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updated 3/22/2011 12:21:34 PM ET 2011-03-22T16:21:34

Guests: Lee Cowan, David Corn, Eugene Robinson, Amanda Drury, Richard Engel, Mark Halperin, Michael Capuano, Jim McDermott, Abderrahim Foukara, Bobby Ghosh,

David Albright

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  So what‘s the plan for Gadhafi?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Attack on Libya.  As NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski said yesterday on “MEET THE PRESS,” forget the idea that this is a coalition at work.  This is a mission commanded and largely carried out by the U.S. military.  So now the questions.  Who talked President Obama into fighting in a country we have no particular vital interests in?  Are we trying to avoid another Rwanda?  Are protecting civilians, or are we taking sides?  Do we want to dump Gadhafi?  Have we offered Gadhafi a way out, a safe conduct perhaps to Venezuela?  Would we allow him to survive as the king of Tripoli, if you will?  And most important, what (ph) does this end and how does it end?  Where does it end?  We‘ll get a report from Libya and try to figure out what turned President Obama around on this issue.

Also, the politics.  The president‘s getting hit, as you might expect, from the right for waiting too long and from the left for doing it at all.  How about those who haven‘t said it, but will, that he‘s not doing enough? 

We‘ll let both sides, all sides, take their swings tonight.

And what to make out of the old Arab League which begged us to come into this fight and now seems to be having second thoughts?  Where‘s that massive call from the Arab street for us to be doing what we‘re doing?  The view from the street in the Arab world tonight.

Plus, the other huge story is out of Japan, where the latest news from Japan is not encouraging.  Smoke out of the two reactors forced workers out of the area today, and now traces of radiation have been found in water, in sea water, and in food.

Finally, you know things are getting bad for Sarah Palin when she criticizes President Obama in India over his handling of Libya and gets bashed by conservatives for being out of her depth—conservatives, mind you—and for being illiterate on foreign affairs.  We‘ll check in on Palin‘s not so excellent foreign adventure.

We start with the war in Libya.  NBC‘s Richard Engel, the best in the business, joins us from Tobruk, a word we grew up with from World War II.  It‘s now involved in this new war?  What is happening in this war?  I can‘t ask a wider question, Richard.  What is going on in the war?  Are we going after Gadhafi?  What are we doing in this war exactly, do we know?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The rebels here think we are giving them unconditional military support.  Their only strategy seems to be allow the U.S. and other military powers to scorch the earth and destroy Gadhafi‘s military so that they can make a very slow advance toward Tripoli.

They do see there was a humanitarian element to this because if Gadhafi forces had been allowed to enter Benghazi or Tobruk, there very likely could have been massacres.  But now they think—this rebel movement, which is leaderless and disorganized, believes it has been recognized and given the full support of the United States military.

MATTHEWS:  Are we giving arms of any kind, small arms, artillery, armor?  What are we giving to the rebels, anything?

ENGEL:  I‘ve been—I have seen no indication that we‘re giving the rebels anything.  They seem to be holding weapons that they seized from the units of Gadhafi that were destroyed by the Americans.  They‘re armed with -- sometimes they‘re armed with just pocket knives sometimes.  One—I saw a rebel today, and I was shocked by this, who was carrying a pistol, and he was holding it in his hand, swinging it around like in an old Western movie.

And they‘re—the rebels are in two groups.  There are the volunteers.  They seem to be a little bit braver.  They‘re the ones heading out to the front lines.  They‘re not having a lot of success.  But that‘s one group.  The other group are the divisions of the army, formerly Gadhafi‘s army, that defected, and they are not really doing very much of anything.  In Tobruk today, we went to the main army command to talk to one of the top generals here who defected and supposedly joined the rebellion.  He was at home today and had taken the day off.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who‘s going to be the Lawrence of Arabia, if you will, or the Arab Lawrence of Arabia, the person who comes forward and says, I can lead this band of—this motley crew of rebels and turn it into a fighting force and really make a serious run on Tripoli?

ENGEL:  That person has yet to emerge.  And I guess here in Libya, it would be the Omar al Mukhtar (ph).  That‘s their national hero.  But there is—there hasn‘t—that person hasn‘t come forward.  The rebels don‘t really even know who their commanders are.  Communications are very poor.  Cell phones barely work.  They don‘t have specific orders or even tactics.

So unless someone emerges, a strong, unifying figure, it seems to be a very haphazard approach, following where the American and other military strikes have been, and the rebels sort of creep forward and see if they can advance territory.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the Western command now, the efforts by the allies, French, American and British fighter pilots or bombers and our Tomahawk missiles.  The fighting tonight—what has the attack—what‘s been going on?  What‘s the order of battle?  What do we have in the fight right now from the Western side?

ENGEL:  Well, what we‘ve seen is mostly the evidence, so it‘s difficult to know on the ground what exactly has been fired.  We know that Tomahawk missiles have been fired.  We know that there have been American fighter jets in the air.  Most of the attacks have been on two main targets, the army units and the armored artillery and tanks that are on the outskirts of major population centers, which fits with the mission of protecting the population.  So they‘ve been destroying artillery and tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi, on the road between Tobruk and Ajdabia, and the rebels are deeply appreciative of that because it allows them to at least try and make an advance.

The other targets have been primarily around Tripoli, where the air defense and command and control centers are.  But exactly all the different units and which carriers, the naval ships they‘re being fired from, it‘s hard to tell where from where I‘m standing.

MATTHEWS:  The attacks on Gadhafi‘s command and control center seem to

well, they certainly remind me of Reagan‘s attack which almost killed Gadhafi, killed members of his family, I believe one of his daughters, back in the ‘80s.  And my question now is, is there a sense within the rebel force you‘re surrounded by—are those—do those people believe that we‘re going for the kill, Gadhafi?

ENGEL:  They hope so.  And that‘s what they want.  They seem to think there can be a few ways to end this conflict.  The U.S. could continue to trailblaze for them and scorch the earth and they can try and move forward, and they think that if they—if this continues, they can reach Tripoli in a relative amount of—relatively reasonable amount of time, perhaps weeks or a few months.  Or if there‘s enough pressure, there could be some sort of coup within Tripoli itself, where someone would come out and assassinate Gadhafi.  Or the third option would be one of these missile strikes actually comes and kills Gadhafi.

If none of those things happen, then there could be a very long stalemate.  Once the U.S. starts this, once the U.S. and other powers begin to provide the rebels with a safe haven with air cover, it‘s very hard to take that away because if you‘re offering the protection and they try and advance, they will advance.  And as soon as you take that air cover away, the rebels are very likely going to start losing again, and we‘re back to the situation where we were, where the main cities are threatened with being overrun.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there we are.  Thank you.  A nice report from NBC‘s Richard Engel in Libya—Tobruk, exactly.

Let‘s go to MSNBC senior political analyst Mark Halperin.  Mark, I‘d love you to unwrap this package and try to explain how we went from a recalcitrant president of a couple days ago, who seemed to be pretty much ready to watch this thing, to a guy who‘s in there with everything.  What happened?

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, Chris, there are a lot of moving parts, as you know.  Government policies like this are made some by careful consideration and formal meetings, but there‘s a lot of chaos involved and a lot of unpredictability.  There‘s lots of steps along the way we could point to.

The Arab League voting, kind of in an organic way, not as best I can tell with a lot of American encouragement—their voting that there should be this kind of action taken was a huge move.  You also look at the role of the French.  We don‘t normally think of French as leading a big military move.  But in this case, they did, for whatever reason.  There are different theories about that.

But once the French wanted action at the U.N. and aggressively in the region, that made a big difference.  And then I‘d say you‘ve got to look at two other big factors.  One is the United Nations.  Pretty surprising that China and Russia, both of whom have had words today, kind of pulled back their support for this, but neither of whom chose to exercise a veto at the U.N.  That might not have happened.  You never would have gotten a resolution through, obviously, if either of those countries had moved.

And then finally, I‘d say Egypt.  Look at the example of Egypt.  And this is something that the president and his advisers have discussed.  In the case of Mubarak, he—rather than turning on his people and using force to try to quell the rebellion, he left somewhat under pressure, obviously, but voluntarily, in effect, without having to be forcibly removed.

There was worry in the White House that if this stood, if Gadhafi was able to basically thumb his nose at the region and the world and stayed in power after using violence, it would set an example unlike the Mubarak example to other strongmen in the region, stay and fight and you can survive.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Susan Rice, our ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, who is with the National Security Council.

We‘re getting the report from “The Washington Post”—we‘ve all ready it, within—quote, “Within hours of Gadhafi turning back the rebellion, Mrs. Clinton”—that‘s the secretary of state—“and the aides had convinced Mr. Obama that the United States had to act, and the president ordered up military plans.  The change became possible, though, only after Mrs. Clinton joined Samantha Power, a senior aid at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, Mr. Obama‘s ambassador to the U.N., who had been pressing the case for military actions.  In joining Ms. Rice and Ms. Power, Mrs. Clinton made an unusual break with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who along with national security adviser Thomas Donilon and the counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, had urged caution.  Libya was not vital to American national security interests, they said.  And Mr. Brennan worried that the Libyan rebels remained largely unknown to American officials and could have ties to al Qaeda.”

So it‘s an interesting thing.  I‘ve said for months on this show, it‘s no—it doesn‘t take a genius to say it—that the key to this administration is the coalition, the alliance between Secretary of State Clinton and, I guess, perforce, her husband, who‘s still a political figure in this country, and the president.  Here, it looks like the secretary of state has been the leader.  Is that a fair estimate?

HALPERIN:  She‘s a leader in the sense that, in the end, her support was really important.  But she came late to this, unlike Samantha Power and unlike Susan Rice, Secretary Clinton had to be convinced.  I‘m told she was swayed by the Arab League‘s vote.  I‘m told she was swayed by the meetings that she had in Europe.  And she would not have been advocating this unless that U.N. vote could get through.

And again, that goes back to the Russians and the Chinese.  And on the case of the Russians, I think you have to credit Secretary Clinton, the president and others for improving relations with the Russians to the point where their votes for things like this at the U.N. are no longer the shock they would have been just a few years ago.

Once she switched—it‘s very similar to Kosovo.  In the case of Kosovo, you had that same split between the State Department and the Pentagon.  The humanitarian impulse is, no question, something that all three of those women pushed.  And Secretary Clinton late to the game but very decisive in saying, with all those other things in place, the U.N., the Arab League, the Russians, she was for it, too.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, Mark, you‘re better at this than I am, usually, but I think you may be missing a point here.  Let‘s talk about Rwanda, the period—the incident in the 1990s when Bill Clinton, I‘ve been told—it‘s all secondhand, he‘s never told me personally, but I hear this from a lot of people—feels today very bad about the failure of us to intervene and stop that killing, that basically genocide going on in that country between the Tutus and the Hutsis.

I understand, of course, Susan Rice was back then assistant secretary for Africa.  There‘s a lot of history here between Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.  Did the president, the former president talk to Hillary Clinton, our secretary of state, and convince her, This is not one you want on your record, don‘t let another genocide occur on the watch of the United States, if we can stop it?  Do you believe that happened?  Do we have any evidence that it did?

HALPERIN:  I have no reporting that suggests that, Chris, but I will tell you—I‘ll say again—look, there‘s plenty of people in the administration, including the president and the secretary of state, whose impulse would be to stop violence against civilians anywhere in the world.  But I don‘t think either the president or Hillary Clinton would have gotten over that hurdle without the political cover that I talked about already.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

HALPERIN:  I think their impulse is there with or without Rwanda, and certainly supercharged by Rwanda.  And I‘m sure President Clinton feels the same way.  But I don‘t think you could do what they‘re doing now, this relatively limited action, unless you had the kind of political cover—

Russia, China, Arab League, NATO, U.N.—if you didn‘t have all that, I don‘t think the impulse would be strong enough for them to have acted even in this limited way.

MATTHEWS:  So all this keeps going back to the old question of 1939 to 1941, right, Mark?  Should we go in if we see genocide?  Should we go in?  And that‘s the question.  Thank you, Mark Halperin, for joining us.

HALPERIN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the political debate over Libya.  President

Obama is hearing it from both sides.  Not surprisingly, Republicans are

blaming him for not acting fast enough, while liberal Democrats are acting

well, they don‘t like him doing it at all.  They say he‘s acting like George W.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Four journalists, all with “The New York Times,” were held in Libya for nearly a week.  They‘ve been released.  The journalists—reporter Anthony Shadid, two photographers and a videographer—crossed into Tunisia earlier today.  They were captured last week by forces loyal to Gadhafi during fighting in eastern Libya, released to the Turkish ambassador in Tripoli.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  The president is acting outside of the authority of the Constitution.  There is no question about that whatsoever.  A decision was made to take American forces into a war.  He didn‘t consult with Congress.  And that‘s a matter of fact.  Now, what the consequences are politically, you know, we‘ll see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich today on MSNBC.  Some members of Congress are questioning the constitutionality of the president‘s orders for U.S. military action in Libya, just like Kucinich was.  At the same time, other members, the Republicans mainly, think the president hasn‘t acted quickly or strongly enough.  For example, here‘s South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham on “Fox News Sunday.”  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I think the president has caveated this way too much.  It‘s almost like it‘s a nuisance.  This is a great opportunity to replace a tyrannical dictator who is not a legitimate leader who is an international crook.  And we should seize the moment and talk about replacing him, not talking about how limited we will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re now joined by two Democratic members of Congress on the issue with different sides represented right now, Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, from the 8th district up there, and Congressman Jim McDermott from Washington state.

Gentlemen, I like having you both on because I normally agree with both of you, but both of you don‘t agree right now, so I find this a wonderful description of what we‘re fighting on the liberal-progressive side on a tough, tough issue.

Briefly state your view.  Mr. Capuano first and then Mr. McDermott.  Just tell me your basic hunch, your gut feeling about what‘s going on right now and our actions over there.  Sir, Mr. Capuano, first.

REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Very simply, the president could have and should have come to Congress to discuss it with us, to give us the information, to see how we felt.  And if he decided to go in absent that, all well and good.  But I think you have two problems.  Number one is he didn‘t come to Congress, which I think the Constitution requires.  And number two, if you‘re going to go in—if you‘re going to go in for a dime, you better go in for a dollar.  There‘s no halfway measure when it comes to war and peace.

MATTHEWS:  Would you have voted yea or nay if he‘d asked for help?

CAPUANO:  It‘s hard to say.  I don‘t have much information.  All I know is what‘s been in the media.  Right now...

MATTHEWS:  Well, knowing what you know now, would you have gone in?

CAPUANO:  I would vote no as of the moment, but I would subject that to learning more information from the president.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mr. McDermott, yea or nay on the president‘s actions?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON:  I think the president has acted very judiciously.  I got a call a week ago Friday from a professor from the University of Washington who is now over in Libya in the provisional council, the government.  And he said to me, Please get your—get us recognition and get us a no-fly zone.

Now, the president acted very carefully.  The first week, he wanted to get all Americans out of Libya so we didn‘t wind up with hostages.  And then he went—made sure that he went to the United Nations and got the backing of the United Nations before he went in there.

Contrast that with George Bush blundering into Iraq without the United Nations, all by himself; we are going to do it all alone; and we‘re still there eight years and two days later.  And I think the president acted properly in the way he started. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let me go back now to Mr. Capuano. 

What would you be saying—I may with be you hunch-wise, but would you be saying two days after, a day after a massacre in Benghazi?  Had Gadhafi marched in there with his troops and his airplanes overhead and just started slaughtering people there, because they were what he called germs—that‘s what he is calling his rebels now rebels, insects—what would you be saying then? 

CAPUANO:  I would be asking whether the United States is the policeman to the world.  And maybe we should go in.

But, at the same time, massacres have happened in the past and we haven‘t done anything, and not just Rwanda, in Sudan, in Darfur, in the Congo as we speak. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why don‘t we stop not doing anything? 

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUANO:  Well, that‘s a fair question.  And I think that deserves and demands a long—not a long, but a legitimate discussion with the American people. 

Is that the new policy?  If it is, I think it‘s a fair policy, but I think that we have to have a consistent and open discussion on this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  You want consistency.  Well, how about we go in when we can and we can‘t go in when we can‘t?

CAPUANO:  I mean, that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, obviously, we don‘t want to go into Bahrain.  But if we can go into one place, why not go into a place where we can do some good? 

CAPUANO:  That‘s a—that‘s a fair point.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I argue with my wife.  I always say that the perfect is the enemy of good. 

CAPUANO:  Not looking for perfect.

MATTHEWS:  How about just doing what you can? 

CAPUANO:  And I...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s wrong with that? 

CAPUANO:  And I think that‘s fair.  But the question is, who—how do we decide when that can be done?  I think the Congress has a role in that place—position by the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You said something very interesting, Mr. Capuano.  And I want to go to Mr. McDermott with that.

You said, if you‘re in for a dime, in for a dollar.  That‘s another phrase, like perfect is the enemy of the good, I have been having battling around in my now head.  If you‘re going to go in, aren‘t we—shouldn‘t we try to get either Gadhafi out of the country, send him to Venezuela, where he can hang out and hug Hugo Chavez and have a good time, or knock him off, one or the other?

But it seems like he is going to be there for months, if not—Mr.  McDermott, that‘s a pretty good question.  Are we going to let that guy sit there while we do our neat little no-fly zone, and he‘s sitting there knocking people off in basements and alleys in Tripoli? 

MCDERMOTT:  Well, I think, Chris, that you‘re now talking about the discussion that has to happen in the Congress as to how much we‘re going to support the United Nations. 

I remember during the Croatia—the early days in Yugoslavia when Croatians were coming into my office, saying, you must arm us.  We‘re going to be destroyed by this guy Milosevic.  And we didn‘t do anything then.  And ultimately we went in Kosovo.  And then the same—I was in the airport with Clinton when he—when he apologized to the Rwandans over the fact that they didn‘t come in and do anything in that.  So...

MATTHEWS:  I know.  OK, bottom line, should we knock off this guy or let him go or do something to end this war quick, or let it linger for months?  Your answer? 

MCDERMOTT:  My answer is to give the Libyans an opportunity to establish their own government.  And I don‘t think we can go in and knock off people.  The idea of knocking off Saddam Hussein, what did that get us?  It got us a civil war...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you, how about giving him a ticket to—how about giving him a ticket and a tanker, enough gas to get him to Venezuela? 

(LAUGHTER)

MCDERMOTT:  Well, I would certainly be willing to do that.  But I don‘t think that we should...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m for that.  That‘s the best thing in the world.  Let him do that. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUANO:  That has to be the question, Chris, is, if we‘re going to do this, we have to go either all the way—this half-measure has never worked. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you... 

CAPUANO:  It didn‘t work in Vietnam.  It didn‘t work in Afghanistan. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Americans hate slow wars.  They get disinterested in them. 

They get dismayed.

And what happens is, you start killing a lot of innocent people.

MCDERMOTT:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s all on Al-Jazeera.  We‘re going to have Al-Jazeera on in a few minutes.  And they just watch Americans, either us killing Arabs or Arabs killing Arabs, and it never ends. 

I mean, Mr. McDermott, your thoughts.  Can we end this quickly, one last shot at this, or not? 

MCDERMOTT:  I don‘t think—I don‘t think we know enough nor do we know how to end it quickly.  This will be ended by the Libyans one way or another. 

But we have to give the rebels a chance, a fair fight.  They can‘t—they have no fair fight when they have air—aircraft coming in and bombing them and... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

MCDERMOTT:  ... and strafing them.

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear...

MCDERMOTT:  Let them—let them fight it out on the ground.

MATTHEWS:  Did you just hear that report—but did you just hear that report from Richard Engel?  He said they don‘t have a leader.  They don‘t have a Lawrence of Arabia.  They don‘t have a hero leader yet.  They don‘t have anybody that can put their act together there. 

Your thoughts, last thought?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You still think they can win this? 

MCDERMOTT:  I do.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCDERMOTT:  I talked to this man who went over there...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Got to go.

MCDERMOTT:  ... from the business department to run their economy. 

MATTHEWS:  I love talking to two smart people that disagree. 

Thank you, Mr. Capuano.

CAPUANO:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Mr. McDermott, for joining us on HARDBALL. 

Up next:  Afghanistan, Iraq and now, well, here we go, number three.  What‘s the view of the Arab street about the fact that we‘re at war with yet another Muslim country?  It looks to me like the Westerners, the white guys, going into the Middle East again.

And why does the Arab League, which asked us to come in, seem very quiet now?  Where are those guys?  Aren‘t they fighting this war?  They got us into this thing. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The head of the Arab League, which supported the no-fly zone in Libya, is now walking away—or walking back statements, rather, that he made this weekend criticizing the coalition efforts in Libya. 

So, will we see Arab countries stand up and take part in this operation, or will it continue to be led by the French, the British and the Americans? 

Bobby Ghosh is a deputy international editor for “TIME” magazine, and Abed (ph) Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera. 

Abed, I guess the Americans feel that this was a tough call.  And I think it is a tough call.  And I make the argument either way.  Do we let a leader like—who lost his legitimacy like Gadhafi slaughter that people who are in opposition to him right in front of international television, or do we go in there and become the big shots again, which we really don‘t need to be in that part of the world? 

Well, how does the Arab world look at this?  Can you speak for the Arab street on this?  Do you know what they are saying out there in the cafes? 

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, AL-JAZEERA:  Well, I think everybody is in a pickle at the present time, because the Arab street, so-called Arab street, was extremely disturbed by reports of the slaughters that were happening before the vote in the Security Council, and really scared and worried about the prospects of what might—might happen if you get no military intervention to slap a no-fly zone and stop what looked like it was going to be certain slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, where—were they for—did they want us to go in or not go in? 

FOUKARA:  Well, they wanted protection of those people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there ain‘t no Santa Claus. 

FOUKARA:  There is no Santa Claus.

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s us or nobody. 

(CROSSTALK)

FOUKARA:  It‘s—it‘s a tough call, especially after reports from Tripoli that there have been military—that there have been civilian casualties. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, can‘t they clear their heads and make a decision in the Arab street? 

FOUKARA:  It‘s tough one, even for the Arab League. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, it doesn‘t do any good to keep saying it‘s a tough one.

(CROSSTALK)

FOUKARA:  It‘s—it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Over the weekend, the Arab League‘s secretary-general, Amr Moussa—this is what he said—he told the Egyptian state TV he was concerned about Libya—quote—“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone.  And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”

So, he was taking a shot at the campaign he organized.  And then today, he backtracked, the leader of the Arab League.  He said he was misinterpreted over the weekend and that he was now committed to the Arab League‘s support for the no-fly zone and that—quote—“We are committed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.  We have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory.”

Well, let me go to Bobby Ghosh.  What is this back and forth, could we, should we, are we, aren‘t we?  What is this?  Is this trying to get it both ways in the Arab street by the Arab spokesperson? 

BOBBY GHOSH, DEPUTY INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, “TIME”:  Chris, you need to remember one thing about Amr Moussa.  Here‘s a man who is standing for president in a few months.  He‘s playing absolutely to both sides of the street.

Just as you wouldn‘t take what Newt Gingrich says seriously because you know he has to appeal to a certain audience, I think the same holds true for Amr Moussa.  He wants to have it both ways.  He wants to be able to say:  I was instrumental in helping this no-fly zone happening.

And then if things were to go horribly wrong, he can also say:  Look, I did warn against civilian casualties. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the feeling in the Arab world about the role that Arabs can play in toppling a sovereign leader?  Whatever else he is, he‘s been a familiar face for 40 years, Abed—Gadhafi.

FOUKARA:  I think—I—I don‘t think there‘s anybody in the Arab world who takes seriously the idea that, at this particular point in the game, only Arabs can handle this, without Western support. 

MATTHEWS:  But do they support playing a part in taking him down? 

FOUKARA:  Well, some—a lot of people would like him—would like him gone.  There are a lot of people in the Arab world, they want...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is so mystical.  Somebody has to get rid of that guy. 

FOUKARA:  Somebody has got to get rid of it, but they know that the capability of Arabs themselves to do it is not there.

MATTHEWS:  How about Arabs helping get rid of him?  Do they want to play that part, or do they want the Westerners to do their dirty work?

FOUKARA:  I think what a lot of people are wishing for, now that the no-fly zone is in place and that they‘re—what is going on in Libya is going on, they want the rebels, the Libyans themselves to try and get rid of him, while other Arabs and Westerners provide cover. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Richard Engel is reporting in the field, Bobby Ghosh, that the Arabs who are fighting the Arabs in Libya, the rebels, would like to win.  But at the same time, he points out they don‘t quite have the military leadership that is required to take on a Gadhafi, who still has the army behind him, or a lot of it. 

GHOSH:  I think the best-case scenario here, Chris, is that if the West can tighten the noose around Gadhafi‘s neck, both with the military action and with the other sanctions, the best bet here is if other elements of his forces defect and come over to the rebel side. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GHOSH:  That would have been possible 10, 15 days ago.  Now it looks a little less likely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what the Allies did when we took—as if I were part of it—took—took Paris in World War II.  They let—they set it up, and then they let the French Second Army go in. 

MATTHEWS:  Leclerc and de Gaulle were able to take back their French capital. 

FOUKARA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But it was really kind of fake...

FOUKARA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... because the—the war had been won to that point by the British, French and the Canadians and the Russians on the other front. 

FOUKARA:  Yes.  Well, I mean, the thing about Gadhafi is that he comes across on one the hand as being crazy.  But, on the other hand, he also comes across as being a brilliant strategist. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FOUKARA:  Listen to his speech...

MATTHEWS:  What do you think he is?

FOUKARA:  ... before the Security Council resolution, repeating that...

MATTHEWS:  Is he crazy like a fox? 

FOUKARA:  He‘s crazy like a fox.  He wanted his opponents to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, I think his I.Q. is rising the more time you give him. 

(CROSSTALK)

FOUKARA:  ... saying he will deal positively with the Security Council.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s eating better, probably drinking better, thinking better than he was a couple weeks ago, when he looked really crazy. 

Anyway, I think—I think we‘re giving this guy more time to get—to shake—shake out of his doldrums. 

Anyway, thank you, Abed Foukara and Bobby Ghosh.  Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.  It‘s a murky time. 

Up next:  From the attack on Libya to the crisis in Japan, it‘s been slow going for workers trying to avoid meltdown at that damaged nuclear plant after one of the reactors started smoking today—the latest on the race against the clock in Japan.  That‘s still a hot front over there.  Wait until you hear what is going on.  It‘s getting worse. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL tonight, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Amanda Drury with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Well, stocks extending their winning streak to three in a row now, the Dow Jones industrial soaring 178 points to finish back above 12000, the S&P 500 adding 19, and the Nasdaq jumping by 48. 

Well, a true M&A Monday enticing investors back into the market in a big way.  AT&T is paying $39 billion for T-Mobile USA.  It is the biggest deal of the year so far and will add an estimated 34 million customers.  Rival Verizon shares ticked up, with analysts saying the deal could present new opportunities if AT&T moves to raise T-Mobile‘s bargain rates. 

And (INAUDIBLE) Leap Wireless surging 15 percent on notions it is looking like the next big takeover target.  Meantime, Qualcomm got the go-ahead from Wi-Fi chipmaker Atheros Communications for a proposed $3.1 billion buyout.  And Charles Schwab will buy its smaller rival, OptionsXpress for about a billion dollars. 

And that‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now it‘s back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A setback today in Japan‘s nuclear disaster.  Smoke emanating from the reactors number two and number three resulted in workers being evacuated and efforts to get plant under control were halted.  Radiation contamination for the crippled plant has been—has affected area food supply and trace radiation has been found in the seawater around there. 

NBC‘s Lee Cowan is in Seoul, Korea with the latest. 

Lee, it just seems like a bad day in terms of this nuclear problem over there. 

LEE COWAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it was. 

They were certainly making some progress.  They were happy about the fact that they had restored some power.  They were happy that some of the reactors, number five and six, that weren‘t really a big issue early on are now pretty much considered stable.

But then, all of a sudden, we had this smoke coming from reactor number two.  They were not sure what it was.  They evacuated the workers.  About two hours later, the smoke dissipated.  They thought everything was OK.  And then more smoke started coming from reactor number two.  They‘re still not exactly sure what it was. 

They don‘t think it was from that spent fuel pool, however.  There are a lot of things that could be burning in there that are not necessarily radioactive, but the radioactive readings did spike.  And so that‘s why they had to pull everybody back. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that there‘s contamination now, evidence of contamination, in the food supply, the milk?  Milk always seems to go first.  From growing up, it was always strontium 90 we worried about. 

Now the seawater in the area, is this the—does this radiation just keep spreading?  Does it dissipates as it spreads, or does it stay dangerous? 

COWAN: LEE COWAN, NBC NEWS:  It does dissipate a bit as it spreads.  But this is an indication from the World Health Organization that this may be a bit more serious than a lot of people thought just because of how far away the contamination was.  The Japanese government moved to ban the distributing of that milk and then today, four other prefectures decided that they would also ban the distribution of spinach in order to keep that out of the food chain.

It‘s a very delicate line the government is walking here.  On one hand, they‘re saying, “Look, we‘re going to ban these.  We‘re going to make sure they‘re not going to get in the food chain.”  At the same time, they‘re telling everybody that the risk of contamination is very, very low, that these are such miniscule amounts.  They use the analogy that you would have to eat a year‘s worth of that spinach just to get what you would get in one CAT scan.

So, it‘s not something that they are seeing as lethal by any stretch of the imagination.  But, you know, there are certainly a lot of folks remembering back to what happened in Chernobyl and a lot of kids especially who ate contaminated food ended up with problems with their thyroid later on.  So, certainly, it‘s a cause for concern.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, thyroid cancer is the real leading indicator of radiation spreading dangerously.

Thank you, Lee Cowan in Seoul, South Korea.

David Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security and he was a nuclear weapons inspector.  He‘s with me now.

David, thank you so much.

What can you add to that?  I mean, I just think the American people keep saying, they don‘t mean it sarcastically—so what?  What does this mean?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INT‘L SECURITY:  For Japan, it means a lot.  The government has to try to keep the risk of cancer down because you‘re particularly worry about infants and young children who‘re going to be drinking a lot of milk and are going to get higher—much higher doses.  And so, hat you said there, it is the indicator.

MATTHEWS:  What happened in Chernobyl?  We just mentioned it.

ALBRIGHT:  Well, a lot of kids ended up with—and people ended up with thyroid cancer.  They didn‘t use protective measures.  The population went ahead and drank the milk and ate the food.

MATTHEWS:  Because the Russian—the Soviet government didn‘t care about the people.

ALBRIGHT:  Well, they didn‘t do enough.  And so, I think the Japanese government wants to do that now.  And yes, and while the doses may appear small, but we don‘t really know all the facts and people do eat year in and year out.  And so, if you don‘t take these protective measures then the doses can accumulate and become more problematic.  The one thing I would add on the iodine, which is the risk in the milk for, particularly thyroid, it‘s a short-term risk.  In a month or two, the iodine is decayed away.

MATTHEWS:  How are they going to end this whole mess over there?  How are they going—are they going to seal up these reactors?  What‘s the end game here?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, one thing that became clear this weekend, the government said they are not going to operate these reactors again.  So, it‘s an end game now.  I think it looks like the utility and government are getting control.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) now?  Concrete?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, it‘s getting spent fuel out.  You want to get control.  And today was a blow.  I mean, it really was a blow to their effort.  And in a sense, they scurried for protection fearing radiation exposure.  And so, it‘s very unstable.

But it looks like it‘s much better than last week.  And so, it looks like they are now starting to enter the end game to get control, stability, and then try to clean up this mess and hopefully get as much of the radioactive spent fuel out as possible to dispose of in a better way than just entombing in forever.

MATTHEWS:  Where were you on nuclear energy?

ALBRIGHT:  My institute is—we‘re not involved in the debate.  I mean, we‘ve been—we‘ve supported, for example, Iran having a nuclear power plant in order to convince it to give up its facilities that could be used to make nuclear weapons.  We‘re certainly rethinking that.  You can imagine how this would play out in Iran or in other developing countries where Japan has three sources.

MATTHEWS:  They wouldn‘t know how to handle it.

ALBRIGHT:  I don‘t think so.  And they have a reactor in Iran that has some problems—already have had failed equipment in the emergency cooling system.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s times like this that people need squares—the engineers, the guys and women who just devote their lives to the details and the cool back systems that we need the backups.

Thanks so much, David Albright.

ALBRIGHT:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Sarah Palin, now for a little candy tonight.  I‘m never serious when we‘re talking about her.  She‘s over in India and Israel, the new I-trip.  It used to be Ireland, Italy and Israel.  Now, it‘s Israel and India, I guess.  Going around, getting herself ready for a presidential campaign.

Well, she‘s being hit for rambling incoherent thoughts on foreign policy from the right.  Her excellent adventure ain‘t going so well.  Let‘s catch up with Sarah.  She‘s in Israel right.  We‘re going to get the latest on her trip to prove she‘s got the right stuff.

HARDBALL coming back, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Tim Pawlenty is the latest Republican to get in the race for the White House.  He‘s in it.  The former Minnesota governor has announced he formed an exploratory committee.  That‘s a sign he‘s in, which he allows him to start raising money and hire campaign staff.

Pawlenty has been going hard right in recent as he struggles for name recognition against better known Republican rivals.  He wants to bring back DADT, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  That‘s a smart move that win the right over.  It doesn‘t make him look too smart himself, though.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.

Little candy now.  During a paid trip in India—paid speech actually in India—former Governor Palin on Saturday insisted she would not slam a sitting president on foreign soil.  Then, in the same breath, she did just that.

Here‘s Palin on what she would have done differently than President Obama on Libya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  The U.S. has a tradition, of course, of Americans as we travel to foreign soil, we don‘t criticize our president‘s foreign policy.  Even as friendly as soil as India is, I won‘t criticize what his foreign policy has been.  But to answer your question, certainly there would have been more decisiveness—less dithering and more decisiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not criticizing.  After leaving India, Palin yesterday stopped in Israel where she visits the Western Wall, a part of anybody‘s trip over there.  She also had dinner tonight with Bibi Netanyahu.

And for more on Palin‘s trip abroad, her world tour, so to speak, we turn to MSNBC political analyst David Corn of “Mother Jones” magazine and MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson of “Washington Post.”

I guess the bottom line is, it used to be before you travel and you ran in Democratic primaries, you‘d go to Italy, Ireland and Israel, to get all the ethnic groups.  Now, you just go to—you go to Israel if you‘re a right winger and salute the right wing guy who is the prime minister of the country and do your right wing thing, and you skip the religious sites the Holy Church, the Holy Sepulcher, or things like that, and just make it purely political.

Your thoughts?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well—and while she was

there, she made it a point to mention that she had lots of—not just one

but lots of Israeli flags in her office, in her house.  I don‘t know, maybe in her bedroom.

      

This was pandering.  This was pandering to the right wing, which is very pro-Israel.

MATTHEWS:  Did she tell them their role in the end of the days?  Did she bring them up-to-date?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did her bring them up-to-date on the role that Israel shall play?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.  They have a role to play in the whole evangelical—

CORN:  Until the very end.

ROBINSON:  She was wearing a Star of David, I think I read at some point, which is kind of interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This coalition between the right and Israel—the evangelical right of the United States—is not founded on personal friendships or anything like that, or even values.  It‘s founded on some kind of weird, right wing thing where you just high-five each other over there at the Western Wall and then that‘s done for their trip.

CORN:  But there is a theological component which Gene was saying, which is there‘s a certain brand of evangelical Christians who believe in Revelation, that Armageddon is coming and that will happen in Israel, basically when the—

MATTHEWS:  If they hold the West Bank.

CORN:  If they hold—well, there‘s a lot of different components to that.  But that‘s why they like Israel.  That‘s why they want Israel to be strong.  It‘s not because they like—it‘s not because they like Jews or Israelis.

MATTHEWS:  But who knows what they like.  It‘s about this Armageddon thing.

ROBINSON:  The other part is, of course, you don‘t go to the—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did she skip?  She skipped Bethlehem.  She skipped the easy ones.

ROBINSON:  Well, my point was, that you kind of suddenly or not so suddenly bash the Arabs, bash the Muslims over there as well.  And—

MATTHEWS:  But she is Christian.  She skipped the Church of Holy Sepulcher and Bethlehem.  Jesus was born and where he died.  Why would you skip that?

ROBINSON:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.

CORN:  Well, maybe—but she also—she chastised the Israelis for always apologizing.  So, she went there and she was more right wing than the right wing Israelis.

MATTHEWS:  Israelis have never suffered from a lack of ego.

(CROSSSTALK)

CORN:  You guys are apologizing.

ROBINSON:  I missed that whole apologetic chapter.

CORN:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let‘s get back to this.  I thought she wasn‘t running two or three weeks ago.  This looks to me like a run-up to get her bona fides in order for running.  Why else would she be doing this whole—this whole trip, this schlep?

CORN:  Well, who knows?  I think she wants to keep herself in a position to run.  And there‘s always this talk that, you know, the candidates take their foreign policy laps and they become, you know, seen in a more serious manner.  But that‘s like Charlie Sheen making a video and we call it Shakespeare.  I don‘t think this is going to make any bit of difference in how people see Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS:  It used to be—here, she was asked in 2008, in the McCain presidential campaign‘s messaging problems.  Catch Palin‘s response to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I wasn‘t the top of the ticket.  Remember?  I‘m not saying that I should have been.  I‘m just saying—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you plan on being at the top of the ticket?

PALIN:  Oh, gosh!  I knew you were going to ask me that eventually. 

Don‘t know yet.  Don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t get it.

ROBINSON:  As David said, she‘s keeping our options open.  She obviously enjoys this game and this attention.  Her numbers are getting worse and worse.

MATTHEWS:  She would have beaten Barack Obama if she was the top of the ticket?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Well, that‘s certainly what she implied.  That‘s certainly what she implied.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  But her numbers are getting worse and worse even within the Republican Party in terms of her ability to get the nomination, much less to win a general election.  Her negatives are extremely high.

So, logically, if these numbers progress or stay where they are now, at some point, she decides she‘s not going to run.  Now, I don‘t know if you can say “logically” and “Sarah Palin‘s political decisions” in the same sentence.  So, I don‘t know what she‘s going to do.  But logically—

MATTHEWS:  What does she study Bobby Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller?  A lot of people go into politics who were not geniuses.  They have above average I.Q.s, but then they work to become really good at policy.  They work at it.  That‘s how you get there.

You don‘t get there by popping around these speeches and these stupid money-making and these photo-ops.  You try to do your homework.  She‘s not doing—and, by the way, the people saying that are Bill Kristol and George Will, people like that.

CORN:  The problem that came up with the Katie Couric interview, fair or not, which was now, what, 2 ½ years ago, she has not solved.  But more importantly, to your point, it doesn‘t look like she‘s made an effort to deal with that.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not hard to learn.

CORN:  No, it‘s not hard.  I don‘t think it‘s not hard to come across as trying to learn either.

MATTHEWS:  You know, picking up the newspaper in the morning and picking up something like “The Economist” or reading a serious journal once in a while, you can become pretty smart.

ROBINSON:  Reading a book.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s too high a standard.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Corn and Eugene Robinson.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with some questions about our missions in Libya.  I got some big ones that are coming off of Friday.  I am one of the skeptics, Howie Kurtz.  I am.  You say there‘s no skeptics?  I‘m one of them.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the same question I asked on Friday—what is the real mission in Libya?  Not the no-fly zone—that‘s a method.  What‘s the mission?  How do we end this thing?

The president said in Santiago today that the military mission isn‘t aimed at getting rid of Gadhafi.  He said we have other means to do that—sanctions and money freezes and that stuff.

Well, excuse me for being skeptical, Mr. President, but we‘ve done all that before and regimes have survived it for years—many years.  I remember how many years we had white-ruled Rhodesia under sanctions.  When I was over there in the Peace Corps, I went to that country, it meant watching old movies instead of ones currently available in other countries.  No, it really didn‘t really work all that fast.

Americans don‘t like long wars. Are we going to be backing this military campaign in Libya for months or even years—with the French and the Brits and a token Arab force flying overhead while Gadhafi kills his people in alleys and basements below?  Are we going to wait for—excuse me—sanctions to work their will?

It doesn‘t ring true.  We went in there to stop a killer from massacring his people.  If he‘s set on doing it, he‘s got plenty of time now to find ways of doing it—if all we‘re doing is running sanctions against him.

So, we need to know more.  Perhaps there‘s a secret plan out there to overthrow Gadhafi.  Are we offering him safe-conduct to Venezuela?  Are we giving him a means to end this standoff?

Because if we‘re not doing any of this, it promises to be a long war, a standoff, where Gadhafi sacrifices more and more of his people to prolong his own rule, which he needs to prolong if he‘s going to prolong his own life.

I hope we have a plan here we‘re not talking about, because what we‘re seeing makes no sense.  We say we want to overthrow Gadhafi again but give him no place to escape.  If that‘s the nature of this contest, he will fight to the death—as most people would—and that will mean the deaths of countless people who would survive if we had a quicker, smarter plan that promised a quicker, smarter ending to this thing.

I don‘t like the looks of this campaign for the simple reason it looks like so many others.  In an effort to reduce our footprint, we‘re making it a far longer, more bloody journey to where we‘re headed in the end.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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