updated 6/30/2005 9:09:52 AM ET 2005-06-30T13:09:52

Guest: Tony Perkins, Reza Aslan, John Warner, Joe Biden, John McCain, Jerry Sutton

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

And welcome to this special edition of HARDBALL from the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.  We‘re joined here by a lot of Americans, many of whom have spouses, loved ones serving right now in Iraq. 

We‘ve been talking to some of those women now about their husbands fighting overseas in Iraq.  We‘ll be talking to more of them with their reaction as part of our town meeting out here to what President Bush had to say on national television tonight from Fort Bragg.

We‘re also joined by MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, host—I love this name ·        

“THE SITUATION,” and MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent—and we‘ve never a chief Washington correspondent before—Norah O‘Donnell. 

Thank you, Norah.

We want to begin with the Democrats‘ first reaction—and we‘re getting it right now—to President Bush‘s speech.  It‘s from the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. 

Senator Biden, did the president make news tonight? 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Yes, I think he did make news tonight. 

He asked the American people for more time.  He acknowledged that support was waning.  And he distanced himself from his vice president and his secretary of defense by making it clear that we were far from over.  The insurgency wasn‘t on the run, but we could if we—if we move hard and fast, we can—we can win.  And we must win. 

MATTHEWS:  Vice President Cheney, as you said, put the word out just a few days ago that the insurgency in Iraq is in its—quote—“last throes.”  But the secretary of defense said this insurgency, like others of its kind, could last 12 years. 

Do you think the president was more or less optimistic than the secretary of defense? 

BIDEN:  Well, I think he was more realistic, because he said, as we stand up Iraqi troops, we can stand down. 

The problem is, we‘ve only stood up 2,000 Iraqi troops that could actually take the place of American troops.  And it‘s going to take at least a year.  I just got back, as you know, Chris, from Labor Day from my fifth trip to Iraq, met with General Petraeus, training these troops, met with others. 

It‘s going to take them six months to a year to get to the point where they have enough Iraqis trained that they can really begin to make a difference in terms of taking the place of Americans.  And that‘s the fact.  I wish the president stated that more bluntly, so the American people—because the American people stand up to anything you tell them, Chris, if you tell them the truth.

And the truth is, that‘s a minimum requirement so far. 

MATTHEWS:  The truth is what, Senator Biden?  Are the Iraqi people who‘ve taken their jobs in the military, who have accepted enlistment, put on the uniform, taken the training, are they showing the fight that‘s necessary to defeat this insurgency? 

BIDEN:  They‘ve not been trained yet, Chris. 

We squandered a year-and-a-half.  We‘ve only now trained them.  The administration in—the generals on the ground will tell you, we trained 107 platoons.  We only have a total of them three of them—T-H-R-E-E—fully trained.  They could take the place of an American, another 27 that could fight with American backup.  The rest have a long way to go. 

And it‘s only—we‘ve only recently begun to really train them.  And we haven‘t taken sufficient advantage, Chris, of the offers of the Egyptians, the people in the region, the Jordanians, the Germans, even the French, to train out of the country more of the officer corps, more of the Iraqis that need to be trained up, so they can have a coherent army. 

And it‘s going to take much more time than the president has implied up until now. 

MATTHEWS:  Did the president make a good case for the war tonight?  I think he tried—everyone here thinks so, too—in tying together the people we‘re fighting over there, not just the insurgents who are Iraqi, but the foreign fighters that have come in from around the Middle East to fight us there, the Zarqawi—al-Zarqawi element, the al Qaeda element, but—and also by using the term again and again—and Nicolle Devenish, I believe, used it before on our program.  She‘s the White House communications director.  I think it‘s a talking point tonight, murderous ideology. 

He said that the Iraqi insurgents share the same murderous ideology as the people that hit us so hard on 9/11.  Is that proof of a common nature or is that just rhetoric? 

BIDEN:  Well, Chris, I think the president—the one completely candid statement he made was, he said, we have to prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for terror. 

By definition, that means he acknowledged, prior to us going to Iraq, it was not a haven for terror.  Every military man and woman I‘ve met with in my five trips says there‘s a distinction.  There are the jihadists, the al Qaeda types who are coming across the border through Syria out of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, et cetera.  And they have made up anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the fighters. 

The rest of the people are disgruntled Baathists, Sunnis who have no place in the government right now.  And they are a different breed of cat.  The people blowing themselves up, the car bombs, up to 70 and so on, they‘re the jihadists.  And so, we have made some progress with the—with the old Baathists, the old Saddam folks. 

They‘re a different breed than the jihadists.  But they‘re becoming one.  This is becoming a training ground it never was.  That‘s why we have to seal that border, Chris.  And that‘s why we need more help from the international community and why, as John McCain, myself and many others have been saying, we need more boots on the ground.  NATO has the capacity to do that.  We should ask them. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Biden, most Americans, according to polls, now believe it was a mistake to go to Iraq as part of the war on terror.  Do you agree with that majority or not? 

BIDEN:  I do think it was a mistake to go the way we went, Chris.  I have been on your program 100 times.  I think we botched this the way—not our military, but the way in which we went prematurely without any plan, any plan for success. 

And that‘s not Monday-morning quarterbacking.  That was laid out in detail, not just by me and Senator Lugar, but by many others.  We were told we‘d be greeted as heroes.  No one ever believed that who knew anything about this.  We were told that we‘d be down to 30,000 troops by Christmas of two Christmases ago.  We were told that we‘d be able to stand up a government immediately. 

Nobody who examined this thought that was true.  And when we got there, Chris, we still haven‘t gotten right how we turn on the lights in Iraq.  We still have these mega-projects to build tertiary treatment plants, instead of sitting PVC pipe in the back of a house, sending the sewage out into the Tigris River, instead of two feet of it in front of people‘s homes in 119-degree heat. 

MATTHEWS:  Geez.

BIDEN:  We‘ve been incompetent on the civilian side of this.  And, hopefully, we‘re going to change that.  But I didn‘t hear a lot about those changes so far to save the lives of our troops. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator, it‘s great having you on, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. 

We‘re joined right now by Senator John Warner, who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the United States Senate. 

Senator Warner, is this public debate here at home about the war and whether we should have fought it affecting troop morale?

SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA:  Well, I really think we‘re where we are in this, I think, extraordinary battle against terrorism, not just terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, but around the world. 

And I remember so vividly this week when the generals came before us.  They said they were concerned that the bickering back here in Washington, the use of the word quagmire—this is on both sides, Republicans and Democrat, choosing conservatives more patriotic than the liberals, that‘s feeding back into the Arabic press.  And it‘s an unsettling thing to our armed forces.  And we‘ve got to get behind them in a strong bipartisan way and measure very carefully the rhetoric we use back here, to stay the course and say, we‘re behind you and we are making progress in Iraq. 

The troops know that.  The Iraqi people know that.  And we‘ve got to be convincing here at home.  I think the president gave a strong speech tonight.  Certainly, he spoke with confidence and an unwavering resolve to see this goals that we set out to achieve achieved.

And he used, I think, a very interesting example.  When the Iraqis stand up, we‘ll stand down.  And that‘s on two fronts.  They‘ve got to stand up their military and get them trained and take on that responsibility.  And, likewise, the political side in Iraq have got to stand up their constitution and put it into effect and get on with new elections. 

MATTHEWS:  The president, John Warner—or, Senator Warner, talked about tonight about our 30 allies in our coalition.  In fact, he used that term coalition quite a bit tonight. 

Are we really joined by hard-fighting allies over there or has this basically become a fight that the G.I.s, the people you represent in Virginia, the fighting men and women, they‘re having to do, to carry the brunt of this war? 

WARNER:  Very clearly, the U.S. forces are doing the greater proportion of the fighting, because they‘re in larger numbers.

But let us not in any way disparage the allies.  They‘ve made a very important contribution, whether they be 100 or 200, or the British have a substantial contingent there.  So, Chris, it is a combined coalition.  And the president is correct in using that word. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the strategy.  The strategy seems to be, as you point out eloquently, the president of the United States said tonight—and you quoted him—that we‘ll stand down when they stand up. 

Give me a sense, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, when that day will come? 

WARNER:  Well, we probed very carefully.  We had General Petraeus before our committee.  We had Generals Abizaid and Casey.

And, clearly, they‘re making progress.  Now, is the entire 160,000 or so forces ready to go in and take the place of the American G.I. or the coalition soldier?  No.  We know that.  And we perhaps should have been accurate as a nation in portraying the various stages that the Iraqi training has achieved thus far. 

But a significant number of them now can go it alone.  Another very large number can work side by side and fight side by side with the U.S.  forces.  And the remainder are volunteering in large numbers to get their training, to take their places in the not-distant future.  So, I think great credit is owed to coalition forces, primarily, General Petraeus and his team, in the progress that they‘ve made. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. 

WARNER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, thank you very much for joining us from Washington tonight. 

We‘re out here still in Nashville, Tennessee.  And we go back to our audience. 

We have two young women right now, the woman with—both have microphones.  They‘re both now going to tell us about what they thought of the president‘s address tonight. 

You first, Ms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.  I‘m Becky (ph).  And my husband is a Black Hawk pilot with the Tennessee Army National Guard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wow.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think watching tonight the president with all the troops at Fort Bragg? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that it doesn‘t matter if you oppose the war or if you‘ve agreed with everything that we‘ve done there.  The bottom line is that we are there and that we need to finish what we started. 

MATTHEWS:  What would finishing look like to you watching it with your husband fighting it?  What does it look like, victory?  Tell me what the picture would be? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Helping the Iraqi people be secure and feel safe in their democracy, and so that the American—the Iraqi people can feel safe walking down the street and that they continue to vote and that the women continue to vote and just feel secure as a country and not have to worry, like they were before. 

MATTHEWS:  A peaceful, democratic country. 

The other lady, please. 

What is your view of what it will look like to win over there? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  To win over there, I think, you know, ultimately, those people need to be free to worship, if they feel they need to worship.  They need to be able to be able to vote if they—when they want to vote. 

They need to be able to make choices how they want their country to be.  And they need to be able to support it.  And, you know, my husband is over there helping.  He‘s actually with Iraqi troops, you know, helping to train them.  And, you know, I‘m so proud of him.  And to see and to know that they really are starting to step up, you know, I get the personal information from him that they really are starting to make a difference.

And it is just exciting to see the difference that it‘s making in him, because he‘s helping them and.  And I—just, you know, I think victory over there is going to be a long time coming.  It has taken our country many a year to be where we‘re at.  And it‘s not going to happen overnight over there. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it like, both of you, to have a husband who is American and has gone over to that other part of the world and speaks English, as we all do, and doesn‘t have that Arabic language ability?  What‘s it like for him over there to try to help build a country where they speak a totally different language and have a totally different background?  What‘s it like? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I know that my husband, they have interpreters where he‘s at.  And so, everything has to go through the interpreters, which is very challenging.  But they make do. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I feel very proud.  And I know my husband is very proud to be there in this Middle Eastern country.

And he has met some Iraqi people who have been very thankful to him and to the troops and our soldiers.  I don‘t think that the language is a barrier. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we have a picture of your husband.  Is it going to come up on the screen now?  I think it might be.

Oh, you have it in your hand.  Why don‘t you show it to the camera guy, who is right there ready to pick it up and get a close-up of that picture?  I think he‘s going to zoom in, as we say, right in on the picture of your husband. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got your babies. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that great?

Well, thank you.  Thank you for your service, again.  And thank your husbands, of course.  )

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to find the right words, but it‘s easier to talk politics than to fight the insurgents. 

OK.  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you for having us. 

MATTHEWS:  When we return, we‘re going to hear from many more of the people in the audience tonight, many of them with people fighting over there in that war. 

We‘re here at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. 

MATTHEWS:  And tomorrow night, for a change of pace, Howard Dean joins us.  We‘ll get his first reaction as chairman of the Democratic Party to what the president had to say.  Howard Dean has a way of being interesting.  We‘ll watch him tomorrow night. 

You‘re watching a special edition of the show, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  More reaction in our town hall to President Bush‘s Iraq speech tonight, when our special edition of HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special town-hall edition of HARDBALL.  We‘re down in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Two Rivers Baptist Church.  It‘s a big church.  We have got a great audience tonight with a lot of people with loved ones fighting in Iraq, of course, personally involved in what the president had to say tonight. 

I want to ask you, Reza.  You originally came from Iran.

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, “NO GOD BUT GOD”:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the comments made by the secretary of defense that aroused a lot of interest and worry a couple months back was when someone asked him, are we creating more terrorists by fighting in an Arab country and killing people in this thing they see on television every night, like we do, than we‘re bringing into a fold?  In other words, are we winning or losing the bigger fight against terrorism?  Because we know that terrorists aren‘t born.  They‘re created by anger, hatred, propaganda, whatever.  What are your metrics?  How do you measure success in this kind of a combat? 

ASLAN:  Well, I think, as I was saying before, if we‘re going to treat this like a war of ideology, we have to remember that it‘s going to take more than just bombs to win this fight. 

There are those who have used the language of Islam to justify brutal savagery on their part.  And the way that we‘re going to battle the hearts and minds of Muslim people is not by engaging in this—in this cosmic war that we‘re talking about here between...

MATTHEWS:  What about the war in Iraq? 

MATTHEWS:  Is the war in Iraq helping or hurting the war against terrorism? 

ASLAN:  I think the way that we‘re fighting the war, the language, the propaganda that we‘re using, the mistakes we‘ve made at Abu Ghraib, the mistakes that we‘ve made in not understanding what does inflame the passions of Muslims throughout the world, that is what is hurting the war on terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to two ladies who are from the National Mosque here in Nashville, Tennessee.  And we want to hear from of them.

Are you ready to—tell us what your feelings are about the impact of the Iraq war on feeling and terrorism back and forth between East and West.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, basically, I feel like it‘s—I mean, the war is needed, but I feel like a lot of it is unjust, just because everyone is just—they‘re putting it out as if we‘re—like if we‘re a gang or if we‘re doing something wrong, and we‘re not.  It‘s a religion. 

And, you know, if a Christian kills someone, they don‘t say all Christians are bad or they don‘t call it out as being a whole congregation.  It‘s a way of life.  And we‘re trying to do something positive. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about when somebody kills someone in the name of God saying and says, I‘m doing the for Allah? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, if someone says that, the difference is, if you don‘t understand it, you should research it.

A Christian could say, I‘m doing this in the name of God.  And the whole point is, you don‘t say all Christians are bad.  So, you can‘t judge everyone because of one person.  There‘s good and bad in every religion. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you believe the people that crashed into our World Trade Center and were—and their plane was crashed in Pennsylvania did not do it for Allah? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that their beliefs are what they chose to do.  Now, our Koran doesn‘t state that we go out and kill people, just like, you know, I don‘t say that, well, Christians came and over took over a whole country.  Did you that for God? 

It‘s not—it‘s not—it‘s not right.  It‘s unjust. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No matter who kills, what religion, it‘s the person who does it that who should be charged, not a religion, not a whole country.  It‘s not fair. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you feel about the news stories about Abu Ghraib, that prison over in Iraq, and what‘s been happening in Guantanamo, the treatment of prisoners, detainees in the last several weeks, all the news stories? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I feel like the treatment is a little unfair.  But, in the same token, I can‘t say that what they‘re doing is wrong, because it‘s been many times that children have been killed in the process, mothers.

I mean, when someone does something wrong, there‘s always an action and a counteraction and then a reaction.  So, I mean, it has to go hand in hand. 

MATTHEWS:  What do we do with those—what would we do with those suspects if we don‘t keep them until this war is over?  Should we release them? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I wouldn‘t say someone should be released if they‘ve done something wrong.  If you‘ve done something wrong, you deserve to be punished for it. 

But I feel that we‘re all being punished as Muslims.  When you speak about us, the first thing you say is, we people.  We‘re not “we people” or “you people.”

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are a religion.  This is something we do, just like, if you‘re Christian, then Christian is what you believe in.  God is the higher power.  It‘s not about us as people.  It‘s about the people who did something wrong.  Refer to them as someone who did something wrong, someone who should be punished, not that Muslims or that Islam is the reason why this happened, because it‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  Can I hear from your mom now? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

I‘d like to speak to America and say, first of all, the word Muslim is a person who surrenders their free will to God so they may find peace in their soul.  That‘s the definition of the word Muslim.  The word Islam means peace.  And, as Muslims, we do not bring aggression.  There‘s Muslims in this country today that work just like you do, eat like you do, pay their bills like you do. 

We‘re just people who just want to pray to our lord five times a day, fast during Ramadan, give charity, which is one of the pillars of Islam, because we have five, and love our neighbors and our brothers and sisters, no matter what color, what race, what religion.

And another thing I‘d like to say to America is, just because we‘re Muslim, don‘t believe that we don‘t believe in Jesus Christ, because we do.  We believe Jesus Christ was a prophet and he was a messenger.  And we love Christ.  And we love all books that God had put down for us to follow by.  And we love America.  The Muslims here support the president in what he‘s doing, but we do not support the bloodshed. 

If we could cease the war, can we all find peace?  That‘s all I wanted to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony Perkins, your response to that? 

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Well, I think, in the president‘s speech tonight, he goes back to 9/11.

We‘re there to fight.  We‘re there—he said, we‘ll take the battle to the enemy.  That‘s exactly what he‘s doing.  And it‘s not a religious war.  It‘s a war of terrorism.  It‘s different than any other war we‘ve ever been in. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we win a war where, when we kill people on the other side, so many millions of people believe you‘re killing one of them?  You know what I mean? 

PERKINS:  Yes.  It‘s a difficult war.

But, you know, we‘ve said, can we gauge if we‘ve been successful?  And some would say, well, we‘ve had no terrorist attacks since 9/11.  Now, if we would have had attacks, we would have said, the effort has failed.  We‘ve not had attacks.  The country has been secure.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s a good metric? 

PERKINS:  I think it is. 

It‘s hard to—it‘s hard to quantify.  You can‘t—you can‘t tell everything you know, because some of the—in terms of the government, because some of the information they have could alert to different tactics for the next time around.  But we‘ve not had a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reza, do you think that‘s a good way of measuring it, that we‘ve not been hit like 9/11 since 9/11? 

ASLAN:  I don‘t think so.  I think that that‘s—we‘re—to say that means that, if somehow we do experience another awful terrorist attack, then that means, oh, my God, we‘ve lost the war in Iraq; we‘ve lost the war on terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wouldn‘t that—Tony, just to make your point the other way, if we were hit in the last couple of months, wouldn‘t you be able to say, it and shows the danger we face from terrorism?  It would be equally useful in arguing the case of war. 

PERKINS:  It could—why we‘re still there. 

But others would say that, well, we‘ve failed.  They were waiting for that effort to say, we‘ve failed because we‘ve been attacked.  Before the next—the last election, there was anticipation that we‘d be hit to show that the effort is not working.  But we are secure.  We‘ve not seen another 9/11.  And I believe that the president is doing all he can to keep this country safe. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe anyone—does everyone believe here—I‘ve got to ask this one question—does everyone here believe that that thing you do at the airport, where you show your driver‘s license, does anyone—do people here—I want to hear applause, do you think that works? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That‘s about what I think, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, because you get those—because you can get those

·         oh, what do you call them? -- driver‘s licenses for about $50. 

Anyway, up next, more reaction from our town hall on what the president had to say tonight.  And later, Senator John McCain is going to join with us his take on the president‘s address. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special town-hall edition of HARDBALL. 

We‘re in Nashville, Tennessee at the Two Rivers Baptist Church down here. 

You know, I want to take a—everybody take a look at what was probably the most powerful line in the president‘s speech tonight at Fort Bragg.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:                  The work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous.  Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed.  Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real.  Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question:  Is the sacrifice worth it? 

It is worth it.  And it is vital to the future security of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I want to go Tucker Carlson and talk to you about—and also to Norah O‘Donnell. 

The president of the United States gave this speech tonight to the country, everyone believes, because of fading poll numbers of support for the war, a quantifiable problem he faces.  It‘s not just that he‘s below 50 percent.  A lot of presidents have been below 50 percent in job approval.  I personally don‘t buy that.  He‘s had some tough things to sell, like Social Security.  When you‘re making a tough sale, people aren‘t going to like it.  He hasn‘t been selling a lot of, you know, cotton candy out there.  It‘s not been easy. 

But the number that keeps coming up is this number, did we make a mistake in going?  Which suggests that the hard argument in the beginning, WMD, connection to 9/11, happy Iraqis when we get there, once we get rid of Saddam Hussein, they‘ll on our side, and their oil will pay for this war. 

All the promises were made in good faith haven‘t come through.  Does the president still face those objective problems, even if people really...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”:  Well, yes. 

I mean, and I‘m not sure, you know, his poll numbers are even relevant.  He‘s not running again.  I don‘t think anybody who watches carefully expects him to do a great deal in Congress from now until the end of his term. 

He‘s battling now for his legacy.  How will he be remembered?  What defines the Bush presidency?  And none of those promises will even make a difference if Iraq ultimately is a success. 

So all that matters is making Iraq the kind of place he suggested it could become tonight.  That‘s it.  That‘s the only thing that matters.

MATTHEWS:  Norah, why did he go on television tonight from Fort Bragg? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Because a majority of the American people now believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake, that we were misled.  But at the same time, a majority of Americans also believe that we should stay and finish the job. 

Only 1 in 8 Americans believe that we should cut-and-run.  There are liberal groups like Moveon.org that say we should get out.  That‘s the minority in America.  People think that we should stay and finish the job. 

The goal of the president today was to show a clear path to victory, and so the American people will judge, did he lay out a game plan today?  Did he lay out a strategy to do that?  What new did he say tonight, in order to say, “Was this was worth it?” 

He says it‘s worth it.  We‘re spending $1 billion a day.  We have 1,700 troops dead.  What happens in the next month?  The president—this is not the last speech he‘ll have to give on this.  It will have to be a regular update.  Because, as was said, these Iraqi troops are not ready and will not be for some time. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come right back.  We‘ll we back with Dr.

Jerry Sutton, our host.  He‘s ready to go here. 

We‘ll go right back with our town meeting after this break.  We‘ll be joined by Senator John McCain.  He‘ll have a debate with Jerry Sutton. 

And tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. 

He can fight with Reverend Sutton.  We‘ll be right back with Nashville.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back here at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.  It‘s a big crowd staying in tonight to talk about what the president had to say tonight.  And also, we want to bring in right now Senator John McCain of the Armed Services Committee. 

Senator McCain, thank you for joining us tonight. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  After watching the president and knowing all you know, do we have enough troops in Iraq to win that war? 

MCCAIN:  I think we need—I think we need more troops there, but I -

·         because we‘re not staying once we attack and clear.  We‘ve got stay and expand.

But the key to it, I think the president was exactly right on the target, is the training and equipping of the Iraqi military and their ability to take over these responsibilities.  That‘s the key to it. 

I think the president laid it out extremely well.  I think he made the argument for our involvement.  And I think he clearly described the consequences of our failure.  And I think it was a needed speech and I think an excellent one. 

MATTHEWS:  The president said that we will stand down when the military in Iraq is able to stand up.  Do you have any sense of how well that progress is going there? 

MCCAIN:  Like all wars, we made mistakes in the beginning in that we tried to train them too fast.  One of the finest military leaders we have ever had and blessed with in America is General Petraeus.  He‘s doing a fine job there. 

The training has progressed.  We‘d like to see it faster, but it is progressing.  And we are seeing more and more involvement of Iraqi military units side-by-side with U.S. units in operations throughout Iraq.  And I‘m confident that we can and must succeed there. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, we have someone here with a special connection to you, the daughter of a woman who for a long time wore your POW bracelet.  She wants to talk to you. 

MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Tara Adams (ph), and I‘m from Nashville.  And yes, my mom does have your POW bracelet.  She still has it.  I‘ve seen it many times, and she‘s—and that just makes me, you know, respect you even more. 

But my question was, my father was in Desert Storm back in 1991.  At that time, I was younger.  And now that I‘m older, you know, I wonder if it is even possible that we could—could we had won it then instead of having to go back now?  Because I just—it just seems like maybe there was a chance that we could have had them at that time but we missed it? 

MCCAIN:  Tara, tell your mom I‘m very grateful for her wearing the bracelet with my name on it.  That effort was part of a huge effort on our behalf.  That‘s the reason why many of us came home alive.  And thank her for me. 

For many years, Tara—and I believe that we did the right thing by not going to Baghdad.  I‘ve changed my mind.  I think we probably should have gone to Baghdad when we had the opportunity to do so in the first Persian Gulf War.  But we didn‘t.  And we had to go back.

And I believe the sanctions were eroding.  I believe, if Saddam Hussein were in power, he would be trying to equip and trying to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction.  And I think what we‘re doing in Iraq today not only can bring democracy and freedom to Iraq but to the Middle East, as well.  This is a noble cause. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, when did you make that decision that we would have been better off continuing on the road to Baghdad? 

MCCAIN:  A few years ago, Chris.  It was a gradual transformation on my part.  I‘m not sure I would have wanted to call you up and tell you I made a mistake, but it took some time for me to come around to that view point. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me bring over to you another lady.  Talk to Senator McCain. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, my name is Natasha Webster (ph).  My dad‘s currently serving in Iraq right now. 

And I was wondering, why was there no talk of an exit strategy in the beginning, or was there something in plan?  I mean, he just left in January.  He should be due back, hopefully, this December.  But, far as we know, there was no type of exit strategy talked about or what we‘re going to do over there. 

It‘s just—it‘s really confusing right now.  So we don‘t know—they don‘t know.  Some of them have been over there their second or third time so—do you have any information maybe, perhaps? 

MCCAIN:  Thank you, Natasha (ph).  Thank you.  And thank you for your father for his brave service and for your wonderful and your mother‘s wonderful support of him, and all the people who are gathered here tonight in this wonderful church. 

We made mistakes.  I think we should admit that.  But every war that we‘ve ever been involved in, we have made mistakes.  And the key is to fix them.

I think we thought that, once we gained the initial victory, that things would be a lot easier than they turned out to be.  I don‘t think we had enough troops there to keep order, but we are fixing them.  We are training and equipping the Iraqi military. 

The exit strategy—people say it‘s not an exit strategy.  But the only exit strategy is for the Iraqi military and police, who we are training and equipping, to take over these responsibilities, Americans withdraw into enclaves, and leave sooner or later. 

And the American people, I think, were told tonight in a very eloquent fashion by the president of the United States that this is long, this is hard, and this is tough.  But the consequences of failure are catastrophic. 

And I was also very pleased and proud that the president spoke directly to the men and women, like your father, who are serving this country in a cause greater than themselves.  And I think that some day, when you‘re much older and we have succeeded, that you can be even more proud of your father because he brought democracy and freedom to people who never, never otherwise would have experienced it. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain, I‘m Steve Gill (ph) from Nashville, Tennessee.  By the way, my dad was in Vietnam, years ago, were flying an A-1 Skyraider.  Came looking for you at one time.  And you‘d already moved on by the time he got there.  But he served in that war. 

Eight weeks ago tonight, I was in Fallujah.  I was in Baghdad.  I was on patrols with troops and the National Guard down Route Irish.  And I have got to tell you, I think more of our senators and certainly more of the media need to go out and spend time with the troops to see what‘s going on, not in the security of the Green Zone, not in the security of briefings, but go to Fallujah, talk to the men and women who are actually patrolling those streets. 

They are not suffering from morale problems.  They are not suffering with a lack of understanding of what why we‘re there and what we need to do.  They are committed.  They are willing to do the job.  And we need to start backing them in this country and not listening to those who haven‘t been there and been with them.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, you weren‘t on earlier when Senator Biden said that the power and the water isn‘t getting done.  We were in Fallujah with the lieutenant colonel who works in his real job when he‘s not in the reserves building power plants for G.E. 

They‘re building power plants and water plants in Fallujah.  They‘re about to be completed with them.  Progress is being made.  And I would just encourage the media and more of the senators to get out to where the soldiers actually are and get the real story. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Anybody else...

MCCAIN:  Could I just respond very quickly? 

MATTHEWS:  Steve Gill (ph) that was, a very popular figure out here in Nashville, Tennessee. 

MCCAIN:  Chris, I can respond very quickly here?  Steve, I‘ve been to Fallujah.  And I‘ve been there with the marines.  And one of the great battles in Marine Corps and military history is the battle of Fallujah, where we had 1,000 people wounded. 

It was an incredible battle against an enemy that was as tough as we‘ve ever faced.  What we‘re saying is that we need to not raise expectations, but we need to have realistic expectations, as the president eloquently stated tonight.  This is long, this is tough, this is hard. 

I don‘t have to tell you how tough this enemy is.  They‘re willing to sacrifice themselves in a way that we haven‘t seen since World War II with kamikazes.  So we think it‘s hard.  We think it‘s tough.  We think it‘s worth it. 

We also ought to recognize that we made mistakes.  The way you fix mistakes is you recognize them and you fix them.  We‘ve made them.  Every war, including the battle for reunification—the war of reunification of our nation, mistakes were made. 

The point is that we‘ve got to tell the American people that it‘s long, it‘s hard and it‘s tough.  But what we bring to Iraq and the Middle East is a marvelous and wonderful thing.  And there‘s no other country on Earth that has ever produced young men and women like you who are willing to go out, and fight, and sacrifice in the cause of someone else‘s freedom. 

We‘re proud of you, Steve.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great having you on, Senator John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee, a great American hero.  Thank you very much, Senator John McCain, for joining us. 

We‘ll be right back from Nashville, Tennessee, at the Two Rivers Baptist Church.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Two Rivers Baptist Church here in Nashville, Tennessee.  Our town hall meeting on the president‘s speech tonight. 

I want to go to our host tonight.  It‘s great to have you, by the way, hostess. 

DR. JERRY SUTTON, PASTOR, TWO RIVERS BAPTIST CHURCH:  Our pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s been a great group.  As you can see, the people are passionate.  And they have strong patriotic beliefs and moral beliefs, and yet it‘s been very nice here.  No fights or anything. 

I have to say it‘s been very nice.  And I mean that seriously.  Why do you think the people in this part of the country seem to be more manifestly patriotic about this president, and this war, and this situation?  What do you think it is, the separation from the coasts? 

SUTTON:  My goodness, that‘s a hard question. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I can tell that it‘s overwhelmingly for the war here, and yet the national polls are about 50-50.  This isn‘t 50-50 country. 

SUTTON:  No, this is a very conservative city and actually a very conservative congregation.  A lot of these folks are church people. 

I guess the real issue is a question that was asked a long time ago, and it goes back to one of those Abraham Lincoln things.  The issue is not, “Is God on our side?”  The issue is, “Are we on God‘s side?” 

SUTTON:  And you know, there‘s a conviction upon a lot of conservative Christians that President Bush really has a heart to do what‘s right, that he really seeks God.  And there are millions of people that pray for him every day.  And we‘re trusting that God is able to lead him to be the leader we need at this age and this hour. 

MATTHEWS:  Tough question.  That said—and I believe you‘re right—just watching it from back east.  If this same war were being fought by Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton, this complicated Shia, Kurds, Sunnis, Mullahs, all this stuff going on we don‘t really know about that seems it‘s going to get more and more complicated, would your congregation support the war with the same heart? 

SUTTON:  If we went to war for the right reasons. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re giving me a caveat there.

SUTTON:  Would we support the same war?

MATTHEWS:  If all you knew—if the only difference was the leadership, if it wasn‘t the president‘s, as you see, moral leadership, and it was a more secular (INAUDIBLE) for the war from back east, from a guy like Clinton and Madeleine Albright from back east, that kind of—would your people be as supportive? 

SUTTON:  Our people are also patriotic.  And the answer is yes, we would be supportive.  If the war as a response to 9/11, and the implications of the Taliban, and all of the—what I‘d call just the bleed over from the whole militant Islamic movement, if Saddam Hussein is the guy that could be a lynchpin, that could bring democracy, we‘d say, “Sure, we‘ll support that.”

One observation.  It seems like there‘s a great irony here.  If the insurgents would ever quit fighting, America would go home.  And the very thing they‘re trying to do, resist the American Armed Forces.  If they would stop that, then we‘d be out of there.  It‘s an irony. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe.  You mean they‘re stupid? 

(LAUGHTER)

SUTTON:  Well, thank you.  This special edition of HARDBALL is going to continue.  We‘ll talk more about the possibility our enemy doesn‘t know what it‘s doing.  But they‘re very dangerous, anyway.  We‘ll be back with our crowd here later on.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.  Back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville.  Still, we‘re finishing up our town meeting. 

Sir, do you have a question for someone up on the stage? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  My name is Patrice Gordon (ph), pastor of City of David Church. 

Mr. Perkins, what can be done in government to reduce the amount of funding for Planned Parenthood, particularly with respect to the African-American community and the abortion situations? 

PERKINS:  Well, one of the things the president has done on that front is funding more of the faith-based initiatives to help churches and other groups in the inner-city that have a faith-based message.  And we are working with Congress to take some of that money that has been used to promote abortion to promote life and to help in the inner cities, in parenting skills and all of those issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Next question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Kathy Austin.  And I‘m with the National Organization for Women.  And I just want to say that there is a segment of patriotic Nashvillians, of which I am one, in this country who agree with the majority that the president was wrong about the war, that the president is wrong about trying to take away women‘s reproductive freedom, and that the president is wrong about trying to dismantle Social Security. 

(AUDIENCE BOOS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we think we are the majority. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, now, Becky... 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Following that...

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  ... your husband is over there. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, he is.  And I would like to thank the American people that have shown their patriotism and have shown their support for our family members.  The yellow ribbon magnets on their cars and the good Samaritans that have shown support. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your husband. 

And tomorrow night, we‘re going to have—don‘t boo, now, please, ladies and gentlemen.  It‘s been a good night here—Howard Dean is going to come on our program tomorrow, a different point of view.  We have diversity run amok.

On HARDBALL tomorrow night, Howard Dean‘s going to be giving his first reaction, as the Democratic National Chairman, to the president‘s remarks tonight, his speech tonight from Fort Bragg.  It‘s going to be great.  I want to thank everybody here. 

I especially want to thank our host.  Doctor, thank you very much, Dr.

Sutton.  What a great church.  What a great feeling here.  A few boos. 

And I want to thank everybody else, Tony Perkins.  And I thank (INAUDIBLE) want to Bobby.  My colleagues, Norah and Tucker.  It‘s one of the great moments tonight.

Thank you from Nashville, Tennessee.

(APPLAUSE)

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