Guest: Saeb Erekat, Martin Indyk, Ed Walker, Susan Molinari
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Yasser Arafat is buried in Ramallah, but Palestinian militants are demanding more war on Israel, even screaming that Arafat was assassinated. Tonight, we look at the challenges to peace in the Middle East and what role the United States should play.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. A chaotic and emotional scene in Ramallah earlier today as Palestinians clamored to say goodbye to their leader of nearly 40 years. NBC‘s Preston Mendenhall is in Ramallah.
Preston, describe that scene we‘re looking at. What does it feel like to have been there?
PRESTON MENDENHALL, NBC NEWS: Well, it was an emotional outpouring of grief and in some cases rage here. We saw tens of thousands of Palestinians gather at the compound where Yasser Arafat has spent the last three years of his life. And once they were at the compound, it became very clear they were not going to be satisfied with staying outside. That was the original plan, to keep them out until an official ceremony inside was complete. But they overwhelmed the guards at the gate and poured over the walls, tens of thousands of them. It was even difficult for the helicopter, the Egyptian helicopter carrying Yasser Arafat, to land. It took an hour for him to—for the body to be removed from the helicopter. It went inside the compound to a brief ceremony indoors, and then out to his final resting place, a grave that they have been building for the last 24 hours feverishly, trying to complete before today—Chris.
MATTHEWS: When you‘re in that crowd, when you‘re in that crowd, do you sense the presence of people who are more extreme than Fatah, people like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Are they all in there, as well, in that crowd?
MENDENHALL: Well, we didn‘t see some of the masked type militants that we had seen in previous days marching around the compound. There seemed to be an effort to have people leave their guns at home. Many of the guns we were hearing today, at least initially, were from the security guards trying to establish some sort of order. But then later in the day, it did seem that some more of the weapons were infiltrating into the compound, held by private individuals and perhaps militants.
Some of the chants we heard today, Chris, one is this persistent rumor on the Palestinian street that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by the Israelis. That‘s, of course, been discounted by French doctors, by the Israelis, of course, and also by Palestinian officials. But there‘s still a great deal of mystery surrounding his illness. One of the chants today was “we will drink the blood of those who poisoned Yasser Arafat”—Chris.
MATTHEWS: What sense do you have, that the people in that situation that matters over there, the people in the streets, I should say, and the political types, that will buy any of that?
MENDENHALL: Well, the political types here say they‘ve been working overtime to try and come to agreements with groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and over here in the West Bank with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. And by and large over the last couple of weeks, things have been relatively quiet. There‘s a 40-day mourning period, where one could expect that it will remain quiet while this mourning period is observed. And then there‘s a concurrent 60-day period until elections must be held.
The Palestinians are putting a very public show of unity on the situation here and quickly enacting the laws that guarantee the transition of power here. But certainly, we‘re going to have to watch very closely in the coming days.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Preston Mendenhall. Saeb Erekat was on that helicopter today as Yasser Arafat was brought back to Ramallah. He served as the chief Palestinian negotiator during peace talks. He is also a Palestinian cabinet minister, and joins us now by phone from Jericho. Saeb, Mr. Erekat, thank you for joining us right now. I spoke with you a couple of years ago at your home out there in Jericho.
Let me ask you, do you think these rumors about assassination of Mr. Arafat are going to capture anybody‘s credibility? Will they believe it over there?
SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I hope that people will believe what—the report from the French doctors specified.
EREKAT: As you reported, this was an emotional pouring out today. And I‘m sure that with time, people would read very carefully what the French doctors and take it.
MATTHEWS: What is the outlook over there? You‘ve been very active, in fact, you‘ve been leading the peace talks. You‘ve tried to get peace over there. Very hard. Are you more or less optimistic about the chances for a Palestinian state now than you were a week ago?
EREKAT: Well, Chris, this will depend on two things. One, Palestinian elections within 60 days. I think we are at a turning point now. The opportunity must be achieved, and Palestinians must be allowed to have free and fair elections to elect their president.
I think if we are able to do that, and Palestinian people deserve—deserve to go on the path to democracy, accountability, peace and transparency. Failure to conduct elections in 60 days will lead to more chaos, lawlessness, violence and counterviolence. So I really urge President Bush tonight to seize the opportunity, to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to enable us to carry free and fair presidential elections for (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian leadership, and he‘s been talking about the larger Middle East, talking about democracy.
Mr. President, we are ready for democracy. Please replace the Israeli tanks from all the populated areas, with American observers, British observers, French observers, Belgian observers, so we can take our people on the path to democracy and peace.
I believe if we can pull out (ph) this thing tonight, Chris, I believe we will make history.
The second element here, Chris, is the question that I put to the Israelis. Are you ready for the requirements of peace? Are you ready for a two-state solution? Are you ready to implement President Bush‘s regiment for a two-state solution?
Because if the Israelis are not ready to deliver on the two-state solution, I‘m afraid that if we bring Mother Teresa to be the president of the Palestinians, Martin Luther King to be the speaker of our House, and Nelson Mandela to be the prime minister, and Mahatma Gandhi to take my job and become the chief negotiator, the Israelis will soon link them to terrorism and this will be echoed by some voices in Washington.
President Arafat was the first Palestinian leader to recognize Israel‘s right to exist in 78 percent of historic Palestine, accepted 22 percent of the land to be the Palestinian state. He came a long way, but yet because Israel was unable to deliver, it was a costly road, to slug us, to blame on us, to assign blame on us, that we failed, that we did not accept and signed (ph). And if it‘s my word against any Israelis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Congress and Senate, I don‘t stand a chance. I believe the only way to save lives is that commitment to peace must now prevail over anything else.
I believe we can do it. So, these two dimensions will determine the next 50 years of this region‘s history. Palestinian elections, a meaningful peace process, will be the key to solution in Iraq, also. Will be the key to democratization in the Middle East.
So, I hope that President Bush will have the leadership and the vision and the courage to stand shoulder to shoulder in order to carry out the elections, and in order to resume a meaningful peace process, leading to the end of the Israeli occupation and to the two-state solution. Failure to do so will keep sliding us towards chaos, anarchy, lawlessness and the rule of militias. And I urge and pray...
MATTHEWS: Mr. Erekat, I have got to ask you two particulars. The United States‘ role in free and fair elections in the next 60 days, do we have any role as a country, and do the Israelis have to drop the roadblocks and the other obstacles to movement over there in the West Bank especially for you to have fair elections? What are the specifics of U.S. and Israeli participation you want to see?
EREKAT: Chris, No. 1, the United States is the head of the international Palestinian steering committee for the elections, along with Norway, Canada, Japan and the European Union. And they have a big role to play in order to convince the Israeli government to remove their tanks from our population centers, to remove the roadblocks in order to enable us to have a free and fair electoral system, to have the candidates campaign freely, move freely, and in 60 days, we can do it.
These are the two elements required. Leadership by President Bush, to enable us to carry out these elections, and secondly, the Israelis to abide by the agreements we signed with them in 1995, in which the last presidential election was held in 1996. We can go with the same terms of preferences of the 1996 election. It‘s doable. Let‘s do it. Let‘s seize this historic movement, because if we don‘t seize it, I don‘t know how many decades we‘ll have to wait and how many thousands of Palestinians and Israelis will die.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Mahmoud Abbas. He was prime minister for a while, and he seemed to be undermined by Yasser Arafat and his continued authority over the PA over there, the Palestinian Authority. Do you think Mahmoud Abbas could possibly emerge as the leader of the Palestinian people?
EREKAT: Yes, I think so. Mr. Mahmoud Abbas was yesterday elected unanimously, and when we met in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) committee. And I think Fatah Party most likely will nominate him to be the candidate of our party, and we can—I believe we can carry out in a free and fair elections, Mr. Abbas will be elected. I believe this all depends on elections, because either it will be by popular vote, free and fair elections. And I‘m afraid if we don‘t do that, the undermining of our leaders would continue and we would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as I said towards chaos, lawlessness and militia. So I hope that this historic opportunity will be seized by President Bush.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Saeb Erekat. Up next, after Arafat, how will the United States policy change? We‘ll ask two former U.S. ambassadors to Israel, Ed Walker and Martin Indyk. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. For Israeli reaction to Arafat‘s death, let‘s turn to NBC‘s Martin Fletcher in Tel Aviv. Martin, what is the reaction? I guess let‘s start with the regular people, the Israeli political middle, the average guy, woman in the street. What is it?
MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, as you can imagine, it‘s pretty much good riddance, I‘m afraid. The Israelis saw Yasser Arafat as an enemy, a terrorist, a man who they tried to make peace with. On Yitzhak Rabin, Israel they felt made tremendous concessions and then again under Prime Minister El Barak in the end, Arafat, they say, they feel went against all those agreements and launched a war of terror, killing hundreds or thousands of Israelis in the last three, four years. So, the death of Yasser Arafat was celebrated by some Israelis. As I say, good riddance is certainly the feeling among many of the people. The politicians, on the other hand, rather saying this is a possible way forward and maybe the dawn of a new era, grand phrases, of course, but the Israelis are playing—or the government anyway, a low profile and hoping something good can come out of it—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Is that hopeful sentiment a result of the sense that Yasser Arafat was for so many recent years a dog in the manger, someone preventing the Palestinians from having to come up with a real leader?
FLETCHER: Well, sure, you know, it‘s such a conspiracy theory here. Prime Minister Sharon, on the one hand, says he wants to pull out of Gaza next year and the Israelis tend to believe him. But the idea that he will then pull out of the West Bank, is a a complete nonstarter for Sharon, having Yasser Arafat stuck in his Ramallah headquarters, the compound as a virtual prisoner, being—appearing the obstacle to peace may have served the purpose of Prime Minister Sharon. So, now that Arafat‘s gone, the obstacle to peace has gone. Now, of course, Sharon has to come forward and negotiate with whatever leaders emerge from the Palestinian people, probably—probably Mahmoud Abbas. So, it will no longer do for Sharon to say there‘s no partner, no Palestinian with whom he can talk peace. Now, of course, it will be a question of real compromises on both sides, and that is, of course, what the basis of any future peace process will be, real compromise by both sides.
MATTHEWS: We just had Saeb Erekat come on the program and say that he wants Israel to remove all the roadblocks so they can have an election. Do you think he might do that on the West Bank?
FLETCHER: I‘m sure the Palestinians want that and the Israelis‘ response—I‘m no spokesmen for the Israelis, of course, but the Israeli response would certainly be we want to remove those roadblocks, we don‘t want to keep the Palestinian prisoners but those roadblocks are there for a reason, and that‘s to stop terrorists. The roadblocks are very effective and so is the wall that Israel has built. Those roadblocks and that wall have stopped terrorist attacks in Israel dramatically in the last year. There‘s only been about 10 successful suicide attacks this year in Israel compared to about 60 last year.
So clearly, these roadblocks, the notorious wall are very effective measures against terrorism and sure the Palestinians want those roadblocks removed. They say they want Israeli troops out of Palestinian cities, but at the same time, as I say, they‘re there for a reason, that‘s to stop terrorists. It works. And so Israel would say, look, if you stop the terrorists, the Palestinian leaders, if you stop the terrorists, we‘ll take away our soldiers. Fair deal.
MATTHEWS: Hard to argue with that. Thank you very much. Martin Fletcher in Tel Aviv for NBC.
Martin Indyk served as ambassador to Israel and assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern Affairs during the Clinton administration. He‘s now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Ed Walker is also a former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt. He also served as assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern Affairs during the Clinton and the current Bush administrations. He‘s now the president of the Middle East Institute.
Mr. Indyk, let me start with you. Do you see any diplomatic opportunity for the west to help bring about elections in the Palestinian territories and then ultimately some peace deal with the Israelis?
MARTIN INDYK, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Sure. There‘s a very big opportunity. I think that Yasser Arafat in recent years had become a very big obstacle in a road of progress towards peace. Neither President Bush nor Prime Minister Sharon nor any leader in Israel would have anything to do with what they regard as a serial breaker of commitments. Now that he‘s gone, and the likely successor is a Abu Mazen, somebody that they‘ve both dealt with and they both liked, and who is a man who has stood up and told his people that terrorism is bad for them, morally wrong and politically very damaging to their cause. They have the potential now to deal with the Palestinian partner who‘s responsible and perhaps capable and if he goes to an election as I think he will have to do in the next 60 days, he‘ll also be legitimate and accountable to the Palestinian people. So, there‘s a very big opportunity. But as we know, it‘s the Middle East and there are a lot of terrorists and militias and all sorts of other obstacles in the way.
MATTHEWS: Former prime minister Shimon Peres used to say the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Ambassador Walker, do you believe that Mahmoud Abbas, if he wins the Fatah nomination for president, becomes their candidate, he wins over there, do you think he could consolidate his authority on the West Bank?
ED WALKER, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: I think it‘s going to be a little harder than that. It‘s not just the question of an election. You have a lot of people in the West Bank still terribly frustrated, people who don‘t have jobs, 60 percent unemployment. You‘ve got years of anger at the Israelis and vice versa. It‘s going to be very hard for him to calm the troubled waters. He‘s going to need a lot of help and I was very pleased to see President Bush saying today he‘d do everything he could to help make the elections come across. But it‘s a lot more than elections. We‘re going to have to see changes in the Palestinian governance, more transparency, greater democracy, before I think they can re-establish warm and reasonable relations with their Israeli counterparts. And both sides will have to make concessions fairly early on to give each other credibility. So, I‘d say it‘s a tough road to go.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ambassador Indyk. You, sir, give me the steps that would have to be taken by the Palestinians first, then the United States and Israel to get back on the track of the road map?
INDYK: Well, the first thing that has to happen is the elections, and that‘s supposed to happen in 60 days. You already heard from Saeb Erekat about what would be required there, and the discussion about pulling the Israeli army back. They would therefore, I think for that to operate, there would have to be a cease-fire on the Palestinian side, at least, with Hamas agreeing not to conduct terrorist attacks in the first phase.
And then in order for there to be elections, there is going to have to be some regulations. You noticed Saeb slipped in there about the ‘95 rules. Well, what he‘s talking about is having Palestinians in Jerusalem vote, as they did in ‘95, ‘96, and that is something that Ariel Sharon may have a problem with. So the president of the United States is going to be involved in this from the get-go on the question of redeployment of Israeli forces and the question of Palestinians in Jerusalem voting.
Then, when you get to the next phase, as both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush laid out today, there is the Gaza disengagement and the withdrawal of the Israeli forces and the Israeli settlements from Gaza. If that‘s coordinated with an elected Palestinian leadership, that can give them greater legitimacy, by showing that they can deliver to the Palestinians, and showing to the Israelis that they can exercise authority in all of Gaza.
The step after that is what happens in the West Bank. And there the president today talked about the road map, resurrecting the road map, whereas Tony Blair talked about going straight to final status negotiations. The road map provides for three phases, and the final status negotiations are only in the third phase. Whereas the Europeans seem to be saying, let‘s do Gaza disengagement and then let‘s jump to the third phrase.
Ariel Sharon will not want to jump the first two phases. The first phase requires the Palestinians to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. The second phase requires a state with provisional borders, something which Sharon can accept much more easily, than having to withdraw from most of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem, which is implied in final status negotiations.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be back with more with Ambassadors Walker and Indyk on the impact of Arafat‘s death when we return. And later, General Wayne Downing on the fighting in Fallujah and the uprisings breaking out in other cities in Iraq.
And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim Russert interviews British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And you can watch “MEET THE PRESS” here on MSNBC Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with former Ambassadors Martin Indyk and Ed Walker. Ambassador Walker, it seems like a tricky diplomatic effort we‘re undertaking over there. We don‘t send a high-level delegation to the funeral of Yasser Arafat, because we don‘t want to look like we‘re too close to the upcoming new government of the Palestinian territories. Is that the message people are getting in the Middle East, or are they getting a sense that we‘re just once again taking Israel‘s side against the Arabs?
WALKER: No, I don‘t think that that should be the message. Some people may think it is the message. But we‘ve known Abu Mazen for a long time, we‘ve worked with him very closely. I don‘t think that we can tarnish him in any sense by dealing with him at this point.
I thought it was a natural decision to send the assistant secretary.
I would as a former assistant secretary—to the funeral.
WALKER: But I think the real issue is what is the president going to do? And he said today he would become engaged, and, boy, he is going to be in a serious problem here because of the thing that Martin talked about, and that is the question of who‘s going to vote in Jerusalem.
This has always been a major sticking point. I don‘t see how Abu Mazen can go to the polls if he agrees not to have Jerusalemites vote in the election. On the other hand, I don‘t see how Sharon, who has pledged not to allow Arafat to be buried in Jerusalem, will be able to move on this. I think it is the president that‘s going to have to move them if we‘re going to have a successful election. So, big problems early on.
MATTHEWS: Are you saying that the Israeli position might be that no Arabs living in the greater Israeli definition of Jerusalem, that huge mass of land over there, with all the Arabs in it, that Sharon will not let those Arabs vote?
WALKER: That was the case before. We reached a compromise. Martin was involved in it before. And it was not taken as a symbol of sovereignty in any sense of the word, but they voted more or less as absentee voters, although we didn‘t use those terms.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ambassador Martin Indyk. Mr. Indyk, is that -
· how do you work out a wrinkle like this where a huge number of Arabs living on the West Bank and within East Jerusalem, and it‘s a broad definition of that to start with, if they can‘t vote?
INDYK: Well, I think we‘re talking about—actually about 200,000 people. I‘m not sure whether they all have votes, but the way it was done the last time was that essentially they voted in post offices in East Jerusalem, so it was like a postal ballot. It had no implication for the sovereignty of Jerusalem. It was like an absentee ballot by Palestinians there. They were connected to the Palestinian Authority by virtue of having a vote, but they—where they lived was not determinate in any way in terms of sovereignty.
So, there is a way of finessing this, with the president of the United States making clear to Sharon, on the one hand that you can‘t have an election unless Palestinians in Jerusalem vote, but on the other hand, this is not implying anything about the sovereignty issue in Jerusalem.
MATTHEWS: I got you. It‘s like letting Mexicans living in America vote for the Mexican president.
Anyway, thank you very much, Ambassador Ed Walker and Ambassador Martin Indyk. Up next, General Wayne Downing on the increase of insurgent attacks in other Iraqi cities as U.S. forces continue the big battle in Fallujah.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Violence continued in Iraq today, as U.S. forces continued the battle to take control of Fallujah. Military officials announced that 80 percent of the city is now under U.S. control and that 22 U.S. soldiers have been killed and over 170 have been wounded in the assault.
Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents appear to have opened up a new front in the city of Mosul, where the local police force has been overrun. North of Baghdad, a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down, injuring three crewmen aboard. This is the third U.S. helicopter downed this week by insurgents.
In a press conference today, President Bush warned of more violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As those elections draw near, the desperation of the killers will grow and the violence could escalate. The success of democracy in Iraq will be a crushing blow to the forces of terror, and the terrorists know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Retired General Wayne Downing is an NBC News military analyst.
General, is that the way you see it? If the United States reclaims security within a city like Fallujah, does that mean we‘re winning?
RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Chris, Fallujah is just one battle in what has got to be a very, very large campaign.
The analogy I like to draw is, it‘s like when you live out West and you have got problems with prairie dogs. When you want to take out a colony, you just can‘t take out one or two holes. And when you go after prairie dogs, you‘ve got to go after the entire colony, every place they live, every place they operate.
And so, what I‘m hoping is that this operation in Fallujah, while it‘s very, very key, it‘s probably the prairie dogs‘ key location—it‘s where they‘ve been really basing the insurgency out of—I‘ve got to think that the operations just didn‘t take place in Fallujah, but we‘re going to have to have operations in all these other areas.
And, by the way, Chris, the operations have gone extremely well. You know, I think the soldiers and the Marines, their commanders, have done a good job planning the operation and executing it. But you get some feel for the intensity of this urban combat by these casualties figures, 22 killed, 170-some-odd wounded. Chris, that‘s a very high number. And that‘s what happens when you fight in these urban areas.
MATTHEWS: Do we know if the insurgents are limited in number or they‘re growing in number? If they‘re prairie dogs, are they multiplying?
DOWNING: Well, see, that‘s very disturbing, Chris, because you take the assessments of, say, six or seven months ago, eight months, you know, perhaps the forces in Iraq thought we had about 1,000 insurgents. Then that number jumped up about 90 days ago to about 5,000.
Now you‘re hearing talk of perhaps 10,000 or 12,000 insurgents. Of course, it‘s just not that number. It‘s how dedicated are they, how committed are they. We know that a significant number of these are mercenaries, many of them former Iraqi security officials and military people who are actually doing this for money. Another group are criminals. You can expect these types to perhaps drop off.
The things that you‘ve got to worry about are the hard-core foreign fighters, which is maybe 1,000 or so, and then some of the hard-core Baathists and what they call former regime elements.
MATTHEWS: Well, how many...
DOWNING: But there is a sizable number there.
MATTHEWS: How many of them are simply Arabs living in Iraq, Iraqi nationals, who don‘t like a foreign presence and they‘re militant enough to go off and join and risk their lives to kill Americans to get us out of there? How many of them are there?
DOWNING: Probably 75 percent of them, Chris.
But, again, they come with different motivations. And one of the mistakes you can make when you go after these insurgencies is to treat all the insurgents as the same group, because they‘re not. They‘ve got different motivations. They‘ve even got different styles.
And so what you‘ve got to do is, you‘ve got to adjust your tactics so that you take them out. Now, the good news, Chris, in the last six months is the fact that we‘ve pretty much bargained or cajoled or threatened the Shia elements back into the political process. And, of course, now you see the reaction here on the Sunni side. And, you know, what we‘re trying to do, what Allawi is trying to do, is talk the Sunnis into participating in this political process.
And, of course, Chris, this is all about security. This is all about security for the elections, for economic development and for the restoration of services. And think about this. They‘re going to have elections in 2 ½ months over there. They want to have the elections finished by the end of January. That‘s not, you know, paved in stone.
But if we don‘t get the security situation solved in the Sunni—so-called Sunni Triangle, we may have an election in Iraq which doesn‘t even take place. For example, there‘s been no voter registration in Al Anbar Province, which is where the Sunni Triangle is, or encompasses a lot of the Sunni Triangle. That means you‘re going to have about less than 20 percent, 18 percent or so of the population—the Sunnis who are not going to participate in the election.
Can you have a valid election? Can the result stick? So, these are very, very high stakes, Chris. It‘s not just putting down this insurgency. It‘s why we‘re putting it down.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, General, I want you to outline where you see other violence breaking out in Iraq while we‘re fighting about Fallujah. You‘re talking about prairie dogs, and that metaphor makes sense to me, an Easterner, but when they‘re—tell me where else we‘re facing trouble over there, more violence over there from the insurgency.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with Wayne Downing for an assessment, not just of the battle of Fallujah, but the whole war scene over there in Iraq.
And Monday, a HARDBALL-“Newsweek” special report, “The Passion of the Right.” We‘ll examine the relationship between President Bush and the religious right heading into the president‘s second term.
That‘s Monday at 7:00 Eastern time here on HARDBALL—this Monday.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, on the ground in Iraq, General Wayne Downing on new uprisings in Iraq—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with General Wayne Downing.
General, you talked about violence breaking out in other places besides Fallujah. Where else are we going to face trouble over there?
DOWNING: Well, Chris, we‘ve had a big outbreak of trouble up in Mosul, which is about 200 miles to the northwest. That‘s about the northern limit of what we call the Sunni Triangle.
So far, Tikrit has been fairly quiet, Samarra quiet. But the lines of communication, the roads that we use for supplies, roads that we use for commerce have had a series of attacks on them against convoys, not only military convoys, but economic convoys. So, this has primarily spread right now to Mosul.
It is going to be interesting to see if that is going to be put down. Now, one of the interesting things that happened today is the Iraqis begin to shift forces. They‘re taking national guard forces and moving them from the border down into the Mosul area. Now, one of the impacts of that, though, is that these national guard forces, these battalions that are moving in, are Kurds. And, of course, the Kurds and the Arabs have got some old feuds in this area.
DOWNING: So, using the Kurds to put down the Sunni Arab uprising is not going to go well with a lot of the people in Mosul, I predict. But, you know, the Kurds are good. They‘re tough fighters.
I‘ve seen these Peshmerga over the years. I saw them during the first Gulf War. And these guys are tough and disciplined. But you do have that animosity between those two groups.
DOWNING: Kurds and Sunni Arabs. So we have just got to see how this develops now, Chris.
MATTHEWS: General, you said a moment ago, before the break, that we have got to adapt different methods for dealing with different opponents over there.
MATTHEWS: The Baathists, the remnants of the last regime, of Saddam Hussein‘s regime.
MATTHEWS: The nationalists, or people who simply join it for militant reasons, because they don‘t like us there.
MATTHEWS: And of course the terrorists coming from outside. How do the methods of our counterinsurgency work in each case?
DOWNING: Well, Chris, one of the things I think we‘ve got to try to do, and we are trying to do, is—Allawi has tried to do this.
He wants to get the Sunnis, who had the ideological motivation, to come out and join the political process. You know, we got this very, very difficult cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, to so-call disband his Mahdi Army, but we got them off the streets with their weapons. And al-Sadr is forming a political party, has formed one, and so he‘s in the political process, which is what we want.
We‘d like to get more of the Sunnis to give this up and come in and join the same process. The actual hard-core Baathists, the hard-core pro-Saddam Hussein guys, the former internal security guys, we‘re going to have to kill them, just like we‘re going to have to kill the foreign fighters. The criminals, you know, we can—you know, we can get them—perhaps if you make it hard on them, they‘ll go someplace else.
And then the mercenaries, also, once they see their money dry up or once they see the danger is too high to them, they‘ll go someplace else. So, you know, that‘s kind of how you‘ve got to style your approach. You use your psychological operations campaigns, your proselyting to try to go in and break these groups up. They‘re not really working very closely together. There is some cooperation. Each one of these groups more or less is following their own campaign.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, General Wayne Downing. We‘re fortunate to have you.
Up next, sorting out voting irregularities in Ohio, we‘ll talk about that with Joe Trippi and Susan Molinari when we come back.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: In Ohio, December is usually the month when Buckeye State residents think about the Rose Bowl. This year, they will be thinking of a contest of a different kind. Ten days after the presidential election, officials in the Buckeye State are still trying to sort out voting irregularities that have been the talk of the Internet. Now the examination is moving beyond the Net.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For about $110,000, Ohio election law says that any presidential candidate can get a statewide recount. Lawyers for the Kerry campaign are in Ohio this weekend to observe the counting of 155,000 provisional ballots. And even though they believe President Bush won the state and the election, a second look at every Ohio vote is now inevitable.
RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was hijacked from A to Z.
SHUSTER: With the support of Ralph Nader, third-party candidates you‘ve probably never heard of are joining forces. Green Party candidate David Cobb in Ohio received a total of 24 votes. Libertarian Michael Badnarik received 14,000.
Together, they‘ve already raised most of the money needed for a statewide recount and they are demanding the review of all 5 ½ million votes.
STEPHEN GORDON, BADNARIK SPOKESMAN: Running an election system on a P.C. is crazy.
SHUSTER: The rumor about Ohio began to fly on election night. Kenyon College had been given only two voting machines, forcing students, mostly Democrats, to wait in line up to nine hours. Bush critics claim without evidence that was deliberate.
The critics also point to Warren County, a Republican stronghold. Election officials there said the FBI warned them of a terrorist threat, so county officials walled off the vote tabulation from reporters. But officials at the FBI say they never notified anybody in Warren County of any such terrorist threat.
In another part of Ohio, a computer glitch initially gave President Bush an extra 4,000 votes. But despite the stories on the Internet, it was caught and corrected. And then there were the exit polls, seized on by Democrats, which showed John Kerry winning the state. Nonpartisan election watchers point out, there are always problems, but say there‘s been no evidence this election was stolen.
DOUG CHAPIN, DIRECTOR, ELECTIONLINE.ORG: I think these are conspiracy theories. I think they are consistent with the phenomenon we‘ve seen on the Internet in recent years.
SHUSTER: A phenomenon where stories circulate without being confirmed. But now the focus is on Ohio‘s fairly straightforward recount process; 70 percent of the state used chad-producing punch card ballots, and, unlike Florida four years ago, the rules are quite specific on what it takes for a vote to count.
(on camera): Based on Ohio‘s certification deadline, any recount is still a few weeks away. But the third-party candidates say nothing is going to stop them. And though they acknowledge the numbers aren‘t there to change the election, they maintain they will be doing Ohio and the nation a favor.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: For more on developments in Ohio, we turn to former New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari. She‘s a Republican. And Joe Trippi, our MSNBC blog guru.
Joe, what do you make of these complaints, these irregularity charges? Do they stack up to a real cause to believe the election was stolen in Ohio?
JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I don‘t know if they stack up to that. But what they do stack up to is, when the blogs get percolating like this, it usually means they‘re really reflecting the concern of a lot of people out there.
There are thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans commenting on
these blogs. So when you see this many Americans actually saying, hey, we
think something went wrong, we think this election was stolen, it is
actually healthy that that process has now led to a recount and that the
Kerry team is sending people in to watch, because what comes out of this
is, if it is just conspiracy theory, it is proven that it was a conspiracy
· that it was just that.
MATTHEWS: Is that your true belief? Joe, do you really believe that the bloggers who are out on the fringe there, the people who are putting up these smoke signals now from hell, saying that this election was stolen—do you think Ralph Nader is ever going to admit he was wrong?
MATTHEWS: He‘s out there talking about theft of an election. I just saw the tape. He never comes back and says he was wrong.
TRIPPI: No, I don‘t think Ralph Nader will.
But I think what is important here, particularly for our democracy—and I don‘t think we should take this lightly—if this many Americans believe, particularly after 2000, that this election was stolen, it is important that every vote is counted and that there are already concerns that those that are in charge of this, the election officials, the campaign officials, and the press, puts the scrutiny on it and finds out whether there were problems or not and reports it.
In that sense, the blogosphere did a service to the country in a way I really think the press and the candidates, Kerry walking away from it, without really pressing to have every count vote counted and make sure that these issues were ironed out, so that the people know this election was won fair and square. That is better for Bush. It is better for the Democrats. It‘s better for all of us.
TRIPPI: And that is where the blogs came in.
MATTHEWS: Susan Molinari, this sounds like the Arabs in the West Bank who said that Yasser Arafat was assassinated by the Israelis. What do you make of it?
SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, obviously, blogging has to be taken for what it is, with all due respect to Joe Trippi.
It is an opportunity for people to carry on without any consequence to their actions and what they allege. Look, even if you count all the provisional ballots in Ohio, and if they all went to Kerry, George Bush still wins Ohio and still wins the presidency. So we‘re going through this activity and we‘re going to make these allegations that George Bush is not the president of the entire United States.
But, fortunately, the majority of American are moving forward. I think Senator Kerry did the right thing by allowing this country to attempt to come together on a pretty ambitious schedule of reforming, tax reform, Social Security, trying to get the war in Iraq with a handle on it. There‘s a lot of work to be done. And this is just, I think, a distraction. And every vote should be counted. But, clearly, there are places all over the United States where the Republican votes are not counted.
Joe, come with me to New York City someday and I‘ll take to you some areas of New York where we‘re quite clear that there have always been problems and irregularities.
TRIPPI: Susan, I‘m not disagreeing with you.
What I‘m saying is that if these—it‘s like, when a conspiracy theory takes hold and starts rolling, there is a responsibility, then, for the press and for the officials to prove it wrong. And that‘s what I think is healthy about this process. When it is done, we will know that George Bush was the duly elected president of the United States or we will find out that these aren‘t conspiracy theories, that there is something really wrong with the process. That‘s good. That‘s important. I‘m not disagreeing with you about this stuff.
MOLINARI: Absolutely. And I don‘t disagree with you on that point.
I guess, just somewhere in the future, we have to find in this brave new world of ours, who holds the bloggers accountable? Or are we allowed to, at any moment‘s notice, go off on this venture and say, right, not right? Or, to Chris‘s point, when do you say, oh, I guess I was wrong, I‘m sorry, a la Election Day exit polling. That was sort of thrown all over the universe on blogs.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Joe, give us some hope here. How long will it take to get a clear-cut recount?
TRIPPI: I have no idea how long that is going to take. I would I hope it would be over soon, relatively quickly.
But I think what is more important now is that, if we‘re going to dispel these theories, that we go through this process. And I think that was the problem that happened at the end of Florida in 2000. By not proceeding through the process, we left hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Americans, out there believing to this day that that election was stolen. We can‘t—our democracy cannot afford that in 2004.
That‘s what—I think the blogs did a good thing here. And I think it‘s good that we‘re having this recount. I don‘t think it should go on. I don‘t think there should be recriminations and divisions after it is over. But I think it was healthy that the blogs began this. I actually think this speaks more towards what is the press‘ responsibility and the two parties‘ responsibility to ensure that these issues get carried out, because it wouldn‘t have been done. This would not have been followed up on if the blogs hadn‘t brought it out.
Thank you, Susan Molinari and Joe Trippi.
Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for a HARDBALL-“Newsweek” special report, “The Passion on the Right,” as we explore the religious right‘s influence in a second Bush administration.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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