Guests: Joe Biden, Mark Bowden, Steve McMahon, Kate O‘Beirne, Janet Langhart, William Cohen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Let‘s count the votes. The House votes tomorrow on whether to back or denounce the surge in Iraq. The Senate votes Saturday on whether to take the ayes and anyway.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Welcome to HARDBALL.
President Bush today talked up plans to send 3,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But Iraq continues to be the main issue. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid wants to vote this Saturday to force be an up or down vote on the troop escalation. And Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who‘s running or president, pushed again today for his plan to divide Iraq into three regions. Senator Biden will tell us more about his Iraq plans and whether he‘s getting support for it in a moment.
Plus, Senator Hillary Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are the from runners in the latest polls. We‘ll talk about picking the next president with our Hardballers later in the show.
And HARDBALL‘s David Shuster gives us a full report on the Scooter Libby trial, which will soon be headed to the jury.
But first, Senator Joe Biden.
Thank you very much for joining us, Senator Biden.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: Happy to...
MATTHEWS: The hell continues in Iraq. More people killed every day. Is the solution still to find some way of separating the three sides, the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni to prevent more bloodshed?
BIDEN: Absolutely. It‘s the only way, Chris. There‘s only three ways countries like this have ever been dealt with. One, an empire imposes a possession. Two, there‘s a dictator. Or three, it‘s a federal system. And more and more people from Henry Kissinger straight though to the leading foreign policy experts are agreeing that the federal system is the only way out.
MATTHEWS: What about your fellow politicians? Are you getting any support from any Democrats on your side of the aisle who will come out and say Biden is right?
BIDEN: Yes, starting off with liberal supporters like Barbara Boxer, who has strongly, strongly been pushing it, to a number of members on the House side, including a half a dozen newly elected members of the House of Representatives having run on the plan, to even Republicans like Brownback and others who are embracing the idea I put forward some time ago.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you how do you make it happen? I mean, we have a president who has his own plan. We have the Democratic majority that wants to basically rebuke the surge plan and begin to choke off the money. How do you work your thinking into those plans that are already afoot?
BIDEN: Well, as you know, it‘s awful hard. First of all, they are mostly tactics. They‘re not plans. I mean, one of the things everybody agrees when you push them—I always ask my colleagues, if you got invited down to the White House and the president said, “I would do whatever you want to do to deal with Iraq,” would you say cap the troops? Would you say reduce the number? Would you say leave immediately?
And almost all of them say no. They know it‘s much more complicated than that because acknowledges there are going to be some troops left behind, if in fact there‘s a political settlement that is reached, to keep al Qaeda from occupying territory that the present government could not deny them.
And so it gets very complicated. So what I‘m doing, Chris, is putting together—I have put together a—I‘m going to complicate this again in the minds of your listeners. But redefine what authority the president has to use force in Iraq. The original authority he had was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, take down Saddam Hussein, comply with U.N. resolutions. That‘s all done.
Now we have to define for him, “Mr. President, you‘re not allowed to get us in the middle this civil war. You‘re allowed to train Iraqi forces. You should be bringing in the international community to make it their problem and get a political solution. And you should help them with their constitution.”
So it‘s a way—but it‘s very hard, Chris, as you know, having worked up here, it‘s hard for the Congress to lay out a foreign policy. It‘s hard to do that. And what we‘re usually left with is trying to stop bad ideas.
MATTHEWS: How do the American people grab your idea and run with it? I mean, you‘re in a field now fighting your way to the top with Hillary and Obama up there and maybe Edwards ahead of you. And you‘re trying to get heard. But how does the hearing work? I mean, how does this campaign for president become a way for the American people to figure this thing out in Iraq?
BIDEN: Well, the way I say it is, let‘s localize the problem. Everybody in America understands there‘s no possibility of a national police force in Iraq patrolling Fallujah and Basra at the same time. So let them have their local police. Let them have control over their marriages. Let them have control over their education. Let them have control over things that affect their daily lives. Their constitution calls for that.
Back off this notion of having a strong central government which the Iraqis never contemplated. It‘s a matter of getting a debate on the floor of Senate, continuing to flush these things out because if you notice, Chris, the tactical arguments put up by my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, have not gotten much bite with the public at large.
And what‘s happening is more and more of the experts are signing on and more and more of the commentators are signing on to my plan, which—and Les Gelb, which is the only way to have what one reporter called a soft landing here in Iraq, get our troops out without leaving chaos behind.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s step back for a minute. President Bush, soon after 9/11 in that well known State of Union address of 2002, talked about an axis of evil—Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Was that smart?
BIDEN: No, it was very stupid—shouldn‘t say stupid. It was very ill-informed. Number one, because what it said was once we declared them axis of evil, we stopped talking. We stopped talking. We pressed the mute button in three areas of world where there‘s a real problem for us. Finally, after six years, he has re-engaged North Korea and he hadn‘t gotten us back to the point where we were under the Clinton administration in terms of curtailing the ambitions of North Korea. But at least we‘re talking...
MATTHEWS: Well, we are not talking—or the president‘s making strong statements but not engaging is Iran. Do you think the president is just simply protecting American soldiers in the field in Iraq? Or he‘s risking a larger engagement, a war with Iran?
BIDEN: I have no doubt he wants to protect American soldiers in Iraq. But I think he‘s risking the larger war in Iran. And, if you notice, Chris, he has virtually no credibility right now. And it‘s unfortunate. The fact of the matter is if you notice he‘s talked about this new group, this elite group of Iranians who are the conduit for these penetrating devices.
Guess what? We arrested the No. 2 guy in that group, in the compound of a guy named Hakim, who had just a month earlier been sitting down with President Bush and we let him go.
Two years ago when I was in Iraq, they told me about these penetrating devices. I sat in Fallujah with a young general explaining to me how they worked. Why is it we‘re only hearing about this now? Why are we only talking about it now?
MATTHEWS: It seems—Well, let me give you an historic example. Are you familiar with this? Back in 1940 Franklin Roosevelt rightly or wrongly was trying to engage the Nazis. He set a perimeter up and he dared them to go in and hit any of our shipping or allied shipping in this perimeter. He basically wanted to go to war with Germany before Pearl Harbor. Fair enough, we can argue that forever.
Is President Bush trying to do that? Is he sit setting up a perimeter or a standard where he‘s hoping the Iranians will break in do something we can justify as the beginning of a war with Iran? Is he looking for a war with Iran?
BIDEN: The honest to God truth is I don‘t know. But it worries me.
If past is prologue, it‘s not beyond the realm.
And the truth of the matter is if he wants to go to war with a country of 72 million people, he has an obligation to come to the people through the United States Congress and get permission. He does not have authority to initiate that war himself.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he knows that? Do you think he believes that?
BIDEN: I think he knows it. But I don‘t know beyond that.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know—do you believe he is held by constitutional principles to go to you guys first? I mean, Hillary Clinton aid this the other day. Senator Clinton said—and she ‘s pretty hawkish, generally. But she said the presidents has to come to the Senate for approval of any action against Iran.
BIDEN: He has to come to the Congress for any approval against—any action against Iran.
Now, look, that doesn‘t mean we can‘t be in hot pursuit. No one is saying that if you‘re chasing down a cadre of people who just killed a bunch of Marines or attacked them, you can‘t cross the border after them. That‘s within the context of waging this war. But it‘s another thing if the president uses that as an excuse to use air power to take out a nuclear facility.
MATTHEWS: Senator, that‘s how we got into a happy little war with Mexico a long time ago and picked a place like California, New Mexico and Texas, so we knew how to face Pancho Villa...
BIDEN: You know...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
BIDEN: Yes, but guess what? We‘re not going to pick up California here. We‘re going to pick up a country of 72 million people who will tie us down in a way against our interest and beyond my comprehension right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, the president made an illusion to you the other day. I want to know your reaction. Here‘s President Bush form his press conference yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember a member of Congress came to me before one of my speeches, I think it was the Iraq speech as opposed to the State of Union speech. He said, “You better be eloquent in order to convince the American people to support this plan.”
He didn‘t say articulate. He said eloquent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, the president likes to say he doesn‘t watch television, he doesn‘t keep up with this stuff. He clearly was keeping up with your little contretemps a week ago. What do you think of that?
BIDEN: Well, I think he was. And I‘m flattered he paid so much attention and I might point out he described the gentleman as articulate the same day I did.
MATTHEWS: You‘re right.
BIDEN: So we both made a mistake. At any rate, I wish the president had been more eloquent.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Joe Biden, candidate for president of the United States.
Coming up, the “Atlantic Magazine‘s” Mark Bowden. Remember the guy who did that reporting on Blackhawk Down? He‘s going to give us the behind the scenes look at how the United States really does go after real terrorists around the world. That‘s coming up a moment from now.
And later, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports on what we‘re learning about President Bush as well as Vice President Cheney in this Libby I trial which is about to go to the jury.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Mark Bowden‘s the author, journalist and screenwriter mainly known for his book that became the movie “Blackhawk Down”. He has written this month‘s cover story for the “Atlantic Monthly” called “Jihadists in Paradise”. It tells the story of the kidnapping of 20 people, including some Americans, at a Philippine resort back in 2001. Three of them Americans, as I said, and the Chinese-Filipinos. That triggered a year-long hunts for pirate/terrorists and the hostages. Mainly—this book is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how we fight terrorists in the world.
So what did you learn about reporting on the pursuit of the bad guys in the Philippines, this group, Abu Sayyaf, that‘s connected to al Qaeda?
MARK BOWDEN, “THE ATLANTIC”: Well, they‘re a local franchises of al Qaeda. And one of the things that I think we‘ve come to understand about this global jihad is it isn‘t a highly centralized organization with command control. It‘s more, you know, cells that spring up around the world that identify themselves ideologically with them.
MATTHEWS: So somebody who has a grievance against a central government somewhere because something they don‘t like, maybe it‘s a generational struggle like in Saudi Arabia or something, they say, “We‘re going—“ what, do they put out a posting and say, “We would join up with you fellow terrorists around the world?” How do they link up?
BOWDEN: Well, in this case, Alden Tulao (ph), who‘s a fellow who called himself Abu Zubaydah, is a Filipino. But he had actually lived in the Middle East a while and attended a training camp. Al Qaeda...
MATTHEWS: Is he a Muslim?
BOWDEN: He‘s a Muslim.
MATTHEWS: Is it key to be a Muslim to be in al Qaeda?
MATTHEWS: OK. You‘re laughing, but we‘ve got to learn this stuff because for a while there, the PLO was identifying with the provisional IRA, remember?
MATTHEWS: So it isn‘t all Muslim.
But certainly al Qaeda is a fundamentalist or militant Islamist movement. And in its broadest sense it‘s a rebellion against the modern world.
MATTHEWS: Now, we have troops in the Philippines now that were put in there to fight this group, right? How‘s the fighting going?
BOWDEN: Well, they‘ve actually done a pretty good job. But I wouldn‘t say it‘s primarily the American forces there. But with American help, the Philippine forces have pretty much decimated Abu Sayyaf, which is not to say that you can...
MATTHEWS: So you can defeat terrorism?
BOWDEN: Oh, yes. I think you can. I mean, we certainly have at this point defeated Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.
MATTHEWS: Rudi Giuliani said something interesting the other day about how we could lose the war in Iraq, win the war in Iraq and it really doesn‘t change the international equation here, what we‘re facing day in and day out, big-city mayors, whatever, the American people facing the possibility of terrorism hitting us at home. When you close your eyes and imagine the whole globe, how many real enemies do we have out there who can strike us? How big a deal is this terrorism threat right now?
BOWDEN: I think it‘s an important threat. It‘s certainly not big enough or important enough to topple governments or to, you know, bring the United States to its knees. But I think in many countries around the world, you have organizations that are capable of carrying out terrible acts of mass murder and plan to do so. And so, I think they ought to be a priority. But they certainly are not a threat to our way of life.
MATTHEWS: So, would say that the world is increasingly getting itself in the position Israel‘s in, which is people don‘t like you, they want to hurt you, they want to terrorize you. And they‘re going to do that in perpetuity?
BOWDEN: I think that‘s right. And, sadly to say, it‘s true. And I don‘t think that this current, sort of Islamist flavor to terrorism around the world is going to be a long-lasting phenomenon. But terror as a tactic, particularly because of the modern media, the global media in the world, which amplifies acts of terror, I think is here to stay.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do? You don‘t beat them—I didn‘t even like the word “beat them” because that suggests we‘re going to outlaw—we have murders in this country, 20,000 murders a year in this county. We don‘t outlaw—we don‘t effectively outlaw murder in this country because people get away with it, right?
How do we—how do you deal with it? Do you have speeches by a president every two hours? Do you have people constantly waving their arms in the air against terrorism and try to regiment the society of Patriot act laws? Do you have constant checking of your shoes in airports? I mean, it seems so much of this is motion without action.
BOWDEN: I do think that it‘s important to stop talking about it so much, because I think it does aggravate and amplify what‘s in effect a sort of low-voltage sort of threat. I think the story in “The Atlantic” this month about the hunt for Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines is a good illustration of how can it be handled. And that is so to work on a fairly low-key basis, through local authorities, utilizing their knowledge of the culture, the language, their ability to infiltrate communities and get intelligence provide the kind of technological assistance and money and expertise that the United States can bring without making ourselves, you know, the big foot in the war because that has a tendency to create a backlash that‘s counterproductive.
MATTHEWS: You have people like Newt Gingrich running around talking about the possibility of one or two big cities being hit in America, you know, this apocalyptic notion of things to come. It may come, but how do you stop something like that, another 9/11? I mean, these things are planned for years and years and years. You hope to get somebody to rat out somebody, but how else do you get them?
BOWDEN: Well, I think you can prevent a lot of it. In fact, I think we‘ve had a great deal of success in heading off terrorist attacks. But you can‘t ever stop it altogether.
I think in the instance of weapons of mass destruction, where you‘re talking about radiological devices or biochemical, we have abetter chance because these products themselves are detectable. They‘re fairly rare. They‘re very difficult to work with. They require a fairly sophisticated organization to produce. So I think if you target these elements that go into the creation of serious weapons, you have a pretty good chance of stopping really major attacks.
MATTHEWS: What are we at war with? I mean, the president has wrestled with this, as everyone else has from 2001 on. I don‘t like wars on terror. It‘s like war on inflation. What does it mean? Is it war on Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic zealotry, Islamism, as it‘s called? Or is it a war as against a means of warfare, which is to terrorize civilian populations? What are we actually engaged in here?
BOWDEN: Well, I do think that right now we are engaged in a war against radical Islam because it is a rising tide in the Middle East and in various places around the world and they are dedicated to this tactic of terror. And I think that, given the sophistication, the breadth of this movement, that that is the war that we are fighting right now.
BOWDEN: But in a larger sense, you are exactly right. Terrorism is a tactic. It‘s going to be with us forever. It will be Bosnian separatists one day, it will be Basque separatists the other day.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but I‘m not really interested in terrorism as a tactic as I am in the concern about a global threat from Islamic terrorism, and it seems like they can move through democratic means as well as the terrorism. They can win elections. Hamas won.
BOWDEN: Yes, but I think...
MATTHEWS: They can win elections in North Africa. We‘ve seen that. They won the election, the more radical candidate, Ahmadinejad, won over in Tehran. I mean, they can win elections. That‘s another way they can spread their power.
BOWDEN: There is, but politics, as we are already seeing in Gaza, has a way of moderating extremism. And you know, the Palestinians...
MATTHEWS: You mean the deal with the Saudis that‘s under way now.
BOWDEN: Yes, and what you have seen happen in Gaza is the Palestinians, given the opportunity to hold a free elections, you know, voted for Hamas overwhelmingly, and has now had to face the consequences.
MATTHEWS: The fact that Hamas is incapable of doing anything, and the rubble—they blew apart the Israeli settlements and greenhouses and things when the Israelis left, and they blew it all apart, and it‘s sitting there like rubble, and they haven‘t lifted a finger to build a country.
BOWDEN: And that is the great thing about democracy as a principle is that it‘s a moderating system.
MATTHEWS: It forces the outs in.
MATTHEWS: And then the in‘s fail.
BOWDEN: You see it in Iran. I mean, 25 years after the Islamic revolution in Iran, the people of that country despise their government. And...
MATTHEWS: So why do they elect radicals like Ahmadinejad when they got a guy like Khamenei (sic), who wasn‘t as bad?
BOWDEN: You have to remember that Ahmadinejad was one of the only candidates allowed to run, that reformist candidates were crossed off the ballot.
MATTHEWS: Who was the guy we had before over there that we dumped all over with, with the Iraq—with the axis of evil? We knocked him over, we got something worse. Who was the guy before that, Khatami?
BOWDEN: Khatami, yes. He was an academic who was actually a great disappointment to most Iranians who favor radical reform. And you know, he was elected at the head of a party that wanted to establish real democracy in Iran.
MATTHEWS: A secular government.
BOWDEN: But he had compromised and backed down repeatedly, and so he disillusioned a lot of his own followers. But nevertheless, in...
MATTHEWS: Maybe it was because we were saber-rattling on our side.
It made it easier for the crazies over there to take over.
I always wondered why every time—the last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism. You can create a nationalistic sentiment in the country that encourages the election of the worst people all the time, right?
BOWDEN: It can, but I don‘t really think, Chris, that that is the case in Iran. I think that what happened was there was a backlash against the reform movement. They closed down reform newspapers. They wouldn‘t allow reform politicians to run for office. And so what we are seeing now is a sort of a forced situation that the mullahs have imposed on the people of Iran. And frankly, I think that our policy of taking a hard line with Iran makes a lot of sense, because it heartens the reform movement...
MATTHEWS: It‘s like the evil empire kind of thing that Reagan did?
BOWDEN: Well, I didn‘t particularly like the evil empire. And I agree with—I was just listening to Senator Biden on your show, and he said at the point where you begin calling another country, you know, an embodiment of evil, you pretty much eliminate the prospect of negotiating with them. But I do think...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t agree with that?
BOWDEN: No, I do think we should negotiate with Iran, even though they are not to be trusted. I think that they are such an important player in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in Israel, everywhere around that part of the world, that we have to deal with them.
MATTHEWS: You‘re a great writer. Thank you. “Black Hawk Down” is still one of the great, most distressing accounts of the world we live in that I‘ve ever come across. Thank you very much, Mark Bowden.
BOWDEN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports on the latest in the Scooter Libby trial, which is heading to the jury next week. You are watching it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Closing arguments in the trial of Scooter Libby are scheduled for next Tuesday. At its core, this case revealed how the Bush administration sold the war with Iraq and tried to undercut a critic of that sales job. And the evidence in this case involves not just Vice President Dick Cheney, but also President Bush. HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the report.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While the trial of Scooter Libby has revealed that Vice President Cheney directed efforts to smear a high-profile administration critic, the evidence from both sides shows President Bush took an interest in Joe Wilson as well, and eventually played a role in trying to undermine him.
In May of 2003, before Wilson went public, this article by Nicholas Kristof referred to an ambassador‘s findings in Niger. At the grand jury, Libby was asked about one of his notes.
QUESTION: Does that indicate the president was interested in the State of the Union and the Kristof article?
LEWIS “SCOOTER” LIBBY: Yes.
QUESTION: And do you recall what the occasion was that, that you came to learn that the president was interested in that Kristof article.
LIBBY: I don‘t. It could be something that somebody said to me that I—it doesn‘t mean that I observed it. It may be something someone said to me and I wrote it down.
QUESTION: Any recollection of discussing with the vice president the interest of the president in the Kristof article?
LIBBY: I don‘t—I don‘t have a recollection of it.
SHUSTER: But two days after Joe Wilson went public accusing the administration of twisting evidence and ignoring findings that Iraq was not seeking uranium from Africa, Vice President Cheney and President Bush took action. Evidence left unchallenged by the defense shows the leaders declassified a secret national intelligence estimate, gave it to Libby, and authorized him to leak it to reporter Judy Miller as part of an effort to push back at Wilson.
Nobody else knew the NIE had, in effect, been declassified. Not CIA Director Tenet, not then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, not her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
LIBBY: I had talked to Judith Miller about the NIE at the president‘s, you know, at—at the president‘s approval relayed to me through the vice president. And I did not tell Mr. Hadley at that time.
QUESTION: And was there any reason why you didn‘t tell Mr. Hadley that you had told Ms. Miller about the NIE?
LIBBY: I was sitting with the vice president. The vice president knew it and chose not to tell Mr. Hadley, and so I didn‘t change what he had done.
SHUSTER: And yet just two months later...
BUSH: I don‘t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I would like to know it, and we will take the appropriate action.
SHUSTER: Soon after that, even though Vice President Cheney knew that Scooter Libby, at Cheney‘s direction, had spoken to reporters about the NIE and about Valerie Wilson‘s CIA status just days before she was outed, notes show Cheney told White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly clear Libby, just as McClellan had already cleared Karl Rove.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They are good individuals. They are important members of our White House team. And that‘s why I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.
SHUSTER: Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has argued the evidence is clear Rove and Libby were lying to McClellan. The evidence at trial also shows the White House misled the public by blaming the CIA for the president‘s false pre-war State of Union claims. When the claims were retracted, documents revealed Vice President Cheney helped write the White House talking points.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The broader statement about seeking uranium from Africa was vetted through the CIA.
MCCLELLAN: And if the CIA had said, take it out, we would have taken it out.
SHUSTER: But evidence at the Libby trial shows that the CIA director did urge White House officials to take it out. In an audio recording played in court, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, during an interview with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, says CIA director George Tenet personally told the White House the claim was wrong and got it removed from another speech before the State of Union.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh really? It was taken out?
RICHARD ARMITAGE, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Taken out.
George said, you can‘t do this.
WOODWARD: How come it wasn‘t out of the State of the Union then?
ARMITAGE: Because I think it was overruled by the types down at the White House. Condi doesn‘t like being in the hot spot.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The implication appears to be that Condoleezza Rice, who was responsible for voicing Tenet‘s concerns to the president, didn‘t like having to stand up to Vice President Cheney, who was pushing the uranium claim. When Joe Wilson spoke out seven months later, his CIA wife was outed eight days after that.
SHUSTER: Prosecutors say Libby lied during those crucial eight days to protect himself and also possibly Vice President Dick Cheney. And as first reported by the online newspaper Salon, supporters of Libby confirm that he was urged by friends to cut a plea deal to prosecutors and tell them about Vice President Cheney. Libby refused.
The closing arguments in this case are scheduled for Tuesday, a case that has revealed that the efforts to undermine a Bush administration critic involve not just Vice President Cheney, but also President Bush—
MATTHEWS: It would be sure great if all of the trial and the verdict and everything outside of it all we would find out more about the role the vice president played in pushing this war. I think that is news we want to get. In the end it‘s the big macro question. How did he use the evidence to get us into the war? Anyway, thank you, David Shuster.
Up next, polls show Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are way out in front in the polls. Can anyone catch them? We will dig into with the HARDBALLers. You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Associated Press is reporting at this moment that the Iraqi government has announced that the leader of an al Qaeda—of al Qaeda itself in Iraq was wounded north Baghdad today. NBC‘s Jane Arraf is in Baghdad.
Jane, what happened?
JANE ARRAF, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we have just spoken to an interior ministry spokesman who confirms that they believe that indeed the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been wounded in a gun fight, a firefight north of Baghdad. Very few details at this moment.
But the interior ministry spokesman says not only was he wounded, one of his chief aides was kill. Now this obviously, if true, is a very important development. This is Abu Musab (sic) al-Masri, who took over from al-Zarqawi, who killed by a U.S. airstrike in June. He heads al Qaeda in Iraq, which is a group of loosely affiliated al Qaeda cells.
But again, the Iraqi government saying that they have wounded him and have him in custody. The U.S. military has no comment. They likely won‘t until they are able to confirm whether this report is indeed true—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Is al Qaeda being held responsible as an organization for the continued stirring up of this civil war?
ARRAF: You know, they used to be, but things have moved on. And now biggest threat, according to U.S. military officials generally, is that sectarian violence. And a big part of that sectarian violence is actually Shia militias. They have been responsible for a lot of the death squad killings. A lot of cycle of revenge that was indeed started by Sunni extremists, Baath Party loyalists, but now it is just one big caldron of violence here. That is what they are facing—Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much for this report tonight, NBC‘s Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Well, the House is set to vote tomorrow on a resolution opposing President Bush‘s escalation plan in Iraq. And now U.S. Congressman John Murtha wants to stop plan the president‘s plan by limiting troop rotations and extended tours, as well as requiring troops to be combat ready.
Will the Democrats be able to end this war by imposing troop restrictions? Let‘s turn to our HARDBALLers, Kate O‘Beirne is Washington editor of The National Review. And Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist who works for Democratic candidates for Senate and House.
Steve, do could you think the Democratic Party is willing to bite the bullet here and actually pass a resolution in the House—a binding resolution to choke off the supply of troops for this surge?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think they are. I heard a metaphor the other day that actually is—was a pretty clever one. They said that the resolution that is being debated today is like the dog growling, if you will, or the dog barking. And pretty soon what you are going to see is the dog biting. And I think that‘s what Jack Murtha has talked about.
Nobody wants to cut off funding for the troops. But they do want to impose some conditions, some oversight, and some accountability that the Republican Congress frankly didn‘t impose on this president or this war.
MATTHEWS: Well, will the president sign such a bill that says that you have to have the troops all in fighting shape before they go into combat? That rotations have to be limited? That soldiers can‘t be forced to fight for too long a period without getting that a break at home? We won‘t have permanent bases?
A lot of these factors now they are going to try to set into law, the Democrats.
KATE O‘BEIRNE, WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: Right. Steve might be right, maybe a majority of Democrats are willing to do it. But it would be politically perilous to do so. The surge is already under way. The troops in Iraq need reinforcements. For the Democrats to deny reinforcements to troops in the field, I think, would be a major problem for them.
MATTHEWS: And that is the key word, isn‘t it? Reinforcements.
O‘BEIRNE: Sure, reinforcements.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what Duncan Hunter started to use a couple of weeks on this program. Aren‘t you afraid of that word? I mean, imagine the soldiers are under attack. They are pinned down and President Bush, the commander-in-chief, is trying to bring them reinforcements and the Democratic Party, your party is saying no, he can do it, and stopping him from doing it.
MCMAHON: I think what our party is saying is that the voters in this country sent a clear message last November. They want a way out of Iraq, they don‘t want to get in farther. Obviously you are not going to deny troops in the field who are pinned down reinforcements, but you are also not going to continue to let the president send more an more troops into harm‘s way without imposing some conditions, without making sure they are combat-ready.
And frankly, I think most Democrats in Congress—and many Republicans now, 50 or 60 it has been estimated, might bolt on this resolution. They heard the voters and they want to come up with a plan to bring the troops home, not to send more troops over there.
MATTHEWS: That is an easy vote though for 50 Republicans, right?
O‘BEIRNE: Well, I think.
MATTHEWS: Just vote against the surge in principle but then when it comes time to cut off the troop—the surge of troops in terms of numbers of troops available for combat, numbers of troops who aren‘t taken out of service because of a need for a break, that is a harder vote.
O‘BEIRNE: Given the state of public opinion, and if there is not this demonstrable progress on the ground in Iraq owing to these additional troops, it would have been safe to a have voted for a non-binding resolution opposing the surge. As I said, they risk, of course, this being successful and then of course they will look as though.
MATTHEWS: But for how long.
O‘BEIRNE: . they did the wrong thing.
MATTHEWS: . can any success last over there?
O‘BEIRNE: Well, I didn‘t say it was a big risk.
O‘BEIRNE: In time enough, but again, denying—first of all micromanaging the conduct of the troops in the field, which is what this Murtha amendment would look like, you saw Steny Hoyer on the floor this week, very nervous about the idea that anybody would think the democrats in the House were toying with the idea of.
O‘BEIRNE: . in any way interfering with reinforcements that might be needed. And yet, I—maybe Steve is right, maybe a majority of them are willing to go that far.
MATTHEWS: I think is it smart for the Democratic leadership of the Congress to force members—or ask members to actually vote on a measure which would stop the number of reinforcements going to our troops over there, to actually get into the battle, get into the thick of fight over how to win this war and dictate to the president, you can‘t have this many troops for your surge because we are not going to let you have them.
MCMAHON: Well, you have got.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that is that?
MCMAHON: We have got 137,000 troops over there already. So any soldier who is pinned down anywhere has 137,000 of his colleagues over there already with him in the battle. I think what the Democrats are trying to do is set some perimeters and recognize that, number one, the American people want us to start gradually redeploying and getting the troops out of Iraq. Number two.
MATTHEWS: Why do you use weasel phrases like “redeploy”? I mean, you mean get out. Why redeploy? Why a word like that?
MCMAHON: Well, because I—the Edwards plan, for instance, would call for—the John Edwards plan would call for the troops to leave the country but to stay around the perimeter of the country in case there is a civil war that requires our continued presence.
Look, this is not an easy—you know, some—Barack Obama‘s.
O‘BEIRNE: There is currently a civil war.
MATTHEWS: You mean deploy the soldiers in 120 degree deserts and sit and wait until the whistle blows? That doesn‘t sound like—why don‘t you just take them out of the country?
MCMAHON: Well, that is what John Edwards has proposed. Barack Obama has said.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t mean—why leave them around in the perimeter where they are going to be in the middle of the fight anyway?
MCMAHON: Barack Obama put it best. He said, we need to be as careful getting out Iraq as the president was careless getting in. And I think that, you know, this isn‘t an easy—there is no easy solution here, but.
O‘BEIRNE: Joe Biden.
MCMAHON: . it is going to be.
O‘BEIRNE: Joe Biden said it best.
MCMAHON: It is going to take.
O‘BEIRNE: Joe Biden said it best when he said, John Edwards doesn‘t know what he is talking about when it comes to Iraq.
MCMAHON: It is going to take diplomacy. It is going to take a political solution. It is going to take engaging countries in the region. The president doesn‘t want to acknowledge the existence of. It is a complicated problem. It is going to require a complicated solution. But frankly, doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result isn‘t going to get.
O‘BEIRNE: The administration argues this isn‘t the same thing, and in an ironic way, the Democrats opposing the surge are the ones who arguing for the status quo.
MATTHEWS: Kate, I will repeat what I have said 100 times.
O‘BEIRNE: General Petraeus is talking about.
MATTHEWS: . and will say 100.
O‘BEIRNE: . a wholly new mission.
MATTHEWS: A 100 times more. The worst thing this president did in terms of U.S. policy was put our country, which we are in now, a situation where there are no good alternatives.
MATTHEWS: That is not good leadership, to lead you into a blind canyon when all you can do is face complete humiliation over there, or continued annihilation over there and horror over there or this weird sort of redeployment stuff. I don‘t know what the great alternative is now. That‘s the failure of this policy, we done have any alternatives now.
MCMAHON: That‘s a failure of this policy. But Democrats are trying to chart a new path.
MATTHEWS: I know. We will be right back with Kate O‘Beirne and Steve McMahon. I want to talk to him about Hillary and Rudy, they are both leading the polls. What are they going to do to keep those leads.
And later, former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen and his wife Janet Langhart will be here to be talking about one of the hottest issues in America for last 300 or 400 years, race. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with Kate O‘Beirne of The National Review and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
Steve, let‘s talk about Hillary Clinton for a moment. Is she going to ever answer the question, did you make a mistake when you voted for the war resolution? Is she going to stick to that until Election Day?
MCMAHON: Well, I don‘t think she is ever going to say yes or no. I mean, I think she believes what she has said.
O‘BEIRNE: It‘s complicated.
MCMAHON: If she knew today—if she knew then what she knows today.
MATTHEWS: OK. We know that there are if, ands or buts, woulda-coulda-shoulda, you know, we can do all of that but.
MATTHEWS: . did she make the wrong vote?
MCMAHON: Do I think she did? Yes. And do I think she should say so?
Yes. Will she say so? I have no idea. But she seems determined not to.
MATTHEWS: She seems to imply that she didn‘t know this guy would take us to war. She said, he could, I gave him the right to do it but I thought he would go through sanctions and inspections and all of this.
Everybody in America knew we were going to war with Bush. He made it pretty clear from day one we were going to war. How come she still pretends that she didn‘t know he was going to war?
It‘s like she didn‘t know anything about Bill and his behavior? How many times is she going to be confused by men?
MCMAHON: Chris, I think perhaps she took the president at his word and perhaps shouldn‘t have. He indicated that he was going to.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that she thought Bush wasn‘t taking us to war? Steve McMahon .
MCMAHON: I think.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that Hillary Clinton, as smart as she is, didn‘t think we were going to war?
MCMAHON: I think most people believe that he would eventually get us into a war, yes.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
O‘BEIRNE: She is—she won‘t use the M-word. She clearly is unwilling to say she made a mistake. Although I think disagree with Steve. I‘m not sure that she can continue to be doing that. She has said everything but. She has said, if I were president, I wouldn‘t have done it. And yet, she voted to give George Bush authority to do so.
So she clearly thinks that vote was a mistake when she says, if I knew then what I now know, I wouldn‘t have voted that way.
MATTHEWS: Do you ever hear a criminal in a criminal case defending, I lent him the car, I didn‘t know he was going to use it to rob the bank? I lent him the gun, I didn‘t know what he was going to do with it?
O‘BEIRNE: No. I agree. That is.
MATTHEWS: I mean, people keep with these excuses that don‘t sound right.
O‘BEIRNE: That clearly doesn‘t work, and both Senator Barama (sic) --
MATTHEWS: OK. By the way who fits the Republican Party right now in terms of the leadership? Who is the best fit of these three ill-fitting shoes? McCain, Rudy and Mitt Romney? Which seems to fit your party as the leader right now?
O‘BEIRNE: They all pinch somewhat.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. That‘s what I feel. I say, they are still looking for that golden fit that is not at the shoe store right now. Anyway, Kate O‘Beirne, Steve McMahon, thank you.
Up next, we are going to talk about race and politics. Boy, are they permanent American questions. Defense Secretary Bill Cohen is coming here and his wife journalist Janet Langhart. You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Barack Obama‘s presidential run is making us talk again about the issue of race in America. And in their new book, “Love in Black and White,” former Defense Secretary William Cohen and former television journalist Janet Langhart write about their own personal experience with race in America as the high-powered interracial couple.
Janet, you first, what do you know that we don‘t know about black and white in America?
JANET LANGHART, AUTHOR, “LOVE IN BLACK AND WHITE”: Oh I don‘t know. They are so different. Extremes. We have such a deep and rich history on the subject of race. And unfortunately, it began in the dark days of slavery, and that legacy still lives on. And now we are asking the question, is Barack Obama black enough?
MATTHEWS: Well, who is asking that question?
LANGHART: A great many people in my community, the black community.
And I don‘t think they are talking about pigmentation or necessarily culture, I think what they are talking about, is he sensitive to our needs and our interests? And if he is elected president of this great country, will he keep his promises, unlike so many other presidents who promise us everything and give us nothing?
MATTHEWS: Bill, I want to ask you, Mr. Secretary, about the—maybe I am into trouble here, I am sure I will get in trouble for this, but I look at some of the most prominent African-Americans, I mean, the ones—
Oprah, of course, Halle Berry, a movie star that just is beloved, she‘s a knockout, like your wife as well. But Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, so many of them come out of mixed ethnicity. And maybe that‘s true of African-Americans generally, there is so much mixture that has gone on over the years, we all go back to Lucy somewhere in East Africa if you want to trace us all back to somewhere.
But is that something that sort of makes it easier to buy Barack Obama for white people?
WILLIAM COHEN, AUTHOR, “LOVE IN BLACK AND WHITE”: Well, I think we are seeing a multiracial society evolving. And I think when they look at Barack Obama, they say that he certainly, quote, “transcends race.” That really means to me that he is transcending white sentiments about race.
And a lot of myths have been shattered over the years. It used to be, for example, that black players—ball players, they could be slugging outfielders, couldn‘t be a pitcher. They could be running fullbacks, couldn‘t be a quarterback. Could be assistant coaches, couldn‘t be coaches. Those myths are all being shattered.
And I think what has happened is the public has come to recognize that we have looked down upon a whole race of people, and it is unfortunate and to our discredit and now we are seeing this evolution to at least looking at people for their character and capability and not based on their skin.
Not entirely. Still have a lot of racism that is out there, but that‘s something I think that is evolving.
LANGHART: But, Chris, you.
MATTHEWS: Janet, do you think—can I ask you the big question?
LANGHART: Chris, wait—well, yes, but, Chris, you raise.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t have all night here, but go ahead, go ahead. I lost, go ahead, you‘re first.
LANGHART: No, you raised the question of 400 years, and you talked about all of the African-Americans who have white blood. Blacks and whites have been in this country together for 400 years, aren‘t there any white people who have black blood?
MATTHEWS: You know, I knew I would get into trouble on this, and I‘m
not going any further, because you are probably right. Of course there is
in fact, the way we do it in this country, if you‘re even part black you‘re black. That is the way that the history...
LANGHART: One drop.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the way it goes. And I think that is Barack Obama said very clearly, he never wanted to tell another white person—after he was a young man or a boy, he said, I‘m never going to tell another white person my mom was white to ingratiate with them, because I don‘t think that is the way I want to be.
MATTHEWS: I am a black man in America and I‘m going to live with that and fight for it, right?
LANGHART: And he has done a great job.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, do you think the country has changed in your lifetime on this one point, trusting blacks to rule us, to be our leaders? Are whites ready to put themselves under a black leader as president? Are they ready to do it?
LANGHART: You can answer that question.
COHEN: Well, let‘s look at the military, that‘s the most democratic institution in terms of giving people the opportunity to be judged based upon character and capability. We had a black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We had a black who was secretary of state. We have a black woman who is secretary of state now. I think it‘s pretty clear that our attitudes have changed. And they need to change. And the notion that somehow the pigmentation of one‘s skin should determine one‘s capability I think is something that way in the past.
MATTHEWS: You do?
COHEN: We have to recognize that. Yes, I do. And I think.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have only got four people that have one statewide election. You start with Ed Brooke, Doug Wilder, Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama, that is about it.
LANGHART: Duval Patrick, Duval Patrick in Massachusetts.
MATTHEWS: Duval Patrick, that‘s five. That‘s five in history. Janet, that‘s five in history. I want to ask you again—we saw a very close election in Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr. did better than his poll numbers, so people were telling the truth, at least. We had a guy get killed politically by saying the word “macaca.” Are we changing?
LANGHART: Oh, yes, oh yes we are changing. We are so much better than we were.
COHEN: Chris, Chris, 40 years ago Janet and I could not be married in this country. The Supreme Court struck down the anti-miscegenation laws. A lot of change has taken place. What we‘re trying to point out is that it‘s still below the surface, we still have to be concerned about it. There is anti-semitism that raises its ugly head periodically. And we have to shine the sunlight on it to—that great disinfectant. The same thing is true with racism. We—what we want to do is bring it out in the open, say, let‘s deal with it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s read your book, too, “Love in Black and White,” the name of the book. If you want to get into this in a personal way and learn about two people, there they are, lovable as ever.
MATTHEWS: “Love in Black and White.” Great title, by the way, Janet.
It must have been your brains.
Anyway, join us again Friday.
LANGHART: No, Bill thought of it.
MATTHEWS: Join us again, Friday, our guest will include Iraq War Tammy Duckworth and her husband. Now he‘s getting deployed over to Iraq. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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