updated 2/16/2005 2:28:46 PM ET 2005-02-16T19:28:46

Guest: David Frum, Hilary Rosen, Matthew Cooper, Curt Weldon, Bill Richardson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In the biggest Mideast confrontation since Saddam Hussein, the United States demands that Syria leave Lebanon. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

The Bush administration made it clear today that it held Syria responsible, at least indirectly, for Monday‘s assassination of Lebanon‘s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Syria.  And the Bush administration called on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today in Beirut, the feelings were raw, as a mob threw rocks at Syrian workers and tried to set Syrian businesses on fire.  Throughout Lebanon, mourners passionately remembered former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri while simultaneously blaming Syria for his murder. 

Monday‘s car bomb killed Hariri and 13 others, incinerated dozens of armored-plated vehicles in Hariri‘s motorcade, and rip a 30-foot crater in the road.  Syria keeps 15,000 troops in Lebanon and has been a power broker in this country north of Israel for nearly 30 years.  In recent months, Hariri had become an outspoken critic of Syrian President Assad and had been demanding Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon.  Hariri was also planning to run again this year for prime minister. 

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  I‘ve heard estimates of well over 1,000 pounds of high-grade TNT or its military equivalent.  So, you have got to think that they at least knew about it or gave it a head nod, if they in fact did not do that themselves. 

SHUSTER:  Today, the Bush administration all but blamed Syria for the attack.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the U.S. ambassador to Syria was being pulled.  And, at the White House, President Bush‘s press secretary hinted other actions might follow. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Troop presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force.  The people of Lebanon should be allowed to control their future free from outside interference and free from terrorism. 

SHUSTER:  The Bush administration is already angry at Syria for harboring Iraqi insurgents and allowing them to cross the Iraq-Syrian border at will.  Syria is also a critical player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And U.S. analysts believe there will not an peace agreement unless Syria signs on. 

MIKE HUDSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Well, Syria has actually been one of the more stable Arab governments and it has been one that has put out various diplomatic initiatives and olive branches. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  And that may explain why the Bush administration is moving cautiously.  But military analysts say, don‘t be surprised if the White House considers surgical strikes on bases in eastern Syria.  The bases are supporting Iraqi insurgents.  And striking them, say the analysts, would underscore that America‘s patience with the Syrian government is running out. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Should the United States insist that Syria leave Lebanon? 

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.  And Republican Congressman Curt Weldon from Pennsylvania is a member of the Armed Services Committee. 

Governor Richardson, should the United States be doing what it is doing, telling Syria to get out of Lebanon? 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  The Bush administration, I believe, is taking the right course, first, recall of the ambassador, secondly, getting the United Nations Security Council resolution enforced, calling for the withdrawal of the 16,000 troops from Syria. 

I think a third step might be tightening economic sanctions, getting other nations around the world to join this.  And then, as a last resort because of the insurgency assistance that Syria has been providing in Iraq, consider that military option, but very much as a last resort.  Syria, clearly, I believe is defying the international community, keeping the troops there. 

I think their fingerprints are going to be over, all over this assassination of this good man who had brought stability to Lebanon, who was probably going to be reelected as prime minister, who was leaning on the Syrians to get out.  So I think, so far, the escalation of initiatives of diplomatic sanctions to a possible military option makes sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Weldon. 

It seems like the United States is putting pressure on a lot of governments in the Mideast at the same time.  We‘re telling Iran not to have a nuclear power.  They‘re of course a Persian power, not an Arab power, but they‘re in the region.  We‘re telling these—the Saudis and the Egyptians to become more—and even the Jordanians—to become more democratic. 

And we‘re certainly warning Syria about its involvement in helping the insurgency in Iraq.  Do we have enough pressure right now to push the Syrian troops, all 16,000 of them, out of Lebanon? 

REP. CURT WELDON ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, we do, Chris, but what bothers me is, this shouldn‘t be a reactionary approach. 

We‘ve known all along that Syria had its troops in Lebanon and we should have taken some steps before this.  And , secondarily, it‘s a well known fact by many of us on the Hill that Syria has been a major problem in the Iraqi destabilization.  My question is, why does it wait until we have an assassination of a man of this caliber who was doing the right thing by the Lebanese people, and then, all of a sudden, we call for all these actions? 

Where‘s our intelligence community?  These troops weren‘t just placed in Lebanon over the past several months or past several years.  It‘s been an ongoing problem.  We should have been addressing it all during these years. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by address? 

WELDON:  Well, I think we should have been putting pressure on the Syrians and enforcing the U.N. resolution long before this particular act.  It shouldn‘t take these kinds of acts to bring us to understand what‘s happening there.  I mean, Syria has been a major problem in destabilizing Iraq.  And we‘ve known that.  And our intelligence also should have had a handle on any attempted plot that was being put forth. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman—who are you criticizing here, Congressman? 

WELDON:  I‘m criticizing the intelligence community right now and the lack of adequate intelligence to let us know what‘s happening and the lack of effort on the part of our government, both the previous administration and this one, on holding Syria accountable for its actions both in Iraq and also for harboring—or leaving its troops in Lebanon. 

MATTHEWS:  Governor Richardson, again it comes back to the question, what is our firepower here?  What leverage do we have to force the Syrians to do what they clearly don‘t want to do?  They obviously see themselves as holding an historic role in Lebanon.  They may see it as part of their country, for all we know.  And, historically, maybe they have a claim. 

But the question is, what can we do to get them out of there? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, we have the ability to initiate more sanctions than we have on Syria, making them multilateral.  And I believe that there would be support, not in all Arab governments, for this effort. 

Secondly, I think the diplomatic—putting focus on Syria as somebody that is not just in violation of the Security Council, but may have participated in destabilizing Lebanon with this assassination, the glare of public opinion on Syria.  And then, lastly, you have the—you know, you don‘t want to talk about it much, but you have the option of surgical strikes into those camps that are clearly providing some of the insurgents. 

I think the administration has handled it correctly.  First, a diplomatic escalation.  Then, the next step I believe should be tightening economic sanctions, getting international opinion and U.N. Security Council, another U.N. Security Council resolution.  Those are meaningful in the Arab world. 

Here‘s another component here.  And I think Secretary Rice in her recent trip with the Middle East has to be and has been very skillful and careful.  There seems to be momentum towards a Middle East discussion. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RICHARDSON:  Additional negotiations.  So, you‘ve got to be a little careful here and make sure that you don‘t escalate needlessly and build diplomatic support for what you‘re trying to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, can we attack Syria for this assassination without a smoking gun? 

WELDON:  Well, first of all, Chris, we have to determine absolutely that Syria was involved directly.  And then actions such as surgical strikes could be justified. 

But there‘s no doubt that Syria was complicit in this.  You could not have this kind of massive bombing with this kind of loss of life and this kind of damage without the Syrian intelligence and military knowing this was occurring.

What bothers me is, why didn‘t our intelligence know this was about to occur as well?  And what steps were we taking in the process to understand the situation as it was developing?  We lost a solid leader here, someone the Lebanese people looked up to.  And it is going to cause long-term harm in Lebanon in terms of security in the region. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Bashar Assad, sir, the head of Syria?  Is he the kind of guy that will be adjusting to realities that we have more influence, more power in the Middle East than we had 20 years ago because of our military firepower or will he be intransigent like his dad was all those years, Hafez Assad? 

WELDON:  I think—I think he understands the reality.  The Middle East has changed dramatically, both Afghanistan and Iraq.  And you look right down the road and what has happened with Gadhafi.  He is a realist.  He understands.  And he understands the focus is on Iran right now. 

And he understands there‘s a serious look taking place in this country and around the world at Syria‘s and his actions.  So, I think—in the end, I think he is going to get the message.  I just wish we would have leaned on Syria earlier than what we would have done and applied more pressure in support of the U.N. resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Congressman.

Let me go to Governor Bill Richardson. 

You‘ve had a lot of experience with North Koreans.  Why is it important for them to have bilateral talks with the United States regarding the nuclear program? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, what they want to do, Chris, is they believe that an ultimate deal—and I think it is already on the table—in exchange for a nonaggression pact from the United States, no attacking them, that North Korea start dismantling their uranium, their nuclear weapons, the other nations provide food assistance and other economic aid. 

And what they want to do is, it is an ego thing.  You‘re talking to a country that is very, very unsteady, that is very weird, the way they act.  But that‘s the way they are.  So I would do three things.  One, the Bush administration, tone down the rhetoric.  Don‘t get them excited needlessly. 

Secondly, get countries like China and South Korea that are part of the six-party talks to put pressure on the North Koreans.  They‘re the countries with leverage.  China has -- 70 percent of fuel aid goes into North Korea.  And then, lastly, within the six-party talks, everybody is sitting around a table.  But the U.S. and North Korea during the six-party talks, or at the end of one, go into a corner and work out this framework. 

And I think it is fairly—I won‘t say easy.  And there has got to be verification at the end.  But I think a deal is to be made.  Let‘s get away from, we are not going to talk to them; it doesn‘t make sense.  Let‘s not aggravate them.  That‘s—I think it is on the table. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask at Congress Weldon.  Do you believe the North Koreans are afraid we might attack them? 

WELDON:  Well, absolutely. 

I took my second delegation there just three weeks ago.  And that‘s the overriding issue.  They want assurances we are not going to preemptively attack them and that we are not going to seek regime change.  Those are the two key issues.  And I repeated to them over and over again, as did my Democrat colleagues with me, that the president has stated publicly over and over again both of those factors. 

I think they‘re posturing for a deal right now, Chris.  I think—I don‘t think the tone of some of the comments coming out of the administration helped over the past several weeks.  But we also have to realize we can‘t award bad behavior.  But I agree with the governor.  I think a deal is capable.

They constantly talked about a package deal when we were there.  We understand what they what and we understand what they need.  And I think we have to get the Chinese to put more pressure on.  But remember this, Chris.  The Chinese ultimate interest is not necessarily North Korea.  It is Taiwan.  And don‘t be surprised if you see quietly in the back room China looking to cut a deal, Taiwan for North Korea.  And that will never happen.  But that‘s certainly the No. 1 priority of China. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean they want to grab...

(CROSSTALK)

WELDON:  ... Taiwan back in the fold.  Absolutely.  That‘s their No. 1 priority.

MATTHEWS:  So we push Taiwan back into the mainland and we get security arrangements with North Korea?  That‘s a pretty rotten deal.

(CROSSTALK)

WELDON:  You said it.  You said it.  I didn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a rotten deal.  Yes, I think it‘s a rotten deal for our friends. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Governor...

WELDON:  I do, too.  I absolutely—I think it is absolutely unthinkable. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and former U.S. ambassador of the United Nations, and also Congressman Curt Weldon.

Later on HARDBALL, actor Tom Selleck.  He‘s coming here.

And coming up next, a federal appeals court rules that two journalists, big-time journalists, must testify about confidential sources in that infamous CIA leak case or else face jail time.  We‘ll talk to one of them, “TIME” magazine‘s Matt Cooper.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, two journalists are facing jail time for not revealing confidential sources in the CIA leak case.  We‘ll talk to one of them, “TIME” magazine‘s Matthew Cooper, when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Columnist Robert Novak set off a firestorm in Washington when he outed CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.  Wilson had publicly criticized the Bush administration for saying that Iraq tried to buy yellow cake—that‘s a type of uranium—from the government of Niger in Africa. 

Now “TIME” magazine White House reporter Matt Cooper is one step closer to serving jail time for protecting the identity of a confidential source.  A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals rejected an appeal that would have shielded him and “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller from revealing their sources in the story that outed the CIA agent. 

Matt Cooper joins us now.  What did you do wrong? 

MATTHEW COOPER, “TIME”:  Well, I‘m not sure I did anything wrong. 

I wrote a piece.  I co-authored a piece in 2003 kind of calling attention to these leakers.  I thought this was interesting and unsettling.  And so I wrote this piece with them.  And in it, I mentioned that “TIME” magazine had gotten some calls from some people in the government about this case.  And that caught the interest of this prosecutor whose looking for the leaker. 

MATTHEWS:  So you never—but you never wrote that you heard from a person who was breaking the law?

COOPER:  I didn‘t write that.  I didn‘t write those words, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you? 

COOPER:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you get a source—was one of your sources a person who was covered by top-secret clearance and who was not allowed to tell you about a certain person being an undercover agent? 

COOPER:  I probably shouldn‘t get into that, because it is in the case. 

But, basically, I was writing a piece trying to call attention to what I thought was kind of a nefarious thing.  And I kind of...

MATTHEWS:  You were writing a story about a story. 

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER:  Yes.  And I kind of—I kind of think of it as a case of no good deed going unpunished, because I was trying to call attention to this..

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me speculate, since I‘m not really involved in this.

WELDON:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Because I never got any inside information.  Let me just say this. 

Somebody called up somebody like Robert Novak and said, I heard that this guy‘s wife is undercover or covered by undercover.  You ought to write about it because that will show that he was the wrong guy to be picked for the job of going down there and checking out this uranium story.  It shows inside whatever. 

And then he calls up Bob Novak, being a good reporter.  He goes for the second source.  He calls up somebody who is covered by top-secret clearance and they, so you know.  No law has been broken because the guy who had the top-secret clearance was not the first one to notify him.  It was too late to notify him.  He already knew.  And then Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, oh, I catch this guy‘s act. 

He uses other people to do his dirty work for him, to do his leaking for him.  I‘m going to catch him in the act of directly sourcing somebody, giving somebody information.  So he goes after you.  He goes after Judy Miller.  Does it work? 

COOPER:  Anything is possible.  I really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Narrowly possible or broadly possible? 

COOPER:  Well, I think it is a plausible scenario.  But this is a—it‘s a very complicated case.

MATTHEWS:  What other scenario could there be?  Why are they going after you, who never wrote a story on this? 

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER:  No, I did write a story. 

MATTHEWS:  You wrote a story.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Judy never wrote anything. 

COOPER:  Right.  Judy didn‘t write.  I wrote one. 

And I have found myself in the crosshairs of the prosecutor for the better part of a year.  Our position in the courts has been that, look, we had to have the same privilege that‘s applied to social workers and lawyers and others.

MATTHEWS:  Priests.

COOPER:  And priests and psychiatrists. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the seal of confession—I‘m Roman Catholic.  Does the seal of confession still count?  Can a priest say, I am not going to say what that guy or woman said to me? 

COOPER:  I think, basically, yes.  There are limits.  If somebody says they‘re about to go blow out and blow up a building, I think the priest can...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  A time bomb situation.

COOPER:  There are all kinds of little limitations. 

MATTHEWS:  But in terms of the sealed confession, in terms of rabbinical responsibility—or connections.

COOPER:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Or any of that stuff, it is still considered off base for police. 

COOPER:  Totally.  And the Supreme Court actually has expanded it to include social workers and... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why you? 

COOPER:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why are you going to a can for a peripheral role in this case? 

COOPER:  Well, because there‘s a—it is a peripheral role, but a larger principle, which is that journalists have to be able to protect their sources.  Otherwise, we can‘t do our jobs.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your choice. 

COOPER:  That‘s my choice.

MATTHEWS:  His decision, the prosecutor says you don‘t have that right. 

COOPER:  That‘s right.  And, look, this is what the courts will settle.  We obviously lost this case this week.  But we‘re going to continue to appeal and press ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you made plans?  Have you picked out your favorite pillow?  Have you figured out what books you‘re going to read? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious. 

COOPER:  Well, look, one can‘t help but be unsettled by the possibility that that might happen.  But we‘re going to go through courts.  This is a long process and we‘re going to press ahead.  And...

MATTHEWS:  If they put you in jail, it would be for a limited period of time or until you talked? 

COOPER:  It‘s basically...

MATTHEWS:  What if you‘re in there an hour or two, and you don‘t like the sound of rats somewhere in the prison and you go, I think I‘ll talk now, would they let you out then?  In other words, would it be almost like torture?  I‘m going to keep you in here in until you talk? 

COOPER:  Well, I—as I understand it, the judge has enormous discretion.  He could put you jail.  He could give you home detention.  He could just give you a fine.

MATTHEWS:  He could let you out when you talk, too. 

COOPER:  He could give you fine, could let you out when you talk, right.  You have the keys to your cell.  That‘s the way it works.  But, hopefully, it is not going to won‘t come to that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an unusual crime, if it is a crime.

Anyway, thank you, Matt Cooper 

COOPER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Who probably made noise today. 

When we come back, award-winning actor and self-proclaimed independent voter Tom Selleck on his latest project. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If you‘re a fan of the Robert B. Parker best-selling crime novels, you won‘t want to miss the movie version of “Stone Cold” starring our friend Tom Selleck, which airs on CBS this Sunday night.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “STONE COLD”)

TOM SELLECK, ACTOR:  We both know they raped you.  And we both know they threatened you about telling. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  How do you know? 

SELLECK:  I‘m the police chief.  I know everything.  If you let them, they will make your life miserable for as long as you live in this town.  If you tell me about it, I can give you your life back. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tom Selleck not only stars in “Stone Cold.”  He is also the executive producer of the film.

And he joins us now to talk about movies and, to some extent, in the time we have, Hollywood politics, always a tricky subject. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I know you love that one, being an independent, as you are.

You know, I have got to talk to you about this movie.  You know, what is it about detectives?  They have to have a downside, don‘t they, to be likable.

SELLECK:  Well, I think they—look, the thing that attracted me originally to “Magnum” were his flaws.  And the flaws are what tell the depth of the individual‘s character. 

And this is a guy who doesn‘t always do things right, but he tries to do the right thing.  So, through that and through a very set of flawed glasses, he is a guy you root for.  And that‘s why I like these guys.  They‘re not—perfect people aren‘t fun to play. 

Matt Dillon and Joe Friday wouldn‘t work today, would they? 

SELLECK:  Yes, I think they would. 

MATTHEWS:  Complete straight arrows? 

SELLECK:  They were straight arrows.  But if you really look at “Gunsmoke,” I mean, God knows what was going to with Matt and Kitty. 

(LAUGHTER)

SELLECK:  They would just update it a little bit.

MATTHEWS:  Whatever it was, it looked like it was happening at breakfast most of the time.  They were always having breakfast together at Delmonico‘s (ph), it seemed to me. 

SELLECK:  Yes, they did, but there was something there.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLECK:  That‘s my story.

MATTHEWS:  You think there was a backstory to “Gunsmoke.”

SELLECK:  I feel definite—well, look, Amanda Blake was pretty dishy. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of which, let me ask you about this big conflict in Hollywood, Tom.  I mean, we like characters like yours in this—the new “Stone Cold” movie that‘s coming out on Sunday.

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We like guys who are imperfect.  Yet, there‘s this almost perfectionism coming up, almost blue blood or what they used to call a Bostonian sort of fear now of anything slightly off-color.  Even “Private Ryan” was rejected by some of the affiliates because there was real violence in it and some bad language, obviously. 

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we going too far in this censoring division here in the area... 

SELLECK:  Well, the first thing people need to know is, people aren‘t getting censored by the FCC.  People might get censored by a network who is worried that the FCC might not like something. 

But, if you have this standard, this universal standard, there‘s such a thing as taste. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SELLECK:  I‘m always pushing the envelope when I think I can say I think something positive, even through a negative act. 

But what seems to happen in a certain climate—you know, I didn‘t show my left breast in this particular film, so I think we have a right to do some other things.  And there‘s always a bit of a fight going, oh, my God, that might offend somebody.  Well, I don‘t think you make a good movie unless at least one people—one person walks out of the theater. 

So, that‘s what is going on, is a kind of fear that the FCC might do something.  And what it can lead to is pabulum. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I was out last night, Tom, with someone who found that “Sideways,” the new movie, had—seemed to be a little bit over the top in terms of raunchiness.  I thought it was delightful.  So I agree with you.  It seems like there‘s always going to be somebody that says even the sweetest movie has a problem for them.

SELLECK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we‘ll come right back and talk with Tom Selleck about Hollywood and of course what‘s going on politically.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with actor Tom Selleck. 

I want to give you more of a chance to talk about this oddity in American culture.  We love sort of the rough-hewn guy with the heart of gold or the tough cop who may drink too much or may have split up with his wife a couple times. 

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Or maybe not the nicest guy in the world.  But we do find him more interesting than the straight arrow. 

At the same time, it seems like our popular culture, especially broadcast television, is getting pretty narrowed in terms of what is acceptable. 

SELLECK:  Well, I disagree with you a little bit, Chris. 

I think—I think there‘s such things as exercising discretion and taste and responsibility in this wonderful privilege we have as actors and filmmakers.  If you don‘t, you‘re probably going to invite regulation.  Now, while I would always oppose that kind of censorship, I do think the American people, though, they have a right to expect a certain family-friendly fare. 

The mistake people make is, if you play a perfect character from the beginning to the end of a movie, you don‘t have a movie.  It is what the movie says when it is over that‘s important.  The acts—and this is very subjective.  So, I usually fight to push the envelope as far as I can.  I‘ve been—most people like my movies.  People don‘t seem to get mad at me. 

But I worry when either networks or the government starts to base their constrictions on the presumption of irresponsibility.  I think that‘s dangerous in—with the press or anybody. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about something or ask you to talk about something that is one of the reason you‘re popular, “Magnum.”

SELLECK:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  What role do you think that character played in the way we look at veterans, military veterans from war? 

SELLECK:  Well, I don‘t—I think we were a bit of a prime mover. 

I‘m very proud of “Magnum.”

In 1980, I think the lesson of Vietnam was evolving.  And anybody who watched “Magnum” knows there‘s this heavy Vietnam influence.  And in the two-hour pilot, the network said, all those Vietnam flashbacks are good.  But when this show goes on the air, Vietnam is gone.  Vietnam is death.  And Don Bellisario and I both felt strongly that that was part of these characters‘ lives.  And we fought for that.  And we fought at the risk of maybe our futures. 

That doesn‘t make us heroes.  We just believed in the concept of the show.  The great irony is, in 1988, we were put into the Smithsonian Institution, my hat and my Hawaiian shirt and the ring I wore...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SELLECK:  ... as the first show that recognized Vietnam veterans in a positive light.  I think—I don‘t know whether we reflected the times or vice-versa. 

I do know that, somewhere in that area, around 1980, the lesson of Vietnam became, we have got to support our troops.  We did not treat these guys very well when they went home. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SELLECK:  And that‘s with us today.  And that‘s a good legacy. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it seems to me, one of the things, nuance—that‘s a powerful word—but this war in Iraq, if you look at the latest numbers, is about 46-46, pretty even money in terms of the people who thought whether we should have gone or not, given everything that‘s happened. 

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The bad, the good, the elections and everything.

And yet, we get the greatest results in terms of personal satisfaction of letters to me, of calls to me, of just personal gratification on my part, obviously, of meeting with military people, whether it‘s going to Walter Read or it‘s going to Camp Pendleton, meeting with the guys who have been hurt.

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the guys on the way over there.

I‘m telling you, I don‘t think the country looks at this the way they looked at Vietnam.  I don‘t think they‘re looking at this as My Lai or anything like that.  They seem to say, well, soldiers have a job to do.  I can disagree with the job. 

(CROSSTALK)

SELLECK:  Well, I agree with you.  And I hope that lesson stays with us.  These guys are doing an incredible job. 

I‘ve seen the shows where you visited hospitals.  I‘m trying to work with MSNBC, actually, on some support of wounded veterans.  And it‘s a program that‘s going to materialize pretty quick.  It is—it is the least we can do.  I mean, we‘re not over there getting shot at and fighting.  But these guys, when you meet them—and I have and you have. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SELLECK:  Are very impressive guys. 

And although—I‘m a little old-fashioned.  I kind of think whoever is president, you kind of have to support your commander in chief.  You can‘t completely draw that distinction and be a proverbial flamethrower every time something bad happens, because, as you know, in World War II, there—World War II was a series of disasters that led to victory. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SELLECK:  There were so many mistakes, so many problems.  And that‘s I think the nature of war.  So, none of us have a crystal ball.  But God knows our troops need our support. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It was easier fighting Japan when they attacked us first morally.  This war is, for better or worse, a decision the president made, another president may not have made.

Let me ask you about the Academy Awards.  And I know—there‘s my favorite movie.

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m allowed to say this.  I‘m not a member of the academy, like you are. 

(LAUGHTER)

SELLECK:  Yes.  I‘m a big-time academy member. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are in the film community. 

But let me say, I think my favorite is “Million Dollar Baby.”  And what‘s come up is, without giving away the ending, because I wish people would all go see it...

SELLECK:  Yes, I got to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it is fair to argue about—do you think it is fair to argue about a moral dilemma that the main character gets into and goes one way and you may not morally agree with that, but you find him to be a find guy? 

SELLECK:  Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS:  And the predicament.  People are all saying, because Clinton Eastwood‘s characters would make one decision morally at the end of a movie and you wouldn‘t make it because of your own religious beliefs or philosophy.  You can still love the guy.  I mean, I—that‘s my view. 

SELLECK:  Well, I haven‘t seen the whole movie because my screening copy self-destructed.  And they won‘t give me another one.  They think I‘m some kind of pirate or something. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I have got to see “Million Dollar Baby.”  But, look, I think all criticism of...

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you pay?  Why don‘t you buy a ticket, Tom? 

They‘re about $9.  You‘re in the business. 

(LAUGHTER)

SELLECK:  Look, I think all criticism ought to be welcome.  We have this privilege.  We put something out there.  We‘re not curing cancer.  And it is through that discussion and argument some people like things.  Some people don‘t like things. 

It is wonderful in our industry that we have that discord. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SELLECK:  It is possible not to like Clint—look, I‘m a—Clint is a friend.  And I think he is a brilliant director and a terrific actor.  And from what I saw of the movie—and don‘t ruin the end for me. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m not doing that.  I‘m not doing that. 

SELLECK:  I—I loved it.  It‘s just—I got this self-destruct DVD, like “Mission: Impossible,” right when the movie was getting good.  So, I‘ll see everything I can, so I can vote.  And I can‘t tell you how I can vote, because then the thought police from the academy come out and they do terrible things to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Well, let me talk now to people our age. 

SELLECK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And they don‘t go to the movies anymore.  They just don‘t.  I can tell you.  The people who watch the show in their 50s or 60s or 70s or whatever, they don‘t go to the movies, because I go to the movies and I‘m the oldest guy in the theater.  So I know that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you encourage them to go back to the theater, so that they could have some influence over what movies are made?  Or does it have to all be “Meet the Fockers”? 

SELLECK:  Well, you know, I...

MATTHEWS:  Which is OK, I guess, but it‘s not the deepest...

SELLECK:  Well, Ben Stiller is too talented to push the envelope with a goofy title like that.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Right. 

SELLECK:  He‘s a really smart, clever filmmaker. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re making a ton of money on that.

SELLECK:  I don‘t know why he‘s doing that stuff.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s formula. 

SELLECK:  But I would like us to have an input.  And I still go to the movies.  And it is a little harder with a 16-year-old and raising kids.  But the more we go, the more say we‘ll have.  And it is not enough to simply complain about it. 

It‘s—look, movies are wonderful.  I grew up on them.  You grew up on them.  I love them.  I love some more than others and some I absolutely hate, but I‘m thrilled we get to see them and make them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it was a great year.  I think “Sideways,” if you indies.  I think “Aviator,” if you like the big studio.

SELLECK:  Well, my friend—I got a couple of friends, a couple leading ladies that are nominated this year, Laura Linney and Virginia Madsen.  And I‘m thrilled for them.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you did—with Laura Linney, you did “Running Mates,” which was great.  And she was your great...

SELLECK:  Yes.  That was my brush with greatness, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And she was your campaign manager.  You got elected president, didn‘t you?

SELLECK:  Well, we got—I played the Democratic nominee for president.  And we aired in between the two conventions in 2000.  We got higher ratings than either convention.  So that‘s my brush with greatness. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you put on a better, more original show than either party. 

SELLECK:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  Good luck with “Stone Cold.”  I will watch it.  Everybody ought to watch it.

SELLECK:  Thank you.  I‘m very proud of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though it‘s on another network.  Thank you, Tom Selleck.

When we return, former Bush speechwriter David Frum and Democratic activist Hilary Rosen fight it out over today‘s top stories.  Of course, that‘s what we do here all the time.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, getting tough with Syria.  Axis of evil speechwriter David Frum faces off against Democratic activist Hilary Rosen when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Bush administration put on the heat on Syria today and withdrew its ambassador in response to Monday‘s assassination of Lebanon‘s former prime minister.  So, what does that all mean for peace in the Middle East and stability in Iraq? 

We‘re joined by former speechwriter for President Bush and “National Review” columnist David Frum and Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen. 

David, you wrote the—well, let‘s say, do this politically.  Let‘s be politic.  You drafted the axis of evil, axis of terrorists speech in your hand.  Why wasn‘t Syria on the list and why is it on it now? 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH:  The United States has been trying to work with Syria for a long time. 

And one of the things that we are at here is the end of a process of America reaching out the hand of Syria.  Colin Powell went to Syria after 9/11 and said, we don‘t necessarily have any quarrel with you.  And the Syrians have pushed back and pushed back.  This is the latest in a series of events that go back to sheltering the leaders of the Baath Party in Iraq when they fled to Syria, giving a base to insurgents to attack American troops, of being a transshipment point, so people from all over the Middle East, when they want to fight in Iraq, they come through Syria. 

And now this is just flipping the bird at the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Why—but why do they do that?  Why do the Syrians—they used to be a French-influenced colony, just like the other colonies were English-influenced, like Jordan.  Why do they seem to hate Israel more than the other countries over there? 

FRUM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Jordan—Jordan can get along with Israel.  Egypt can get along with Israel.  They don‘t like it, but they get along with it.  Syria is always the odd man out. 

FRUM:  Syria has always had a very fragile government.  And this government that they have in particular, it is based on a tiny little minority of the population, a group called the Alawites, who are like a heretical sect within a heretical sect.  And they rule this largely Sunni country.  And they have to prove their nationalist good faith and prove, we are the real Arab nationalists.  We are the leaders of the Arab world.  Plus, of course, they think of Israel as being properly their territory, southern Syria.  But...

MATTHEWS:  All of it. 

FRUM:  All of it.  But the question...

MATTHEWS:  So they believe that Palestine is part of Syria?

FRUM:  Well, that‘s why Yasser Arafat and Hafez Assad, the last dictator, got along so badly, because Arafat—because Hafez Assad thought that Arafat should be working for him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn‘t they complain when Jordan had the West Bank and Egypt had Gaza? 

FRUM:  They fought—they had all kind of conflicts with Jordan. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  And, in fact, in 1970, it was the Israeli army that saved King Hussein from a Syrian—from a Syrian... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Black September. 

FRUM:  Exactly. 

But the question here now is, why are they seeking this confrontation now with the United States?  That‘s hard to understand.

MATTHEWS:  Because they are, aren‘t they?  They killed a former prime minister who was very pro-American. 

And what‘s going on here?  Should we be as tough as Bush?  It looks like the president is issuing an ultimatum.  I mean, I think David likes that really strong talk.  But we‘re saying—when you tell another country, get your keister out of Lebanon or else, what is the or else here? 

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, and this is exactly the problem.  It was a nice speech.  But the policy is just a miserable failure, because we cannot play cop every place in the Middle East and expect this to work, that we have an election in Iraq where we have just elected the closest allies of Iran, another person in your axis of evil. 

We have Syria saying, no way, we‘re not going along with the United States‘ domination here.  This is simply a failure for the administration where they said, let‘s get rid of Saddam Hussein and 1,000 flowers will bloom in the Middle East. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  And this has not happened.

MATTHEWS:  If you had a pro-American former prime minister of Lebanon, and he was gunned down, apparently with the collaboration or involvement or support of Syria, what would you have done? 

ROSEN:  Well, the administration has to do what they‘re doing.  But the fact is that the assassination in the first place has been a result of heightened tension, not more calm. 

There‘s no plan here that the administration has to get past this problem.  And that‘s the issue.  They‘re taking this as a one-off over and over and over again.  And that will not work. 

FRUM:  Well, the administration said that, if Iraq was liberated, it would send reverberations of change through the Middle East.  And that‘s true. 

It is also true that the beneficiaries of the bad old status quo are going to resist.  And that‘s probably what was behind this assassination.  So it is not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the reason?  For the first time in memory, the Lebanese people are standing up to the Syrians.  It‘s because they have a sense of confidence because we‘re in the region knocking off these tyrants. 

FRUM:  Hariri came to power and owes his fortune to the Syrians.  He used to be the Syrians‘ man.  Now he was building a big house in downtown Washington to say, I want to be the America...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  All of a sudden, the Syrians are another problem. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me we have got some friends in Lebanon.  We ought to be protecting them.  If one of them gets gunned down, we got to do something about it.  That is just American interests. 

ROSEN:  Fair enough.  But that‘s not the point.  The point is that there‘s no way to get beyond that. 

MATTHEWS:  It always is with me, babe.  It‘s always the interest with me, because it‘s the United States that is the most important country to me. 

We‘ll be right back with David Frum.

I shouldn‘t call you babe.  Hilary Rosen, a grown-up woman.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more with David Frum and Hilary Rosen.

I want to ask you, finally, the United States, are we going to war with Syria? 

FRUM:  I think the Syrians seem determined to force the United States into a confrontation.  I can‘t understand why.  I think the president has said things that are going to change a force in policy.  The soft policy of the first Bush administration does look it‘s coming to an end. 

MATTHEWS:  So this could escalate into firing? 

FRUM:  It could escalate.  But the United States has a lot of pressure to put on Syria before it goes all-out war.  Syria is a weak country.  They don‘t have a lot of power.

MATTHEWS:  See...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... ask you this, Hilary, it‘s because, when we say get your 18,000 or 16,000 troops out of Lebanon, where they‘ve been comfortably for months now, for years now, that forces a situation. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Once you issue an ultimatum, that‘s how wars start.  The Syrians say, you know, if we move out now under your fire, under your direction, we look really weak.  So we‘re not going to do it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Then the United States feels we have to do something. 

ROSEN:  Well, and that‘s clearly what the president has set up.  And you said before that we have to put this country‘s safety and interests first.  I think that‘s exactly my point.  There is no...

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  The United States can cut off the oil.  It can cut off the money.  It doesn‘t have to use force.

ROSEN:  There‘s not rationale that says that our allies are safer today than they were seven months ago or two years ago or three years ago.  We are not making it better for them. 

We‘re making it more and more dangerous and forcing ourselves into a situation where we‘re now going to have to go in and get the Syrian troops out of Lebanon. 

MATTHEWS:  The latest poll numbers—these are really good numbers.  They come from Fox News, so it is hardly with a left-wing slant I give you this information -- 46 percent of the American people believed we were right to go to Iraq because the elections basically proved our point.  They were people seeking democratic self-government, self-determination; 44 percent say we were wrong, given all this information, including the election. 

Isn‘t that—doesn‘t that strike you as an unusually balanced, divisive position for the United States to be taking?  It‘s so close to—it‘s even statistically? 

FRUM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  And which way is it going to be a year from now? 

FRUM:  Yes.  But I think you can say—there‘s a difference in saying the public mind is unsure and divided and saying that the country is actually—that the country is not fully behind, fully behind what the government is doing and hoping for the best. 

That was—these are the kinds of number that led John Kerry into his mistake, that he read anxiety as opposition.  I think that‘s an anxiety number, not a “we oppose the president‘s policy” number. 

ROSEN:  Well, but the results are also ambivalent right now for the United States. 

And what—the elections were great because people voted.  They had a chance to exercise their democratic freedom, which everybody thinks is fantastic. 

MATTHEWS:  I certainly do. 

ROSEN:  The problem is that the result now is that the United States‘ allies didn‘t win.  And so how did they deal with that?  So now they‘re saying, well, what we‘re going to do...

MATTHEWS:  But we knew, Hilary, that the 60 percent of the country, the Shia, the dominant portion of Islam, is going to win.

ROSEN:  Which is why the president didn‘t originally support the elections, which is why he wanted to get Chalabi in there. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  And now that the elections are over, he‘s going to succeed in getting Chalabi in there anyway. 

FRUM:  I was in the room at the American Enterprise Institute when the president spoke before the war and said his goal was not to install Mr.  This or Mr. That.  His goal was democracy and elections.  That was his goal from the start.  And the achievement was not to put this Mr. This or Mr.  That in power.  The achievement was...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  ... David, had to bring people to the streets to protest to get this election.  And you know it.  That‘s what happened. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  It was the president‘s declared policy before the war began.  And the effect—and it wasn‘t just that we wanted this guy or that guy to win.  What the president wanted...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  No, we wanted our allies to win.  We wanted...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  ... to control the situation...

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  No.  We wanted to start—we wanted to change the political culture of the Middle East by introducing democratic politics. 

And you are seeing that today.  You are seeing extremists being moderated.  You are seeing people learning the give and take of politics. 

ROSEN:  What we‘re seeing is...

FRUM:  You‘re seeing Sunni extremists who boycotted the election saying, next time, we‘ll be in, because they believe there will be a next time.  You see people lining up in the streets because they believe their votes count.  You have begun a political change.

ROSEN:  That‘s right.  If that were the case, then we would not be in there trying to manipulate the coalition into appointing the prime minister that we wanted all along.  We would be letting...

MATTHEWS:  Who is that?

ROSEN:  Chalabi. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  We would be letting the Iraqis...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Chalabi, by the way, because everybody hasn‘t followed this, is the guy who lived in America for so many years.  He was—he came from Iraq when the boss—when the Brooklyn Dodgers left Brooklyn, he left Iraq.  And now he is back with a good shot at one... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... No. 2.

ROSEN:  And he has been on the payroll for the last 10 years. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we took him off.  He was getting 330 a month.  He‘s off the payroll.

FRUM:  He was America‘s last choice.  It is through his own political gifts and through his own willingness to moderate, to think—to do all the things we want democratic politicians to do, to think about the interests of all groups, that he is emerging as the leader now. 

ROSEN:  The White House would rather have this result than the result that the election handed them.  And that‘s why this is happening.

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you the tough question?  If we can‘t beat the insurgents, why do we think that some day an Iraqi government will be able to, so we can leave? 

FRUM:  I think the United States is going to beat the insurgents.  The United States got it wrong about how tough it would be.  But that doesn‘t mean the insurgents are going to win.  It just means it‘s a harder problem. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m worried about them surviving us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘m worried about?  They survive us.

ROSEN:  They are going to...

MATTHEWS:  What happens if they are still there when we leave? 

ROSEN:  They‘re going to be empowered now by the Syrians as well.

ROSEN:  That‘s another problem.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David Frum, Hilary Rosen, a lively discussion. 

I‘ll be right back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  And I‘ll be joined by James Stewart, not the cowboy, the author of the new book “DisneyWar,” what a book, about Eisner and Ovitz and the rest.

It‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” now with Keith.

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

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