September 18, 2014
Guest: Sen. Angus King, Sen. Roger Wicker, Josh Gerstein, Nia-Malika
Henderson, Alan Cumming, Toby Harnden
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Congress backs the president on war.
And this is HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
President Obama is just about to address the country on the votes by
both Houses of Congress now supporting his decision to arm and train Syrian
opposition forces for the battle against the terrorist group ISIS. The
Senate just voted 78 to 22 to authorize the arms and training. The House
had voted yesterday also in support of the president`s position.
Senator Angus King of Maine joins us right now. He`s an independent
who aligns with the Democrats. Senator King, what do you think this vote
means? Does this mean the Congress, the Senate -- oh, here`s the
president. Let`s go right now to the president, sir.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... international
coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as
ISIL. As part of the air campaign, France will join in strikes against
ISIL targets in Iraq. And as one of our oldest and closest allies, France
is a strong partner in our efforts against terrorism. And we`re pleased
that French and American service members will once again work together on
behalf of our shared security and our shared values.
More broadly, more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, have now
offered assistance as part of this coalition. This includes support for
Iraqi forces, strengthening the Iraqi government, providing humanitarian
aid to Iraqi civilians and doing their part in the fight against ISIL.
Here at home, I`m pleased that Congress, a majority of Democrats and a
majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate, have now voted to
support a key element of our strategy, a plan to train and equip the
opposition in Syria so they can help push back these terrorists.
As I said last week, I believe that we`re strongest as a nation when
the president and Congress work together, and I want to thank leaders in
Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this
urgent issue, in keeping with the bipartisanship that is the hallmark of
American foreign policy at its best.
These Syrian opposition forces are fighting both the brutality of ISIL
terrorists and the tyranny of the Assad regime. We`d already ramped up our
assistance, including military assistance, to the Syrian opposition. Now,
with this new effort, we`ll provide training and equipment to help them
grow stronger and take on ISIL terrorists inside Syria.
This program will be hosted outside of Syria in partnership with Arab
countries, and it will be matched by our increasing support for Iraqi
government and Kurdish forces in Iraq.
This is in keeping with a key principle of our strategy. The American
forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat
mission. Their mission is to advise and assist our partners on the ground.
As I told our troops yesterday, we can join with allies and partners to
destroy ISIL without American troops fighting another ground war in the
The strong bipartisan support in Congress for this new training effort
shows the world that Americans are united in confronting the threat from
ISIL, which has slaughtered so many innocent civilians. With their
barbaric murder of two Americans, these terrorists thought they could
frighten us or intimidate us or cause us to shrink from the world, but
today they`re learning the same hard lesson as petty tyrants and terrorists
who`ve gone before. As Americans, we do not give in to fear. And when you
harm our citizens, when you threaten the United States, when you threaten
our allies, it doesn`t divide us, it unites us. We pull together, we stand
together to defend this country that we love and to make sure justice is
done, as well as to join with those who seek a better future of dignity and
opportunity for all people.
And today, our strikes against these terrorists continue. We`re
taking out their terrorists, we`re destroying their vehicles and equipment
and stockpiles. And we salute our dedicated pilots and crews who are
carrying out these missions with great courage and skill. As commander-in-
chief, I could not be more proud of their service.
As I told some of our troops yesterday, the American people are united
in our support for them and for their families, and as we go forward as one
nation, I`d ask all Americans to keep our forces and their families in
their thoughts and prayers.
Thanks very much.
MATTHEWS: Senator King, we just heard the president there. And I was
wondering, if we had had a vote tonight in the U.S. Senate on whether to
authorize the air strikes, the actual combat by the United States, would it
have passed anywhere near 78 to 22, like the other -- the measure did on
arming the opposition groups?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, my first thought was ISIL did the
impossible. It generated 78 votes on anything in the United States Senate.
That ought to strike fear, just that there`s that kind of almost unanimity.
I don`t know. I think the important phrase the president used, Tim,
was -- the important phrase he used was...
MATTHEWS: Chris. That`s all right.
KING: I`m sorry, Chris. Going back in time. The important phrase he
used was "an element of my strategy." The rest of the strategy, I think,
is going to come before the Congress sometime after the elections in
November or December, when we have to talk about an authorization for the
larger air strikes, the whole strategy in Iraq and in Syria. That could be
a different discussion, a different debate. I think it will still be a
favorable one, but I think Congress has a role to play there, and we`re
going to have to step up.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the vote you made tonight. Do you have a
sense -- and I`m not being unfair here, I don`t think, but maybe I am. Do
you have a sense of the politics of Syria, the various factions that we`re
talking about aiding and arming, giving arms to and training and sending
them back -- perhaps even paying them? Do we know these people that we`re
giving guns to?
KING: Well, there is an effort to -- the so-called -- the term they
use is "vet," to find out who they are, to check them out, to talk to
contacts that we have in Syria. So there is that process.
I don`t think anybody can make any guarantees about these people.
Syria is one of the most complicated places on earth right now. There are
something like 1,200 different opposition groups. So I mean, just imagine
trying to sort that out.
But that`s certainly one of the tasks that we`re going to have as we
go through this process because the last thing we want to do is arm people
who are going to turn around and use them -- use those arms against us. So
that is the first step in this process. And I think we do know how to do
it. I don`t think it`s going to be fool-proof, but I think there`s a
reasonable chance that we`re going to be able to do that successfully.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of this historically? Here`s the United
States, which won its independence by beating the Hessians, the hired army,
the Germans who were fighting for the British for pay. And now we`re going
off in this odd situation of basically declaring war on ISIS, but not
having an army of our own willing to go in because the American people
don`t support it and they don`t want us there -- to have to go out and
scramble and recruit, muster really, an army of people we really don`t know
and hope that after we`ve trained them, that they will fight the war we
want to fight but are unable to.
Isn`t that an odd situation?
KING: Well, don`t...
MATTHEWS: ... same esprit de corps and desire to fight that war?
KING: Well, there`s a difference between Syria and Iraq. In Iraq,
there is an army. There is the Iraqi army and there`s the Peshmerga, the
Kurdish army, and they are fighting for their own country. And these
people that we`re talking about in Syria are Syrians.
And I don`t think it`s being -- we`re approaching this way because of
domestic politics, although I suspect, you know, that`s in the back of the
president`s mind. But the real reason is trying to do it ourselves isn`t
going to work. We know that. We`ve learned that. It`s got to be -- this
has got to be a war involving the local population of that region,
This can`t be viewed as a Western war on Islam. If it is, that`s
exactly what ISIS wants. And that`s why the crucial element of this --
there are two crucial pieces. One is that it`s got to be a real coalition.
We got to have people who are going to be in there fighting, that it`s not
-- they`re just not holding our coat while we do the fighting.
KING: And the second piece is the government in Baghdad has to be
inclusive and give the Sunnis in northern and western Iraq some loyalty to
Baghdad, instead of to these guys in ISIS.
MATTHEWS: Do you see any evidence -- and again, I don`t want to be
too tough here, but it is HARDBALL. Do you see any evidence that the
Jordanians, who are right on the border with ISIS now, being threatened by
them, or the Saudis, or ultimately to be threatened, or the Emirates, any
of the Sunni powers that are normally with us -- do you see any evidence
they want to get in this fight on the ground and take the ground campaign
to ISIS, we`re looking at now?
KING: I don`t know about the ground part. I do think that there`s
evidence that there`s going to be air support from those countries. But I
think that`s what`s going to be developed over the next few days.
And that`s why this vote today in the Congress was so important. If
we had backed off of this, then I think forming a real coalition would have
been almost impossible. They`d have said, you know, What do you expect us
to do when you`re not going to step up?
So I think the vote today is a big plus for the president and
Secretary Kerry to go to those countries and say, OK, we`re committed. And
now where are you going to be?
And my sense is, Chris, that it`s starting to build, that some
momentum on this coalition is going to build. But that`s -- that`s an
absolute necessity. If it doesn`t -- if that doesn`t happen, it`s a fool`s
errand. We`re not going to be able to dislodge these guys. We`ve got to
have a coalition and we`ve got to have the support of those people on the
ground in those two countries.
MATTHEWS: We keep hearing around the edges from this administration,
from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey, and from the vice president
yesterday backing it up, that if worse comes to worst and we`re not able to
win through the air that we will go in on the ground, that that comes to
that urgent situation -- what do you think about the American people --
they see we can`t beat ISIS from the air, and air campaigns rarely complete
MATTHEWS: Would you see the American people say, Well, darn it, we
got to go in again? Would we go into Syria?
KING: I don`t think so. I don`t think so. Now, I was in that
hearing where General Dempsey said, I would recommend some additional U.S.
troops. I don`t think the president would accept that recommendation, to
tell you the truth, and I don`t think the American people are there.
But my ultimate reasoning on that is, it won`t work. It`s not going
to be successful. We can`t police this area of the world. We`ve spent the
last dozen years learning that, and I don`t think we need to relearn it.
So yes, General Dempsey sort of opened that door yesterday, but -- and
I do think we need a plan B. What if it doesn`t work? Because you`re
absolutely right. There`s no such thing as a surgical war. There`s no
such thing as solving this with just air power. It`s going to take boots
on the ground, but they shouldn`t be our boots. They ought to be --
they`ve got to be the boots of the Kurds and the Iraqis and the Syrians.
MATTHEWS: Well, we got to make somebody else want to hate them as
much as we hate ISIS. Anyway, thank you very much, Senator Angus King of
Before today`s vote, Senator Rand Paul delivered an impassioned floor
speech -- that`s Paul -- against authorizing the arming and training of the
rebels. He said Americans should stop listening to interventionists who
were wrong about every foreign policy decision of the last two decades.
Listen, this is the doves` position coming from the guy who`s leading in
many of the polls to be the Republican nominee, if you look at some of the
polls from Iowa and New Hampshire. Here`s Rand Paul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Who are we really arming? What will be
the result? Where will the arms end up?
Think about the insanity of this! We`re giving weapons to people
fighting in trenches with al Qaeda!
This administration and its allies have been really on both sides of
this civil war. It`s messy. It`s unclear. There are bad people on both
sides. We need to stay the heck out of their civil war. Then, as ISIS
grows stronger, or they`re not quelled by sending arms to feckless allies
in Syria, then what happens? Then they come back again and again. There`s
already the drumbeat. There`s already those in both parties who insist
that we must have American GIs on the ground.
I`m not sending any American soldiers. I`m not sending your son, your
daughter, or mine, over to the middle of that chaos!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Senator Roger Wicker of
Mississippi. Senator, thank you for coming on tonight. And I don`t
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Glad to be on. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... that`s the popular or at all near the majority opinion
of either party right now, very much an isolationist statement by a man who
has that position. Where do you think that fits into Republican or
anybody`s thinking today, that sense of too messy over there, too hard to
pick sides, we better stay out?
WICKER: Well, let me just say there were 12 Republican votes against
the resolution, 10 Democratic votes, and I don`t even think most of those
people would agree with the language of Senator Paul in that respect. I
think there were budget reasons, a number of doubts about the strategy that
caused those no votes.
MATTHEWS: I see. What do you make of the -- I want to ask you the
same tough question because I don`t know the answer. Do we know Syria`s
politics? Our country`s politics, we can figure it out. It`s pretty much
50/50 now, left, right. But where is Syria in terms of finding people that
share not our values -- that`s asking too much -- but are willing to take
on this fight against ISIS and we can arm and train them?
MATTHEWS: ... other side.
WICKER: Those are very, very good questions. And one thing that your
viewers need to know. This is a three-month authorization. This expires
mid-December. In that time, the president has an opportunity to get the
coalition going, to answer some of the questions that have been asked about
who`s going to participate, which Arab nations, which Muslim nations are
going to step forward and actually be involved in this war. And then the
president will have an opportunity to come back in December during the lame
duck session after the election and make his case for a more permanent
This, I think, was viewed by a lot of the people who voted yes as not
wanting to turn our back on the commander-in-chief, not wanting to send a
signal that we`re not willing to stand up against a group that he says
we`ve got to crush, that the secretary of state said we have to use all of
our power, secretary of defense says they`re unlike anything we`ve ever
seen before. They`re a threat to everything that we represent both at home
So if they`re that serious, I think 78 members of the Senate and about
that percentage of the American people want to give this commander-in-chief
an opportunity to make the case and to show us over the next three months
that he has a plan that can win, and a plan that if he`s successful, we can
hold those gains, unlike we did with the gains we had after the surge.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking about the whole idea of training
another army. I mean, the British were able to do it with the Indians
after -- India -- for a couple hundred years, they developed that
relationship with India, really bought into democracy, and that worked.
But we`re over there in Iraq for a number of years, over there in
Afghanistan for a number of years. We created an Iraqi army, probably paid
their salaries, gave them uniforms, gave them rifles, taught them hand-in-
glove, American GIs over there teaching them.
They folded the minute ISIS attacked them. The South Vietnamese were
struck by the North Vietnamese and the VC in that amazing -- well, it was
tsunami attack, basically, in `74 and `75. Nobody thought -- they folded.
How can you create the willingness to fight and die for a cause in somebody
else besides the person who really has that fight in their heart?
WICKER: Well, I think the mistake made was after the surge, which
wasn`t, in fact, successful. I think the mistake was made by President
Obama in not following the advice of his generals. I do believe we could
have negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement. We could have gotten the
Maliki government, which was in charge at the time, to allow a residual
force to stay there. And I think -- I think that history will determine
that 15,000 or 20,000 American troops would have prevented this sort of
WICKER: ... that has now occurred with large portions of Iraq having
been taken by these terrorist groups.
MATTHEWS: That`s a good argument, but it would mean that we would be
fighting -- we would be doing at least a good portion of the fighting
WICKER: You know, I don`t know -- I don`t know that that would be the
case. But let me just say, we`ve kept residual forces in Europe, and it`s
WICKER: My son was stationed in Korea. Our troops aren`t fighting
there, but they are a stabilizing force. And I honestly believe...
WICKER: ... we could have kept a stabilizing force there and we would
not be having the chaos.
MATTHEWS: I`ve got to go now...
WICKER: ... the president needs to convince the American people that
if he is successful within his wildest dreams and we actually gain every
goal that he wants to...
WICKER: ... that we won`t throw it away yet again, and we`re being
called on a few years from now to take this hill a third time.
MATTHEWS: I understand that. By the way, in Germany, though, we were
fortunate when the Germans lost Hitler, they quit. I think we took one
casualty after VE Day in Germany. It didn`t continue to be a battle front
from -- from the German side. Of course, we had the communists on the
other side there.
Anyway, thank you, Senator Roger Wicker, for joining us from
Coming up: Congress has approved the president`s plan to arm and train
the so-called moderates in Syria, as we just said, but critics warn that
our new allies may come with deadly baggage, as we`ve been talking about.
This is a tricky one.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: The Kansas supreme court has ordered the removal of
Democrat Chad Taylor`s name from the ballot for U.S. Senate this November.
This clears the path to a real match-up between independent Greg Orman and
Republican senator Pat Roberts.
Taylor dropped out of the race earlier this month, but Republican
secretary of state Kris Kobach said he did not comply with a state election
law limiting when nominees can withdraw. Well, today, the court dismissed
that argument. And this is great news for the Democrats who are hoping
Orman will ally with them in the Senate.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
With no U.S. troops on the ground, the success of our operation
against ISIS hinges on recruiting so-called moderate opposition fighters in
Syria, forces which the Obama administration say will be appropriately
vetted. Well, according to the language of the authorization, the Syrian
opposition will be screened for associations with terrorist groups, Shia
militias aligned with or supporting the government of Syria, and groups
associated with the government of Iran. None of them are allowed to part
And while the prospect of running background checks on a force of
fighters halfway around the world seems like a considerable undertaking,
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel assured Congress on Tuesday that it`s
worth the risk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: A rigorous vetting process will
be critical to the success of this program. DOD will work closely with the
State Department, the intelligence community and our partners in the region
to screen and vet the forces we train and equip.
We will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons do not fall into
the hands of radical elements of the opposition, ISIL, the Syrian regime or
other extremist groups. We believe that risk is justified by the
imperative of destroying ISIL.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Still, many are skeptical about this vetting process and
doubts remain as to the prudence, even, of making alliances with groups we
know so little about.
Joining me right now is Josh Gerstein of Politico and Nia-Malika
Henderson of "The Washington Post."
Josh, thank you for your article today. I read it when I got up
early. It`s about the whole question of who we`re actually giving arms to
and training to. This country -- I know this sounds odd, but it`s true --
we trained the flyers of 9/11 in Florida. The guy down there giving the
flying lesson said, I thought they were from Germany.
I don`t know what kind of thinking that led -- came from, thought they
were Germans. Well, they weren`t. They were Islamists. And now the
question is, we have got guys in our own military who turn out to be
terrorists. We had one down in the South at Fort Hood. We have people in
Afghanistan fighting alongside our troops that turn out to be the bad guys
against us, start shooting up us.
How in the abstract can we go to another country, Syria, we can`t even
go into and somehow pluck out of that country people who are reliably going
to be allied with us in the fight against ISIS? How do we even locate
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO: Well, I think that`s a real question, Chris.
Some of these people have been lining up, asking for our help for some
time through the Free Syrian Army. And we may after a couple years know
who some of those people are. The question is, can we really get up to a
number like 5,000 troops, which is what the Obama administration is talking
about training in this program that will probably take place in Saudi
Can we vet that many people in a year`s time or less? And will 5,000
really be enough? Or do we have to start making alliances with some of the
local militia in Syria, who are even -- you know, even nastier by
comparison than anybody that might be in the FSA bunch?
MATTHEWS: Nia, you cover everything. So you know the problem of
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON
MATTHEWS: We have a United States Senate that can`t even approve
HENDERSON: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: It takes forever to get ambassadors.
MATTHEWS: How do we vet and find out whether a person isn`t just
saying what we know they want to -- telling us what we want to hear?
HENDERSON: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I want to be trained. I want to go fight ISIS, when
really what I want to do is fight Assad, or fight the West, or fight for
Sharia law? We don`t know what they`re fighting for.
HENDERSON: Yes, we don`t.
This is an enormous problem. And you have Secretary Hagel there
making it sound like it`s as easy as, you know, running fingerprints and
then running through it a database. What we do know is -- what we have
seen from Iraq, for instance, is there was a trained army there, and they
basically folded, right, and a lot of those weapons that the Iraqi army had
ended up in the hands of ISIL.
So this idea that somehow now we`re going to be able to pick these
folks out, people who the Obama administration or Obama himself has derided
in the past as not very reliable, it definitely strains -- strains
credulity that this is going to be able to work out perfectly.
And the underlying problem being we`re outsourcing a war. We`re
essentially selling sort of a non-war war. We want the outcome of a war,
but we don`t want to send...
MATTHEWS: Outsourcing. Well said. It`s what the British did when
they fought us in the American Revolution. They hired the Hessians...
MATTHEWS: ... who probably did a good job. They were great German
fighters, but they really didn`t have their heart in it. OK?
Anyway, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia spoke about the
complexity of arming so-called Syrian opposition forces just yesterday,
raising serious questions about the people we may be aligning ourselves
with. Here`s Senator Manchin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I`m not confident that we know
who our allies are. And to illustrate that point, I refer my colleagues to
press reports that moderate Syrian opposition forces sold American
journalist Steve Sotloff to ISIS, who beheaded him and put the video on the
Internet. Are those people are allies?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a hell of an accusation, Josh.
And I do know from another journalist that basically there was another
group in Syria that had Steve Sotloff. They had him. They were going to
trade him for a certain amount of money. Then they sold him apparently to
ISIS, who didn`t want to sell. They just wanted to kill him.
GERSTEIN: Yes, and there are a lot of these smaller militias inside
Syria. A lot of folks think, well, there`s a few groups. There`s ISIS,
there`s this Free Syrian Army, there`s al-Nusra, which is basically old-
fashioned al Qaeda, but, in fact, there are dozens, if not hundreds of
small militias that are sort of defending their hometown in the context of
this battle with the Syrian government.
And their allegiance on any given day is up for grabs, sometimes
perhaps to the highest bidder who is available. And they will make
alliances with al-Nusra on one day, with ISIS on another day. And so to
come into that and think that the U.S. is going to be able to keep its
hands clean and get everybody to line up in perfect file is just, I think,
MATTHEWS: Are we going to pay this army?
GERSTEIN: I think that that`s a big part of it. I think we have been
paying them already. The FSA...
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you trust anybody if you`re paying them? Who
-- everybody in that part of the world is going to say, sure, you can pay
me, give me a uniform and a gun. I will take that.
How do you know their loyalty is in the same direction as ours if they
get paid? I always wondered why we`re paying soldiers in an army we`re
creating to fight a war we`d like to fight, but politically we can`t fight
it at home and those countries don`t want us there. This is a strange war.
GERSTEIN: Well, we know that their -- we know that their loyalties
are not in the same direction of ours. Their main enemy still is the Assad
GERSTEIN: And we`re trying to get them to divert and focus more of
their attention on ISIS. They don`t like ISIS. They have done some pretty
nasty things to Free Syrian Army fighters, to other more moderate forces.
But at the same time, the main object of all the fighting that`s gone
on there in the last two to three years has been to try to bring down the
Assad regime. And the notion that we can step into it at this late date
and convert them to some other goal, I think, again is just hard to
MATTHEWS: You have to figure that Assad, Bashar al-Assad, and his
family, which have all been played up wonderfully in photo plays in "Vogue"
magazine, this very beautiful family and all this phoniness, that he`s
sitting there thinking, I got another lease on life.
HENDERSON: Yes. Yes. Yes.
This lengthens his grip on power, something that America, at least in
words, if not necessarily in deeds, has been trying to loosen over these
many -- last three years or so. So, yes, this seems to extend his sort of
lifespan there at the helm in overseeing this very messy conflict that now
we want to get in the middle of.
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s always the potential, as we have seen, of
unintended consequences when the U.S. gets involved with these kinds of
factions in foreign conflicts. People really don`t know very well.
Many traced our modern-day problems in Afghanistan to the Reagan era
policy to arm the Afghan mujahideen, the freedom fighters who fought
against the Soviet Union in that country. And "Charlie Wilson`s War" was a
great example of how it was portrayed to us.
Hillary Clinton cited that example in her testimony to the House
Appropriations Subcommittee in 2009. Let`s watch her looking at how the
roots of these things develop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And let`s
remember here, the people we are fighting today, we funded 20 years ago.
And we did it because we were locked in this struggle with the Soviet
Union. They invaded Afghanistan. And it was President Reagan in
partnership with the Congress, led by Democrats, who said, you know what,
sounds like a pretty good deal.
Let`s deal with the ISI and the Pakistani military. And let`s go
recruit these mujahideen. It wasn`t a bad investment to end the Soviet
Union, but let`s be careful what we sow, because we will harvest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well -- well, there`s an interesting phrase. Let`s be
careful what we sow, Josh.
And, of course, anybody who you saw "Charlie Wilson`s War," it was
about the congressman from Texas who basically got us involved in paying
for the Stinger missiles to bring down those Soviet helicopters and turn
the direction of that war against the Soviets, and really begin the
downfall of the Soviet Union as an empire, certainly as an empire-builder.
And yet they sort of morphed somewhat into a different direction later
on. Or they always were in that direction. They didn`t like the West,
didn`t like occupiers, didn`t like people like us.
And according to administration officials, this has been Obama`s big
concern all along. This is why we have gone so slow in the effort to arm
these fighters. This is why they have been reluctant to give them anti-
aircraft weapons. They were very slow to give them even anti-tank weapons.
The worry is that these weapons are going to be turned on some force
friendly to us, or on ourselves at some point down the road. But the
president has been moved off the dime on this one, basically by the threat
of this particularly brutal force of ISIS.
And he`s now willing to take that risk, as Secretary Hagel said, that
this might come back to haunt us later.
MATTHEWS: Josh, you`re allowed to assert an opinion, right? So I`m
going to ask you this. Is this stupid stuff, as the president would say,
when he says, don`t do stupid stuff? Is arming these people we don`t over
there, giving them training and perhaps pay, paying them to go into Syria,
is that stupid stuff, as you see it?
GERSTEIN: I think, at a certain point, it could become that.
I think, at the moment, we think we know who these rebels are. But
there`s some question. As we open the aperture here, open the spigot, as
they say, and turn it on full force, the risk just increases. And I think
there`s a point in which we`re taking a big chance that some of these
weapons are going to fall into the wrong hands.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Josh Gerstein from Politico, which is a
great, great journalist effort. Anyway, and, Nia-Malika Henderson of "The
Washington Post," which fights back nobly.
MATTHEWS: And we will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And time for the "Sideshow."
With rumors of a presidential run in 2016, Bernie Sanders has been
getting a lot of attention lately. As the only self-identified socialist
in the U.S. Senate, the Vermont lawmaker has always been considered
something of an outlier. But that`s not all that`s set him apart from his
colleagues on Capitol Hill.
A local paper has recently discovered that Sanders recorded an album
of folk songs back in 1987. And, yes, they found a copy. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT (singing): As I went walking that
ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway. I saw below me that
golden valley. This land was made for you and me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think you call that Brooklyn country.
Anyway, needless to say, I`m not sure the critical reception will be
all that positive.
Next up: another politician blamed for -- busted for plagiarism. On
Tuesday, BuzzFeed accused Monica Wehby -- and she`s the GOP Senate
candidate out in Oregon -- of lifting passages from a health care survey by
Karl Rove`s Crossroads USA and then passing it off as her campaign work on
her Web site, as her own words anyway.
At first, Wehby`s spokesman called the accusations absurd, but today,
after BuzzFeed spotted another blatant use of cut and paste, the campaign
confessed and took the passages down. Wow.
They keep getting caught. They keep doing it.
Up next, the eyes of the world are on Scotland, as the country votes
for independence. Actor Alan Cumming from "The Good Wife," he is a big
activist for the movement. He joins us next here.
And you`re watching HARDBALL right now, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, the world has its eyes tonight on that historic vote for
Scottish independence. And, as of this morning, the most recent opinion
polls showed a tight race that could go either way. The atmosphere, of
course, is electric. The votes are actually in right now, and results are
likely to come across the pond around 2:00 a.m. East Coast time. That`s
2:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
A million unknowns permeate this race. For the first time, the voting
age was dropped to just 16. There are questions about Britain`s nuclear
arsenal, which is housed in Scotland. There could be a war over use of the
And then, there`s our relationship with Britain, our closest ally is
looking at an historic upheaval. It`s already been a major embarrassment
for Prime Minister David Cameron. It`s a vote that comes down to pride
We`re thrilled tonight to bring in Alan Cumming, legend of the stage
and screen. He grew up in Scotland, and has been an outspoken supporter of
the independence movement. You might recognize him from his starring role
in "The Good Wife", which I watch religiously, and I loved him in
"Cabaret", as everybody else was lucky to see him in it.
Alan, I think you and I may disagree. I feel like Haley Milles in
"The Parent Trap", rooting for the parents, the mom and dad to get together
and there you are, rooting for the divorce. Explain why you choose the
risk of Scottish independence over what you got now.
ALAN CUMMING, ACTOR, "THE GOOD WIFE": Well, I think there`s a lot of
things on the table. But mostly, Chris, I think it`s a question of values.
That`s why I want Scotland to become independent. I think we are
different. We always vote much more left than the rest of the country and
we rarely get a government that reflects that.
And so, the things that we really value, like our free education, a
really great health service are under threat. If we don`t get to control
our own destiny, like the rest of -- like the rest of the U.K., those
things are starting to disappear or to actually cost more money.
So, for me, it`s very much about, we know the economic situation is a
good one, in terms of what Scotland`s potential is. It`s just about us
being allowed to control it and not be told what to do by a government at
the other end of the country that we haven`t voted for.
MATTHEWS: How much of it is just nationalistic? I`m a nationalist,
American nationalist. You`re an American now. Nationalist pride like
William Wallace in the movie, you know, something, we`ve never had a
country of our own. That whole idea of we have our own country. I don`t
know if the accent was right.
But, you know, is that part of your feeling?
CUMMING: I think -- I mean, we have -- I`ve actually been impressed
and surprised about how the "yes" campaign has not played that sort of
emotional card. They`ve been much more focused on the issues and it`s been
the other side that`s drawn the sentimental card. David Cameron teared up
in a speech, his last speak on that.
But I just think that, you know, obviously there`s a lot to do with
that kind of whole, we are being oppressed and persecuted over centuries by
the English landlords. But I think when it comes down to it, you know,
we`re still going to be very much in a situation where we`re always
engaging in England. It`s not about hating England. It`s about us not
being told what to do by people who don`t share the same values as us and
don`t seem to care for us that much as well.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the queen talked down to you? I read your
piece the other day, actually today, that you suggested the queen was
condescending by saying, why don`t you people take this seriously, you
know, as if you hadn`t?
CUMMING: I mean, exactly. As you said, I think Scots should think
very carefully about this decision. Like, hello? We`ve been thinking
about it very carefully for years.
And I think that is emblematic of the way that Scots are viewed by the
establishment, and by the establishment, I mean, not so much the monarchy,
although I referred to it there, but more the Westminster government and
the establishment of the people who -- if you look at, there`s a famous
photograph from -- I think they`re at oxford. It`s a bunch of students all
David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson, they`re all from this
privileged and establishment-led organization. They have gone on to be the
establishment. And that, I think, is something that we as Scots looking at
that think, why can`t we -- why are these people telling us who to do with
our country, when we have very different values, and we actually base our
system on merit and talent and hard work, and not on just kind of, you
MATTHEWS: So, it`s really -- it sounds like a battle. I had a
British teacher once who talked like this. It`s a battle against -- you
call over there the establishment. The people who came to Oxford and
Cambridge who come from the right families, if you will, they`re always
connected by cousins and they`ve been running the place forever. Is that
part of your assault on what is the status quo? You don`t like that?
CUMMING: I don`t like that. But it is more complex than that. But I
do definitely think there`s an element of that. This is a chance for
Scotland to actually not have to deal with that, to actually govern
ourselves for ourselves.
And I think that -- I do think that`s -- you know, it`s become
apparent in the last couple of weeks, the way that the establishment, if
you like, and I include all three of the named political parties who have -
- in Westminster in this, the way they`ve kind of treated the Scottish
people. And bringing the max thing back on the table when they insisted it
was removed from the table a year ago and not expecting us or the Scottish
people dealing with that situation, not expecting them to balk at that. I
find that emblematic again of this disdain and the kind of slight.
It just worries me, if we don`t take this chance to not have to deal
with that, then when is the next time we`re going to, you know, get that
chance? So --
MATTHEWS: Let`s take your point here. Let`s take a look at this ad,
it`s part of the "no" campaign. It`s against Scottish independence. You
have a woman there who made up her mind. It was criticized as being
patronizing towards women, they said. The BBC says it backfired
embarrassingly amid accusations of lazy sexism.
Let`s watch some of the ad that`s turned people off here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My Paul is worse than the telly these days. He
will not leave off about the referendum. He started again first thing this
morning. "Have you made a decision yet?" I was like, "It`s too early to
be discussing politics, you eat your cereal." It`s not much time left for
me to make a decision. But there`s only so many hours in the day.
And one thing I do know, I will not be gambling with my children`s
future. You know what? I`ve made up my mind. I`m going to do what`s best
for Scotland. So, that will be a "no" from me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What did you think of the "no" advertisement?
CUMMING: I thought it was so condescending and sexist and just
revolting. I mean, really. Oh, these politics, I`m far too busy with the
kids to deal with that. I mean, really? Come on, people. I mean, it`s
another example of, you know, don`t get me started.
MATTHEWS: Well, I hope I didn`t -- I`m glad I did get you started.
I`m a huge fan, as you know. And I`m rooting for you to be Eli Gold, that
Chicago operative who I root for because I used to be an operative like
that, I think it`s great that you`re on American television and you`re on
American stage and I love "Cabaret".
Thank you very much. The audience loves you.
CUMMING: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Alan Cumming. The new season of "The Good Wife"
premieres this Sunday.
For more, let`s bring in Toby Harnden. He`s the Washington bureau
chief for "The Sunday Times of London".
Well, are you an Englishman or are you a Scot? Who are you?
TOBY HARNDEN, THE SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON: Well, I`m an Englishman.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of -- did you know the Scots don`t like
the condescending attitude of the English?
HARNDEN: Yes, Alan put it very, very eloquent case. You listen to
that case, and if you`re somebody that wants the United Kingdom to stay as
sort of one country, your sort of heart sings. I think he`s absolutely
right that the sort of tenor of the "no" campaign has been, you foolish
Scottish peasants, don`t you know that everybody`s who`s clever and erudite
understands that you should remain in the United Kingdom.
MATTHEWS: What about them being tired of being under the boot of the
HARNDEN: Well, very important point. If you look at the three party
leaders, Cameron and Ed Milliband --
MATTHEWS: And Clegg.
HARNDEN: -- and Clegg, all Oxford and Cambridge educated, products
of, if not public schools in the case of Ed Milliband, at least a sort of
an establishment class, a southern English class, all kind of --
MATTHEWS: What about Gordon Brown, though? He`s a Scott and he`s
been up there fighting like hell for unity. He`s a great guy.
HARNDEN: Yes, Gordon Brown, I thought his speech was magnificent, and
that was the first sign, I think, it was the end of the sort of plumy boy
Englishmen going north of the border and preaching to the Scots.
MATTHEWS: What`s a plumy boy?
HARNDEN: Plumy boy is like a posh person. David Cameron, you know,
talks there. And that was from the heart. That was a very emotional
argument for the union.
And I think if the "no" vote does sort of win, then I think people
will look at Gordon Brown`s speech and think that was possibly the thing
that saved the day.
MATTHEWS: What`s left of Britain if Great Britain is not Great
Britain anymore, it`s not united?
HARNDEN: Well, a lot less. I mean, 8 percent of the population goes.
A large amount of the land mass, I mean, it`s no longer --
MATTHEWS: What do you call your country?
HARNDEN: Well, the debate over the flag, what the flag`s going to be
MATTHEWS: Is it the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland?
HARNDEN: People talking about RUK as residual U.K.
MATTHEWS: Oh, come on.
HARNDEN: I mean, exactly. I mean --
MATTHEWS: You know, we fought a civil war over this issue.
MATTHEWS: And you had -- I mean, I saw "Braveheart." Everybody like
"Braveheart", even though they have problems with Gibson. But, you know,
something we`ve never had, that whole nationalist thing again, like Edward
Longshanks, the British king up there.
HARNDEN: Yes. I think English people and to a lesser extent Welsh
people and Northern Ireland people, will be bereft or feel like sort of a
limb has been chopped off, and people can`t believe it. But the polls were
20, 30 points difference up until about two weeks ago. And all of a
sudden, bang --
MATTHEWS: I keep thinking of the wars we fought on the same side, the
British and the Americans, World War I, World War II, everything we fought
together. And you always thought of the Scots, you know, the black watch
coming over, the sound of the bagpipes, that was a thrilling part of the
HARNDEN: Absolutely. I had a great grandfather who was in a Scottish
regiment that merged with an English regiment. He fought in the First
World War. He was taken prisoner. He escaped. I probably wouldn`t be
here if he wasn`t a Scot who had joined the British Army and moved to
England. It`s very emotional.
MATTHEWS: The tunes of glory. Anyway, thank you, Toby.
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: There`s a famous name running for governor in Georgia.
Recent polls show him highly competitive.
Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. Jason Carter, grandson of former
President Jimmy Carter is challenging Republican Governor Nathan Deal. And
according to a new "Atlantic Journal Constitution" poll, that race is
deadly close. Deal, the governor, has 43 percent. Carter, the challenger,
is at 42 percent. Keep your eyes on this one.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Next, let me finish tonight with a dangers of country`s
coming apart. More HARDBALL after this.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the what could be the finish of
Great Britain. We may be watching the destruction of Britain right now as
a significant nation in the world, a familiar and trusted ally of the
United States and the world.
What will be left when Scotland goes its separate wait? Will we still
call Great Britain even when it`s severed in two? Will the part that`s
left still deserve the word "great", even though it couldn`t hold itself
What will become of the British armed forces now that an integral and
historic part of it is no longer there, because along with the bagpipes
will go the regiments that traditionally fought alongside the English and
the Welsh and Northern Irish, because along with the flag of Scotland gone
from the Union Jack goes the people back home in Scotland who cheered on
the British army in World Wars and every other fight.
I admit to rooting for the union. I feel a bit like, as I said,
Hailey Mills character in "The Parent Trap", rooting for her divorced
mother and father to get back together. As an American, I have a stake in
this. I want the British as our good and reliable ally. What will become
of the special relationship once Great Britain is no longer a country?
I fear this pattern in the world and fear the chronic talk in Canada
of the French speaking province of Quebec going its own way. I heard talk
from Belgium of the Flems and Walloons and their differences. I read of
the Bask and Catalons pushing to separate from the Spain. And worry
occasionally where we`re headed here in the United States as we see the
erosion of English as our agreed upon common language.
Nothing is easier than the break apart over language. Nothing is
harder than to unite across the barriers of language. And so, we will get
up tomorrow and learn the results from Scotland. If they vote to secede,
do not cheer. For this is the pattern of our times, the times we`re
entering into, differences played up, common ties played down, division
looming as the all-purpose solution to every known concern, every
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>