In a speech to university students, MSNBC host Chris Matthews characterized President Bush as a shallow-thinking, unlearned man who when confronted by aides with the decision about going to war with Iraq was given something to think about for the first time in his life.

Chris Matthews

The Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq war was “nonsense” and totally dishonest, Matthews told a gathering of 200 students at Brown University this week, according to the Woonsocket Call newspaper in Rhode Island.

Vice President Richard Cheney was “behind it all,” contended Matthews, who served as an aide to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts and wrote speeches for former President Jimmy Carter.

“The whole neo-conservative power vortex, it all goes through his office,” Matthews said, referring to Cheney, according to the paper. “He has become the chief executive. He’s not the chief operating officer, he’s running the place. It’s scary.”

The vice president, he asserted, is the man “who put his thumb on the scale” to affect the balance between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“The ideologues started circling around the president,” Matthews said, according to The Call. “They saw a man who never read any books, who didn’t think too deeply and they gave him something to think about for the first time in his life. This thing called pre-emption, the Bush Doctrine. They put it in his head and said ‘Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.'”

Sources tell WND that management at MSNBC are becoming increasingly perturbed at Matthews for his outspoken criticism of Bush.

The commentator acknowledged the president has some “clear strengths” and is the favorite in next year’s election.

Bush had a “King Arthur moment,” he said, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when he stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center and declared into a bullhorn “‘the people who knocked these buildings down are going to hear from all of us.’ He pulled the sword out of the stone.”

Matthews disclosed he favors former Vermont governor Howard Dean for president in 2004, according to the Rhode Island daily.

“He came out of Vermont, a small state, with no foreign policy experience and with sheer guts he believed in one big idea and that big idea was: ‘It was wrong to go around to the other side of the world to fight a war.'” Matthews said.

Matthews said, however, Dean’s problem is the American people have to decide, “do you put a lefty in at a time of crisis?”

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