Guest: Joe diGenova, Norman Schwarzkopf
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Big changes in the Bush administration, as Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans resign. Plus, U.S. troops battle house to house in the streets of Iraq. General Norman Schwarzkopf on the fight for Fallujah and what it means for the future of Iraq.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
President Bush accepted the resignations of both Attorney General John Ashcroft today and Commerce Secretary and close friend Don Evans, as part of the expected second term shakeup in the Bush Cabinet. Later, we‘ll talk to General Norman Schwarzkopf about the battle for Fallujah.
But first to the White House for the latest on the changes in the Bush administration with NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House and NBC chief justice correspondent Pete Williams. They‘re both with us right now.
First to David.
Big surprise here or is it not a surprise that we‘re losing Ashcroft?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don‘t think it is a big surprise.
As Pete can expand on in greater detail, I think there was a level of expectation that the attorney general would in fact step down. He even dated his resignation letter on Election Day, making it clear that, after the first four years, it was up. He was indeed very controversial. That was not much of a surprise.
As for secretary Evans, there was some talk within the White House that perhaps he might stay on as treasury secretary. He of course has been the chief spokesman for the administration on economic policy, but, in the end, he made a decision to go back with his family to Texas, something he had been wanting to do for some time, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go right now to Pete Williams.
Pete, there couldn‘t be two more different personalities than don Evans and the attorney general. One is a very tightly wound guy and the other guy is one of the most casual, nice fellows I‘ve ever come across, Don Evans.
Let‘s talk about the decision by Attorney General Ashcroft. I sensed that he was tired, that this was just enough, four years of this stuff.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
There‘s no question that the job of attorney general changed forever on November—or, rather, on 9/11. And, you know, and the attorney general now starts his day with a briefing of all the god-awful thing that could happen to us every day and what the intelligence is. And it‘s just a constant drumbeat of that. It is a totally different job.
And, you know, it is no surprise, Chris, because he said to friends, he is just pooped out. This job is exhausting. Plus, you‘ll recall he had a bout a couple of months ago with pancreatitis that probably took a greater toll on him than he let on at the time. You could tell afterwards that he was still tired from that. His voice wasn‘t as strong. He didn‘t have quite the spring in his step.
So he‘s made no secret of the fact that he wanted to step down from this job. Now, we are told tonight, Chris, that he will stay or he‘s willing to stay—and that means he probably will—stay in the job until a successor is nominated and confirmed, so that means he‘s not going anywhere for at least a couple of months. The inauguration is January 20. Got to have hearings after that.
So the attorney general is going to stay on the job here for some several weeks more, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You make the point well there, Pete, that this job of attorney general is no longer the casual, easygoing job from the days of William French Smith, that you really have to be an operations boss.
Is this something the president is going to be looking for, someone who can handle an operation, not just a policy-making administrative office, but somebody who is there in times of crisis?
WILLIAMS: Yes. I think several things are needed now in the office of attorney general.
One is the administrative skills that you mentioned. Two is the ability to persuade the nation about whether additional steps are taken. Now, John Ashcroft says in his resignation letter tonight, Chris, “Americans have been”—this is in the second paragraph.
He says: “Americans have been spared the violence and savagery of terrorist attacks on our soil since September 11.” Without a doubt, that‘s true. And the attorney general and his supporters say that is his No. 1 accomplishment, that the day after September 11, the president looked at him and said, OK, it is your job to prevent another one. And he‘s leaving office saying, I did it. I did what you told me.
MATTHEWS: He sure did. And it was right in the letter.
WILLIAMS: That‘s right.
But I think even the attorney general would say that he‘s gotten mixed marks on whether he has persuaded the American people about the need for some of the things he‘s done. The Patriot Act is coming up for renewal next year. Law enforcement people believe very strongly in the powers that are there. But did Attorney General John Ashcroft stir up more criticism about the Patriot Act than minds he was able to change?
So, the president, I think, also will be looking for somebody who can do that. And one other thing, Chris. You know, John Ashcroft was a big draw on the—when he toured around the country. And if you look at those voters from last Tuesday, the Christian voters, the people who said moral values were very high, John Ashcroft is their guy.
WILLIAMS: So that would suggest that the president is not going to appoint someone who has totally different views on, for example, abortion, gay rights. I would think, for example, my own view, just a guess, is that that probably means that he‘s not looking at replacing John Ashcroft with Rudy Giuliani.
MATTHEWS: So let‘s go back to David Gregory.
Is this a pruning operation, a grooming operation, where the president is trying to move his Cabinet to more of a cosmetic appeal? Or is it simply the fact of one fellow has just done his best for his country and he‘s got to take it easy now?
GREGORY: Well, I do think that‘s the issue at face value.
Obviously, there is going to be a shakeup here, as there always is a in a second term. And the president does have some very big choices to make. When you talk about national security concerns and the role that the attorney general plays, you talk about political concerns that Pete was just alluding to.
Let‘s not forget Marc Racicot, who ran the president‘s campaign, his campaign chairman, was initially considered for the spot of attorney general back in 2000, but was rejected by members of the conservative base who did not think that he was conservative enough to fill that spot. So, no doubt, those considerations come into play again.
There‘s still the issue of not only Abu Ghraib, but the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere that is part of the legacy of the Ashcroft term. So there‘s a lot of repositioning that the president may want to look. And that goes to the larger issue of his national security team, which is in some flux potentially as well. So there‘s a lot of decisions that are going to be being made, as people are burned out.
And I do think it is worth noting, for anybody who knows people who have been involved in this kind of work, it is so intense, particularly after 9/11, day in and day out, to have that kind of responsibility on your shoulders, to deal with both the threats that are coming in, to deal with preventing another attack, as well as keeping track of terror cells in the country.
It‘s an enormous burden. So one shouldn‘t minimize the fact this is just really a tiring job.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s true, I think, of the executive branch. I was struck again by that timetable at the White House when we saw just today that the president stopped a 7:30-in-the-morning meeting to say that Andy Card is staying on. The day begins early over there at the White House. It begins everywhere else.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back. Let me ask you, check with you something that Pete Williams just suggested and you also noted, this constituency issue. Every Cabinet member has to bring some kind of constituency with him.
MATTHEWS: Because they all speak for the diversity of the country.
Do the Christian conservatives, the people—and conservative Catholics as well included, do they feel—do you think the White House feels they owe them for that tremendous turnout last Tuesday?
GREGORY: Well, I think it is an important question. As to whether they feel they owe them or not or whether they‘ve already delivered sufficiently for them is a political calculation that they‘re going to have to make here in the White House.
But it has certainly never been a light concern of this president, going back to when he first placed John Ashcroft in the role to begin with. So one has to believe that it is not going to be absent from his consideration this time by any means.
MATTHEWS: Well, given that, could it be that the president would be constrained from going to the more moderate or liberal wing of the Republican Party for a Rudy Giuliani or a Pataki?
GREGORY: Well, I think that‘s right. I think that that is certainly a good guess.
And, as Pete noted, it may certainly argue against Giuliani for this position, just because of that, as well as some other reasons. As I say, going back to 2000, there were definitely ideological concerns that are going to play a big part in this.
But there‘s also some real concerns just as kind of nuts-and-bolts law enforcement and the new direction that the Justice Department has taken after 9/11 that are going to have to be brought to bear when you think about the sort of experience to manage cases, terrorism cases, as well as working with the FBI in tracking down attacks or cells or plots before they really materialize.
MATTHEWS: One of the hallmarks of this administration, Pete Williams, is to try to reconcile, if not identify moral issues with law, to try to make the law the partner with moral values. Does the president have the latitude here to pick someone who is not pro-life, who is for gay marriage or some sort of more—greater gay rights? Doesn‘t he have to pick somebody who is attuned to his mandate?
WILLIAMS: Not necessarily. I don‘t think he has to check every box there.
WILLIAMS: And, of course, the Justice Department has a limited role to play on those issues. They will obviously salute whatever the president says in terms of what he wants to argue in the Supreme Court. The president‘s wishes sometimes override that of the Justice Department.
WILLIAMS: It happened on affirmative action, for example.
And I think John Ashcroft was in a class by himself. It would be hard to find someone with quite his resume. He was a person of very deep religious faith, not embarrassed about it. As a matter of fact, in his letter that he sent to Justice Department employees tonight, he says:
“We‘ve endured many things. We‘ve accomplished many more. It has been the honor to stand beside you.” And he says: “It would be the height of arrogance to assume we did this alone. The Psalms remind us—quote—
‘Unless the lord watches over the city, the watchman stands guard in
So this is a hallmark of some of his speeches. He made no secret about that fact. And if you look at the other possibilities here, Chris, you‘ve got Larry Thompson. These are the names most often mentioned. Larry Thompson, the former deputy attorney general, that would be the chance for the president to appoint a black attorney general, which the White House might consider a plus, in addition to Larry Thompson‘s other skills. Marc Racicot, whom we‘ve named before.
And, as for Giuliani, Chris, his friends are saying tonight that they don‘t think he is in the running and he himself doesn‘t either.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s also a precaution against being overlooked, by saying you‘re not in the running.
MATTHEWS: But who turns down attorney general if you‘re a liberal Republican and you want to get accepted by the mass brood of the Republican Party?
Let me go back for just a second to finish up here with David.
Do you think that Don Evans being—he was not picked for chief of staff because the chief of staff is staying on. Do you think those things are connected?
GREGORY: Well, everybody I have talked to insist that that is not the case. There were certainly a lot of people who felt that he was the most effective spokesman on economic policy. Certainly, Treasury Secretary Snow, who may play an instrumental role in tax reform in the second term, is not considered by most to be the most dynamic spokesman, maybe not in a way that Don Evans was.
And Evans had to play a stepped-up role when they were having problems with some others who were in the president‘s inner circle of economic policy. But, nevertheless, in the end, while there was talk about him staying on in some capacity, everyone insists that, look, he made it very clear that it was just time to pull out of the...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, it is a financial situation for a lot of guys who serve in the White House for four years.
MATTHEWS: They have to give up their business efforts.
Anyway, he‘s a great guy. I really miss—I know him. I don‘t really know Secretary Ashcroft—or Attorney General Ashcroft. But Don Evans has been on this program so many times, and he is such an effective, likable spokesman for this administration. He will be a loss.
Thank you very much, David Gregory at the White House and Pete Williams covering Justice matters.
When we come back, what do these resignations tell us about Bush II? I will ask former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova what that second term is going to look like, also Stuart Taylor from “The National Journal.” Where are we headed on policy, on the Patriot Act and things like that, on terrorism?
And then General Norman Schwarzkopf is going to come on for the rest of the show. He‘s going to be a great voice to explain what is happening in Fallujah.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans today and who might replace them.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans came as an early evening surprise here in Washington, but what do we expect to be the effect on actual policy and how we live in the country?
Joining me now is Joe diGenova. He‘s a Republican. He‘s a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. And Stuart Taylor covers the Justice Department for “The National Journal.”
First of all, let‘s talk about the significance, the so-what factor here right now. I want to start with Stuart Taylor.
What was the importance to us and everybody watching that John Ashcroft was A.G.?
STUART TAYLOR, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”: Well, I think he was a very polarizing A.G. He came in, was confirmed by a narrow vote. He was very confrontational throughout his tenure to adversaries. He almost virtually accused them of treason, the critics of the Patriot Act and so forth, early on.
And for that reason, he wore out his welcome certainly rather quickly. He never had a welcome among civil libertarians. And the White House came to think of him as something of a grandstander. And there were tough relations there. I think Attorney General John Ashcroft would like to think of himself as kind of the field marshal in the domestic war on terrorism and the man who made the prosecutions work, the man who rammed the Patriot Act through, the man who defended it.
And history will decide.
MATTHEWS: So you see the Patriot Act as his main marker for his historic role?
TAYLOR: Well, it is the one you can encapsule in a word.
MATTHEWS: And the most controversial.
TAYLOR: In a word.
In fact, I think the Patriot Act would be less controversial if Ashcroft weren‘t associated with it. If you notice, Senator Kerry and his campaign said the problem with the Patriot Act is John Ashcroft. And he only proposed a couple of minor amendments. I think part of his legacy is making partisan issues out of things like the Patriot Act that maybe didn‘t need to be partisan issues.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s hear from Joe diGenova.
Your take on Ashcroft‘s legacy?
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think I wouldn‘t be quite as harsh on Attorney General John Ashcroft as Stuart has been.
I think he came in to be attorney general under very difficult circumstances. Stuart mentioned his confirmation. It was bitter. It was nasty. It was almost reminiscent of the Bork confirmation hearings, the way he was attacked, the way he was painted, the caricatures of him.
I think there was an extremely unfair portrait of him painted.
DIGENOVA: And I think it was, in many instances, genuinely anti-Christian. And I think it was, in some instances, just absolutely awful.
But he did do a very good job after September the 11th of uniting the department to do its job, which was to bring cases, to investigate, to prevent acts of terrorism and to transform the Justice Department and especially the FBI into a preventive organization, rather than an after the fact, let‘s lock them up.
And I think, for that, he will get historical credit. Whatever his personal shortcomings were with himself or with the White House politically, I think, in the long run, his role as A.G. in transforming the FBI, along with Director Mueller, will be remembered as his major contribution.
MATTHEWS: How do you account for what—you know, Al Haig has a bit of. And he‘s a friend of mine, but he has a bit of this. He makes people nervous. He unsettles people by his very presence. Is that a problem? Was that a problem with Ashcroft?
DIGENOVA: Well, you know, what‘s very interesting, Ashcroft had been an elected official in Missouri, state attorney general, governor, United States senator. And you have to...
MATTHEWS: Well, then he was defeated by a dead man.
DIGENOVA: That is correct.
MATTHEWS: Which wasn‘t a great case to make for his appointment.
DIGENOVA: Of course, Missouri is a strange state in many ways.
But—but I will say this. I think John Ashcroft, after September the 11th, carried himself well. And there were a lot of people, however, who were always uncomfortable with the religiosity which he openly and proudly carried in his life. I—personally, it never offended me. I dealt with the attorney general on substantive matters.
I thought he did a good job. He knew how the listen. He also was a very thoughtful man about this.
DIGENOVA: And I just wish he would have fired a couple of U.S. attorneys around the country. That would have been great for me. But, other than that, I think he‘ll get high marks for doing his job after September the 11th.
MATTHEWS: The Patriot Act is a controversy. I hate that word controversy, because it doesn‘t say anything.
MATTHEWS: But among regular Republicans in the suburbs, I hear there‘s concerns about it, people that normally you wouldn‘t consider—you wouldn‘t consider bomb throwers worry about the Patriot Act and its impact on civil liberties.
TAYLOR: I think a lot of the people who worry about the Patriot Act don‘t know what‘s in it.
MATTHEWS: Maybe the word scares them.
TAYLOR: Many of the things—the ACLU has got lots of people scared about so-called sneak-and-peek warrants, delayed notification warrants. Well, we‘ve had those for decades. There was—the Patriot Act codified something that was already well established.
MATTHEWS: What‘s a peek and look or whatever you call it?
TAYLOR: Sneak-and-peek warrant is when they get special permission to search your house, say, without telling you immediately. They have to tell you eventually. But the idea is...
MATTHEWS: It‘s beyond a search warrant.
And there was legislation to try and say, oh, no, you have to give immediate notification. And with some justification, Ashcroft I think called that the terrorist tipoff legislation.
But I would like to agree with Joe. I think he did a lot of things that needed to be done, in particular, moving the department away from pure crime punishment to crime prevention.
TAYLOR: One reason I‘m critical of him, frankly,, is I think some of those things could have been consensus items and maybe became needlessly partisan because of his style.
MATTHEWS: In his letter of resignation, gentlemen, John Ashcroft, resigning from the attorney generalship, took credit for a dramatic—and I didn‘t even realize this because we never seem to have talked about it—dramatic decrease in dangerous crime, murders, rapes, that sort of thing.
Joe, is that something, as a former U.S. attorney, you think he deserves credit for?
DIGENOVA: Well, I think that everybody in law enforcement deserves law enforcement for it, and so does he, and so does the president for not shying away from strong, effective and I think fair law enforcement policies.
I think one of the reasons the president was reelected was the fact that they did have strong law enforcement policies which were aimed at prevention in the terrorism area. But, also, I must tell you something. They have one of the finest white-collar criminal prosecution records in the history of the Justice Department. And that‘s why that didn‘t fly, that issue. That is why the Democrats stayed away from it.
Larry Thompson led that corporate criminal enforcement task force, fabulous prosecutions done by their people. I think the attorney general deserves a lot of credit for it. He wasn‘t afraid to lead in this area. I agree with Stuart. Personality aside, I think the A.G. gets some pretty high marks. Even though a lot of people didn‘t like him personally, I think he and Larry Thompson and Michael Chertoff, when they were running that department, and Ted Olson as solicitor general, ran one of the best Justice Departments in history.
MATTHEWS: Stuart, does he deserve credit for reduced street crime, serious crime?
TAYLOR: I think he deserves some of it.
But to put it in perspective, I think street crime was falling throughout the Clinton administration and has continued to fall since then. How much of that is because we‘ve got two million people locked up in prison in this country now, which is the highest rate anywhere in the universe, I think, is unclear. But, certainly, he‘s one part of...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t mind the prison bars separating them from me.
MATTHEWS: You make it sound like it‘s some kind of a stupid solution.
But, if it works, it works, doesn‘t it?
TAYLOR: The reason I put that it way is that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them are people accused of minor drug crimes who had never committed a violent act.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would that explain a reduction in crime, then?
TAYLOR: Well, there‘s a big argument among criminologists about precisely that. Is that why crime has fallen or did it fall because of that?
MATTHEWS: You explained, Stu, that the crime rate went down because more people are in prison. Is there a connection?
TAYLOR: I didn‘t say because. It happened at the same time. And those who think that law enforcement...
Well, we had a mayor here not long who said that crime was down, except for murder.
MATTHEWS: We‘re coming back, more with—well, you know who he was.
He‘s coming back, anyway.
Stuart Taylor, Joe diGenova, stick with us.
And later, General Norman Schwarzkopf, he‘s coming here on the battle for Fallujah. And it‘s hot.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Stuart Taylor and Joe diGenova.
Joe, Ashcroft, Attorney General Ashcroft reminds me of that line that Churchill used to say about John Foster John Foster Dulles. He‘s a bull that drags his china shop around with him.
MATTHEWS: I mean, wherever Ashcroft was, there was a heated debate.
Is the president going to go in that direction again or go to a more urban, blue state sort of person, do you think?
DIGENOVA: Oh, I think it‘s very hard to say, Chris.
You know, he has a wonderful group of people to select from. Larry Thompson, who you know was deputy attorney general, would be great. Jim Comey is the current deputy attorney general. I don‘t think he‘s going to pick Marc Racicot. I think it would kind of weird to pick the campaign chairman. It brings back memories of John Mitchell.
Although Marc Racicot is a very talented guy, he‘s got Gonzales. He‘s got Danforth. Rudy would never take job. Rudy needs an elective office between now and 2008. I don‘t think he would do it.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you‘re fishing in troubled waters there. Are you suggesting that he‘s going to take on Hillary in 2006?
DIGENOVA: Oh, no, no. He may run for governor before. I don‘t know when—I‘m not quite sure what he‘s going to do. But the bottom line is, Rudy is going to run for president in 2008.
MATTHEWS: Is Rudy tough enough to take on Eliot Spitzer for governor of New York?
DIGENOVA: Absolutely. I‘ll tell you...
MATTHEWS: What a fight that is going to be.
DIGENOVA: That would be the fight of the century. I want front-row seats for that one.
MATTHEWS: Let alone Chuck Schumer. They‘re all tough guys.
DIGENOVA: Well, I would like to see the Democratic primary. That would be the real fun.
MATTHEWS: Oh, God. Well, that one, I‘d fight—I‘d settle for any of that. I want a piece of that one. That‘s a great thing to cover.
Let me ask you, Stu, about the other prospects. Do you think he‘ll go to the religious right, to that kind of constituency person?
TAYLOR: I doubt it. Most of—that would being some somebody like Judge Pryor, who I think called Roe vs. Wade the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law. If he wants to keep the right happy, go for someone like that.
MATTHEWS: That‘s one way to set up a Supreme Court fight later on.
TAYLOR: But the people Joe mentioned, Marc Racicot, Larry Thompson.
MATTHEWS: Former governor of Montana, party chairman.
TAYLOR: Yes. Larry Thompson, former deputy to Ashcroft, and Giuliani, to a lesser extent, they‘re all more conciliatory personalities. They may be conservatives. I Larry Thompson is probably a conservative, but he was well regarded by Democrats, as well as Republicans.
A lot of the people who couldn‘t really get along with Ashcroft can get along fine with any of those people.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the Republican Party.
Joe, you‘ve served it as U.S. attorney, although in a law enforcement manner. And you know the party very well, Stu. Can they afford to pick someone who is on the liberal wing, like a Pataki, the governor of New York, someone who is obviously at odds with the heartland in terms of these social issues?
DIGENOVA: Well, I think the president is at the height of his power and influence in the country and with his base.
DIGENOVA: His choices will be accepted no matter which part of the wing of the party they come from. He has carte blanche to make these choices. He has earned the right to choose the people he wants.
And despite what you‘ve heard from—criticism from people, he‘d better do this, he‘d better do that, the president of the United States has earned the right to choose the people he wants. And I predict, he will do so.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that?
TAYLOR: I agree with that.
MATTHEWS: The power of the president is broad now?
TAYLOR: With a great big exception, the Supreme Court and judicial appointments. If he doesn‘t appoint hard-line conservatives, the right will be very angry with him. They think they were promised that. And if he does, the left will be very angry with him.
DIGENOVA: I think Ted Olson would be a great chief justice.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s a lot of connection there.
TAYLOR: I wouldn‘t disagree. But I think there would be a big fight in the Senate, I‘m afraid.
DIGENOVA: Not with 55 senators anymore on the Republican side. There may be a big fight, but I think a lot more people that might have been unconfirmable a year ago are very confirmable right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ve still got a—I have got a picture of Barbara Olson, who died on 9/11, right on my desk.
Anyway, thank you.
DIGENOVA: And so do we.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Stuart Taylor. Thank you, Joe diGenova.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
DIGENOVA: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the latest on the urban battle in Fallujah, as U.S. troops try to take the city back from the insurgent forces. General Norman Schwarzkopf will join us.
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MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, the fight for Fallujah and what it means for the future of Iraq with General Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of U.S. troops during Operation Desert Storm.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The U.S. military says that 10 American troops are dead in the battle to win control of the city of Fallujah, where insurgents have held power.
NBC News correspondent Charles Sabine has the latest now from Baghdad.
CHARLES SABINE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the U.S. military says that, whilst any U.S. casualties here are regrettable, the toll from the last 24 hours of events in Fallujah is relatively low, that because it is a city that has echoed all day to the sound of continuous explosions, a testimony to the ferocity of the assault there.
U.S. troops have now consolidated positions in the heart of the city, after encountering sporadic resistance. Booby-trapped bombs have proved one of biggest hindrances to their advance. But the question now is, have the 3,000 insurgents believed to be in Fallujah gone underground to launch attacks later or simply melted out of the city? The ground assault has involved 10,000 U.S. troops, backed by around 2,000 Iraqi forces, a massive artillery and air support, an uncompromising show of force in a city believed to still contain tens of thousands of civilians.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Fallujah‘s main hospital has been struck.
One civilian in the city said today, Fallujah has become like hell. Meanwhile, insurgents elsewhere in Iraq have responded with attacks throughout the country. In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, 45 people were reported killed in actions claimed by followers of al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
And in Ramadi, west of Fallujah, hundreds of insurgents are reported to have tonight taken up arms and positions in the center of the town, as U.S. jets and helicopters fly overhead. And, lastly, Chris, here in Baghdad, the Iraqi government has declared a citywide curfew until dawn—
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Charles Sabine.
General Norman Schwarzkopf was the commander of U.S. forces during Operation Desert Storm. And he is now an NBC News military analyst.
General, it is great to have you on tonight.
What is it like for the troops, for our guys and our women over there as they head through the streets of Fallujah?
NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, I saw one young man who was asked the question, how do you know who is the enemy? And he looked you straight in the eye and said, I know who the enemy is.
The person that shoots at me, they‘re my enemy.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, how well—that brings up the question, have you got any information about the quality of the fighting by our allies over there, the Iraqi security forces who are backing up this operation, joining it?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes. This is a rather significant difference from the last time we had this brouhaha going on in Fallujah. And that‘s the fact that you had 2,000 Iraqi that apparently did a great job and are doing a great job.
MATTHEWS: And let me ask you this. Is this the first big test for the Iraqi army that we‘ve created over there?
SCHWARZKOPF: Oh, absolutely.
I think that anything we‘ve done up until now, it really has—has not been on the scale that this is. And they didn‘t—they really weren‘t assigned specific missions. And this group that is over there now were assigned specific missions, which they in fact carried out perfectly.
MATTHEWS: Is there a ratio of troop strength you have to observe when you go into a situation where people are hiding behind windows and hiding behind buildings and around street corners? We have 15,000 troops going into Fallujah right now, fighting their way block by block.
There‘s apparently 3,000 people on the other side composed of insurgents, former members of the government army over there, and outside terrorists. Is that a good enough ratio, 15-3?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, my attitude has always been the same. I want to have everything I can get. And I think the commanders involved in this operation probably feel the same way.
But, remember, we‘re doing things much differently than we did when we had the problems with Marines. We‘re using our bombers. Most of the civilians are out of town. So, therefore, when you run into somebody dressed that way, you know, it could very easily—I think you‘re a lot more cautious about how you approach them than otherwise. So there are some significant differences between now and then.
MATTHEWS: Can you size up the rules of engagement? In other words, how do you avoid blowing up a bunch of kids that are being held hostage or being used as a shield, a human shield, over there in the streets of Fallujah?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think that the rules of engagement are very, very clear. And I think that the troops understand what they can engage, what they can‘t engage, and that sort of thing.
I don‘t think—honestly speaking, I can‘t see one of our soldiers shooting a child because a child was in front of an insurgent. I think they probably would avoid shooting anything at that time and wait to get a better shot or just move on.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between a trained infantryman going into a city block-by-block campaign like Fallujah they‘re going through right now and just some hot shot guy on the other side who has a lot of zeal and he‘s anti-American or he‘s whatever, pro-Islamic, and he just wants to fight? When you‘re in a firefight with somebody like that, and they‘re just all guts and craziness, how is that different than fighting another military man?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you know, the person that has got—kept his head about him, who has kept his cool, that‘s the person that is going to prevail.
We don‘t train our soldiers to be fanatics and just run recklessly into—like the Iranians did, for instance, during the Iran-Iraq War, and, you know, committing suicide and then picking up the gun of the man in front of you and fighting some more or something like.
SCHWARZKOPF: We—our guys are very, very, very well trained. And rules of engagement are very, very carefully spelled out to them. And, by and large, they‘re going to follow those rules of engagement. And if they don‘t, they‘re going to be taken down right away.
MATTHEWS: How long does it take an American soldier to become a battle-ready fighter?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you know, at the end of the basic training, they‘ve had all the fundamental skills that they need to start off with.
But I think it is the training, the exercises. You know, we have a national training center out in the middle of the desert. And battalions go through every six weeks or so. And it really is a tough, tough course of training that they go through. So I think it is a product of their initial training, then, subsequently, when they join their outfit, the training that their outfit goes through and that sort of thing. And they really, really get tremendous training.
What did we learn from Mogadishu in Africa, where we went over there and we found ourselves surrounded by a bunch of people in the streets of Mogadishu who hated us? Have our guys gone through that kind of training, where they‘re facing mobs?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, absolutely, in many different varieties.
When I was in Berlin, we used to train all the time about what we would do if a mob came from East Berlin into West Berlin. But more specifically, the Mogadishu thing was—the number of mistakes that were made there, you can count on both hands and still have some—need more fingers, because...
SCHWARZKOPF: And the after-action reports showed that there was a lot of disasters that occurred over there. They never should have been committed the way they were, et cetera.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll be back with you, General.
By the way, I was in West Berlin when those East Berlin mobs came in. They came in when they were allowed to get through the wall at Brandenburg Gate to shop. That‘s what they wanted to do.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, we‘ll be right back in a moment with more from General Norman Schwarzkopf.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, urban combat, door to door, what is it really like for U.S. troops in Fallujah?
We‘re coming back with General Norman Schwarzkopf when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with General Norman Schwarzkopf.
One of the brigade commanders over in the operation in Fallujah says he is damned and determined that none of the people over there escape, the people on the other side. How do we set up this cordon? How do you do that to prevent people from getting out that were part of the action?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think it is a combination of manning key points throughout the terrain where people could be coming out. And then, of course, you have constant rolling patrols that are moving around through the area. And you have devices of all sorts to measure movement, to measure lights and that sort of thing.
It is a combination of all of those, plus just being very, very alert along the roads of access and egress.
MATTHEWS: When you look at the war we‘re fighting over there, which is Fallujah and a lot of those cities in the Sunni Triangle, where those people obviously had a lot to gain from the old regime, and they don‘t like what is coming to be the new regime, especially if it‘s dominated by Shia, the people from the different background over there from the south, is this like the French occupation fight for Algeria? Is this—people say they‘re looking at that movies, the old movies, “The Battle of Algiers,” as a training film.
Is it like that, where you‘re constantly confronting people in alleys who are going to kill you, rather than let you establish rule?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think there are a lot of parallels to them, although there are some people that said the French actually won the war in Algeria and then had the rug pulled out from under them by de Gaulle. So it depends upon which side you‘re looking at things from.
But I—basically, the civilian population has left Fallujah. And so, therefore, you‘re pretty darn sure that when you run into somebody out there who is dressed as a civilian, you‘d better be very much on your guard. And I think it is product of every individual over there has sort of thought through this thing and what they‘re going to do if they run into that sort of circumstance. They‘re not taking anything for granted, obviously.
MATTHEWS: Well, in terms of the French reference and a war you fought in, in Vietnam, isn‘t it—aren‘t these always—don‘t these wars always tend to be wars of attrition, that, sooner or later, the more powerful country from somewhere else says, all right, the expense has gotten too high; the casualties are relentless; we never seem to clean this place up the way we want it, so we‘re leaving?
Isn‘t it always the politics in the end of the war, rather than the fighting spirit or the ability of the troops?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, I guess, historically, you can go back and say that. You certainly could say that about Vietnam and the way we abandoned the Vietnamese.
And we left and left all of our equipment behind for them to use and then voted not to let them have any spare parts or any ammunition. And then we wondered why they lost the war. So there‘s certainly a pattern there.
MATTHEWS: And there‘s also a pattern on the other side of countries that were just tired of colonialism, like the Portuguese. They fought for Angola and they fought for Mozambique. And, after a while, they said the cost of fighting this war is higher than the benefit of keeping the colony. That‘s a lot cruder way of looking at things.
It is not, apparently, the American view of the way we‘ve fought these wars. But, in the end, it comes down to, don‘t we have to win or we will lose? Don‘t we have to establish peace or we will have to leave?
SCHWARZKOPF: Oh, I don‘t think there‘s any question about that.
You pay a price for peace. And many times, that price is too high and you‘re not going to have peace. You hope for peace and you expect peace. That‘s what you‘re fighting for. You‘re not fighting to lose, obviously. And they‘re a bunch of very, very committed soldiers and sailors and airmen out there. And, believe me, they‘re fighting for the right things they believe in their heart.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the South Vietnamese, the armed forces you served with, do you think they could have held off with enough materiel, enough money from us and support after Nixon left and Jerry Ford came in and Congress cut off the money? Had they kept the money flowing to Saigon, do you think our forces could have won over there, historically?
SCHWARZKOPF: I am absolutely convinced that they could. They would have.
I spent a year with Vietnamese paratroopers, national reserve, and they were some of the finest troops I have ever served with anywhere. And I saw an awful lot of great troops. But we left and said, OK, we‘re leaving, but we‘re going to leave all this stuff behind for you to use, so you won‘t be abandoned. And, if you need something, just ask for it.
And then Congress passed a law against it. And they had helicopters over there that they didn‘t know how to—that couldn‘t fly because they didn‘t have the spare parts. They had guns that didn‘t have ammunition to go with them, et cetera, et cetera. You couldn‘t expect them to survive. I think it was one of the biggest betrayals I‘ve ever run into.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, maybe somebody ought to write a book like that, because that‘s an argument that you don‘t hear.
Anyway, thank you very much, General Norman Schwarzkopf.
When we return, we‘re going to talk more with him.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Norman Schwarzkopf.
I guess everybody watching from their couches watching television right now wants to know one thing about this war in Fallujah, how this battle is going to end our problems over there, how is it going to bring peace to that area. Is this a process we‘re going to have to go through city by city, this Fallujah cleanup?
SCHWARZKOPF: I don‘t think they‘re going to have to go every city by city.
I think a lot of it depends upon where these so-called foreign insurgents end up hanging out and how much strength they have and that sort of thing. If the Iraqis continue to be as strong as they apparently look like a lot of their units are getting that way and they‘re able to project forces in other parts of the country, then I think we stand a pretty good chance. But only time is going to tell.
MATTHEWS: What about the possibility that we‘re facing up there, according to “The New York Times” today, up to—intelligence officials are now estimating and giving this word to “The Times” that we may be facing not 3,000 people, but up to 20,000 people overall in the insurgency.
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think that‘s a questionable number. I wouldn‘t put it that high.
But it doesn‘t matter. It‘s the Sunnis that you‘re dealing with. And the Sunnis are a rather huge population of that country.
SCHWARZKOPF: And they‘re the ones that are really holding up the wheels of progress there. So something is going to have to be done to accommodate the Sunnis.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s, of course, the question. If we fight a battle for a Sunni city like Fallujah, we win it, we kill a lot of bad guys, as we see them, enemies of the future peace of Iraq, and we do the job that any soldier can do, and it‘s done, and you kill too many of them, and then that people in the Sunni community, which is that big area around the middle part of the country, around Baghdad, they say, well, you‘re a bunch of outside killers coming in. You‘re a bunch of colonials. We hate you. We are not going to participate in this election.
What happens then?
SCHWARZKOPF: Then we have got a problem, of course.
MATTHEWS: Well, isn‘t that the catch-22 of this war? If we‘re too good a military force and too strong a presence and too successful in whipping down the enemy, we become the hated monster and the ugly American. We become the occupying force.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, but I think we have got to be very careful of who we take on and how many people we kill and that sort of thing.
In the case of Fallujah, it looks like most of the civilian population got out of there before the main battle came about. I hope that‘s the case. And everything looks like it is that way. And it would happen in other cities, too.
Obviously, we have to make it very clear to the Sunnis that we‘re not on the side of the Shiites and against the Sunnis or anything like that. That‘s just not going to cut it at all—or the Kurds in the north are our first priority and we don‘t care about the rest of the country because of oil or something like that. We have got to send the right signals and then we‘ve got to stand behind what we‘ve sent.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve promised the people of Iraq as many ways as we can a true democracy that will rule that country and establish sovereignty and deserve it, obviously, by our standards.
And yet we hear rumors that the United States government is in fact organizing a blanket cross-country coalition ticket, in other words, an up-or-down vote on a bunch of guys that we‘ve put all together into some sort of party. And the people get to vote basically yes or no for that party. And that party includes Sunni, Shia, Kurds and everybody, so that you really don‘t have a choice of what kind of a government you have. You have a yes-or-no situation, our way or the highway.
Is that democracy?
SCHWARZKOPF: Of course not. Of course not. But...
MATTHEWS: Well, why are we—don‘t you hear what I hear, that we‘re doing that over there, that we‘re trying to put together a coalition which is the only choice left to the people? We don‘t let the Shia run against the Sunni or the Kurds. We put one party out there.
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think that there‘s alternatives to that or lesser included cases to that than what we‘re looking at now.
Certainly, when we—if we just glued something together that‘s not representative of the people themselves, then obviously we don‘t have a democracy and we couldn‘t claim we did have one. On the other hand, it is going to be really, really tough to put a—quote—“democracy”—unquote—in place over there, given the people, given the history of them and that sort of thing.
And we just can‘t wave a magic wand and all of a sudden, we have democracy working, Jeffersonian democracy working, the rights of the individuals. We have to consider—I guess the bottom line is, you have to consider the character of the nation that you‘re with, the sensitivities of the nation you‘re dealing with and not deal them all the same. You have got to deal each one of them specifically for what they are.
MATTHEWS: Are you getting any word from troops or anybody who is close to the action over there—I mean by that the serious action—as to whether the people we‘re fighting are actual Iraqi nationalists who were perhaps related to the old regime of Saddam Hussein or just simply don‘t like us being there, or they are people that come in from Jordan and other Arab countries and are just looking for—you know, they‘re like drugstore cowboys looking for a place to fight us.
SCHWARZKOPF: All of the above.
I‘ve heard every single one of those in one way or another characterized. And I guess the one thing that has impressed me is the troops. The troops come back and say, we‘re doing the right thing. And when you‘re getting that from the privates and the sergeants and the lieutenants and the captains, that‘s very persuasive to me.
MATTHEWS: But don‘t you hear other things? I don‘t know who—kind of people you bump into, because in my job, I bump into all kinds of people like up New York like week and the convention night.
I would have kinds of people come to me, a young guy who looked in bad straits. I say he was in his mid-20s. And he said to me, Kerry has got to win because my guys need him in Fallujah. My guys are fighting over there. He just got out of the military.
Is it that simple, that it‘s—that they do believe in the campaign as it is being designed over there? Or is it more complicated, just looking out for your buddies? What is the morale situation in this war?
SCHWARZKOPF: Oh, I think the morale is good. Everybody that I‘ve talked to that has been over there and come back, they always are very proud of their service there.
Certainly, the ones that were with me in Desert Storm are very, very proud of what they did. And they tell me that point blank. But it is—basically, when you get into battle, what keeps you there in your foxhole when 10,000 Chinese are attacking across a valley coming your way with fixed bayonets, what keeps you in that hole is your love for your buddy on your left and your right.
SCHWARZKOPF: That sort of cohesion is—when the troops go into battle, that‘s the cohesion that takes place and is really the single most important thing that leads to victory or defeat, as far as I‘m concerned.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess that‘s what makes it important to have leadership and a plan that backs up that heroism.
Anyway, thank you. We‘re all in it together. Anyway, thank you very much, General Norman Schwarzkopf. Thanks for joining us here.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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