Guest: Karim Kawar, John McCain, Wayne Downing, Robert Baer, Michael Scheur, Rand Beers
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, Jordan, our best Arab friend, gets hit by terrorist bombings. Three suicide bombers hit in Amman, killing at least 53 people and wounding many more.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Simultaneous explosions hit three hotels tonight in Jordan‘s capital city of Amman. Fifty-three people at least are dead, and more than 100 are injured, in blasts at the Hyatt, Radisson and Days Inn hotels, hotels popular with Americans and Israelis.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official tells NBC News there is no claim of responsibility yet for the attacks.
According to Reuters News Service, one Jordanian police official said the attacks carry the trademark of al Qaeda. And the Jordanian news service reports that the attacks were caused by suicide bombers.
Tomorrow, we are going to continue our special report going inside the CIA leak investigation with an in-depth look at Ahmed Chalabi, the deputy prime minister of Iraq who played an integral role in the questionable question about prewar intelligence.
But right now, we get the latest on the Jordan bombings.
Ambassador Karim Kawar is the Jordanian ambassador to the United States, he joins us by phone.
Mr. Kawar, Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us.
What is going on? What do we know now about the bombings in Amman?
AMB. KARIM KAWAR, JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you, Chris.
This has come to us, of course, as a major shock. This wasn‘t anticipated by any means.
So far, the casualties have been mostly Jordanians. They were suicide attacks. One of the incidents took place during a wedding, where most of the casualties are and they are mostly Jordanian.
MATTHEWS: Have you gotten any information from anyone claiming credit for this attack?
KAWAR: No, not yet. And, of course, our investigation will continue to identify the perpetrators of those attacks.
MATTHEWS: Your government, the Abdullah—King Abdullah‘s government has been successful in countering attempted terrorist activities over the years.
Give us a sense of the kind of pressure on your government over the weeks and months coming into today to keep the terrorists at bay.
KAWAR: Well, we have been fortunate in the past, as we have averted many of those potential attacks.
The last attack was in the port of Aqaba, on the Red Sea, where, unfortunately, one Jordanian soldier was killed.
Before that, we have averted two planned attacks, one that involved a potential target of the U.S. Embassy in Amman, that was in April of 2004, and going back to the year 2000, when there were attacks planned by al Qaeda to coincide with the millennium New Year‘s Eve celebration.
MATTHEWS: We just had an attack way down in Australia, totally different part of the world, by terrorists, who say—actually they‘re in trial right now—who say they did so, their motive was the war in Iraq. They don‘t like the fact that we went to Iraq.
Is there that kind of pressure or motive now, or do the terrorists even need a motive to attack Amman right now, your country?
KAWAR: Well, this is an ideological war that we see.
And any country that is progressive, that is modernizing, such as Jordan, this is where we see the attacks being targeted. So unfortunately, we are a victim like many of the other modern countries.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the hotels in question. They‘re familiar brand names for Americans, the Radisson, the Days Inn.
Is that—who usually stays at those hotels?
KAWAR: Well, certainly many tourists and visitors of Jordan, but also tourists from Arab countries throughout the Middle East, many also American business people.
As you might be well aware, that Jordan has been helping in the reconstruction efforts of Iraq, so many Iraqis and American business people meet in Jordan. It has been a safe haven, so far, where those meetings could take place without any threat.
MATTHEWS: What is King Abdullah‘s—what is the view of the King Abdullah government, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan right now, toward our role in Iraq?
Do you have a clear position supporting us? Are you neutral? How would you describe your government?
KAWAR: Well, I must say, first of all, that His Majesty has condemned those attacks.
Now, we look at the situation on the ground in Iraq, that regardless of what our position has been or any other country‘s position, there is a situation that we have to deal with.
The government of Jordan has been supportive of the political process. We have encouraged all members of the Iraqi community to participate in the referendum, in the vote to pass the constitution.
We are encouraging all Iraqis to support the upcoming elections in December. We think that is the way to move forward.
On the other hand, we have availed all our services to the Iraqis, to serve them as they deem necessary. We have been training the Iraqi police forces in Jordan, 35,000 of them over two years, that have been successful in going back to their home country and helping in the security situation there.
MATTHEWS: Well, good luck to your country on this difficult night, my friend, Karim.
Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Karim Kawar of Jordan. He was on tonight.
Anyway, thank you.
Senator John McCain sitting here right now. He, of course, is a United States senator from Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
And his new book, by the way—we‘re going to talk about it more tonight, we‘ll give it a brief mention because it looks like a hell of a book, it‘s called “Character is Destiny.” I hope we can get him back to talk.
We have got to talk about the news, Senator, as you know how this works.
U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Sure.
MATTHEWS: Jordan, incredibly close friend of the United States, a real peaceful country, has made a peaceful relationship with Israel work, much warmer peace than the peace with Egypt.
Why do you think they‘re getting hit today?
MCCAIN: I don‘t know all the reasons, but it‘s obvious that there is many reasons why Muslim extremists would not like Jordan, ranging from our relationship, to the secularity of the country, to the fact that they are progressing and helpful in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
I think all of those factors would make them a prime target.
Remember, as was said earlier on another program, they tried to strike Jordan before the Iraqi war, extremists did.
So I‘m not saying that it wasn‘t because of Iraq, but I think that Jordan would be a target for terrorists no matter what.
MATTHEWS: It‘s also a country dominated by Palestinian refugees, right?
MATTHEWS: The Hashemites are the minority...
MCCAIN: Minority in the country.
MATTHEWS: ... the people who were born in Jordan are the minority.
MCCAIN: But they have had an extraordinary peaceful coexistence ever since the black September back in, I believe it was 1968, so—because there‘s been enlightened governing by King Abdullah and his father, King Hussein.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he is the kind of government we should be looking for to form around that region, a limited monarchy, constitutional monarchy where you have a parliament?
MCCAIN: Making progress, and certainly he‘s an—he and his wife are both international figures in the cause of peace. Those are exactly the kind of people that extremists hate.
And so that‘s—and, again, just one additional comment about this attack, Chris, it does have the earmarks of al Qaeda because it‘s three explosions at once.
MATTHEWS: Tell me how that works.
MCCAIN: They plot and plan, and do a very good job.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s not just a bunch of hectic nut jobs; these people sit down and think this through?
MCCAIN: In order to set off explosions at three different hotels, you have to give them credit for a sophisticated operation. I don‘t see how you can do otherwise.
MATTHEWS: So they look at their watches, they synchronize and then they blow themselves up.
MCCAIN: I think it takes weeks, if not months of planning, getting in the explosives, mapping out exactly where you are going to be.
For example, we see that one of these bombs went off where there was a wedding reception going on. That‘s pretty clever if you‘re interested in inflicting maximum damage and casualties.
MCCAIN: Because at a wedding reception, you got more people gathered in one place, so that‘s—I‘m not sure that, that was by accident. They may have known that and done it exactly then.
You know, how evil these people...
MATTHEWS: But they‘re killing believing Arabs.
MCCAIN: But it‘s impossible...
MATTHEWS: ... believing Muslims.
MCCAIN: It‘s impossible for us to comprehend how evil they are, number one, and number two is this is not Mao or Ho Chi Minh. This is Bolsheviks. They want to blow everybody up until they‘re the last one standing. They don‘t care about public opinion.
MATTHEWS: But they aren‘t the last one standing—they‘re killing themselves in a lot of these cases.
MATTHEWS: We‘re hearing today these might be—we‘ll know more later this evening, but they‘re right now being described in news reports, at least some reports, as suicides again.
MCCAIN: I think they‘re trying to kill everybody that‘s not a Muslim extremist, I really do.
This is the classic kill them all and be the last one standing, even if they‘re your countrymen.
MATTHEWS: How do you—I‘m not even sure the answer is war on terrorism.
How do you reduce terrorism in the world? How do you deal by reducing it? How do you deal with that?
MCCAIN: Democracy, intelligence, reprisals, steadfastness. You know, according to Zarqawi and bin Laden, they‘ve had a series of victories over us that we have retreated from, beginning with Lebanon in the ‘80s, to the bombings of our embassies, to Somalia. And all they‘ve got to do is inflict more damage on us, and we‘ll retreat more, and they‘ll come right after us.
MATTHEWS: Well, when we were on the advance, going into Iraq, or almost into Iraq, to liberate Kuwait, we put 10,000 troops apparently in the holy land of Saudi Arabia. That became a casus belli for the attack on the World Trade Center, because they said we were trampling and blaspheming against their own, or committing sacrilege.
I think that part of it is true. They do look upon it as their holy land. They don‘t like foreigners there. You know that. And so they use that as an excuse, if not a reason, to nail us so badly and horribly four years ago. Is this a cycle we are into here?
MCCAIN: I think that they would seek any excuse in order to inflict any kind of damage they can, and death, mayhem upon us because everything that they believe in is totally antithetical to what we believe in.
And they feel they have a mission, and if you look at bin Laden‘s tapes, and al-Zarqawi‘s statements and all these, there‘s no way that we could ever coexist in their view.
MATTHEWS: How do you get a 15-year-old Arab kid from becoming at 19 or 20, a terrorist?
MCCAIN: Well, one thing you do is you shut down these madrases that the Saudis are partially funding, where they take them off the street and teach them to hate and destroy and want to be extremists, but there‘s a little wrinkle to that, as you know, and that‘s the London bombing, because those were fairly well of, fairly educated kids.
That puts a whole new dimension to it, which makes it more difficult. And what we are seeing in France right now, I believe is going to have a lot more consequences as well. We are in a very, very dangerous world today, and we have to understand that, we have to understand our priorities.
MATTHEWS: It is amazing to go to Paris, the most beautiful city in the world and then to go to neighborhoods where there‘s thousands of seemingly unemployed Arab men standing in the street corner selling what looks like they pulled off, what do you call it, a train somewhere.
Perfume, all selling the same stuff, because they can‘t make a buck.
MCCAIN: And the police won‘t go into those places at night, isn‘t that interesting?
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, it‘s still a pretty city.
Anyway, Senator. Hold on for just a second. We want to bring in somebody to help us, just to update the news. Washington Post Jonathan Finer joins us right now by phone from Amman, Jordan.
Jonathan, what do we know about the damage done so far? The amount of loss of life in the Amman hotels?
JONATHAN FINER, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST (on phone): Well, you hear a range of estimates, but it looks like it‘s going to be a fairly significant death toll. Some people saying upward of 50 or 60 killed, and more than 200 injured. That would be the high end of what we‘re hearing right now. But it certainly seems plausible based on the damage that we‘ve seen.
MATTHEWS: Are they Arabs? Are they Jordanians? Are they visitors from the West?
FINER: I would imagine it would be a mix. Again, we don‘t have any hard figures, but these hotels certainly that are frequented by Western guests.
But for the most part, people are saying the majority of the victims were likely Jordanian. One of the bombings that took place was actually in a reception hall where a wedding was being held. That was a local event, and a large number of victims there were certainly Jordanians.
MATTHEWS: Is there an al Qaeda presence that you know about in Jordan normally? Do they have cells? Are they there all the time and they may have erupted now? Or, are these people in from outside? Do we know that yet?
FINER: Well, certainly, there would likely be a presence. I mean, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda and Iraq leader is from Jordan, certainly has had activities in Jordan previously. I mean, I don‘t know to what extent there‘s consistent presence by these groups here. They certainly operate in and around countries in the vicinity of Jordan. And I would imagine, operate here as well.
MATTHEWS: What‘s it like over there in terms of security around the Western hotels. The hotels like the Radisson, the Days Inn, etc. When you walk in there, are they checking people that might have packages or might be suicide bombers? Is it tight?
FINER: Well, it‘s an interesting question, because until about two hours ago, the security was not very tight. You could drive a car right up in front of any of these hotels and walk right in without anyone asking you whether you were a guest or looking at you, or frisking you, or make you walk through a metal detector, or anything like that.
Which was odd, always for me. I‘m based in Baghdad and coming from the security climate that we had there, it always seemed a little bit lax here. And then all of the sudden, about two hours ago after these bombings, now you can‘t drive these streets in front of the hotels. And there are people scanning you and running metal detecting wands over your body as you‘re walking in. So, it seems like security has picked up noticeably since these bombings took place.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Jonathan Finer, thank you very much sir. Washington Post bureau chief there in Amman, Jordan. Well, that‘s where we‘re at right now. They didn‘t have security, you can bet your bottom dollar it‘s going to be like D.C. now. Bunkers and tiger teeth and everything else. All the regalia of the terrorist age coming to Amman.
MCCAIN: And again, it‘s brought home to us that these people are going to be around for a long time, and it‘s a long, hard struggle we‘re in. And we should never, we should keep that in mind. Let‘s not get complacent when we go for a period of time without any attacks.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘ll be right back with Senator John McCain. He‘s going to stay with us.
As we continue to follow the breaking news out of Jordan, also talk about his new book, Character is Destiny.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Joining me now is NBC News military analyst and retired army general Wayne Downing. General Downing, you fought terrorism for 25 years now. Classic earmarks here of al Qaeda, simultaneous bombings, suicides involved?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Right. Absolutely, Chris. It‘s classic al Qaeda, and it‘s not a surprise. Jordan has been a target for a long time. Senator McCain pointed out, we actually picked up the Millennium Plot, part of the Millennium Plot in Jordan in 2000, followed it to Pakistan.
They have thwarted, I don‘t know how many attacks like this, and this is one that got through.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about al-Zarqawi. What kind of power does he have within Jordan? We know he operates now out of Iraq. He moved his operation there. Is he still running the show in terms of al Qaeda in Jordan?
DOWNING: Chris, you know al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know that.
DOWNING: That‘s where he comes in.
MATTHEWS: Well, I have learned that tonight, but I am not an expert, but go ahead.
DOWNING: He has great influence over this area.
DOWNING: It‘s very, very instructive. The letter about six weeks ago, that we intercepted from al-Zawahri to al-Zarqawi, telling me to knock off killing the Shias, knock off killing the Sunnis.
And what al-Zarqawi goes on to say in that letter, the objective is not just Iraq. But that‘s going to be a base to attack the entire Levant. Now, the Levant to them, means not only Lebanon, but Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, so this could be the start of that campaign.
MATTHEWS: What is the goal?
DOWNING: The goal is to destabilize it and eventually take it over. And remember, Chris, it‘s a little bit different from where you were talking with Senator McCain here in the previous segment. This is about political power.
You know, that‘s why we cannot afford for Iraq to fall apart on us, because if they took the Sunni Triangle and made that a Salafist—read Taliban—state, that would be the base which they could destabilize an entire ...
MATTHEWS: Give me examples of this kind of terrorism we are seeing in Amman tonight, blowing up three hotels, killing perhaps maybe—we will see, over 50 so far, injuring 200. How does that lead to control of a country? Give me an example of where that kind of terrorism has led to control of an Arab country?
DOWNING: Well, that‘s their plan.
MATTHEWS: No, where has it worked?
DOWNING: That‘s the weapon ...
MATTHEWS: But where has it worked, general?
DOWNING: ... that they are using right now. They are trying to make it work in Iraq. They are trying on another scale ...
MATTHEWS: But we knocked off that government. We created a new interim situation over there.
DOWNING: But they are trying to destabilize that government because that‘s the tool that they have. They will go to other things when they are able to do that. For example, in Iraq, if they can get that destabilized to a point where it turns into civil war, then you might have an armed population, an armed army in the Sunni Triangle, taking on the Kurds and Shias.
But—so they are using this to destabilize the country, and of course, what bin Laden and these Salafists want, is they want the governments to crack down and be oppressive because then they can say to them, see, these governments oppress you.
We want to free you. We want to take you back to the 8th and 9th century caliphate, where we are going to live according to that beautiful world that we had back there, 1,400, 1,500 years ago. You know, that‘s what they are trying to offer them. So, this is a strategy. This is not winning them, and this isn‘t ...
MATTHEWS: Let me explain a pattern. You blow up three hotels that are foreigners‘ hotels mainly. You blow up a wedding, which obviously is a terrorist act because people feel very confident and calm at weddings; they think that‘s an oasis from terror.
But all that does is bring more repression. It means more building security officials, it means more check points, it means more difficulty in just getting around every day, it means more police presence and more people being pushed around by cops. Is that a way to escalate the irritation?
DOWNING: Absolutely. Absolutely it is. That‘s a way to escalate the irritation. That‘s why terrorists in many cases do what they are doing. The other thing that Salafists want us to do ...
MATTHEWS: What is a Salafist?
DOWNING: A Salafist is an extreme Islamist who believes in returning to the old ways of the Koran of the 7th, 8th, 9th century. And there was something they called back there, Chris, called the caliphate. They want to return to that, they want the concept.
MATTHEWS: Do they want to go back to Andalusia? They want to get Spain back?
DOWNING: Sure, they do.
MATTHEWS: They do?
DOWNING: Sure they do. Absolutely they do. But right now, they are targeting key Islamic countries. That is what they want. They want Saudi Arabia, they want Jordan, they want Lebanon. They sure want Iraq because Iraq is the core of that Arab-Islamic world. That‘s what they are after.
MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, they are Sunni, and that world in Iraq, and former Mesopotamia, is overwhelming the Shia.
DOWNING: And guess what? Those Salafists, those extremists, actually hate the Shias, more than they hate Jews and Christians.
MATTHEWS: Well, good luck. Well, they got to beat them 4-1. They‘ve got bad odds.
I want to bring in former CIA officer, Bob Baer, who joins us by phone. Mr. Baer, what do you make of this? We are looking at the earmarks of this in the early going here, three hotels hit simultaneously in the tourist areas of Amman, suicides apparently involved.
ROBERT BAER, FMR. CIA OFFICER: Well, Chris, I think to say first, that General Downing has hit the nail on the head, and I would like to even go farther in that what we are seeing is the chaos in Iraq slopping over the border into Jordan. Jordan has a long border with Iraq; weapons can come across very easily.
You have a majority population is Palestinian. They are very proinsurgency in Iraq. And you also have a strong Hamas and Islamic Jihad presence, which uses suicide bombings. In addition to Zarqawi, and until we can stabilize Iraq, I bet you we are going to be seeing more of this in the future.
MATTHEWS: How does that work? How does the—well, there‘s two kinds—there‘s two elements in the opposition in Iraq, to us, to the coalition forces. There are the local people, the Iraqi people, who could be called insurgents. They are just fighting us because they are Sunni and they want their power back. They are Baathist remnants, or whatever you want to call them.
And then you‘ve got people who have come in the last couple of years, because that‘s where the action is, like it was back in civil war Spain in the 1930s. You want to go, if you are at the front, to where the front is, and how does—which one of them filters back or seeps back into Jordan? Is it out of towners, the foreigners, or is it the Iraqis?
BAER: It‘s both. It‘s both support coming out of Saudi Arabia, from the fundamentalists, the Salafists. It is Sunni fundamentalists in general, who can foresee re-emergence of caliphate, which would include Syria, Lebanon, Anbar Province in Iraq, probably Baghdad and Jordan, and these people are after power.
They think that this is a domino, and you can bring down these capitals one after another, and they would especially like to go after King Abdullah. His mother is English. He is western educated. Jordan is a very sophisticated, westernized country.
BAER: And they want to bring it down. And that would be a huge feather in their cap, the fundamentalists.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think about the countries over there that are friendly to us, but even the ones like Jordan that are friendly to us, if you—we just had Karim Kawar, and he‘s—I know him very well. He‘s around Washington. He is a friend of mine, actually. And you ask him about—tonight on the air and as him anytime about their attitude towards the Iraq war, and it does get rather murky, doesn‘t it, Bob?
I mean, are they for us over there? He said that they have to deal with conditions as they are. We will come back and talk about this. What role does the Iraq war play in this terrorism? Does it stimulate it? Is it irregardless of this war in Iraq?
We are still seeing that same trend toward more terrorism. We‘ll be back with General Wayne Downing and former CIA Officer Robert Baer as we continue our live coverage of the attacks against three hotels in Amman, Jordan. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are covering the bombings in Iraq. Let‘s get reaction from the White House right now to the bombings. NBC‘s Bob Kur is there to give us it—Bob.
BOB KUR, NBC NEWS: White House statement just issued a short time ago, Chris, says that the president condemns this today, in the strongest possible terms. “Vicious terrorist attacks,” according to the statement, against innocent civilians in Amman.
Those targeted, the White House statement points out, include “innocent citizens of many different nationalities.” The White House, the president, sends his condolences to the victims‘ families and to King Abdullah and all of the people of Jordan.
The White House statement adds that Jordan is a close friend of the United States and the U.S. will offer every possible form of cooperation in investigating the attacks and assisting with efforts to bring these terrorists to justice.
So that was the statement from the White House a short time ago.
Condi Rice, the secretary of state, was asked about this a short time ago as well, and what she said is that this shows that people will take innocent life without remorse. She also said what the president has said many times, Chris, which is that it just shows the very difficult war we‘re fighting.
Condi Rice says Jordan has been a tremendous fighter and an ally in the war on terror. She says this is a great tragedy and it looks like a very bad situation.
That‘s it from here.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Bob Kur.
We‘ll have much more on the bombings in Jordan. We‘re covering it live right now. In just a moment, Jordan‘s deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher now says 57 people have been killed in the attacks, hundreds wounded.
NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell will be with us when we come back.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Jordan‘s deputy prime minister now says 57 people were killed in those three suicide attacks against hotels in Amman, Jordan.
We‘re back with General Wayne Downing, who spent a quarter century studying terrorism, former CIA officer Bob Baer, and NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
The facts are these: 57 people dead, three hotels attacked simultaneously in the capital city of Amman, suicide bombers apparently involved—that‘s the general belief in the news reporting. And the fact that they were simultaneous has led many people to believe already that this is, in fact, an al Qaeda operation probably controlled by Zarqawi, who set up his headquarters having moved from Jordan where he was born, into Iraq, which suggests a wider, wider war with regard to Iraq itself now.
Let me go to Andrea Mitchell.
Andrea, let me ask you, what do you make of this, the fact that they have gone after Jordan now, and may be the people that were fighting us in Iraq as well?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that Wayne Downing is absolutely correct; that this does go back to the July letter that came from the number two al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden‘s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, telling Zarqawi in Iraq that he should extend beyond Iraq, extend the caliphate, so that they would attack Jordan, attack Lebanon, attack Saudi Arabia—not that they haven‘t attacked before, but that this would be a revived new wave of attacks—saying that Iraq should no longer be the base, or it should be the base from which to extend outward.
And this is terribly ominous, obviously, not just because of the awful toll tonight, but because of what it does foretell for the rest of the region, for all of America‘s allies. It could put a freeze on their support.
Obviously, Jordan has been enormously helpful in training thousands and thousands of Iraqi security, police and security, and as well as Saudi Arabia.
All of the things that Secretary Rice is trying to do in the region— she is leaving tomorrow on a previously scheduled trip. She is going exactly to Bahrain and to Saudi Arabia, and to these other locations.
And of course, there is a major event scheduled for the rest of this week in Israel. This is the 10th anniversary of the death of Rabin. Leaders are coming from all over the world, the Clintons, obviously Condi Rice—major speeches, a big event sponsored by the Saban Center at Brookings.
So this is a very important time in the Middle East, not only in Israeli-Palestinian relations but also obviously the constitutional developments in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: General, let‘s take a look at the situation in terms of fighting terrorism here.
If you have a terrorist operation now based in Iraq, and it‘s a destabilized situation right now, does that make it easier for them to retreat there, run their operations out of there, use that as their operations center like they were using Afghanistan before?
DOWNING: Absolutely, Chris.
And that‘s why we‘ve got to crack down on this and break up this Sunni Triangle, and that‘s why we‘ve got to get the Iraqi security forces going.
There is a very good possibility that this operation could have been based out of Iraq. It could have been based out of Syria, because we know they‘ve got training areas and base areas there.
But you‘ve got to remember about Jordan—Jordan has vast tracts of deserts, very hard to control that area. And of course, it extends into the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
MATTHEWS: Where is Zarqawi right now?
DOWNING: Zarqawi is probably in the Sunni Triangle, but you know, we think we wounded him three or four months ago, perhaps badly. He could be recovering in Jordan right now, but he is in the region.
Chris, this guy is a despicable guy, and we hate him. But from the point of view of the insurgents, he is a hero. He is charismatic. He is on the battlefield. He takes chances. It looks like he has personally beheaded several of these...
MATTHEWS: I think we saw one of his jobs on the Internet.
DOWNING: I mean, that‘s abhorrent to us, but for the people he‘s trying to recruit, you know, they say, “This is the kind of guy that I want to join. This is the guy that I want to go on the holy war with.”
MATTHEWS: Bob Baer, get in here.
Talk about what Andrea was just doing, follow up on that. Andrea talked about the fact that the number two guy with the whole bin Laden operation has given sort of an upgrade of responsibility to Zarqawi, who‘s based in Iraq; that he‘s now supposed to broaden his operations, strike in all directions in that region.
How do you see this thing playing out? Is this the first evidence now that he‘s following up on his orders?
BAER: We don‘t know that, because we can‘t get inside of Zarqawi‘s operation.
Zarqawi is a player in this game, but he‘s not the only one. And what we‘re seeing is that al Qaeda does not want this whole fighting devolve into a Shia-Sunni war.
And that‘s why they are telling them to redirect your suicide bombings, and there have been fewer in the last couple of months, against the West, against hotels in Amman, against friendly governments like the Jordanians. And this very well may be redirection of al-Zarqawi and other Sunni fundamentalists or against the West.
MATTHEWS: If Sunnis are now killing Sunnis, they don‘t have to kill Shia.
BAER: Exactly. Because that would just, you know, eventually, this would eventually involve Iran would come in. A regional-wide war, and I think al Qaeda wants to go back to its original goal of overthrowing friendly Western governments throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
MATTHEWS: Andrea, you have been everywhere in the world. Tell me about those hotels. What is that setting like, if you go to a Radisson or a Days Inn in Amman? Does it feel Western, does it feel like a very cosmopolitan center to be in?
MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely it does. And Jordan and America have been so close in their alliance, they have also been in economic partnership because the United States has tried to get Jordan on its feet. That was one of the big benefits to the Jordanians, of their peace treaty with Israel that was signed with Bill Clinton.
So, there are a lot of benefits that they‘ve enjoyed. One of them is American economic support, American industry. But one of the downsides, of course, is being tagged with the terror, of those who were trying to target Americans and Western interests.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you—let me go back now to General Downing now. Let‘s talk about what we have to do.
If you were advising the Jordanian government right now, their security forces, and you saw this hell breaking loose now, three different hotels. Would you expect another one of these trip-wire things, where three go off at the same time? Are they going to do it again? Or what do you do?
DOWNING: Sure, they‘re going to do it again. Right now, Jordan has an excellent police force. They have an excellent intelligence service. They are one of the best, if not the best in that region.
So they are going to crack down. They have already closed the borders, Chris. So, they‘re trying to seal everything off. The thing is, these people are among them. But I would expect that Jordan will turn out the entire armed forces to stop this.
MATTHEWS: They‘re called the Arab legion, right?
DOWNING: Well, that‘s what they used to call them.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m a very traditionalist kind of guy. It has a very heroic sound to it. Are they strong enough to meet any resistance now, any insurgency attempt by the al-Zarqawi crowd?
DOWNING: Oh, I think probably the way it is now, they can crack down on it. The question is, can you stop these two or three or four random suicide bombers? That‘s very, very tough.
As the Israelis have found out, as we have found out. So are they up to it? You know, they are probably as good as anybody in that region. I have spent a lot of time in Jordan.
MATTHEWS: But nobody is as good as the Israelis.
DOWNING: Well, not at that.
MATTHEWS: Spotting the people about to blow themselves up. They have a certain look in their eye, I would expect as they‘re about to pull the rope.
DOWNING: The Israelis do a very extensive profile.
MATTHEWS: And they can‘t even stop all of them. Anyway, thank you, great to have you on. General Wayne Downing, Bob Baer and Andrea Mitchell, as always.
Much more on tonight‘s terror attacks in Jordan, coming up. We‘re going to talk to the former head of the CIA‘s unit charged with tracking Osama bin Laden.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
You have been watching these pictures from Amman. We are continuing to cover the suicide bombings of three hotels in Jordan.
Michael Scheuer served as chief of the CIA‘s bin Laden unit. He also wrote the book, Imperial Hubris, why the West is losing the war on terror.
Rand Beers served as a special assistant to President Bush on combating terrorism. He was also a member of the national security council during the Clinton administration.
Gentlemen, Michael and then Ran, what does this tell us about where we stand in the world, the war in Iraq, it‘s relevance to this, et cetera?
MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER COVERT CIA OFFICER: By invading Iraq, we‘ve basically signed the death warrant of Jordan and much of the Levant. bin Laden, it‘s another example, Chris, of no one reading what bin Laden said. bin Laden prizes contiguity about all things. An area where he can operate from safe haven into another country.
MATTHEWS: Now his save haven is war-torn Iraq?
SCHEUER: Exactly right, sir. We created his bastion to get to an area he‘s never been able to work against, which is the Levant, Israel, Egypt. He now has safe haven to operate from there.
MATTHEWS: He couldn‘t operate from his home country of Jordan. He couldn‘t attack Jordan from within?
SCHEUER: Well, al-Zarqawi could have. But for bin Laden, what we are seeing is al Qaeda move forces to Iraq to be able to move in against the Jordanians, against the Syrians, and eventually into Lebanon and into Israel.
MATTHEWS: What is the goal of the bombings tonight as you understand it? Why did people do it, who apparently committed suicide to do so, what drove them to that, what‘s their mission?
SCHEUER: Well, part of it was to destabilize Jordan. Part of it was to finish the job they failed to do in 2000. You remember, the Radisson was in the Millennium attack, was a target. And so it‘s meant to further the spread of the Jihad.
It‘s a very nice operation. There‘s going to be tremendous casualties there, and once again, the president and the secretary of defense will whistle past the graveyard saying this is, al Qaeda‘s back is broken, this is some kind of a new organization out there.
MATTHEWS: Is this meant, this attack on Jordan, meant to make life in Jordan so unstable that people say, we might as well try something new?
RAND BEERS, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFFER: Well, it‘s certainly designed to do as much to destabilize the current government there as possible.
MATTHEWS: What does destabilize mean?
BEERS: What it means, is basically force the government to use its security forces to go after cells there, and in so doing, create a sense of repression.
MATTHEWS: It makes them feel like an occupying force.
BEERS: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s what the terrorists want to achieve, to make the Hashemite government, King Abdullah, seem like a Western power put on top of them.
BEERS: That‘s right. And taking the longstanding relationship with Jordan, with the United States, this makes them an extension of the United States in the eyes of al Qaeda, have been for some time. That‘s why Zarqawi started there. That‘s why he was involved in some attacks there. That‘s why he has had a cell structure there that preexisted what he did in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Michael, just to think outside the box, would we be better off with Saddam Hussein still running tyrannically that country of Iraq, right next door to Jordan? Would Jordan be more secure in that environment?
SCHEUER: No doubt about it, sir.
MATTHEWS: No doubt?
SCHEUER: There‘d be many more dead—many fewer dead Americans, and we would have many more resources available to annihilate al Qaeda, which is what we have to do. Without a doubt, in the war against al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies.
MATTHEWS: How so?
SCHEUER: He was not going to permit Iraq to become a base, as it is today, for Sunni fundamentalists.
MATTHEWS: Why did he let them come in for that training, that chemical training, whatever the hell they did up north?
SCHEUER: They didn‘t control the area, so that was in the no-fly zone. They were in an area that was in Kurdistan.
SCHEUER: And they were Shia.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy this argument that if had we not gone into Iraq, Jordan would be safer to live in right now?
BEERS: Oh, I think in near term, that‘s absolutely true. You can‘t dispute that.
MATTHEWS: And these fellows, who were just on trial who now—I shouldn‘t call them fellows, like they are pals of mine. These guys who are the terrorists are under down in Australia now, saying the reason they went to the plan, at least, to blow up areas and use their explosives, was they are anger about the war in Iraq. Do you believe that that‘s the true motive?
BEERS: I think that that was certainly a large part of it, and I would say, let‘s remember what people have said recently. The spokesman for al Qaeda, a guy named Gadahn, who is an American citizen, said that there would be attacks in Australia and at Los Angeles. If you go back and you think about the original Radisson plot, the original Radisson plot in the millennium was also what Rassam was doing coming into the United States when we caught him at the border.
MATTHEWS: From Canada.
BEERS: From Canada. He was going to LAX. So I have to say here, we had better pull up our socks and be looking very carefully within our own borders at this time.
MATTHEWS: You think this is a sign of something to come here ...
BEERS: Well, we do know ...
MATTHEWS: ... what was happening Jordan tonight?
BEERS: Well, we do know that they come back to the scene of operations that they failed to complete. They have come back to the scene with the Radisson. That was partly ...
MATTHEWS: They came back to the scene of the World Trade Center, 1993, back in 2001.
BEERS: Right. That‘s right. They did the Cole after the missed the Fitzgerald in Aden, so we know that there is this pattern of coming back for failed operations.
SCHEUER: I think what you‘re seeing too, Chris, is we haven‘t heard from bin Laden for a year. The last time we heard him, and he said that‘s the end of it, I am not warning you anymore. I think the next time we see Osama bin Laden is after there‘s an attack in the United States.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with Michael Scheuer and Rand Beers in just a moment. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Michael Scheuer, formally of the CIA, and Rand Beers, a former National Security Council member.
We‘re joined right now by Dana Priest of the “Washington Post.”
Dana, tell us what you can about the situation in the security forces and the overall attempts by the King Abdullah government to deal with this kind of thing in Jordan.
DANA PRIEST, “WASHINGTON POST”: You know, Jordan has really taken a two-tracked approach.
One is very much the intelligence services, the military, the police services working together and working in very close partnership with the CIA.
Unlike, for instance, Saudi Arabia, there was never really a reluctance on the part of the Jordanians to work jointly with the United States against the al Qaeda networks that it knows.
But what it—the other thing it‘s doing that‘s really interesting is it‘s trying to talk to the younger generation and it‘s using clerics to do that, and it‘s been successful in getting those clerics to make anti-jihadist statements, very clear cut anti-jihadist statements.
And it is—I‘ve talked to Jordanian officials recently about this. They send, for instance, clerics into the prisons where they have terrorist suspects, the younger people who, you know, aren‘t known to have already committed crimes but are suspectful of being in the network, and they debate the Koran and the parts of the Koran with those people for months on end until they are satisfied that, that person has a new interpretation of the Koran and believes that their former interpretation was wrong. And in those cases it actually lets go some of the lower-ranking people who were supporters of jihadism.
And so they really are trying these two different approaches to dealing with not only the present situation, but hopefully, you know, trying to stop the future generation from adhering to this kind of ideology.
MATTHEWS: Will this event of today, with the death of 57 people—most of them I assume are Jordanian—and the blowing up of three different hotels, at least the explosives—the hotels look like they‘re still there obviously—but will this encourage that sort of carrot and stick approach?
PRIEST: Well, I think so, because I don‘t think the Jordanians have any illusion that this problem is solved just by one or the other.
And I think we‘ll see that a lot those people aren‘t Jordanians, that they‘re Americans. You know, these hotels—Jordan has become the weigh station really in and out of Iraq, not just for all the al Qaeda network but also for the Americans and the international community that goes in and out of Iraq.
So in that sense, it‘s become a bigger, more obvious target. And they‘re going back, as your other guests said, to the ways they know, to the hotels they‘ve already attacked in the past.
And it is a relatively soft target, because Jordan is a pretty open society and people—there aren‘t police on every street corner with guns and that‘s one of the nice things about Jordan, is that it‘s very open. That‘s, you know, become a problem now.
So I don‘t think they‘re going to give up on one approach because of this, but I do expect that you‘d see a crackdown in the military police approach as well.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Dana Priest of the “Washington Post.”
Let me go back to Michael Scheuer and to Rand.
Quickly, the way you see it is this is Zarqawi, it‘s al Qaeda?
MATTHEWS: And is it coming out of Iraq, war-torn Iraq right now, or is coming out of somewhere else, somewhere in the hills of Afghanistan on the border there?
SCHEUER: It could be a flow through. What Iraq is, is a conduit for al Qaeda through—from Afghanistan, through Iran, through Iraq...
MATTHEWS: You agree?
BEERS: I agree.
And I think that what we‘re seeing is now another phase of what Zarqawi is up to. This is what he was asked to do.
Thank you very much, Michael Scheuer, Rand Beers.
We‘ll be back in one hour for more HARDBALL.
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