scheduled for January.  And if they can do what they‘re doing and continue to do what they‘re doing, that is, to keep the insurgency going across the country, that is the election that‘s going to be really disrupted, not what happens in November, but what‘s going to happen in January. 

As a matter of fact, it was last week that Secretary Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, said that the reason they were not launching an all-out offensive in the next month or so is because they want to wait until the Iraqi forces are ready to go in there with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KING:  And when will that be, they think, December?  And so it happens that it happens to be after our November elections. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that could be coincidental. 

KING:  I beg your pardon? 

MATTHEWS:  It could be coincidental. 


MATTHEWS:  The fact that we‘re not ready to fight side by side with the Iraqi government we‘re setting up, the Iraqi military we‘re putting together until they‘re ready.  They‘re obviously not ready. 

KING:  A fortuitous concatenation of circumstances.  The readiness will occur after the November elections?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK, I may share your suspicion or I may not. 

Let me go back to John. 

John, this question of the election being held here, which I‘m more familiar with, and I think you are, too, and I think we all are, it seems to me that something has shifted dramatically in the month of August.  Before August, Iraq was a plus for Kerry, generally speaking, at least a comparative disadvantage, at least.  It was better for him than a lot of issues.  Now it‘s not because the question that is posed by the pollsters is, who can best handle the situation now, not who was right, not whether we should have gone in or not, which is still a question I think comes out in the negative.  People, slight majority, think we shouldn‘t have gone in now. 

The question of who can handle it now, is that the more important question than whether we should have gone in or not? 

FUND:  Regardless of whether or not you like or dislike George Bush‘s handling of the war in Iraq, you have to have a credible alternative.  John Kerry has not held a press conference with national reporters in over a month.  There is a reason for that. 

“The New Republic” says his position on Iraq has gone from incoherent to indefensible.  Nobody can figure out exactly what he would do.  He has to chart a credible coarse:  This is what I would do.  This is my exit strategy or my entry strategy, because, Chris, for the life of me, I studied before this program.  I can‘t figure out where he is on Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did say that he was going to withdraw the troops by the end of a presidential term.  Is that a strategy? 

FUND:  Yes.  And then he emphasizes something else the next day or the next day after that.  You have to have a consistent message, and you have to pound it home day after day. 

MATTHEWS:  Is “The Washington Post” going to endorse Kerry? 

KING:  We haven‘t made up our mind yet.  We haven‘t considered the question.

MATTHEWS:  Is it a close call? 

KING:  We haven‘t considered the question yet.  We‘ll get there in a matter of weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  But you always endorse Democrats for president.  There is a problem this time? 

KING:  No, no, it‘s not that automatic.  We have to look at this.  It

goes beyond just Iraq.  It goes beyond the economy.  It also takes into

question what you don‘t like, the war on terror or what we‘re going to do

to fight this terrorism that


MATTHEWS:  No, I don‘t like the term because I think it confuses the issue.  I want to know whether you‘re talking about whether we should have gone to Iraq or not, whether that is good for U.S. interests or not, and whether we should have gone to Afghanistan or not and taken down the Taliban or not to try to get al Qaeda destroyed. 


MATTHEWS:  These are separate questions and I just want clarity.  Your newspaper, you think, might endorse George Bush?  There is a chance? 

KING:  Well, there is no way of saying right now just what we would do.  We haven‘t considered the question.  And I can‘t anticipate what we‘re going to do.

MATTHEWS:  Is there a dispute within “The Washington Post” editorial page on whether we should have gone to Iraq? 

KING:  I think the preponderance of views is that we should have gone.  And I was one of those who thought so also, because I had assumed that there were weapons of mass destruction there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m going to ask you the question, as an editorial page writer for “The Washington Post.”  If you had known then what you know now about the absence of WMD, would you have voted then or supported that action? 

KING:  As I have written already as a columnist, not as an editorial writer, but as a columnist, no, I would not have done it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Kerry refuses to make that adjustment? 

KING:  Well, if you look at what Kerry has said prior to the war, up to the war, Kerry helped make the case for the invasion. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KING:  Kerry not only just voted for the resolution.  He also, in a series of statements, made it clear that he would support military action and he would support putting ground—troops on the ground.

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t just a blank check.  He wanted that check used. 

KING:  He would have supported putting the troops on the ground.  And when the president did it, when the president went in, he defended the president‘s decision. 


KING:  And that was when there was support for this action. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KING:  Then along came Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate, giving Kerry a rough time, and suddenly Kerry became loosey-goosey and somewhat of the anti-war candidate.  We don‘t know where he is now on the subject of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would you vote for, John?  I know you‘re a conservative.  But who would you vote for if you were against this war in Iraq?  Who would be the anti-war candidate?  I‘m still looking for that candidate.  Who is it?  Is it Nader?


FUND:  Well, the only anti-war candidate is Ralph Nader.  Or—the libertarian candidate is also anti-war. 

But, Chris, George W. Bush has prosecuted this war by fits and starts.  But the vast majority of the American people think that he is better qualified to fight the war on terrorism and better qualified to fight the war in Iraq, because John Kerry is completely incoherent.  We are in Iraq.  We‘re going to stay.  The question is whether or not we win it.  And John Kerry is a weather vane on this. 


MATTHEWS:  And what was the best line at the convention from the president? 


MATTHEWS:  My favorite best line was, well, you know where I stand. 

FUND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It is your point, and I think, isn‘t that still the strongest point he‘s got?  We know where he stands. 


KING:  But also the image of George Bush at 9/11, that was a strong image.  That is what stays in the minds of people.  He was there and he stood tall. 

MATTHEWS:  Henry V. 

Coming up, we‘re going to talk about the Kerry staff changes.  Is this moving the deck chairs or what?  And is it going to help turn the polls around?  Although the polls are getting a little closer. 

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.


MATTHEWS:  We have an exciting Friday for you.  It‘s the debut of “HARDBALL: The Horse Race,” with all the biggest stories, the latest polls, and the hottest ads this week in the presidential race.  That‘s “The Horse Race” this Friday at our regular time, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

We‘re back now with “The Washington Post”‘s Colbert King and John Fund of “The Wall Street Journal.”

John, I know you enjoy the game of politics, as well as the important stakes.  We did the stakes, the war, a minute ago.  Let‘s talk about the gamesmanship.  What the heck is going on inside Kerry‘s mind, inside his staff right now? 

FUND:  Well, John Kerry loves the conference call.  He loves sitting around a phone with about 17 people scattered all over the country and figuring out where to take the campaign.  And then he makes up his mind.  And then some staffers pull him aside from one camp or the other, whether it‘s the Clinton camp or whether it‘s the Shrum camp or whether it‘s the Boston camp.  And he often changes his mind. 

And I‘ve seen this before, Chris.  Craig Crawford from MSNBC said he spent a year traveling with the Dukakis campaign in 1988.  And, in many ways, this campaign structure reminds him of that Michael Dukakis‘. 

MATTHEWS:  It reminds me of the French and Indian War, Colbert, where you have got the very beautiful French with their nice uniforms, and that‘s the Kerry crowd.  And then you got the Clinton crowd.  They‘re the Indians looking for scalps.  And I hope I‘m being P.C. enough to make my point, which is, these new guys really do want to take scalps. 

KING:  Well, Kerry‘s problem is Kerry. 


KING:  It is not his camp.  It is not who is pulling the strings.  It is John Kerry.  Kerry has yet to make himself understood. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KING:  He doesn‘t take shape with people.  You don‘t think of much that‘s there.  And that‘s why he‘s having such a problem defining himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a there, there? 

KING:  Good question.  I think there‘s something there.  I‘m not sure it‘s something that‘s warm and fuzzy, that is going to make people like.


KING:  The way they like George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it findable?  In other words, not everybody is an ideologue.  I don‘t think I‘m much of an ideologue.  Not everybody is right-wing or left-wing and has a clear doctrine of what they want to do with the world.  Most people try to figure things out day by day. 

But is there a Kerry notion?  Is it elitism?  Is it best and brightest?  Is it Harvard? 


KING:  I think Kerry thinks he knows what‘s best. 


KING:  Whether he has to share it with us is another thing. 


KING:  But I think his view is, let me in there and I‘ll show you how I‘m going to do things. 

MATTHEWS:  Just because I‘m smarter. 

KING:  Because I‘m smarter and I‘m John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Somebody—somebody, John, said before this race that the danger of Kerry is, Al Gore thought he knew more than everybody else, and Kerry thinks he knows more than Al Gore.  And the trouble with that sort of plutocratic notion is that, if I know more than everybody else, I‘ll be a better leader.  And I think George Bush proves that‘s probably not true.  He‘s a pretty good leader, by most people‘s lights, whatever you think of his policies.  He‘s certainly been a leader. 

And then the question is, no one says he knows everything.  He‘s not an expert. 

FUND:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Kerry claims to be an expert.  And is that getting in the way of him being a leader? 

FUND:  Well, let me say something positive about John Kerry.  At his best, he recognizes that he doesn‘t know everything, which is why he sees nuance and complexity and why he can be shifted from one point of view to another.  I call him a shapeshifter. 

The problem with that is, if you‘re working that out in politics, where you have to have a simple, clear message and it is 49 days before the election, and the vast majority of the American people aren‘t sure you know who you are...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FUND:  ... no matter even if you‘ve worked it out in your own mind, if you can‘t convey the ability to lead and the ability to make simple decisions, then you are not going to be elected president. 


MATTHEWS:  Forced question, you first, Colbert. 

Do you think he‘ll come out for or against the Vietnam—or the Iraq war?  I mean, will he make a decision?  Will he lean left or right on this? 

KING:  Which day?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  You‘ve answered my question. 

Thank you very much, John Fund, Colbert King.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We‘ll be joined by Kitty Kelley, author of the new book—and boy is it causing a lot of noise—“The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.”  That‘s the name of her book.  And Seymour Hersh, whose new book is called “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”

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


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