The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/22/11

Guests:
Eugene Robinson, Vali Nasr, Rep. John Garamendi
Transcript:

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST:  THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is

up next.

Good evening, Rachel.  Thanks for joining me at the top of my show tonight.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  You know, it was nice to be there.  And Elizabeth Rubin was so impressive.  It was really—it was great company.  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you.

           

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Politically speaking, the single most instructive thing that happened in Washington, D.C., in the last 36 hours was this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are there any senators in the chamber wishing to vote or wishing to change their vote?  Hearing none, the yeas are 100, the nays are zero, the nomination is confirmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  One hundred-to-nothing, a clean sweep.  During a vote in the Senate last night, every single member of that body unanimously voted yes, 100-to-zip.  That never happens.  One hundred-to-zip to confirm the nomination of our nation‘s new defense secretary.

Now, this is not naming a post office or something.  This is confirming the next secretary of defense at a time when this nation is engaged in two different wars, more than a handful of more invisible wars and when the politics of those wars are intense and getting more intense.  But in the middle of all of that, the new defense secretary‘s nomination was just confirmed 100 to nothing?  It didn‘t even make headlines.

What does this tell you about U.S. politics right now?

It tells you that if you kill Osama bin Laden, you can do anything you want.  If you kill Osama bin Laden, you can do anything else you want in terms of national security.  The new defense secretary is Leon Panetta.

What was Leon Panetta‘s last job?  His last job was killing Osama bin Laden.  He has been the head of the CIA and he will forever be known as the guy who was heading up the CIA when the U.S. intelligence community found bin Laden and those Navy SEALs were sent in to kill him.

So, now, Leon Panetta is up for defense secretary?  Sir, yes, sir.  Anything you want, sir, 100-to-nothing.  You killed bin Laden.  What would you like?

Even the contrarian, to be contrarian senators signed up to make sure their yes votes were counted on this one.  If they wanted to put Leon Panetta up for czar of something, if they wanted to put him up for Supreme Court justice, if they have wanted to put him up for homecoming king, it would have been 100-to-nothing vote, too, because he killed Osama bin Laden.

And the modern American political axiom at work here is that if you kill Osama bin Laden, you can really do anything you want.  It is a political truth—a new modern American political axiom that the White House does not appear to be taking advantage of.

A little less than an hour ago, President Obama addressed the nation from the East Room of the White House.  He announced his plans to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September of next year.  Ten thousand troops will come out by the end of this year.  The rest of the 33,000 will come out by the end of next summer.

And then, frankly, no change in plans—a further continuation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan for years to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace, as Afghan security forces move into the lead.

Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Although this has been headlined all day everywhere as a big troop withdrawal, it‘s important to note that this 15-month drawdown plan that the president outlined tonight, this is only to drawdown the extra troops that President Obama sent in when we last heard from him on this subject in December, 2009.  This is just drawing down the surge.

Here‘s what our troop presence in Afghanistan has looked like over the last decade.  Wow, decade.  You can really say that.

When President Obama was sworn into office January of 2009, there were about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Mr. Obama, of course, campaigned overtly on the fact that he was going to scale up the war in Afghanistan, and he very much kept that promise.  He increased troop levels—look at that—increased troop levels in Afghanistan quite dramatically—so much so that by August 2010, the U.S. had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

This big withdrawal that President Obama announced tonight, this big drawdown of troops, here‘s what that looks like.

By September of next year, we will have about double the number of troops in Afghanistan as we had when President Obama was sworn into office, with troops to remain in Afghanistan for three and a half years from now.  The war in Afghanistan is not ending any faster than we thought it was going to before tonight.  The war in Afghanistan is not ending any faster than we thought it was going to before Osama bin Laden was killed.

Here‘s what the president said tonight about why we will still have 66,000 troops there with a year‘s long horizon as of the end of next summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we‘ve made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Afghanistan war is going on 10 years now.  If it were a kid, it would be in the fifth grade.

What President Obama announced tonight was not the end of that 10-year war, although he talked about it ending some day.  What he talked about tonight, though, what he really outlined, what he actually gave for is just the end of a surge in troops in that 10-year war.

I mean, we know what it looks like when wars end.  Even when long wars end.  Even when long, unpopular wars end.

This is the U.S. military spending in Iraq over the last decade.  Up, up, up, up, up, until about actually 2009 when Barack Obama was sworn into office and then way, way, back down.  That‘s what it looks like to end a war.

Do you want to see what this same period, this graph looks like when it comes to Afghanistan?  Yes.  At some point, supporting fewer troops and transitioning out of combat operations should start to turn that graph around, but it‘s not yet.  And the president is saying plan on three and a half more years in Afghanistan.

For the first time since Pew started polling on the Afghanistan war, a majority of Americans now say that U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible.  That number took a recent spike.  So, it got up over a clear majority, right after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden last month.  At that point, 48 percent of Americans said get out.

After we killed bin Laden, that number is up to 56 percent and apparently climbing.  And that‘s not only because it is a new modern axiom of American politics that if you killed bin Laden, you get more leeway to do more stuff you might have done before.  See Leon Panetta, 100-to-nothing.

But the American public connecting the killing of Osama bin Laden to a willingness to leaving Afghanistan, that may very well also be a result of the way that President Obama has characterized this war for years now.  Not as a war of nation-building or of bringing democracy to the Afghan people, but he has narrowly defined it—narrowly and explicitly and repeatedly defined it as going after al Qaeda, disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, right?  How many times we heard them say that?

When you describe a war repeatedly that way and then you kill the head of al Qaeda, understandably people think that we can maybe leave that war.  But we are not leaving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The goal that we seek is achievable and can be expressed simply: no safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.

We won‘t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.

What we can do and will do is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures, one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I rarely get to the end of a major policy address by this president and feel like what I want is more information.  President Obama‘s policy speeches tend to be detailed.  They tend to be rather heavy on the specifics.  Whether or not they also include the kind of oratory for which Mr. Obama is famous.

But tonight, after 13 minutes on why the killing of Osama bin Laden means no real substantive change in the plan for three and a half more years of American war in Afghanistan, after those 13 minutes of hearing from the president—mostly what I have is a list of questions.

I mean, is there going to be a “combat operations in Afghanistan have ended” announcement like there was in Iraq, wherein troops are still in that country but they are in a support capacity only.  That was a pretty stark dividing line in Iraq.  Might that happen in Afghanistan?  And if so, how soon might that happen?

When the president says the goal now is that extremists should not be able to launch from Afghanistan attacks on us or on our allies, when he says allies, does he mean Pakistan?  Because people launching cross border attacks between Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think that is something that a U.S. president isn‘t going to stop in 13 more years, let alone three more years.

Does the president care that the public is uniformly in favor of getting U.S. troops out and fast?  Those numbers are much higher than they once were, but he‘s not changing his plan.  Does he care about public opinion on this?  And if he doesn‘t, why doesn‘t he?

Joining us now is Vali Nasr.  He‘s a professor of international politics at Tufts University.  He‘s a former State Department senior adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He served with the late Richard Holbrooke.  Professor Nasr is also a columnist for “Bloomberg View.”

Professor, thank you for being here.  We‘re really happy to have you.

VALI NASR, FMR. STATE DEPT., SENIOR AFPAK ADVISOR:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you if you heard tonight something that I frankly believe I did not hear—which is a new strategy for the Afghanistan war.

NASR:  No.  The president did not outline a new strategy.  He essentially argued that we have succeeded so far in stopping the Taliban‘s momentum and defeating al Qaeda, or at last weakening it.  And therefore, that warrants reducing our troops in Afghanistan.  But he didn‘t explain how we were going to conduct the war and ultimately what‘s the strategy for bringing the remaining 69,000 troops after next year.

MADDOW:  What do you think those 67,000, 69,000 troops will be doing

with a multi-year horizon at that point, after these extra troops have

left?  We‘ve heard reporting—no explanation from the president himself -

but reporting there‘s been an internal debate within the administration about whether to have a broad-based counterinsurgency approach, that those troops might be involved in a lot of things construed as nation-building, standing up the Afghan capacity for governance and security, or whether troops should be doing something more specifically defined as counterterrorism and even policing.

           

Do you have a sense of what those troops will be doing?

NASR:  Well, there will be some combat operations, largely because the Taliban have not wound down their attacks against U.S. troops or against Afghan civilians and Afghan government.

But it‘s very clear from what the president said that he no longer really believes that the counterinsurgency can do the job.  That what we achieved in Iraq, using the model of counterinsurgency, is not working in Afghanistan, and therefore, he‘s taking out the 30,000 troops in order to put more emphasis on counterinsurgency.

So, there are some special forces and troops like that that will do counterterrorism, but he‘s looking to shift the burden of U.S. military to training of Afghan security, which is supposed to take the reduction of American troops and fill in the security gap and do the job.

And that remains to be seen.  We don‘t know whether the Afghan security forces are able to stand up.

MADDOW:  The president specifically mentioned that tonight, talking about success in training the Afghan security forces and talking optimistically about their capacity in the future for taking over security responsibilities from the international forces, mostly U.S. force that is there now.

What is your candid view on the likelihood of Afghanistan being able to support an army and a security service of hundreds of thousands of men with the type of Afghanistan—the type of security challenges that Afghanistan has?  Are they going to be able to do this on their own?

NASR:  First of all, financially they‘re not going to be able to do it.  In other words, the size of force that we are forecasting for Afghanistan, in order to provide security, that country cannot pay for it. 

So, at some level, we have to sign up to support an Afghan army

indefinitely in order to protect security, if we‘re not going to be there -

and that‘s something for the American people to debate.

           

Secondly, this country has not had a military for a very long time. 

It‘s not Iraq.  It doesn‘t have a pack bone of existing military.

And if we cannot defeat the Taliban, if our counterinsurgency with 30,000 additional troops that we put in, has not broken the back of the Taliban, I cannot see how a novice, newly-built Afghan security force can do the job.

MADDOW:  What do you think the other options are that the president could credibly have presented tonight to the American people?  You understand both the politics at work here as well as the operational realities.  What else could the president have said other than what he said tonight, that you think might have actually been credible given your experience?

NASR:  I would have like to hear much more from him about a diplomatic strategy.  If you cannot end the war militarily, the only other way the war is going to go away is in some kind of deal in which the protagonist agree to a peace settlement.  And we haven‘t done much of that.  It‘s not been part of the debate for sending troops in.  It has not been or not part of the debate for bringing the troops out.

And, ultimately, by withdrawing these troops, the president has already indicated that he doesn‘t think we can defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, we can just hold them off but really cannot defeat them.  So, it remains to be seen whether there is a path that he sees for us to do the kind of negotiations with the Taliban supporting the Afghans doing those negotiations, getting the neighborhood involved in negotiations, that have ended other wars of similar kind.

I mean, ultimately, wars are fought on battlefields, but they have to finish around the table.  And the administration really hasn‘t outlined how it is going to get there.

MADDOW:  Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at Tufts

University, columnist for “Bloomberg View” and former State Department

senior adviser for Pakistan and Afghanistan with the late Richard Holbrooke

thank you very much for your time tonight, Professor.  I was really looking forward to talking to you about this.

           

NASR:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be right back with Congressman John Garamendi, who‘s an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan.  I can tell you that Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House tonight, has responded to the president‘s speech by saying, “It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the president laid out, and we will continue to press for a better outcome.”  More on that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Over the course of this presidency, over the course of the President Obama era, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has tripled.

On Inauguration Day, January 2009, there were about 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan.  By December 2009, there were twice that many.  When at West Point the president announced a troop surge, that would mean a dramatic and sharp escalation of the war in Afghanistan – 100,000 troops on the ground fighting into year 10 of that war.

Tonight, right now, there are still 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan.  We are still at that peak troop level we reached last summer.

And for the average U.S. service member in Afghanistan, there‘s been another change over that time.  Not only are there more troops now in Afghanistan than when President Obama took office, but for the average service member, things have gotten harder there.  From 2009 to 2010, more U.S. service members have seen a member of their unit die.  It‘s now almost three out of four.

More have been engaged at shooting at the enemy.  It‘s now almost 80 percent.

More U.S. service members have killed enemy fighters.  It‘s now about half.

Also over the course of this presidency, there have been changes here at home about Afghanistan—changes in the war‘s political support or lack thereof.  Throughout the course of the war, you always had some Democrats for the war, right?  You also, though, had at least an outspoken few who were against it.

Now, almost every single Democrat in the House is voting in one way or another against the war—almost every single Democrat voted for an amendment last month to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, 178 out of 192.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans used to be almost all 100 percent for the war.  When the “out of Afghanistan” caucus was formed in the House about a year ago, only one Republican, Ron Paul, of course, joined its ranks—just one.  Now, Republicans are split.  Twenty-six Republicans voting for that same troop withdrawal amendment that House Democrats voted for almost unanimously.

Over in the Senate, a couple of Republican senators even signed a letter to the president last week demanding a substantial and speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan.

So, with the president tonight announcing the start of a small drawdown but a very long-term horizon for the war overall, he is allying himself not with public opinion and not with his own party, but rather with what is now just the hawkish half of the opposition party, which might be a lonely place for a president.

Joining us now is Congressman John Garamendi, a California Democrat on the armed services committee, who just today sent President Obama a letter calling for a far more rapid troop withdrawal from Afghanistan than the president announced this evening.  Five Republican members signed on to that letter.

Congressman Garamendi, thank you very much for being here tonight.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA:  It‘s good to be with you and thank you for covering this.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about the difference of opinion that you have with the president on this.  Why do you believe troops can be withdrawn faster than the president seems to be willing to push for?

GARAMENDI:  Well, I have just respect for the president and people advising him on this matter.  But I see it different.  I think the president, unfortunately, missed an enormously important opportunity to pivot.

The successful killing of bin Laden was a pivot point to move back to the original strategy of going after the terrorists wherever they happen to be in the world.  Instead, we are now mired down in a very long-term horizon of nation-building and fighting in the middle of a five-way civil war in Afghanistan.  It is a no-win policy and it‘s going to cost us an enormous amount of blood, men and women and an enormous amount of money.  It‘s going on for a long time.  And it‘s not the right place to be and it‘s not the right strategy.

MADDOW:  Is there energy in the Congress for an actual confrontation with the president over this?

Nancy Pelosi tonight responded to the president‘s speech by saying, “It‘s been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the president laid out.  We will continue to press for a better outcome.”

Your legislative work on this subject obviously entails a bit of confrontation with the White House on this subject.

When you take the temperature of the House of Representatives right now in terms of how much people care about this issue and how much they are itching for a fight over it, do you see confrontation ahead?

GARAMENDI:  Yes, I do.  And I think the confrontation is going to start tomorrow and the days immediately following.  We have the defense appropriation bill up, and many of us are looking at ways of amending that bill so as to really force a different strategy.  One that will bring the troops home much, much faster, one that focuses this nation on the terrorists rather than on nation-building in Afghanistan.

One of the points that Mr. Nasr made is extremely important, and that is the necessity—the absolute necessity of getting negotiations under way.  It‘s a civil war—not just one group against another, but five or six different groups all fighting each other for position in Afghanistan where there never was a strong central government, but rather some sort of an alliance between the various strong groups that existed, both ethnic, regional and the like.

That has to get under way and we need to do it right away and we need to focus on the terrorists.  Where are they?  Well, they‘re in Yemen, they‘re in Somalia and they‘re in the United States.  And we‘ve got to focus where the real danger is.

MADDOW:  In terms of that issue of a political settlement and potential negotiations, the president did speak about that tonight as the way this war is going to end.  He did talk about that as an important thing that needs to be pursued in Afghanistan.

Is your criticism of him on that point that you‘re not hearing enough specifics in terms of what he wants to get out of those negotiations, or are you just not seeing enough progress toward any sort of political settlement yet?

GARAMENDI:  Well, the president tonight and in previous writings on this has been very clear about the starting point for the negotiations.  No terrorists coming back into Afghanistan, obeying the constitution, whatever that constitution might be, and the end of hostilities.  That‘s a good starting point.

But what we have not seen is people around a negotiating table getting down to the hard work of negotiating a settlement among the various parties, all f which have a stake in the future of Afghanistan, and we have to keep in mind the surrounding countries that are also interested in this.

Those are tough negotiations.  They have got to begin.  You know, I think back on the Vietnam War.  And, ultimately, you had to get to the negotiating table.  That‘s what has to happen here.

And we also have to be very, very aware of what are we there for.  Are we there to build a nation or are we there to go after the terrorists?  Originally, it was to go after the terrorists.  We succeed.  We did that job.

Now, focus pivot—focus on the terrorists where they happen to be around the world.  And it won‘t cost us $100 billion or $120 billion this year.  We‘ve got a deficit issue.

You want to save a third of a trillion dollars?  Get this war over soon.  You‘ll save a third of a trillion dollars in reduction.

You want to educate Americans, you want to build our infrastructure here, you want to make America strong, you want to once again build the manufacturing base of this country?  We need that money back here in the United States.

MADDOW:  Congressman John Garamendi, Democrat from California—thanks very much for joining us this evening, sir.  Appreciate getting your perspective on this.

GARAMENDI:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One point to make about the politics of the war in Afghanistan, much has been made recently of the split in the Republican Party.  The Republican party which had had previously not met a war it didn‘t like, at least not in the last few decades, not only expressing strong opposition to U.S. military action in Libya, but also really starting to feel their oats in opposition to the Afghanistan war.  Much has been discussed about that, whether or not it represents an actual change of heart, a newly discovered set of principles among congressional Republicans, or whether or not it‘s just something that they are playing to additional partisan advantage against President Obama.

What has gone less remarked upon, though, is the opposite phenomenon among congressional Democrats.  Congressional Democrats used to be rather split on the subject of the Afghanistan war.  Not deeply split, but they would at least regularly express different opinions on it.

For example, last July, a liberal Democratic Congressman named Jim McGovern proposed an amendment to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.  That was last July, Democratic congressman.  Let‘s get out of Afghanistan.  Ninety-eight of his fellow Democrats voted against him.

Last month, the same congressman put forward an amendment to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.  Ninety-eighty Democrats had voted against him before.  Last month, only eight Democrats voted against him.

Democrats have become essentially unanimous in wanting the Afghanistan war to end and quickly.

Tonight, President Obama said he will not do that.  What happens between the president and his party on this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The top Republican in the United States Senate admitted something quite remarkable about partisan politics and their role in war today.  Not political warfare but actual warfare.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, was today asked about the visible Senate Republican opposition to U.S. military action in Libya.  He was asked why it is that we are suddenly seeing this anti-hawkishness from the party that, frankly, hadn‘t met a war it didn‘t like any time in the last few decades.  Mitch McConnell when asked that today admitted that you‘re now seeing all this Republican opposition to the Libya war because the president who started that war is not a Republican.

Mitch McConnell said that out loud into a microphone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when you are—when the guy in the White House is on your side.  So, I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members, even in the previous administration.  But party loyalty tended to kind of mute them.  I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to kind of express their reservations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I‘m not sure you‘re supposed to admit that.  Of course, we all suspected, but, wow.

No matter why Republicans feel newly emboldened on this issue, the White House telling Congress that what the U.S. is doing in Libya isn‘t really a war, that‘s what‘s going on in Libya can‘t be called hostilities so it doesn‘t require congressional authorization—that has not been going well on bipartisan terms.  Particularly in light of reporting last week from “The New York Times” that the president rejected the opinion of the top lawyers at the Justice Department and Pentagon when he decided that he did not need to get congressional approval to continue U.S. military operations in Libya.

The House Speaker John Boehner responded to the president‘s “it‘s not hostilities” argument with a statement yesterday.  He, quote, “It‘s clear that Obama administration‘s claim that targeted bombings, missile strikes and other military actions in Libya do not constitute hostilities under the War Powers Resolution is not credible.”

There‘s some action behind that statement from John Boehner.  Mr.  Boehner says that Republicans plan to consider two different pieces of legislation in the House this week on how the president should proceed in Libya.  One is modeled on a Senate resolution put forward by John McCain and John Kerry.  That would approve essentially continued American military involvement in Libya and ban ground forces.  It would require the president to give regular briefings to Congress.

The other would be a measure that would essentially defund the American military engagement in Libya.

Of course, this whole defunding the military operation in Libya thing is not a brand new Republican idea.  Liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has been trying to defund the Libya operation as far back as March.

Also lining up on the opposite side of the president on this issue, Yale constitutional law professor, Bruce Ackerman, who took to “The New York Times” op-ed page this week to encourage Congress to intervene saying, quote, “If Congress does not act, the Constitution‘s command that the president take care that the laws be faithfully executed will become nothing more than an unfulfilled hope on an old piece of parchment.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington Post” columnist Gene Robinson,

MSNBC contributor and my pal—Gene also made it clear in his column this

week that he is not buying the whole “it‘s not hostilities” argument.  He

said, quote, “While presidents of both parties usually find way around the

law, they usually find a more credible dodge than asking, ‘War?  What

war?‘”

When he authorized the Libya campaign, President Obama said U.S.  involvement would last days, not weeks.  He got the not weeks part—he got the not weeks part right at least.  The military effort to oust Gadhafi is entering its fourth month, Gene writes, with no end in sight.

Gene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington Post” columnist who wrote that joins us now.

Gene, it‘s nice to have you here.  Thanks.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Great to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, how do we get to the point where the conversation with a war of convenience and White House lawyers cooking up legal opinions is not about President Bush but is President Obama?  Has he gone to a place that you did not expect him to go as president?

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, if we—if we had listened to what he said, he said Afghanistan was the right war and so he doubled down on Afghanistan.  Of course, he didn‘t talk about Libya.  We didn‘t know we would be talking about Libya.

But you‘ve got to say that at this point, because of his escalations in Afghanistan and because of his decision to involve us in Libya, you know, he owns these wars.  I mean, you‘ve got to—you‘ve got to say these are Obama‘s wars now.

MADDOW:  What do you think will happen in Washington in terms of the bipartisan anger really, or at least the bipartisan hollering both about Libya and now about Afghanistan?

We just had Congressman John Garamendi, who‘s on the House Armed Services Committee, here a moment ago—very tough words for the president on Congress asserting itself with regard to Afghanistan.  We‘re seeing Republicans in the House and some Democrats in the House also really asserting themselves on the issue of the legality of the Libya intervention.

Where do you think this all ends up?  Or is this more noise than consequence?

ROBINSON:  I do think it‘s consequential.  I think, in the end, it‘s going to go town in the annals of history as mostly noise in that I‘m not quite sure what‘s going to happen in the House.  That‘s going to be very interesting because you‘ve got the Tea Party Republicans and the liberal Democrats all kind of agreeing.  I don‘t know if John Boehner can really keep that under control.  I don‘t think he wants to—certainly not to vote to defund or really to smack the president‘s hand in any sort of serious way.

However, it‘s going nowhere in the Senate.  There‘s no way that would get through the Senate.

And so, the president doesn‘t have to worry about having his operation defunded.  But this is a very interesting moment because the Republican Party isn‘t as reliably pro every single war you can imagine as it used to be.

MADDOW:  And, you know, Gene, on that point, I think it‘s worth drilling down on that for a second, just because I feel like there‘s a lot of rounding of the edges, a lot of rounding up from the facts on that.  When you look at the polling on how Republicans feel about, say, the war in Afghanistan, Tea Party supporting Republican voters are no more likely to want the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan than your average Republican voter.  And we tend to see it, though, as sort of an outburst of Tea Party libertarianism among Republicans that are driving this, but Tea Party supporters do not reflect that analysis that is so widespread.

Similarly, I think the thing we haven‘t really absorbed is that just such a huge number of Americans want us out of Afghanistan.  It‘s like three-quarters of Americans want us out, 72 percent of Americans think that overall, we‘re just involved with too many military operations around the globe.

I feel frustrated that I feel like the actual signs that we‘ve got about the American public‘s perspective about these things isn‘t matched by the sort of punditry of it.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  The punditry says it‘s all Tea Party.  It‘s not all Tea Party.

And you‘re absolutely, it‘s that aggregate number.  It‘s the fact that public opinion has so turned against what a lot of people see as kind of willy-nilly intervention or, you know, no discrimination between this situation and that situation.  And no serious, careful consideration of whether we can get out of these things once we get in.

I think people are very broadly fed up with that and want a new theory.  They want a new idea.  They‘re not necessarily isolationists.  I think that‘s something of a canard.  I think that‘s—it‘s not so much isolationism and the way we do it now and the way we‘ve done it the last few decades.  I think people are looking for a new theory.

MADDOW:  Gene, I think you are totally right.  The arguing against isolationism is arguing against a very narrow swath of the polity, but also against a real straw man because people can be talked out of that very easily.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  We‘re not isolationists.  You know, we‘re a great nation with lots of involvements everywhere.  We just want to pick our fights more carefully and we want to have a sense of what we‘re getting into before we get in rather than, say, when we‘re 10 years in.

MADDOW:  Ten years and looking at 13 ½ before we get to come home.

Gene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post,” and man who had to endure maybe my longest question on television ever tonight and did so with good humor—thank you, Gene.  I appreciate it.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here.  Talk to you later.

MADDOW:  All right.

Coming up on “THE ED SHOW” will be me and also the inimitable Chris Matthews.  My friend Ed Schultz has invited us on to discuss tonight‘s presidential address about Afghanistan.  I still feel I feel a lot to say about it.  Shocker!

Up next here is “Debunktion Junction.”  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  “Debunktion Junction”—what‘s my function?

True or false.  This is Republican candidate for president, Jon Huntsman.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW:  A candidate for president.  The candidate for president who rides motocross to relax.  That was Jon Huntsman, as it said on the screen there—the candidate who rides motocross to relax.  That was Jon Huntsman riding motocross.

Is that true or is that false?

False.  Not actually Jon Huntsman riding motocross in the political advertisement.

However, Jon Huntsman‘s campaign is now telling reporters that although this person on the dirt bike is not Jon Huntsman, this person is wearing Jon Huntsman‘s clothes.  Also, this is Jon Huntsman‘s blazer.

Next up: true or false?  Governor Rick Perry in Texas is demanding that the legislature take up a bill that could result in all commercial air travel being grounded in Texas.  No commercial flights allowed to leave from Texas anymore.  That is the risk if Rick Perry gets his way.

Is that true or is that false?

True.  Texas House bill 1937 would make it illegal to—I‘m just going to quote directly here.  The bill would make it a class A misdemeanor punishable up to a year in prison or $4,000 fine for a TSA agent to, quote, “touch the anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breast of another person, even through that person‘s clothing, for the purpose of granting access to a building or to a form of transportation.”

OK.  Since it is the job of TSA agents to say get that ceramic folding knife out of your back pocket, the idea that in Texas airports TSA screeners will be sent to prison if they touch anyone‘s butt, that is not going over well with the TSA.  In any case, the bill died in normal legislative session in Texas.  It died in part because the Department of Justice warned Texas lawmakers that if this thing passed, the federal government would first try to get the law blocked with an emergency stay.  But if that did not work, then they said, quote, “TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”

So, even though that rather stark warning killed the bill the first time around, Governor Perry just insisted on putting the “don‘t touch my butt” bill back on the agenda for Texas‘ special legislative session.  Thus, leading to the kind of press coverage, a guy who might want to run for president probably really likes to read about himself.

Por ejemplo, in the “Associated Press” today, it said, Rick Perry has said Americans should be more aware of and defend themselves against the expanding role of government in their lives.

OK, “Associated Press,” keep in mind here, we are talking about the guy whose state government is now mandating that Texas women be forced to have medically unnecessary ultrasound exams because Rick Perry wants them to.  Even if their doctor doesn‘t want her to do it and the woman herself doesn‘t want to do it, because that doesn‘t get covered as big government intrusion for some reason, and the “don‘t touch my butt” bill just might get covered as at, it is, in fact, true that Governor Perry is setting up Texas to have no more commercial air travel.

In other words, don‘t mess with just that one very specific part of Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You are looking at images here of nuclear power plants located near water, specifically near rivers in this country.  If you tend to think of nuclear power in terms of radioactive leakage, your first thought might be—eh, that stuff is going to leak into the water.  But producing nuclear power involves such intense heat, such enormous temperatures that reactor need lots and lots of water to cool down their unimaginably nuclear fuel reactor.  So, engineers build nuclear plants near water on purpose, so they pump that water through the reactors cooling systems and keep them from overheating.

Here‘s the thing though about water.  It has a tendency to not stay put.  We‘ve been through a lot of crazy deep science together on this show since the nuclear disaster started in Japan, but you do not need to know your fission from your fusion to know that water is liquid, and liquid moves.  And if you have more water than your river can hold, what you then have is a flood.

If you also have your nuclear power plant alongside that river, then what you have is this.  Look at this, Ft. Calhoun Station, less than 20 miles from Omaha, Nebraska, surrounded by the very much flooded Missouri River—and as photographed by “The Associated Press.”

Local, state and federal officials say, this might look alarming, but don‘t worry, everything‘s fine.  They‘ve got an eight-foot rubber wall to keep the water from coming in.  And, anyway, the plant has been shut down for weeks for refueling.  They say, don‘t lose sleep over the idea that the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Plant has been sitting two feet below the level of the giantly flooded Missouri River.

Nebraska has been battling record flood this year, along the Missouri, from heavy snow packs and rain.  The Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Plant is actually one of two reactors in the flooding region.  The other is the Cooper Nuclear Station, an hour and a half down river near Brownville, Nebraska.  The Cooper Nuclear Station is still running at full capacity.

But, again, local officials say, don‘t worry, smiles, everyone. 

Smiles.

They say, quote, “Cooper is at 903 feet elevation,” and utility officials said the river would have to climb to 902 feet at Brownville before officials would shut down the plant.

So, there‘s nothing to worry about until you‘re at 902 feet.  Right now, the river is at 900 feet.  So, they say, don‘t worry.  We‘re at 900 feet.  Nothing to worry about until we‘re at 902 feet.  And we are sure keeping a close eye on this thing.  We‘re checking the gauges.

Oh, did somebody say gauges?  “The Lincoln Journal Star” reporting that one of the two pressure gauges near Brownville, near the Cooper Nuclear Station, quote, “went bad” this weekend.  The bad gauge gave a reading for the Missouri River that was too high by more than a foot.  And, of course, that‘s better than if the gauge had read too low, if the gauge has said everything was OK when, in fact, the plant was flooding.  That would be very bad.

But you know what?  What would be awesome is if we had real confidence that the gauges actually worked correctly.  Nuclear power is kind of a high wire act by definition.  You do not really have all that much lee way.

This week, “The Associated Press” reported that most of the commercial nuclear sites in the United States are leaking radioactive tritium.  Radioactive tritium is leaking out of three quarters of America‘s nuclear reactors out of the old pipes buried underground when the plants were built.

And, yes, that means in some cases, the radioactive tritium is making it into the ground water.  Quote, “Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard—sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.”

Ft. Calhoun in Nebraska is one of the reactors that has had a leaking radioactive tritium problem.  Ft. Calhoun was also found to have leaks some cesium 137 about four years ago.  Now, Ft. Calhoun‘s groundwater is rather swamped by its other worries.

In Japan, where a tsunami shut down the cooling system at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March, workers have been trying to cool the Fukushima reactors down.  The Japanese government says it believes that three of the four damaged reactors there suffered meltdowns and maybe even meltthroughs, which means the nuclear fuel melted through the thing that was holding it and on to the floor of the reactor building, which, of course, is a total nightmare.

The Fukushima reactor disaster, we all remember when it started.  The important thing to know about the Fukushima reactor disaster is that it is not over.  It is still on going.

This weekend, the new water filters that they expected to last a month for filtering the radioactive water.  They expected these new filters to last a month, they became saturated with radiation after five hours, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because there is that much radiation after the tsunami flooded and knocked out the cooling pumps and the reactor fuel melted down.

In a new report on the Fukushima disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency spelled out lessons from what happened in Japan.  Lesson number one, in part, plant layout should be based on maintaining a dry site concept.  The agency recommending building plants with a dry site concept in mind wherever that‘s practical.  Keep it all dry.

It‘s a little late for the plant layout process in Nebraska now.  But you can bet that they would recommend a dry site concept as well.

We will stay on this story of the Missouri River‘s troubles and it‘s unexpectedly nuclear consequences in the heartland as the story continues to unfold.  The Missouri River does seem to be—does not look to be going down any time soon, and we will stay on that story.

That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  Meanwhile, there‘s lots to add to what you see on this show, we‘re very proud of Maddowblog.MSNBC.com.

Now, it is time for “THE ED SHOW” where I will see you again in just a second as Ed‘s guest tonight.  “THE ED SHOW” 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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