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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for March 17

Read the complete transcript to Wednesday's show

Guests: Bernard Kerik, Richard Perle, Richard Holbrooke, David Ignatius

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A bomb explodes in central Baghdad just days before the anniversary of the war. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

I‘m Chris Matthews. 

At least 27 people were killed today when the bomb exploded, destroying a hotel in central Baghdad.  The hotel housed Americans and other foreign workers. 

And now senior U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News that more attacks could be on the way as the first anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq approaches this Friday. 

This hour, we‘ll get reaction to today‘s attack from former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. 

But first we begin with NBC‘s Chip Reid on the phone from Baghdad. 

Chip.  Can you hear me, Chip?


MATTEHWS:  Let me ask you, Chip. 

REID:  Can you hear me?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can.  Tell me about the situation right now on the ground. 

REID:  Well, I‘ll tell you, this was just an absolutely horrific explosion, and there was just chaos in the streets.  Twenty-seven killed, we believe.  Forty some injured.  And there‘s no telling at this point if that 27 number is going to go up. 

A 1,000-pound bomb, plastic explosives plus artillery shells, which were essentially used as shrapnel to make this bomb as deadly as it could possibly be. 

No clear sign yet who it was, although I think suspicions are leaning in this direction to organizations that are associated with al Qaeda, because that bomb is very similar to one that was used against the United Nations months ago. 

And that was a bomb that was ultimately traced to Ansar al-Islam, which is an organization tied to al Qaeda.  Not directly controlled by al Qaeda, perhaps, but certainly tied to them. 

And I‘ll tell you, Chris.  The situation here is that it‘s expected that these kind of bombings against soft targets, civilian targets, are going to increase between now and the end of June, when the United States is supposed to turn over political power here to the Iraqis or some combination of the Iraqis and the United Nations—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  What was the security arrangement around that hotel?

REID:  Well, there wasn‘t much of one, as far as we can tell.  Some of the bigger hotels here have very serious barriers to protect against blasts and keep car bombs from getting in there.  But the smaller ones just don‘t have the money to do that. 

And when you‘ve got a population this big, I mean, there are just countless civilians, soft targets in this city.  And you can‘t possibly protect them all. 

MATTHEWS:  We have reports that have come in here in Washington that U.S. soldiers were turned away from, when they tried to help the victims.  What does that tell you?  Have you heard those stories?

REID:  I have, and I don‘t think it tells us much.  Because it was only a couple of soldiers when they first got there.  And in the chaos of that, I mean, I don‘t think you can blame somebody for having an explosive reaction, an angry reaction.

When the larger contingent of U.S. soldiers responded, as I understand it, things went pretty well.  The soldiers helped extricate some of the survivors and look for bodies. 

And you know, of course yes, there are still some hard feelings against the American soldiers here.  And people would like them out of here.  But I tell you, they also realize that if the American soldiers were to leave today, this place would descend into utter chaos. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.  Chip Reid in Baghdad. 

We‘re joined by NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory, along with NBC News chief foreign affair correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who‘s at the State Department. 

Let‘s begin with Andrea. 

Let me ask you about this.  Is this the kind of thing that the administration foresaw a year ago when we won the ground war in Iraq?  That this would be an ongoing insurgency like this?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely not.  But of course, the most likely suspects are not Iraqi insurgents, not local Saddam loyalists.  In fact, the most likely suspects are foreign Jihadists and also, most probably, Abu Musab Zarqawi, the head of Ansar al-Islam, which is a group with some links to al Qaeda. 

But they‘re not suspecting this is the Saddam resistance.  They don‘t think that those local terrorists could have handled this kind of large car bomb and could have pulled off something this sophisticated, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  The president and the people in the White House and then certainly throughout the cabinet, all those who speak for the president, I should say, use the word terrorism whenever there‘s an attack like this, anything that involves an attack on a civilian facility or even on a military base, on military soldiers.  It‘s a terrorist attack. 

Is that the way they look at it?  It‘s all generic?  It‘s all terrorists attacking the United States?  It would be, whether we were in Iraq or not. 

MITCHELL:  Well, this is part of their attempt.  I mean, clearly it is terrorism.  But it is also part of their attempt to make this part of the war on terror, to say that this is not an offshoot of an Iraqi military operation that had unintended consequences. 

So as long as they can portray this as part of a global war on terrorism, a war against the United States, against Western values, this plays into their overarching argument and also certainly helps them politically. 

MATTEHWS:  Let me go to David Gregory—Stay with us Andrea.  Let‘s go to David Gregory, who‘s at the White House. 

Certainly this provides the backdrop to Dick Cheney‘s strong attack today on the Democratic nominee, the man who is now the Democratic nominee, due to last night‘s Illinois victory. 

Is this confirmed?  The administration argument, David?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, actually I think it was kind of a troubling image for the vice president to have as a backdrop at a time when he‘s saying that Iraq is moving forward one year after the invasion and that it‘s getting on its feet and prepared for democracy. 

This is a picture of chaos, not a picture of Iraqis ready to take over their country and run with it. 

But it certainly does go to the central point that he tried to make today.  And that is that there is a terrorist campaign that exists in Iraq, that extends as far out to Madrid, Spain, to try to create a wedge between the United States and those helping the United States in any way, fulfill a goal of democracy in Iraq or of taking down al Qaeda in Iraq, in other portions of the Middle East and even in Europe. 

And that is how the administration views this.  That‘s why they described this as terrorism. 

They are concerned within the White House today that these images you‘re seeing is the picture of carnage also representing a new tactic, where you‘ve seen sectarian violence that‘s been inspired, potentially, at least hopefully by terrorists, but also attacks against, in this case, foreign civilians.  We‘ve seen attacks against U.S. troops. 

So they recognize here that whatever elements they‘re up against in Iraq, that they are changing tactics and that they have to adapt, U.S.  forces have to adapt to those changing tactics.  And it‘s an ongoing struggle. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Andrea.

We have a new poll out today in the papers today that points to—between the horrific fact that even in the most moderate of Arab countries, Morocco, Jordan, the people, when polled recently, said that they support suicide bombing against people like the United States, particularly in Iraq. 

How does the administration see us winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world to any extent if they‘re rooting for the worst aspects of terrorism?

MITCHELL:  Well, they have a plan here in public diplomacy.  And it is now being spearheaded by Margaret Tutwiler, who came back from this administration, back from being ambassador in Morocco.  So has on the ground experience with exactly how disliked and, in fact, hated we are in many parts of the world. 

And she believes and has said so in her testimonies, that we now, for years we‘ve been focusing on the elites, on government officials, on official contacts. 

We have ignored the masses, the slums, the inner cities where all of this has been breeding.  And she believes we have to reach those people, not just through new television and radio, which is part of the plan.  And they do have this new broadcast facility from Fairfax, Virginia, with satellite TV out to the whole region. 

But they also believe that they have to reach people by giving them wheelchairs.  By letting them know exactly how much money we have been pouring into that region.

A fact that has been reported by a recent investigation, by a congressionally mandated group that went to investigate, more than $40 billion has been poured into Egypt since Camp David, since the Camp David accords. 

But if you interviewed—if you did a poll in Egypt today, they would tell you the only help they‘ve gotten from a foreign power is the opera house built by the government of Japan. 

Because no one there knows that, other than the government officials -

·         that the masses in Egypt do not know that the nongovernmental groups, the groups that have been giving them aid are giving them American aid.  It‘s not labeled.  We haven‘t advertised it.  We have not been taking credit. 

GREGORY:  And Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, David. 

GREGORY:  I think what‘s important here to remember, as well, is that this is really a context—a contest, rather, with a deadline. 

I mean, there are terrorists, other elements working against the United States in Iraq who are competing for hearts and minds among Iraqis, as well. 

And every step forward they take, as they get closer to getting sovereignty, as they get closer to having their own police force and security force in the country, this really strikes at the heart of that and sends a message that you‘re not going to be able to do it on your own.  We‘re still here, and we will be the impediment to real stability. 

And that‘s what the U.S. is up against.  And they‘re up against something very tangible.  And that is, whoever is responsible for this.  And they know that there are terror groups who want to make this a central front, that their access to explosives continues.  And that‘s a real element of danger. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what struck me...

MITCHELL:  And very briefly...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Andrea.

MITCHELL:  And very briefly, one of the issues is that the U.N., we now want the U.N. in because we need their help in running elections and making this transition. 

This is a terrible signal to the U.N. which had that—their 9/11 back in August in Baghdad at their headquarters.  They are not going to want to go back in.  They won‘t feel comfortable.  And a lot of our other allies may want to back out as well. 

MATTHEWS:  And the polling shows the Middle East is just as hostile to U.N. and the European Union as it is to us. 

Anyway, thank you both, David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell. 

Coming up, how to keep peace in Baghdad.  Well, that‘s the real question when you‘ve got thousand-pound bombs being dropped at the corner.  I‘ll ask Bernard Kerik, the man who rebuilt the Iraqi police force how to stop the violence.

And later former assistant secretary of defense and former U.N.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will join us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, preventing future attacks.  Bernard Kerik, the man who rebuilt Iraq‘s police force, will be here, plus former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle when HARDBALL comes back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Bernard Kerik served as the Iraq‘s interim minister of the interior and was responsible for rebuilding Iraq‘s police, fire and emergency services.  He‘s now working as a volunteer with the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. 

Mr. Commissioner, thanks for joining us tonight. 


MATTHEWS:  This is an obvious question anyone would ask you.  What are your personal reactions watching the news tonight with this horrendous bombing, a 1,000-pound bomb planted next to that hotel and it leveled a five-story building?

KERIK:  Well, I think it‘s another demonstration of the cowards that are out there that do—does not want freedom to grow within Iraq.  And it‘s a demonstration of how they‘re now going after the softer targets. 

They‘re having a hard time getting into the Green Zone.  They‘re having a hard time getting around the very secure locations.  This is a small hotel.  It‘s on a small street, isn‘t a populated area, and that‘s the target they chose. 

So that‘s the things that we‘re going to have to look for in the future.  But I think it‘s a last ditch effort to intimidate the Iraqi people. 

MATTHEWS:  How is this different than the situation you found before with the—remember the—of course you remember the attack on the U.N.  installation over there. 

The same kind of M.O., to use police terminology, a big bomb planted in a car right next to a building. 

KERIK:  Well, based on what I‘ve heard already from the military, this is very similar.  A number of mortar rounds or grenades stuffed into a car with probably a 500 to 1,000 pounds of ice. 

You have to remember throughout Iraq, if you wanted to say Iraq was one thing, it was basically a big munitions dump for Saddam and his regime. 


KERIK:  There‘s ammunition all over that country.  It‘s not hard to find if you go get out into the fields.  You start digging up the ground.  That‘s what this device was made out of.  And it‘s very similar to what we saw at the U.N.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s got it?

KERIK:  Well, it‘s not necessarily that anyone‘s got it, Chris.  It was all over the country.  And although the military, the U.S. military and the coalition has been collecting it, you know, every day in Baghdad, between 12 and 1 in the afternoon, you‘ll hear these enormous explosions where they‘re detonating this material. 

It‘s been going on for almost a year now.  That still continues because they still find this stuff.  But if the Iraqis and the resistance get out there and they find it, they can use it for events like this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the police force in effect.  I saw it at a graduation ceremony in Amman.  It was very impressive.  But let me ask you this.

What was your reaction, again personally, to hear that some of the policemen you trained, some of the graduates of the police academy over there, and sort of the 90-day wonders that came out it, that they killed Americans this past weekend? 

KERIK:  Well, I think you really have to look at the leadership.  It‘s extremely difficult for the military, for the civilian administrators, for the coalition members to be able to determine who these people are, to properly vet them.  It‘s up to the Iraqis. 

So it‘s essential that we have the right Iraqis in power, in leadership positions so that they can vet out the wrong people. 


KERIK:  You know, we don‘t know them.  We don‘t know their culture, their backgrounds.

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t smell trouble as foreigners. 

KERIK:  You can‘t, Chris.  It‘s really up to the Iraqis.  And that‘s who we have to depend on to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the $64 question.  We can‘t—With American military there of over 100,000 troops in the country and all the trainers of the military—of the police can‘t stop this kind of thing from happening, what happens after June when we have a lesser presence there, to the civilian level?  What happens then to stop this kind of thing?  Won‘t we be more vulnerable over there?

KERIK:  Well, I don‘t know if we‘ll be more vulnerable.  In actuality, I think we‘ll be transitioning some of our people out of there.

But between now and June, you have to realize, we‘re sending thousands of Iraqis to school, both training them through the military, through civil police and the civil defense forces.  So we need to stand up those Iraqi numbers. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are you betting on right now?  The fire brigade or the fire over there?

KERIK:  I can‘t hear you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Who are you betting on, the fire brigade or the fire, in Iraq?

KERIK:  I would say the fire brigade‘s got it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Chief.  Thanks for joining us, Commissioner Bernard Kerik. 

Coming up, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke will react to today‘s deadly bombing in Baghdad, coming nearly one year since the start of the Iraqi war.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Richard Perle served in the Defense Policy Board and was also assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration.  Last month he called for the chief of central intelligence, George Tenet, to step down because of the faulty intel on Saddam‘s weapons of mass destruction programs. 

Richard, thank you. 

Who‘s at fault, by the way?  I hate to look backwards but I‘ll do it for a minute.  We‘re in this war largely out of self-defense, because we felt or believed or were led to believe by yourself and others that we had weapons of mass destruction facing us, even nuclear coming from Iraq, perhaps, to here.  Whose fault was that in misleading us?

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEN:  We made a simple assumption.  And when I say we, everyone made that assumption: British intelligence, French intelligence, German intelligence. 

We looked at what the U.N. Told us when their inspectors left in ‘98.  They said the Iraqis have so much of this and so much of that: Anthrax, nerve agent and so forth.  And Saddam refused to explain what had happened to it. 

So it was the difference between what we knew to have been created and what he was able to account for.  And we assumed that what he couldn‘t account for had been hidden because he had a history of hiding things. 

MATTHEWS:  Could we have avoided this war?

PERLE:  I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me be more precise.  Had we superb diplomacy, had we hard-handed, in fact, hardballed diplomats who said, “We want to talk to you.  We‘re about to blow you up, Mr. Saddam Hussein.  Here‘s your last chance.  We want to talk to you.  We want to find out exactly what evidence you have that you don‘t have weapons of mass destruction.  We want to you prove to us you don‘t have them.” 

Would that have stopped the war?

PERLE:  Well, that of course was our position.  And the president gave Saddam any number of warnings.  So did others.  So did our diplomats.  No, I think that the only way to remove him from office was the way we did. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he‘s a psycho?

He knew he was going to be destroyed and refused to act any other way. 

PERLE:  He either knew he was going to be destroyed or he didn‘t believe it, despite overwhelming evidence. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to you about the president of the United States.  I came across a quote in this book by Ron Suskind.  He‘s written a book called “The Price of Loyalty.”  It‘s about O‘Neill, Paul O‘Neill, who was forced to resign.  In fact, he was fired as secretary of the treasury. 

I have to tell you.  I know you decently well, and I‘m stunned by this quote.  Publicly stated, you said, “The first time I met President Bush,” Bush 43 you called him, “I knew he was different.  Two things became clear.  One, he didn‘t know very much.  The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn‘t know very much.”

Tell me about that.  That‘s your statement.

PERLE:  Actually, I said a little bit more about that.  I had met him down in Texas.  And it was clear that a number of the issues that a group of us were there to discuss with him were not issues with which he was completely comfortable. 

MATTHEWS:  Like what?

PERLE:  Well, a number of foreign policy questions.  We talked about Iraq on that occasion, among other things. 

But what was so impressive about him was first that he asked questions.  He wasn‘t embarrassed to ask questions.  He wasn‘t pretending he knew things he didn‘t know. 

Secondly, he‘s razor sharp, and he would absorb information.  He would ask questions.  He would go right to the heart of the matter. 

I came away convinced this was a man who would zero in laser-like on the critical issues and would learn very quickly what he needed to know. 

MATTHEWS:  Had he paid much attention to Middle Eastern issues and issues regarding Iraq and that region of the world?  Had he read anything?  I want to be blunt about this.  You said he didn‘t know very much.  That‘s a strong statement.  How much did he know?

PERLE:  I don‘t think he knew a great deal about the Middle East at that time.  Now this was a year before the election.  And in the course of that year, he worked very hard to command those issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he begin to see that part of the world the way you see it?

PERLE:  I think he saw that world in common sense terms.  He saw a world in which a number of governments, dictatorial governments were organized against us, like Saddam‘s government.  And then he experienced September 11. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Let‘s look at something else, because it comes out of that.  On November 26, 2001, right after September 11.  Here‘s what you said on HARDBALL about how Iraqis would greet us. 

Let‘s take a look. 


PERLE:  Dancing in the streets throughout Iraq if we liberate that country.  The idea that it‘s going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense.  We will be seen, not as invaders but as liberators. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a strong statement.  And we‘re watching today another explosion over there. 

You look the same, by the way.  You‘ve aged well in the last year, but your arguments have not aged well. 

You predicted happiness.  The old—Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” calls it the happy Iraqi scenario.  What happened to it?

PERLE:  Well, first of all, I think there was a lot of celebration when Saddam was defeated.  And it‘s a mistake to think otherwise.  I‘ve talked to people...

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t that fools‘ gold?

PERLE:  No, it wasn‘t fools‘ gold at all.  Most Iraqis were liberated by this action.  Saddam‘s secret police were not, and so they‘re setting off bombs.  And the holy warriors who have flooded...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, they‘ve come in, yes.

PERLE:  They obviously had no stake in this.  But the average Iraqi was liberated by this. 

I spent the morning with Iraq‘s new ambassador to the United States, who expressed her gratitude for what we had done and said basically what I‘ve just said, that Iraqis have been freed by this war. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to you to talk to you about the Arab world, because we have a new Pew Foundation report coming—a survey that shows that even the most moderate of Arab states, Jordan and Morocco, the people support suicide bombing against our efforts in Iraq. 

And that flies in the face of what you predicted about the positive reaction in the Arab world.

More with Richard Perle when we return.


MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, former Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke on today‘s deadly bombing in Baghdad and whether more attacks can be expected.  Plus, new polls show many in Europe and in the Middle East don‘t trust America. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I‘m back with Richard Perle.

According to a new Pew Research poll, 70 percent of Jordanians and 66 percent of Moroccans think suicide bombings against American and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. 

Does that surprise you?  These are the moderate states of the Arab world. 

PERLE:  The governments are moderate.  I don‘t know that the sentiments of the public—and, obviously, if those figures are right, the sentiments of the public are anything but moderate. 


MATTHEWS:  But that means the people in the cafes are sitting there picking up their newspapers and going, hey, look at this.  They blew up a bunch of Americans.  This is good stuff.  Check this out.  Is that the Middle East you know?

PERLE:  It is appalling and it is very dangerous.  It shows you what happens when you allow suicide bombing to go largely unresponded to for as long as we did. 

We had a decade in which we were attacked again and again and we didn‘t respond.  And, eventually, these thing become entrenched and even fashionable. 

MATTHEWS:  But you said last year, in 2001, right after 9/11, that if we go in, the idea that it is going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense.  You think that our going into Iraq has not stimulated a higher level of hostility to us that would support this kind of horrible attitude toward our deaths? 

PERLE:  Because the Arab world was on Saddam‘s side?  What is the logic of that?  That they object to the fact that we‘ve liberated 25 million Iraqis? 

MATTHEWS:  No.  They‘ve objected perhaps to the fact that we‘ve invaded their part of the world and that we‘re starting to dictate what they should do over there.  That‘s another interpretation. 


PERLE:  We‘re not dictating to anyone.  There‘s a great deal that is believed in the Arab world that is obviously wrong, the idea, for example, that we went into Iraq for oil, the idea that we‘re there with imperial ambitions.  And that will become very clear when we leave. 

MATTHEWS:  But David Ignatius, who has just come back from “The Washington Post,” is going to be on the show tonight, has talked in his column about the fact that it was a mistake to believe that simply because people didn‘t like their tyrant dictator, in this case, Saddam Hussein, that they would welcome outsiders to come in and start calling the shots. 

PERLE:  But there are polls in Iraq, among Iraqis, not among Moroccans or Jordanians, Iraqis in Iraq, and the overwhelming majority are grateful that they have been liberated and they look forward to a much better future than they had any reason to anticipate under Saddam. 

MATTHEWS:  Our government is pushing Chalabi, Ahmad Chalabi.  He is a man who spent every year since the Brooklyn Dodgers left Brooklyn here in this country, in America.  But he went back home to take control of his country.  And a lot of people support him as a man who will in fact become in some sense the leader of the new Iraq. 

However, there‘s lots of evidence that people in that exile community gave us bad evidence to lead us into that country so that we would give them back their country.  And the arguments made by Mr. Chalabi are, I am a hero of error.  It doesn‘t matter how I got you back in there.  I achieved my end.  The ends to do justify the means.  Do you subscribe to that thinking? 

PERLE:  Well, I think, no, don‘t subscribe to that thinking.  But that is not an accurate account of what Ahmad Chalabi believes.  I know the news story to which you‘re referring. 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m reading from “The New Republic” this week.  If that‘s wrong, it‘s wrong. 

PERLE:  Well, “The New Republic” may have picked it up elsewhere.  But

he‘s written to the publications that erroneously reported him as arguing

that.  He did not supply false intelligence and


MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t say he did.  He said the supplying of false intelligence is past history.  The issue at hand is whether we were right and successful in getting rid of a dictator.  And he says whatever got us to get rid of a dictator is OK with him. 

PERLE:  No, but the interpretation that was placed on that was that he was admitting having provided false information.  And he has not admitted it because he didn‘t do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Who do you believe did it?  When George Tenet said that we had a source that was wrong and led us into this war in his speech at Georgetown a couple of weeks ago now, he said this source he won‘t identify.  David Kay was on the other day.  And he said he knows who it is, but he won‘t say who it is on the air.  Why is everybody keeping secret the person who gave us the bad intel that led us into the war? 

PERLE:  If this war was the product of a single source, then a lot of people ought to be fired, beginning with George Tenet.  You don‘t to go war on a single source.  And we didn‘t go to war on a single source.

MATTHEWS:  Is that a reasonable presumption, that we were led into this war by one big powerful source that said they have all these weapons and we must get them? 


PERLE:  Of course it‘s not.  And the reports on the weapons of mass destruction were the same ones reports that were given to the previous administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Should Tenet go? 

PERLE:  Yes, he should go. 

MATTHEWS:  Because?

PERLE:  He should have gone a long time ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Because? 

PERLE:  Because he‘s been there seven or eight years.  And the agency is in terrible shape.  He has to take responsibility.  And it‘s not just the WMD.  It is the failure to realize how extremism in the Arab world was becoming more and more dangerous to the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Richard Perle, once again calling for the elimination of George Tenet as the head of CIA.

Up next, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke—I wish we had these guys on together—on today‘s bombing in Baghdad and last week‘s attack, the terrible attack in Madrid.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on the attack today in Iraq.  Plus, why do people in Europe and the Middle East distrust America?  “The Washington Post”‘s David Ignatius will join us from Paris when HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Richard Holbrooke served as U.N. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. 

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. 

Are you a critic of U.S. policy as it is being carried out today right now in Iraq? 


But first let me say, Chris, that you said before the ads that you were sorry you couldn‘t get us on together, me and Richard Perle.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

HOLBROOKE:  I want to make absolutely clear that I told your producers I was happy to debate him on the air.  And if he doesn‘t want to, that‘s up to him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s apparently the case.  He didn‘t want to.  You

did.  So that‘s


HOLBROOKE:  OK, now—now, what was your question? 


MATTHEWS:  The main question of the hour, which is, here we are with another bombing, a 1,000-pound bomb following the same M.O. as the bomb of the U.S. facility several months back.  Here we are stuck over there in a way that no one predicted, I don‘t think.  What do we do?

HOLBROOKE:  Well, first of all, you had a terrific interview earlier in your program with Bernie Kerik, whom I greatly respect.  And he said the obvious.  There are an infinite number of soft targets, not just in Baghdad, but all over Iraq, not just in Iraq, but in the Madrid train station.  And I regret to say there are plenty of soft targets in this country. 

Our enemies are going to go after these targets.  There are two sets of enemies here, Saddam loyalists whose goal is to destroy the coalition governing authority and the al Qaeda and other terrorists who just want to kill Americans.  I don‘t know who is doing what here.  But we have got a hell of a problem on our hands.  In fact, Chris, this is clearly the worst foreign policy problem the United States has faced since the end of the Vietnam War, 29 long years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve set up a dynamic.  I‘m just going to ask you to check this.  We‘ve set up a dynamic whereby those who have opposed the action in Iraq, whether they be European or American or anywhere else in the world, are somehow forced, almost forced on the side of the terrorists in Europe, because those terrorists in Europe, assuming they are al Qaeda, are opposed to our involvement in Iraq. 

How in the world can an opposition argument be made now in this environment?  How can you argue against the whole force of the direction of U.S. foreign policy when you‘re basically being put on the side of the terrorists in the argument? 

HOLBROOKE:  Well, who is being put on the side of the terrorists? 

MATTHEWS:  The terrorists oppose our involvement in Iraq.  Those who argue against it rhetorically are on the same side of the argument.  Isn‘t that a conundrum for critics?

HOLBROOKE:  Well, who is against our involvement in Iraq? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, most of Europe, except for...


HOLBROOKE:  But I‘m not—let‘s talk about America. 

Senator Kerry and President Bush both believe we have to believe we have to succeed in Iraq.  President Bush and Senator Kerry have very different views on what success means.  Senator Kerry has outlined that repeatedly.  The administration and your last guest misrepresented Senator Kerry‘s positions.

But the fact is, Senator Kerry has a better way of doing it.  So among Americans who are serious on the issue and the two candidates who are now just ending the first two weeks of this kind of Ali-Frazier type heavyweight boxing match, which is going to go on for another 220 days are arguing over who can do a better job. 

Now, of course, in Europe, a lot of crazy thing are being said.  George Will wrote in yesterday‘s “Washington Post” that the Madrid bombing was the most effective piece of terrorism in history.  It may or may not be true.  I thought the assassination of the archduke in Sarajevo in 1914 which started World War I was pretty effective. 

But the fact is that we can‘t allow that kind of terrorism to succeed.  And my greatest concern, Chris, is that somewhere in a cave on the Afghan/Pakistani border right now, Osama bin Laden sitting back and saying, wow, look what those bombs in Madrid did.  Let‘s do it somewhere else.  Let‘s do it in London or let‘s do it in the United States.  We‘re going to have to stop this, which means a more effective war against terrorism than we have conducted so far. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the highest priority right now, catching bin Laden or continuing the occupation of Iraq, if you had to choose between the two of them? 

HOLBROOKE:  If I were a policy-maker at this point, inheriting the mess we are now in, I would refuse that Hobson‘s choice, Chris, and so would you if you were back advising members of Congress.  This is not—you can‘t do one and not the other, because they‘re now interlinked, even though Saddam was not involved in 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  I recognize what you said about John Kerry not simply being some sort of 180-180 degree critic of policy, that he wanted it done, the attack on Iraq, handled differently, perhaps with a different timetable with a grander, more international coalition. 

But the question is, do you have any evidence as a foreign policy expert that an international force, an international governing body of any kind, or advisory body, in Iraq would be any better received than simply the coalition America has led over there right now?

HOLBROOKE:  This is a very—Chris, this is a very subtle and interesting question you‘ve asked. 

I know people don‘t usually use the word subtle to deal with questions you‘ve asked.  But I‘m going to give you this one, because in fact the role of the so-called international community, the U.N. is to provide an effective international umbrella for policy goals.  We did that in Bosnia.  We did that in Kosovo.  We did that in East Timor.  In every case, the senior civilian was not some American, like Ambassador Jerry Bremer, but an international civil servant, a Frenchman in Kosovo, a Brazilian, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in East Timor, and Lakhdar Brahimi in Afghanistan. 

And in each case, the deputies were Americans.  We accomplished our objectives in every place with—and the world didn‘t say, this is American neoimperialism.  They said, this is international effort.  But in fact, in every case, the driving force on the civilian side was the United States, and on the military side, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the overwhelming military firepower is always American.  Security is our problem.  We‘ve got to provide it. 

Now, President Bush opposed nation building during the debates with Vice President Gore in 2000.  But that is precisely what we have to do and do successfully in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We are failing the course in both countries because this administration doesn‘t fully understand that nation building is a long, tough effort, and, No. 2, that security must be provided first. 

In Afghanistan in particular, we have put the warlords—and by warlords, Chris, I mean the heroin dealers of the world, with 80 percent of all the world‘s heroin coming out of the warlords we put back into power—we put these warlords back into power.  The country is not yet on its feet and we‘re not really building a nation.  It may be tough but it‘s a commitment.  And once we undertake it, we can‘t walk away from it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. 

Up next, “The Washington Post”‘s David Ignatius with the results of a new poll showing global distrust of America. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

David Ignatius is a columnist for “The Washington Post.”  He joins us right now from Paris. 

David, you‘ve just come back from the Middle East.  What is the concern they have toward us?  Why do they seem to have such hostility towards the United States right now? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, part of it, I think, Chris, is that the Arabs are afraid that the United States is going to try to impose general political changes on the Arab world in the way that Arabs feel we tried to impose solutions in Iraq. 

Arabs were quietly supporting the U.S. effort in Iraq.  Saddam Hussein was not popular.  But as things have gone badly, I think they‘re running for cover, much the way you see in Europe and around the world.  The Arabs really feel that their world, a pillar‘s been just knocked out from under it and they‘re afraid about what‘s ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the pillar? 

IGNATIUS:  The pillar is the kind of traditional order of stability. 

You know, Saddam Hussein was a kind of classic Arab leader.  He was a strong man.  He ruled by military force.  He ruled by intimidation, really.  And there are a lot of Arab regimes that are similar, if not to the same extent as Saddam, that—they basically are built on strong armies and authoritarian rulers. 

And throughout the Arab world, you have a general fear that the replacement of Saddam was the beginning of a new era of instability.  The leaders are afraid that they may lose power.  The people are restless.  In many countries, people are excited about the idea of change, are not happy with the governments that they have.  So, throughout the Middle East right now you have a sense of instability, worry.  The United States is proving to be the god that failed in Iraq.  We just couldn‘t pull off what we tried to do.  And so it‘s kind of a mess. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about these new polls that show, the Pew Foundation polls that show that people in Morocco and in Jordan, too, historically moderate Arab countries, support suicide attacks on Americans in Iraq.  Did that surprise you? 

IGNATIUS:  It surprised me to see people actually coming out and supporting suicide bombing. 

You know, I think that in the Arab world when you talk honestly with people, what you find is a sense that the suicide bombers, however people may question their methods, people think that they‘re working.  People think that Israel is on the offensive.  People think that the U.S. in Iraq is on the offensive.  And so there‘s a sense that these radical Arabs using tactics that are so nightmarish are winning. 

And the Arabs suffer from this sense that they always end up on the

losing side, and so I think there‘s a kind of grudging admiration for the -

·         well, it‘s not so grudging.  If 82 percent say they‘re for it, that‘s not grudging.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

IGNATIUS:  But much as there was for Saddam Hussein.  Arabs knew that Saddam Hussein was a killer, but they ended up sort of liking him for being tough with the United States and Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is that such a surprise?  Maybe because I spent two years in Africa in the Peace Corps and I have read for years about that part of the world, I‘m not surprised that nationalism, regional pride is as strong in the Mideast and in the Arab and the Muslim world as it is in Europe or here in America.  Is it a surprise to you as a student and a person who has covered that part of the world?


MATTHEWS:  That people would be proud to be left alone and set their own destiny? 

IGNATIUS:  No.  I think you said it exactly right. 

People in the Arab world are like people anywhere.  They are proud of their culture, of their countries, of their language.  They want—I have just came back, as you said, from the Arab world.  I traveled in Lebanon, in the Gulf, and in Egypt.  And everywhere I went, I found people who really are hungry for political change.  They want the future. 

But they want to make it themselves.  They don‘t want it have it forced on them by the United States, by anybody.  They want to do it themselves.  And I think that that shouldn‘t surprise us.  Your point is exactly right.  They want to make their own history.  They feel it‘s time that they had their shot to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

IGNATIUS:  And if the United States is smart, it will be on that side. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton managed to accomplish, at least toward the end, the historic American role in the Middle East since the founding of the state of Israel, to be both pro-Israeli and at the same time make an effort at evenhandedness.  It‘s almost like two pieces of music playing at the same time.  And we‘ve had to honor that tradition. 

Is there a sense on the parts of President Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdullah and King Abdullah and Mohammed VI and people like that, who have been our historic allies, moderates, we‘ve always called them, that we‘ve changed from that? 

IGNATIUS:  I think there‘s some sense that this administration is more pro-Israel certainly than the Arabs expected.  The Bush family name mesmerizes the Arab world.  They loved Bush the father.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

IGNATIUS:  And they thought Bush the son was going to be a real sympathizer.  And some people think that‘s why Arafat held back from finally cutting a deal at Camp David with Clinton, because he thought that with Bush in, Bush would be more sympathetic.  They‘ve been surprised and disappointed that that hasn‘t been so. 

I think what you referred to a moment ago about Clinton in a sense riding two horses at once, being the honest broker for peace and also very strongly pro-Israel, that‘s been the traditional U.S. trick, if you will, in this part of the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.   

IGNATIUS:  And I think there is a sense that Bush gave up that idea of riding two horses at once and that that‘s been a strategic problem for the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they believe that the United States went after Saddam Hussein because he was part of our war on terrorism?  Or do the Arabs believe he went after Saddam Hussein because of concerns—or a new stronger tilt towards Israel and its geopolitical concerns in an effort to really control the oil market? 

In other words, do they really believe—the polling shows that most countries—many countries in Europe and in the Arab world don‘t believe that our war on terrorism is what we say it is. 

IGNATIUS:  You know, I think that they tend to take a cynical view that the United States today as historically is most concerned about oil, that Iraq‘s oil wealth is of growing importance to the U.S. because of U.S.  worries about the stability of Saudi Arabia, because of the threat from al Qaeda directly to the Saudi royal family. 

You get that kind of analysis in the Arab world.  The Arabs and to some extent the Europeans, at least until Madrid, really didn‘t understand American feeling about the war on terrorism.  You would say to Arabs, you‘ve got to understand, America feels that it is at war, that that is the atmosphere in Washington.  It just didn‘t come through. 

It was a mystery to Arabs and Europeans.  Maybe now that will begin to change, as the terrorist attacks spread and become more—more dangerous. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Ignatius, “The Washington Post” reporter, columnist, touring the world of the Arabian back in Europe.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘ll be joined by Senator John McCain and Howard Dean.  And because of the breaking news today, we are rescheduling our exclusive report on the ad wars and we‘ll have for you very soon. 

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


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