BARNICLE: Dick Sauber, thanks very much.
Democratic senator John Kerry of Massachusetts joins us now. Senator Kerry, your reaction to the Libby appeal being turned down today? Do you think he should go to jail immediately, or do you think he should stay out pending the hearing of that appeal?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I listened to your previous guest, Mike. I think, as a former prosecutor, there is a certain process for the appeals process. But look, the court has spoken. I listen to the court, so Im not particularly inclined to second-guess them one way or the other. I suspect the appeals court will rule fairly quickly.
BARNICLE: What do you figure is going on in the White House right now? I mean, Scooter Libby, clearly Dick Cheneys guyis Cheney capable at this point in the White House, at this point in the Bush administration, of pushing this president to pardon Scooter Libby?
KERRY: I think a pardon would, number one, be an enormous mistake. And number two, I think it would be difficult for the president. And I think the initial reactions from the White House for that question gave evidence that they also probably believe that.
BARNICLE: But the president is at 29 percent in the polls. I mean, how much lower can he go if he pardons this guy, 25, 22?
KERRY: Well, the vice president calls him the popular one.
BARNICLE: You know, Senator Kerry, you gave a speech I believe today on national securityswitching topics hereand you raised a question thats been asked in polls, you know, Are we safer today than we were on September 10, September 11? And your response was that, you know, we are a bit safer, but the countrywhat was your response to that?
KERRY: Well, my response is its the wrong question to be asking people. First of all, it lends itself to a lot of different answers, depending on how you read the question. Obviously, as an individual, Im certainly safer, youre safer walking into an airport and getting on to a plane. Or you can find some things that the FBI has done or the intelligence community or somebodys done which improves some measure of safety somewhere.
But in the larger issue of whether or not we are safe as we ought to be, which is the real question, I think the answer is profoundly no. And when you look at international challenges, the answer to that initial question is also profoundly no. North Korea has more nuclear weapons. Iran is moving closer to nuclear weapons. Hezbollah is more powerful. Hamas is flexing its muscles and is stronger. The Middle East is in greater disarray. The United States interests have been set back. Were more isolated than before. And Iraq is obviously a terrible mess.
So it is clear. I mean, our own CIA, Mike, tells usthe CIA has said that our policy in Iraq is creating more terrorists, more al Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq. The minute you know that, coming from our own CIA, you know you got to change your policy.
BARNICLE: But you know, Senator, youre standing over there in the United States Senate right now. Last fall, millions of Americans went to the polls and voted not necessarily for the Democratic Party, but probably against the incumbents, against the war in Iraq. They gave you the keys to the car, you, the Democrats. And what have you done? Whats going on?
KERRY: Well, I think weve done a lot, to be honest with you. I think weve changed the debate in the country and weve changed the debate here in the Senate. The fact is that last year, Mike, I brought an amendment to the floor of the Senate to set a timetable for the conclusion of our current deployment and to shift the deployment to start bringing troops home. I won 14 votes on the floor of the Senate last summer. We brought it again this fall. We first won 48 votes, and then we won over 50 votes. Thats dramatic.
And the result of that is that we have this review coming up in September. We just werent able to win enough votes from the Republicans. So the people who voted for a change in November have to recognize they got some change, they got the change that we can produce within the limits of less than 60 votes, but now they need to help us get more votes in the Senate, so we can complete this task.
BARNICLE: When you say this September, the review, youre talking about General Petraeuss report?
KERRY: Correct. Theres sort of an ad hoc review date thats been set by General Petraeus and the White House and the Congress that everybodys going to look at where we are on the so-called surge come September. I think we already know that the surge isnt working, and I think youre going to see a lot of Republicans begin to hold this administrations feet to the fire come September. The tragedy is, Mike, that some young American soldier between now and then is either going to be killed or maimed. And I...
BARNICLE: What was the reaction, Senator, within the Senate, basically, earlier this week, last weekend, when General Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was fired in the middle of a war? What was the reaction?
KERRY: I think people feltwell, the reason he was fired was because senators behind the scenes had expressed their views to Secretary Gates that if they renominated him, he was going to have a very difficult time. And thats another thing thats happened here. There is accountability where there wasnt. You never would have seen Attorney General Gonzales in front of the Senate, and you obviously never would have seen a vote, even though they choose to ignore it.
I think their arrogant response to the accountability that has been sought by the Senate on a number of these issues is going to simply build the case more strongly than ever before about the need for broad change in the presidency and more people to come and vote alongside us, so we can put a real agenda in place for the nation.
BARNICLE: Senator John Kerry is staying with us.
And later: Will President Bush pardon Scooter Libby?
Youre watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Senator John Kerry remains with us. Senator, Im doing my homework here. Im reading a speech that you gave today, "Building a National Consensus on Fighting Terrorism." Is the war in Iraq part of the war on terror?
KERRY: Its part of it, mostly because weve, unfortunately, made it part of it in the wrong way and now its creating terrorists. But its not the central part of the war on terror. The central part of the war on terror is in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan and the effort to try to go after al Qaeda in some 60 countries.
BARNICLE: When you go out in the country, this country, when you go back home on weekends, when you visit with constituents or when you give speeches in other states, and someone comes up to you and says, Senator, what is the mission in Iraq, whats your response?
KERRY: Well, the mission thats defined by the administration is supposedly to prevent chaos and to allow this government to survive. I think were in a circular mission, where were there to prevent the very chaos that were creating. And the longer were there, were making it harder to accomplish our goal, which is why I believe you have to have a fundamental change. I dont think this administration has really understood this mission, and I think theyre on the wrong track with this escalation of numbers of troops there. It is not going to work because it requires, as they have said, a political solution, not a military solution.
BARNICLE: Senator Kerry, theres a book written by Colonel H.R. McMaster, Im sure youve read it, "Dereliction of Duty: McNamara, the Joint Chiefs and the Lies That Led to Vietnam." Youve read it, correct?
KERRY: I havent read it, but I know of it.
BARNICLE: OK. So the question is, again, when people come and ask you out in the country or back in your home state, Why is it that very few people in the military or in politics have been held accountable for whats gone wrong in this war? Why has nobody been fired?
KERRY: Well, Donald Rumsfeld ultimately was after the American people spoke in the last election. But youre absolutely correct that up and down the chain, not enough people have been held accountable. They werent held accountable for Abu Ghraib. Theyre not being held accountable for Guantanamo. And the reason is that this administration fundamentally snubs its nose at that kind of accountability. They just ignore it, Mike. And the problem is the media back off after a certain period of time. They dont stay with the story or they dont stay with a line of accountability. They move on to the next story, whether its Paris Hilton going to jail or, you know, Anna Nicole Smith, you name it. So were distracted, and we move on to something obviously of far less consequence.
My bottom line is this: that no American troop should be killed in Iraq or maimed in Iraq because of the procrastination, the delay of Iraqi politicians to compromise.
I think Iraq is worse than Vietnam. And the reason its worse is that it came about as a war of choice, not the extension of a major ideological effort, like the Cold War. And I think that the deception andand the inadequacies of leadership have been far greater in the long run.
BARNICLE: So, whatwhat do you do about President Maliki in Baghdad? I mean, basically, President Maliki and the Iraqi parliament, many Iraqi politicians, theyre playing us.
BARNICLE: Theyre playing the United States of America, playing us very well.
What do you do about him?
KERRY: I think you give him an ultimatum, point blank, publicly.
And you make it clear that either he fires the people in their ministries who are unwilling to be part of the reconciliation, and he puts people in who are, and he demonstrates the leadership within a specific limit of time. And, if he doesnt do that, then you make it clear the United States is not going to continue to support that government.
BARNICLE: Senator John Kerry, thanks very much.
KERRY: Thank you.