Guest: Robert Redford, Tony Perry, Michael Weisskopf, Robin Wright, Richard Kramlich
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The U.S. military is stepping up operations, moving to forward positions around Baghdad, as insurgent attacks escalate ahead of Sunday‘s national elections in Iraq. We‘ll have reports from inside the Green Zone in Baghdad and behind the battle lines in Fallujah.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, back in Washington.
Three days before the Iraqi elections, insurgents attacked and bombed at least nine polling sites throughout Iraq. And al Qaeda‘s leader in Iraq, Zarqawi, declared holy war on the elections.
We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s own David Shuster in Baghdad.
David, what are you learning about security precautions today?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, U.S. forces are on the move in a fashion that they have not been for some time. They are moving out of some of the larger bases, including the one here in the Green Zone, and taking up strategic positions at important roads and bridges, intersections that are near where some of the polling stations are going to be.
They‘re moving out some of their heavy equipment. A lot of the soldiers are packing extra ammunition. In addition to essentially the lockdown, which is going to include a curfew—it‘s also going to include some roads being closed, vehicles not being allowed on many key streets. In addition to those steps, in addition to the closing of the borders, the closing of the airport, there‘s some pretty interesting electronic maneuvers that the U.S. forces are taking.
They‘re essentially setting up a system whereby, starting as early as tomorrow night, they will have an electronic jamming system that will jam Iraq‘s national telephone system that handles all of the Iraqi cell phone calls. The U.S. forces have their own cell phone systems. Those will not be affected. But the idea is to try to cut down on the coordination of the insurgents and also cut down on their ability to use cell phones to trigger some of those remote-controlled explosive devices—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Explain, David, how they‘re going to prevent people from voting twice.
SHUSTER: Chris, the way they‘re going to prevent people from voting twice is they are giving a special thumbprint, a special ink that is invisible to the naked eye, so that nobody will know who has voted. But then, when they go into the voting booth, the voting polling station, they will to have put their thumb under a special light that will detect whether or not somebody has voted twice. That‘s the way of identifying who and who has not voted. The other thing, Chris, they‘re doing to try to protect against election fraud is to ballots were are actually printed in Switzerland and are only now coming into Iraq. That is to prevent people from obtaining the ballots, stealing them and creating forgeries.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you again to repeat what you told us yesterday in your report. You were saying that security forces on our side over there in Iraq helping these elections along are wearing ski masks to protect their identity against the insurgents. Do you still see that as a previous habit over there?
SHUSTER: Chris, we do. These are the Iraqi police and security forces who are wearing ski masks, so that the insurgents do not know who they are.
And the other thing that‘s going on, and you can tell, Chris, simply when you look at this election ballot. This is the kind of poster that they‘re going to be hanging in the polling sites that give instructions about how the Iraqis vote, essentially how to find their candidate. A lot of these, they don‘t list candidates. That‘s because the candidates themselves are too afraid to be listed on the ballot because they‘re fearful of assassination.
So you have a lot of parties. You have some individuals, but 111 different choices for the Iraqis to make. And, again, a lot of them, a lot of the campaigns are simply being conducted by organizations that say, this is our ideology. If you want to vote for us, here‘s the corresponding number. Here‘s the corresponding logo that you will find on the ballot.
Only after the election, when the election determines what percentage each party gets of the 275 numbers of the General Assembly, only then will some of the parties release their official sort of list of candidates, that is, the list of people who will get the seats, if in fact a party gets a certain percentage—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Do you expect, based upon your couple days over there—it‘s three or four days now—do you see a Sunni participation in selection or is going to it be a Shiite affair entirely?
SHUSTER: Chris, it seems like it is almost entirely going to be a Shiite affair. And, in fact, a lot of military officials that expect some of the explosions that we‘ve even heard in the Green Zone and at the NBC hotel downtown that are aimed at Shiite neighborhoods, that those are the work of Sunni insurgents who don‘t want the Shiites to be able to turn up at the polls.
A lot of Sunnis have already suggested that they are not going to show up at the polls because of security, although a lot of that is related to the fact that, as you know, for the first time, the Sunnis, they‘re in the minority here. They‘re going to be the party essentially out of power if this government comes to power after years of Saddam Hussein‘s Sunni supporters essentially running this country through brute force.
A lot of Sunnis don‘t want to participate because they don‘t want to see the election take place. They also don‘t want the Shiites to participate because they fear outcome when all the votes are tabulated—
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, David Shuster, who is in Baghdad.
U.S. Marines are among the American service men and women getting ready for Sunday‘s election in Iraq.
Earlier, I spoke with Marine Major General Richard Kramlich, the commanding general of the 1st Force Service Support Group in Fallujah. And I asked him about Iraq‘s future and whether Fallujah is the most dangerous place in Iraq.
MAJ. GEN. RICHARD KRAMLICH, U.S. MARINES: Well, I think at most times, it is. I think it‘s certainly changed since we had the operation in there. But we‘re certainly cautious in all of Anbar Province.
But we‘ve seen a lot of improvements here. And there‘s a lot more receptiveness to what we‘re trying to do in some of the outlying cities in Al Anbar Province.
MATTHEWS: Is this going to go down, Fallujah, as one of the real fighting historic spots for the Marines, like Hue City during the problems in Vietnam?
KRAMLICH: Well, I certainly hate to compare it to those battles during Vietnam. Certainly, some brave Marines fought in those battles. But we have brave Marines in Fallujah here. It was a very successful campaign, very well planned and very well executed.
And I think America can know that their Marine Corps has stepped up to the plate here. And the Marines that we have now are every bit as courageous as those Marines that fought in Vietnam and fought in World War II. This is the next great generation.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, General.
Let me ask you about security and what your job is. You talked about your confidence, relative confidence, that you can protect the voters as they come to vote next weekend in these first important elections in Iraq. What about the IED problem, those explosive devices along the roadway? Has that interrupted supplies to your troops, to your Marines?
KRAMLICH: Not at all.
I‘ll tell you, Chris, our folks have gotten very savvy. I think we‘re staying one step ahead of the insurgents. They certainly try to interdict our supply lines and our convoys. But they‘ve been able to inflict very little damage on us. And we‘re able to be heads up for most of the IEDs that we see out there. We usually find them before they find us.
MATTHEWS: What kind of jobs have you been able to give to the Iraqi security forces with confidence?
KRAMLICH: They‘re working side by side with the three battalions that are in Fallujah. They‘re training. The training levels are getting much improved. We‘re seeing much more responsiveness from the Iraqis security forces. Certainly, we would like to see them expand even more. And I think there‘s good plans for doing that in the future.
I think we‘re going to step up our training regime with them. And I think that will be the focus of the next rotation when 2 MEF is over here. And I know the Army is putting a great focus on that in the areas that they‘re working with the Iraqi security forces.
MATTHEWS: How well is the training the men got at Pendleton and other places for the Marine fighting? How has it panned out on the battlefield?
KRAMLICH: It‘s top-notch. There‘s no way that we can 100 percent replicate what you‘ll find over here. But we continue to improve the convoy tactics, the urban warfare tactics.
There‘s coordinated efforts down in Yuma, Arizona with the air-ground task force, where our convoys can work closely with the air element, work on communications with them providing overhead security for us. And I know the infantry element is also working closely in those training exercises.
We continually refine what we‘re doing with our training and taking the lessons learned from over here, Operation Iraqi Freedom, too.
MATTHEWS: How do you deal with the Arabic situation? All right, we speak English. They speak Arabic. How do you have basic communications with the people in Fallujah?
KRAMLICH: Oh, you would be surprised at what the Marines are able to pick up in phrases and body language. We have a good amount of very courageous Iraqi interpreters that work hand in glove with us.
I talked to two today that were at a polling preparations site and both of them have lost their entire families to Saddam‘s regime. And they‘re here. They want to see this succeed. And they work very well. I would like to see more interpreters come out and work hand in glove with our Marines.
MATTHEWS: Talk a little bit about the Iraqis that are on our side over there. Are they really putting their lives on the line or what?
KRAMLICH: Oh, most definitely. They‘re threatened all the time. The insurgents, they—since I‘ve been here in March, there‘s been an intimidation campaign.
But I think since we took down Fallujah and they‘ve seen that we‘re willing to deal nose to nose with these insurgents, I think they‘re getting a greater resolve and they understand that they‘re the ones that are going to have to make this country work. We don‘t want to be here forever. We‘re not an occupying force. And I think they‘re getting that sense. So it is up to them. The ball is in their court to make this country succeed. And these elections are going to be a good indicator of that.
MATTHEWS: You‘re up against kind of a side war over there, to some extent. I hear, in reading all the clips this morning, they‘re doing a lot of leafletting. They‘re calling us the crusaders conspiracy. They‘re referring to these elections as the infidel elections. Is that having an impact on the voters, do you think?
KRAMLICH: I don‘t think so. I think they understand that them being able to create their own government is much more preferred.
And I think that they see that the insurgents, all they have is a negative message. And it doesn‘t take a rocket scientist to see through that. There‘s not much that the insurgents are offering, other than more bloodshed. I think that‘s one of the things, Chris, that disturbs me the most over here, is the amount of innocent Iraqis that have been killed by these insurgents. And there‘s certainly going to be a backlash by the Iraqi nation to that.
MATTHEWS: That‘s Major General Richard Kramlich with the Marines in Fallujah. And I‘ll be here Sunday for HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Iraqi elections, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
And tonight at 9:00 Eastern, NBC‘s join Campbell Brown from Baghdad for an MSNBC special report on the election in Iraq.
Coming up, we‘ll have much more on the Iraq election, the politics of war and the future of Iraq with “TIME” magazine‘s Michael Weisskopf and Robin Wright of “The Washington Post.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the future of Iraq. What happens after Sunday‘s elections? I‘ll talk to Robin Wright of “The Washington Post,” “TIME” magazine‘s Michael Weisskopf, and Tony Perry of “The Los Angeles Times,” who is embedded with Marines in Iraq.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Michael Weisskopf is a senior correspondent with “TIME” magazine who lost his hand in Iraq in 2003 when his convoy was attacked by insurgents. Robin Wright is a diplomatic correspondent for “The Washington Post” and has covered Iraq since the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s.
But, first on the phone is “The Los Angeles Times”‘ Tony Perry, who is embedded with a Marine battalion in Ramadi.
Tony, what is your sense of the situation on the eve of this election, the security situation?
TONY PERRY, “THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”: Well, the situation here is fairly tenuous, Chris. All 1,000 members of the Iraqi police have fled. There‘s been a concerted intimidation campaign.
This is basically a lawless city, where C.D.s showing beheadings are hocked on the streets and any government worker who comes to work takes his life in his hands. They have essentially all fled. All the police, all the government workers, the provincial governor, they have all fled. None of them are coming to work. And the Marines have stepped into the breach.
There‘s a battalion of Marines here that will be providing security at the polling places. Exactly at the polling places, there will be some Iraqi commandos from the new Iraqi army. These are troops that acquitted themselves well in the battle for Fallujah. But, essentially, the security right now is in the hands of the Marines and the 1st Marine Division.
MATTHEWS: We had Major General Kramlich on just now telling us—in fact, it was part of a conversation we had the other day from Camp Pendleton. He said he could protect the security of voters once they‘re in line. Am I to read from that that it is up to the voter to get to the polling station? And once they‘re there, they won‘t get bombed?
PERRY: Well, Fallujah and Ramadi are somewhat different, of course.
Fallujah is essentially a locked-down city after the assault in November. And the Marines have almost total control of Fallujah. Ramadi is a different city, twice as big as Fallujah and just as violent, the Marines will tell you.
There will be things and there are things going on now. There are sweeps going on to take insurgents off the street, to take weapons out of the hands of the insurgents. Streets are being blocked. There‘s a curfew. There are other restrictions to make Ramadi as safe as it can be. But there‘s going to be an element of risk. And there‘s enormous intimidation campaign going on. Marines are providing security in the overall area and in encircling each polling place.
And the commandos are at the polling place. But there is going to be risk. And that‘s exactly what the insurgents are counting on.
MATTHEWS: When you say...
PERRY: There‘s been mortars. There‘s been rockets tonight.
Are these insurgents predominantly Iraqis or out-of-the-country Islamists?
PERRY: I think they‘re predominantly Iraqis. And that I think it is particularly true in Ramadi, is—that‘s what makes Ramadi different than Fallujah. An argument could be made that the insurgents in Fallujah were an outside force, so you were able to get residents out and then begin an assault to wipe out the insurgents.
That‘s not the case here in Ramadi. They‘re the uncle, the cousin, the kid down the street, basically. They are part of the community. Everybody seems to know who they are, except the U.S. forces. And so it would be much harder. It would possible to do an assault, Fallujah-style assault here in Ramadi, which is not to say there aren‘t outside influences. There‘s money and fervor being brought in from the outside.
These folks have multiple identity cards. They‘re trying to make it very difficult for the U.S. to determine exactly where they‘re from. But, basically, in Ramadi, it is a home-grown rebellion, insurgency with some outside influence.
MATTHEWS: Do the people in Ramadi, as a group of people, as a community, do they expect the United States to be around for several months or several years over there in trying to keep security, as desperate as it is now?
PERRY: Well, you get a spectrum of comments. One comment you get a lot of is, would you please stay here?
While they wish there were no foreigners, no U.S., no Westerners on their soil in one regard, in another regard, they trust the U.S. a lot more than they trust whatever kind of government is going to come out of this Sunday election in terms of helping repair their homes, in terms of payments, in terms of some sort of equity, in terms of getting some sort of government services back on the track.
Again, it is a lawless city. It‘s a city with garbage being—piling up in the streets, where thieves are running pretty much unrestrained, the Ali Babas, the thieves, the Ramadis will tell you. Each Ramadi is allowed to have an AK-47. And he needs it. There‘s so much thievery and there‘s so much criminality aside and apart from the insurgency in the city. And I think a lot of Ramadis, while they wish there were no outside influences here, on the other hand, they also wish the Americans would stay here and help this city become more stable, become more civilized, become more livable.
MATTHEWS: Hold on, Tony. I want to you stay with us.
Let me go to Michael Weisskopf.
Does that sound like a conditions report you would have posted a year ago?
MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, “TIME”: In part, Chris.
Even when I was in Iraq, soon after the liberation or the ouster of Saddam, large parts of the country were, if not lawless, were at least beginning to show signs of it, because of the rampaging of criminals. And many of them were let out of jail at the time, the failure of public services to pick up garbage, this of that sort...
MATTHEWS: But this split opinion, this almost schizophrenic sense that, we want you, we don‘t want you, was it as balanced back a year or so ago?
WEISSKOPF: Yes. We began hearing even then, get out, but not too fast, because whatever is left behind may even be worse than you.
MATTHEWS: Robin Wright, let me ask you about the politics of this. We have a minority Sunni community of 15 percent of the country. It is almost like—I was thinking the other day, it‘s like 15 percent of South Africa before the big change there in the ‘90s was white. They had ran the country for years. They weren‘t going to run it anymore and they knew it. They still showed up to vote, maybe because of the five-year deal for the transition they had down there.
Is it at all like this, where these Sunnis know they‘ll never be predominant, they‘ll always be out of power, and so the question is, do they have any stake at all in the government? Any stake at all in showing up?
ROBIN WRIGHT, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I
think they have an enormous stake in showing up. They need as many Sunnis as possible to show up to get their fair share in the new national assembly who will then write the constitution.
So—but the insurgents have the equal share of trying to intimidate them to prevent them from showing up. So it‘s really a test of wills and it will be a great challenge. As much as you‘re talking about the violence, you have to remember that the Shiite majority and the Kurdish minority have extraordinary incentive to turn out to vote. The Kurds‘ future and their ability to have any sense of autonomy in the north, the protections they need against the Arab majority, will probably lead to a large turnout.
So, for all the fears there are about the Sunni Triangle, the fact the Kurds will turn out and the Shiites probably in large numbers as well, you know, we may see half the population turn out, possibly even a little bit more.
MATTHEWS: Let me all—I‘ll give you a moment to think as we go to break. I‘m going to ask you the same question when we come back.
Suppose the minority Sunnis, who ran the government with Saddam Hussein when he was in power, supposed they decide as a community, 90 percent of them decide not to vote. Can we continue to call them insurgents or are they not secessionists, people who say we‘re not part of this new government and therefore you have to ask the moral authority question. Can American service people fire on them if they simply say we‘re not part of this new government? Do we have the right to tell them that they can‘t do that?
More with Michael Weisskopf, Robin Wright and Tony Perry when we come back.
And later, Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford joins us.
And you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Michael Weisskopf of “TIME” magazine, Robin Wright of “The Washington Post,” and “The L.A. Times”‘ Tony Perry, who is embedded with the Marine Corps in Iraq.
Let me start with you, Tony, in country. What happens if the Sunnis say, we‘re not playing ball, we‘re not joining in this election? Could they become then a secessionist movement? What would happen?
PERRY: No, I don‘t think so.
I think you have to realize that the Marines—I‘m with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment—they‘re not firing on people because of some philosophic difference. They‘re firing on people they have to fire on to protect their own lives, people who have been using roadside bombs and suicide cars and snipers.
And I think—I spoke to a Marine, a young Marine captain. He made a very good point. He said, this is not Vietnam. The insurgency here has no philosophy to speak of. This isn‘t a philosophy like the Viet Cong that had communism, that had a national leader, Ho Chi Minh, that they adored. The insurgents basically have no philosophy, except no government, no control, no self-determination.
So it‘s hard to think of them as some sort of legitimate party in that regard. They‘re essentially—in Ramadi, certainly, you could liken them to the Mafioso, who would really like to control, if not the whole city, certain neighborhoods and continue doing so.
Remember, this is a city that not even Saddam Hussein could control. They took over the government center from the Saddam Hussein government while he was in power. This is a very, very tough city as part of a tough province, the Al Anbar Province. There‘s no philosophy here. There‘s violence.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Robin.
Is that your political assessment, Robin, of the whole situation? The geography of Iraq includes three big provinces, the old provinces of Basra in the south and Baghdad and Mosul in the north. Is there any chance that this election will just underline those divisions?
WRIGHT: Well, it will surely underscore the differences between the different communities and where the tension is.
But I think, at the end of the day, that we will make a serious mistake if we say that that is how it is going to play out afterwards. The election process is only the beginning. Then you‘re going to see the real jockeying for power among a wide diversity among the Shia, different kinds of Sunnis, and even rivalries among Kurdish parties, all of them wanting their own representatives to have important Cabinet positions, all wanting them to have a big say in the writing of the constitution, that—yes, it will be traditional divisions playing out in the turnout of the election, but not in terms of the very wide-open political process that will play out over the subsequent nine or 10 months.
MATTHEWS: Robin and Michael, it sounds like Robin is saying that the urge for political power will overwhelm the usual sectarian differences, because everybody will want a piece of the pie.
WEISSKOPF: Well, yes, to some extent. But who is going to turn out will have a lot to do with the security, the personal security people feel there. Even though they want a piece of the pie, no one wants to risk personal bloodshed and murder of their children in the process.
These are the types of things that have been threatened. And so you can assume that those are going to be playing out, those two different elements.
We‘ll come right back with Michael Weisskopf, Robin Wright and Tony Perry.
And, later, Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford is going to join us.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re talking about the future of Iraq with Michael Weisskopf of “TIME” magazine, Robin Wright of “The Washington Post” and “The L.A. Times”‘ Tony Perry, who is embedded right now and speaking to us right now from Ramadi. He is with a Marine Corps battalion out there.
In Washington today, I want you all to respond to this today and tell me what—how it is resounding around the world and Iraq. Ted Kennedy delivered a blistering attack on our Iraq policy and called for—catch this—an immediate withdrawal of troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: President Bush‘s Iraq policy is not, as he said during last fall‘s campaign, a catastrophic success. It is a catastrophic failure.
The men and women of our armed services are serving honorably and with great courage under extreme conditions. But their indefinite presence is fanning the flames of conflict. Once Sunday‘s elections are behind us, and the democratic transition is under way, President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces with the Iraqi government. At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once to send a strong signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me to go Tony Perry. I know you can‘t give a political argument one way or the other, but if you had to add up the pluses and minuses of an immediately declared determination to withdraw from Iraq in stages, what would be the consequences on the ground?
PERRY: Well, I can only speak for Ramadi, which I see right in front of my eyes. The 1st Marine Division and the Army unit that is also in part of the city are the only law here.
And if they withdrew, this city would be in even worse shape than it is now. Now, would the Iraqi police come back, find their courage to come do their jobs? That‘s questionable. I‘m not sure anyone here feels that their presence is what‘s causing the insurgency, what‘s causing the violence. I think they believe that what is causing the violence is a group of people that want to control this city and this country.
PERRY: And are standing at—for self-determination for the rest of the nation. I think Robin Wright is exactly right. This isn‘t the end of anything. It isn‘t even the middle part. To use a thoroughly American analogy, this isn‘t opening day here. This is spring training for democracy. And it is going to be a long, sloppy back-and-forth process, as democracy is.
And to get it going, you need some stability. And, at this stage, the only people who can provide that stability to get self-determination going in this stony soil is the United States. And in this part of this very violent city, it the Marine Corps.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the Marine Corps. I was just out at Pendleton.
And I want to go to Michael Weisskopf.
Somewhere in the last couple days, I heard someone say that you have got two forces working. We‘re building a country over there. We‘re gradually passing these milestones. They‘re actually going to have an election. There will in fact next week be an elected national assembly, probably with a very big turnout nationwide if you look at the overall electorate. We will be able to say that, in the Middle East, there‘s only two democracies, Israel and this place.
On the other hand, you have that natural tissue rejection that goes on against any occupying force. Who wins this race, Michael, if we stay in there?
WEISSKOPF: Well, the big question is, as President Bush said yesterday, is it a grand day for Iraq during election?
The question is, for how long? And, yes, it is a grand day any time you deliver half the electorate to the polls. But then, again, we had elections in Vietnam. They didn‘t last very long. They resulted in illegitimate governments eventually toppled and overrun by a popular government in the north. The question here is, is not whether you can bring people out, particularly to vote at gun barrel, and that‘s what they‘re doing here, but how, whether it can stick, whether a constitution does reflect the interests of more than just the majority population and the population that shows up at the polls.
MATTHEWS: When you mean at gun barrel, you mean protected by gun barrel.
WEISSKOPF: Protected by gun barrel.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robin Wright on that question of these two competing forces, the natural resistance of any nation to an occupation and the drive towards nation building here.
WRIGHT: Well, the problem is, what is the alternative to withdraw by the United States, even if it is a partial withdrawal? It is clear that, for the next year, a very volatile period, there will need to be some kind of referee, some kind of guarantee of security for those who do want to participate in the system.
And if the United States is to draw down, what are the alternatives? Now, there‘s—the fact is, the United Nations has given the mandate for the current multinational force led by the United States. Its mandate is up in June. And there‘s the possibility that an elected Iraqi government could go to the United Nations and say, help us organize an alternative in which the United States might play a lower-profile role, fewer troops, that the formulation would change, or the United States might not even play the major role.
The problem is finding any country that is going to participate at this stage with all this violence. No one wants to inherit the mess and the prospect that they might get stuck with it for an even longer term. So, this is the real problem with Ted Kennedy‘s speech. It probably reflects the wishes of an awful lot of Americans, that they would like to get out of Iraq. They understand that the American presence is extremely controversial and increasingly so.
But there‘s not any alternative, viable alternative on the table.
MATTHEWS: Well, we knew back when we pulled out of Vietnam gradually by ‘75 that eventually there was going to be a fight between the ARVIN, the army of the South, against the forces of the V.C. in the North. And we probably figured, in the long run, the smarter, more cynical people, eventually, the communists would win if we didn‘t stay in there.
We‘ll to have ask that question later, because I don‘t know who would win if we do pull out.
Anyway, thank you, Michael Weisskopf. Thank you, Robin Wright. And thank you, Tony Perry. Good luck over there. He‘s embedded with the Marines over there in Ramadi.
When we return, my interview with Sundance Film Festival founder, a very thoughtful man, by the way, Robert Redford.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. And tomorrow, check out Hardblogger for a special HARDBALL Web cast from Baghdad. Our own David Shuster answers your questions from Baghdad. That‘s pretty good. That‘s Hardblogger@HARDBALL.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, my interview with Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford, when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Earlier in the week, while I was at the Sundance Film Festival, I sat down with the festival founder, Robert Redford. I asked about the power of documentaries these days and Michael Moore‘s anti-Iraq war documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: “Control Room,” “Outfoxed,” “Super Size Me,” these are all documentaries that are entertaining, but they‘re also about something. To me, all it was, was us putting those films out there, simply making available to audiences what alternative views there are that aren‘t being either acknowledged or expressed by the current administration.
So that‘s all. So, when they can look at that and they go, oh, there‘s another side to that story. And it was just well told. It was a good documentary.
MATTHEWS: We‘re all told to go to the fast-food places, McDonald‘s, whatever, Roy Rogers. And I go to them, too. But when you see a guy living off them for, what, two months?
REDFORD: Yes, I know. That was great. We had that at the festival last year. And, of course, there you have it. It is entertaining, but underneath that, there‘s this sort of subliminal—well, I don‘t know how subliminal—message.
MATTHEWS: Well, the guy is told by his doctor he‘s going to die if he keeps eating at McDonald‘s.
REDFORD: That‘s fairly direct.
REDFORD: But here—for example, that was visual.
Now, my son-in-law, Eric Schlosser, wrote a book called “Fast Food Nation” It was really quite successful.
REDFORD: Dealing with exactly that issue. So, if you take the book, which is words on a page, and you take this, which is a visual, then you can contrast. You want that to be—create as much impact as possible. So—because that‘s an issue that is real. Obesity is a big deal.
MATTHEWS: Now, is a documentary required to document? In other words, like they did with “Outfoxed,” where somebody says something is not true and then you show that it is true. Or can it be like Michael Moore, who basically puts together and suggests connections that aren‘t documented?
REDFORD: Yes. Right.
Well, Michael is pretty extroverted. He‘s a pretty extroverted guy in his filmmaking. But his suggestions go a little bit beyond suggestions. They really kind of nail certain things, but it‘s real. There it is. You can‘t deny footage if you see footage that was real. Now, you can manipulate the context. We know that.
REDFORD: But, on the other hand, I think putting something out there that really happened, as opposed to peep mythologizing about what happened, that‘s a different deal.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he can—he‘ll document, for example, recruitment methods, where they‘ll go to poor neighborhoods and shopping malls that are sort of third-rate shopping malls and pick up kids hanging around, black or white, because they have fancy uniforms on.
MATTHEWS: And they say, you are going to be able to follow your music interests and all.
But then they‘ll do things like show the Bush family, Bushes, got the bin Laden family out of the country and therefore they‘re part of the attack on 9/11.
REDFORD: So that‘s an insinuation that has a lot of teeth in it. I don‘t know about that.
But I think that the documentaries—look, I have very, very strong feelings about the power and importance of documentaries, not just for do-good, not just to say like castor oil is something you ought to do for your health. It‘s an important medium, because, one, it can tell a story that may not be being told, so the public gets another view that may be even more truthful than the one, the propaganda that is coming out of a political office somewhere.
And the other thing is that it is—since I think documentary films are increasingly more commercial as they become closer to film, they‘re less talking heads and more about the use of film. Now, we have, for example, we have a film. I don‘t want to pull too many films out and dishonor the other films.
But we have one film here called “This Revolution,” where a guy who is a documentary filmmaker, he was in Iraq. He was embedded in Iraq. And he came and he went in and he wanted to move into feature films. So, he used the documentary style to make a film about the protesters and the demonstrators that were kind of snuffed, that we did not see footage of, what happened to those people, the 1,000 people that were arrested and hauled off by the police in New York, and to look at the relationship between Homeland Security, the administration, and the police in New York at that time.
We didn‘t see footage. But this guy got it because he was in there.
He was with them getting footage of—it‘s powerful. It‘s powerful stuff.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t mean snuffed. You meant silenced.
REDFORD: No, I don‘t mean killed. I mean, just pushed away, swept off the street.
REDFORD: And so therefore there would be nothing to be seen on the more centrist channels or even the right-wing channels to say, this is perfect. Look how wonderful. I imagine the same thing is happening in D.C., that this is wonderful. So the image you put out there is wonderful, perfect to follow the line that people are being given that everything is fine. We‘re on course. We‘re winning the fight for liberty and democracy.
Well, if you want to know how true that is, there has got to be available voices from all points to speak. If they‘re shut down, then you have got a problem. So this guy goes and gets footage. It‘s amazing.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we were right to go into Iraq?
REDFORD: So really playing HARDBALL now. Is that it?
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m just asking.
REDFORD: I don‘t know. I think it was OK to go in.
MATTHEWS: Was it a blunder of historic proportions?
REDFORD: I think it was OK to go in. I don‘t like the way we did it. I don‘t think—I think there was a different way to do it, where we used our allies. And I think there was a different way to do it by getting real information to go in there with, rather than making it up, which has now been proven.
You‘re talking about committing American lives to a cause. You want to make sure that people understand what that cause is. I think there was another way to do that it wouldn‘t have required the loss of our image in the world and maybe quite so many deaths. But that‘s—and that view, I think, should be fairly presented.
MATTHEWS: If you had to choose between not going in at all and doing it the way we did it, what would have been better?
REDFORD: In the way we did it? Not going in at all.
REDFORD: I think going in was not a wrong issue to debate. I don‘t like the way we did it because it involved too much misinformation and distorted information to justify some I think narrower cause than we were led to believe. But that‘s just my belief.
I do think there was a reason to go in and take the guy out. I think there was another way we might have done it. But I‘m not a military man. I‘m not part of the military industrial complex. I‘m not in office, so I don‘t feel comfortable talking too much more on that. That‘s just my personal opinion.
MATTHEWS: You seem like a man who is to my right.
REDFORD: I‘m to your right?
MATTHEWS: You‘re further right than me on this issue, I think.
REDFORD: I am?
MATTHEWS: Do you want to reconsider that thought?
REDFORD: Well, I‘m feeling kind of broad-shouldered. Hey.
REDFORD: I feel like a real egalitarian.
MATTHEWS: Do you accept—there was a very strong message in the president‘s inaugural address, which I think I can explain in a minute to anybody in the world. He said something that is going to really cause people like me, everybody watching, to think about for months and years to come.
He said that we‘re not free in our liberty here in this country if there‘s parts of the world like in—he was obviously talking about the Arab world—where people are not free. Do you buy that argument, that we have to liberate or try to liberate every country in the Middle East or we will not be safe from terrorists?
REDFORD: I think we can certainly play a role, because that‘s our fundamental belief, that we should.
If anybody is being squelched from being able to have freedoms—I mean, there‘s nothing more valuable than the freedoms we have in this country. Where I get most riled is when it looks like they‘re endangered by our own people. So to take that—and I think they are, quite frankly. And the distortion, the trying to manipulate information, to shutting down opposing points of view, what is more fundamental to the American Constitution than dissent? And when dissent is classified or reclassified as unpatriotic, you have a problem.
MATTHEWS: That‘s Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival.
Last night, I was Jay Leno‘s guest on “The Tonight Show.” And if you missed it, we‘ll have it for you right after this break.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Last night, I had the fun of being on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)
JAY LENO, HOST: Now, what did you think of the speech, the inauguration speech?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think—it think the world—it was well delivered, you know, well written, poetic even.
But it scared a lot of people, because grand language about liberation has been used by some bad people in the world.
MATTHEWS: Everybody wants to liberate. Nobody wants to overcome and destroy. You don‘t say I‘m going to give a great speech about destroying some other country, going to war. And so a lot of people thought it was, we‘re going to Syria. We‘re going to go into Iran next. So, I noticed in his press conference today, the president was very careful in pulling that back.
He said that our freedom doesn‘t depend on those countries‘ freedom in the Middle East. Thank God it doesn‘t.
MATTHEWS: And he also said, this is a long-term process now of trying to encourage those countries like Egypt and Jordan to become more democratic. So I think he has taken off some of the edge now. So, I think he knew—he found out later it was a little too scary, that speech.
LENO: What do you think about that? Do you think a lot of places do not want democracy? We—I don‘t mean...
MATTHEWS: Well, they may not want us.
LENO: OK. All right.
MATTHEWS: That‘s different.
If somebody came into this country and said, you‘ve had a couple years of corruption under Nixon or something bad, you had a couple lousy administrations in a row, I think we‘ll come in and help them find freedom and good government, we would fight them at the gates.
LENO: Well, sure.
MATTHEWS: The worst neighborhoods in America would fight them if they came in.
MATTHEWS: And so I don‘t think—I don‘t think people like to be told what to do from outside. And the only thing I worry about this election is that one side is going to win.
LENO: The Iraqi election.
MATTHEWS: Yes. They‘re going to win, the Shia, they‘re called. And they‘re the one big group. They‘re the dominant group that‘s been beaten down for the last 100 years. They‘re going to win.
And just remember what happened in our country when Lincoln was elected. Civil War. Because the South knew eventually we were going to get rid of slavery. We were going to change their lifestyle down there. And they were not going to wait around for it to happen. So they went to war and we lost 600,000 people killed in that war.
MATTHEWS: And so a civil war is a possibility.
LENO: Now, you went to Camp Pendleton yesterday.
And I went there not knowing, of course, that we were going to have this tragedy today in Iraq, where 31 -- 30 Marines and a sailor were killed in a helicopter crash. I‘ve got to tell you something about these guys. These Marines—I‘m going—I was told by somebody out there, just say to these guys, thank you for your service.
MATTHEWS: And I‘m going one by one to these fellows and a woman there, Marine. And they had all won awards, Purple Hearts, Bronzes. And I said, what is your rank? Who are you and what have you done? And they would tell it. And the whole crowd was together on this.
In fact, one guy won the Bronze for saving the lives of four other Marines, totally into it. And then I said—it was almost like “Casablanca.” I said to the guys, hey, why don‘t all we sing the Marine hymn?
And everybody stood up, 200 tough guys, and sang the Marine hymn together, beautifully. And it was just an amazing moment. I‘ll tell you, you have got to be proud of our guys and also that they‘re—they know it is tough over there. They know the country is split on this war. I can tell you, they know that. And they‘re going in to do a job.
And they say they can help let these people have an election over there. And I think, no matter what your politics are of this thing, and everybody has got different views of this thing, these people are incredible, these soldiers. They‘re Marines, I should say, because they‘re all going—half of them are going back, you know?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: Half of them are heading back.
MATTHEWS: Imagine being in Iraq, coming home alive and feeling God is on your side, you‘re going to make it in life, you are going to have a decent lifespan, and then to know, with your family—I talked to these mothers and wives.
MATTHEWS: I said, they‘re going back in. And it is worse now than it was when they were there the first time. You would be very proud of these guys, these Marines, I‘ll tell you.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll be back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for a meeting of our HARDBALL war council.
And right now, NBC‘s Campbell Brown joins us with a preview of her special tonight at 9:00 Eastern.
CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chris.
Coming up at 9:00, an MSNBC special report. We‘ll be coming to you
from Baghdad with the latest on the upcoming Iraqi election. It is the
first time in half-a-century that competitive elections have been held
here. But, as the violence continues, will the campaign of fear and
intimidation derail the election? We‘ll look at what is at stake and also
the people who are running for office and risking their lives
And we‘ll talk with America‘s top military commander in Iraq and the troops in the field who are trying to keep the peace. That‘s tonight at 9:00 -- Chris.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s “Iraq Votes” with Campbell Brown in Baghdad in one hour at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
And on Sunday, join us for HARDBALL‘s special two-hour coverage of the Iraqi election, beginning at 6:00 Eastern.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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