In an exclusive wide-ranging interview with MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews, DNC Chairman Howard Dean reacts to President Bush's primetime address and the war in Iraq. Dean tells Matthews, "The president made a huge blunder in defending the United States. And I think ultimately the American people have figured that out, and he's going to be accountable for that."
Following is the full transcript of the interview.
MATTHEWS: Governor Dean, thank you for joining us. One of my old bosses, Ed Muskie, once said, the only reason to be in politics is to be out there
all alone and be proven right. Have you been proven right about Iraq in
your opposition to that war?
HOWARD DEAN: Well, unfortunately, I probably have been, although Barry Goldwater once said, "I'd rather be right than president." I can't tell you how much I disagree with that Barry Goldwater.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let me ask you. You thought the war was a bad idea. It wasn't related to the war on terrorism. Most of the American people now, 53 percent, the latest poll, say that the war was a mistake. Why don't your leaders start saying that? Why don't we hear anything like that from the Clintons, from John Kerry, from Joe Biden? They're all hedging their bets. Why don't they come out and say it was a mistake and get the kind of credibility you got as a war critic?
DEAN: I can't speak for the other folks, and I'm not going to speak for them. I think one of the things we all have in common is we want to support the troops. Now the troops are over there. They're doing the best they can. They didn't send themselves there. Unlike the Vietnam War, where there was real bitter division, I think everybody in America supports the troops. And that's a good thing.
You know, I think that the president made a mistake last night. It was a well-delivered speech, but the idea of doing what he did in the presidential campaign, which is to attach 9/11 to Iraq, was a mistake, because it raises the specter of really is happening in Iraq, which is
the president has caused a situation that is a danger to — dangerous to
America where one did not exist before.
I supported the Afghan war, and I think most Democrats did, and we probably need more troops in Afghanistan and probably shouldn't be in Iraq at all.
MATTHEWS: Right now, let me ask you about the question on the president's speech last night. He did conflate the war on terrorism generally and the war on terrorism in Iraq. Is that a dishonest thing to do?
DEAN: Well, it is, I have to say, because 9/11 had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was never a threat to the United States. He's a terrible person, but I don't think we in America go about the business of kicking every terrible person out of office.
We have some defense issues in that part of the world. They are Iran. They were Afghanistan and still are. And they're in North Korea. The president has left the two most serious problems, after Afghanistan, for either his successor or who knows what? And the
spectacle of a president who says he's tough on defense letting Iran and North Korea become nuclear powers on his watch is just unbelievable.
The idea that Republicans are going to defend the country and Democrats won't is exactly the wrong idea. This president has really not done a terribly good job defending America, with the exception of the war in Afghanistan, which I think we all supported. He squandered our military strength, put it in the wrong place and is allowing enemies of the United States to become nuclear powers. That is not a prescription for a strong defense of America.
MATTHEWS: Let's stick to Iraq here, Governor. A lot of people have kids over there now and loved ones. We had a bunch of them on last night, a lot of women with husbands over there fighting. I want to talk about what the president said last night.
Last night he said the war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism. What did you make of that, Governor?
DEAN: I certainly agree with the last sentence: he wanted to seek the terrorists abroad before we attacked them at home. The rest of it was only partly true. There are terrible foreign terrorists over there. They have been drawn to Iraq where they were not there before
because we put our troops there. So if you could debate the wisdom of that.
The other people that are creating the mayhem in the streets of Baghdad are people who are fighting for their country. They are local people who disagree with the occupation.
Look, I make no excuse for terrorism. People who blow up women and children ought to have the full wrath of the United States down upon them. What I have a problem with is the bad judgment of this president and his administration in deciding how you can best fight terrorism.
You send troops over there. They don't have adequate body armor. They're still taking up collections to make sure they do have body armor. When the secretary of defense goes over there, he gets his Humvee flown in, and the guys over there don't have adequate protection
on the bottom of their Humvees.
This is not the way to run a war, and it's not the way to treat our soldiers.
MATTHEWS: Governor, back in build up to the war in Iraq, a lot of Americans got the wrong information. They were telling us in polling they thought it was Iraq that attacked us on 9/11 and did so much harm to this country, in Pennsylvania as well as in New York and in the Pentagon.
And more recently, I want to ask you this. Do you believe the president is still trying to perpetrate the — the notion that it was Iraq that attacked us on 9/11?
DEAN: Sure. I think the president made a terrible, terrible mistake in getting us into Iraq. And now we really have a big problem on our hands. We have a security problem that we
didn't have before.
Now the president's trying to make this into a war on terrorism. It is a war on terrorism in the sense that there's certainly international terrorists in Iraq. The point is, there weren't any to speak of before we got there. The president made a big error in judgment, and he's now
trying to combine what's going on in Iraq with the war on terrorism.
There's a war on terrorism going on in this world, and we are a part of it, and I agree that we need to fight them over there before they get here. The problem is, the place that we need to fight those people are in Afghanistan, hiding over the border in Pakistan. The Iranians, who
sponsor state terrorism, these are our enemies. And these are folks that are not being paid the kind of attention to that need to be paid attention to while 138,000 brave American men and women are pinned down in Iraq because of a gross error in judgment by this administration.
MATTHEWS: Last night was a policy speech. Some could argue it was a political speech, because the president's poll numbers are down. But it certainly was a policy speech. Was the president right to use the military people at Ft. Bragg, those soldiers, in camouflage and berets, as backdrops?
DEAN: I don't have a big problem with that. I'm pretty sure the soldiers were pleased to see the president. It's exciting for any group of Americans, especially a group of
soldiers, to see the president of the United States. So I don't have a problem with that.
I thought the president looked foolish on the aircraft carrier. That was obviously a big mistake on his part, and they know that. But I certainly take no quarrel with having the president of the United States go to a military base and give a speech in front of a group of soldiers, who I think were very pleased to see the president, as anybody would to see their commander in chief.
MATTHEWS: What's changed with you, Governor, about the war? I think you inspired a lot of young people when you were campaigning for the nomination for president of the Democratic Party, because you were clear voiced of saying, and in the wilderness, I must say, the war was wrong. It was bad policy. It wasn't based upon the facts. In fact, we were getting wrong facts.
And then as party chairman, you seem to be in that muddy middle right now with Hillary and Bill and John Kerry and the rest of them. You seem to be saying, well, we're not fighting the war the right way. Do you still think you have the strength of voice you had as a candidate
when you were clearly against this, this expedition to Iraq?
DEAN: I've made it pretty clear that I thought it was a terrible error in judgment on the part of the president to send us to Iraq. I also said during the campaign now that we're there, it's going to be very hard to get out. I'm not one of those people who thinks we can just pull our troops out tomorrow.
We have created — this is a terrible thing that the president's done for the country and to the defense of a country. He's created a problem that we didn't have before. He's essentially pinned our troops in Iraq. Now Zarqawi is in Iraq. Now there are foreign terrorists in Iraq. Now there really is a danger, the president said last night, that the Iraq — an Iraq that's weak because we're not there could become the next Afghanistan.
The president created those conditions, and now we're stuck with it. So we have to, you know — we could be angry at the president for sticking us into a terrible position, but we're there. And the next president, who I intend to have be a Democrat, is going to have to deal
with this fact, if we're not out by 2009, January 20, when the next president, a Democrat, takes the oath of office.
MATTHEWS: Are you sure...
MATTHEWS: ... that talked us into the war in Iraq and the WMD problem is manifest. But also the connection to 9/11, which continues to be made in all those areas where you say were weren't getting honest statements from this administration. Can you trust them the next three years to give us honest, straight statements about getting out of Iraq?
DEAN: No, I do trust and I'm sure I depart with some of my supporters, but I do trust our military in this country.
MATTHEWS: No, the leaders, the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense says we may be in there 12 years. On the other hand, the Vice President of the United States, who's the former secretary of defense and many people think maybe one of the top people in this administration on security says, the enemy's in its last throes over there. There's a big difference, isn't there governor, between somebody at the vice presidential level saying last throes, and the other guy saying they've got 12 more years of fight in them. Who's right?
DEAN: Chris, I think the Downing Street Memos and other pieces of evidence, including the 9/11 Commission, have indicated that the administration was not truthful to the American people about how we got to Iraq. I think that's a fact. The administration would like it not
to be a fact but it is a fact. It has been confirmed by many mainstream organizations, including a commission lead by a Republican and a Democrat. A well respected Republican and Democrat.
DEAN: So the answer is, do I believe the president is doing the right thing? No, I don't. Do I believe he has made gross errors in judgment? Yes, I do. Do I believe he is doing a good job defending the United States of America? No, I don't. Not because he doesn't want to
defend the United States, but because we simply don't have the vision or the judgment in this administration to adequately defend the United States because there's no thought given to what the consequences of our actions are.
Colin Powell, who happens to be somebody I have an enormous amount of respect for, who was not listened to when we went into Iraq, always used to say, if you're going to go into a place, you have to use massive force and you have to have an exit strategy. There was no thought given to what was going to happen once we got 150,000 troops on the ground.
And that is wrong. It's wrong for America, and it's wrong for the 150,000 brave American men and women who are serving America in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, Governor, what do you make of [Karl Rove's recent remarks on liberals and Dean]? That's personal.
DEAN: Well, sure it is. And it would give me great pleasure to call him names on your show, but I'm not going to do that. This is an example of the bad judgment that these folks have. As a matter of fact, I, along with almost everybody in the Democratic Party, supported the war in Afghanistan, because that's where the terrorist threat was. And I was delighted the president went into Afghanistan and he did it quickly.
The problem with the kind of name-calling that you see in the right wing is it's polarizing. And, frankly, it doesn't serve our country well. These folks have exhibited bad judgment. The judgment is that the response in Afghanistan should then be followed up by additional
responses in other places which were not threats to the United States. The problem is not that the Bush administration lacks resolve. The problem is they don't think about what it is they're doing and what the consequences of what they're doing are. And they have trouble
differentiating between those things that are dangerous to the United States and those things that are not dangers but would be nice to get ride of.
The president has invested 150,000 American lives and billions of dollars, created the largest deficit in the history of the United States of America through his reckless fiscal policies and picked the wrong enemies half the time. That is why we can't afford to have the president, and certainly ought not to be affording the taxpayer-funded Karl Rove, who's being paid for by taxpayer's money.
So that's all I really have to say. I'm not going to get in to attacking Karl Rove personally. He can say what he wants. What I'm interested in is a new administration that will have a long-term vision for the future of this country.
MATTHEWS: Well let's try to sharpen the debate here, make it clear to people. When the president stood on the rubble of 9/11 that Friday and gave probably the best speech of any presidency when he said, we're going to get the people that knocked down these buildings. They're going to hear from us. Did he lose track of who he was after by going to Iraq rather than pursuing with all his strength of Saddam Hussein — of Osama bin Laden?
DEAN: When the president stood at the — at the World Trade Center, I think every American, and certainly including me and every Democrat that I know, was with the president. Where the president went wrong was somehow broadening his mission and not including real
dangers. The idea that Iran and North Korea were going to be able to become nuclear powers on this president, who talks so tough's watch, is an idea that is just mind-boggling. To talk tough is not the same as in defend the country, and the president has confused the two and so have his advisers.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me bring you back to the speech last night. And thank you for coming on here to give your first big TV reaction to this thing.
The president was moved, everyone knows, by the poll numbers which showed a deteriorating support for the war in Iraq, exemplified by the number that said that a majority of the people now say it was a mistake to get into that war. Do you believe his speech last night will move
those numbers in another direction?
DEAN: You know, I don't know the answer to that, and you may, because you may already have poll numbers that I haven't seen yet.
MATTHEWS: I don't. That's why I'm asking you. I don't have them yet. They're not out yet.
DEAN: I've heard some preliminary poll numbers that they indicate that the audience was mostly Republicans. Of course, that doesn't help the poll numbers very much. I think the tendency is to rally around the chief executive when they make a speech like this. The problem is, this is not a short-term problem anymore. It's a long-term problem. So the
president can give a speech. He may have gotten a bounce from it, and often presidents will. Certainly President Clinton did when he would give a speech like this. But it matters — what happens matters the most. What happens in Iraq matters the most. And as long as the situation is out of control, or as one of the commentators on NBC said last night, as long as the situation continues to be a mess, as one of the military folks put it, the president's not going to get any kind of long-term credit for this. was a mistake. The president made a huge
blunder in defending the United States. And I think ultimately the American people have figured that out, and he's going to be accountable for that.
MATTHEWS: If the war in Iraq was a blunder, why don't the top Democrats join you in saying so?
DEAN: Well, I don't know. I mean, many of them have said that they thought the president is mishandling this.
MATTHEWS: No. Name one who has.
DEAN: Well, I know that a number of people have said that the president is mishandling this situation.
MATTHEWS: No, that is working around the edges of policy. That's micromanaging a war. I'm asking you, why don't they agree with you on policy and say so? Blunder is a big word. I
think it's the first time I heard somebody say it. Why don't the top names, the name brands of the Democratic Party use the word blunder when they talk about the war?
Bill Clinton still stands with the president. Hillary Clinton stands with the president. Joe Lieberman stands with the president. They all do. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat, stands with the president. You're out there alone still saying it's a blunder.
DEAN: Well, I thought it was at the time. I mean, I ...
MATTHEWS: You still do. You just said so.
DEAN: Well, I do. I mean, I thought it was at the...
MATTHEWS: Why don't they?
DEAN: Well, I don't know. You could have them on the show and ask them yourself.
MATTHEWS: I guess I'm asking a political question. Let's talk about what the vice president said about you, Governor.
Quote: "I think Howard Dean's over the top. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does." Well, I know people that love you. "He's never won anything." I guess he doesn't think governor counts. "He ran for president and lost all the primaries. And now the Democrats have seen fit to make him their national chairman. I think he's probably helped us more than he has them. That's not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party."
DEAN: You know, I generally try to avoid getting into telling who the Republicans should run their party. And if the vice president wants to give us advice, we're very happy to put it where we take most advice from this administration.
This administration has failed America. They can't manage the budget. They can't manage the defense. If you can't manage the budget and you can't manage defense, then you probably shouldn't be president. And these guys have not been able to do the job that's required of them to be president of the United States and to be in the administration of the United States.
They control the House, the Senate, the courts, the presidency. The result is, we have the biggest deficits in the history of America; the highest number of people with no health insurance since health insurance came in; a war that doesn't appear to have an end; a constant threat from terrorists; a homeland that is not as secure. We have a big problem on our hands, and I think Dick Cheney has a lot more to worry about than me.
MATTHEWS: I think it was on a Philadelphia subway, where you are right now, in Philadelphia, my hometown, the last time somebody brought up my mother in trying to attack me. Do you find that a little discourteous of a political leader like the vice president to go after your mother in a conversation?
It seems odd to me. It seems almost, I don't know, unbalanced. How do you describe that comment by the vice president?
DEAN: I actually am — I take it as a complement.
Because for the first time, these guys have noticed that the Democrats are going to fight back. I am in this job because we are not going to take this nonsense from the Republicans anymore. We're not going to take what they have done to this country. This country is
going to be a Democratic country, come January 20th, 2009. And we will balance the budget. We will finally bring health insurance to every single American, as Harry Truman promised to do in 1948. We're going to restore jobs all over America. We're going to take — make sure that
people in rural America have job opportunities, not just people in the suburbs and in the cities. We're going to have a different kind of America, a new America. We're going to have honesty in government. We are — I want this Congress, as soon as we get to be Democrats again,
controlled by the Democrats again, to outlaw these trips that are being paid for by lobbyists. I want to stop the corporate corruption that's going on. And I think the Democrats are willing to do that.
Now, you know, people are cynical about government. But I'm going to tell you right now — you know how blunt and outspoken I am — I'm going to do everything I can to make sure Democrats control the Congress and the House again. And when they do, I'm going to do my best to hold them accountable for the things that Republicans should be doing now so that people can trust their government again.
MATTHEWS: Yes or no, Governor. Can your party beat Dick Cheney if
he runs next time for president?
DEAN: I think we can win whoever runs.
MATTHEWS: Can you beat Cheney?
DEAN: Sure, I think so. I mean...
MATTHEWS: You think so?
DEAN: Well, you know, voters generally decide. You know, I'm not big on propaganda. I leave that to the Republicans. We're going to work as hard as we possibly can. Can I promise your or guarantee a victory? Only person I know that did that successfully was Muhammed Ali, and you know, I don't float like a butterfly and sting like a bee as much as he did.
MATTHEWS: Okay, we'll be right back with DNC Chairman Howard Dean. I want to talk about these new Democrat Democracy Bonds. Here's your chance to sell some.
DEAN: Democrats.org. We want everybody to go there. We put up a new — we're basically redesigning the Democratic Party. And the way we want to finance the Democratic Party, in addition to the usual folks who have been so good to us over all the years, is we want to — we're starting a program which is up on the web now. We have a brand-new website, Democrats.org. And the purpose, which I signed up for myself, as well as a bunch of other folks, is to give $20 a month from your credit card, automatic deduction. Our goal is to get a million people by the end of four years. If we do that, we're going to be able to rise
the money that we need to do to do what we're doing now.
We're putting organizers in every state in the country. We're not going to contest — we're going to contest 50 states, not 18 states. We're re-messaging, because I don't think we have a national message, and we have to have one. And we're going to be, as I said, in all 50
states with a communications device, which will, like the Republicans, allow us to go on every talk show in America with a single message in a single day.
We have to build this apparatus. The Republicans are 30 years ahead of our political apparatus. If we're going to beat them, we've got to catch them. And I think we can.
We can only do it with grass-roots, ordinary Americans giving us the support that we need 20 bucks at a time. It's how we ran the presidential campaign, and that's how we're going to run the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: Well, about half the people watching this show may be Democrats, but I bet the other half are Republicans. And they've come home from a day at work, and it's about 7:00 on the East Coast, and I just want to know if you want to revise your remarks. Because I do
believe that when people watch this program in the early evening and put in a hard days work, and that includes all the Republicans, do you want to revise your remarks about how Republicans have never spent a hard, honest days' work?
DEAN: Well, you know, you never believe what you read in the print press.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well give me the corrected version.
DEAN: The corrected version is that — I was talking in context of the Republican leadership who designed the poll situation in Ohio so people had to wait eight hours in a row to work -- to vote. The Republican leadership does not care about working people. They don't make it easier for working people. They haven't done anything to help their job situation or their health care situation. And I don't think the Republican Party does care about ordinary American working people. That is the essence of what I said. I made it very clear, I was not
talking about Republican voters, I was talking about the Republican leadership.
MATTHEWS: OK. And they've never ...
DEAN: And we want hardworking — we know there are a lot of hardworking Republicans out there who are rank-and-file working people who ...
MATTHEWS: Because I grew up in that — I grew up in a Republican family, and I can tell you, my father and mother worked very hard up there in Philadelphia, where you are right now, and they want a little respect, OK.
DEAN: Well, they're going to — they have my respect. We just want them to vote Democrat from now on.
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