updated 2/23/2005 11:02:10 AM ET 2005-02-23T16:02:10

Guest: Colin Quinn, Jim Warren, Deborah Orin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is America safer today because of the war in Iraq, or has it increased the number of terrorists?  Should we attack Syria?  Tonight, the fight over war and peace with the HARDBALL war council, Generals McCaffrey, Downing and Meigs. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

The HARDBALL war council meets.  My questions for the war council tonight are, are we safer for having gone to Iraq?  Should we attack Syria?  And do we need to bring back the military draft? 

Retired General Wayne Downing commanded the Special Operations Task Force during the first Gulf War.  And he recently witnessed Iraq‘s historic elections in Baghdad.  Retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm.  And retired General Montgomery Meigs served as commander of the Iron Brigade during the first Gulf War. 

Gentlemen, the question—and it‘s a big one—is, is America safer today because we went to war with Iraq or do we face more terrorists today? 

General McCaffrey.

RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the answer?

MCCAFFREY:  The intervention—the intervention of both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the actions on the domestic counterterrorism scene have left us immeasurably safer than we were the day prior to 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we face more terrorists today than we did then, when we went in, in numbers? 

MCCAFFREY:  It has morphed into a different kind of threat.  We‘re much better organized.  We‘re aggressive.  We‘ve intimidated them.  But there‘s a different kind of threat, including sort of a counterinsurgency classic threat involving essentially 1,000 casualties a month. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we face more terrorists in the world today than we did before 9/11? 

MCCAFFREY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Before going to Iraq.

MCCAFFREY:  No.  I think it is a different nature of the threat.  But I don‘t think it is worse.  I think it has changed in form. 

MATTHEWS:  Less number? 

MCCAFFREY:  Maybe not.  Less organized, less money, no sanctuary, recognizing that any state...

MATTHEWS:  Less threat? 

MCCAFFREY:  A significant threat continues.  It won‘t go away for 20 years, but the current threat is diminished from the intensity the day prior to 9/11, in my judgment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to General Downing, the same question. 

Are we better off in terms of the threat we face in numbers and powers than when we went into Iraq? 

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Chris, I think, strategically, we are better off.  In other words, we have mobilized our resources.  We‘ve recognized what the threat is. 

And, by the way, the threat is not terrorism.  The threat is an Islamic insurgency by these basic Islamists who want to create Taliban states.  It is about political power.  Strategically, we‘re much better off as we counter that.  Tactically, we have created more terrorists. 

The Iraq campaign has helped publicize this.  We have a lot of people going in there to fight.  We are handling that.  It is going to be very, very difficult.  So, strategically, Chris, I think we‘re in better shape.  Tactically, we have got a lot of problems on our hands. 

But, remember, this is a war.  War is composed of campaigns.  And, as Barry pointed out, Afghanistan is one of them.  Iraq is another.  We now have to pick up some campaigns in some of these areas around the world where we see this threat growing.  And one of those, Chris, is Central and Eastern Africa. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to General Meigs. 

Your assessment.  Are we better—I don‘t know what the metrics would be here, but are we facing more terrorists today than when we were before we went to war with Iraq? 

RET. GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, sure. 

Iraq has become a breeding ground.  People come in.  They do their service.  They get validated in the network and then they leave.  I agree with General Downing, though.  I—we have to look at this as a war that‘s much larger than just the campaign in Iraq. 

We‘ve got to keep Pakistan in the game.  We‘ve got to ensure that Afghanistan continues to improve.  And, if Iraq works, if we can create a stable situation there and leave, that will be a major plus, if it happens. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me start back with General McCaffrey. 

General Myers, Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint chiefs, said the other day that we have—we are facing in Iraq only a very small percentage of outsiders, that we‘re basically fighting the Baathists, the remnants of the old regime.  Is that the way you see it? 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Sure. 

And I think then there‘s the potential for huge problems among the Shia.  We have put down, at least for now, the Sadr rebellion.  We‘ve got the political legitimacy of the election, thank God.  It‘s a great triumph.  But, basically, this is a Sunni rebellion.  They ran this country for 60 years.  They want it back.  And some elements won‘t be reconciled by the political process. 

So, again, I think I‘m actually in agreement probably with Downing and Meigs.  The terrorist component of Iraq is not—is not the major problem we‘re facing.  The kids we‘re fighting right now in Ramadi and Fallujah are not the Yemenis or Saudis.  They‘re Baathist Party members or criminals or...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAFFREY:  ... unreconciled Republican Guard or intelligence operatives or whoever. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we‘re—let me go back—let me go back to General Downing right now.  I‘m asking about what we‘re facing in the field in Iraq. 

You were just over there, sir.  General, do you think we are fighting mainly Iraqis? 

DOWNING:  Well, yes.  I do think that, Chris. 

There‘s about five different elements that we‘re fighting, former regime elements, Baathists, former security elements, actual mercenaries.  These are Iraqi who are mercenaries who are doing this for pay, criminals.  And then you‘ve got the foreign fighters.  How many of those foreign fighters are in there, Chris, I don‘t know, 2,000 to 5,000. 

The problem is, is both the—these foreign fighters and these former Baath Party people are going to fight to the death.  Absolutely, we‘re going to have to kill them in order to get them to stop.  That other big bloc, though, the Sunni bloc, we are already starting to see, which we predicted what was going to happen after the elections.  Some of the Sunnis now who have been opposing us are talking about amnesty and talking about coming over to join the political process. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s optimistic, isn‘t it?

DOWNING:  This is why that election—yes.  Well, this is why this election, Chris, was such a strategic success.  It was a psychological success. 

We want to bring them in.  We want to get more Sunnis into this political process.  But we cannot kid ourselves.  Those who are against this thing—and, believe me, a democracy in Iraq is anathema to these fundamentalists, these Islamists.  And it‘s—they‘re against this thing, Chris, because it flows exactly against what they‘re trying to create throughout the Islamic world, which is the creation of these Taliban-like states. 

They cannot afford to have Iraq be a success. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, General Meigs, the same question.  The people we‘re fighting in Iraq, do you see them as overwhelmingly Iraqis or what? 

MEIGS:  No, I agree with General Downing.  I think he‘s pretty well scoped it for you. 

I would add, though, that we have got to be very careful about interference from Syria and from Iran, which is kind of a wild card in this thing, because, remember, the Baathists in Syria are very much engaged in trying to make this insurgency work.  And that is going to be a problem that the administration is going to have to take on even more strongly as we go forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me start with you on the third question and the force levels we have available to us in the U.S. military right now.  The force levels available in uniform right now or in training right now, do we have an adequate complement of men and women, especially men for combat, to deal with any wider war in the Middle East?  Can we go to Syria?  Do we have that option, for example? 

MEIGS:  That is going to be hard, Chris, because we have responsibilities in the other part of the world.  You have got to watch North Korea.  That‘s always a wild card. 

The forces are pretty well stretched.  Could you surge to another contingency?  Yes.  Would it be very hard?  Yes.  Would logistically it be very hard?  Very much so, given what we‘ve got to keep sending to Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

MEIGS:  ... rebuild.

MATTHEWS:  Just make me bottom—help me bottom-line this.  If you were advising the president right now and he was saying, I have got an option hear, I‘m trying to figure out, measure all the factors, the metrics, etcetera, I can‘t tell whether we‘re going to be better off with a garrison in Damascus or not?  Or are we better off just sort of pinning them down as best we can from outside?  What would you advise? 

MEIGS:  You don‘t need the garrison in Damascus.  You can do enough things over the short term to push Iraq into—Syria into a situation where they‘re going to either have to comply or you‘re going to have to take some serious action.  And that‘s—we‘re not at that point yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go General Downing. 

Your response, sir. 

DOWNING:  Well, Chris, to topple the Bashar Assad regime I think is out of the question. 

However, to conduct a military surgical operation, a strike against the base areas that they‘re using for the insurgency in Iraq is very much within our capability.  And when I say a surgical operation, I‘m talking about airstrikes and I‘m also talking about putting some people on the ground to capture some of these people and to bring out documents and proof of what‘s going on. 

That‘s very, very much within our capability.  And, Chris, I think we are very, very fed up with the Syrians now as a result of this Hariri bombing.  This is just one in a string of things that they‘ve done over the last 20, 25 years that—that shows they‘re not responding to any other pressure. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

General McCaffrey, should we go into Iraq with force and grab some of the terrorists where the terrorists are active? 

MCCAFFREY:  Syria.

MATTHEWS:  Syria. 

MCCAFFREY:  No.  But I think there‘s two comments.  First of all...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s wrong with what General Downing said? 

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, nothing.  I think we can threaten the Syrians, threaten the Iranians, airstrikes, special operations strikes.  As a matter of fact, conventional power against the Syrians is probably possible, a cross-border foray by a division of the United States Army. 

DOWNING:  Right.  I agree with that.

MATTHEWS:  But not grab it whole? 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  No.  And we don‘t need to do that.  We want diplomatic action, economic leverage, multinational cooperation, covert action, and probably a threat.  Hey, if you really screw with us, we‘re dangerous people to have on your borders. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you list if you had a list for the president, both General Downing and General McCaffrey?  If you advised that kind of aggressive action to remove their bases, kill their operation helping the insurgency in Iraq, what would be the possible responses by Damascus, by Bashar Assad? 

You first, General Downing.. 

DOWNING:  Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What could he do to hurt us?  Could he grab our people? 

Could he grab prisoners, take hostages? 

DOWNING:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  What—what are his options?

DOWNING:  No, I don‘t think he can do that, Chris.  I think he can probably pull out his kleenex and wipe his nose with it.  But he really can‘t do a lot else.

He‘s got a severe problem, Chris.  He is still surrounded by the advisers of his father.  And the advisers of his father, one of the stories goes, are doing a lot of things that are actually out of his control.  He has got to gain control of his regime.  He has got to figure out where he wants to bring Syria.  We don‘t want to have a war with Syria.  But what we do want to do is moderate their behavior. 

And Bashar Assad is going to have to stand up as a leader and do that or he‘s going to take more pain. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll be right back, lots to dispute here, some consensus being we have the capability to go into Syria, at least surgically.  Certainly, there‘s consensus that we‘re better off in terms of nation states threatening us, if not in terms of the actual number of terrorists in the field out there against us.

HARDBALL war council, it‘s meeting right now, General Barry McCaffrey, General Wayne Downing and General Montgomery Meigs.

And, later, a new AP poll.  The Associated Press shows a majority of people in countries across Europe and here at home say the United States should not be in the business of spreading democracy, powerful words out there in the world. 

We‘ll be right back to talk about that and to fight about it in some cases.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, more tough talk from President Bush on Syria. 

Should America attack Syria?

More with the HARDBALL war council after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the HARDBALL war council, General Wayne Downing, General Barry McCaffrey and General Montgomery Meigs. 

Let‘s look at a number of theaters here, but I want to start with the one that is most in the news, gentlemen, Generals.  And that is Syria.  I want to go back to that and try to nail down what you as a group—maybe you have a consensus here—is—think our—our policy should be. 

Let me go back to General Wayne Downing. 

Describe, if you will, what you think would be a useful move by—a useful campaign by the United States military with regard to the Syrian role in Lebanon and the Syrian role with regard to Iraq right now, General.

DOWNING:  Well, Chris, first thing, just let me say it should not just be military action.  I think we‘ve got to work with our allies around the world, especially the E.U., to turn—to turn the pressure up on Assad both politically and economically. 

Now, going to the military side of this thing, I think that we do need to hit the base areas in Syria, in eastern Syria, with some surgical strikes.  I think that would be—not only would it have a material benefit in stopping some of the infiltration and some of the support for the operations, but it will also be a very, very dramatic signal to Assad that we‘ve had enough of this stuff with them and he‘s got knock this off and start getting control of his regime. 

Just remember, Chris, you know, it‘s not just Iraq.  It is just not the assassination of Hariri.  It has been the support of Hezbollah, the group that killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in the United States prior to 9/11.  It‘s been the collaboration with the Iranians, funneling supplies into Hezbollah and, of course, the great effect that this has had on the Middle East peace process. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to...

DOWNING:  So Syria has to have a change in behavior. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go General McCaffrey. 

Do you agree? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Are you that aggressive, that we should take the... 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  No.  I would be very reluctant to see military force used against Syria.  I think economic leverage is clearly the way to go, in coordination with our allies, certainly political dialogue. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you do if they ignore the president‘s ultimatum, the Condi Rice ultimatum, not to get out of Lebanon?  What would you do?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I certainly would not signal with military power.  The day we use military power, step one probably ought to be flatten Bashar‘s palace in downtown Damascus.  So, this tit-for-tat thing is rarely a good way to go. 

But I do think the backdrop of military power is a prerequisite to serious political negotiation. 

MATTHEWS:  So you wouldn‘t use proportional response?

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, absolutely not.  No.

MATTHEWS:  As we did in Vietnam.  You would go all the way.

MCCAFFREY:  Don‘t you dare continue to offer sanctuary.  At some point, we‘re going to take action. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you—would any of you—General Meigs, would you call for U.S. military action against Syria simply if they reject our ultimatum to get out and to follow U.N. resolutions and get out of Lebanon? 

MEIGS:  No, I would—I would turn up the pressure.  I would do all kinds of things under the table to try to get the Lebanese to be more active. 

There was recently a join U.S.-French declaration about Syria.  That‘s very—and Lebanon—that‘s very constructive.  I would try to bring our allies in on that.  Actually, Lebanon is a bigger pressure point for the Syrians than anything we can do to take out camps, because the people who are ruling Syria get about $1 billion worth of income out of Lebanon. 

And if you take Lebanon away, Hamas and Hezbollah lose one of their major staging areas for actions against Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We have a two-minute drill.

(CROSSTALK)

MEIGS:  That‘s a place where we can put on big heat.

MATTHEWS:  I have a huge superpower—ex, former superpower question, and that is dealing with Putin, the head of Russia, the president of Russia. 

Let me ask you, General McCaffrey.  Joe Lieberman from Connecticut and John McCain have push a resolution to tell basically Russia they‘re going to have to leave the G-8, which is a very prestigious organization in the industrialized nations if they don‘t do something on human rights.  Do you think we should play that tough?  This is like the old Jackson resolution with regard to Soviet emigration. 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, these are two of the finest people in the U.S.  government, no question, both McCain and Lieberman.  I think they‘re playing a useful role in providing pressure outside the administration, so that the Bush administration can say, look, deal with me or deal with these guys.  Things are getting serious.  We‘re not going to tolerate the increasingly undemocratic regime that poor Mr. Putin is starting to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In other words use them as the bad cop. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, sure, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, General, General Downing?

DOWNING:  Yes.  No, I do agree with this. 

You know, Putin has taken and the Russians have taken a tremendous

blow, Chris, with the reversal of this Ukrainian reelection—or election

·         and this progressive leader now coming to power there.  Believe me, this is one of the heartland countries that Russia wanted to keep very close to them. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

DOWNING:  This has been a tremendous defeat for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn‘t it difficult—isn‘t it dangerous to corner a rat now?  Here‘s the guy that is on the run and we‘re saying, in addition to losing Ukraine, which you thought you could bring back into Mother Russia, we‘re telling you have got to let everybody be free over in your country. 

DOWNING:  Well, let me tell you, and they do need to do this.  And Putin is trying to retrench himself. 

And, as Barry just said, I mean, the president, you know, is apt to say, hey, listen, I want to work with you on this stuff, but look what I have to deal with at home.  People are very fed up with you.  So, let‘s see if we can bring them along. 

But the Russians, Chris, are paranoid to begin with.  And they always have been. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

DOWNING:  And they have taken some tremendous defeats here recently, especially this Ukrainian thing.  It was huge. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to be putting pressure on a lot of folks out in the world, Bashar Assad and, of course, the Iranians, and, of course, the North Koreans, and Jong Il...

DOWNING:  That‘s right.  

MATTHEWS:  ... and his bottle of scotch up there, Wild Turkey.

MCCAFFREY:  Cuba.  Cuba.  Don‘t forget Cuba.

MATTHEWS:  We have got the pressure on everybody. 

General Meigs, we‘ll have to get to you next time. 

Thank you, Generals, all of you, Wayne Downing, General Barry McCaffrey, General Montgomery Meigs.

Up next, as thousands of U.S. troops return home after being injured in Iraq, they don‘t always have the money they need to take care of themselves and their families.  But some are finding the help they need from their own neighbors. 

That story when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In Iraq, the death toll of American soldiers is now more than 1,400 killed and 10,000 wounded.  Many of the wounded, as we‘ve pointed out on this program before, require months and months of rehabilitation.  It is physically difficult for these permanently disabled soldiers and it is often emotionally and financially debilitating to their families. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster spent part of this past weekend in a town in Virginia that has raised money for a new fund that helps Marine Corps families—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s called the Semper Fi Fund. 

And it was created in the last year by a small group of military families.

Under current law, the government only gives the families two round trip tickets to visit wounded Marines or soldiers who are convalescing in a hospital.  There‘s also not much money for hotel rooms or lost wages.  So, the privately sponsored fund tries to address some of that.  And over the last two months, one Virginia neighborhood, like some other neighborhoods across the country, has been raising money and raising awareness of some of the challenges that these Marine Corps families are facing. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  That‘s Michael Jurnigan (ph) and his wife, Rebecca (ph).  Jurnigan was severely wounded last year in Iraq.  And his condition is more serious than it appears even to a three-star general. 

GEN. JIM MATTIS, U.S. MARINE CORPS:  Have you really lost the left eye?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve lost both eyes.  This is a prosthetic. 

SHUSTER:  Corporal James Eddie Wright (ph) was wounded last April in Fallujah.  His unit was ambushed and Wright was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. 

CPL. JAMES WRIGHT, INJURED IN IRAQ:  It took both my hands off and got my leg pretty good. 

SHUSTER:  Like other Marines and soldiers wounded in Iraq, these young men and women face a tough rehabilitation.  But it‘s a mission that is increasingly being joined by small towns and communities all across the nation. 

This past weekend, the residents of the Fawn Lake community near Spotsylvania, Virginia, ended their fund-raising drive with this reception and the presentation of a check. 

DOUG HORSTMAN, FAWN LAKE RESIDENT:  I can report today that the number here is erroneous.  We‘ve gone over $45,000 as a result of some recent contributions. 

(APPLAUSE)

SHUSTER:  The money was all given to the Semper Fi Fund, a fund started nine months ago by a few Marine Corps spouses, including Rene Bardorf.

RENE BARDORF, SEMPER FI FUND:  Semper Fidelis means always faithful.  And that‘s what we do in the Marine Corps.  We are always faithful to our corps and to our families. 

SHUSTER:  Bardorf reported that the fund has helped more than 600 Marine Corps families. 

BARDORF:  And we have given over $925,000 to those families.  And...

(APPLAUSE)

SHUSTER:  The money has assisted the families with everything from travel to hotel bills to lost wages.  The residents of Fawn Lake had never met any of the families until this event.  That prompted a personal thanks from a top Marine Corps general. 

MATTIS:  It is very difficult to thank you enough for what you have done for us. 

SHUSTER:  But while the residents said they appreciated the gratitude, this is all they and a growing number of communities really seem to want, an opportunity to personally tell a few Marines and their families that the nation honors their service. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Some of the residents of Fawn Lake said they had never heard of the Semper Fi Fund until recently, and we hadn‘t either. 

But, Chris, I‘ve got to tell you, after spending a few hours in Spotsylvania, Virginia, this is certainly a cause that has a lot of meaning, both to the injured Marines and also to some ordinary folks who would want to help. 

And for our viewers who would like to help, you can contribute tax-deductible to SemperFiFund.org. 

MATTHEWS:  Just to narrow this down, this isn‘t for charity.  This is to help families visit their rehabilitating sons, generally.

SHUSTER:  That‘s right.  And these are usually the most severely injure Marines who are requiring not just a couple of days or a couple weeks of rehabilitation, but months.  And this enables some of the family members to spend a lot of that time with them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thanks a lot, David Shuster.

Coming up, the big debate over what America‘s role should be in the world today.  Should we be using our power to spread democracy?  A lot of people in the world don‘t think so. 

And later, comedian Colin Quinn will join us.  He is on his way to Iraq to entertain the troops. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up on HARDBALL, did longtime Bush friend Doug Wead betray President Bush?  Plus, the debate over whether spreading democracy worldwide should be America‘s job.  And, later, comedian Colin Quinn is heading to Iraq to entertain the troops.  We‘ll talk to him about why he thinks Hollywood is too liberal.

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

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Jim Warren is the deputy managing editor of “The Chicago Tribune.” 

And Deborah Orin is the Washington bureau chief for “The New York Post.” 

There‘s still lot of buzz in this city and I think elsewhere where people talk about politics, James, about this new book out and the commentary by Doug Wead about the president‘s drug use in the past, admissions thereto.  What do you make of the news value? 

JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Oh, I found it fascinating, I think with the cautionary notes, obviously, Chris, as one who has also listened to the presidential tapes as much as you have, and knowing that selective quotations can be distinctly unfair and one needs to know the whole context, and also with the understanding that we‘ve only seen apparently less than 10 percent.  The 90 percent he has kept to himself. 

I think what one gets here is a—just a fascinating, pretty representative portrait of at least the Texas governor pre-9/11.  He comes off I think in generally a pretty positive way. 

MATTHEWS:  I think so, too. 

WARREN:  He comes off as very—he comes off as religious, conservative.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WARREN:  Pretty tolerant.  He seems very, very politically astute and practical, especially when it comes to dealing with the evangelical right, who he knows he has to appease.  He wants to make some friends there, but he also wants to signal others that he‘s not in the bag with them, particularly on the issue of homosexuality and very early on decides, OK, the path I‘m going to take is anti-gay marriage, but I‘m not going to kick gays in the butt and I‘m going to cool the rhetoric on that. 

So I found it very interesting.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it really does square, Deborah, with the notion that George W. Bush, whatever you think of his views, they are clear and they are preliminary.  He usually tells you ahead of time what he is going to do and then he does it. 

DEBORAH ORIN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK POST”:  Yes. 

No, that‘s—there‘s nothing really particularly for the president to have been upset about on the tapes.  But I think what is a little bit disconcerting is the idea that he was talking with somebody who never bothered to disclose that he was taping.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I went to the book, Deborah.  And you can respond to this first, because I have done a little more homework.  I went beyond the tape that were in “The Times” to the book itself.  And it was only a very small section, I must tell you guys, on the Bush youth that led to his presidency, a lot of interesting stuff. 

Here‘s the quotes: “His drinking began at Yale and for a time grew worse with each year.”

That‘s not news, right?

ORIN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the big one: “George W. Bush apparently experimented with cocaine.”  Now, that could be grabbed as a single sentence, but let me give you the second sentence.  “He has never spoken about it publicly, and so we can only speculate on if and when it happened.”

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that interesting, Deborah?  Even after in these tapes saying he heard the president talk about—and I‘m sorry.  After establishing in a sentence he apparently experimented with cocaine, he pulls back from it and says, we can only speculate if he ever did it. 

ORIN:  Which means it shouldn‘t have been in the book, right? 

MATTHEWS:  It shouldn‘t have been in the book. 

ORIN:  And I—if I were the president, I would not be real pleased. 

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  And I—if I thought this was a friend, I would really not be pleased. 

MATTHEWS:  And also, when you looked at the tape, James, did you see a clear—a clear statement from the future president that he had used cocaine? 

WARREN:  Well, I see him, Chris, sort of stonewalling the general issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Stonewalling is the right word.

WARREN:  Issue of cocaine and drug abuse.  He uses—and, remember, he talks about code words.  And he‘s, I thought, was very practical there.  I‘m going to use some code words.  I‘m a sinner.  If Al Gore wants to go down that path and fess up to past drug abuse, that‘s fine for him, but I don‘t think that sends a particularly good message. 

So I think he was stonewalling there.  But, parenthetically, for political junkies, I think there‘s real interesting stuff on Senator McCain, on Steve Forbes and on John Ashcroft. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Check this out.  Tell me what you learned about his view of McCain, which I thought was very insightful. 

WARREN:  Oh, I think he—I think he realizes John McCain is inherently sort of a—personality wise, a double-edged sword, can be tough to take, might possibly self-immolate. 

But I do think history will suggest that he did underestimate the potency and potential lure of McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WARREN:  At the same time, I thought he was right on about Steve Forbes and why he would wear thin, and perhaps exaggerated a little bit when it came to John Ashcroft and a potent—as a potent figure that Bush thought he might be. 

MATTHEWS:  Deborah, would you agree that—would you agree that John McCain self-immolated in South Carolina?  Or would you say somebody took the torch to him?

ORIN:  Oh, John McCain did not self-immolate.  George Bush‘s campaign ran one of the ugliest campaigns ever seen on the face of the universe in South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  And he also...

ORIN:  And it was successful...

MATTHEWS:  And in these tapes, he said I may have to get tough, like the old man did with Dukakis.  And he said up front in ‘98, two years before the firestorm, going after his opponent, Al Gore, he was going to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  Yes, but what the Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  ... in South Carolina was a little bit rougher than anything Bush ever did to Dukakis. 

WARREN:  Yes, you guys are absolutely correct.  Please edit that self-immolation out of the show. 

But, ultimately, speaking of South Carolina and that neck of the woods, I thought, Chris and Deborah, those conversations are very interesting when it comes to Bush‘s view, his notion of the importance of, but nevertheless his antsiness about dealing with the evangelical right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you something.  I have got some news here.  I have got to be careful how I release it, because it was an e-mail sent to me personally by Doug Wead, the guy who wrote these books and put out these tapes.

He said to me today—and this is Tuesday, late in the afternoon.  I mean, I got the message late in the afternoon—that, basically, one, he is going to stay off TV.  He couldn‘t do this show or other shows—we‘ll see if he sticks to that—because history is more important—rather, his private relationship with the current president is more important than history.  He is going to give the money from this new book he‘s written about growing up president, to be president, he is giving it all to charity. 

And, most importantly—and you first on this, James—he is going to give the tapes to the president. 

WARREN:  Well, I‘m—you know, I‘m a little bit surprised. 

First, tell me, is he keeping—has he dubbed all that stuff?  Is he keeping a copy for himself or just giving everything to the president?  I would say, ultimately, that‘s too bad.  As someone who is sort of a tape buff, I look at something like Nixon and his 3,500 hours is undoubtedly—is the most memorable, most insightful documentation we have of the daily doings of a world leader. 

And I‘m glad we got it.  But we also know Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson did the same thing.  I just did a series for “The Chicago Tribune” on the secret phone transcripts of Henry Kissinger.  So, especially given what seemed to be on the surface the rather positive light in which this captures Bush, I would say too bad.

MATTHEWS:  Whose tapes do you have now, James?  James, I missed that. 

Whose tapes do you have? 

WARREN:  Oh, the—there are the secret phone transcripts of Henry Kissinger.  Kissinger—we all focus on Nixon, but Kissinger in fact had his secretaries listening in on another line to every single phone call, then had them take shorthand, transcribed it.  And those transcripts, more than 20,000 pages, have only just come out. 

MATTHEWS:  James, are you with the university of Illinois students who think it‘s Mark Felt or Mark Felt who was Deep Throat? 

WARREN:  No, I have got no clue.  I just wait for my friend John Dean to go online once a year with a theory that then seems to be different than the theory he had the year before.  No clue. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s—they say—they say now it‘s Fielding or Mark Felt, the assistant director of the FBI.

What do you think?  Any insight on that?

ORIN:  I have no idea. 

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  I mean, I‘m not even 100 percent sure it is only one person. 

So...       

MATTHEWS:  Well, Nixon thought it was one person.  In fact, he thought it was one person...

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  No.  Woodward...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... in the medium we‘re in now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... journalism.  Yes.

WARREN:  At the University of Texas the other night, unequivocally, Bob Woodward said, it is one person. 

MATTHEWS:  And Ben Bradlee says it is one person.  And Richard Nixon believed it was one person, too.  So, I guess that‘s unanimous. 

Coming up, as President Bush continues his European road trip, a new poll out in Europe shows world opinion is troubled by one of the president‘s big ideas.  Should it be up to the United States to spread democracy around the world?  That debate, we‘ll come back to visit that one. 

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, should America use its power to spread democracy throughout the world?  A lot of people overseas and here at home say no.

That debate is straight ahead when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Jim Warren of “The Chicago Tribune” and Deborah Orin of “The New York Post.” 

Let‘s talk about this poll that has just been taken in Europe, no surprises here.  In the midst of President Bush‘s fence-mending tour of Europe today, the Associated Press released a poll today asking Americans and Europeans whether it should be the role of this country to promote the establishment of democracies in other countries, like in Iraq; 84 percent of the French said, no, we shouldn‘t be selling democracy, this country; 80 percent of Germans and 66 percent of Brits in the United Kingdom said no. 

Here in the United States, a small majority agree we shouldn‘t be doing it. 

Deborah, does that surprise you? 

ORIN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That most Americans think we shouldn‘t be selling democracy? 

ORIN:  Well, I‘ve seen other polls that have different numbers for America, with more people...

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  Well, but, you know, polls vary from one to another. 

Obviously, there are people in this country who think we shouldn‘t be doing it.  But also I think this is one of those questions where it depends on how you ask the question, because if you ask people, do you think spreading democracy makes America safer, a very large majority say yes. 

MATTHEWS:  James, but isn‘t that what the Bush doctrine is all about, selling democracy? 

WARREN:  Exactly.  But one is also reminded of the sharp differences that underlie all this sort of bonhomie and the alleged fence-mending that been‘s going on in Brussels and elsewhere.

There are differences over Iraq, over Palestine, over Kyoto climate accord, over a range of other issues.  But one of them includes the roots of terrorism.  And without simplifying, there is a large body of folks in Europe who feel the roots of terrorism are in poverty.  The Bush folks and some people, a lot of people in this country, think that the roots of terrorism lie in a lack of democracy. 

And I think the president has been very candid and very honest.  And, again, there are folks like Schroeder and Chirac, but not all of the European leaders, who clearly disagree with them.  And the Europeans think that we are a little bit naive in thinking that we can impose regime change of that sort all over the world.  They just believe out of their own experience, it is a whole lot more complex. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at tomorrow‘s headlines. 

Today, President Bush denied that an attack on Iran was imminent, but had further things to say on the subject. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.  Having said that, all options are on the table. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, if I were in Iran, I would read the “options on the table” part. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I would go, wait a minute.  We‘re being targeted?  What‘s going on here? 

ORIN:  Well, it is your walk softly for a while, carry a big stick.  If he says, we won‘t do it, there‘s no stick, is there?  And there‘s nothing—the Europeans are trying to negotiate with Iran to give up their nuclear program.  And they would like there to be incentives.  Give the Iranians something to give it up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a carrot. 

ORIN:  A carrot, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  But we got the stick. 

ORIN:  And we got the stick.  And we don‘t want to trade the stick for a carrot.  And that‘s basically what the president is saying.  You know, it‘s fine if you work this out peaceably, but know that I‘m standing here if you don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Clearly, James, the president goes to Europe, as you said, with a kind of—you said it rather derisively, his bonhomie showing, the good fellowship and all that, the towel-snapping camaraderie and all that across the Atlantic.  But he hasn‘t given an inch, has he?

WARREN:  Yes, well, I don‘t know about the towel-snapping.  You may know more than I do.

(CROSSTALK)   

MATTHEWS:  You know, like in a locker room.  You saw “The Graduate.” 

Come on.  Give me a break.

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  If that guy Wead is e-mailing you, well, who knows, maybe Chirac is e-mailing you, too.

But I think one is reminded, though, that the context here is very different than it was a year ago.  Remember, the Europeans have to deal with Bush.  And he has got four more years.  And, also, the reality is, the Europeans don‘t have to go out on the streets and protest against us, because we aren‘t going into Iran imminently.  We‘re spread too thin. 

But at the same time, the Bush suspicion of that tripartite German-French-English attempt to bring Iran to heel, their suspicion is ample.  And I think, privately, they really don‘t believe that those three countries are going to pull it off. 

MATTHEWS:  Did everybody notice his strong body language today, the way he sat?  The Frenchman, of course, Chirac, is the element—he is the essence of grace and charm and all that.  He has his legs crossed just a certain way. 

Bush comes in there like a cowboy, legs apart, like he has got boots on.  I couldn‘t cross my legs if I tried.  Did anybody notice that?  It was like a statement, like I am a cowboy and I‘m visiting old Europe. 

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  This is a new Chris Matthews—this is a new Chris Matthews notion of towel-snapping foreign policy.  That‘s what we‘ve got here. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s right. 

ORIN:  What you also had was Chirac grabbing his arm with both hands, like he wasn‘t going to let it go. 

(CROSSTALK)

ORIN:  And I would want to say with regard to what James was saying before, to me, the most interesting thing today—yesterday was that Chirac and Bush both issued a joint statement standing by the Lebanese people as they stand up for freedom.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ORIN:  And say get Syria out of our country. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a rare toughness against an Arab country for the French.

ORIN:  Yes, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to go, but more on this, more on the Syrians later. 

Thank you, Deborah Orin.  And thank you, James Warren.

When we come back, comedian Colin Quinn and his plans to bring some humor to the soldiers in Iraq.  That‘s where he is heading.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Whether it is creating memorable characters on “Saturday Night Live,” hosting “Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn” on Comedy Central, or doing stand-up comedy for packed houses around this country, Colin Quinn is a comedian with a unique point of view.  In March, he leaves again for Iraq to entertain the troops.

Colin, thanks for coming on the show.

I‘ve got to ask you, what works with the guys over there and the women? 

COLIN QUINN, COMEDIAN:  Thanks, Chris. 

Well, I mean, just being as—they like cynical humor, which is good for me.  And they like, like, just, everything that works over here.  It‘s such a—it is always such a new batch there.  And they got a lot of information.  And they watch TV all the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you have fun with people like Dick Cheney, the vice president, and even the president?  Or are they off—out of bounds, I should say? 

QUINN:  No.  They‘re not out of bounds.  But, I mean, the troops—

you can talk about that, but you can talk about anything.  It just doesn‘t

·         you know, anything that‘s kind of, you know, as long as it‘s not too innocent.  They don‘t go for that nonsense. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you feel—aren‘t you a little worried going over there? 

QUINN:  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  With all these beheadings and everything and people getting captured? 

QUINN:  But, I mean, if I can find a way to charge a download fee for my beheading, then it would be all right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your view about the war.  Hollywood as a group is stamped as lefty, as anti-war, etcetera, etcetera.

QUINN:  They are. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, tell me how you know that.  Tell me something—tell me something I don‘t know about that. 

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN:  Well, I mean, that‘s exactly what they are.  I mean, why is that—you know, that‘s their opinion.  It‘s fine, you know?

MATTHEWS:  How about on “SNL”?  Is that true of your fellow comedians? 

QUINN:  On “SNL”? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

QUINN:  Probably most of them are, you know?  I mean, you can count the people that are not on the left, far on the left in show business. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what separates you?  What‘s your gene explanation for

·         your genetic explanation for why you‘re politically to the center or the right of those people? 

QUINN:  Well, Janeane Garofalo says it is because I‘m a contrarian and just I like to start trouble.  That‘s not true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not true. 

QUINN:  But that‘s what she said about me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You want to argue with that, huh?

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN:  She goes, you just want to be against Hollywood.  And I told her, it‘s not true.  They‘ve turned out some fine films for 90 years to the American public. 

But I don‘t know.  I just feel like, you know, they automatically go against anything.  But, I mean, they‘re the ones—the reason it bugs me, I guess the reason I‘m less left is because the left in my business particularly has been responsible for more of the censorship over the past 20 years, since I‘ve been in the business, than the right.  So, obviously, I have a problem with that. 

MATTHEWS:  What is left-wing censorship like?  Explain it, because we don‘t hear anything about it.  What is it?

QUINN:  Well, like just the censorship in that they‘ll be like OK, certain people can talk about certain subjects and certain people can‘t. 

And they‘re like, that‘s impolite.  That‘s in bad taste.  That‘s mean-spirited.  Those are the buzz words they use.  But it is always based on their ideology.  So, I mean, the right does censorship, too, but the left runs the media and they do—they definitely—it is not overt, but everybody has seen it.  It‘s there all the time.  And everybody knows.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president of Harvard was wrong in talking about the possible differences in aptitude in math between men and women? 

QUINN:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t—my math and science aptitude is such that, if I brought myself into that discussion, it would be a joke.  I was in the same geography class for three years in high school. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you do? 

QUINN:  I was in the same class three years. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN:  Finally, I did good.  But, yes, I don‘t know.  I mean, I never heard that one before.  So I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make about Chris Rock and his commentary?  I think it was kind of funny.  But people take things so seriously.  He said, first of all, straight guys don‘t watch the Oscars.  Then I think he said black straight guys—only gay black guys watch the Oscars.  And then he said—I correct myself—only white guys or black guys who are straight don‘t watch the Tonys. 

QUINN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He is having fun with this.  But everybody seems to be hanging on his every word, buzzing about whether to yank him as host of the Oscars. 

QUINN:  But, are they really or is this just like some hype for the Oscars? 

Because, to me, it‘s like—first of all, comedians—Chris Rock is a real comedian.  And real comedians, we‘re not there to, like, glorify things.  We‘re there to criticize things.  So, it‘s like—what do they want him to do, get up and go, I‘m going to give it my best to deliver an Oscars worthy—you know what I mean?

We‘re supposed to be, like, negative about stuff.  What do they want him, to, like, celebrate the beauty, the majesty of the Oscars?  You know, it‘s like, you can‘t have it both ways.  You want a comedian, that‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m amazed because Chris Rock is always working the edge of the envelope.  And he always tells jokes like that that are ethnic, and everybody laughs because they release all this sort of ethnic tension in the country, because we‘re laughing about it, rather than fighting about it. 

QUINN:  Right.  Right.  Right.  Right.  So, I don‘t know.  Yes, I mean, I don‘t know.  Maybe it is the gay angle or something.  Maybe somebody is bothered by that.  I don‘t know.  But it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... always grabs people‘s funny bone. 

Let me ask you this.  Why do you want to go over and entertain the troops?  Be a little bit straight now. 

QUINN:  Why?  Because, you know, look what they‘re doing for me.  You know what I mean?  I mean, look what they‘re doing for me.

They put their lives on the line.  So the least I can do is do some shows for them and just kind of say, hey, man, people back here do support you.  I think it is important.  And they seem to love it when we go over there.  So, that‘s what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, good luck.  And take care of yourself over there, Colin Quinn.

QUINN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And thanks for coming on HARDBALL.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

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

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