Missiles land at air base. TRANSCRIPT: 1/7/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests:
Christopher Hill, Joshua Geltzer, Jack Reed, Rand Paul, Ben Rhodes, Kelly Magsamen, Mark Jacobson
Transcript:

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  MSNBC will have much more on this breaking story

starting right now with Chris Matthews on “HARDBALL.”

 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews back in

Washington with major breaking news at this hour.  Iran says it has

launched a decisive response to the killing of its top general by the

United States last week, launching missiles at multiple locations today,

including an American airbase in Western Iraq.  This comes just hours after

the funeral for that military leader, General Soleimani.

 

In a moment, we`re going to go to NBC`s Richard Engel who`s in Erbil over

in Iraq.  In a moment, I want to bring in Jeremy Bash over right now.  He`s

the former chief of staff at the CIA and at the Defense Department.

 

The ayatollah, Khamenei, right after the attack and the killing of the

general, Soleimani, by us said this is going to be an open response by

them.  It`s going to be against our military establishment.  It`s going to

be carried in the open, as he pointed out, and it`s going to go after our

interests.  It sounds like the first round at least of what he promised in

retaliation.

 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, CIA AND DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE:  That`s

exactly right, Chris.  You see rocket attacks against the Ain Al-Asad

Airbase, where the U.S. have a presence there as well as a rocket attack

against the Erbil base, where U.S. force have been up in the north, in the

Kurdish areas.  There are also reports about Iranian fighter jets in the

skies, potentially U.S. fighter jets as well.

 

This is potentially round one, where Iran is trying to exact revenge for

the killing of Soleimani against primarily military targets.  But it`s not

going to stop there, Chris, because they have other tools as well.  They

could try go after U.S. officials.  They could try to conduct cyber

attacks.  They could try to restart their nuclear program.

 

MATTHEWS:  our own cultural figures.  They could do anything.

 

BASH:  They could.  But I think here you see the leadership of Iran clearly

retaliating against the United States against military targets for the

killing of General Soleimani.  And I think they`re going to wait to see

what happens.  They`re going to gauge the American response and decide

whether or not they want to proceed from there.

 

MATTHEWS:  We`ve got Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island joining us.  Senator

Reed, what do you see happening right now having followed this for the last

five days?

 

SEN. JACK REED (D-RI):  Well, it`s a shocking development, but it`s no

surprise.  The Iranian government articulated very clearly, as you pointed

out, Chris, that they were going to take a military action against a

military target.  The critical issue at the moment is assessing the damage,

the casualties.  I hope there are no casualties, obviously.  And then the

next step is to prevent an escalatory spiral that will take both of us,

both Iran and the United States, into a much more open and extended

conflict.  That requires either the third party or some type of

backchannel.  But the first point is to assess the damage and also to

protect our American personnel that are in Iraq.

 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this is in our control or do you believe that the

Iranian forces led by the ayatollah through the Revolutionary Guard in this

action right now as we speak against the American installation in Iraq is

stoppable or is this the first round?  Can we still stop what the next

round is going to be?

 

REED:  I think it`s likely a first round and, again, I think we`re in this

very, very dangerous and treacherous territory where events could be

controlling our decision-makers rather than decision-makers controlling

events.  We could be in a situation where the administration takes a

retaliatory action.  That prompts even more reaction from the Iranians. 

Again, what we have to have, I don`t foresee that at the Moment, is some

type of understanding, some type of communication so that we do not let

this situation spiral out of control.  That`s a possibility at the moment

and it`s a very, very dire possibility.

 

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to see the president of the United States slow

this thing down and call for this to slow at this point, if he can, this

escalation process which began five days ago?

 

REED:  Well, it`s probably something that is best done not by public

pronouncements by either the ayatollah or the president but getting a

serious discussion between elements in both governments that can

effectively coordinate some type of understanding or at least pause so that

we can see if other means rather than offensive or defensive military

operations take place.

 

Again, it`s reminiscent of so many historical episodes.  But within the

Cuban missile crisis, for example, there was the understanding that Kennedy

and Khrushchev were losing control of the situation and intermediaries

stepped in and began a dialogue that led fortunately to a peaceful

conclusion.  So we`ve got to start to look for that.

 

And then, I think, again, you can`t emphasize it enough.  We have to

protect our troops, one.  Two, we have to hope and make an assessment that

there are no casualties.  That might provide more of a justification for

moderation but this is a very, very difficult situation.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Jack Reed.  Please hold on there, Senator. 

We`re going to bring in one of your colleagues, your Republicans colleague,

Rand Paul of Kentucky.

 

Senator Paul, let me ask you about this.  This has a sort of a Barbara

Tuchman guns of August aspect where one step leads to another without

purpose.  Is that what you`re seeing?  I mean, we assassinated, if you

will, their top general, one of the leaders of their country, last

Thursday, and now they`re attacking back as the ayatollah promised they

would with a full military action against our military in broad daylight. 

Well, who blows the whistle on this game?

 

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  Well, you know, I`m very worried about this.  I

hope and pray that none of our soldiers are injured or killed.  This has

also been predictable.  I think this maximum pressure campaign where we

give no off-ramp and there`s no ability or attempt to engage, I think it`s

been a failure.  Secretary Pompeo has been saying we will force them into

accepting our will, but we got out of the Iran agreement which broke the

trust that we had developed with them.  We then put an embargo on them and

now we`ve killed one of their leading generals.  So I think this is

predictable.

 

I hate it and I hate the fact that we`re involved with military escalation

now.  But there is no easy answer now.  And I think that they will not have

a full-on war with us, so I think this goes on intermittently and this is

the opening salvo.  But I think it will go on for some time now.  I think

they will try to avoid a direct war because we can defeat any other nation

and we would defeat them in a matter of weeks.

 

But it would be another catastrophe and another mess times ten of what

happened during the Iraq War, and I hope we don`t go that route.  And I

hope saner minds will pull back and say, enough is enough.  Let`s try to

have some means of conversation or some means of engagement.  But it`s

difficult because the Iranians are very, very upset with the killing of

their general and I don`t see them being open to any type of engagement at

this point.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator, you made the point well, because just in the last

minutes, we have learned that 59 people were killed in the streets (ph) of

Tehran during the funeral procession for General Soleimani.  There is blood

there.  There is blood perhaps tonight in Iraq.  We have blood on our hands

from killing Soleimani.  Who`s going to show the first – who`s going to be

the first country to blink, as we said, during the Cuban missile crisis? 

Do we expect the ayatollah to blink or will Trump blink?

 

PAUL:  Well, our founding fathers had an answer for this.  Our founding

fathers said that no president should have this power.  No single

individual should ever have this power.  And so I`m looking very carefully

at Senator Kaine`s resolution on the war powers because I do believe that

Congress should be the ones making decisions on whether or not we declare a

war.

 

I think killing a major general for another country is an act of war.  And

so I think that there is a possibility if Congress were to come together,

Republican and Democrat, and say this is a power too ominous for one person

to have.  Unfortunately, it`s partisan.  Not many Democrats wanted to rein

in the killing and targeted killing of Obama and not many Republicans did

either.  And now, it`s sort of we`re at a point where Democrats are a

little bit more open to restraining a Republican president but I don`t know

that we still have the votes.

 

But we`re going to look at it.  We`ve tried in the past with regard to

Saudi Arabia.  And hopefully if more voices are included in this debate,

maybe we`ll be able to stop the escalation.

 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get the president of the United States to sign such a

document?

 

PAUL:  You`d only get it accomplished with a veto prudent majority, and

we`re not there.  It doesn`t mean the vote is not worth having, because –

so we`ve been having this debate for a long time.  And, really, since World

War II, we haven`t declared war.  And it was a big mistake that we allowed

the Vietnam War and Korean War to happen without really the authority of

Congress.

 

And so this is a debate that`s ongoing.  But most Republicans and many

Democrats have acquiesced to the fact, well, the president can do whatever

he wants.  I don`t accede to that.  I think that, absolutely, the

Constitution says that we should be in charge when we go to war.

 

And some will argue, oh, Congress is too feckless, they`ll never go to war. 

After 9/11, we were nearly unanimous in going after people who attacked us

and after Pearl Harbor.  We haven`t been so unanimous with things like the

Iraq War.  But actually, I think, the Iraq War was a mistake.

 

I don`t think an overwhelming majority, even a majority would vote for this

war, but we ought to have that debate and we ought to have someone come and

say to us why is a war with Iran in our national security interests and why

does a resolution from 2002, look, O`Brien, the national security adviser

saying that the resolution for the Iraqi against Saddam Hussein somehow

applies to that.  That is ridiculous on the face of things and ought to be

really laughed out of the room.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator.  We`ve got breaking news.  We`ve got

to go then.  But, Senator Rand Paul, thank you for joining us from the

Senate.

 

PAUL:  Thank you.

 

MATTHEWS:  But, first, as I said, joining me from the Pentagon, NBC`s

Courtney Kube.  Courtney, what`s going on now?

 

COURTNEY KUBE, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY CORRESPONDENT:  We`ve

got some breaking news here.  The Pentagon U.S. military is now

acknowledging that Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles

against U.S. forces and coalition forces in Iraq.  This is what we`ve been

waiting to hear is exactly what the nature of this attack in Iraq was

against Al-Asad Airbase in Western Iraq.  A dozen ballistic – more than a

dozen ballistic missiles and they`re saying they were launched against –

excuse me, from Iran targeting to Iraqi military bases hosting U.S.

military, not just at Al-Asad but also in Erbil.

 

That was when we were trying to figure out there had been some reports of

explosions up in Erbil but no one could tell us what it was.  Well, now we

know, in fact, that they were actually ballistic missiles fired from Iran.

 

Iran had been saying that, in fact, this was the case. It`s not surprising

that if they were, in fact – if they were launching something out of Iran

to target U.S. base or U.S. installations, U.S. military inside of Iraq,

they would have to be ballistic missiles just given the distance.

 

But this is a much more serious attack in the fact that a missile versus a

rocket does a lot more damage.  So the fact that these were actually not

the kind of more crude rocket attacks that we`ve seen against the U.S. and

Iraqis inside of Iraq in recent days and weeks really ratchets this up a

notch there, Chris.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Courtney Kube, at the Department of Defense.

 

Let`s go now to Richard Engel who is in Iraq.  Richard, thank you for

joining us.  It looks like when you use missiles, ballistic missiles, you

are looking hurt people, to punish.  This is not a harassment move by

Tehran.

 

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  This is Iran`s response

or part of Iran`s response.  It is signaling primarily to its own people

that it`s not just going to sit back and take it.  Every couple of minutes

for the last hour or so, Iran has been putting out on social media through

its official channels patriotic slogans, #GeneralSoleimani,

#AssasinationSoleimani, #DecisiveResponse.  They want the world to know

that Iran did this.  They put out video showing what are apparently are

ballistic missiles.  In the video, you could see three of them.  You could

hear of roar of what sounded like a jet engine.

 

We are here in Erbil, and about two hours ago, we heard what we thought was

certainly one, perhaps two explosions.  And now, Courtney was just saying

that it was – it appears that that was the incoming rounds coming from

Iran fired at a base here in addition to the base much farther from here in

the desert region of Al Anbar Province.

 

So the fact that Iran is firing ballistic missiles from its territory at

two airbases and then bragging about it, posting about it every 15 minutes,

trying to create a hashtag.  Last time I checked the video that it posted

had been seen over 100,000 times just in the last maybe hour since it`s

been up gives a sense that Iran wants the world, wants its own people to

know that it is doing something after millions of people took to the

streets in Iran and about 50, 56 according to Iranian news agencies, died

in a stampede during the funeral.  So Iran felt it wanted to respond and

now it`s telling the world that it has.

 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense that comes across in your reporting now that

there`s a restraint being shown here by Tehran, by the ayatollah, they

don`t want it to go too far, they want to be proportionate?  And do they

know that this will trigger or believe this will trigger another

proportionate attack on those missile launchers in Tehran by President

Trump?

 

ENGEL:  Well, they did – Iranian officials consistently have talked about

targeting military targets.  They said that their goal, and this has been a

unified message from Iranian officials and from leaders who support Iran,

from Hezbollah to Iranian-backed militias here in Iraq, that they think the

appropriate response would be to target military installations, that it

would be an appropriate proportionate response and that the goal is to

drive Americans out of Iraq and out of the region if possible.

 

And it does seem that they think that this could trigger a response,

because if you read the Iranian news reports, they`re issuing threats, that

there will be more attacks if the United States responds to what is

happening right now.

 

So they do know that this could be provocative but they do also seem to be

trying to keep it military to military.  Their general was hit, now they

are firing on military bases.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Richard Engel, who`s in Iraq covering this

from close range.  Thank you so much, Richard.

 

Let`s bring in former National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

 

Ben, this is in your face.  It was in your face when we assassinated their

general last Thursday.  This is in our face right now.  It doesn`t look

like these countries are worried, our country and their country worried

about escalation.  In fact, they want to do it in the face of the enemy to

let everybody know they`re escalating.

 

BEN RHODES, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Yes, that`s right, Chris.  I

mean, I`m struck by just how brazen it is.  You think about the history

between the United States and Iran, we`ve never before encountered

something where you literally have really a conventional military strike

from within Iran on U.S. troops directly less than a week after the killing

of Qasem Soleimani.

 

So this is Iran signaling they`re not going to be cowed by a strike like

that.  And, frankly, they have other ways to respond, in ways that they

could respond by not necessarily taking responsibility.  Their proxies in

different countries could take actions that Iran doesn`t necessarily have

to claim that would also be in revenge for Soleimani.  So I don`t think we

should see this as the end of their response.

 

And the challenge that we face, Chris, and we face in this entire

escalatory cycle since Trump`s withdrawal from the nuclear deal is that the

leaders that we are counting on to de-escalate are Donald Trump and

Ayatollah Khamenei.  And those are not leaders whose first instincts is de-

escalation.  They are a type of leaders who have gotten themselves on an

escalatory cycle here.

 

And what you`d need is careful diplomacy, backchannel diplomacy.  There are

other countries that could moderate this kind of diplomacy, whether you`re

talking about Oman that helped moderate our nuclear talks or a country like

France that has had frequent diplomatic conversations with Iran.  But it is

up to one of those leaders to take that de-escalatory path, and we`re in a

situation where neither one of those leaders seems particularly inclined to

do so.

 

MATTHEWS:  I`m thinking in comparison to the shooting war situation we`re

looking at right now with these missiles and ballistic missiles coming from

Tehran directly into our base in Iraq.

 

And I`m comparing that in my mind right now to Jimmy Carter back when our

hostages were taken in Iran in 1979 when this all began, this conflict,

this open conflict with the country of Iran.  And he basically sent a

message, a secret message to the ayatollahs if any of our captured people,

any of our prisoners, and of our diplomats are killed, we`re going to war. 

But he said, if they`re not, the implication was we`re not going to take

war-like steps against your country.

 

You`re right, there`s a difference in the way this thing is being run.  One

side hits the other side.  The other side hits back.  But nobody says,

let`s slow this thing down.

 

RHODES:  That`s right, Chris.  And, look, we have been in very close

contact with the Iranians for many years inside of Iraq.  And at the height

of the Iraq War, you did have obviously attacks on U.S. personnel that led

back to Iran but Iran always worked through proxies.  They always worked

through the Shia militia that they had relationships with in Iraq.  So it

is an entirely different step for them to take this act of war and firing

missiles at our troops.

 

And that shows you that they believe that the Qasem Soleimani killing was a

break from the kind of proxy war that we`d been in with Iran up to that,

that instead of it being a proxy war, we took out one of their generals so

they were going to take out U.S. military targets.  And I don`t think this

is sadly the end of the story.

 

MATTHEWS:  Hold on there, Ben Rhodes.  As always, we value your testimony

here.

 

Let me go back to Senator Jack Reed, who`s on Armed Services.

 

Senator, I mean, is there any way to basically put up the flag, a yellow –

not a yellow flag or maybe a checkered flag or something on our side, the

president could do it and, say, okay, you`ve gotten us back, we got you,

let`s cool it?

 

REED:  Well, I think the first thing is the assessment of what actually

happened on the ground.  If there are significant casualties, I think it

would be very difficult to just simply say, let`s stop.  However, we do

have to get off the escalatory spiral, as Ben indicated.  That`s going to

require, as I suggested, and he also suggested, either a third party

intervention or serious backchannel discussions.

 

If we don`t do that, then this escalatory spiral will go out of control and

we`ll be in a situation where we are in a full blown day-after-day struggle

with the Iranians, and not by proxy but directly.  And that would be very

significant, perhaps even catastrophic to both countries.

 

MATTHEWS:  How do we react to a missile strike without hitting their

missile launchers, Senator?

 

REED:  Well, there are a number of ways to do this.  One, it goes to are we

trying to signal not only that we won`t accept attacks on our troops but we

do want to find some way to get off this escalatory spiral.  One thing

we`ve done in the past when we had the Tanker War with the Iranians in the

1980s was we`ve taken out some of their offshore platforms.  And we`ve done

that by telling them to get off before we destroyed them.

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

REED:  So, there are targets that are accessible that we could hit without

significant casualties which would send a very strong message.  That`s one

possibility. 

 

Again, I think it would be very difficult.  I don`t know if these were

fixed missile sites or mobile missiles.  If they were mobile missiles, it`d

be hard even just to track them down again.  They`re probably in hiding. 

 

But, again, there are a series of targets.  We could – we could choose to

take targets that are less contentious, in fact, even some that would not

involve hopefully any casualties on either side. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I mentioned the fact that President Carter made an attempt

to end the hostage crisis by saying, if you kill any of our hostages, our

diplomats over there, the 50-some who are being held in Tehran, then we go

to war, but we`re not going to war otherwise.

 

Aren`t there people, Senator Reed, out there right now, like John Bolton,

who are rooting for this to escalate, who want this to lead to regime

change, to get rid of the ayatollahs? 

 

REED:  Well, there absolutely are people that have made those arguments. 

 

In fact, the maximum pressure campaign which the administration has been

pursuing essentially was a formula for regime change.  There was no sort of

midway position where, if you do X and Y, then we will sit down and talk

it.

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

REED:  It was you, give up this, you give up that, et cetera. 

 

And, as Senator Paul pointed out – and I concur – the maximum pressure

campaign has not resulted in the collapse of Iran.  They have accelerated

their response to us.  They have picked up the pace, which has, I think,

produced on our side the incentive to go after Shia militia in Iraq and

also ultimately after Soleimani. 

 

So, this has been a process that started with the departure from the JCPOA,

then the maximum pressure campaign.  All the signals diplomatically to Iraq

(sic) was, it`s about regime change or capitulation by the regime to the

United States. 

 

That was not going to happen.  And now we`re in a situation where the level

of violence has accelerated, to the point where we`re seeing attacks by –

openly by Iranian forces against our forces.  If that continues, it only

can get much, much, much worse. 

 

So, if we are retaliating, that might be appropriate, but we still have to

think about, how do we get off this escalation spiral? 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for joining us, Senator Jack Reed

of Rhode Island. 

 

REED:  Thanks.

 

MATTHEWS:  Now let`s bring in Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to

Iraq.

 

Ambassador, thank you for joining us. 

 

And here we are in the middle of a shooting war.  It began last week on

Thursday with our assassination, or targeted killing, if you will, of

General Soleimani.  Now they`re reacting to that, in fact, in the – with

the backdrop of 59 people killed in a stampede during this very emotional,

passionate funeral procession over there today. 

 

The ayatollah is out for blood.  The question is, where does this stop,

Ambassador? 

 

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  Yes. 

 

I mean, first of all, it`s clear the Iranians don`t believe in the idea of

revenge is best served cold.  I mean, they`re right out of the oven with

this, and they`re furious. 

 

The issue I worry about is, where is this going to leave the U.S. troops in

Iraq?  I mean, already, you have had a lot of noise from the various Iraqi

politicians saying, we got to get out.  We got to stop bringing our

problems to their country.  And that was a signal that they`re not very

happy with the Iranians either. 

 

So I think this is going to have the tendency of getting the Iraqis to say,

Americans, we have loved you here, but time to leave. 

 

So I would watch that space. 

 

In the meantime, I agree with all the things the senator said and Ben.  We

have got to stop this escalation.  I would stay away from economic targets. 

The Iranians have already shown they can really hit the Saudis before

(AUDIO GAP) even had breakfast that morning. 

 

So I think we should stay away from oil stuff.  But I think we probably

will want to do something more than symbolic.  And, as Senator Reed said,

it kind of depends on where we are on casualties.  We don`t have too much

bomb damage assessments from Al Asad right now. 

 

So I would – I hope we can kind of have the wisdom to kind of slow this

down, maybe bring in some mediators, like from Oman and those places that

have traditionally wanted to see this calm down.

 

But our president is kind of not into that.  I think he would want to

mediate things himself. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about this progression now that has accelerated

tonight with the attack on our base in Iraq from – directly from Tehran,

with these ballistic missiles launched at the orders, apparently, it would

seem, by the ayatollah himself.

 

We went into Iraq.  Those who supported that action, they thought that we

would get rid of a bad guy, a bad operative, a bad actor on the stage,

Saddam Hussein, but also we removed to one buffer we had between the West,

Israel and Iran. 

 

Now we`re talking about who lost Iraq, as you just said.  Could the Iranian

ayatollah now be saying, OK, with these attacks going on as we speak, we

can not only seek revenge, hot revenge on the Americans, we can get them

out of Iraq, two birds with one stone?

 

HILL:  I think that`s very much on their minds. 

 

Obviously, the Iraqis are in a period of great political weakness.  Prime

Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is just holding down the fort.  There are no

prospects for having a strong prime minister any time soon. 

 

The president, a Kurd, is not in a position really to take the lead on

this.  So, I think the Iraqis are in a very weak position.  I think the

Iranians know that. 

 

And I think they`re going to try to see what can be done to create the

circumstance to get us out of Iraq.  And I think that`s very bad news,

because of all the talk about Iran and its – and its capabilities with

terrorism, we do have to keep in mind that ISIS kind of wrote the book on

terrorism in the region. 

 

And we don`t want a situation where they have free rein with a weakened

Iraqi government. 

 

MATTHEWS:  That`s right.  Our forces were in Iraq fighting ISIS.  And now

they have got to switch around and defend themselves against this threat

that has been realized right now as we speak with this missile – actually,

this missile – ballistic missile attack on our base in Iraq. 

 

Thank you, Christopher Hill, former ambassador to Iraq. 

 

Let`s bring in NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.

 

Hallie, does the president understand where we stand in this tit for tat

war game, in fact, real war, right now with Iran?

 

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  So that has been

the question, Chris, that has been asked since the Soleimani strike late

last week. 

 

Let me bring you up to speed on what`s happening behind these doors in the

West Wing, where we are.  We know that the president is being briefed and

monitored about what is unfolding, Chris, as we speak right now over in

Iraq. 

 

I can tell you that, based on my reporting, the vice president has made

phone calls to several key members of Congress, including Senator Chuck

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

 

I`m told that both were briefed on the attack by Iran now at this point

that the Pentagon is confirming.  Clearly, this is a more active night than

expected here at the White House.  Top advisers are presumably with the

president here as this is going down. 

 

The question now becomes – you mentioned, Chris, a tit for tat.  What

happens next?  How will the president retaliate?  You have to remember that

he has a personal connection, almost unlike any other site, that the

Iranians could have picked to this air base.  This is the first place he

ever visited in a combat zone. 

 

You remember, Chris, a couple of years ago, Christmas 2018, President Trump

made that surprise visit to this exact base.  He knows it.  This is a

president who oftentimes will viscerally connect to certain things, right?

 

We know that he is somebody who likes imagery, who understands and

processes information through sort of imagery.  And having been there, I

can imagine that the president is flashing back to those scenes when he was

in Iraq at the time meeting with soldiers there, different soldiers, of

course, but the same place that`s now currently under attack by the

Iranians. 

 

The question is, what is he going to do?  Is this going to be considered a

retaliation that will demand what some may call a disproportionate

response?  The president has put everything on the table here, although I

will say that what we have seen over the last maybe six hours or so is, the

president back away a bit from going after Iranian cultural sites, which

would, of course, be a violation of international law. 

 

The president had doubled down on that suggestion even as recently as the

weekend.  But in the Oval Office today, just a matter of hours ago, he

seemed to suggest that he would not go that far.  Clearly, the messages

from his secretary of defense and his secretary of state got through to him

publicly today, when they said that they would not, first of all, follow an

order to break international law, in so many words.

 

And Secretary Pompeo going even further, and saying that he didn`t believe

the president would ever give an illegal order like that.  So, at this

point, this is all still coming in.  It`s all still developing.  And you

know the White House is watching that closely, Chris.

 

But that`s where we are, based on my reporting at the moment. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the one concern I would have, politically, for the

president, on his behalf, is, they spent today trying to justify their

assassination, if you will…

 

JACKSON:  Right.

 

MATTHEWS:  … or targeted shooting of the general.

 

If they were so confident was the right thing to do, they wouldn`t be

spending all this time explaining at this point, because it looks like

they`re coming up with reasons for why they did it in the face of this

imminent attack. 

 

They knew something bad`s coming.  It`s now come.  And they`re having to

explain why they set this chain reaction in action, because that`s what`s

happened now.  It`s not just the killing of one general.  It`s the killing

of all the people in the streets of Tehran in that mob scene today, and now

perhaps the killing of U.S. service people in the air base in Iraq, in

Western Iraq. 

 

This isn`t going to stop.  And now the question is, why did it begin? 

 

JACKSON:  There was no expectation, Chris, based on the sources that I

talked to in the hours immediately after the Soleimani strike, that Iran

would not retaliate.  There was just no expectation that they would just

simply do nothing after Soleimani was, in effect, taken out by order of

President Trump.

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

JACKSON:  I am told that the preparations were in place in the moments sort

of before, during, after, immediately after the strike, knowing that there

would be retaliation from Iran. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

JACKSON:  The president at the time, of course, was down in South Florida. 

We were down there covering him in West Palm Beach.

 

And the activity level, based on my sources, had intensified at Mar-a-Lago,

with the president huddling with his aides, some on the phone, some in

person, to talk through what those next steps would be. 

 

So it is not a surprise, and it should not be a surprise to, frankly,

anybody, much less anybody sitting in the West Wing right now, that Iran

would have, in fact, retaliated.  The question had been, what would that

retaliation look like? 

 

Now we have a more clear picture of that, as this is unfolding tonight.  We

also don`t know if this is over yet, or if there`s more to come. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it looks like one of those road rage scenes where both guys

are out of their car, face to face. 

 

The question is, who`s going to get back in their car and drive away?  And

I don`t – it doesn`t look like either side is going to do that tonight. 

 

Thank you so much, great reporting, as ever, from top White House

correspondent Hallie Jackson. 

 

NBC`s Cal Perry is over in Doha, Qatar.

 

Cal, what do you know up there about the tit for tat which is ongoing now? 

We have got a shooting war. 

 

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, we know it`s happening as we

speak.

 

There was at least one wave of rockets hitting Al Asad Air Base, as Hallie

sort of laid out, iconic for many reasons, the least of which is now, on

Iranian state television, they will be able to play a video of President

Trump visiting the troops there. 

 

This was clearly a signal, not only to people in Iran, I think, but around

the world, the key being these rockets were fired from Iran into Iraq. 

We`re used to seeing and talking, of course, about these Shia militias

using these Katyusha rockets.

 

Katyusha rockets power themselves.  They are rockets onto themselves. 

These were ballistic missiles, at least a dozen of them fired from Iran. 

Chris, these missiles would have had to travel 200 miles.  So, what the

Iranians are doing is not only retaliating for General Soleimani, not only

hitting that U.S. target, but they`re demonstrating capabilities. 

 

They`re sending a message to the U.S. military that they are willing to use

these ballistic missile.  They have not been willing to use them in the

past.  But, clearly, after the killing of General Soleimani, they are

literally breaking out the big guns.

 

The U.S. military is obviously going to stay on a state of high alert.  I

think the key here, Chris, is whether or not this attack is over, if this

is just the first wave of many waves, or if this is the retaliation and the

Iranians will now wait to hear from the Americans, Chris.

 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the weaponry here.  It`s asymmetric, as always,

with us in the Middle East.

 

We used – we used drones from a helicopter to kill the general, Soleimani. 

They`re using – they`re using ballistic missiles, which are not exactly

surgical.  Tell me about that, Cal.  When they shoot those missiles into

our base, anything in front of them gets exploded and killed. 

 

So they`re not really being careful about our service people over there. 

They`re out to kill people. 

 

PERRY:  They are.  They`re out to kill American service members, and

they`re out to make a statement. 

 

The point you make is an excellent one.  They could have used drones.  The

Iranians have a fairly good drone program.  They used drones in September

to attack oil fields in Saudi Arabia.  They could have done that in a place

like the United Arab Emirates, in a place like Qatar behind me, a strike in

the Gulf. 

 

But these ballistic missiles are massive, depending on the payload.  You

can load anything into the top of these ballistic missiles.  And it appears

as though, at the very least, what was loaded into them was very high

explosives. 

 

So the way that this attack was carried out, a very conscious choice from

the Iranians.  Also, the timing – look, we had that three-day period of

mourning while they buried General Soleimani, while they rallied around the

flag.  They made him the biggest hero that he could be. 

 

And then almost virtually as soon as that funeral was over, we saw the

response.  There had been a lot of talk that they would take their time. 

They did not.  Certainly, I think the fact that they have unleashed these

ballistic missiles and a dozen of them that appear to have hit the target

is hugely significant. 

 

They`re also testing President Trump.  President Trump has now boxed

himself in, telling the American people that he would respond if American

personnel or American assets, bases in the region are targeted.  That`s

exactly what the Iranians did. 

 

Clearly, they are, at the very least, trying to see how far the U.S. is

willing to take this, Chris.

 

MATTHEWS:  Cal Perry over in Doha, thank you for that great reporting. 

 

I`m back now with Jeremy Bash.

 

And joining me now is Malcolm Nance, MSNBC terrorism analyst, and Joshua

Geltzer, former senior director of counterterrorism at the NSC. 

 

Let me go to Malcolm on this. 

 

Malcolm, in the room, I always ask in politics – and this isn`t about

warfare, but generally, including warfare, who`s in the loop?  Who`s in the

room with our president?  Who`s in the room with the Ayatollah Khomeini? 

Who`s making the decisions? 

 

Let`s start from our side.  We killed that general.  We assassinated him,

according to the language used by the ayatollah.  We killed this guy.  We

assassinated him with Mike Pence in the room, with Mike Pompeo in the room,

real hawks, almost religiously so.

 

Are we counting on the fact that the people on the other side are less

hawkish, that the people on the other side are less religious in this

confrontation?  Your thoughts, Malcolm? 

 

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, I certainly hope we don`t hope

that that`s the case. 

 

I mean, they – the Iranians are not suicidal players.  They are running a

very large country, 81 million people.  They are taking steps that they see

as in their best national interests, and they`re trying not to be extreme. 

 

Tonight`s attack is a very good example of that.  They could have chosen

many, many more extreme ways of retaliating against us, getting proxies to

carry out suicide truck bomb attacks, actually bombarding that base with

hundreds of local battlefield rockets. 

 

They chose to do it from Iranian territory using short-range ballistic

missiles, where the United States would know where they boosted from, where

they were going, and impact an area that`s 25 square miles, hopefully not

injure or kill as many people.

 

Perhaps they are being rational about this.  The question is, who is going

to be the next rational player?  Will we take this as an opportunity to go

after these very highly mobile transporter erector launchers that Iran has

fired these from?  They`re gone. 

 

They are nowhere near where they launched from tonight. 

 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

 

NANCE:  So, hopefully, the Iranians will have allowed this to be an

incremental step to backing away from this.  They have gotten their

revenge. 

 

But, unfortunately – I worked there for over 20 years.  I spent 10 years

in Iraq.  They generally tend to want real blood, to have drawn blood,

hopefully, that this will be a propaganda coup for them, and that cooler

heads could prevail. 

 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of our side in terms of that willingness to

relax these tensions, at least after the tit for tat, this round?  They`re

getting at us.  We don`t know the casualty figures. 

 

We don`t have any idea how bad it`s going to be over – that base over

there in Western Iraq.  But we do know that we knocked out their top

general.  We killed one of their heroes.  That was done at the behest,

apparently, of Mike Pence, whose religious on this issue, and Mike Pompeo,

it seems to be, almost as passionate about going after Iran. 

 

Why do we assume – well, maybe you got a case right there.  You see – you

already see restraint on the part of the other side, of Iran here.

 

Malcolm?

 

NANCE:  Well, I don`t think that the – I don`t think that our side is

going to see this as restraint on the part of Iran. 

 

Let me tell you, I have been in that region when ballistic – theater-level

ballistic missiles have boosted into the air, and you just cannot imagine

the level of tension that goes up inside these command posts, because, when

they come down, we don`t know what`s going to be in them. 

 

In this case, they were 1,500-pound high-explosive warheads.  In the first

Gulf War, we didn`t know whether they were chemical, biological, or other

types of weapons and whether we were on the cusp of an atomic war. 

 

In this case, Iran has used its conventional military capacity to do that. 

 

Now, will we let this lie in Iraq, or will we decide now we can escalate

one step further, we can hit the Iranian mainland and try to go after some

of these launcher sites, because we have a very good capability of

determining precisely where they launched from?

 

But, as you know, from some of the video we have seen, they were launching

near urban areas, and most likely deliberately, so that they could not only

get the best azimuth on their target, but so that retaliatory

counterstrikes wouldn`t come to them quickly. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Malcolm Nance.  Hang in there. 

 

Let me get back to Jeremy Bash.

 

You`re in the room.  You have been in these rooms at Defense Department and

CIA.  The president of the United States is sitting some – probably in

this Situation room right now.  He`s listening to the options.  What are

they? 

 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LEON PANETTA:  Well, number one

option is to do nothing, to wait, to let the Iranians have their propaganda

victory, but to de-escalate.

 

And I think that`s probably most likely the recommendation that the

president is getting right now, which is, let`s let round one happen. 

 

But then there`s the recommendation you might have hear from the field and

commanders in the field, who say, we cannot live and abide by the fact that

missiles are raining down on our troops.  We have to retaliate.  We have to

least tactically take down some of their…

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  How do you go after mobile launchers?

 

BASH:  Well, you have to pinpoint their location and go after them. 

 

And there are also stable position launchers.  And you can also degrade

their military in other ways, degrade their command-and-control and degrade

the communication systems that actually allow them to communicate about

where they want to launch these missiles from. 

 

So, there are many ways to retaliate.  And I think – I have been in a room

where a general once said, let`s not waste the crisis if Iran attacks us. 

In that context, it was about mining the Straits of Hormuz.

 

If Iran does that, let`s set their navy back 25 years.

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

BASH:  These are some of the options that are going to be laid before the

president.

 

And, hopefully, again, cooler heads will prevail, we will let this round

one happen, we will let the Iranians have their propaganda victory, we will

wait to see how to respond. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jeremy. 

 

Let`s go to Josh Geltzer. 

 

Sir, you know the president of the United States.  You know the options

probably put on the table before him.  What do you see?  How do you see it

coming together, sir? 

 

JOSHUA GELTZER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it looks like

this was classic confusion by the Trump leadership with a tactical success

without a strategic vision.

 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

 

GELTZER:  In the sense, the intelligence that enabled the Soleimani, the

exquisite weaponry that took him out near the airport, it`s a tactical

success and perhaps entranced the president as a possibility.  But ultimate

strategic victory depends, in virtually all circumstances, unless you have

all out war, on some vision for politics, for political agreement, for some

settlement both sides can live with. 

 

And there just is no indication that when Donald Trump entered into the

Soleimani strike, he had even a vision let alone how to get there for that

ultimate strategic outcome. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Did we understand the passionate, well, belief if not reverence

for General Soleimani when we killed him?  To be blunt. 

 

GELTZER:  I have every reason to think that President Trump didn`t.  I

mean, every report that you get about how he consumes intelligence is that

he doesn`t.  At most, he reads a little bit, he listens a little bit. 

Instead, he takes the word of advisers who happen to be in his favor at the

moment, and gets a gut feeling and goes with it.

 

But this is far too important to go with a gut feeling.  It should be

driven by intelligence.  It should be driven by expertise.  But every

indication is that`s not how national security decision making is working

under President Trump. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Hang in there, Josh.  We`ll get back to you. 

 

Let me go to Ben Rhodes. 

 

Ben, you know, you`re a political guy and a man who`s worked in government

at this level with the National Security Council.  Chess is not a one-move

game.  We`re going to do a chess game here.  We have to go think ahead the

way Henry Kissinger used to do, linkage and two or three steps ahead. 

 

What would be the smart American move if this weren`t the president?  If a

normal president were president to be blunt about it again, how would you

deescalate?  But also, if this is an opportunity for someone to exploit,

people who want regime change, what must we fear here from them in the room

with Trump? 

 

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR (via telephone):  Yes. 

Well, I mean, we fear that Trump has made these decisions without any

regard to consequences thus far.  This was not a surprise.  When we pulled

out of the Iran nuclear agreement, many people forecasted that that would

be the equation.  When Qasem Soleimani was assassinated, it was quite

obvious what the response would be in Iran given his stature.  But here we

are. 

 

If you were sitting in the White House today, look, you would want to de-

escalate this situation, you would want to make sure we`re protecting our

diplomats and our facilities but you would immediately be talking to other

countries that have service channels between the United States and Iran in

the past.  Oman, for instance, that hosted the secret talks that led to the

Iran nuclear agreement.  Our French allies who remain in frequent contact

with the Iranians and try to find some pathway towards de-escalation here

that both avert the risk of a wider war and also may be aimed to deal with

some of the issues between the United States and Iran like the nuclear

issue. 

 

The problem is President Trump has not been inclined to take that kind of

path.  I do think while it may seem like there`s an imperative – a

political imperative to respond here, we have to keep in mind that one

response will beget another response. 

 

MATTHEWS:  That`s of course.

 

RHODES:  In terms of a long-term war with Iran is far greater than what we

might gain and a satisfaction in a response here. 

 

So, I think the overwhelming imperative here should be to try to avoid

another Middle Eastern war that could take place in other countries with a

country that is three times the size of Iraq and far more sophisticated

than either the Iraqi insurgency was, with the Taliban insurgency in

Afghanistan.

 

On the other hand, I think the hard liners, Mike Pompeo, in the

administration may see this as an opportunity.  They may think it is

usually easier to dislodge the Iranian regime than I believe it actually

is.  And they may think that some targeted strikes at a number of

facilities and places inside of Iran could cause the regime to begin to

crumble. 

 

I reject that analysis, just like I reject that the analysis that maximum

pressure would lead Iran to capitulate.  This country fought a brutal,

brutal war with Iraq for nearly a decade and did not capitulate in that

conflict.  They have been fighting in Iraq and then Syria through their

proxies.  They`re accustomed to violence. 

 

So, while I think Pompeo and others may want to ratchet up the escalation

to the point of regime change, as we have learned time and time again in

Iraq and Afghanistan and in Libya, that regime change itself is not the end

of the war either. 

 

So when I hear the secretary of defense saying things today like we don`t

want to start a war, we know where it ended – well, let`s try to focus on

ending a war that we got into nearly two decades ago before taking on a

much more sophisticated and larger enemy.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ben. 

 

We`re watching the footage right now of the incoming ballistic missiles

into our base in western Iraq.  And we, of course, we have the facts on the

table, which is last Thursday. 

 

The United States under the orders of our commander-in-chief, Donald Trump,

assassinated a top general, in fact, one of the most revered figures in the

country of Iran. 

 

The ayatollah immediately threatened us.  He said, we`re going to move

against you with our forces in broad daylight.  We`re coming after you. 

We`re going to hit your military with our military. 

 

And that`s what`s happening right now with these ballistic attacks,

ballistic missile attacks.

 

Joining right now to talk about it is former National Security Council

member Kelly Magsamen, who joins by phone. 

 

Kelly, thank you. 

 

Put it together right now.  What happened last Thursday to the killing of

General Soleimani, the cruise – the ballistic missile attack right now in

our western base in western Iraq, and where are we going from here? 

 

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER (via telephone): 

Yes.  I think what you`re seeing right now is proportionality does not

necessarily mean de-escalation.  I think, you know, these kinds of events

have a way of spiraling out of control rather quickly and even though the

Iranians are responding in what appears to be a proportional and

conventional way, it`s definitely going to certainly potentially trigger

another U.S. response and push us into a further escalatory cycle. 

 

So, I think for the president of the United States right now, I think he

has to ask himself where do I want to land this plane?  Is it going to be a

full blown war or is it going to be –

 

MATTHEWS:  I have to apologize.  Kelly Magsamen, thank you so much. 

 

We have a big, hot thing I have to go right now.  I want to bring in Ali

Arouzi, NBC News Tehran bureau chief live from Tehran – Ali. 

 

ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF:  Hi, Chris.  Yes, Iran has

launched attacks on al Anbar – hello, can you hear me, Chris?  Chris, can

you hear me?

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I can hear you. 

 

AROUZI:  Yes, Iran has launched – Iran has launched attacks on the Al

Anbar base in Iraq which houses U.S. forces.  They say if there`s anymore

retaliation, there will be more attacks on all U.S. bases in the region. 

We`ve just gotten report that a second wave of rocket attacks have been

launched from Iran.  The IRGC was saying that Ayatollah Khamenei, the

supreme leader of this country, was in the control center coordinating

these attacks. 

 

This – I`m not sure about, but Iran state media says 30 U.S. soldiers have

been killed in this attack.  This is not confirmed.  This is just coming

from Iranian media. 

 

But we have just stepped over the precipice here, Chris.  We have entered a

very unpredictable time.  We have to see what the response is going to be

from the United States.  But this is undoubtedly the most serious moment

between Iran and America in the last 40 years. 

 

It`s very, very tense here.  On the way to the bureau, I had the radio on. 

Songs of marches to war were being played.  We`re just getting reports now

that Iran has deployed its entire air force.  They are saying that if they

are retaliated for these attacks, they will launch attacks in the Emirates,

in Dubai, anywhere else that it is complicit with the United States. 

 

Also, Ayatollah Khamenei just released a statement saying he sees no

difference between the United States and Israel in this conflict.  This is

drawing people from all sides into this – what is potentially the

beginning of a war, Chris. 

 

I just – I don`t know how this is going to go in the coming hours, but

it`s not looking good from the rhetoric that came out from President Trump

earlier today saying that he will retaliate against any retaliation from

Iran.  I think we can expect an attack on Iran imminently. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about putting those together and what you know

over there.  That is the combination of the military actions by both sides,

our killing or assassinating of the general, the revered General Soleimani,

the references by the president in the last week to going after cultural

sites.  He sort of pulled back on that, but the fact he threw that out

there, we`d go after their treasured Persian sites, which thousands of

years of history and religion behind them, and now, I`m sensing a religious

fervor for Khamenei, once again.

 

The conversation is getting to the point of almost mortality of each

country.  Both countries saying we`re throwing everything on the table

here. 

 

AROUZI:  Absolutely, Chris.  It seems like Iran is all in right now.  Look,

there have been very hard lined elements in this country that have been

staunchly anti-American since the revolution in 1979 and they`ve been

itching for a conflict.  This seems to be the opening for that. 

 

Now initially we were expecting Iran possibly to retaliate using its proxy

forces in this region but they`ve decided to use their conventional army,

the IRGC, to send a very clear message to say this is coming directly from

Iran.  They don`t want this mistaken as a sign of weakness that they need

to rely or prop up on their proxies.

 

So, yes, I mean, all bets seem to be off.  Is President Trump going to

attack cultural sites here?  I mean, that would make ordinary Iranians even

more upset than they are now. 

 

I can tell you there is a great sense of anxiety in this country even

though it`s just gone past 4:00 in the morning.  Everybody is awake. 

They`re trying to get their families out of major cities like Tehran out

into the country. 

 

You have to remember, Chris, this is a country that experienced an eight-

year bloody war with Iraq where 500,000 Iranians were killed.  I know many,

many people here still remember the air raid sirens going off, having to go

and hide in bunkers in Tehran.  It looks like those scenarios may be

unfolding again. 

 

But they`re not facing Iraq, they`re facing the United States.  The United

States has a formidable military force.  Iran`s air force and navy are no

match for America`s military might, but they can wreak absolute havoc in

this area. 

 

If all of those militias suddenly rise up, you know, all U.S. personnel in

this region are in grave danger.  Earlier on today, Kataib Hezbollah, which

is the militia group under Iran`s patronage that attacked the U.S. embassy

that sparked off this initial crisis had released a statement this morning

saying we are waiting for Iran`s army to launch a military strike against

U.S. forces and then we`ll go immediately into action. 

 

So, we`re expecting the proxies to strike back at any moment now as well. 

I mean, this is I guess what you call the fog of war.  We`re not sure

what`s going to happen from moment to moment as we`re going forward. 

 

But Iran – I think Iran also caught America off guard.  They`ve been

saying they`re going to attack.  They were trying to keep it as sort of

elusive as possible, if you will, and all of a sudden in the dead of night

they have hit that base in Iraq, which we have to see how the U.S.

retaliates.  If the U.S. retaliates, this is going to blow up beyond any

imagination. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Ali Arouzi over in Tehran, you`ve given us a lot of clarity

tonight, sir, in these remarkable circumstances. 

 

I want to bring in Mark Jacobson, former Defense Department senior advisor,

who joins us by phone. 

 

Mark, the question is if Iran is serious now in threatening, if we go back

and retaliate for this attack, they`re going everywhere to hit us, with all

kinds of – this goes in to pretty much a real war, a total war.

 

MARK JACOBSON, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, Chris, this

is how you stumble backwards into a war.  I think historians are going to

look back and see JCPOA, the killing of Soleimani.  Right now, we`re at the

narrow end of a funnel in terms of strategic options. 

 

And I don`t see how you don`t respond without incurring further responses

by the Iranians.  Now, there is one thought I`ve had listening to

discussions.  That`s we may choose a series of strikes to suppress Iranian

air defenses, which would be a prerequisite in sort of larger set of

strikes. 

 

But it sends a really sound signal.  You want to escalate, we`re going to

escalate beyond where you think we`re going to go, and while I agree with

Jeremy Bash`s comment earlier that, you know, sometimes you see some

restraints from the White House and you see the generals acting like, you

know, they like to go to war and take advantage of the situation, I worry

we don`t have the restraint.  Trump is knee-jerk.  You know, if the

Soleimani strike teaches us anything, we better hope the Pentagon doesn`t

put any ridiculous thruway options in the next paper. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, there`s options the president wouldn`t use but they did. 

 

Let me go back – thank you, Mark – Mark Jacobson. 

 

Let me go to Ben Rhodes.  Ben, I look at history here.  It`s been mentioned

tonight.  Barbara Tuchman`s book, “The Guns of August”, how at World War I,

which was an unnecessary war became a war, one of the worst ever, and led

to World War II, all unintentionally.  Here we are with the ayatollah

putting the word out if we take a step back toward them after what`s going

on right now, with the latest ballistic missile attack on our base in

western Iraq, with how many casualties, we don`t know yet. 

 

How did we get a situation when Trump isn`t going to act?  He always acts. 

Ben? 

 

I think we lost Ben Rhodes. 

 

Let me go to Jeremy.  That question to you.

 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT CIA AND DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE:  Yes,

I mean, I think the president again has very few strategic options.  If he

doesn`t retaliate, he in his own mind will look weak.  If he does

retaliate, he can escalate the conflict and he wants to end endless wars. 

So, he`s boxed himself in here, Chris, in a way that I don`t think he

foresaw. 

 

Now, there are other reports here that are percolating on social media. 

Number one, there`s an attack on a third site, at Camp Taji.  Voice of

America reporting that five missiles have launched there. 

 

There are reports of casualties at the Al Asad airbase, potentially Iraqi

casualties.  Some U.S. officials saying that there were no U.S. casualties. 

 

And there are also reports that fighter jets are in the air, that F-35

aircraft, U.S. aircraft have taken off from both UAE, Al Dhafra and other

bases in the region.  And then Iranian fighter aircrafts are in the air. 

 

So, we are seeing unfolding dynamic, military situation, precisely the kind

of situation that can lead to conflict, unintended consequences, and all

out military conventional war.

 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go back to Kelly Magsamen, who served in the National

Security Council.

 

If you sit with the president in a Situation Room right now and you put

before him option, will there be another one of these dangerous options

like assassinate Soleimani?  My question is, is the president going to have

within reach the possibility of truly escalating this war already? 

 

MAGSAMEN:  Yes, and I think to Jeremy`s good point, I think if national

security adviser O`Brien is actually worth his paycheck right now, he can

focus on trying to widen the president`s options, not shrink the

president`s options.  So, I`m hoping that what they`re putting forward to

the president right now is those de-escalatory response which could be a

potential diplomatic opening.  It could be maybe a response in cyber

fashion, maybe even a covert action response, something that gives the

president something to hang on to that doesn`t get us back into a

conventional tit-for-tat cycle, because as you can see now, that can

quickly spiral out of control. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, among those options, how far would they go in the dovish

direction? 

 

MAGSAMEN:  Well, I think to the others` points, I mean, the president has

swung wildly back and forth between wanting to get the better deal with the

Iranians and Obama.  That is something that has motivated him from the

beginning with projecting the Iran deal, to wind up being pure tough.  I

think that has been inconsistent with him.  His inconsistency has been

consistent across the Syria policy, Iraq policy, Iran policy. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

 

MAGSAMEN:  I don`t think he really knows what he wants.  So, it`s the job

of his advisors at – the national security advisor in particular to guide

him to a place where he actually wants to end up and to give him a set of

options that is going to create a circumstance where he`s not boxed in

purely to a military response. 

 

MATTHEWS:  If you were there and you – would you put an option before him

that said no stupid wars.  Would that be one of the boxes to check? 

Because he ran on that. 

 

In all seriousness, he said he wouldn`t do this, and now we`re finding our

way step by step, tit-for-tat from an assassination of a beloved general. 

We didn`t know he was beloved. 

 

Next, we`re going in to a situation where the ayatollah says he`s going to

do something.  Use his armed forces, the revolutionary guard, to hit us in

our military installations there.  And he did so.  Not all of this is

blind.  Not all this is fog of war.  This is pretty obvious if you do your

homework, and know who you`re killing, who you`re assassinating, and what`s

going to come next, especially when the other side tells you what`s coming

next.

 

It isn`t all difficult for a reasonable mind to operate within. 

 

MAGSAMEN:  That`s absolutely right.  I mean, I think there should have been

far more process before the decision was made.  I mean, it`s interesting

the Gang of Eight was being briefed this evening on the intelligence that

led the president to make this decision. 

 

My question is, was the Gang of Eight briefed on the intelligence

assessment on what the Iranians would do in response and was the president

even briefed on that before he made this decision.  So, what you`re seeing

right now is the implications of that decision and I don`t think his

national security team did a very good job in explaining to him what could

potentially happen. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.  Thank you much, Kelly Magsamen.

 

You know, during the Cuban missile crisis I always go back to my brain

because I grew up with that.  Curtis Lemay, the wild bomber of the Air

Force, who did level Japan, when he was asked, what would happen if he hit

the Soviets, and he said, they won`t do nothing.  Of course, they would. 

That`s why we ended that horrible conflict peacefully, because people with

reasonable minds said, let`s stop this. 

 

BASH:  That`s right.  And the question is, will this be a propaganda

victory for Iran where they can claim credit and for their domestic

audience can say, we retaliated against military targets, or will this lead

to a greater escalation?  Will the White House allow Iran to take that one

lap, will they say, no, we have to hit the mobile launchers, hit the

ballistic targets? 

 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  When`s the last time Donald Trump left some money on the

table? 

 

BASH:  Well, I think on June 20th he did.  He didn`t retaliate against the

shoot down of our drones.  So, he has swung wildly. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Good for you.

 

Thank you so much for our guests.  You`re optimistic, sir, and we need

that.

 

Thank you all for joining me tonight. 

 

Much more in this breaking story all night tonight on MSNBC. 

 

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES”, of course, starts right now. 

 

 

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

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