Guests: Richard Engel, Pat Buchanan, Howard Fineman, Ken Pollack, Jenny Backus, Joan Walsh, Johanna Neumann, Kate Sheppard
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Gadhafi, duck!
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Should he stay or should he go? Do we know why we‘re in Libya or what our mission is? Are we there to get rid of Gadhafi? Now that we‘re in there, are we going to get him out? The rebels are unlikely to do the job. It comes down to this. How do we save a country from Gadhafi if Gadhafi‘s still in charge? The U.S. mission in Libya is our top story tonight. What is that mission?
Plus: Is this war, if that‘s what it is, constitutional? Even allies of President Obama, like Connecticut‘s John Larson, say Congress should have been informed and involved in the decision to go in. Should the president have gotten the go-ahead from Congress?
Also, whatever happened to the bipartisan agreement that, well, the politics should stop at the water‘s edge? Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney are all ganging up with mushy statements criticizing the president‘s handling of Libya. Bet on this. They would have had even tougher attacks if he‘d done nothing.
And we learned today that regulators in Japan ignored safety warnings in one reactor and botched inspections at all six reactors shortly before the earthquake, and the tsunami, of course. Better question for us: Are we confident that the inspection system in this country is any better?
Finally, Donald Trump‘s foreign policy: Cheat Moammar Gadhafi out of his money. We‘ll get to that in the “Sideshow.”
We start with the deepening crisis in Libya. NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is standing by in Benghazi, Libya. Richard, the latest on the ground—yesterday, you were pessimistic about the ability of the troops in the rebel forces, that some who have military training aren‘t using it, those who don‘t have military training don‘t have the ability to fight this war. Any better sign of their ability to move on Tripoli today?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No. Still they are untrained, and they don‘t have the capability to really take territory. And this is something that the rebels themselves realize. I was speaking with some of the leaders of this revolt tonight and they were quite despondent. They recognize that the rebels need to be more disciplined. They need to be more organized.
They are starting to look for outside help. They want military advisers on the ground from the United States. They said they‘re willing to hire them, if necessary. But they recognize that if they don‘t get their acts together, they‘re not going to be able to advance territory.
Also, some new information about the pilots, of course, that being a big story today, the two pilots that ejected, the pilot and weapons officer. One, of course, was recovered by that Marine Osprey shortly after the aircraft went down. The other pilot, we are told by witnesses, was taken by the rebels and was taken to a hotel, actually very close to here. And he was very nervous. He was defensive. You can imagine what it would be like if you‘re up in the sky and then suddenly you‘re being picked up by rebels and taken to a hotel.
They tried to calm him down. He had some contusions on his leg, according to witnesses. They put him in a hotel suite. And he was stretched out on a couch. And then a few hours later—this all happening in the pre-dawn hours here in Libya—he was taken away in civilian cars and then later rescued.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the outlook for the rebels. You say they‘re despondent today because they don‘t have the military necessaries to get this done in terms of taking on Tripoli. Do they see the United States or anyone else at the other end of that country taking down Gadhafi, killing him, whatever? What do they see or think is happening to the leader of the country?
ENGEL: They want Gadhafi to go. But not just Gadhafi, also his son. A lot of the focus has been on Moammar Gadhafi himself, but really, it‘s Seif, his son, who—you know, the bald-headed son who‘s on television a lot—
ENGEL: -- ho has been running Libya for the last several years. So they think it‘s important to get rid of Gadhafi and his son and other members of Gadhafi‘s family that run military units.
They would love it here in Benghazi if Gadhafi were suddenly to be taken out. If not and the rebels have to do it themselves, they want the air strikes to continue, the missile strikes to continue. And if they can get it, they‘d like to have advisers on the ground from any country that can help them organize and launch an effective counteroffensive.
MATTHEWS: Well, who‘s going to be their Lawrence of Arabia or their Baron von Steuben, or whatever? Who‘s going to come to come in there, like we had help in our revolution—people from outside, from Europe, came and helped train us, people like Lafayette came in and help us—are they willing to take other Arab help? Or what is the sense of who‘s eligible to be their military adviser?
ENGEL: They might be willing to hire, according to people I spoke to, private military advisers. There are a lot of British former special forces. There are French former special forces, Americans who are in the private sector who do this kind of thing. There could be a variety of places where they get military expertise.
And the way advisers generally work—the U.S. special forces operate in 12 man A-teams, Alpha Teams that come in, they work behind the scenes and they tell rebel armies what to do, where to organize, how to organize, when to attack, where to place their troops. That‘s the kind of support that the rebels realize now that they need, and they‘ll take it probably from anywhere they can get it or wherever they can afford it.
MATTHEWS: OK, Richard Engel, great reporting again. Thank you—from Benghazi, Libya, with the rebels.
Ken Pollack is the director of the Sabin Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, the great Brookings Institution. He also was a Persian Gulf a military analyst for the CIA.
Ken, it‘s great to have you on tonight.
KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: And I guess you have in your head some of the answers perhaps to all the questions I have. How does a no-fly zone, even broadly defined—which includes going after command and control, taking shots at perhaps the compound of Gadhafi, doing everything, knocking out armor, tanks, tank columns—how does any of that end this war and bring the rebels into power and get rid of Gadhafi?
POLLACK: It doesn‘t, and that‘s the basic point. I mean, there was some hope, I think, on people‘s parts that maybe just the sheer application of force would cause somebody to put a bullet in Gadhafi‘s head. I think that that is becoming increasingly unlikely.
And the problem that we‘ve got now is we‘ve got a U.N. resolution that did nothing but say, We‘re going to set up a safe haven in eastern Libya, in Sirinica (ph), and it authorized the use of force. And by the way, we‘re way beyond a no-fly zone because, as you point out, we‘re also taking out ground troops.
POLLACK: There‘s no way—
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s—
MATTHEWS: It‘s not working. Do we want it to work in the long run? We may be wrong. Do we like the rebels? Are there al Qaeda elements in this rebel group? Are they the mujahedeen that could end up being al Qaeda? Could they transform badly once they got in power? Do we want them to win, if we think about it?
POLLACK: I think the answer is yes to all of those. I think we probably do want them to win just because the alternative is Gadhafi. That‘s a terrible idea. There‘s some rebels who clearly would like democracy, although it‘s not entirely clear they know what democracy is. There‘s also a bunch of tribesmen, and there is undoubtedly Salafi jihadists like al Qaeda in there.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about Salafi jihadists.
POLLACK: Well, Al Qaeda is a Salafi jihadist group. These are the ultraconservative, the Muslim fundamentalists. There‘s a group called the Libyan—
MATTHEWS: Have they been global in their reach? Have they gone out to get us? The old question—they may be enemies of the world, but have they gone after us?
POLLACK: Well, al Qaeda certainly has on 9/11.
MATTHEWS: But this group, Salafists?
POLLACK: The Libyan armed fighting group? No. They‘ve not come after us, but they‘re affiliated with al Qaeda. And you know, the biggest problem we‘ve got is—look, they‘re going to be in there. They‘re going to be part of the rebels, no what happens. But if the rebels don‘t get help from the U.S., from Europe, then they will get in bed with the Salafists.
MATTHEWS: Put together the report we—the reporting we just got from the best man in there, Richard Engel. He says that they want advisers. Now, we‘ve always talked about advisers. We were advisers in Vietnam, as you know. We had advice from people like Baron von Steuben and Lafayette and people like that in our own revolution.
What do you think is credible here? Do you think they will take help? Why aren‘t the Egyptian high command sending people in there, people right across the border? Why aren‘t they helping?
POLLACK: Well, first, I mean, you know, the Egyptian military‘s got its own problems and its own limitations. I‘m not convinced the Libyan—the Libyan military or the Libyan rebels would actually benefit—
MATTHEWS: How many people have we trained over the years from Arab countries? I‘m told if you went to West Point—General McCaffrey‘s told me this. If you go to West Point, on any given day, there are Egyptians there, and Sandhurst in London. We‘ve given military—we‘ve been giving military training in the West to Arab leaders for years!
MATTHEWS: Where are these well-trained soldiers and generals?
ENGEL: Well, in many cases, they‘re back there. And look, we‘ve gotten some benefit out of it. The reason that the Egyptian military, in part, didn‘t shoot on the—fire on the people was because they had these extensive relationships with us.
POLLACK: But what we‘ve not been able to do is to translate that into
MATTHEWS: Do you know—through your intelligence and reporting, do you know if we‘re doing anything to equip this rebel group to take over?
POLLACK: I can‘t say for certain. It doesn‘t look like we‘re doing much yet. But I think that‘s where we‘re going to head because, as you pointed out, the no-fly zone, the no-drive zone—that‘s not going to do it.
MATTHEWS: In my commentary at the end, I say that this is one of the results—and I‘m not being critical, but I think it‘s incomplete. I‘ve always said the strongest political factor in this country is the alliance between the Clintons and Barack Obama. It keeps the Democratic Party united. It keeps the American center-left united. It isn‘t the kind of situation we had with Jimmy Carter and Teddy Kennedy and all that.
Now in terms of policy, it looks like this policy became from Secretary Clinton. It came from Susan Rice. It came from people on that side—not Susan Rice—yes, Susan Rice, from the U.N., because she had been assistant secretary for African affairs under Clinton and was very much despondent and guilt-ridden, apparently, like the former president that we didn‘t do something to stop the genocide in Rwanda. We all know this story. Is this just a myth, or is it, in fact, the genesis of this policy of going in.
POLLACK: Well, look, it‘s certainly the case that—President Clinton himself has said that he regretted not having gone into Rwanda. There were a lot of people—I served in the Clinton White House, and there were a lot of people who felt that we should have done that. So I think that that is definitely informing this, and I think that there is a strong sense of—
MATTHEWS: OK, do we have a complete policy now or not? Here he is, by the way -- (INAUDIBLE) Go ahead.
POLLACK: But that‘s—I think this is the issue. I think that there was an urgent humanitarian need. People—
MATTHEWS: Here she is. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced some concerns about the rebels when she testified at a budget hearing earlier this month. Now, listen to this because here she is, a little worried about the make-up, the al Qaeda element here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia. It‘s a—it‘s right now not something that we see in the offing, but many of the al Qaeda activists in Afghanistan and later in Iraq came from Libya and came from eastern Libya, which is now the so-called free area of Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Secretary Clinton is thinking about everything here, not just who‘s the good guys and the bad guys because there probably isn‘t a clear definition of that. But she‘s worried about even if the rebels take over here. How do you make out what she just said there?
POLLACK: Well, look, I think that there are both compelling humanitarian and strategic rationales for going in the way that we did—
MATTHEWS: Would you have gone in?
POLLACK: Probably, yes.
POLLACK: But I think that what we‘re lacking from the administration right now, what really needs to be put out there is explaining what we‘re going to be doing over the long term.
MATTHEWS: Should we be grander in our goal here and try to get rid of the guy?
POLLACK: That‘s going to require a whole lot. We‘ve already put that on table. I think for the moment, we need to deal with the humanitarian—
MATTHEWS: You‘re not willing to say we should?
POLLACK: No. I think, at the moment—you know, you‘re going to have to—that is a big—
MATTHEWS: Would we be lucky if one of our rockets killed Gadhafi.
POLLACK: Extremely lucky. And we should—
MATTHEWS: No, would that be good?
POLLACK: Yes, it‘d be fantastic.
MATTHEWS: OK, that‘s all I need to know.
POLLACK: It‘s highly unlikely—
MATTHEWS: -- bulls-eye.
POLLACK: And this—and this—
MATTHEWS: So in other words, it‘s better that we win this fight.
POLLACK: It‘s always better that we win the fight.
MATTHEWS: -- Pollack of the Institution, the Sabin institute. Great to have you on. We‘ll have you back, I‘m sure.
Coming up: Was President Obama right to go into Libya? Now the question is, what‘s the mission and end game? And should he have gotten congressional approval? We‘re not using fine points here, but can one president make these kind of decisions without even asking anybody at all in the Congress?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Former secretary of state Colin Powell says this time, Moammar Gadhafi, step down. Powell said Gadhafi needs to go after murdering his own people in military attacks. He said new governments in Tunisia and Egypt could serve as role models to a new democratic Libya. Powell was senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger during those U.S. air strikes against Libya back in ‘86.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Here‘s a new CNN poll on what‘s happening in Libya -- 50 percent of the country, half, approves of the president‘s handling of the situation, 41 percent disapprove, 70 percent support the no-fly zone for Libya, 54 percent support the United States and other countries using planes and missiles to attack Gadhafi‘s troops, 43 percent oppose. That‘s pretty close. Seventy percent oppose using any ground troops to attack Gadhafi‘s troops. And 77 percent say Gadhafi‘s removal from power is an important goal for the U.S.
But questions continue to fly about what the U.S. goal is and whether President Obama has the authority to commit U.S. troops to this mission. Patrick Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and Jenny Backus is a Democratic strategist.
(INAUDIBLE) understand why we have a republican form of government because the people cannot decide wars by plebiscite, Jenny. They don‘t know what they‘re thinking. They‘ll ask questions and answer questions. But they say they want to get rid of the guy. They want to use the no-fly zone, but they don‘t want to use ground troops. They want to do it in a kind of a very antiseptic way. And things don‘t get done antiseptically.
JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well—
MATTHEWS: Sometimes you have to be crude and blunt and decide who you‘re going to kill and kill them.
BACKUS: Well, you also have a commander-in-chief, who is a complete authority right now under the War Powers Act—
MATTHEWS: Do you think the president should be obeying the polls or coordinating (ph) with Congress?
BACKUS: Well, the president should be being the commander-in-chief and making the best interests in—in—
MATTHEWS: Should he coordinate with Congress?
BACKUS: And he has coordinated with Congress. I mean—
MATTHEWS: How so?
BACKUS: Well, he‘s brought them up for briefings. The Congress passed—
MATTHEWS: Before or after he decided to do it?
BACKUS: Well, but when Congress passed a resolution first before anything happened that said that—decrying the humanitarian crimes that were happening in Libya. The Arab League acted on March 12th to say, Hey, no-fly zone.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that constitutes approval of an air strike?
BACKUS: Yes. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s like the neocons said that we didn‘t like them, we wanted regime change in Iraq so we could go to war in Iraq.
BACKUS: Well, no, I mean, he‘s also instituted what happens (ph) now. On Monday, he sent (ph) up the list (ph). He has a 60-day time—a 60-day period now—
MATTHEWS: Would you defend anything he did?
MATTHEWS: OK. Pat, would you attack anything he did?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I would not.
MATTHEWS: OK, your position is generally isolationist.
BUCHANAN: No, it‘s this—
MATTHEWS: It generally is.
BUCHANAN: It‘s this—well, look, my position—
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it?
BUCHANAN: No, it‘s—I‘m a constitutionalist. Look, under a constitutional republic -- - you mentioned all those polls. People‘s minds are all over the place. We elect leaders, Chris, to make these decisions. In the Constitution specifically—
MATTHEWS: What was the appropriate constitutional process for bringing this into this action?
BUCHANAN: Article 1, Section 8, the war—the act giving the Congress of the United States the authority, the lone authority, to declare war or authorize war. What Obama should have done—don‘t go to Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Gabon to get permission to go war. Go to the Congress of the United States—
MATTHEWS: When did he do that?
BUCHANAN: He did it! He made a phone call to Jacob Zuma! Gabon, we got in the Security Council. We didn‘t get China, Russia, Brazil, India or Germany, half the powers in the world! And he went in there without this authorization. Chris, what he should have done is come and said, Look, I know it‘s not a vital interest, but it could be a humanitarian disaster. I want your authority to go in and use American air power to protect Benghazi. I think he would have gotten it. He didn‘t do it! He goes off, picks the Final Four, heads off to party in Rio while this war goes on!
BACKUS: Come on, Pat. First of all, look, Bosnia, Haiti. He‘s acting in strategic interest. He‘s working as a coalition as an international partnership to go into an area of the country—of the world that is in our strategic interests. You‘ve got Tunisia. You‘ve got Egypt. You‘ve got Bahrain. You‘ve got Yemen. You‘ve got—what kind of message does it send when the Arabs come to us, the Arab League comes to the West and say, We need help on a no-fly zone?
BUCHANAN: All right, let me—why don‘t you name one Arab country that has sent a dime or a bullet or a plane? Amre Moussa—
BUCHANAN: Qatar‘s planes have not even come in!
BACKUS: They‘re en route now!
BUCHANAN: Amre Moussa—the head of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, said, We didn‘t know you‘d be killing civilians. We can‘t support this—
BACKUS: Read what he said—
BUCHANAN: -- on Sunday.
BACKUS: It was—read what—
MATTHEWS: And then he switched back.
BACKUS: -- today. Yes.
BUCHANAN: Chris, you mentioned earlier—but look, Egypt‘s got a 500,000-man army and an air force. They—
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s—
BACKUS: Egypt is—
MATTHEWS: Pat, I know your argument. The trouble is, ever since Truman in Korea, we haven‘t got declarations of war.
BUCHANAN: No! You‘re wrong!
BACKUS: Well, what about—
BUCHANAN: -- Desert Storm got authorization!
MATTHEWS: That was a war.
BUCHANAN: Bush 1 got authorization—
BUCHANAN: Gates said it‘s a war!
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about—
MATTHEWS: What would you be saying here—and you‘re an honest man. What would you be saying here the morning after there was a real sort of a Sabra and Shatila type of slaughter of people, like we saw in Lebanon, where the Israelis were blamed because the Christian Maronites were allowed to go ahead and do it.
Suppose that had happened on this president‘s watch, and you had come on this program the next day. What would you have said? Thousands of people killed, and we stood by and let it happen. What would you be saying?
BUCHANAN: I would—I would not say we have a right to bomb. The Lebanese that did it—
MATTHEWS: Would you be saying we should have done something?
BUCHANAN: Who are we going to bomb, the Israelis or the Lebanese that did it?
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking about this situation. Would you have stood by and let this happen?
BUCHANAN: I would have said, I don‘t think we have got a vital interest. I think—
MATTHEWS: I know we don‘t have a vital interest. It‘s humanitarian issue.
BUCHANAN: Why do you say it‘s humanitarian?
MATTHEWS: Would you have been able to come on this show and say, I‘m glad the president did nothing; he should have let those people die?
BACKUS: There are 700,000 people in Benghazi that are—
BUCHANAN: -- asked me a question.
Look—what I would say, look, Gadhafi has taken three towns.
There‘s been no massacre there. How do you know—
MATTHEWS: Well, because of what we did.
BUCHANAN: No. He took three towns. He was coming at Benghazi.
MATTHEWS: OK. That‘s the difference being a commentator and being
president. It didn‘t happen because we stopped it from happening, so you -
BUCHANAN: How do you know it was going to happen?
MATTHEWS: He said he was going to go house to house and get the germs and disinfect --.
BUCHANAN: Chris, he has won the war. He has won every battle, and he hasn‘t done that yet.
BUCHANAN: But America still doesn‘t have the authority to attack him simply because --
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the Constitution for a second, generally defined here. Here‘s Article 6 of the Constitution.
“The Constitution and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land.”
Is our participation of the U.N. a law of the land? Yes, it is.
BUCHANAN: Yes. U.N. can authorize us to go to war, but only Congress can authorize the president to attack.
MATTHEWS: No, but can‘t we go in as part of a U.N. operation?
BUCHANAN: Sure, if the Congress authorizes the president.
MATTHEWS: But that—that came up for a vote and it was rejected 65-9 back in December of 1945, when someone tried to offer an amendment to our joining the U.N. under law. And they said, if we union the U.N. and we‘re called into action, there has to be a separate congressional vote. That was rejected by the Senate—this is the legislative history of our joining the U.N. -- 65-9.
MATTHEWS: See, your position was rejected overwhelmingly. And we have to have a separate vote.
BUCHANAN: No, no. You mean the Congress of the United States can authorize everybody to go to war against --
MATTHEWS: As we go in as part of a U.N. operation, it‘s official under the law.
BUCHANAN: Under the law—
BUCHANAN: Look, under the U.N. thing, we can join countries to go to war against Libya.
But the president can‘t take us to war unless the Congress authorizes him to attack.
MATTHEWS: OK. This is a U.N. action, the way it‘s defined right now, so-called.
BACKUS: It‘s humanitarian action. It‘s discrete in duration. It‘s a no-fly zone that we‘re inheriting. It‘s not a war. It‘s a humanitarian action to protect the lives of civilians. There‘s 1970 and I think 1971 are the two U.S.—
BUCHANAN: Would we have the right to bomb Zimbabwe? They have done a number of massacres.
MATTHEWS: No, but that‘s another issue.
MATTHEWS: I understand the argument. If we can‘t do all good things, we can‘t do any good things.
BUCHANAN: No, no, I‘m saying—
MATTHEWS: When you were sitting in the White House as communications director—I‘m trying to get the year right.
BACKUS: 1986, you were.
BUCHANAN: I wrote the speech on the attack on Libya.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a night. You enjoyed that one.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to the one in ‘83. Let‘s go to the one when we went into Grenada.
MATTHEWS: Was there any attempt in the middle of the night to get a vote in Congress? That was a secret attack.
BUCHANAN: Chris, if there‘s a clear and present danger, as there was to 500 students, the president can go. You‘re exactly right.
There is no clear and present danger now. There‘s no clear and present danger in Iran. That‘s why we can‘t attack Iran, unless Congress authorizes it.
MATTHEWS: So you bought that theory that those so-called medical students—
BUCHANAN: I will tell you, Ronald Reagan did.
BACKUS: But wait a minute. Egypt, Tunisia—
BUCHANAN: They did. I saw some of it.
MATTHEWS: They had to get the drugs flushed down the toilet before the Marines arrived, Pat. You know what was going on down there. That wasn‘t a serious school.
BUCHANAN: But they were kids. They were American kids.
MATTHEWS: OK. I know. And how many drugs were flushed down the toilets when the Marines got there?
BUCHANAN: Five hundred kids.
MATTHEWS: OK. Great.
BACKUS: Yes or no, right now, there‘s a movement towards democracy in the Middle East that we have never seen before? Yes or no, we need to send a message to people on the ground that want to go after dictators.
BUCHANAN: Tell that to the people in Bahrain.
MATTHEWS: OK. Pat, you seem to be very flexible about this. Did we get congressional approval to go into Grenada?
BUCHANAN: Reagan—listen, that is clear and present danger. If Jack Kennedy had struck the missiles in Cuba, he had a right to do that, because there‘s an imminent danger. But, Chris, is there‘s no—
MATTHEWS: -- had him on the next plane. That‘s—he just didn‘t want to see (INAUDIBLE) coming in there. That was a great pretext --
BUCHANAN: Why were those kids—why were those kids getting off that plane kissing the ground?
MATTHEWS: Because Mike Deaver organized a brilliant public relations stunt.
But thank you, Pat. You‘re smiling. You know how good that PR was.
You loved that stuff.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jen.
BACKUS: Thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: I know you won that one. Everybody, bow to that one.
Pat Buchanan, who defends some wars against very small countries.
Up next—Jenny Backus, thank you.
Up next: Whatever happened to the idea that politics stops at the water‘s edge? God, Vandenberg. We‘re going back to Vandenberg. Guess who brought his name up? Mitt Romney. And he will wish he hadn‘t, because he‘s not honoring the Vandenberg rule of politics stopping at the water‘s edge.
We will be right back with more HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As Mitt Romney has observed just recently, it was Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican, who famously said politics stops at the water‘s edge. Well, somehow, most of the prospective Republican presidential candidates this year have not been consistent on this rule, and certainly not on Libya.
Joan Walsh is editor at large for Salon.com. And Howard Fineman is the senior political editor for The Huffington Post and of course an MSNBC political analyst.
Howard, I want to you start this.
Take a look at Romney here. And here‘s Romney on “The Hugh Hewitt
Show” on Monday. Here he is—quote—he said he‘s in favor of military
action, but—quote—“Thus far, the president has been unable to
construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. I think it‘s fair to ask”
this is Romney speaking—“you know, what is it that explains the absence of any discernible foreign policy from the president of the United States? I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the president—in the president‘s world, all nations have common interests. The lines between good and evil are blurred.
America‘s history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in
our increasingly turbulent world, he‘s tentative, indecisive, timid, and” -
here is a really nasty word—“nuanced.”
MATTHEWS: Is he just—doe she just—Mitt Romney now—just have his automatic Pez dispenser of these little things that come of out that simply are another chance to kiss the far-right butt?
This thing about American exceptionalism, what does that got to do—our going into Libya is an example of us thinking we do have some moral superiority, that we have to take these actions.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes.
It actually is—it is an example of our exceptionalism. It‘s
Woodrow Wilson. We used to say George Bush was Woodrow Wilson on steroids.
Well, this is the same thing, if not more so.
MATTHEWS: Yes. So, why does Romney say things like this?
FINEMAN: Because it gets at the, “He‘s not quite an American.” He did everything but call him French there by saying nuanced.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I thought that was rather sweet. It was like a perfume.
FINEMAN: Watching Mitt Romney do this is like watching a guy in—with a pair of pressed blue jeans try to be cool. You know what I mean?
MATTHEWS: It‘s like Al Gore doing the Macarena.
FINEMAN: He‘s trying to get down there with the Tea Party people.
MATTHEWS: Oh, he‘s a regular guy.
FINEMAN: But he‘s going to do it in a dignified way. He‘s not going to do it in the way—
MATTHEWS: White-collar birtherism, that‘s what it is. Question the guy‘s loyalty.
Here‘s Mitt Romney back—I want you to respond to this little gem that our producers dug up. Here‘s Mitt Romney back in May of 2007, when he was “Hannity & Colmes”—of course, that‘s during a Republican administration—talking about the Democratic opposition to the Iraq war. And this is rich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY & COLMES,” 2007)
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Are they playing politics with war, meaning the people on the left?
MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Well, it‘s one of the things that‘s most frustrating to me, is, I go back to something that Senator Vandenberg of Michigan said a long time ago, which is, politics ends at the water‘s edge.
HANNITY: I love that line.
HANNITY: It‘s supposed to.
ROMNEY: And they‘re—it‘s supposed to. And I‘m afraid that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have gone beyond that water‘s edge. And it‘s not helping—I don‘t think it‘s helping them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joan, did you like that little comment, the little snippet, the little grace note there from Sean, saying, “I love that line.”
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: “I love that line,” Chris.
MATTHEWS: I wonder if he loves it this week, now that a Democratic president is in office. “I love that line.” Politics ends at the water‘s edge.
WALSH: Yes, “I love that line,” except—exactly.
MATTHEWS: They‘re dumping everything they got on this guy.
Go ahead. Your thoughts.
WALSH: I also—come on. I just have to feel sorry for Mitt Romney, because it feels like every single one of his many, many flip-flops somehow has been caught on YouTube somewhere.
WALSH: That guy doesn‘t catch a break, Chris.
MATTHEWS: And there‘s more coming.
MATTHEWS: No, I know. But he should have remembered that he quoted Arthur Vandenberg that politics ends—
WALSH: He should have remembered that.
MATTHEWS: -- before he dumped all over Obama this weekend and said he was really not an American because he doesn‘t understand we‘re different than Zimbabwe and all those other countries.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at this whole question of—let‘s take a look. Here are the other GOP people this week going after Obama‘s Libya policy, starting with Newt, then Palin, then Haley Barbour.
Here was Sarah Palin in India this weekend speaking about the president‘s policy on Libya. Let‘s listen.
(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, more decisiveness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, she didn‘t dither long before she attacked the guy on foreign soil. And she went as far as India to attack him. That‘s pretty foreign.
Well, the fact is that the Vandenberg‘s tradition, I have got to say, has long since been jettisoned in American politics.
FINEMAN: Politics doesn‘t end at the water‘s edge.
FINEMAN: It begins at the—
FINEMAN: It‘s all a seamless thing, because—and that was true. The Republicans, when Bush was in office, they politicized it themselves as part of their campaign policy in the last decade.
FINEMAN: And the Democrats responded in kind. And that‘s the way it is.
So, if you‘re going criticize them for something, then go ahead and do it. That‘s OK. That doesn‘t matter anymore. But don‘t say it‘s because he‘s somehow fundamentally weird on America.
MATTHEWS: He doesn‘t love our country.
FINEMAN: I think it‘s true that the Obama administration had been divided and confused, but it‘s—leading up to this. But it‘s not because Barack Obama himself is somehow a weird dude.
MATTHEWS: I mean, the United States is divided on this right now.
FINEMAN: The country is divided.
WALSH: Right. It‘s not clear.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at this. Here‘s one of the richest lines I have heard in a long time. Here‘s Newt Gingrich saying that the administration has been opportunistic, Newt Gingrich.
“It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya”—this is him talking—“except opportunism and news media publicity. Mugabe has killed more people. The Sudanese dictatorship has killed more people. There are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things.”
You know, Newt Gingrich is the absolute worst case of opportunism, Joan. He jumps on everything. He says, in other words, if we go into one country trying to do the right thing and save people from a massacre, we were wrong, because we could have gone into the Sudan situation, we could have gone into Mugabe, into Zimbabwe.
MATTHEWS: You know, there‘s certain countries we just can‘t go into.
And everybody knows it.
WALSH: Well, and you have to remember that, back in 1999, Chris, he was trashing Bill Clinton for Kosovo and declaring it a disaster and it wasn‘t going to work, and we hadn‘t done enough, but we had done too much.
So, he has a long tradition of criticizing presidents, again, as long as they are Democrats. And it‘s the same thing here.
MATTHEWS: But opportunism, Joan—
WALSH: Well, yes. Newt—
MATTHEWS: -- what does that mean, except he‘s looking in the mirror?
WALSH: -- could teach courses in opportunism.
And, look, I‘m not sure what I think about this intervention, quite honestly. I think it‘s very complicated.
WALSH: I‘m a little bit worried about where it goes from here.
But I‘m—I‘m not bothered by the president‘s so-called—he didn‘t dither. He deliberated. They call it dithering. We call it deliberating. He listened to divisions on his team.
WALSH: I think he did—I think he did everything right. It‘s not an obvious thing to do. It‘s very complicated. We will see where it goes. But this—but this idea that he should have, you know, blustered forward and done something right away, that‘s not what we want in a president.
MATTHEWS: Yes. It would have been nice if George W. had dithered a bit before taking our nation into war with Iraq --
WALSH: Yes. Yes. That would have been great.
MATTHEWS: -- based upon faulty information. And I‘m not sure it was faulty in his case. He built it up.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who I‘m sort of being charmed by lately in New York.
WALSH: Oh, no.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s “The New York Times” today—quote—“This is not the time to critique what the administration has done or will do.”
Well, it‘s certainly in the tradition of Arthur Vandenberg.
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, Haley Barbour is a smart guy. He‘s one of the ultimate inside political players. And I think he‘s wise to take that distance, because nobody is going to believe that all these other Republicans, like Newt Gingrich and so on, are suddenly neo-isolationists who don‘t want to engage in the world.
FINEMAN: They spent a decade cheering on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney—
MATTHEWS: The freedom agenda.
FINEMAN: -- as they tried to rearrange the planet. I mean, nobody is going to buy what those people are selling.
FINEMAN: So, Haley is smart to stay out of it, and not try commit the mistake that somebody like Mitt Romney did.
MATTHEWS: You know, some day, digitally—we probably can already do it—maybe at The Huffington Post, you can do it.
FINEMAN: Right. We will try.
MATTHEWS: You can simply create or confect what they would have said if you had done the other thing.
MATTHEWS: For example, suppose we had a slaughter, a horrible slaughter of people, a couple of thousand people mowed down in Benghazi while we watched.
MATTHEWS: What would Newt have said? Do you think he have been opportunistic and said something? You can digitalize what he would have said.
WALSH: You could. You could write the script.
MATTHEWS: And the same with Mitt Romney.
“America stood by.”
MATTHEWS: They all would have said it.
MATTHEWS: Can‘t they hear themselves in the echo chamber of B.S. they
live in, that the minute the guy did the opposite of what they said he did
he should have done, they would have attacked that? It‘s just automatic criticism.
Your thoughts, Joan?
WALSH: Well, it‘s so shallow, too. And that‘s what you‘re saying, Chris. It doesn‘t matter. If something different happened, they would have a different principle. So, they are not—they are not applying any kind of coherent principle of foreign policy or of domestic policy.
They are just looking for opportunities to cheap-shot the president. The people who were criticizing Bush had a coherent—had coherent reasons to criticize him.
WALSH: It wasn‘t like that. There was—there was coherence to the point of view, whereas, here, I think you‘re exactly right. They would just be trashing him, whatever did he. And it feels that way. It feels cheap. It feels shallow. It feels—
MATTHEWS: You know why you‘re a good person, Joan, besides being a good journalist?
I believe that, if he had allowed the—and I think Howard, too—if he had allowed the slaughter of people right there in Benghazi, as we watched it, as he promised to kill every germ in that country, disinfect the germs, if he had done what he said, like “Mein Kampf,” had actually gone ahead and did what he said he was going to do—
MATTHEWS: -- and we had stood by, the president of the United States leading us, and done nothing, you would have been morally ashamed of that, and would have said so.
MATTHEWS: So, you‘re not just fickle like these other pols, or these pols out there who simply just go the way of the political movement on their side.
Your thoughts, Howard.
MATTHEWS: You would have been here.
MATTHEWS: Everybody in America would have been ashamed.
FINEMAN: My thought is, according to our military correspondent Dave Wood at The Huffington Post, a lot of people in that area of Benghazi—
Benghazi is the area of Eastern Libya that, on a statistical basis, has provided more people for al Qaeda, more volunteers than any other place.
MATTHEWS: Does that mean we want Gadhafi to mow them down?
FINEMAN: No. No. No. No. No, that‘s my point.
FINEMAN: I think it‘s a better—even a better expression of our concern for the humanitarian aspect of it—
FINEMAN: -- that we want to save them regardless.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That‘s very nuanced.
MATTHEWS: You will pay for that.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.
Thank you, Joan Walsh.
MATTHEWS: Howard is the greatest.
Come on! Donald Trump is bragging that he‘s dealt with Gadhafi. He says he—quote—“screwed him” in a real estate deal. Boy, this is amazing, some one-size-fits-all.
Anyway, you‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for “The Sideshow.”
First up, Donald Trump‘s brand of foreign policy: screw them. Here he is on FOX yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (via telephone): I think I probably have more experience than anybody, whether I sell them real estate for tremendous amounts of money, I mean, I‘ve dealt with everybody. And, by the way, I could tell you something else. I dealt with Gadhafi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You bury the lead. What did you do?
TRUMP: Excuse me. I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for the whole year or for two years and then I didn‘t him use the land. That‘s what we should be doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that over in New Jersey?
TRUMP: I don‘t want to use the word “screw,” but I screwed him.
That‘s what we should be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it really happened during a 2009 visit to the United Nations in New York. Gadhafi pitched his tent on property owned by Donald Trump. After a lot of noise about it, Trump had the tent removed. To hear him tell it he kept Gadhafi‘s money. Well, that sounds true.
On a separate note, Trump has expressed doubts that President Obama was born in the U.S. and is therefore eligible to serve as president. He‘s an unusual member of the group who declare themselves with such doubts, but a bit more cosmopolitan than the rest of them. He‘s in the birther crowd now.
Next, Sharron Angle makes a comeback. Nevada‘s failed Senate candidate is looking to restart her career with a run for Congress. Her first 2012 press conference came with a request for reporters, quote, “Let‘s have mutual respect for one another. I‘m here respecting you, and I just want to you offer me the same respect.”
Fair enough, I‘d say. I hope reporters continue to report what she says and has said about such things as the right of people to resort to, quote, “Second amendment remedy physician they don‘t like the way Congress voting.
Finally, Dick Cheney goes Hollywood. HBO confirms it‘s developing a mini-series about the former V.P.‘s political career. Producers tell “Deadline Hollywood” the project will focus on Cheney‘s, quote, “single-minded pursuit for enhanced power for the presidency that was unprecedented in the nation‘s history.” Well, I hope the series tells the story of how the head of the committee to select George W.‘s vice president, Dick Cheney, came up with his pick for vice president.
Dick Cheney—now, that‘s a docudrama.
By the way, they should definitely pick Darrell Hammond to play Cheney. He‘s the best for that.
Up next: Japan‘s nuclear crisis—nuclear regulators ignored safety warnings at one of the damaged reactors over there before the earthquake and tsunami hit. Is our nuclear safety any better here at home? Maybe not.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow! A second Republican senator has come out against the House Republican plan to defund Planned Parenthood. Scott Brown, who is up for re-election in deep blue Massachusetts, says he supports family planning and health services for women and adds, “The proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far.”
Alaska‘s Lisa Murkowski was the first Senate Republican to oppose the House plan which would cut more than $300 million in federal money from Planned Parenthood. We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“The New York Times” reports today that one month after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the nuclear power plant in Japan, government regulators over there ignored safety warnings at one reactor and failed to inspect important parts of all six. Despite this, the Japanese government approved a 10-year extension for the oldest of the plant six reactors. The article went on to say, quote, “Because public opposition to nuclear power makes it hard to build newer power plants, nuclear operators are lobbying to extend their reactors‘ use beyond the 40-year statutory limit.”
Well, here in the United States, half of our new nuclear reactors have been in commercial operation for more than 30 years. The red triangles, by the way, on the map right there you see on the screen.
So, how safe are our ageing nuclear power plants and how worried should the rest of the world be about Japan‘s?
Johanna Neumann is a safe energy advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Kate Sheppard is energy and environment reporter for “Mother Jones.”
Thank you very much, Kate and Johanna.
Johanna, what do you make of this—the news we got in “The New York Times” today about how they are just simply extending the life, at least on paper, of these nuclear reactors over in Japan so they don‘t have to build new ones which is not very popular to do?
JOHANNA NEUMANN, PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP: Sure. Whether you‘re talking about nuclear reactors in the United States or in Japan, the objective of the power companies is the same. They are producing electricity to make money. And that profit motive really pushes directly against making investments and safety measures.
So, you know, what we‘re seeing in Japan isn‘t unique there. In fact, here in the United States, there are a lot of proposals to keep some of our oldest power plants up and running.
MATTHEWS: Why are nuclear power plants less safety-conscious than, say, airplanes or factories? You know when you get on an airplane that they‘re very concerned about safety, because it will kill an industry if they had too many accidents, obviously, and it should. And, you know, the same is true with a lot of big corporations when you heavy industry, like car-making, they want to make safety important. They know they have to make it important.
Why do you say it‘s more of a cavalier spirit about safety in the nuclear industry?
NEUMANN: Well, don‘t get me wrong. I think the nuclear industry, you know, it‘s heavily-regulated and every single nuclear plant has redundant safeguards in place, because the technology is inherently dangerous. That being said, you know, there have been close calls in the United States. Since 1990, there have been four critical instances identified by the NRC at nuclear reactors in South Carolina and Ohio. And three of those plants where those critical instances have happened have actually had their licenses extended.
So, you know, the idea that safety problems are only happening in Japan, it‘s not true. We‘ve definitely had our share here in the United States.
MATTHEWS: Kate, let‘s take the example of the Yankee—the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. It just got a 20-year license renewal. It‘s been online for—since 1972, which is 28, 39 years. A spokesman for the Vermont Yankee plant says, “I think the NRC, that‘s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has done their job. This has been a five-year review. There‘s ample opportunity for people to weigh in.”
What do you think of these decisions to extend the life, at least on paper, of these nuclear facilities?
NEUMANN: I think we‘re at a conjure right now where we as a country need to be looking at the safety of all of our plants and assessing the energy future of this country. Now, the Obama administration has announced a 90-day assessment period for the nuclear fleet in this country. I for one was surprised to see president Obama‘s nuclear regulatory commission extend Vermont Yankee during that review period.
You know, as far as we‘re concerned, right now, President Obama should really place a hold on the construction of new reactors and the extension of licenses at our old reactors to answer some of the really critical questions that the American public has about this inherently dangerous technology.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s look at this new poll out today, Johanna, people who opposed now, a Pew Poll, it‘s a good poll, shows opposition to nuclear power has increased since the Japanese nuclear disaster over there. Fifty-two opposed now, 39 favored it on October. Not too long ago, those numbers were even.
Kate, your view of this?
KATE SHEPPARD, MOTHER JONES: Well, I think, you know, what we see is every time there is a major disaster like this, a nuclear power is back in the news, people then start getting concerned about it. I mean, what happens, which is the key I think is also the problem that the industry faces with complacency, too, is that if we go for long enough without a major incident, everyone feels safe and secure and maybe they‘re not looking as closely as they were before. And then, you know, something bad happens and the regulators are back on the spot and the public is back and is much more concerned about the safety at these plants that we have here in the U.S. as well.
MATTHEWS: You think it‘s a problem in having the regulators being the same institution in Japan as the promoters of nuclear energy? Is that a problem?
SHEPPARD: I think that‘s absolutely a problem. When we look here in the U.S., back in the early ‘70s, we purposefully split the Nuclear Regulatory Commission away from the Department of Energy for that very reason, so that we had a regulator that was separate from the organization that was promoting that power.
I mean, I think there are still some legitimate concerns here in the U.S. about how close the NRC is to the industry and whether there really is enough firewall between them. But absolutely, at least we have made it clear that that is the goal, that the regulatory agency is separate.
And Japan‘s (INAUDIBLE) situation right now—right now, their regulators are within the Department of Trade. Nuclear power is a really important trade and an economic issue in Japan. They‘re trying to sell reactor parts around the world. TEPCO is trying to get involved in power plants here in the U.S.
So, you know, it really is—they have every reason to promote it and it really does put—hampers their ability.
MATTHEWS: OK. Kate, thank you very much. Kate Sheppard, thanks for joining us, from “Mother Jones.” Thank you, Johanna Neumann, again joining us from PIRG.
When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the Obama/Clinton alliance. It‘s very powerful. It had a lot to do with our decision to go into Libya to stop perhaps a small Holocaust over there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: “Let Me Finish” tonight with some big questions about our newest war front.
I have had said for some time that the most important political reality is the alliance between the president and the Clintons.
I hold to this belief. The tie forged between these two parts of the Democratic Party, together with the loyalties on both sides, explains the strong, powerful unity of today‘s Democratic Party.
This is a fact and a good thing for those who believe generally in a moderate to progressive approach to government in this country.
But it is real, too, in terms of policy. An alliance creates policy that would not come from one or the other partners alone. It creates a joint policy that may reflect the strongly-held policies of either partner combined with the acquiescence of the other.
This could be what we‘re seeing in Libya today. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted to the United States to step in and stop what loomed as the slaughter of the rebels by Moammar Gadhafi. The president agreed.
But now the question: Has this led to a complete policy? Do we have a policy toward Libya or merely a policy for stopping a particular thing from happening in Libya? If we‘ve stopped Gadhafi from moving down the rebels in Benghazi and other cities, have we got a plan in place to get him out of the position to keep on doing bad things to his people?
If so, we can‘t see it. Certainly, there is good historic reason to doubt the ability of economic sanctions alone to remove this despot from power in the short-run—and this man can do—kill a lot of people in the short-run. If it will take the long-run, are we willing to pay the moral price of letting him keep on killing people until he‘s run out of, what? People to do his killing for him? People left to kill?
Look, if we‘ve made the value judgment that it was good to go in and stop the killing in Libya, we should go in and stop the killing. A no-fly zone is not a moral code, it‘s a method. If our moral code is to stop the killing, we need a better method.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.
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