Interview with Senator John Kerry
BYLINE: Chris Matthews; Martin Fletcher; Campbell Brown; Steve Emerson; Howard Fineman; John Fund
GUESTS: Senator John Kerry; Alon Pinkas; Lawrence O'Donnell
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hi, I'm Chris Matthews. Let's play HARDBALL. The big story tonight, Senator John Kerry, one on one. All summer long we will be spotlighting the Democratic candidates for president. Tonight Senator John Kerry joins us. He's critical of the way President Bush is handling the war on terror. I'll ask him what he would do differently
MATTHEWS: Democratic presidential candidates are getting tougher in their rhetoric on President Bush's handling of the war on terror. Yesterday Senator John Kerry said Bush misjudged the threat posed by Al Qaeda and is failing in its diplomacy to build international support for U.S. efforts.
Senator Kerry join us now from New Hampshire. Senator Kerry, Riyadh, Casablanca, five times in Israel. All this terrorism. If you were president, how would you stop it?
SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, it's going to take some time to stop it, Chris, but we have an enormous amount of cooperation to build one other countries. I think the administration is not done enough of the hard work of diplomacy, reaching out to nations, building the kind of support network.
I think they clearly have dropped the ball with respect to the first month in the after -- winning the war. That winning of the war was brilliant and superb, and we all applaud our troop for doing what they did, but you've got to have the capacity to provide law and order on the streets and to provide the fundamentally services, and I believe American troop will be safer and America will pay less money if we have a broader coalition involved in that, including the United Nations.
MATTHEWS: You said in your interview on "Face the Nation" yesterday that we were too overly focused on Iraq. How could we have been less focused on Iraq and still done the job?
KERRY: Well, we have to be able to do more than two things, one thing at the same time. I mean, you can't fight a global war in terror and be so focused in one place, particularly when Iraq was not directly related to Osama Bin Laden and directly related to the problems of this rest of the terrorist network.
I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I supported the notion of removing him. But at the same time, in Afghanistan, we're not doing the rebuilding that we need to do. There are many people who say that Taliban and Al Qaeda sort of rebuilding in certain areas.
There are serious questions about the cooperative level of Pakistan in helping to track down Osama Bin Laden, and there are, if you look at the Middle East, Chris, those countries desperately need a major change, and the United States has not been involved in leveraging the kind of economic change, the kind of cultural and educational transformation that needs to take place. We need a greater engagement, and we need a secretary of state fully empowered by the President to engage.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the attack on Iraq was decided in the beginning by this president in order to protect the United States against a near and present danger, or was it a geopolitical or ideological campaign? Because the weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found. What evidence is there right now that that country was about to attack us in any way?
KERRY: Well, Chris, you used to raise this issue before when the debate was going on about Iraq. We were presented an enormous amount of evidence by the CIA, the intelligence community, and we voted accordingly and, I think, appropriately.
I think we have to wait and see. I think it is still too early, and the judgment isn't in yet. We need to debrief more of the people who have turned themselves over. We need to debrief some of those who have been involved in those program. So, let's wait on that judgment.
I still think it is good that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the question has not ever been can we win war. The question has always been the toughness of winning the peace. That's why I and others advocated so forcefully that you needed to build a coalition and have a plan in place so that we shared the risks and responsibility and so that we were ready to do what was necessary to move into Iraq and keep order and keep the services in place and deliver it to the people of Iraq, a real transition immediately.
Instead, you've had looting, extraordinary destruction of the infrastructure, and frankly, the task has been made even more complicated.
MATTHEWS: Would you, if you had been president the last six months, have brought us into a war on Iraq or not?
KERRY: Chris, I would have done what was necessary, as I said, to exhaust all the possibilities and remedies. I'm glad we have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein...
MATTHEWS: But would there have been a war? And I guess that's the question the Democrats are going to have to ask you for the next year. Would there have been a war in Iraq if you had been president? Howard Dean said there would not have been a war on his watch. Clearly, Joe Lieberman and the others wanted a war. Did you want a war or not? Do you think there would have been a war if you had been president. That's the question most voters want to know the answer to.
KERRY: Well, it's a completely hypothetical question, Chris, which doesn't lay, you know, doesn't put the truth of the moment on the table. The truth of the moment is that given the information we have and given what we were dealing with at the time, I think we did the right thing.
But apart from that, leaving that aside, I always said that our diplomacy should have been better. I said our diplomacy should have been more engaged, longer, but it doesn't do us any good to go back to that now.
If I were president of the United States at the beginning of this, I would have worked through international community, as I said I would have, and built the kind of coalition that I think was necessary, not just to winning the war but to winning the peace.
And now the test is, will they be able to make up the distance lost over the course of the last month? I think it can be done, but it's going to take an enormous commitment. Much longer. Much more troops. Much riskier. And much more costly than they told the American people.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a couple of benchmarks. In fact, the trio of them right now, Senator. Here we are, May 19. 2003. How important is it for President Bush to find Osama Bin Laden?
KERRY: I think it's important to get the chief of this particular terrorist organization because it's like any, you know, as I said yesterday, we broke up the bee hive, but the bees, and particularly the queen bee, are still at large. It seem to me that it's critical to win that component because of the danger that he represents as a sort of persuasive force, as an organizing entity, not to mention his ability to be able to fund and plot serious danger to the United States. I think it's important to try to find him.
I regret that when we had the best opportunity in the world to really kill the largest portion of Al Qaeda, this administration didn't do the job, and I think most people understand that at Tora Bora and Anaconda, we had less than fully strategic efforts to get that done.
MATTHEWS: Well, without going back to that decision, which I agree makes sense from your perspective to requestion, what about right now? What would you do differently than George W. Bush to find Bin Laden?
KERRY: Chris, I think the most important thing is the level of cooperation with Pakistan and the level of our commitment on the ground in Afghanistan itself and on the border. We are going to need the full cooperation and help of Pakistan in order to make this happen. I don't know if that can happen now. I will tell you candidly, I think it is exceedingly difficult, but most likely, at some point in time, it is possible. I still believe it would have, well, I'm not going to go backwards again. I think that's the most important thing.
Let me go a step further in the future. The war against terror is less of a military operation and more of an intelligence gathering and law enforcement operation. In order to succeed in countries where we have very few local people who are working for us effectively at this point, we rely on the cooperation of those countries, on their intelligence, on their willingness to be helpful. That willingness will depend on our overall effective foreign policy.
I believe, again, this administration is not engaged in the kind of forceful presence, continuing commitment in the region that encourages people to believe that it is really ultimately in their interests to make certain they're on our side and working with us.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that failure of intelligence and that kind of police work and cooperation is an explanation to the world? I don't understand it, why we haven't found the leader of the country we just defeated, Saddam Hussein.
KERRY: Well, it's part of the reason. It's not the whole reason. In fairness, the intelligence community has made steps that have improved. Capturing KhalidMohammed, Sheikh Mohammed, is an important step. Remember, they did have the warnings of two of these particular incidents.
So, the intelligence has improved. But still, it is obviously going to have to get better and much more importantly, the level of cooperation on the ground in those countries, stopping the support for terrorism, stopping the terrorism itself, making certain they are creating the reforms necessary to toward modernity in the future is critical.
MATTHEWS: I have to ask you a McLaughlin-style question, Senator. On a scale of 1 to 100, how far have we gotten in the war against terrorism since 9/11? Where would you put us on that 1 to 100 rating points right now? How are we doing?
KERRY: Chris, I can't do it on that kind of scale.
MATTHEWS: Well, do it on a, b, c, d or f?
KERRY: Well, I think we've done some things very, very well, Chris. I think we've got a lot of progress to make with respect to the cooperation. We're somewhere below the 50 percent with respect to the cooperation, with respect to the engagement in the transition of these other countries.
I'll give you an example.
MATTHEWS: We'll to have come back to that example, Senator. We'll going to have to come right back. Please hold on. We will be right back with Senator Kerry up in New Hampshire.
Up next, I'll ask Senator Kerry about the Democratic field he's running against for president and the Democrats' chance, whoever it is, the nominee, of beating Bush.
And later, another suicide attack in Israel. What's next for the Mideast peace plan? A big surprise there. Nothing happening
Plus the resurgence of Al Qaeda. MSNBC terrorism analyst, Steve Emerson, will be here to talk about the new threat posed by Osama Bin Laden's network. It's still alive and killing.
You are watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We're back with Senator John Kerry up in New Hampshire, scene of the first ever, first in the nation Democratic primary next year. Senator Kerry, you are a moderate, thoughtful person. You think through issues. You understand them. You're a student of world affairs for years now. You fought in the war, you won some medals. You're a very complicated leader.
How do you beat the nut cases in the Democratic Party, the Shi'ites in your party, when you're a Sunni? You're a reasonable guy. You begin to remind me of another guy who was a hero. Matter of fact, I worked for him for three years, Senator Edmund Muskie. You are a moderate in a crazy Democratic primary field where everybody wants fun and suicide.
How do you convince the Democratic voters that this matters? It matters who they nominate because that person must beat President Bush if the Democrats are to prevail? How do you make the case in a nut world?
KERRY: I think you just made the case. I think the case is that people want somebody who can beat President Bush. I believe that I bring to the field the capacity -- you know, President Clinton said it the other day, that 2002 proved that you can be strong and wrong and beat weak and right.
I believe I bring strong and right to the table, the ability to be able to offer America the capacity to make our country safe, stronger, more secure, to build relationships in the world that will advance our interests, to build the ability of America, to gain respect and influence, and be safer.
At the same time, I can offer the country -- I can put people back to work. I can offer us fiscal responsibility, a better set of choices on healthcare. I will ensure every American we will move forward to universal coverage, and I think as people hear a reasonable approach, Chris, that's what is going to make a difference.
MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about that if. Senator, let's talk about that if. Here's a shot from the Iowa debate. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Bush will not be in the Sharpton administration, the head of missing persons. He can't find Bin Laden. We don't know if Hussein is living or dead, and we can't find the weapons of mass destruction. We need to go after those that went after us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator, how do you compete with that? I mean, in showmanship terms, you can't beat the Reverend Sharpton. He's a funny, very bright smart guy. I told you that before. How do you beat that guy who will go to the left, and you're trying to grab the middle left. How do you do that?
KERRY: I'm going to do exactly what I'm doing, Chris. I'm going to be me. I think the American people are looking for somebody that they have confidence can lead our country in a very perilous time. They want somebody who is going to put America back to work, educate our kids, do the things we promised to do in Washington, fund education. I'm going to do those things, and I'm going to do it keeping faith with the years of public service that I've given this country.
Al Sharpton is a very funny guy. You just said it. He's very smart, and that is entertaining, but I think in the end, the American people are looking for a leader. They are looking for somebody who will be strong, make America strong, and take this country to a better place.
MATTHEWS: Well, let's hope the end comes by January, 2004.
We'll come back with Senator John Kerry, a sane man running for the Democratic nomination.
And later, another suicide attack, and that's not sanity, in Israel. Can President Bush do anything to restart that peace process to get us back on the road map?
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MATTHEWS: We're back with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts running hard for president. You know, there's a lot of buzz in this town among the politicos and those watching right now, I'm sure, that Hillary is going to pull a Bobby Kennedy. She's going to jump in this race at the last minute and pick up the marbles. What do you think?
KERRY: I don't think so, Chris. Look, I'm up here in New Hampshire working hard. Today I announced -- and I hope it's something that appeals to you and a lot of other people. You were a Peace Corps member, and I know you respect and revere that service.
I want more Americans to share in service to their country, and today in New Hampshire, I announced a national service invitation with a college for service effort that will invite people to do two years of service to their country, and we will pay for their in-state education in the public education system.
We will attract seniors back into service. We will grow the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is at only 6,700 people today. That's less than it was in the 1960s when it started, and we have a world that's opened up to us that wasn't even available then for Peace Corps service.
I'm going to take the Peace Corps up to 25,000 people, Chris, and I believe that Americans are waiting for the chance to come to the table and help serve their nation in constructive ways. We need leadership that doesn't just talk about compassion but helps to lead America to a place of being compassionate every day through public service in our country, and I think there are many ways we can do that, and I hope we will.
MATTHEWS: And I wish you very well on the high road. I hope it works for the Democratic Party that has a tinge of NBC. November doesn't count, which I hate to say anyway. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination
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