updated 1/31/2005 2:02:11 PM ET 2005-01-31T19:02:11

Guests: Patrick Lang, David Frum

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER:  This is a special edition of HARDBALL, “Iraq Votes.”

Tonight, the long and treacherous road to democracy, where did it again? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.  The dictator of Iraq is not disarming.  To the contrary, he is deceiving. 

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. 

BUSH:  And the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East. 

ANNOUNCER:  Democracy in action as the people of Iraq choose their destiny.  But can their new leaders bring order to a nation of total chaos? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are determined that we are going to move forward.  And that is really a momentous point in time. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s you‘ve historical for the Iraqi people to be involved, once again, in developing their own futures. 

ANNOUNCER:  But will it be a future of peace and freedom? 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:   I believe that we as Americans, who know how hard the path to democracy is, have to believe that it can. 

ANNOUNCER:  And when will American troops come home? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER:  Now, live from Washington, Chris Matthews. 

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to a special edition of HARDBALL, “Iraq Votes.”

President Bush declared Iraq‘s elections a success today, as millions of Iraqis defied terrorist threats and voted in their country‘s first democratic elections in half-a-century.  While polls were deserted or closed in Sunni areas, Iraqi officials said total turnout appeared higher than expected. 

Earlier, I spoke with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, who is in Baghdad.  And I asked Brian about his sense of this election. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Probably, Chris, in many ways, not yet quantifiable, except for a big-picture sense.

And that is, I don‘t think it is possible for an American viewing television at home this weekend night not to see people voting for the first time in half a century and have basically good feelings about it and feel good for them.  Now, this was not born of traditional American democracy.  There‘s no Adams or Jefferson character here. 

This pedigree, if this turns out to truly be democracy in the making, this first step tonight, was made of JDAMs and failed diplomacy and a whole lot of hurt for the Iraqi people and a whole lot of concern in this region about a dictator and his weapons.  Regardless of how the pieces were cobbled together, a whole lot of people put up with palpable danger and notes on bodies for a week saying, this is what will happen to you if you vote. 

And it seems that in fairly large and sizable numbers, they have voted anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in sports terms, will this be recorded as a strong offense by the people, a willingness to get out there and risk their lives, or a strong effort by the security forces? 

WILLIAMS:  A little bit of both.  This was the debut in many ways of the Iraqi army.  We saw them out on the streets with some Russian pieces of heavy armor. 

Remember, U.S. Army bases this weekend are down to MRE meals only and only two a day, no hot meals.  That is because they want every worker, every soldier, everybody with a uniform and helmet in a Hummer, in a vehicle, out as part of the big physical presence, the show of force. 

So, yes, it‘s a victory there for the security forces.  And please note, the suicide bombers, because of the lockdown, move it and you lose it was the Army slogan this weekend, because of the vehicular lockdown.  They switched to pedestrian suicide bombers this weekend.  And about 15 of them got in here in Baghdad.  So it will also be viewed, yes, as a victory for the political forces here as soon as we figure out what all of these votes mean. 

MATTHEWS:  We know we don‘t have a count for—what, how many days will it take to get a good estimate of the percentage of people who are registered to vote?  I see that there‘s 14 million people registered to vote.  They are 18 or older and they‘re citizens and they‘re registered.  How long will it take us to know what—how many millions of that 14 million actually voted today? 

WILLIAMS:  Minimum a couple of days, minimum eight to 10 days, at the outside, probably firm count, 14 days. 

MATTHEWS:  Who—there was a number being put out earlier today, very early today, U.S. time, East Coast time, of about 70 -- well, it was 72 percent.  It was so precise and it was being bandied about on at least one other network.  Where did that come from? 

WILLIAMS:  What did it remind you of, Chris?  It reminded me of first wave, exit polling.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  Election night in the United States.  And we later found out exactly how precise those numbers were.  And at the time, a lot of us expressed great skepticism, to the point of certainly not putting them on the air. 

So, we‘re going see and hear a lot of that.  And why—the reason I use unquantifiable for portions of this, Chris, when was the last census?  When was the last time somebody came through and counted?  We have been over a whole lot of the real estate in this nation by air and a good bit of it on the ground.  It is not like anything Americans are used to, a lot of people taking their goats across a stretch of land.  And that is their job and their money-maker for that afternoon.

So, having said that, the issue of getting people to the polls, our notions about picturing Chicago ward politics, you have to throw all that out.  This is a new model.  There‘s a way to attach numbers to it.  We‘ll see how they do. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of Chicago—and I want to get back to your initial sort of sensitive, I think almost picturesque notion of today‘s meaning, people going to the polls of their own volition, going not because they are taxed a certain amount, like they are in certain countries, for not voting.  There‘s no penalty for not voting, no prize for voting, except the honor of doing so. 

Was it that clean?  Was there no pushing by American soldiers or coalition forces to make people vote or discourage them from not voting?  Was it a clean turnout, in other words?

WILLIAMS:  I think it was. 

Look, coalition forces, were they involved in the get-out-the-vote effort?  You bet they were, to the extent that part of their job was to make the way safe for people to go to the polls.  And now it can be told there was a whole lot of subterfuge.  There were fake polling places with signs out front in Arabic saying voting here on Sunday. And they were always fakes.  And they were waiting to see how many of them got their doors blown off and who the insurgents were who drove up in the dark of night to wire them to go off.

And then, come this morning, voting day, a whole new bunch of polling places opened up.  Coercion, I think you would be hard-pressed to find that.  Look, the new badge of honor in Iraq today was this indelible ink.  In some places, it was purple.  In others, it was a darker, almost black.  It is going to take a long time to wash off.  And there‘s a terrific metaphor there.  It says, I voted.  I braved what was a palpable, preannounced danger, and I voted.  Those wearing it are happy it‘s going to take a long time to wash off. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well said.  Thank you very much for that report, NBC‘s “Nightly News” anchor, Brian Williams, who is in Baghdad. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Chris. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Retired General Wayne Downing commanded the Special Operations Task Force during the first Gulf War.  He is now an MSNBC military analyst.  And he witnessed Iraq‘s historic elections in Baghdad today.  And General Bernard Trainor is retired from the Marines. 

Let me go to General Downing over there. 

I just want an update on the feeling today.  I haven‘t asked you yet today what it felt like to be an American watching what happened in Baghdad today—General.

RET. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, Chris, it was humbling to me to see the risk, the chances that these people took to come out and vote. 

And I think, by any measure, it was a great turnout.  And I think of our own country, you know, the opportunities that we have, the ease with which we can do this, and the very, very poor turnouts that we get.  So I felt humble to see these people put it really, Chris, literally all on the line. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there still a possibility that the Sunni minority, the 15 percent of the country who will be outnumbered in any voting, will go to civil war? 

TRAINOR:  Chris, I don‘t think so at this time.  I mean, this could come. 

There is the hope that, with a successful election and the political process beginning in earnest now, that some of these fringe Baathists and even fringe insurgents are going to opt to join the political process.  This will be very good.  This constitution, I think, is going to be very, very critical.  One of the key facets of that constitution is, are there going to be the clauses in there to protect the minorities?  The minorities being the Kurds, the minorities being the Arab Sunnis, the Turkmen, the Chaldeans, these type of people.

And the people that I talk to on all sides say that this is going to happen.  If this kind of thing happens and their rights are protected, then I—then I—I think we have got a good chance to avert a civil war.  The jihadists, though, do not want to do this, Chris.  They want to have that fight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, speaking of protection, it was an unusual situation to have a clampdown, a lockdown of the city, no vehicular traffic, as Brian Williams said a moment ago.  No cars or trucks could move in those cities today.  Is that a fair environment in which to judge a potential democracy?  In other words, if you didn‘t have all that, would you have had anybody voting today? 

General Downing. 

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, certainly, Chris, in some areas, you probably would not have. 

But this is an unusual situation.  This is different than anything I have ever been involved in.  I—I actually ran the elections down—down in Haiti back in 1995.  And, you know, we had a lot of work there.  There was some potential for violence, but nothing like this.  We have run elections in the Balkans, again, potential for violence, but nothing like this.  This is a really, really tough environment.  And all I can say is, it took extraordinary measures, which were extremely well executed. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to General Bernard Trainor. 

General Trainor, where does this put the U.S., American military mission in that country?  What was different about—what will be different tomorrow, as opposed to yesterday? 

TRAINOR:  Chris, we‘re certainly not out of the woods yet.  And I think there is still the danger of civil war. And that would be the worst possible situation, because we would be caught right in the middle of it. 

But I think the key to this thing, setting aside the possibility of civil war, is getting the Iraqi security forces up and running.  We have wasted a lot of time and we have wasted a lot of lives in the process.  Now, I don‘t know what their plans are, but it would seem to me that if you come through with a comprehensive training program and then, in my view, and then, in my view, you don‘t put these new troops into a place like the Sunni Triangle, where they‘re apt to break and run, I would think that you would want to isolate the Sunni Triangle and maximize the use of American military forces there with some Iraqis forces, but concentrating on letting these new military troops cut their teeth and get their feet on the ground in the more secure areas. 

And, as they build up their unit cohesion and as they build up their self-confidence and their military skills, then you start to move them into the bad area of the Sunni Triangle and start to withdraw our forces.  I don‘t know if that‘s the plan.  The other thing that I know that we are going to do that I question is putting advisers with these Iraqi units. 

Now, that sounds very good.  And there are a lot of pluses to that.  But the thing is, we‘re trying very hard to convince the Iraqi people and the Iraqi armed forces that they are sovereign and independent of the United States.  And I‘m afraid there will be a certain amount of resentment for having advisers with them on the part of the officers commanding them and on the part of the Iraqi people, certainly on those that wish us ill, who will say, see, the army is nothing but the puppet of the Americans. 

So, I think they ought to take a second look at that proposition. 

MATTHEWS:  General Downing, your estimate as to the morale-boosting quality of today‘s election with regards to the military.  Will it boost their willingness to fight for their new country? 

DOWNING:  Well, hopefully, it is going to give everybody a bit shot in the arm psychologically.  I think we‘re going to feel good.  The U.S. and the coalition and the Iraqis are going to feel good about it.

You know, Chris, a little anecdote.  One of the special police commando units almost revolted when they were given the orders to guard the polls, because they said, we‘re not a static security force.  We want to go out and we want to attack these insurgents.  And it took some real strong talking to them to convince them that their mission ought to be on those polls. 

If we see more of that spirit—and I talked to General Dave Petraeus, who is running that training operation, two or three days ago.  And he is confident that more of this type of spirit is going to be developed in these Iraqi units. 

I disagree with General Trainor on these advisers.  There are tradeoffs to be made.  But, at this point in the game, from my point of view, the trade is solidly on the side of, we need to get those advisers in those units, get them stood up, get them operating properly, and then start drawing them out.  But, right now, unfortunately, they‘re going to need us, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We will come back and talk about the continued tissue rejection, perhaps, of Iraqi forces against the presence of American advisers within their units with General Wayne Downing and General Bernard Trainor. 

And later, we will check in with NBC‘s David Gregory, who is at the White House tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Iraqi election—what a day in history—on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  What a day it has been.  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Iraq election.

Turnout in Sunni areas in Iraq was low, as expected. 

NBC‘s Jim Maceda is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Ramadi in the heart of Sunni Triangle. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Five a.m. and Captain Jeff Kenney (ph), commander of Gulf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on a predawn tour of what, in two hours, will either become Ramadi‘s main polling station or a battlefield. 

First stop, the metal detector. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If this doesn‘t draw fire, I don‘t know what will. 

MACEDA:  Lieutenant Brian Iglasias (ph) runs through security drills with Iraqi commandos.  A slip-up could mean a bloodbath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And make sure that they stop early and they lift up their coast or open their—they lift up their shirt or open their jacket.

MACEDA:  Seven a.m., it‘s time to open the doors.  Iraqi election workers synchronize their watches, many of them so afraid to be identified, they wear masks. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call us if have got any problems, OK?  And we will help you out. 

MACEDA:  Eight a.m. and back at the Marine base, first report is not good. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There are zero people in line.  The wait is light. 

MACEDA:  Eleven thirty and the polling station is still a no-man‘s land. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ali (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Where are all of the voters?  Voters?

MACEDA:  Another hour goes by.  Insurgent death threats to any Iraqis who dare to vote seem to be taking a toll. 

(on camera):  This should be the height of voting at Ramadi‘s main polling center, but there are no long lines here.  In fact, there are no voters at all, only a few Iraqis security guards. 

(voice-over):  Finally, at 4:00 p.m., some good news.  Three ordinary Iraqis decide to cast their ballots in a city of 500,000.  By closing time, 1,700 more will vote in Ramadi, the heart of the insurgency.  That‘s about 1 percent. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s, in and of itself, a success today. 

MACEDA:  At the end of this historic day, Captain Kenney is upbeat.  Only 10 Iraqis, all Sunnis, voted in his polling station.  But it was neither a no-show, nor deadly violent. 

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Ramadi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  That was NBC‘s Jim Maceda in Ramadi, part of the Sunni Triangle.

We‘re back with General Wayne Downing, who is in Baghdad, and General Bernard Trainor. 

Let me go to General—General Downing. 

What did that picture tell you, that little piece by Jim Maceda right there, about the Sunni Triangle town of Ramadi?

DOWNING:  Ramadi.  Well, I‘m going up there tomorrow, Chris.  I will be able to tell you firsthand.  But it just tells you the level of intimidation in that Sunni area.  I‘m surprised they got anybody to vote in that area.  It‘s a very, very tough area.  And, of course, you know, whenever you have that kind of a response by the potential voters, you know that the insurgents are strong and know what is going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It looks like you would sell more ice cream cones in this weather than you would voting opportunities.  That was a...

DOWNING:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to General Trainor. 

A lot of people are going to look at that picture and say it shows that this election is one-sided.  It‘s for the Shia, who are going to win the election, because they‘re 4-1 outnumbering the Sunni.  It‘s not an American-style election where you vote according to party principle.  It‘s simply a question of who has got the most people.  And the party in this case that has the most people, the religion, is the Shia.  Is that democracy? 

MACEDA:  Chris, let me tell you, I was astounded that anybody came out in a place like Ramadi to vote.  I think that took extraordinary courage, because in—they‘re kind of marked people. 

You know, intimidation is one thing.  But with—intimidation that is followed by certain death is quite another.  I think it‘s amazing that anybody turned out at all.  But I think the other factor is that there was no violence there, even against those few people that turned out or against the security forces.  So that has to be seen as a plus. 

There will be a lot of cynical and negative attitudes towards what happened in Iraq today.  But I think, on balance, it has to come out as a plus because of the turnout, where turnout was possible, and, No. 2 and most importantly, because they had shut down the intimidation and the act of violence. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, General Wayne Downing and General Bernard Trainor. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  General Downing, did you have a thought there?  Go ahead. 

DOWNING:  No, no, Chris, what I was going to say, you know, the other thing about this election, we‘re not electing—they didn‘t elect this final government.  You know, this is a transitional government that‘s really prime duty is to write the constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DOWNING:  You know, the important election, where they‘re really going to get to vote for the really new government, is going to be the one that is going to take place about a year from now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWNING:  So I think that gives us all hope that we can get this process going. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for that, General Downing. 

What the—let‘s talk about, when we come back, what the Iraqi election means for America, for President Bush especially.  We will check in with NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, who is at the White House. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, “Iraq Votes,” on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL. 

Earlier today, President Bush said the Iraqi people made today‘s election a resounding success. 

MSNBC‘s David Gregory is at the White House. 

David, sometimes, it‘s so interesting covering, it must be for you, covering this president, because with all his critics, there come these iconic moments, whether it‘s the World Trade Center on September 14 back in 2001 where he stood in the rubble, or when the statues came down in Iraq, or here we have today an iconic moment.  Put it in perspective for the White House. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think it is really that.  I think, as this week unfolds—and, as early as tomorrow morning, you are going to see newspapers around the United States and around the world, as I have seen on “The New York Times”‘ Web site tonight, of a woman holding up her index finger covered in that blue ink, a sign of a new day in Iraq.  Whatever is ahead, there is this new day. 

It‘s difficult to deny the president his moment to say, guess what?  By hook or by crook, we have an election in Iraq for the first time in half a century.  It‘s a hugely important moment.  And I think even critics of the war—certainly, the White House hopes that even critics of the war in the United States—and the country remains divided, in fact, tilting toward those who believe that we have no business in Iraq and that it hasn‘t been worth it—could now start to cheer for Iraqis and could say, well, this did happen.  Might we pull something out here that is ultimately good for them and by extension good for us? 

But I think you saw the president, while certainly using an address to the nation to say, this is big, this is an important—and to all those people who thought that we shouldn‘t have the election, look what actually happened, I think the president was still cautious because he knows how much is ahead and how important it is and how much could still go wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  As objectively as possible, how would you rate the performance on “Meet the Press” today of the loser of the last presidential election, John Kerry? 

GREGORY:  Well, I think he was finally true to some important points about the road forward in Iraq.  I think it was difficult politically for Kerry to get back into the debate of where he was throughout the campaign on the Iraq war and inconsistencies.

And now it was about, what do we do to ultimately secure an American exit strategy?  I thought he was pretty forthright about that.  The RNC, the Republican National Committee, was jumping all over him, saying that he is sort of still vacillating all over the place.  But I think there‘s a unanimity of opinion now on the right and on the left about the fact that Iraqis have to take over, that Iraqis need the training.  And that‘s a critical part of all of this for an American exit strategy. 

But the political component in Iraq is so important as well.  But, I mean, to your question, I think that I thought he was clear on the points of what has to happen now. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was struck this morning, getting up early and flicking around the channels, trying to figure out which way the turnout was going, like a lot of people who are covering it.  And I was struck by the fact that one of the early indicators of how the turnout was going was a report by the Republican International Institute. 

Why was that a paper floating around?  Why would a partisan organization be given the credibility of telling us what the turnout was like this morning? 

GREGORY:  Well, I don‘t know.  There‘s nobody who can know this for sure.  We are not going to know the results, really, for two weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  And those at the State Department and the National Security Council know that.  So, you know, anybody who wants to predict that is being fanciful at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, let‘s come back and talk to David Gregory. 

David, hold on.

GREGORY:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll back with you at the White House. 

When we return, we will get the latest from Baghdad and NBC‘s Richard Engel.  What a courageous guy he is.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Iraq election on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Iraqi election. 

Let‘s get the latest from Baghdad now from NBC‘s Richard Engel. 

Richard, thank you for joining us. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, there are no accurate figures yet, but some election officials estimate voter turnout may have been higher than 50 percent. 

(voice-over):  Iraqis were surprised themselves today that millions turned out to vote. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Very, very happy today, very, very happy.

ENGEL:  Only yesterday, people here doubted there would be scenes like this, with so many standing in line, voting, smiling, defying insurgent threats. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For me, today, I feel I fly above the sky. 

ENGEL:  In northern Kurdish cities, like Irbil, few security restrictions made voting easy.  All accounts say polls were swamped.  In the mixed Arab and Kurdish city of Mosul, turnout was better than expected in what has been a hostile place.  Extra ballots had to be brought in. 

But in hard-line Sunni Arab cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, witnesses say very few turned up, a stark contrast to the Shiite south, where, in Najaf and Basra, ballot boxes filled quickly.  And this morning in Baghdad, many, like 70-year-old Abdel Muhiya Abdel Bari (ph), were up early, walking to the polls with his family, because cars were banned from the streets. 

“I‘m going to vote because I want to fix the country,”  he says. 

Many today said they were voting because they think it will help make Iraq safer, create more jobs and even get the electricity and water flowing, their expectations were as high today as when U.S. troops first arrived in Baghdad. 

(on camera):  The mood here is remarkably festive.  Many people have come out just to celebrate the first time they‘re being allowed to vote in freedom here in Iraq. 

(voice-over):  But, as expected, there were attacks, more than a dozen suicide bombings and mortar strikes.  But they were sporadic, a bit higher than Baghdad‘s horrific daily average.  Tonight, election workers have locked themselves in polling stations, counting ballots by hand, after a day many here consider to be one of the most hopeful since the Americans arrived two years ago. 

(on camera):  It could take 10 days before official results are announced, although estimates are expected to come in Monday or Tuesday—

Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Richard Engel. 

And what a nervy guy he has been all these weeks, what a courageous reporter, covering a very impossible beat. 

Patrick Lang is a former defense intelligence official who specialized in the Middle East, counterterrorism and human intelligence.  And “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Priest in an MSNBC military and intelligence analyst.  Her name is Dana Priest, by the way.  And NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory is still with us. 

Thank you, Dana.  And thank you, Patrick. 

Put it in perspective, today‘s vote, Patrick Lang.

PATRICK LANG, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, I think what we have seen here is a heartwarming demonstration of the renewal of democracy in Iraq after a long time under Saddam. 

But I think what you have seen here in fact is, the population who stand to gain the most from the election went out in strength to vote, even in Mosul, where it was dangerous. 

MATTHEWS:  So the winners are voting for the winners and the losers are not voting. 

LANG:  That‘s right.  The losers know that they may not get anything out of this and the outcome depends for them on what the political process will be later. 

Let me go to Dana Priest of “The Washington Post,” who covers intelligence matters and everything else over there.

Dana, is there any way that we can predict whether the failure to turn out by so many Sunnis today, the 15 percent of the population who were the population supporting and benefiting from the previous regime of Saddam Hussein, does this portend civil war or does it portend basically fatalism; we‘re going to live with these people, but we‘re not going to participate in the election? 

DANA PRIEST, NBC MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST:  Oh, I think it says that the security risk was so gigantic.  And you‘re not going to be able to know that until at least the three-day lockdown is over, which you know has really been imposed on the entire country. 

This is such a symbolic day, such a victorious day, in one regard, but you really won‘t know the long-lasting import of it until beginning next week.  What will the insurgents make of all of this?  Will they—are they lying in wait, like many of them did after the fall of Baghdad, just waiting for the next day, waiting for this—the vehicles to start heading out on the roads again to give themselves cover?

Or will they decide, some of them, to pack up and leave or join the rest of their Iraqi brothers and sisters?  So I don‘t—I think we will see it soon, whether the level of violence will come back.  What will the U.S. troops do in that regard?  You have heard this weekend about exit strategies, Senator Kennedy, but also commanders in Iraq who are talking to reporters about the short-term exit strategy. 

So, people are planning for the best, but, in the short run, we will have to wait just until I think this week to figure out what the insurgents will think of all this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me pop back to David Gregory at the White House. 

David, I have to ask you a tough question reporter-wise.  In other words, what can you report hard here as to our ambitions in Iraq?  Are we going to try to form that new government or are we taking a hands-off, “que sera sera, what will be will be,” attitude? 

GREGORY:  You know, it‘s interesting, because I have been reading some of the president‘s speeches prior to the war.  And one stands out before the American Enterprise Institute in 2003, where he said that any future that the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than that they had, the path they had under Saddam Hussein. 

But then he went on to say, we‘re not going to interfere in a new government, but we are going to make sure that they don‘t pursue weapons of mass destruction or programs along those lines, that they will be pluralistic, that they will protect the rights of minorities.  So I think there will be intervention to this extent.

And this goes to something that General Downing said to you a little bit earlier, that the next year, the balance, the totality of this year, will make it clear to, you know, the moral majority in Iraq as to whether the Sunni community will really be made a part of this government in a real way.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  Whether they voted or not. 

And that‘s the test here going forward, and the test of whether the insurgents can capture the hearts and minds of the rest of the Iraqis as well.  There is this kind of competition between this new government and those elements. 

MATTHEWS:  The hawks in this country who pushed this war successfully with the president, including the president, the vice president, and secretary of defense, the people who really wanted this war, didn‘t want to just have a change in government.  They wanted a change for the better, Patrick. 

Do you think—or can you tell us any evidence you have that they‘re trying to form this government?  For example, Ahmad Chalabi, who Judy Miller mentioned a while ago from “The New York Times”—she has been covering him a long time.  Is he being favored by the United States?  Are we going to try to force him in there or put him in to a position of power over there? 

LANG:  It appears to me that, based on the fact he is going to be on the winning side in this election today...

MATTHEWS:  The Shia side.

LANG:  The Shia side and the—actually, the predominantly Shia side, but containing secular elements, that people are in fact rethinking their previous rejection of him. 

But to make him interior minister, which was mentioned earlier, I think would be an awful thing.  The interior minister in Iraq does not control the national parks.  He controls the police and police troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Dana.

Dana, do you got any—any reporting about how far we‘re going in forming this new government? 

PRIEST:  Oh, well, the traditional role of the CIA in an instance like that is to not only be aware of what all the factions are doing, but also to try to influence them. 

And, as you know, after 9/11 and certainly as it applies to Iraq, there‘s a virtually bottomless pit of resources that is aimed at that, including money, so they are trying to buy allegiance, but also make promises. 

They have been very much involved in standing up a new Iraqi intelligence service.  And I would—it‘s an educated guess that that service is trying to support some factions over another faction.  And, of course, that‘s the great suspicion about the occupation. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it legal to that?

PRIEST:  Is it legal?  It‘s legal in this United States, absolutely. 

That‘s what covert action is all about. 

The president has to sign a finding and the hand of the U.S.  government is supposed to be never seen.  And that‘s what they do overseas and that‘s what they‘re doing in Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David.

GREGORY:  Chris, let‘s not forget about money.  Let‘s not forget about the reconstruction money, some $18 billion pledged by the citizens of the United States.  A small fraction of that has been spent so far.  And John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, primarily has authority over that money.

So, a new government is going to be the benefactor of that.  There are strings attached, no doubt, especially when we have troops on the ground there protecting the country as to the future of this government. 

Thank you very much, Patrick Lang for joining us.  And, once, thank you, as always, for Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.”

David is staying with us.

When we come back, Patrick Buchanan and former Bush speechwriter David Frum will put this historic day in perspective and give us perhaps a preview of Wednesday‘s State of the Union address, which is coming up Wednesday. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, “Iraq Votes.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Patrick Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  And David Frum is a former speechwriter and current—former—former speechwriter for President—current President Bush.  And he is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  And NBC‘s David Gregory is staying with us from the White House. 

I want the two new kids on the block joining us right now. 

First of all, David Frum, the president came out today and lauded the success and courage of the Iraqi voter.  Put this in the perspective of the debate over the war. 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH:  Yes. 

Well, this is—you were talking tonight very much in the context of Iraq and what goes on inside the borders of Iraq.  Tremendously important.  But this is—the president always saw Iraq as part of a broader struggle. 

And this event tonight, I think, goes to that. 

Up until now, the insurgents have been able to claim the mantle of nationalism.  They‘ve been able to say they‘re resisting occupation.  And they‘ve been able to say that they are speaking for some kind of larger community.  Well, they have had a decisive reply.  We don‘t know how many people have voted, but it‘s obviously a lot.  And they have obviously braved terrible risk to do it.  And we have seen the increasingly hysterical tone of the propaganda from the insurgents.

And one more thing.  President Bush has now forced them to do this international debate on his terms.  Zarqawi made that, I think, very dangerous and unwise.

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  ... saying, I am against democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  So, David, you are saying that the Arab world—that‘s the region we‘re really talking about, the larger Islamic world, perhaps—will grudgingly see self-determination at work here. 

FRUM:  I can‘t tell you how they‘re going to respond to it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will they see it, though?  Whatever they say, do they see this as self-determination?

FRUM:  Look, Zarqawi has.  The debate has been joined.  This is now a debate about democracy.  This is now a war about democracy.  And democratic wars tend—the democratic side tends to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Buchanan, will the world, especially that part of the world, see this as self-determination? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think they have got to see this as an act of tremendous courage on the part of the Iraqi people, especially those in Ramadi, Chris, many—or some of whom are certainly going to pay with their lives for going out and voting. 

The Iraqi people have shown, the majority of them, whether it‘s 50, 60, 70 percent, that they want a politics of peace, a democratic future.  But the question remains, are they willing to fight for it and to die for it with the same ferocity and perseverance that the insurgents have shown here?  And that‘s the open question I think that has yet to be answered, but that‘s the question on the table.  That will decide the fate of Iraq and, quite frankly, the fate of the Bush administration. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Patrick, if you look to Northern Ireland, where a very small percentage of the people, I mean a minute percentage, engage in violence, they do control the headlines.  But, in a normative sense, should they?  Should the violent people control the future of Iraq or should the majority control the future? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Clearly, the majority, Chris. 

But we know, in this world, it is minorities who are willing to die, who eventually overcome people who are only willing to vote.  What is—the key here is very simple.  I think that the president of the United States has got to indicate that we are beginning the American withdrawal and the transfer of sovereignty, authority and power to the Iraqi government, people and their army. 

The question is, can the Shia and the Kurds, 80 percent of the country who have a vested interest in a democratic government, and those Sunnis who despite what is going on, are they willing to fight over a long term to crush this insurgency?  One thing they have got going for them, the insurgents have no program, unlike the Viet Cong.  The insurgents are simply fighting against the Americans.  They hate us.  They want to get us out of there. 

Well, if we say we‘re going, what are they fighting for then?  And, in that case, I think the—the new government has an argument.  All we want is a democratic future and you can be a part of it.  As for Zarqawi and the jihadists, there‘s no solution to them, except, I think, to finish them off. 

MATTHEWS:  We will come right back with David Gregory at the White House, Patrick Buchanan and David Frum. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, “Iraq Votes,” on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with David Frum, David Gregory and Patrick Buchanan.

And the question of the future now looms.  We have had an election. 

We‘ll get the results. 

Let me go to David Gregory to get the White House view. 

From that listening post there, David, do you have a sense of where we go from here?  I‘ve been trying to get at to the extent we‘re going to try to form the government of Iraq.  Are we going to be happy with it?  Are we going to try to move it in a particular foreign policy direction?  Are we going to try to cut off its horns before it gets too aggressive, or what? 

GREGORY:  Well, I think there is going to be a lot of it that we have to simply live with.

And we can try—this government can try to steer it in a direction they think is responsible, that is friendly toward Israel, that can really have a positive impact on the rest of the Middle East.  But there is no question that, even if we‘re changing the dynamic, if this government is changing the dynamic through this election, we‘re still in this really huge battle with the rest of the Arab world and indeed many Iraqis as to whether they believe that our agenda is really their best interests, that our version of democracy is really to their benefit and not to their detriment or whether we‘re just trying to sort of beat down Islam and prop up Israel and we have more imperial designs on oil and then whatnot.

These are very real images.  And just as this iconic images of this day of voting will be so important, the images of Abu Ghraib are still important in that part of the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, and we‘re known to be pro-Israeli.  And then different presidents are more or less pro-Israeli, are more or less evenhanded.  I think the Middle East is used to that.

I heard a theory from—from—I guess it was King Abdullah, that the concern is—of Jordan—is, we have our way of looking at all this world.  Their way of looking at it is very internal, as is the case in most cases.  They see it as a battle not between West and East or Israel and the West against them, necessarily, although that‘s always the backdrop, but against the Shia predominants in that region and the Sunni predominants.

The friends we have in that region, to the extent they‘re friends, are Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, etcetera, Saudi Arabia.  They‘re all Sunnis.  The Sunnis are going to get croaked in this new electoral process in Iraq.  Does the administration deal with the fact internally that a lot of our friends in that region are going to be very unhappy by the results of this election? 

GREGORY:  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I think they are concerned about that.

And they know that they still need a lot of cooperation, whether it‘s on the level of training Iraqi troops or just the political cooperation.  As you mentioned with king Jordan—I mean the king of Jordan, Abdullah, concerned about this Shia arc of influence in that part of the country.  It‘s a very real concern, because we‘re tapping into something.

Just because we have brought democracy, or the first steps toward it, we‘re also tapping into a feud that is 1,000 years old. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, do you think we understand the complexity of that world and what they really are moved by emotionally over there yet? 

BUCHANAN:  No. 

I think we‘ve—we‘ve ignited three revolutions, I think, Chris.  One of them, you‘ve touched upon, which is the Shia for the first time in 1,000 years are going to control an Arab country.  There are Shia in Kuwait.  They‘re in the oil districts of Saudi Arabia.  They‘re in Jordan.  They‘re in Lebanon. 

Secondly, we have unleashed this idea of democracy, people deciding their destiny.  And that is the case, of course, in Iraq.  And it‘s also the case in Palestine.  And the third thing I think we‘ve done is, we‘re going to begin to lose control of the situation in Iraq, because the Sunnis are going to come to power.  And we don‘t know exactly...

MATTHEWS:  The Shia. 

BUCHANAN:  ... what they‘re going to decide or tell us to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what—who is going to win the battle, the Shia, who are going to win this whole fight after all the elections are held, or democracy?

BUCHANAN:  The Shia.  The Shia are going to dominate—the Shia are going to dominate Iraq.  And that‘s for sure.  Whether it‘s democratic or less democratic, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Ten seconds.

FRUM:  Our interest is discrediting the idea of jihadi terrorism.

And going to be—it‘s all very well for now extremists to say, we reject your idea of democracy.  There are going to be images that show, no, you don‘t.  Arabs accept our idea of democracy.  And your jihadi extremist alternative, it has just had the legs knocked out from under it.  You don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  So the picture will be worth 1,000 words.

FRUM:  The new leader of Iraq speaks for somebody.  Osama bin Laden, he speaks for his goats. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you very much—his goats—thank you very much, David Frum, David Gregory and Patrick Buchanan. 

I‘ll be back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant,Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,