updated 3/9/2005 2:41:59 PM ET 2005-03-09T19:41:59

Guest: James Zogby, David Ignatius, Ken Adelman, Chuck Hagel

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Six months after quadruple bypass surgery, former President Bill Clinton will undergo another heart operation this Thursday.  Tonight, we look at his presidency, his politics, his health, and his legacy.  And President Bush trumpets signs of democracy across the Middle East.  Did liberal critics get it wrong?  Was President Bush right? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

We‘ll get to that debate about whether President Bush‘s foreign policy is working in the Middle East and the latest in that shooting that led to the death of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq later in the show. 

But, first, six months after a quadruple heart bypass, President Clinton will have follow-up surgery on Thursday.  Today, Clinton and President Bush 41 met with the president about their tour of tsunami-ravaged regions.  And President Clinton answered questions about his health. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m going to slow down for the next couple of weeks, but I‘m in good shape.  I got—did great in my health tests.  I just have this little fluid buildup.  As soon as I get it done, I‘m going to go back to work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m joined by NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who broke the news about the president‘s health today. 

Let me ask you, Andrea, first of all, he doesn‘t look great in that picture.  Is that because of the need for this—is that connected to the need for this follow-up surgery? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  It may well be, but he doesn‘t look great. 

People who are very close to the Clintons say that he‘s not recovered as rapidly as he wanted, that Mrs. Clinton has expressed some concerns to close friends, that obviously with this fluid in the lung cavity, it is slowing him down some.  But it, of course, did not prevent him from going to the tsunami region twice. 

George Herbert Walker Bush, standing next to him, was saying that he‘s killing him that—the pace he keeps.  And they are leaving tomorrow—they are leaving today, actually, the two of them, to fly to Florida tomorrow for a golf tournament tomorrow, which is a charity tournament organize by Greg Norman, where they are both going to be playing to raise money for tsunami relief. 

So, he‘s obviously still keeping up quite a pace, but he does need this procedure and it is general anesthesia.  So, it is a cause for some worry. 

MATTHEWS:  What is his rest—the rest of his life ambition?  Can you figure it out? 

MITCHELL:  I can‘t figure it out, but obviously he loves the world stage.  He‘s very engaged.  And there were questions asked about the spread of democracy across the Middle East, something you are going to be talking about with your other guests later in the program.

And immediately he jumped into it.  Both presidents did, former presidents.  But he talked about a conference in Dubai recently that he had attended and how he does not believe the stereotyping that Middle East societies do not want democracy.  He said that things really are changing and changing from both internal and external pressures.  And he was very complimentary to what has been happening so far and to the direction that is coming from the Bush White House. 

This is a man who is fully engaged, who is smart, knowledgeable.  And I don‘t know that he wants to be just sort of the second Clinton in public life.  I can imagine a lot of different arenas. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I love to try to figure out politics, Andrea, and so do you.  So, I‘m going to put you on the hot spot.  Try to figure this one out.

MITCHELL:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  The president has got tricky health right now.  It may be fabulous in a month from now, but I want to ask you about what he wants out of life now. 

Does this president want to separate himself from the sweat and toil of the Democratic Party and move up to an elevation, along with other former presidents, especially the Bushes, and join that sort of winners circle up there and stay there and in a way that elevates him from the Democrats? 

MITCHELL:  Well, he may want to do that.  And that may be a laudatory goal and you could even imagine some multinational organization that, once his health is better, he could lead. 

But there is that other little part of life, which is his spouse‘s ambitions and the very strong likelihood, according to every leading Democrat I know close to her and observing her, that she is planning, after her reelection campaign in ‘06, to run for the presidency of the United States. 

And if she‘s plotting that, he can‘t exactly be staying in the stratosphere, because he would be very closely engaged as one of her key advisers. 

MATTHEWS:  Behind the scenes or out front? 

MITCHELL:  I would suggest behind the scenes, because, if you remember the way she ran in 2000, he was very much off stage.  He was a principal adviser, but she wanted to be her own person.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  And she doesn‘t want to be—it‘s no longer two for the price of one. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and I think all the polling on the Democrats‘ part over the last couple elections was, keep Clinton‘s face out of the campaigning. 

MITCHELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t deliver a single state for them last time when he went out and campaigned for Kerry. 

Anyway, stay with us, Andrea. 

MITCHELL:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  For more on President Clinton, I am joined now by “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent—I love that phrase—Howard Fineman—and well deserved—Howard Fineman.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And MSNBC‘s political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, you have been through this kind of surgery.  Let‘s go through the doctor part of this.  What do you make of this new thing he has to go through tomorrow—Thursday? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he went—we had the same thing, heart surgery, Chris.  And they saw you up right down the middle.  And when you come out of it, you are told to breathe, but it‘s very painful and tender. 

You are told to breathe deeply to get the lungs going again.  And it‘s hard to do, so they give you this breathing tube.  You breathe into it, push into it, blow into it to raise this little ball up, and it‘s very painful, but it needs to be done.  And they say, if it‘s not done, the fluid will compact at the bottom of the lungs.  So you have to do it again and again and again. 

And they will come in and punch you in the back to break up this fluid, so it won‘t compact.  It sounds as though this is what‘s happened to Clinton in the bottom of the lungs.  But I also read it was outside the lungs.  Now, it may be an invasive surgery.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  Which means sort of the laparoscopic thing, the small incisions and go in.  Or I‘ll bet they might go down the—as a lot of folks have had, they might go down the throat. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the politics of Bill Clinton and his plans.  He‘s one of the shrewdest guys who has ever lived on this planet politically.  I always say, if he arrived on Mars or Pluto or some millionth planet from Earth, he would be getting elected to class president within about an hour or two. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  I feel your pain, Martians. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, what do you think he‘s up to?  I think—I‘ll go back to my premise.  I don‘t think he is going to be secretary-general of the U.N., which was his ambition.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Ever since I detected it six or seven years ago. 

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I think his ambition is to join this higher celestial level of presidents and former presidents above the dunghill of Kerry and Gore and all the guys that lose, like Dukakis.  He wants to get up there with the Bushes. 

FINEMAN:  Well, first of all, he won two terms as a Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  So he‘s halfway there already. 

I think he loves being in that pantheon with the Bush family.  And, interestingly, it serves the Bush family‘s purposes as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why?  To have an in-house Democrat?

FINEMAN:  Well, the Republicans are in control.  They‘ve got that White House.  They‘ve got the Congress.  They‘re feeling their oats now.  They‘re magnanimous toward Bill Clinton.

Also, Clinton has some uses for them, because some of his Democratic Leadership Council policies, some of his moderate Democratic policies, are ones that George Bush is trying to use right now.  And, also, Clinton‘s focus on the Middle East, which Bush originally said he was going to ignore, Bush is now following.

It‘s also good for Hillary right now, having talked to some of her top advisers. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  They—anything that allows her even by reference to be seen above the political fray is good for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Exactly. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s good for both of them. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a cute little deal, isn‘t it?

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We got one Bush president.  Then we have a Clinton.  Then we have a Bush.  Then we have another Clinton.  Then Jeb‘s ready.  It‘s a cute little deal.

FINEMAN:  But the point about—the point about Hillary right now is that she benefits.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  At least according to people who are close to her that I know, from Bill Clinton being up there in the nonpartisan pantheon.  That‘s good for Hillary. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does honest American debate benefit from this, when you have a deal going on here? 

BUCHANAN:  Because, Chris, you know what this is?  There should be a suspension of all-out politics to permanent war.  And Clinton is doing this.  Bush is benefiting enormously, because it shows, look, this is not a partisan guy.  This is a guy that reaches out to his opponent that beat his dad twice, brings him in for the good of the country.

And the more Clinton ascends the staircase to get up to this peak, the more valuable he becomes as an asset when Hillary runs.  He then becomes a bipartisan—bipartisan... 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And the more they can apply the rubber truncheon to Harry Reid in the Senate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, I mean, it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... establishment.  For people out there who like to see change in America, you‘ve got the Clintons joining the stay-the-way-it-is band. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, but it suits Bush‘s purposes right now, as Pat was saying. 

They can play tough with the Democrats in the Senate, while making nice with this hero of the Democratic Party. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get Andrea in here, because she will assume a much more—perhaps a more measured assessment here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, have we gotten past the universe of possibility or is this reasonable?  Why do the Clintons want to marry the Bushes? 

MITCHELL:  Because it gives them...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting for—I‘m waiting for the rehearsal dinner here.

MITCHELL:  Right.  It give them respectability.

MATTHEWS:  When are they going to stop?  Yes?

MITCHELL:  Well, you‘re absolutely right.  It gives them respectability.  They become apolitical, bipartisan.  And they can take their political shots, Hillary Clinton certainly can, when she needs to.

But you have even seen, back in New York state, she has Republicans giving fund-raisers for her.  She‘s been reaching out and becoming much more centrist in her work on Armed Services.  That is the middle ground where she thinks elections are won or lost, not only in New York, but, of course, across the country. 

And this obviously suits both Clinton and Bush, because, as you say, they can embrace on tsunami relief and on things that are completely bipartisan.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  And then beat each other around the heads when it comes to Social Security. 

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t—but, Andrea, you covered the Hill for years.  Doesn‘t this make the House and Senate leaders, whether it‘s Harry Reid or Pelosi or whoever or Steny Hoyer, seem a little wormy, somewhat below these guys at the presidential level? 

MITCHELL:  I have to tell you—I have to tell you, Chris, that I spent some time this weekend talking to some leading Democrats who have worked with Republicans on other issues in both the Senate and the House.  They said they have never seen the level of meanness right now from both parties.  They were reacting to things that they perceived that Bill Frist has done to them, but they are people who have worked before with the Republicans in the White House. 

They say they will never trust the Republicans again, that it is meaner than any time when I was covering it back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the Republicans stomp on and treat the Democrats on Capitol Hill like lower forms of life. 

MITCHELL:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, they bring into the house, they welcome into the house the selected Democrats, Bill Clinton.  It‘s unbelievable. 

MITCHELL:  And we should point out...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so shrewd.  It‘s so old money. 

MITCHELL:  We should point out, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so smart. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Chris, this is a reaction, of course, by the Republicans to the way the Democrats treated Republicans for decades.  So it‘s all payback.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.  We talked about that the other night, Andrea. 

MITCHELL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, we are on the same message.  It took years and years of chicken-and-egg bitterness to lead to this day. 

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard Fineman and Pat Buchanan are staying with me!

And, later, we‘ll debate a historic move by the current president.  Did President Bush‘s decision to go to war in Iraq help lay the foundation for all this democracy breaking out in the Middle East?  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe he was right.  Maybe we were all a little bit wrong.  And as millions across the Middle East struggle for freedom, was President Bush right? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Pat Buchanan and Howard Fineman on President Clinton‘s rest-of-life politics.  And later, the debate over the Bush foreign policy.  Was President Bush right about democracy taking hold in the Middle East?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman. 

We‘re talking about triangulation, but also about the role of a former president who has to be ready to be a first gentleman. 

Howard, is it better for Bill Clinton to fade a bit and get a job

somewhere, like head of the World Bank or head of—he can‘t get that job

·         head of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, where he‘s seen at a desk every day, than being seen as an available floater as his wife‘s husband as she‘s—when she‘s president? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, he needs something like that.  But whatever desk he occupies, he will always be center stage.  That is the way he is. 

Let me say, having seen him recently up close about the distance you and I are, he looks terrible.  And this is necessary surgery.  And everybody wishes him well.  He‘s almost reached the beloved stage somehow five years...

MATTHEWS:  You think?

FINEMAN:  Yes, five years out.  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... past problems?

FINEMAN:  Five years out, with the Bushes embracing him, not—all the rejectionists will never accept him.  But I think that is what he wants more than anything, you know, about politicians wanted to be feared or loved. 

MATTHEWS:  He wants more than that, buddy.

FINEMAN:  He wants—he wants to be loved.

MATTHEWS:  He wants a lot more than forgiveness. 

FINEMAN:  He wants love.

MATTHEWS:  He wants elevation. 

FINEMAN:  He wants—that‘s true.  That‘s true.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, Pat, could he have a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Fitzgerald said there‘s no second acts in American life. 

Does he have the chance for a second chance for greatness? 

BUCHANAN:  No.  He‘s not going to be a great president.  He‘s not going to be a near-great president, because these were not great times, first and foremost. 

Secondly, foreign policy, Oslo fell apart.  Haiti is nothing.  Look, the Good Friday agreement fell apart. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the economy? 

BUCHANAN:  The economy is the one thing he‘s got going for him. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a lot.

BUCHANAN:  But they were very good times in the 1990s.  But the best economic performance of any president in the 20th century, you know who it was?  Warren Harding. 

FINEMAN:  The best thing he‘s got going for him...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t make it very long there, did he? 

FINEMAN:  Three years.  But Harding, Coolidge was 7 percent growth. 

FINEMAN:  The best thing he‘s got going for him here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t that Teapot Dome, too? 

BUCHANAN:  Teapot Dome?  No.  Yes, it was, but that was after Harding left. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t it the second most corrupt administration of the 20th century, the other being one represented here tonight by you?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  He was dead.  He was dead.  And Coolidge was in and here was clean as a hound.

BUCHANAN:  Your favorite two presidents are Harding and Nixon. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What a top two that is. 

Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan representing the Nixon administration, and Howard Fineman, representing “Newsweek.” 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, both sides are still fighting it out over Social Security.  Now Senator Chuck Hagel is putting forth his own plan right down the middle.  Will it be acceptable to either side?  Senator Hagel will be joining me in just a moment. 

And next Tuesday, I will be in San Francisco.  And I‘ll be joined by Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood for a big part of the show.  What a hero to have on the show. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  The “Million Dollar Baby” is coming here. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The battle over Social Security jumped to Capitol Hill this week, as Republican Senator Chuck Hagel introduced his plan for changing Social Security.  Hagel‘s proposal would target workers under the age of 45, raising their retirement age to 68 and would create the option of personal accounts.  But will his plan survive the partisan debate? 

Senator Hagel, welcome. 

Let me ask you the toughest question.  How are you going to pay for it?  How much federal borrowing from abroad will be required for this plan to work? 

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  Chris, first, what we have in Social Security today is actuarially unsustainable, meaning that we have a $3.7 trillion unfunded liability over the next 75 years. 

So, we‘re already in debt right now, $3.7 trillion in Social Security.  Now, you start there.  What my plan would do—and we‘ve run the models and the scoring with the Social Security Administration—over the 75 years that that $3.7 trillion in unfunded liabilities must be paid is think some of that debt, put it at the front end, spread it out, so that we can pay for a transition that gets us solvent within 75 years.  And all years there out, we would have a solvent Social Security program. 

MATTHEWS:  But the money we‘ll be paying seniors over the next 10 years would actually be money we‘re borrowing from abroad, wouldn‘t it? 

HAGEL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the checks are basically being financed, the money that is going to seniors now retired for the next 10 years, will be coming from U.S. borrowing in China and Japan.  Isn‘t this the same problem that confronts the Clinton—the Bush plan? 

HAGEL:  No, let‘s start it again. 

We are in debt right now $3.7 trillion.  That means that‘s what we are obligated to pay, and we don‘t know how we‘re going to get it.  We‘re going to have to borrow $3.7 trillion today to pay the commitments in Social Security over the next 75 years.  That is an actuarial fact, Chris.  That isn‘t my number. 

So, if that is the case—it is the case—we‘re going to need to

bring this up to a sense of solvency.  What I do—and it doesn‘t hurt any

·         or change any benefit or any status of any senior over 45 years old—is, we start a program, just as you put at the front end of the show, of starting to change how we would have the dynamics of Social Security administered as to what would be the criteria as to who is eligible. 

Private accounts, voluntary private accounts, by the way—no one would be mandated to go into a private account system—would take 4 percent of the payroll tax today, those under age 45, and start building private accounts.  There would still be a guaranteed Social Security benefit at the end of the retiree‘s working age, as well as the private accounts. 

We would guarantee that with a 135 percent above poverty annuity to make sure that Social Security, just like it has been over the last 70 years, is still a safety net, especially for those most vulnerable in our society. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get to the basic math, Senator.  Right now, a person who works has to pay 6.2 percent of what they earn up to $89,500.  You would—what would they have to pay under your plan? 

HAGEL:  I don‘t raise the taxes on anyone. 

MATTHEWS:  But do you...

HAGEL:  The base doesn‘t change either, Chris, up to $90,000. 

MATTHEWS:  But up to 6.2 percent, you are putting two-thirds of it into the personal accounts? 

HAGEL:  That 4 -- well, there‘s more than 6.2 percent that goes into that Social Security.  A total of 12.4 percent goes in. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HAGEL:  Because of employer, employee. 

MATTHEWS:  So you would take 4 percent of the 12.4? 

HAGEL:  That‘s right.  That would go into a personal account.  That‘s voluntary.  You can either do that or stay in the old system. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Who‘s backing you on this?  This is tricky business coming out in the middle like this between the president and his Democratic critics. 

HAGEL:  Well, I‘m the first one to lay down an actual comprehensive Social Security plan in the form of legislation.  No one has done that yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who is going to give you credit?  Because the Democrats have said basically they won‘t take a nickel out of the money that goes into the Social Security trust fund and convert it into private accounts.  They won‘t do it as a matter of principle, that very thing you‘re suggesting here. 

HAGEL:  Well, first of all, not all Democrats have said that.  But more to the point...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you got Joe Lieberman maybe.

HAGEL:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But most of them are saying no way, Jose, here, right? 

HAGEL:  No.  No, that‘s—no.  My colleague from Nebraska, Ben Nelson, for example, said he wants to see facts.  I talked to Max Baucus on the floor of the Senate last Thursday.  He knew my plan would have personal accounts.  He said, let‘s talk.  It doesn‘t mean he is endorsing.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HAGEL:  But here is the bigger point.  You know the legislative process.  You worked up here.  You work your way along through this. 

And I think what‘s important here is, let‘s get some plans out.  Let‘s don‘t be afraid of them.  If the Democrats have better plans, let‘s see what the Democrat plans are. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard from Karl Rove at the White House or anyone there either bucking you up or knocking you down on this proposal? 

HAGEL:  The White House is very, very supportive of my proposal.  Secretary Snow was in to see me this morning.  We briefed the White House on Friday on what I was going to do.  We have been in touch with the White House Treasury Department. 

I‘m the first one, again, to put down a specific plan. 

MATTHEWS:  You think they‘ll buy your compromise, the White House? 

Are they in a compromise mood? 

HAGEL:  Well, I think the president wants to reform Social Security in a way that works, that is sustainable.  And I think he‘s right.  I think we‘ve got some time here. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HAGEL:  Social Security is not in crisis, but we don‘t want to squander the time we have.  Let‘s do it right.  Let‘s do it wisely.  And the good news is, we can make this work.  We can fix Social Security for future generations. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you say to Democrats who say their best position is to hold, let the Republicans duke this out, take all the heat, and then come in with some suggestion about an add-on later, something that‘s not quite a Social Security change, but a tax cut?

HAGEL:  Well, I think the American public looks to its leaders to fix the problems of our time.  We have challenges.  Those are real challenges in all the entitlement programs.  I think the American people expect a little better than that from us. 

Listen, an irresponsible, cowardly Congress will pay a price for that.  It doesn‘t mean we need to fix it this year.  We probably won‘t be able to, but we need to get at it, maybe next year, maybe the third year.  But every year that goes by, we lose precious time.  And you know the numbers also—

I think most people do—that by the time 2018 hits, we start taking more out of Social Security than is coming in to pay for it. 

By the year 2042, it‘s insolvent.  The good news is, we‘ve got time to fix it. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you are right about that, Senator, based on the numbers.  It‘s clearly not until 2042.  It‘s way before we start running a deficit in that account. 

HAGEL:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Chuck Hagel. 

HAGEL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, do the recent moves toward democracy across the Middle East mean that President Bush‘s policies in the Middle East are right and they‘re working?  That debate coming up next.

And don‘t forget, next Monday, the HARDBALL College Tour returns in a big way.  I‘ll be joined by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger live for an hour from Stanford.  You won‘t want to miss that one.  And the day after that, we‘re going to have Clint Eastwood from Carmel, California. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With the forces of democracy at work across the Middle East, President Bush put all of his own weight on the accelerator today and came down hard on Syria and Iran. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At the National Defense University in Washington, it was a speech about the Middle East that was both dramatic and aggressive. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The trumpet of freedom has been sounded, and that trumpet never calls retreat. 

The president pointed to the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, the progress between Israelis and Palestinians, and the demonstrations in Lebanon last week that led to the fall of a pro-Syrian puppet government.  While President Bush did not take credit outright for these developments, he used them to ratchet up the pressure even more on the governments of Syria and Iran. 

BUSH:  By now, it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future.  It is the last gasp of a discredited past. 

SHUSTER:  But the future of Lebanon is still in question.  Today, nearly half a million pro-Syrian demonstrators took to the streets in Beirut shouting anti-American slogans. 

Nonetheless, in mentioning the coming Lebanese elections, President Bush‘s language was more forceful than ever. 

BUSH:  All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair. 

SHUSTER:  The president‘s aggressive approach has prompted some Democratic critics to suggest that it could inflame Arab nationalism and resentment towards U.S. power. 

But some of these same critics argued for similar restraint two years ago.  And Bush administration officials argue the breakout of democracy in the region is vindication of the administration‘s approach to Iraq.  And yet, there is an argument that Iraq has been a separate issue.  When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most analysts point to the death of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as the most significant event of the last year.  Arafat‘s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, is far more moderate and has prompted new concessions and restraint from the Israelis. 

And, in Lebanon, the demonstrations began shortly after the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.  He had urged Syrian troops to leave the country, and the outcry following his death took officials even in Washington by surprise. 

(on camera):  How one views developments in the Middle East depends largely, of course, on what you think prompted them.  The question is, when it comes to the future, will the Bush administration‘s aggressive push for democracy bring it to the region faster or will that approach only bring a rise in anti-American Arab nationalism? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  So, does the president deserve credit after all? 

Ken Adelman is a former assistant secretary of defense.  He also served as the deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. during the Reagan administration.  He‘s currently a member of the Defense Policy Board.

In February of 2002, Adelman wrote an op-ed in “The Washington Post” in which he said: “I believe demolishing Hussein‘s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.  Such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America‘s war on terrorism,” a line, by the way, he‘s occasionally liked to hear again. 

David Ignatius is an associate editor and syndicated columnist with “The Washington Post.”  He recently visited Lebanon.  And James Zogby is president of the Arab-American Institute. 

Jim, let me ask you a question about Lebanon.  Do you believe the events in Lebanon, which look positive right now, if you believe in the autonomy of that country, are a result of what happened with us going into Iraq? 

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE:  Absolutely not. 

And I think that, while the president was giving his speech, what people weren‘t focused on were 500,000 people today mobilized by Hezbollah in the streets of Beirut.  It‘s a deeply fractured country, and there is no Lebanese consensus.  What we ought to be doing is find a way to forge a consensus out of the Lebanese constituency, and we‘re not. 

The president is inciting one side.  And I have great fear that we may see a reigniting of civil conflict, not necessarily where we were in the ‘70s, but there are dangers in Lebanon.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Who is on—who is fighting each other in that case? 

ZOGBY:  Well, look, you have sectarian—a deeply sectarian, divided situation.  You also have 500,000, 600,000 Syrian laborers in Lebanon.  And there has already been violence there. 

You also have 350,000 to 400,000 Palestinian refugees.  It is a volatile pot.  And, frankly, I think we misread the situation when we try to sort of force-fit it into freedom on the march and incite people to street demonstrations in a situation where Lebanon needs something quite different.  I do believe that Syria ought to leave.  And I‘m glad that they‘ve gotten the message finally. 

But I don‘t believe that the situation in Lebanon is, in fact, a mission accomplished.  It‘s a very precarious situation.

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s a different question, Jim.

ZOGBY:  And we need to read it right. 

MATTHEWS:  A different question, a narrower question. 

ZOGBY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you say that the people in Lebanon were not inspired by what happened in Ukraine?

ZOGBY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  What happened on the West Bank, what happened in Iraq? 

ZOGBY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  What happened...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They weren‘t inspired by what they saw on TV to try to stand up against the Syrians? 

ZOGBY:  No, they were inflamed by what happened to Prime Minister Hariri.  It was an outrageous assassination.  It was a horrific event.  And it literally took away from Lebanon and the Arab world a very important leader.  People were inflamed by that.  And they took to the streets.

And, frankly, because the army didn‘t stop them, they continued to mobilize.  And I think it was very impressive and very inspirational, but it was a sign of a fractured country.  And what you saw today with 500,000 people mobilized by Hezbollah is evidence of the fact of how fractured the country is.  We have to be very careful here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, Ken.  You like the fact we went to Iraq, right? 

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY: 

Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you like—do you think it had anything to do with what happened in other countries, like the West Bank, the elections being held, having being held there, the elections that look like they‘re coming in Lebanon, what looks to be a nationalistic movement in Lebanon to overthrow the Syrians?  Is this all a result of going to Iraq? 

ADELMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Bush right?  Connect the dots. 

ADELMAN:  Yes.  Ideas have consequences. 

And people look at something on television, like eight million Iraqis going to the poll for the first time ever, and they think, why not here?  What‘s wrong with us?  Are we inferior in some way?  We can‘t choose ourselves?  Now, Mr. Zogby says that 500,000 people under Hezbollah tutelage today turned out in Syria.  What they‘re saying is, they like Syria‘s occupation.  They would like Syria to take over their intelligence operations.  They like Syrian armed forces.

This is—Hezbollah is under the payroll, in the payroll of Syria. 

ZOGBY:  That‘s not true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t Hezbollah a popular political party in Lebanon?

ADELMAN:  Of course you‘d like to keep your payroll, keep the checks coming. 

ZOGBY:  That‘s simply not true.

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

ADELMAN:  Well, because, I mean, they live off Iran...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

ADELMAN:  On Iran and Syria.  I have just been told that over the years. 

MATTHEWS:  You were told that the Hezbollah movement, which is in Lebanon, is somehow—that it‘s a puppet of the Syrian government?

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN:  Gets a lot of money.  And don‘t overextend, don‘t exaggerate what I‘m saying.  They get a lot of money and support from the Syrians. 

ZOGBY:  Hezbollah is a movement—Ken, Ken, listen.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  And, in your hands, it can be really lethal. 

The point is, is that Hezbollah is, in fact, a movement of the disenfranchised in Lebanon.  The Lebanese compact that was formed in the 1930s gave Shia no role in the country.  Today, they are 40 to 45 percent of the constituency in Lebanon and have no power at all.  The various groups in Lebanon that were demonstrating in the last few days want a return to the ancien regime.  They want to go back to a Maronite and Sunni-led state.

ADELMAN:  So there‘s no support from Syria?

ZOGBY:  You have to have—you have to have a movement in Lebanon that says one man, one vote.  Give Lebanon a chance to truly be an independent country. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got to get to David Ignatius here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David, I read your column the other day.  You talked about sitting down with Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Druze in Lebanon.  Is what‘s happening there the result of a domino effect coming out of Iraq and the West Bank, those elections? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You know, it is clear that our invasion of Iraq was the stress that cracked these icebergs that had locked up the Middle East.

But what‘s forcing change is that people want it.  Lebanese are sick of Syrian occupation.  Egyptians are sick of an unresponsive political system. 

MATTHEWS:  Was the straw that broke the camel‘s back the election in Iraq, our involvement in Iraq, or was it the assassination of Hariri? 

IGNATIUS:  Well, I think the assassination of Hariri was the trigger, but people watched those Iraqi voters risking their lives going to the poll, and they said, why not here?  I mean, that is what—Jumblatt has been the most anti-American person in the Middle East for decades. 

MATTHEWS:  When will we know...

IGNATIUS:  And he told me two weeks ago that—you know, he said, I have always been cynical about America in Iraq.  But when I saw those Iraqi voter, I changed my mind.  This is our Berlin Wall. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But, you know, after he got rid of Tito, he died.  Yugoslavia became a bloodbath.  After we got rid of Saddam Hussein, now Iraq is a warfare between the Sunnis and the Shia.  Now we have a situation in Lebanon.  We get the Syrians out, they‘re going to—the Christians are going to start fighting with the Muslims.  And is that a success? 

(CROSSTALK)

IGNATIUS:  It‘s very dangerous.  These are dangerous waters.  When the icebergs break up, people can get hurt. 

But I think what Jim is missing is the fact that there is a new generation in Lebanon.  I have been with those kids in the streets.  And I‘m telling you, whether they are Sunni or Druze or Shia or Christian just doesn‘t matter to the kids. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to start naming boulevards after Bush over there?  I‘m serious.

IGNATIUS:  Well, you know, if this works, they may well, and they probably should. 

But, again, it‘s, they‘re going to do it.  I think the point that you‘ve got to see is, they‘re going to do it.  I think Jim is wrong in his interpretation of today‘s Hezbollah demonstration.  The key thing is, those Hezbollah members were carrying Lebanese flags.  They‘re saying, we‘re Lebanese.  And they also were saying in their own way, goodbye, Syria. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jim, what‘s going to win here? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Jim.  Go ahead. 

ZOGBY:  I don‘t dispute the fact that the Hezbollah was carrying Lebanese flags. 

The fact is, what kind of Lebanon?  What of the Lebanon we‘re talking about and what is the future?  If the slogan were one man, one vote, you‘d have a very different composition to the demonstrators who were out on the streets in Lebanon.  Over the last several weeks, those people wouldn‘t be there, because they don‘t want one man vote.  We have to be careful.  We have to be careful.  You get what you want. 

If you want democracy, look, Hamas won 70 percent of the seats in Gaza and they may well win the same number in the West Bank.  It is not a very simple situation as the president is presenting it.  We have to be careful.  That‘s all I‘m saying. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, democracy doesn‘t mean peace. 

Let‘s come back and talk about that point.  I wonder if there‘s a war now between the forces of democracy, which seem to be winning, and the forces of nationalism, which are almost unassailable.  We‘ll be back with Ken Adelman, David Ignatius and James Zogby.

And, later, top Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and axis of evil speechwriter David Frum will be with us. 

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, does President Bush deserve credit as democracy begins to take hold in the Middle East?  Our debate continues in just a minute right here on HARDBALL.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Ken Adelman, David Ignatius and James Zogby.

Jim, I want to get to the point here about Lebanon.  We‘re all talking about the success of these people demonstrating against the once feared Syrian occupation.  Is this the preview of a civil war? 

ZOGBY:  It could be.  I hope it‘s not.  But my sense is, is that we need to be very careful.  When the president was inciting people today, I think it‘s dangerous. 

The fact is, is that the people who were out there today, the 500,000 mobilized by Hezbollah, have a very different agenda than the people who were out the day before.  And there are people who haven‘t marched yet.  When we polled in Lebanon, we find very different views among the different constituencies.  And it is a country that‘s known violence.  It could go back.  We have to be very careful as we move forward. 

I think that, as we entered unchartered waters, as we did in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan, we‘re doing it now in Lebanon.  And I think you‘re right.  You don‘t want a situation like Bosnia, because, at the end of the day, you have to say, was it worth it? 

MATTHEWS:  The president says that democracy will make us safer.  That is his whole pitch. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We can get security and freedom.  Do you believe that democracy in the Middle East would make a calmer Middle East or not? 

ZOGBY:  Look, Afghanistan is a narco state.  We read that three days ago in “The Washington Post.”

Iraq is a country rife right now with fratricidal violence.  Shia, Kurds and Sunni don‘t agree, and, frankly, there may yet be wider war.  Lebanon, I don‘t know where it‘s going to go, but I do know that America has spun itself silly.  We‘re thinking it‘s all a big victory back here, but people in the Middle East are frightened.  The one thing Iraq did accomplish was, it spread enmity toward the United States.  I am concerned about that.  And I think we all ought to be.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s the argument.  We‘re going to the wrong way over there.  Do you buy that, David?

IGNATIUS:  No, I really don‘t.  I think that this is a period in which

·         in which we‘re seeing change.  You‘ve got to remember, the old status quo was chaotic, violent.  Lots of people died.  It‘s not as if we‘re leaving a paradise and heading into tumult. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but we got a lot of these—a lot of these monarchies keeping the lid on things over there, didn‘t we? 

IGNATIUS:  I think Jim—you know, I think Jim needs to see that there is a new generation rising everywhere in the Middle East.  And I think he needs to see that all Lebanese, across confessional lines, want change.  They want the Syrians out.  They want their country back.  I mean, again, those were Lebanese flags. 

MATTHEWS:  So you predict no war?

IGNATIUS:  I predict—I don‘t think there‘s going to be a civil war.  I would worry more about Syria breaking apart.  The ethnic tensions in Syria are worse than Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Ken, are you worried about democracy breaking out in the Middle East, if everybody over there votes against us, votes against Israel? 

ADELMAN:  Why would you be worried about that? 

MATTHEWS:  Because the people in the street have always been more radical than the people in the palaces.

ADELMAN:  That‘s what you say, but, you know, we have been hearing about all this—people in the street rising up.

MATTHEWS:  Have you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the polls over there about us? 

ADELMAN:  Yes, but forget about polls.  Polls are no good in totalitarian, authoritarian, repressed societies.  They are just no good, OK?

But the fact is, we heard about the Arab street rising up against the United States time and time again.  It seems like the Arab street is rising up for some kind of self-determination.  Why should every part of the world go for a more democratic, elect their own leaders, and we say, no, it‘s no good for the Arabs?

What Mr. Zogby says is, oh, we have to be careful.  We‘ve got to be.  I mean, you know, we can be frozen in what happened in the Middle East 10 years ago.  And, as David Ignatius says, that‘s not a very pretty picture.  Why wouldn‘t we want to keep that status quo? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are you a triumphalist? 

ADELMAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you, David? 

IGNATIUS:  No.  I‘m a journalist. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you open to the idea that Bush could be completely wrong on the Middle East?  Or it‘s like a closed possibility now? 

IGNATIUS:  I think in pushing democracy and saying, you know, Arabs want democracy as much as anybody else, he is completely right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I got to ask one last question to Jim.

ZOGBY:  Chris, we have about as much...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you open to the possibility...

ZOGBY:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  Are you open to the possibility that the president could be completely right in fighting for democracy and in pushing our views on that part of the world? 

ZOGBY:  We have about as much credibility pushing democracy as Hugh Hefner does conducting marriage encounter classes.  The fact is, is that we are the wrong agent for change right now.  And I think we need to improve our standing in the region before we do anything more. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

Thank you very much, Ken Adelman. 

ADELMAN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, James Zogby. 

And thank you very much, David Ignatius.

We will continue this debate about whether President Bush was right with top Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and axis of evil speechwriter—sounds pretty nefarious—David Frum. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

David Frum is a former speechwriter for President Bush.  And Bob Shrum is a veteran Democratic political consultant.  He‘s now a senior fellow with the Robert Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU. 

Bob, could you have been wrong about the war in Iraq, that maybe it is the stimulating influence That HAS led to all this democracy breaking out in that region?

BOB SHRUM, FORMER KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, sure, we all could have been wrong.  But let‘s be clear that the reason that we went to war in Iraq, according to the president, was weapons of mass destruction. 

I think we have to be very careful of instant history and absolute causality.  I think what‘s happening today has many, many causes, I think seeing the Ukrainians, for example, rising up.  I also think we have to be very careful of doing a victory dance while the battle is still on. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s snow on the ground in New York, Bob?  Do you think it is as a result of there being a snowfall? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking.  It‘s an old lawyer‘s question. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  No, I think it is a result of precipitation—frozen precipitation forming in the atmosphere, Chris. 

But, look, if you look at what‘s happened in Lebanon, I think—let me be a little—I think the president deserves some credit.  But I don‘t think it is the invasion of Iraq.  I think it is the articulation of the case for democracy, which wasn‘t the reason that we went into Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  I got you.  You‘ve sliced it well. 

Let me ask you that.  Is that the case?  It is not our participation, but it is how we used it to push elections?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH:  Look, I wonder if we can hold two ideas in our head. 

One is, yes, this is happening because of the president‘s actions and the president‘s great decisions.  It is also true.  Bob Shrum is right.  This is not a good moment to do a victory dance, because the Syrians are going to hit back.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Hezbollah. 

FRUM:  Because their first instinct is—the United States has told Syria, has told the Assad family, get out of Lebanon.  Lebanon is more economically valuable to that family than Syria itself.  They‘re not going to do it, not willingly. 

So their first instinct is, appease the United States.  That‘s what we‘re seeing now. 

MATTHEWS:  Move to the Bekaa Valley, or say you will.

FRUM:  Yes, give the Americans what they want and then they‘ll leave us alone. 

Their next step is going to be, fight back.  The Lebanese aren‘t afraid.  Make them afraid.  So, we need, just as the mood in 2004 was way too pessimistic, the mood this week may be a little bit too optimistic.  We have to be steadfast and consistent and say, you know what?  When the president said at the beginning this was going to be a long, hard struggle, it‘s going to be long and hard.  It‘s long and hard in good times and in bad. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, Bob, will a democratic Middle East—and I include the region itself, the Arab region itself, including Persia, Iran—if it is totally democratic and it is governed by elections and popular will, will it be more pro-American or pro-Israeli than it is now or less so? 

SHRUM:  I think some parts of it are likely to be more pro-American and some parts are likely to be less so. 

I think the notion that democracy translates into pro-Americanism is wrong.  But I think the U.S. ought to stand up for democracy.  It ought to stand up for human rights around the world.  We can‘t impose it by force.  And, in fact, look, the Syrians know right now that we can‘t invade Syria.  We are so overextended in Iraq, that that is not the reason that they‘re doing what they‘re doing. 

I think David is much closer to the correct analysis.  They‘re trying to buy some time.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  To appease Bush.  And they‘re going to fight back. 

MATTHEWS:  Would we be having these elections and this breakout of popular will right now if John Kerry had been president? 

SHRUM:  Oh, I think we would.  I think we would have gone ahead with the elections in Iraq, absolutely.  And I think you would have seen the same—you would have seen tremendous support for democracy around the world coming from a Kerry administration. 

But that‘s iffy history.  I mean, you never know exactly what is going to happen if someone else is in power.  And, as I said earlier, remember when the statue of Saddam Hussein fell and President Bush went to the boat and famously, or infamously, said, mission accomplished? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  We have to get away from a politics that apes the red queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHRUM:  First the verdict, then the trial.

MATTHEWS:  I got to have—David a chance now.

FRUM:  On this question of whether the Middle East would be more or less anti-American, it is a very important question.  I think the correct answer is, it will be more focused on particular practical problems.  That‘s what democracy does.  The case for democracy is that these Middle Eastern tyrannical regimes use hate to distract from problems. 

MATTHEWS:  To keep power.

FRUM:  When—when governments are accountable to the voters, they have to worry about electricity, water, farm, and incomes. 

MATTHEWS:  All politics is local. 

Thank you very much, Bob Shrum and David Frum.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, as longtime CBS News anchor Dan Rather steps down.  That‘s tomorrow night. 

And don‘t forget, next Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

joins me for the full hour live from Stanford.  And the next day—that‘s

next Tuesday—a week from now—I‘ll be joined by the great man himself

·         there he is—Clint Eastwood.  We‘re going to his—we‘re coming to Carmel to interview him.

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

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

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