Guests: Bill Burkett, Marie Cocco, James Moore, Rick Davis, Lindsey Graham, Richard Holbrooke, Todd Purdum
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Big news on the poll front. Overnight, the Bush bounce that has dominated the presidential campaign over the past few weeks is over. The Bush bounce is now flat, and two new polls show the race is a dead heat. Plus, who will be hurt worse by disputed documents in the investigation into President Bush‘s military records? Bush? Kerry? Or CBS News?
And today Bush and Cheney double-teamed Kerry on his appearance on MSNBC‘s “Don Imus Show.” Cheney calls the senator “absolutely incoherent” and Bush counter-punched with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday in a radio interview, he tried to clear things up. He said, there were no circumstances, none, under which we should have gone to war. Although, he said, his own vote to go to war was the right vote, and it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. The radio interviewer concluded, “I can‘t tell you what he said.”
Let me be clear. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in the field, the Iraqi people, to our allies, and most of all, to our enemies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re obviously playing HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. CBS News remains under scrutiny as accusations mount the documents critical of President Bush‘s National Guard service are forged. Now “The New York Times” reports that somebody at CBS has named Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard, as a source of records critical of Bush‘s service. Burkett was a guest on HARDBALL in February when his allegations that President Bush‘s National Guard records had been scrubbed first surfaced. I asked him then what he could tell us about the president‘s Guard‘s records.
LT. COL. BILL BURKETT, RET., TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD: In a series of three sub-events, I witnessed the governor‘s office call to the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, a directive to gather the files, and then the subscript to that was make sure there was nothing there that would embarrass the governor. I witnessed also the directive, an informal directive to a staff member to gather those files, and then on a third occasion, I witnessed that in fact, there was some activity under way with some files, some personal files of Bush, comma, George W., first lieutenant, 1 lt., as it was put in handwriting at the top of files within a trash can.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s set this in time. When did you make these—did you see these events occur?
BURKETT: These events occurred in late spring of 1997.
MATTHEWS: 1997. Tell me about the location of these events. When did you—where did you—where were you when you witnessed these three events that involved the president‘s National Guard records?
BURKETT: Mr. Matthews, I was a traditional guardsman until 1996, and to make this extraordinarily brief, I‘m a strategic planner in the private world, or was. I was brought to active duty for a short period of time under a special project to build a strategic plan that would make the Texas National Guard more effective, more efficient, and more relevant to the active duty force. I had access and in fact worked directly for Adjutant General Daniel James, through other people—it sounds like a conflict, but in this case, when you‘re doing planning, you have to know the vision and the intent of the commander. That was my job as a professional officer. In 1997, I had access to hear the telephone call and then I also had access to hear the transfer and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go through the events that you‘ve witnessed, that you‘re eyewitness to. First of all, there‘s a telephone call, a conference call involving the adjutant general, General James. What did you hear him say about the president—or heard said to him about the president‘s Guard records and who was talking?
BURKETT: Well, there was nothing said about the Guard records as far as quality or something, but the conveyance directive was, and these are paraphrased words, the exact words are probably within—better phrased outside, and I don‘t want to play a word game, but the conveyance was for the adjutant general to gather those files, or cause those files to be gathered. That Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett from the governor‘s office would be out, they were writing a book for the governor‘s reelection campaign or something further maybe, and that those files needed to be gathered, and the last conveyance was to ensure that there was nothing in there that would embarrass the governor.
MATTHEWS: Whose voice did you hear on the phone?
BURKETT: Mr. Joe Allbaugh, chief of staff of the governor‘s office.
Mr. Dan Bartlett was also on that telephone call.
MATTHEWS: How about Karen Hughes? What was her role?
BURKETT: She was not on that phone call. I never had access to, nor did I see Karen Hughes within this entire event. She was simply referred to as coming out to Camp Mayberry (ph) to view the files and write a book.
MATTHEWS: How do you know that Dan Bartlett‘s voice was the voice you heard? How do you know Joe Allbaugh‘s voice was the voice you heard?
BURKETT: Primarily because there was reference to both of them in the first phone call, there was reference to both of them within the conveyance, the informal but direct conveyance of that message to gather the files to the state service...
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by conveyance? I don‘t know that. What is conveyance?
BURKETT: It is just, in this case, it was General James was moving between meetings very rapidly. General officers do that sort of thing. Senior officers do that thing. He happened into somebody that was on the way to—he was—that he saw on the way to the meeting that was responsible for that area, and he told him he wanted this done.
MATTHEWS: And where was that? Where did you overhear that conversation?
BURKETT: That was the following—that was the following day, Mr.
Matthews, the day after the directive from the governor‘s office.
MATTHEWS: So how many instances did you observe this effort to try to gather the president‘s—the now president‘s records? How many times did you overhear conversations?
BURKETT: The first time I overheard a conversation, then I heard the conveyance, as I said, the directive to get it done. The third time I saw files in a trash can.
MATTHEWS: Those files in a trash can, how far—were you behind a desk or in front of the desk to get the look at the trash—trash cans are normally behind desks. How did you get a line of sight on that trash can?
BURKETT: No, and that‘s what‘s so important here, Mr. Matthews, is this thing needs to be put in context, and it takes a lot longer than most people are willing to listen. We moved into—we walked into a facility. There was a standard folding table there with a large trash can, old style, metal trash can, roughly 15 gallon, table top high. I was standing next to that trash can, right next to that trash can. These files were there. In the course of a very informal conversation about the files, I looked down, and the top piece of paper was—had the header on it in handwritten, on a standard form, in handwritten letter, Bush, comma, George W., his initial, 1 lt. As those two individuals did walk away, I did something that I‘m not terribly proud of, but I did look at the first five or six or seven or eight pages, and they were all Mr. Bush‘s files.
MATTHEWS: As you sorted through those six pages you found in the trash can with Bush‘s, President Bush‘s name on it, at that time a lieutenant, did you notice anything that was written on those pages?
BURKETT: I noticed the type of document more than anything else.
MATTHEWS: What was it?
BURKETT: These were performance type—these are performance type documents, performance certificates, either you did or did not attend drill, and in a couple of cases, there were photocopies of pay documents.
MATTHEWS: Why in 1997 did you not do something with this information?
BURKETT: I did in 1997. I did something in 1997. I first tried to work through the system and understand something. There‘s risk to everything that you do, and I am a human being. It doesn‘t mean that I had all shirked that responsibility, but I did make effort, both officially and unofficially, through some political contacts, including somebody that was very political in the Guard. I did.
MATTHEWS: Are you a person who generally supports President Bush and Governor Bush at the time? Are you a Democrat, a Republican? Does that—
I just want to know your point of view about the president and the then governor.
BURKETT: I was—I was a very—I would say very nonpolitical person. Before the time, probably a Charlie Stenholm type Democrat.
MATTHEWS: I got you, exactly what you mean, you were a yellow dog, very conservative Democrat.
BURKETT: That‘s correct. However, let me finish this quickly, if I can. At the time that I take a job, whether it‘s in business or in the military, politics has nothing to do with it. But I was in support of a Republican governor. And it was my...
MATTHEWS: Would you swear—would you swear to all this, Colonel Burkett? Will you swear to what you just said to me the last couple of minutes under oath?
BURKETT: Under oath? I‘m swearing to you on camera, and I‘m swearing to the American people, and God is my pilot on this. And I have sworn this all along.
MATTHEWS: When that interview first aired on February 12, we had a report immediately following from White House correspondent Norah O‘Donnell. She reported that Joe Allbaugh, the man Burkett says led the effort to whitewash President Bush‘s National Guard records, denied those allegations, calling them outrageous, false and hogwash. Mr. Allbaugh also told Norah O‘Donnell he had no idea who Mr. Burkett was, and denied the conversation Burkett recalls ever took place.
When we come back, more on President Bush‘s National Guard service records, with James Moore, the author of “Bush‘s War for Reelection,” plus Republican strategist Rick Davis and “Newsday‘s” Marie Cocco. All that when we return. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Joining me now, James Moore who quoted Colonel Burkett at length in his book, “Bush‘s War for Reelection.” And Rick Davis, a Republican strategist who ran John McCain‘s 2000 presidential campaign. And “Newsday” columnist, Marie Cocco.
We‘ve got to go to you, Mr. Moore, right away. Tell me what you think of Mr. Burkett, Colonel Burkett. Is he solid?
JAMES MOORE, AUTHOR, “BUSH‘S WAR FOR REELECTION”: Well, Chris, I wouldn‘t have included him in my book if I didn‘t think that his story was corroborated. I was able to corroborate enough of it that I took it seriously. What you have to admit is everyone does, I think is that it‘s consistent with what the facts are in this case from the documents and the files that have been released and that is, that something is missing from the hard copy file. And these are documents relevant to how much money the president earned, how many points he earned, did he earn the minimum points. And the most critical document that remains missing to this day is the grounding in counseling document which is required by regulation. If those things were handy, if we could look at them, Mr. Burkett‘s story would probably go away.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not going to go away tonight. I want to ask you about his serendipitous ability to be at the right time to get all this negative stuff on the now President Bush. How could he have told us in that conversation we just had recorded, we just played, three different times he just happens to be there when the trash can is filled with stuff on Bush. He just happens to overhear a conversation with Joe Alba (ph) and Dan Bartlett. He just happens to bump into a guy during his conveyance, he called it rather darkly. He presented an extremely grand notion of his mission. He was there to develop a strategic plan for the use of the Texas Air National Guard. He seems a little bit delusionary when you listen to him. You don‘t think that‘s the case? Say you don‘t think it‘s true?
MOORE: Chris, he was brought into the Texas National Guard by Jim Francis and the former Governor Bill Clemens who are both friends of George W. Bush because of his accomplishments in New Mexico and he was in fact creating a plan to improve the force readiness and relevance of the Texas National Guard.
Now The resistance to those plans, the refusal to upgrade armor and training and equipment, has angered people within the Texas National Guard for about a decade.
So there are at least a dozen officers within and without of the guard who have both the means and the motivation to do the kinds of things, to make copy of files or destroy files to either get even with or to help George W. Bush.
MATTHEWS: James Moore. What—what is Colonel Burkett‘s health history?
MOORE: His health is not presently good. He claims to have contracted a virus on an assignment in the Panama Canal. And that has had a debilitating effect upon his central nervous system. I think he‘s had some problems with right side muscular and neurofunction and I think he walks with a cane these days.
MATTHEWS: But he‘s had no emotional breakdown, you‘re saying?
MOORE: I don‘t know. I have no idea about that, Chris...
MATTHEWS: Does he have an outstanding complaint against the government that might motivate this kind of—these kinds of charges?
MOORE: He‘s absolutely angry at George W. Bush for his failure to pay attention to the problems within the Texas National Guard. But he is not alone in this. And he does—he did file a lawsuit against the Texas National Guard trying to seek justice and he claims that his healthcare benefits were not provided to him. Yes, he absolutely has an axe to grind against them.
MATTHEWS: Did he have any documents when you were using him as a source? Did he ever present anything that looked to you like these kinds of documents which have been so controversial?
MOORE: No. And I‘ve said over and over again, if he had them and didn‘t give them to me, I would be very angry about the fact that he didn‘t give them to me. And frankly, I don‘t know what the providence of these documents are. But I will say this...
MATTHEWS: It is the Kinko‘s outlet down in Abilene. We know that. We can stretch it back that far. They came through Kinko‘s in Abilene. He lives fairly nearby there. That‘s of course circumstantial. But, you know, I always wondered why any network would buy something that came to them by fax from a Kinko‘s. There‘s nothing wrong with Kinko‘s but send me the original please and I‘ll look at it. I just think it is odd that anybody looked at a fax, trying to figure out where it came from and what it‘s authenticity is.
Would you hold on for a second? Let me go to Rick Davis.
What do you make of this?
RICK DAVIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think this thing has become sort of delusional in its own right.
MATTHEWS: We need specificity here.
DAVIS: Democrats are not trying to weave this thing. Somehow this guy‘s a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plant and actually concocted the documents to take attention from the main issues of the campaign so that the Kerry campaign and CBS would actually get caught in this whole thing. And every day we‘re not talking about Iraq...
MATTHEW: Who would you say—I agree. If we‘re not talking about the main issues, we‘re not talking about the right thing. Who do you say is being suspected of concocting this—this thing?
DAVIS: I think in the perfect world of the Democratic strategists running the Kerry campaign, and all these 527s, it is Karl Rove. It‘s that evil Rove who...
MATTHEWS: I‘ve heard other theories. Marie, who is getting hurt by this? Who is getting hurt most? Bush campaign, the president and his reelections efforts, the Kerry efforts to try to focus attention on some bigger issues or CBS? Who is getting hurt?
MARIE COCCO, “NEWSDAY” COLUMNIST: CBS and John Kerry. Mostly, CBS because they‘re journalistic integrity is on the line. Unfortunately for Dan Rather, he has long been a whipping post for the right wing. And now they‘re all saying, aha! he is really as sleazy and biased as we always said he was. So I think CBS is hurt the most.
Secondly, I think John Kerry is very much hurt by this. Because it is diverting attention from where the Kerry campaign wants to go which is to move this back on to the issues that they think Bush is vulnerable on mainly the economy and Iraq. If you look through all the polling that you alluded to earlier in the show, the millstones around this president are the economy and Iraq. Kerry wants to talk about those things.
For the life of me, I don‘t understand why the D.N.C. has been jumping on this guard story again. Because as far as I can tell, the voters had most of this information in 2000. There was a question raised about Bush‘s service then. The missing records became apparent then. The missed medical exam became apparent then. And the voters discounted it the first time, why would they care about it now?
MATTHEWS: Let me go to James Moore. Your personal sense, sir. Do you believe that this focus on Bush‘s record when he was a younger man, much younger man back in the early seventies, is contributing to his campaign for re-election or contributing to Kerry‘s?
MOORE: I think it cuts against the president, Chris, and I‘ve felt that since I asked him a question about this in 1994. The problem is that he said—he is going around the country today taking an oath and a pledge to protect this country which is no different than the oath and pledge he took as a member of the National Guard. Why if he walked away from that commitment after four years in the National Guard should voters believe him now? I think it goes to the question of his moral authority. If he took his responsibilities in the guard as capriciously and irresponsibly as it‘s possible for kids today to take them, where would we be? If they acted today as did he then, what would be going on in this war? I think it‘s an important question.
MATTHEWS: But Mr. Moore, isn‘t there a general assessment by both parties and people in the middle that this president has grown up a bit since back then?
MOORE: Yes. I think that is a general assessment. But I‘m not sure he‘s convinced all of us.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ll be right back with more with James Moore, Rick Davis and Marie Cocco.
And later, former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on a volatile situation, a bad situation in Iraq right now and what it may mean for the battle for the White House. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with author James Moore, Rick Davis and Marie Cocco. And the Democratic National Committee has released a new ad that will go on the air in 11 states starting tomorrow. By the way, they‘re spending $6 million for you to see this. We‘re of course, showing it for free. That‘s part of the game, isn‘t it, guys? Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. The United States and our allies have prevailed.
The economy is strong. The economy is getting better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s certainly a dark advertisement. It certainly brings it down to—they‘re playing the piano as far down to the left as you can play it on the bass cleft, I noticed that.
Marie, we showed these ads from both sides. I think we‘re keeping it even. But is that ad going to turn anybody‘s mind? It‘s so damp (ph).
COCCO: Well, I think it is a little too dark, actually. I think the imagery is dark. And certainly the mission accomplished event was in living color. We all saw it on TV. I don‘t know why you can‘t just do that.
MATTHEWS: I mean, it‘s not “Morning in America,” but it‘s not the Great Depression, either, is it? It is for some folks. But they should be voting for the Democrats anyway, because they‘re so hard up right now.
COCCO: Well, they should be voting for the Democrats anyway, which is the whole point of this ad. It is to remind...
MATTHEWS: Right, to remind them.
COCCO: It‘s to remind people who are inclined maybe to vote on their pocket book that, hey, guys, you really should be voting on your pocket book.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Rick, what‘s the better topic tonight? Is it the issue of the economy and Iraq raised by that ad, or the issue of what George Bush did back when he was a young and frisky guy, when he was not exactly the man he is today?
DAVIS: Well, I think it is great for Bush every time the DNC or John Kerry start talking about a war 35 years ago. So if you want to talk about how screwed up the Kerry campaign or the DNC seem to be, yeah, let them talk about that war 35 years ago. His convention should have shown everybody, you‘re not going to get any points for that.
MATTHEWS: James Moore, you disagree.
MOORE: Yeah, I think that, Chris, we‘re either a nation of equals or we‘re not. We‘re either people who have special privileges, or we‘re all equal. And this case goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans.
I‘ve got a modest proposal. If the White House wants to make this go away, they simply say the president did not defy an order to take his physical, and here‘s proof. And you and I can stop having these discussions.
MATTHEWS: But James, when George Bush said he didn‘t get any help getting into Yale, one of the toughest schools in the country to get into, everybody says, yeah, sure, the fact that you‘re third generation, that didn‘t help.
When he says he got no help getting into the Guard, everybody goes, sure, you‘re a rich kid, you got in because of pull.
Does anybody still think that matters when they vote? That‘s what I‘m
· you think they do?
MOORE: Of course—of course they think it matters, Chris, because it is about, are we equal, equal, are we all able to have access to the...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think we are. Do you?
MOORE: ... same life and the same privileges.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we are?
MOORE: But in principle, that‘s what the president is telling us.
MATTHEWS: But do you believe it is true?
MOORE: Of course not. I tried to get into the Guard. I was told no.
MATTHEWS: OK. I would like to think that the president deep down in his soul knows he is a lucky rich kid. Anyway, thank you, James Moore, Rick Davis and Marie Cocco.
Up next, Richard Holbrooke and Senator Lindsey Graham on a new poll showing Senator John Kerry polling even, at least for tonight, with President Bush. And don‘t forget tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern, join me for “The Horserace,” for all the hottest stories and trends in this week‘s political campaigning.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on what to do about the upsurge in violence in Iraq. Plus, two new polls show the presidential race even.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A classified national intelligence estimate prepared for President Bush this July takes a pessimistic outlook on Iraq for the next year. According to “The New York Times” today, the worst-case scenario has Iraq embroiled in civil war and the most favorable outcome describes Iraq‘s check and political stability as tenuous.
News of this intelligence estimate comes on a day when two American and a British man were abducted at dawn in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.
Richard Holbrooke served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton. He is now a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. And Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Senator Graham, I want to start with you, sir.
What do you make of this new intelligence estimate that has leaked out which says that we may be facing a civil war in Iraq?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think that is accurate in regards to how difficult it is going to be to create an emergency—an emerging democracy in Iraq.
I hope we don‘t. The Sunni Triangle has been very difficult. We‘ve made progress in the south. The goal is to have every group to buy into an emerging democracy. The people who are doing the killing have as their agenda a Taliban-type government for Iraq. The people who are dying, the ones who want to be policemen and join the army, are trying to fight for their country to create a new democracy in a place where we don‘t have any.
So I‘m hopeful that the forces who want to change their country will win out over the forces who want to drag Iraq back into the dark. It is going to be a real battle of wills.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Ambassador, is that how you see it, as a battle between the old and new?
MATTHEWS: Or is it in fact a civil war among factions, the Sunni, the Shia, etcetera, and they all don‘t want to be part of the same country perhaps?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, an NIE is the most solemn assessment the United States can come up with. I agree with Senator Graham. It looks to me from what we‘ve read in the “New York Times,” it is very accurate.
But the real question I must ask here is, how come it is at such sharp variance with what Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, Vice President Cheney and President Bush have been saying since it came out? What do they believe? Do they believe what they‘re telling us publicly? Or do they accept their own national intelligence estimate?
MATTHEWS: Gentlemen, is this like 1964, when we had a president, a moderate on the war in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson, who said he was going to bring us peace and, within a year, he had us a half-million troops in there? Is that the situation? Is this another Vietnam, Mr. Holbrooke?
HOLBROOKE: What we now know, Chris, from the Lyndon Johnson tapes is that at the same time Lyndon Johnson was saying things were going well in Vietnam publicly, privately, he was saying to people like Senator Richard Russell and Senator Fulbright and others that things were going badly.
That level of deception—politics always involves a little deception. But that level of deception when you‘re talking about the lives of young Americans at stake in a war, a war like Vietnam that doesn‘t have end, is troubling. So I think the question here tonight is whether or not the administration accepts its own NIE.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we‘re in Vietnam?
HOLBROOKE: There are disturbing similarities to the quagmire in Vietnam. And the NIE lays them out very much the same way. We‘re never going to get to the casualty levels of Vietnam; 1,000 dead is awful, but 55,000 dead in Vietnam was worse.
However, the dilemma that the U.S. government and whoever is elected president will face on January 20 of the next year is very deep and very real. And, by the way, Chris, I mention this because when I last said this, I was criticized for comparing Iraq and Vietnam on another program. I served in Vietnam for three years. I know how tough it was. And I don‘t want to see that tragedy repeated.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Senator Graham.
Do you believe that? Do you see the same troubling connections between Vietnam and Iraq right now in the sense that we went in there for a good reason? We went into Vietnam for a good reason, to liberate the country, protect her from being taken over by the communist north. But after a while, nationalism began to show its face, resistance to our very presence. Are you worried that people in Iraq will gradually and perhaps some day reach a majority status where most of the people want us to go?
GRAHAM: Nationalism would be a good thing in Iraq. That means you‘ve bought into being an Iraqi more than just being a part of Iraq.
I‘ve been to Iraq twice. I haven‘t—obviously, I didn‘t go to Vietnam. I respect Richard. He is a smart guy. He has got a lot of insight. I‘ve been there twice. I‘ve been to every part of Iraq. And I see a buy-in to the idea of democracy by lots of groups, the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kurds, the Arabs. There are lots of people who you don‘t hear about or read about or see on TV that are buying into the idea of Iraq being a democratic country.
When they kill a policeman or blow up—excuse me, Chris—and blow up a police station, they have more people volunteering the next day. When they attack an army proving station, people continue to want to volunteer. To me, that‘s the hope for Iraq. The people who are doing the killing, they‘re not communists. They‘re foreign fighters. They‘re old leftover people from the regime. They‘re people who do not want a democracy. And those are the two factions, the people who want a democracy vs. the people who want more forces of darkness.
And it is going to be a tough sled. And we need to be more direct and more honest about how difficult it will be. But I am hopeful that if the Iraqi people keep joining the army, keep joining the police force, and keep doing the things necessary to become a rule-of-law nation, that we will win this over time.
MATTHEWS: Let me just interject something from Senator Joe Biden today. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday—that was yesterday—Senator Joe Biden of Delaware said—quote—“The president has frequently described Iraq as the central front of the war on terror. Well, by that definition, success in Iraq is a key standard by which to measure the war on terror. And by that measure, I think the war on terror is in trouble.”
HOLBROOKE: Well, I would agree with Senator Biden on that point.
But I want to go back to what Senator Graham said a moment ago and put in it perspective, because I don‘t think Senator Graham and I are in basic disagreement here. Here is the dilemma that the next president of the United States is going to face, whether it‘s George Bush or John Kerry. And it is very serious. There is now a classic mismatch between resources and mission in Iraq. That‘s the real similarity to Vietnam.
You, I hate to say it, are just old enough to remember what I‘m talking about.
MATTHEWS: But, in Vietnam, we had a half million troops in country.
HOLBROOKE: But the U.S. military will tell you now—and Colin Powell wrote this in his memoirs—we were not given—we were given a mission, but not enough resources to do it.
Now, the administration has said from the beginning that 135,000 troops are enough, although the Army chief of staff, Shinseki, said we need 300,000. The administration is going to tiptoe past the election on this one. But after the election, I would guess, given that NIE you just quoted, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are going to go to the president-elect, whoever it is, and say, listen, if you keep us with the current mission, the one Senator Graham correctly outlined a minute ago, promote democracy, we can‘t do it unless you give us more troops. But we don‘t have the troops.
I put that forward not with an answer, Chris, and not—I hope not in a partisan way, but to stress the enormity of the dilemma that the United States is now facing in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Senator, are you concerned that we‘re holding back from going after some of those very troubling, very dangerous areas both in the Basra area in the south, not just the Shia area, rather, but also up in the Sunni Triangle. or lot of places, we‘re saying, we‘ll get to you later. We don‘t want to have a lot of blood spilled between now and November 2.
Does that concern you, we‘re creating a bigger problem down the road by not acting now?
GRAHAM: Well, after having been there twice, the dynamics in the south are definitely different than the Sunni Triangle. We had a senior cleric intervene and kind of help resolve the problem in the south, at least temporarily, without a major assault on the sacred mosque. There is a political dynamic in the south that is more hopeful.
The Sunni Triangle, Fallujah and other places, it is just going to take a show of military force at some point in time to stabilize that region. Whoever wins in January in Iraq is going to have part of the country they can‘t govern because they don‘t have the security apparatus to take over places like Fallujah.
So I agree with Richard Holbrooke on the following. I think the American involvement in Iraq in the short term, in the next year or two years, is going to be greater, because the security environment is not what you need to have a stable rule-of-law government. We‘re going to have to be more aggressive in dedicating the resources to provide better security, accelerate training of the police. We‘re spending $3.8 billion that was going to infrastructure is now going into security.
And I‘ve been saying for a year and a half we don‘t have enough troops. I think we need more troops, a better skill mix. And if we will make the investment now, it will pay off later.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to come right back and talk about politics, because the polls are showing now—maybe it is Iraq that is causing this—but the polls have tightened up again, no more bounce. It has gone flat. These two guys are running even, President Bush and Senator John Kerry.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, two new polls show the presidential race is once again dead even.
We‘re coming back with Senator Lindsey Graham and Richard Holbrooke when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
By the way, we just got this in late this afternoon. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican of Nebraska, said about Iraq today—quote—“The worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we‘re winning. Right now, we‘re not winning. Things are getting worse. Measure that by any measurement you want, more casualties, more deaths, more pipeline sabotage. You pick the measurement standard and it‘s worse than where it was six months ago or 12 months ago.”
Do you buy that?
HOLBROOKE: And it‘s going to be worse on Election Day, I regret to say. And on inauguration day, it will be worse than it is on Election Day.
I‘m not trying to talk down our effort. I‘m referring to a consensus I‘ve heard from every official and every visitor I‘ve been—who has been to Iraq recently.
MATTHEWS: Have you heard any authoritative word, Mr. Ambassador, that the military have been pulled back to avoid major bloodbaths between now and Election Day?
HOLBROOKE: No. I‘m not. I‘m a private citizen. I would defer to Senator Graham on that. He‘s on Armed Services.
MATTHEWS: Senator Graham, do you have any sense that the military is trying to hold off any major, some sort of, well, Fallujah-type situation where we go into a city and it is terrible for our men and troops, or going into Najaf, a place like—we‘re trying to put those type of terrible firefights off until after November 2? Have you heard that?
GRAHAM: No, sir, I have not. But let me echo sort of what Richard and Chuck Hagel are saying.
I think you can expect the violence between now and our election in Iraq to increase dramatically. I think you can expect the violence to increase up and through their election in January. What they have been able to do, the terrorists and the people who are trying to defeat democracy in Iraq, they were able to get the Spanish to quit. They were able to get the Philippine government to withdraw. And they‘re trying to kidnap folks. They‘re creating as much chaos as possible to break the will of the Western nations who are trying to help Iraq become a democracy.
And we need to tell our people more directly about it. I think, in the short term, we do need to put more resources into security, including troops, because we can‘t afford to lose this battle. One thing Richard and I agree on, that the worst possible outcome for those who love freedom is for Iraq to go into the abyss and the terrorists win.
MATTHEWS: But if the war is going badly in Iraq, should the American voters vote for the war?
GRAHAM: I think the American voters need to understand the war on terror has a lot of roots to it and that the people who attacked us on 9/11 have a different way of doing business than we would like for our own country or for others and that Iraq is a battle between the forces of democracy and the forces who attacked us on 9/11.
MATTHEWS: I have got to go ahead with these two new polls and get your reaction, gentlemen, two new polls of likely voters. These are people that are expected to vote based on their voting pattern, show that the presidential race is now back to being neck to neck.
A new Pew Foundation poll has President Bush at 47 percent, John Kerry at 46. That‘s just one vote apart—one percentage point apart. And the Harris poll has the president at 47 percent and Kerry at 48, which is a very similar vote there on likely voters.
So we have got an absolutely dead even. Is this because of the news from Iraq?
HOLBROOKE: Isn‘t this exactly what you always expected? We‘re in a dead heat between two candidates and Iraq is moving to the center stage. We‘re in the final phase of the campaign and Iraq is the dominant issue. We‘ve only had elections four times in the last century and a half during wartime.
In 1944, there was a consensus on the war. But ‘52, Korea, ‘68, Vietnam, and now today, we had controversial wars. It should be a central issue. Senator Graham and I have very little disagreement.
MATTHEWS: Well, do you buy his argument that the other side, whether they‘re insurgents over there or al Qaeda internationally, are ginning up this activity over there to hurt the president in the election?
HOLBROOKE: I don‘t think it is tied to our election. I think it is an attempt to destroy the legitimacy of the Allawi government. I notice Allawi is going to address a joint question of session this week.
May I just ask Senator Graham one question? He said more troops. And I respect his views. Does he have any sense of how many troops would be needed?
GRAHAM: Well, what I see us being short in critical areas like civil affairs folks, civil engineers. I‘m not so sure much that you need combat troops as much as a better skill mix; 40 percent of the people by the end of the year are going to be Guard and Reservists. So I would like to have more troops on the ground to do the things necessary to stabilize the economy and the country.
But, no, Richard, I don‘t know the answer to the number question, but I have believed for over a year and a half that we do not have enough people to repair the infrastructure and provide security and we need more. And I don‘t—I‘m supportive of President Bush, but I‘ve seen it firsthand that you‘re relying too much on the Guard and Reserves. And we need to pump up our security and our reconstruction efforts in Iraq with more troops.
MATTHEWS: Senator Kerry has said he‘ll have our troop out within four years. That‘s certainly a long commitment anyway. Do you think we need troops there for four years?
HOLBROOKE: I think that, right now, given what the President Bush laid out as the goals in his acceptance speech in New York, we‘re going to have troops there indefinitely. There‘s no light at the end of this tunnel unless we either send more forces to do the job, as Senator Graham has suggested, or there‘s a fundamental change on the ground.
MATTHEWS: Senator Graham, how long will we need troops over there?
GRAHAM: Well, the danger with saying we‘ll be gone in four years, that the terrorists will say, if we kill enough American, maybe they‘ll go in two.
Never put a deadline because the terrorists react in the wrong way. It is an admission that you are not going to stay there as long as the job takes. The key to getting out of Iraq is to have Iraqis who can maintain an army and a police force and become judges and lawyers and all the things necessary to become an emerging democracy. That may take a year. That may take four years. It may take 10 years.
But the goal is to allow the Iraqi people to win this war. The people who are killing the Iraqis today are folks who don‘t want a democracy. We‘re over there trying to create one. It‘s a very simple proposition. If you want a democracy to take hold in the Mideast, one thing we‘ve learned, you‘re going to have to fight for it. You‘re going to have to bleed for it. We‘re bleeding. The Iraqi people are bleeding. Stay the course. Don‘t put an artificial date. Admit that we made mistakes. Send more people and win this thing. A lot is at stake.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, member of the Armed Services Committee, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.
Up next, “New York Times” correspondent Todd Purdum on the national intelligence estimate that just came out last night and the pessimistic prognosis for Iraq.
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: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In addition to the bleak national intelligence assessment of Iraq we discussed earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted to Congress this week that weapons of mass destruction, the central justification for this war, may never be found.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: It turned out that we have not found these stockpiles. I think it‘s unlikely that we will find any stockpiles. And we have to now go back through and find out why we had a different judgment. What I have found over the last year and several months is that some of the sourcing that was used to give me the basis upon which to bring forward that judgment to the United Nations were flawed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “New York Times” correspondent Todd Purdum is the author of “A Time of our Choosing: America‘s War in Iraq.”
Let‘s go back over this, since this is going to be the major issue of the campaign.
You can see it coming. We lost three more guys today, three more killed in action today, well over 1,000 now, 7,000 injuries or wounded, half of them really seriously. These people are out of action. What your the sense of the way the news is running? Are we giving enough attention to the war in Iraq?
TODD PURDUM, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: I think it‘s been shut out by some other things. It‘s been shut out by the conventions. It‘s been shut out by the activity in Russia, the whole...
MATTHEWS: How about Martha Stewart and Kobe and all that other stuff?
PURDUM: Well, you could say all of that, too. But it‘s one of the things where there‘s steady, accretive death day after day after day.
PURDUM: And it fades from the headlines. You see page-one pictures of dramatic oil pipelines fires and so forth.
PURDUM: But the main program, Chris, is, it‘s a terrible problem for both candidates. Neither one really wants to talk about it.
Bush is boxed in on the ground. It‘s a terrible situation. He doesn‘t really want to talk about it more than he has to. And John Kerry, who ought to be able to distinguish himself from Bush on the issue, doesn‘t want to talk about it because he voted for the resolution authorizing war.
MATTHEWS: The day after we have this election, November 3, “The New York Times” goes to press, will there be a sidebar that says, if Bush wins, wins by a million votes, a clear vote, unlike last time, will the sidebar say Bush‘s war policy confirmed gratified by the public?
PURDUM: I think in some ways, it‘s hard to avoid...
MATTHEWS: Will the world read it that way as well?
PURDUM: I think President Bush will read it that way. I‘m not sure whether the world will read it that way, because I think world opinion is more than ever angry and exercised.
MATTHEWS: But will they see the American people now in league with their government? Even now we hear that when you go abroad, people will say, I‘m not mad at you. I‘m mad at your government. Once we, the American people, ratify this administration‘s war policy, is there a difference anymore?
PURDUM: I think it‘s an interesting question. But I think part of the reason that the public may not give a clear answer is because both sides have fuzzed it up. Both sides have kind of fuzzed it up in presenting the choice to the voters and it‘s not as clear as it should be in some ways.
MATTHEWS: In your reporting, where was the president right in making his predictions regarding the war? On WMD, was he right?
PURDUM: Turns out not to be right.
MATTHEWS: Was he right about it being received well and not facing any serious insurgency?
PURDUM: Right in some places, wrong in a lot of other important places.
MATTHEWS: What about the cost of the war being borne by the Iraqi oil supplies?
PURDUM: Sort of wrong so far.
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking for right.
PURDUM: Well, he was right in saying that this vicious dictator was wreaking havoc on all kinds of individual lives and...
MATTHEWS: That wasn‘t in contention.
But you can‘t argue, Chris, that the principal...
PURDUM: ... operative immediate rationales he advanced for the war
have not borne fruit. And that is why it‘s puzzling to me as an observer
that John Kerry has not been able to get
MATTHEWS: “The New York Times” is one of the few great newspapers, along with “The Baltimore Sun” and a few other papers that aren‘t quite as big, in having bureaus around the world. Does your reporting around the world say that we are stronger in terms of fighting terrorism around the world because of having gone to Iraq or weaker?
PURDUM: I would say that a lot of reporting around the world these days is raising real doubts about whether governments and citizens in other countries think we are weaker or stronger. They certainly don‘t think necessarily that we‘re safer, and they don‘t feel safer.
MATTHEWS: Is there less recruiting for al Qaeda because of us going to Iraq?
PURDUM: I think it‘s a really hard question to answer, because, as Senator Bob Graham and others have said, a lot of the war in Iraq has detracted attention from focus on al Qaeda around the world.
MATTHEWS: You guys had a lead story today on the right-hand column, the major column for “The New York Times,” that showed the national intelligence estimates, which come out of all of our intelligence community put together, put out by McLaughlin, the No. 1 guy still.
And it shows that this war could end up being a civil war over there, that we could find ourselves on one side of a war, where the country of Iraq has come out against us.
PURDUM: And the best-case scenario that they offer is something sort of like what we have now, very tenuous stability on economic security and military grounds.
And part of the problem is, of course, that those national intelligence estimates, as you remember, the last one in October 2002 on Iraq squarely said, Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons. That turned out to be wrong. So, in a way, this new intelligence estimate also kind of fuzzes up the thing.
MATTHEWS: What happened to Colin Powell? Why did he stop being a break on bad policy or good policy? Why did he stop being a player and just go along with Bush?
PURDUM: My impression is, he felt he was being the biggest break he could. His whole life is in the military. He‘s a military man through and through.
I don‘t think he saw quitting as a viable option. And I think he thought, as long as he had to stay there, he had to shape the policy as best he could.
MATTHEWS: And they used him to sell the intel.
PURDUM: He certainly went to the U.N. and made their case.
MATTHEWS: They sold—they used him as their No. 1 salesman for the intel.
Anyway, thank you very much, Todd Purdum.
PURDUM: Thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: Your book, “A Time of our Choosing: America‘s War in Iraq.”
A great reporter.
Tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern, don‘t miss “HARDBALL: The Horse Race.” We‘ll have all the week‘s news, all the polls, all the presidential campaigning, all the hot races across the country.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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