The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/18/10

Guests:
Richard Engel, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, Sgt. Maj. Samuel Murphy
Transcript:

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

           

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over):  Two thousand seven hundred and eight days since American forces invaded Iraq.  Two thousand six hundred and sixty-six days since President Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq.

Tonight, American combat forces leave Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  I think we‘re coming right up to the Kuwaiti border now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in a world exclusive, embedded with, reporting live from the last convoy of American combat troops as they leave Iraq via the board.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re watching the end of an era of the American military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With Rachel Maddow inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, and Chris Matthews, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, State Department Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley, Retired General Paul Eaton, Retired Colonel Jack Jacobs, and former weapons inspector Charles Duelfer.

This is THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s special continuing live coverage of

the end of America‘s Iraq combat mission

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENGEL:  I believe we‘ve seen the last of American combat soldiers cross into Kuwait.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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OLBERMANN:  And shortly after the top of the hour now, we begin the special edition of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW as we continue our breaking news coverage of the last American combat troops, the formal ones anyway, leaving Iraq tonight—the first vehicles in the convoy having already crossed the border with Kuwait.  The soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 440 of them, that they are transporting, having emptied their weapons for the very last time, at least on this mission.  The last of those vehicles, rolling through those gates only minutes ago and the gates closing behind them.

At 3:53 a.m. prevailing local time in Iraq, 8:53 p.m. here on the east coast.  Alongside Rachel Maddow in Baghdad tonight, I‘m Keith Olbermann at our MSNBC headquarters in New York.

Rachel has been in Iraq this week for the final phase of the combat troops leaving the country and joins us now live from the military base inside what used to be known as the Green Zone, now the International Zone – Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks very much, Keith.

The reason that no one else in all of TV and all the world is able to bring you the image that we‘ve been able to broadcast on—from NBC News and on MSNBC tonight, the reason that we and we alone are able to broadcast from the surprise early ending tonight of the combat mission in Iraq, as the last combat troop have driven across the border into Kuwait, beating President Obama‘s deadline for them to leave by nearly two week, the reason we can show you, Richard Engel, with these last troop leaving Iraq and no one else can show you footage like this is because NBC News has technology to do this like that no one else has.  And that technology has a back story and an explanation that is as emotional as the technology is unique.

Please allow me to introduce you to the Bloom-mobile.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENGEL:  This is, you‘ve probably seen this before, right?

MADDOW:  I have never seen this before but this vehicle is so legendary at 30 Rock that I feel like—I feel like I‘m like approaching hallowed equipment.

ENGEL:  Yes, exactly.  Well, it‘s called the Bloom-mobile after David Bloom who, of course, used in it 2003 during the invasion, tragically, died during that push in.  So—

MADDOW:  He died during the invasion.  He had a deep vein thrombosis.

ENGEL:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  He confined in a small space for many, many, many hours and ended up—

ENGEL:  Ended up—it ended up killing him.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ENGEL:  It was name in his honor and it has been brought back to Iraq for the first time since then.

MADDOW:  Really?

ENGEL:  So, it was brought in during the invasion because it has this unique ability.  Behind this golf ball in the back, under the golf ball in the back is a dish, a satellite dish.  Most satellite dish will look up into the sky, lock on to a satellite, and then it stays there and you broadcast.

MADDOW:  So, you‘ve got to be stationary because you‘re locked on to the satellite.

ENGEL:  You‘re locked on to a satellite in the sky and you can broadcast as long as you have that fix signal.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ENGEL:  This vehicle, the dish that‘s underneath this dome, is on a gyroscope.  So, it will lock on to a satellite and then shift to track the satellite even as the vehicle moves, including going up and down and over debris and rocks.  It can be on water, on a ship.

So, it is—it has a unique capability.

MADDOW:  So, this is—so it‘s mounted to this F-450, it‘s got a gyroscope in there, the satellite is in the sky in a relatively stationary position.  This is able to lock on to the satellite even as the vehicle is moving, which gives you the ability to broadcast live from places that nobody who doesn‘t have a Bloom-mobile can broadcast from.

ENGEL:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  It‘s amazing.

ENGEL:  So, on the way in during the invasion, David Bloom used to it broadcast as American troops were crossing from Kuwait into Iraq, entering into a live battlefield.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ENGEL:  Now, full circle, using this to cover the drawdown of American troops.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ENGEL:  And the end of combat.  So, it has a symbolic resonance for us, in addition to the unique technical capabilities.

MADDOW:  Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Richard Engel showing me the Bloom-mobile, the means by which he is able to broadcast from this historic moment tonight—this historic surprise moment tonight with U.S. combat troops crossing into Kuwait, about two weeks shy of the deadline that President Obama had set for U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq.

I will tell you—it‘s very humbling to be here as an MSNBC primetime host among the NBC crew, NBC producers, NBC correspondents, Richard Engel, because they have been through so much, and because covering this war has been such an emotional thing and has taken such a—such a toll on the journalists who have covered this war.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel, that‘s—the merits of that, obviously, are in the contexts of the emotional toll that it‘s taken on these troops.  Not merely the ones who lost their lives in our service, nor the ones who were injured, but all of them.  And they, of course, represent the emotional toll that was taken on this country.

With these last vehicles in that compound on the Iraq/Kuwait border and stipulating that there are 50,000 American troops remaining in the country, in harm‘s way, with this symbolic end of that part of the conflict official as of tonight—is there a way to yet assess the meaning of the last—not just 7 ½ years nearly of conflict, but of the perhaps 8 ½ years, including the build-up to this and all the lies and all the grim news, and all of the misplaced prioritizations and all the missed opportunities in Afghanistan, and all of these dominos cascading—not merely falling but cascading—one after the other in terms of American position in the world?  Is there a way yet to assess what this has all cost us, more psychologically than physically or statistically?

MADDOW:  I can tell you what it feels like from here, Keith.  And I would not have thought I would feel this way before.  I got here but it is how I feel.  And what I feel most acutely is the chasm between what humans are asked to do, what humans are put through, and the politics that puts them here.

Wars start for all sorts of reasons.  Some deserved, some truthful, and some not deserved and not truthful.  But wars end like this—at least American wars like this in our time end like this now.  And they end actually with a political settlement.

The troops that are being left here, the 50,000 troops that will part of Operation New Dawn, these are troops who don‘t want to be forgotten.  They don‘t want this mission to go unnoticed.  They don‘t want us to think that they‘re not here.  Obviously, every officer whom I‘ve spoken with in any context here is armed.  The Green Zone has been rocketed since I‘ve been here.  Everybody is still in harm‘s way.

But to see the combat mission become a training mission, to see it ends like this in politics, it‘s a big picture reset in terms of the way we think about how people go to war and what the cost is for them.  I mean, 4,415 American fatalities in this war, tens of thousands of Americans wounded, the number of marriages that have been lost, the number kids who have grown up without their parents being there to raise them the way those parents wanted to be, the number of parents—the number of kids whose early lives have grown up without knowing their parent.

The human cost of the people that has been born by the people who have been here—the chasm between that and the grounds on which we made political decisions here, some of whom—some of which looking back on them feel so cheap and awful when you see the human toll that they‘ve cost, even just among Americans, that‘s what I feel the most acutely being here.

And so, yes, this combat mission is ending and yes, it ends through politics.  But the politics that start wars like this, the inhumanity of those politics is, honestly—I mean, honestly, frankly, it‘s infuriating.

OLBERMANN:  Is—do you think, and I wanted to you retell a story that you told earlier to this particular hour, since it‘s your regular time period here on the network.  Two things conflate in my mind.  One is a reminder from the administration tonight that just passed the “Reuters” wire.  “U.S. administration official says U.S. combat mission in Iraq not yet over, will continue until August 31st.”  And that‘s technically true.  There will be a ceremony on September 1st, it becomes as you mentioned, Operation New Dawn.

But conflate that with the story that you told earlier about the original—one of the original choices for where you were going to be seated tonight, as you spoke to this audience, and why you are not there and you are, in fact, where you are.  I think there‘s a lot of—there‘s a lot of, well, we‘re glad this is over but as emphasized by these two points, it‘s not over until it‘s over.

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  Americans in harm‘s way here, as are Iraqis.  I mean, even the public affairs officers who I have been working with here and they‘ve been very kind, are always armed.  And right now, I‘m broadcasting from inside the I.Z, the International Zone, what most Americans think of as the Green Zone.  There are still signs outside where I am right now that say “Welcome to the Green Zone.”

One of the locations inside the I.Z. that we had asked for permission to broadcast from for this broadcast tonight was the famous Iraqi parade grounds with the crossed swords.  The big dramatic crossed swords modeled I believe, after Saddam‘s hands.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  The king of vanity.  And that sight just a couple hours before our broadcast started tonight was rocketed.  Two rockets hit there.  And so, you know, alarms went off here.  Everybody was advised to either hit the deck or ideally to get into a duck and cover shelter.

We‘ve been very sternly warned tonight that if those alarms about incoming fire in happen while we‘re on the air tonight, I don‘t get time to explain to you what‘s going on.  You‘ll hear the alarm and I will run to a duck-and-cover shelter or hit the ground.

It is—it‘s a dangerous place.  And it is dangerous for Iraqis.  It is dangerous for the Americans who are here.

There will be 50,000 Americans here on an advise—on an assistance and training mission that will continue until all 50,000 are due to be out at the end of next year.  And just because they are non—not on a combat mission doesn‘t mean they‘re not in danger.

But I do think it‘s worth parsing what the State Department and the Defense Department are trying to say tonight.  They‘re saying, oh, the handover theoretically formally happens at the end of this month.  The last combat brigade has left.

There are about 56,000 troops left in Iraq.  There will be 50,000 by the end of this month.  But there will no longer be a combat mission.  That is not only a—not only of psychological importance, it‘s a—it makes a difference in terms of what people are expected to do here as their jobs.

OLBERMANN:  As to the concerns about what happens if you have to hit the deck, we will take care of informing the audience of what‘s happened.  Just make sure you hit the deck.

MADDOW:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  I feel odd, in fact, saying this also, as part of this equation.  But THE RACHEL MADDOW live coverage of this last night of combat operations for the U.S. in Iraq officially or unofficially will continue after a brief break with your guest host, me, and your guest Rachel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As of about 8:53 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the last part of convoy of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 440 troops, and seemingly nearly as many vehicles, the exact number was 68 armored Stryker vehicles, had passed through the Kuwait/Iraq border and were out of Iraq, symbolizing—we emphasize the symbol part of the word—the last combat troops from the United States of America, leaving Iraq, leaving 50,000 – that‘s the release number – 50,000 troops to serve as advisers and trainers.  Although the date of this was scheduled for the end of this month, the military did it a little early.  The 18-month time table drawdown announced in February of 2009 by President Obama was met with time to spare.

Officially, this Operation Iraqi Freedom, three of the most unfortunate words in American history, perhaps, will continue until the 1st of September.  But for all intents and purpose, this part is as closed as the gate behind that last vehicle is closed at this hour.

We‘ll be getting back out to both Rachel Maddow who is in the International Zone, the former Green Zone in Baghdad, and our own Richard Engel, who, along with the cameraman, Craig White (ph), is, in fact, part of that now departed from Iraq convoy for the 4th Stryker Brigade.

In the interim, I want to talk with my colleague, Lawrence O‘Donnell, about some things that—nothing is coincidence in terms of the public relations handling of the war.  The statement that was issued today was from the State Department.  The spokesman who appeared was from the State department.  The Pentagon has not spoken about this.  The White House has not spoken about this.

This is the State Department‘s part of this war, if it were up for debate.  This was a Defense Department, administration war when it began.  It is now firmly, if it is not already done this, it is now firmly and officially changed hands.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It has.  And this was actually the original intent, was that the State Department was going to run a massive rebuilding operation.  Donald Rumsfeld, in effect, seized control of that at the Defense Department before we actually invaded Iraq.  But the State Department, doing what it is about to do, was in the original early war plans and reconstruction plans.

The State Department has never really been tested on an exercise this big, this difficult, and in such a live fire possible situation.  One of the things the State Department is going to do to begin with is bring in about 7,000 – 7,000 private security force personnel.

You know, we‘re watching the removal of 440 troops tonight as the final removal of combat troops.  We‘ve seen this in the past.  When we try to look at what is the real force level in Iraq, you know, who do we count?  Should we have counted Blackwater when Blackwater was there?  A lot of people think we should have.

So, we‘re going to—now, this group that‘s going in is going to be under much tighter control than Blackwater was.  They‘re all very mindful of the scandal that‘s Blackwater left behind in Iraq.  They are not going to have unlimited powers.  They are going to be subject to the Iraqi government‘s control and laws.

And so, we can expect, I think, reasonably, a different standard of behavior there.

But these are going to be guys with guns in Iraq, Americans, and we‘re not going to count them as being in our 50,000 troop level.  So, I think we‘re going to have to continue to hold on to a lot of the analytical tool we‘ve been using to stare at Iraq over the years and figure out exactly what is going on there.

O‘DONNELL:  If—at the maximum point, you‘re 248,000 U.S. troops involve in this and 45,000 British and 2,000 Australian and 194 Polish.  If that was the original number, why is a count of 50,000 better than a count of 60,000, if you count the contractors?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, there‘s some—you know, there are strong parallels involved.  I mentioned earlier in the first hour of our coverage – 50,000 is what we have in Germany.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  At this distance from World War II, 50,000 can be made to sound like a perfectly reasonable number.  And depending on how they‘re being used at this stage of this history, it may well be a perfectly reasonable number—especially when we consider that unlike Germany, there is a departure date for the 50,000 that is reasonably close in time.

And so, you know, we‘re going to be looking at very closely exact what I they‘re doing.  A lot of people just want to say it‘s training.  A lot of people want to say it‘s office work.  Surely, there will be a great deal of that.  But they are going on patrols.

So, Jack Jacob, when he was talking earlier tonight when he went to Vietnam—

OLBERMANN:  As an adviser.

O‘DONNELL:  – after the war was over.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Because he was an adviser and, you know, that‘s what the advice is.  You‘re standing there beside people in combat saying here‘s how we do it.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right.  My advice to you is to shoot.  Or my advice to you is to run.

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Let talk about the—about the politics of that.  And the politics of this night and how it applies to the bigger picture politics of the next couple of months ahead.

For that, we‘re rejoined by Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.

And what is this?  How does this play into it?  And how is the White House being kind of a step removed from this extraordinary visual tonight?  Why would they do it that way?  And what is the overall impact in your estimation at this point looking ahead to the midterms?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think that‘s extraordinary, Keith, and a very, very good point.  This is happening, not like it happened at the beginning with the daisy cutters and the big explosions that‘s happening quietly in a way.  We‘re covering it in a sensational fashion, beautifully.

But when Barack Obama gave a speech down in Florida a couple hours ago, he didn‘t mention the region at all.  He talked only about the economy.

In a strange way, these are both wars—the war in Iraq and the ones now still going on in Afghanistan that the American people would rather forget about for the most part.  They have concluded that the war in Iraq was a success, according to the polls, but I think that‘s almost a kind of willing suspension of disbelief.  They just want to get it behind us as a nation.

In the case of Afghanistan, the polls say it‘s very unpopular.  As a war, the American people want—don‘t see the connection between these two wars, and being safer as a people here at all.  They know trillions have been spent.  They know that thousands have been lost.  They‘ve lost patience with it.

And on the campaign trail, interestingly, these are not the dominant issues.  It‘s the economy, it‘s unemployment, it‘s even the environment—all of which rank ahead of Afghanistan, which is still an unpopular war.

Barack Obama gets credit from keeping his deadline, but it‘s not going to resonate in the fall elections.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  And I include us in this equation.  I‘m not trying to say, well, everybody else ignored this.  But for a practical matter, after the election of November 2008, Iraq stopped being a front-burner issue at almost all time.  And there were exceptions, of course.

FINEMAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  But that happened.  And that—it‘s not entirely the media‘s fault if something like that happens.  It is also the function of government and the will of the people, is it not?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think it‘s the function also of the American people.  We have a tiered system here, Keith, in which we have largely professional soldiers, supplemented as Jack said, by the National Guard and the reserves.

But this war has been fought by a small segment of the American society.  The rest of the American society has taken on a burden of debt and guilt, if you will, as we‘ve continued to live our lives.  And now, most of the American people want to move on from Iraq and, indeed, from Afghanistan.

And Barack Obama, who might otherwise in other circumstances prefer to be talking about this on a night like, doesn‘t want to, number one, because then he‘ll have to talk about Afghanistan which is very unpopular.  And because he knows that politically in the United States, we‘re focused on the dire state of the economy which, by the way, is not unrelated to the $2 trillion or $3 trillion—

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  – that we‘ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  We‘re a rich country.  But it‘s not a bottomless pit.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  A debt is a debt.  It doesn‘t matter what the origin of it is and some of such originated from these two points.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Howard, thank you for that.

Let me look ahead also with Gene Robinson of “The Washington Post” and

MSNBC.

And, Gene, the Iraq that those 440 troops symbolizing the end of the combat operation tonight are leaving looks like what, and our relationship to it is what?  And where do we go from here?  Or did we all—did we symbolically check out tonight the way those troops literally left the country?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  To answer all those questions, I can say, what?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  You know, all wars have unintended consequences.  The Iraq that we invaded, ruled by the terrible, awful, brutal despot Saddam Hussein, was a counterpoint to Iran in this continuing battle for domination of the Persian Gulf region.  The Iraq we leave behind, or combat troops leave behind tonight, is in no way able to serve as a counterpoint to Iran.  And, in fact, one of the biggest unintended consequences of this war has been the vast strengthening of Iran‘s position as a regional power.

And as a result of that, and that alone, we haven‘t heard the last of this conflict.  We haven‘t seen the last of its ramifications.  And they could prove to be more momentous than we can really even imagine right now.

OLBERMANN:  And it has been momentous from the beginning.  So, think of it as more momentous is a terrifying prospect.

My thanks to Gene Robinson, to Lawrence O‘Donnell and to Howard Fineman for our last conversation.

This is part of our live coverage of this last night of the formal full brigades in Iraq, combat brigades.

We‘ll continue after a brief break here.  You‘re watching it live on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As we continue tonight‘s symbolic news, for the latest from the U.S. (AUDIO BREAK) to Rachel Maddow in Baghdad.

And as I understand it, Rachel, you have now with you the top U.S.  military spokesman in Iraq.

MADDOW:  That‘s right, Keith.  Thanks very much.

As the 4th Stryker Brigade has now driven out of Iraq and into Kuwait, as the—as the last combat troops have left, 50,000 American troops remain in a training and assistance role.  It is no longer going to be Operation Iraqi Freedom.  It is going to be Operation New Dawn. 

Now, we have a tendency to shorthand that as “combat troops leaving, non-combat troops remaining.”  It does sort of beg the question, what is a non-combat troop? 

Joining us now to help us through that and other conundrums and explaining this all, the Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza.  He is the spokesman for the U.S. forces here in Iraq.  Gen. Lanza, thanks for getting up so early. 

MAJ. GEN. STEPHEN LANZA, SPOKESMAN FOR THE U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ:  This is great.  Thanks for having me on your show.

MADDOW:  I know that you‘ve been able to hear a little bit of our

coverage tonight while you‘ve been waiting to come on, while we‘ve been

discussing the historic nature of what‘s happened tonight with this troop -

these troops rolling into Kuwait.  Is there anything that you can help us

fine tune -

LANZA:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Pinpoint in terms of the way the U.S. public should understand? 

LANZA:  Yes.  I think the way we understand this, it‘s really about a transition of combat operations to stability operations.  It‘s about a change of mission. 

And as we conduct our responsible draw-down, we will be at 50,000 by 1 September, which is a significant amount of capability they still have here. 

MADDOW:  What are we at right now?  At 56,000?

LANZA:  We‘re at 56,000 a little under 56,000.  And we‘ll continue to go through a responsible draw-down to meet that goal of 50,000 by 1 September.  But it is about a transition to a change mission, going from combat operations to stability operations, going to where we‘re actually going to do three different missions as part of this overall operation under Operation New Dawn. 

We‘ll still continue to partner to support counterterrorism operations for the Iraqi security forces.  We will continue to support eventual reconstruction teams that work for the State Department.  It‘s their job to build civil capacity and develop civil institutions and still support the United Nations and nongovernmental officials. 

And then, finally, the third part of our mission is to continue to build capability and capacity of the Iraqi security forces.  We‘ll continue to train, coordinate, advise and assist them in accordance with the security agreement. 

So we‘ll still continue our mission here and our mission doesn‘t end here until December of 2011.  It is about a change of mission and that stability operation is what enables the Iraqi security forces to extend to build capacity, to build capability, but more importantly, to help this government move forward by providing the physical and psychological support they need. 

MADDOW:  I think the American public broadly understands that - how important it is that Iraq has stability, that Iraq doesn‘t descend once again into civil war, that there isn‘t mass-scale violence here and we hope that stability operations succeed. 

That said, what is closest to the hearts of - my own heart and to

the American people is the safety of Americans here.  And you when describe

Americans partnering with Iraqi forces on counterterrorism efforts, does

that mean that we should still expect what looks like combat to the

untrained eye even if it‘s no longer combat -

LANZA:  We‘re not really doing it.  As I said, we‘re not doing combat operations. 

MADDOW:  Right. 

LANZA:  Those six advise-and-assist brigades will be doing stability operations.  They are configured for stability operations.  And those are the six major types of forces, six major elements of forces that we‘ll still have here. 

MADDOW:  But when you say they‘re going to be working in limited

counterterrorism -

LANZA:  They will not be.  There will be select forces that will do that. 

MADDOW:  Those select forces will still be fighting, will they not? 

LANZA:  They will be advising and assisting.  They are here as advisers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) securities to deal with. 

MADDOW:  Operation Iraqi Freedom ending, as you say, officially at the end of this month.  Combat troops - the last combat brigade leaving now. 

LANZA:  Right.

MADDOW:  Should we still, when we talk about this, either in the news or among ourselves - should we still call this a war? 

LANZA:  I think we call it - I would not call it a war per se.  I would call it the fact that we‘re enabling Iraq to move forward.  There is a chance here for Iraq in terms of where they are right now to move forward, not only in this region but also to help the people. 

And I think what we‘ve done here is they‘ve given them an opportunity to do that.  I would not say we‘re in a war.  I would still say there are challenges here.  I will still say there is violence that will continue.  The important thing right now, I think, as everybody knows, to get the government seated as quickly as possible. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the government being seated, it has been five months.  There is no Iraqi government formed yet.  Who, therefore, makes the decisions about Iraqi security force operations?  Is the military - is the Iraqi military here under any real form of civilian control? 

LANZA:  I think it is important to know that the government is still functioning.  So while the government is in transition with building consensus and how the four major political parties are going to come to some type of agreement, there is a government right now that operates. 

There is a minister of defense.  There is a minister of interior.  There is civilian leadership of the military.  And the military has been tremendous during this time.  They‘ve remained loyal to the Constitution.  They‘ve remained apolitical to this process. 

They‘ve continued to conduct offensive operations.  They‘ve continued to remain vigilant in what they do to support the people.  More importantly, the Iraqi people still have trust and confidence in them that they‘re doing their mission.  But there is still a government here and there is still a structure here that has civilian control of the military. 

MADDOW:  If there were a violent coup attempt, if there were a cataclysmic terrorist event here, obviously having 50,000 trained, armed Americans here, even if it is not a combat mission, is something that the Iraqi government, such as it is, might turn to for assistance to try to defend anybody from a coup or try to respond to some sort of terrorist event.  How would the U.S. handle that one? 

LANZA:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we handle that right now is, first of all, our mission is stability operations.  That‘s what we‘re here to do - to continue to train, advise and assist the Iraqi security forces. 

Any change to that mission in terms of what we‘ve been tasked to do would really have to be a policy decision.  The Iraqi government would have to make a request, but it would be a policy decision in terms of anything that would change our mission in terms of what we‘re doing for Operation New Dawn. 

MADDOW:  One last question for you and this is something I wouldn‘t have known to ask you before I got here and started talking with a lot of people just as a reporting trip. 

The issue of Iraqis who have worked very directly with Americans, translators, fixers, people who have worked as contractors for U.S.  security services here.  But Iraqis who have done that have done it at such grave cost to their own safety and security. 

I‘ve talked to people who have been kidnapped, people who have been burned out of their homes, who have had their families targeted.  How does the U.S. responsibility to help that relatively small number of people manifest?  What can we do to get them, honestly, travel money, visas, employment to thank them for when they‘ve done? 

LANZA:  Well, I think that‘s something, obviously, that policymakers are looking at.  Certainly, we‘ve done everything we can here as military to take care of them.  They have done tremendous work over the last seven years. 

They‘ve sacrificed tremendously.  Their families have sacrificed.  And I would say a large part of our success is predicated on what they‘ve been able to do for us and the risks they have taken to support us over this mission. 

MADDOW:  Do you hear that, policymakers?  Hear that?  That‘s important.  Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the spokesman for U.S. forces here in Iraq, again it is still dark and it‘s a pleasure at any time to have this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LANZA:  You‘ve been great.  And thanks for coming out here with your show.  It‘s been great.  We appreciate that. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, general.  Good luck to you. 

LANZA:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Keith, we‘ll head back to you in New York now. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Rachel.  Thank you, general.  We noted earlier that there has been very little in terms of response from the White House tonight.  There have been two separate directions this has gone in. 

There is a Reuters story that reads simply this, “The United States has completed draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq to 50,000 - senior administration official.”  Other sources say that‘s not accurate.  That‘s not technically correct. 

But this was merely the last full brigade to leave tonight.  We‘re going to explore that at length as our live coverage continues with chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, the NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd, also host, of course, of “The Daily Rundown” in the mornings on MSNBC.  We‘re getting an early start for Chuck this evening.  How are you, Chuck? 

CHUCK TODD, HOST, “THE DAILY RUNDOWN”:  Hanging in there. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Give us the White House perspective on this.  There has been, from our end, just here at the desk in New York - there has been some conflict of information.  What is their role?  What is their point of view on this tonight? 

TODD:  Well, I think, you know, some people would look at it and say, “OK.  Are we splitting hairs?”  Last brigade out - there are still troops in the country, in Iraq that are associated with the combat mission. 

But in their minds, it is a little more than splitting hairs that, look, this is like turning an aircraft carrier.  It takes a long time and that all of the troops will not be out until August 31st.  It is something they want to reemphasize. 

And it is at that moment that we‘ll hear from the president.  For instance, we‘re not going to - the president just got back from this cross-country campaign and this policy trip that he just did.  He won‘t address anything tonight.  He‘s not going to address anything tomorrow. 

He goes on vacation at Martha Vineyard for the next 10 days.  But on August 30th and 31st, that‘s when we‘re going to hear from the president.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates is going to be going over for the handover for the new mission on September 1st as we heard the general that was just talking with Rachel a few minutes ago for Operation New Dawn. 

So it is one of these things - they don‘t want to be getting ahead of themselves.  They are aware that this brigade and this is the last major combat brigade that leaving the country.  But they also don‘t want to leave the impression that all of the combat troops are out because the support troops, whatever you want to refer to them. 

So I think it has more to do with the fact that they just don‘t want everybody getting ahead of themselves and realizing, hey, there are still 5,000 to 6,000 troops associated with the combat mission that are still there that need to be withdrawn. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m confused, to some degree, that the number of hairs being split might be 6,000 here.  And I add to this, as I quoted before the break, this Reuters report that simply said, “The United States has completed drawn-down of the U.S. forces in Iraq to 50,000 - senior administration official.” 

TODD:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, either somebody at Reuters got that off by 6,000 or somebody in the administration is off by 6,000.  Is there a mixed message?  Is there - is it, is the fuzziness deliberate perchance because they don‘t want to make that big a deal out of it?  What is actually going on, do you think? 

TODD:  Well, I don‘t want to call into questioning the Reuters reporting. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

TODD:  I must tell you this - you know our folks over at the Pentagon are incredibly good at this.  And look, we‘ve talk to folks in Iraq and we‘ve heard tonight from folks in Iraq that there are still troops, more than 50,000 troops there. 

Everybody here at the White House tells me there are still an extra 5,000 or 6,000 troops.  So that one report thankfully might just be somebody who is assuming this last combat brigade represents all of the rest that were in there.  And everything we‘re understanding is that is not the case. 

Still, let‘s remember, the last combat brigade is out tonight.  And so we shouldn‘t - we shouldn‘t - we shouldn‘t avoid that big piece of news.  That is still an incredibly important moment here. 

At the same time, I think that the White House and the Pentagon want people to realize there are still a few thousand troops that need to be withdrawn by August 31st to fulfill that agreement that they made, that on September 1st, this is a new mission.  This is no longer a war mission or combat mission.  This is what‘s going to be called Operation New Dawn. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well, let‘s pull back from the individual players that are in question. 

TODD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And look at the style.  Having emphasized the point that you just made, which is the one we‘ve been making now for three hours of this live coverage and Richard Engel has been making from first Iraq and now passed into the Kuwait border and Rachel has been making from Baghdad. 

The great symbolism of this last - will settle on the White House terminology, the last full brigade to leave.  In that context, if that were simply agreed, to stipulated, the White House sort of quiet mode on this is deliberate? 

Speaking out in some way, being at the forefront of this is inappropriate in some way?  Or they want to tamp it down?  Explain it from there. 

TODD:  Well, I think, though - I think you‘re right.  I‘m glad we‘re going up to 30 there.  Let‘s remember, because on the one hand, we‘re still at war in another country.  And I think they realize - you know, they have been, on one hand, making - they wanted the month of August to be about the country realizing the president campaigned on a promise to end the combat mission in Iraq. 

And on august 31st, 2010, he is fulfilling that campaign promise.  And it is something we heard the president say in a speech two weeks ago when he made that speech in Atlanta to disabled veterans.  He talked about it then and he‘s going to talk about it again at the end of the month when the actual handover starts to take place. 

And we know the Defense Secretary is going to end up out in Iraq as well to participate in that handover.  But they know that this is sort of a tough message to send because yes, one war is coming to an end.  But it is not as if we‘re declaring victory.  You‘re not hearing anybody say mission accomplished - not from here.

And you‘re not going to hear it from folks at the Pentagon because, frankly, there is another war going on.  And it is another war that is growing, that is becoming divisive and unpopular as the war in Iraq was four years ago when the political campaign, and the political career of Barack Obama started to take off. 

OLBERMANN:  One more question and I understand I‘m not being contentious with you nor really with the White House.  I‘m just trying to, I guess, just dig around and see if there is a story here or there isn‘t one, because our coverage began at 6:30 Eastern Time this evening with - not long after our first report from Richard Engel on the road, on the highway, on the way out of Iraq, with P.J. Crowley, who is assistant secretary in the Department of State in charge with dealing with the media who did not seem to contest either the symbolism or the specifics, without putting words in his mouth. 

I don‘t remember him contesting either the symbolism or the specifics of how this was being characterized.  Is there a disconnect between the State Department and the administration as a whole? 

TODD:  You know, I don‘t want to get into that aspect because I don‘t know the answer. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I‘m not going to ask you -

TODD:  No.

OLBERMANN:  To quote from the transcript by memory.  I can‘t do it myself. 

TODD:  No, no, no, no.  What I mean is this - I frankly think that maybe the White House wasn‘t - “aware” isn‘t the right word - wasn‘t fully comprehending the fact that there are - you know, we‘re not the only news organization embedded with this last brigade that had just left Iraq. 

In fact, there are, I think, four or five other news organizations.  We happen to be the only one that has the technology to bring this picture to the world tonight live of this brigade leaving.  And you do get the sense, Keith, that that is what was not fully comprehended. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

TODD:  That you know, look, it‘s not as if this was a surprise to the military leaders in Iraq, to that brigade, that there were a lot of media embedded, whether it is “The Los Angeles Times,” which is up with the story, “The Washington Post,” the Associated Press. 

So it is not in that sense, and I think maybe this was a case where the White House and the - maybe some folks here on the Virginia side of the Pentagon, or the military establishment, didn‘t quite comprehend what this moment was going to look like when it was broadcast on television. 

OLBERMANN:  Well phrased as always.  Chuck Todd, the senior White House correspondent for NBC News and the host of “The Daily Rundown” here on MSNBC.  All right.  Thanks, Chuck.  Thanks for covering this. 

TODD:  Thanks, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  Get a nap.  Get a good nap. 

TODD:  Yes, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Our coverage - our live coverage will continue from New York and Baghdad after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Before the final brigade of U.S. combat troops started leaving Iraq, our own Rachel Maddow got a chance to meet some of them.  And for more on that, we return to Rachel at a military base inside the international zone, the former green zone in Baghdad.  Rachel? 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Keith.  The 4-2 Stryker Brigade is based in Ft.  Lewis, Washington.  They were the last group of U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.  They have driven into Kuwait, the last combat troops out, thus signifying the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

The formal handover, as we‘ve been hearing from politicos, of course, all night - the formal handover happens at the end of this month, that they are the last combat brigade out. 

I actually had a chance to meet with the Command Sergeant Major of the very last battalion at the end of the very last convoy just before they did their final checks and final packing up here in Baghdad. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera):  So I don‘t know who‘s going to be the last troops out - the last combat troops out of Iraq.  I have to look at my notes because it‘s long.  Ready?  It is the first battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment of the fourth Stryker Brigade of the Second Infantry Division. 

Now, a brigade is 4,000 troops.  But the battalion that we‘re talking about, the last battalion out - that‘s about 650 men and they are in these giant Stryker vehicles.  This is the thing that defines what a Stryker Brigade is.  They travel in these vehicles. 

They are very proud of these vehicles and it really defines the way they function as an infantry.  These are armored infantry-carrying vehicles.  They are incredibly fast for the amount of people and gear that they can carry and for the amount of armor protection that they have. 

They can go 80, 90 miles an hour.  But they are also relatively quiet.  They are not a track vehicle.  A lot of vehicles these size and with this much armor on them run on like a type track.  These don‘t.  They run on eight enormous rubber wheels. 

The thing about them from the outside, if you are standing outside them, you can see that they are surrounded by this incredible metal grid.  This is designed to stop rocket propelled grenades. 

They‘ve also got a canopy over the top that makes you not really be able to tell that there are humans inside.  They don‘t look like human-carrying vehicles.  But as you say, the soldiers who operate in these Stryker vehicles are very proud of them.  And we are going to talk with them now.  These should be the last battalion out, the last combat troops out of Iraq. 

Joining us now is the battalion Command Sergeant Major for the 4th Stryker Brigade, Samuel Murphy(ph).  Command Sergeant Major, thanks very much for your time. 

SGT. MAJ. SAMUEL MURPHY, U.S. ARMY:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  The Stryker vehicle, as I understand, is pretty popular among the troops who work with this vehicle.  It‘s pretty well-loved among army vehicles, right? 

MURPHY:  As far as army vehicles, I have been in the army for about 20 years and I have been a striker for the last - about six years.  I don‘t want to be on anything else.  This is, by far, the best unit and the best platform I have ever been on. 

MADDOW:  How long have Strykers been in use in combat? 

MURPHY:  Since 2003.  The third brigade second division was the first one - I‘m sorry.  Yes, late 2003. 

MADDOW:  OK.  In terms of the vehicle itself what is it that is so valuable?  What is it that makes you feel you can do that, and no other vehicle, of your choice? 

MURPHY:  The vehicle itself is really quiet, as you described earlier.  Not only, but it brings a lot of soldiers into the fight immediately.  A platoon rolls with about 40 men and you can put them on the ground immediately. 

Whereas the rest of the units that operated in Iraq or have been operating in Iraq cannot put that much manpower on the ground at one time like a Stryker brigade can.  And our digital systems make it so that we can mask our combat power a lot easier than the rest of the brigade in the army. 

MADDOW:  What do you mean by that? 

MURPHY:  We can put more men on the ground at one time from different companies to mass our combat power, to put more men. 

MADDOW:  In terms of being able to communicate?  In terms of -

MURPHY:  The communication systems we have and the fact that we run a squad per vehicle - so an eight-man squad comes out of the back of this vehicle when we drop the ramp which is - equates to basically three humvees. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

MURPHY:  We can put as much manpower as three humvees on the ground with just one vehicle. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the defensive capability of this vehicle, obviously, one of the most striking things about it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is the metal grid that surrounds it.  That is to stop rocket-propelled grenades? 

MURPHY:  It is.  That is not a cage.  That‘s what it‘s really designed for, to stop RPGs.  This armored side of the vehicle is very, very sturdy.  I have seen it take many, many hits on my first tour.  This tour - not so many, which is fine.  But it is very sustainable.  It‘s very survivable and it‘s very quick. 

MADDOW:  How does it feel to be literally the last combat troops out of here, I mean, seven years in? 

MURPHY:  Well, it is certainly a historical event.  And we are proud to be the last battalion of the brigade to leave.  And honestly, I haven‘t really thought about it that much.  I know we still got a job to do and we are going to do it.  And when we get back and I guess when I reflect on this, it will be a great honor to be chosen for this. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Well, Battalion Command Sergeant Major Samuel Murphy, thank you.  I really appreciate your time. 

MURPHY:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Good luck. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Sergeant Major Murphy, one of the last soldiers - last U.S.  combat soldiers rolling out of Iraq into Kuwait tonight, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Very good, Rachel.  And we‘re going to take a break.  But when we come back, more of those troops.  We‘re talking live with Richard Engel inside the Kuwaiti border, where they hope that tonight, left, is the last full-combat combat brigade, the last major combat presence of the United States in Iraq. 

Our live coverage of this momentous and deeply symbolic night in our American history in Iraq continues live here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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