The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/08/14
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: All right. Good evening, Ari. Thanks
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the
And we, of course, start with the top story in the country tonight,
top of the story in the country today, the top story in the country this
week. That is the renewed U.S. military action in Iraq, where there have
now been multiple rounds of U.S. strikes on ISIS targets near the city of
Irbil. Most recent round of attacks included two separate predator drone
strikes on a mortar position, on a location from which mortars were being
launched, as well as a strike from Navy fighter jets that dropped eight
500-pound bombs on a convoy of seven ISIS vehicles.
The U.S. military`s first strikes came early this morning. That was
about nine hours after President Obama announced he had authorized them.
When two U.S. F-18 fighter jets bombed a piece of ISIS artillery as well as
the vehicle that was pulling it.
According to the Pentagon, ISIS has been using that artillery to
shell Kurdish forces that are fighting to protect Irbil. Irbil is the
capital of Kurdistan, semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, which has
found itself under siege by ISIS forces. U.S. has also dropped a second
round of aid packages into the mountains. It`s where thousands of Yazidis,
religious minority in Iraq, are trapped without food and without water.
ISIS has cut the roads off, trying to starve the fleeing civilians to death
and threatening to kill anybody who came out of the mountains.
NBC News has not been able to independently confirm this, but “The
Associated Press” is also reporting now that hundreds of Yazidi women in
Mosul, this is the second largest city of Iraq, that hundreds of Yazidi
women there have been taken captive by ISIS.
Last night, the president said that although U.S. will not be
entering war, no boots on the ground, it is coming to help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ran for this office
in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that`s what
As commander-in-chief, I will not allow the United States to be
dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. And so, even as we support
Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops
will not be returning to fight in Iraq.
When many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger
of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we
will take action. That is our responsibility as Americans. That`s a
hallmark of American leadership. That`s who we are.
Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There
is no one coming to help.” Well, today America is coming to help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, America is coming to help, but what does that
constitute? What help does that constitute?
Well, that isn`t entirely clear. How long are we going to be
offering this help, exactly? That also isn`t clear. With those questions
in mind, today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated, even as
these missions were being carried out, even as they are being carried, he
repeated that the president is determined to keep the U.S. from being
dragged into another prolong military conflict in Iraq.
But Earnest also said that there is no set end date for these
airstrikes, that they have been authorized by the president on an open-
Since January, ISIS forces have been on a steady march across Iraq.
They now control a wide swath of that country, as well as Syria to the
And among the many open questions tonight is this: just how effective
can American airstrikes be in weakening the grip ISIS currently has across
I want to bring in NBC News national security producer Courtney Kube
Courtney, let`s just start with the basics of what is the latest that
you know at this hour?
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Well, you
mentioned at the top there have been three sets of strikes today, total of
12 bombs dropped from 2 different platforms. There were Navy FA-18s flying
off a carrier in the Gulf. They dropped several GBU-45 or 54s there, giant
400-pound JDAM bombs. And then there were two predator drone strikes
earlier today as well.
What they`re taking out essentially are any kind of targets, any kind
of weapon systems that are striking near Irbil. So far, we`re hearing from
U.S. officials, military officials that they`re not actually getting into
Irbil, these strikes. But they`re going near. Many of them are kind of
errant strikes going near Irbil but threatening just the same.
You mentioned there was a humanitarian drop overnight, another
humanitarian drop planned for this evening. They`re sending in food and
water to the Yezidis, who are trapped in the Sinjar mountain range.
There are tens of thousands of these people. And so far, last night,
at least, they sent in about 8,000 meals ready to eat, feed about 8,000
people and several thousand gallons of water. But, clearly, for tens of
thousands of people, that`s not enough. The humanitarian effort is going
to have to continue to help all those people.
KORNACKI: Well, Courtney, there are two sort of almost contradictory
questions that I`m thinking of today and other people have been talking
about today. I`ll run them by you one at a time. And maybe you can shed
Start from this angle. The idea this is an open-ended commitment.
That there is no set date on the end or the airstrikes, that`s what the
White House is saying there. Obviously, in the context of Iraq, the idea
of anything being open-ended makes everybody nervous. So, from that
standpoint, when you look at the people who are trapped on the mountain,
when you look at the activity going on outside of Irbil, what specifically
is the White House saying? Is there anything specific that would say not a
date when this ends but specific things that have to happen on the ground
for this to be over?
KUBE: Well, I don`t think there will be a date for this to end. And
at this point, it looks like it`s not going to continue, but could even –
I don`t want to say escalate, but could even grow.
Both the White House last night, President Obama then today, Ben
Rhodes from the White House, both opened up the possibility that if ISIS,
if the Islamic State begins to threaten other areas, Baghdad particularly,
that these air strikes would be allowed to be used against ISIS near
Baghdad as well.
So far, you know, this conflict began weeks ago when they first were
beginning to pulse toward Baghdad. But they haven`t yet moved directly
into Baghdad. They haven`t made very offensive actions toward Baghdad.
But if we see them moving that way, the same way that we have toward Irbil
recently, that would be another area for potential airstrikes.
So that – that mission is certainly not going to come to a close any
time soon unless ISIS takes the hint from what they`ve seen here and starts
to pull back.
They could – ISIS could very well decide to just consolidate what
they have in areas that the U.S. is not going to necessarily go after them
for. Areas that they`ve already been working in. Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul.
The U.S. was not conducting any kind of air strikes when they were just
focusing on those areas.
The two differences now are Baghdad and Irbil. If they`re in any way
potentially threatening those two cities, the U.S. will act.
KORNACKI: Let me just quickly two to the second question, though,
because we – all of this emphasis is placed on the concern, the obvious
and understandable concern that everyone in this country has, and the White
House is so sensitive to about not want to be drawn into another conflict
When you start talking about, when the White House starts talking so
persistently about this being a precise, limited, narrow mission in scope,
it raises the second question of, given what ISIS is, given what they
represent, given how dogged and determined they are, is something this
precise and this narrow going to be enough to stop them?
KUBE: Absolutely not. I mean, these are really more, you know,
pinprick kind of strikes. These are things that are specifically meant to
deter, tactically deter ISIS from going into Irbil and potentially going
into Baghdad as well. But the only way that you`re ever going to make any
kind of real impact on the Islamic state is strikes inside Syria. The
majority of the command and control, if not all of their command and
control, still exists on the other side of the border, on the eastern side
of Syria, then more up in toward the north of Syria.
What existed on the Iraq side right now is primarily the fighters,
the ground soldiers. They`re not the ones who are going to make any kind
of real difference against the Islamic State in that region.
KORNACKI: Already. NBC News national security producer Courtney
Kube, thank you very much for your time tonight. A lot of great insight
there. Really appreciate it.
KUBE: Thank you.
KORNACKI: It was February 27th, 1991, February 27th of 1991, when
President George H.W. Bush made a special address to the nation from the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDETN: Kuwait is liberated. Iraq`s
army is defeated. Our military objectives are met. Kuwait is once more in
the hands of Kuwaitis in control of their own destiny. We share in their
joy – a joy tempered only by our compassion for their ordeal. This is a
victory for the United Nations, for all mankind, for the rule of law and
for what is right.
After consulting with Secretary of Defense Cheney, the chairman of
the joint chiefs of staff, General Powell, and our coalition partners, I am
pleased to announce that at midnight tonight, Eastern Standard Time,
exactly 100 hours since ground operations commenced and six weeks since the
start of Operation Desert Storm, all United States and coalition forces
will suspend offensive combat operations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: What President George H.W. Bush said there did not sound
all that complicated. Basically this was good news. This was good news
back in February of 1991. This was news the country had been praying for,
in fact. The United States stopped Iraq`s leader, Saddam Hussein, from
seizing a sovereign independent nation, the nation of Kuwait. That was the
story of the first gulf war. One a lot of people call the good gulf war.
It was short. It lasted just six weeks in winter of 1991 and there
were relatively few casualties among American service personnel – nothing
like some of the dire predictions that had been made as the U.S. was
amassing troops in the desert before that war.
And now, when Bush made statement, now it was over, and it was time
to celebrate. This was the first full scale U.S. military engagement since
the disaster of Vietnam. And now, in this triumphant moment, it was said
America had finally kicked its Vietnam syndrome. The country was cheering.
President George H.W. Bush very much wanted this to be the end of the
story, when it came to American military involvement in Iraq under his
But even as all those celebrations you were just watching, even as
all those parades were taking place, there was another story playing out.
There was a humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Iraq, in the wake of the
withdrawal of U.S. troops after that First Gulf War. And it was clear that
it was a tragedy made in party due to the way we ended that war, because as
that war was ending, as Saddam Hussein`s forces were getting routed in
Kuwait, as his grip on power with this own country was being called into
question, as all of that was happening, George H.W. Bush decided to make a
plea directly to the Iraqi people, especially to the Kurds, to the Kurdish
people, and ethnic minority group that had long been persecuted by Saddam`s
What Bush told them to do was step up and overthrow Hussein once and
for all. Here is what the Kurds heard. It was a message to them from Bush
on the “Voice of America,” a U.S. government funded radio network. This
aired in the Kurdish parts of Iraq just days before the war ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the
Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands
and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Couple days after American troops withdrew, Bush repeated
that message. Iraqi people should force Saddam out. They should push him
aside. That`s what he said.
And so, with the encouragement of the president of the United States
whose army just humiliated Saddam Hussein, the Kurds acted. In March and
April of 1991, the Kurds in the north of Iraq and also some Shiites
elsewhere in the country staged an uprising. They heeded Bush`s call and
they moved to get rid of Saddam.
But they were unsuccessful. They didn`t win. Many of them had
thought, many of them had expected the mighty American military would have
their back. But it didn`t. America did not step in to help them. It did
not intervene to keep them from getting crushed by Saddam.
The backlash they then felt was swift and it was brutal. They had
thought Saddam was weak, that the moment was right to strike. But Saddam
was desperate to show he still had power in his own land, that he still had
control, so he undertook a brutal campaign of retribution against the
Kurds, against the people who he had long considered to be an enemy.
In an eerie parallel to what we are now witnessing, what we are
seeing today, Iraqi Kurds in the spring of 1991 left their villages in
droves in order to escape the vengeance of Saddam Hussein`s army. The
Kurds hid in refugee camps in the mountains for months. They were dying
from cold. They were dying from hunger, from thirsts. They were afraid to
descend the mountains knowing that if they did, Saddam`s army would be
there waiting to kill them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMY BOWEN, BBC REPORTER: Winter is coming to the Panjwin Camp
just inside Iraq`s border with Iran. At least 150,000 Kurdish refugees are
in the area. It`s miserable and dangerous, but Saddam Hussein frightens
them more than the cold. Not caring what happens to them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It`s better to die than to
live like this.
BOWEN: They know if they return to the valleys and the plain, the
weather will be warmer. But too many of them believe Saddam`s men will
kill them if they try to go home, and they prefer to take their chances in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, the U.S. military did in the end help those refugees
with humanitarian aid. President Bush refused to help them militarily.
Even in the face of criticism that he had encouraged them and then
abandoned them, even after risking them to urge to risk their own lives.
(BEGIN VIDEOI CLIP)
REPORTER: President Bush had hoped after the war was won, he would
be able to enjoy sporting holidays like today`s free from the carping of
those who opposed his Gulf policy. But his aides say Bush feels he`s now
taking a bum rap for the suffering of Kurdish and Shiite refugees.
BUSH: Conflicts have been raging in Iraq for many years, and we`re
helping out and we`re going to continue to help these refugees, but I do
not want one single soldier or airman shoved into a civil war in Iraq
that`s been going on for ages. And I`m not going to have that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: More than 2 million Kurds fled Saddam in 1991 during the
fallout from the failed uprising. For a period of time that year, as many
as 2,000 Kurds were dying every single day, trapped in the mountains and
the border between Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.
United States did eventually help impose a no-fly zone over Kurdish
Iraq which gave the Kurds a degree of security against Saddam`s military
forces. But more than a decade later, more than a decade after that first
Gulf War, when the next Bush administration, the George W. Bush
administration made the case for a second war with Iraq, well, a key part
of their justification for going in was based on what had happened back in
1991, what happened when Saddam had unleashed his forces on the Kurds.
And not just then, there was also a long history of Saddam targeting
and persecuting the Kurds and other minority groups in Iraq. That
targeting and that persecution was one of the reasons that the George W.
Bush administration cited for removing Hussein from power. And it was
during America`s second Iraq war that the Kurds faced a choice. Would
they, could they, trust the United States against Saddam Hussein? Would
they join America`s war against Saddam?
Their answer back in 2003 was resoundingly, yes. Fought alongside
America, and fought to topple Saddam Hussein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: These are the soldiers who will fight with G.I.s. 90,000
Kurds say U.S. officials are ready today to protect paratroopers dropping
into northern Iraq.
BARHAM SALIH: We have the good military capability, hardened by and
tested in the battlefield. These forces have been in the forefront of
democracy in Iraq.
REPORTER: Though Salih refused to point out likely U.S. bases, NBC
News has learned there are at least three.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In northern Iraq, U.S. forces fought the war side by side
with Kurdish fighters. In the aftermath of the Iraq war in 2003, as
fighting threatened to disintegrate the rest of the country, Kurdistan,
that Kurdish area in northern Iraq – well, it actually began to flourish.
It`s a region that had a degree of autonomy. People there had something
rare that the rest of Iraq, none of the Kurds had. None of the Kurds had
had in their past. Almost as if they had their own country.
Their capital, Irbil, has grown in the last 10 years into a
powerhouse. Construction has boomed in Irbil. The Kurds are entitled to
roughly a fifth of all of Iraq`s oil revenue. There`s been reporting
lately that they`re striking their own export deals with neighboring
All of this is giving the Kurds the wealth to grow their capital,
Irbil, into not just an island of stability in Iraq, but also into an
invaluable strategic base for the United States. There are several
American personnel stationed in Irbil, now with this current crisis in
Iraq, it is Irbil, it is the stable existence that the Kurds have made for
themselves in post-Saddam Iraq that is now facing a grave threat from ISIS.
Up until now, is has taken over large swaths of mostly Sunni Iraq.
But now, they are moving into the Kurdish region. They are threatening the
America`s relationship with the Kurds and Iraq is a complicated one.
We let them down back in 1991, but we fought alongside them a decade later
and they have been one of our staunchest allies in the region ever since.
And now, we`re faced with a decision of how far we`re going to go to
protect the Kurds and their interests – interests that in many ways do
overlap with America`s interests.
Since the president`s announcement last night he authorized targeted
strikes in Iraq, American military forces have now carried out some of
those strikes including hitting ISIS targets near Irbil. Among the
questions facing the Obama administration tonight, are these strikes going
to be enough to protect our allies, the Kurds, from the advancing is army?
If the United States, is the United States prepared to stay in the
fight with the Kurds as long as it takes? Well, does that mean we`re
risking another protracted military engagement in Iraq? If we`re not
prepared to make that commitment or if we change our minds, does mean we`re
once again going to abandon the Kurds in their time of need?
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator
Dianne Feinstein, put out this statement today supporting President Obama`s
decision to employ airstrikes and warning that ISIS may be planning an
attack against Americans. Quote, “In our backyard. We can`t allow this to
happen,” she said. Quote, “It takes an army to defeat and army. I support
actions by the administration to coordinate efforts with Iraq and allies to
use our military strength and targeting expertise to the fullest extent
possible.” Those are strong words from Dianne Feinstein.
What is possible for this current American engagement in Iraq? What
isn`t possible? Does America, does this nation that is so tired of war,
especially war in Iraq, do the people in this country think that protecting
the city of Irbil, protecting the Kurdish people from ISIS is worth our
military reengaging in Iraq now?
The Obama administration tonight is facing some complicated questions
and some very high stakes.
KORNACKI: Two questions about President Obama`s use of force in
northern Iraq. Question one: did he need congressional approval? Question
two, why is no one asking question one? Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Two U.S. Navy FA-18s struck first, taking out ISIS
artillery that have been firing at Kurdish forces at Irbil. Hours later,
an unmanned predator drone hit an ISIS mortar position not once but twice
with hell-fired missiles followed by four FA-18s that obliterated an ISIS
convoy with eight 500 pound laser-guided bombs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim
Miklaszewski reporting on developments today in Northern Iraq, the
confluence of humanitarian concerns and peril for a longstanding U.S. ally
have prompted renewed military action by the United States. Making Barack
Obama who was elected on a platform of extracting America from Iraq, the
fourth consecutive U.S. president to authorize new military action in that
Joining us is Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American
Progress, specializing in national security policy in the Middle East and
Thanks for joining us tonight.
So, we had a bit of a setup in the last segment about the
significance of the U.S. relationship, the history of the U.S. relationship
with the Kurdish people and the significance of the city of Irbil which the
U.S. is now using some of these air strikes to try to protect.
I guess my question for you is we had our national security producer
on earlier in the show. And she was saying, in terms of really stopping
ISIS, the sort of, you know, pinpoint focal air strikes that we`re talking
about right now are not ultimately going get that job done.
So, the question I would have for you is, how far should the United
States be willing to go to protect Irbil, to protect the Kurdish region in
BRIAN KATULIS, AMERICAN PROGRESS SENIOR FELLOW: I think it should do
its utmost without putting U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role to
help the Kurds.
I thought your setup was really, really good. It provided a thorough
history of what`s going on. But you flash forward to today and what`s
happening actually this day. You have Kurdish Peshmerga who are very
gritty, very determined and they`re fighting in Sinjar and other places.
And essentially, President Obama`s strategy here is to provide
support from the background to those forces. And I don`t think it means
the U.S. needs to have extended air bombing campaigns and it certainly
doesn`t mean that the U.S. goes back in there with combat boots on the
But we do need to back capable and reliable allies like the Kurds and
I think that`s going to be a centerpiece of dealing with this problem of
the Islamic state.
The Kurds, our friends in Jordan, Turkey, which is a NATO ally, they
are going to be the ones that I think are on the front lines of this. And
we need to offer that vital support.
KORNACKI: Well, I guess the question, then, do you think the Kurds
are capable, in terms of ground personnel, are the Kurds capable of fending
off is with assistance from the United States in the air? I guess the
question that`s haunted me the last day and a lot of people, I think, is
what if that`s not enough and the United States has made this commitment of
protecting Irbil and we find out the airstrikes aren`t enough? We`re
committed then. What do we do?
KATULIS: Well, I think that`s a key question people are looking at
right now in this administration. I think – I`ve been to the northern
part of Iraq several times. I think that they`re much stronger, the
Kurdish Peshmerga, than certainly the Iraqi forces that melted away in
June, when ISIS went through Mosul and other places.
So, I think there`s a unit cohesion there. I think the most
important thing, Steve, is that they`re fighting for an idea. They`re not
only fighting for pieces of territory but they`re fighting for what they
fought for, for decades. And I think this is what makes the Kurdish
And I suspect that even these very limited efforts by the United
States from the air will actually help stiffen their spine and resolve to
go after this threat, protect what they`ve got right now.
KORNACKI: You know, obviously we`ve talked about this the last two
nights. This is a country, such a war-wary country right now, the United
States, especially when to comes to Iraq. So, there`s this understandable
sensitivity, certainly in the part of the administration, this country
wants little to do with Iraq going forward militarily with Iraq going
At the same time, it seems to me, making the case for we need to
protect a crucial Kurdish city, we need to stand up for the Kurdish
population, maybe that`s not as easy a sell over here as it is to talk
about protecting U.S. personnel. We do have limited personnel who are in
the city of Irbil.
Chris Matthews has been on this network making the point that if that
was the main objective, we could have easily evacuated that personnel and
gotten them out of here.
Is there an effort in your mind by the administration to be sort of
putting the emphasis on protecting Americans when the real strategic game
is protecting the Kurdish people in their region?
KATULIS: Well, look, if you look at what President Obama said last
night and several administration officials said today, they`re going
through the full list of what our interests are and what our values are
that are at stake here.
So, I think at core, it is about protecting some U.S. personnel, but
more broadly, we want to prevent the collapse of some of our closest and
most capable allies like the Kurds. That`s what`s happening right now.
Again, I want to stress, you know, what we see right now is not a
strategic shift on the part of the United States. Its policy is not going
to be going down the path of getting involved in another quagmire here. It
is simply trying to enable those partners to actually defend themselves and
then turn back the tide hopefully against the Islamic State.
KORNACKI: All right. Brian Katulis, national security expert with
the Center for American Progress – thanks very much for sharing time with
us tonight. Appreciate it.
KATULIS: Thank you.
KORNACKI: Much more ahead, and the president`s motives in Iraq,
KORNACKI: It was just two months ago that Democrats in Congress and
even a few Republicans were telling anyone who would listen that they
needed to be asked permission before this nation goes to war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If the president is planning on launching
a concerted offensive attack that is not constrained by the exigency of the
circumstances, he should come to Congress first to seek and to receive
authorization for the use of military force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was Senator Ted Cruz in June reminding the president
that he cannot unilaterally take us into war. He must consult with and get
authorization from Congress first.
Last night, the president authorized the use of force in Iraq. Now,
that this is no longer a hyperbole, no longer a hypothetical policy point,
what is Congress saying now? Does the president have a legal justification
for taking military action? More on that, ahead.
KORNACKI: As early as 2007, presidential candidate and then-junior
senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, had already centered his presidential
campaign ending the war in Iraq. This call for bringing the troops home
was what he was running on. The Iraq war was what he was running against,
hoping to set himself apart in the early days of the Democratic primary
race. That was the summer of 2007. At the end of July that year,
candidate Obama was asked by the “Associated Press” about the limits of his
anti-war position, specifically if there were any circumstances that would
compel him to leave U.S. forces in Iraq, if, for instance, he would keep
troops in Iraq to prevent a potential genocide. To which he said, no.
Quote, “If that`s the criteria by which we are making decisions on
the employment of U.S. force, then by that argument, you would have 300,000
troops in the Congo right now, where millions have been slaughtered as a
consequence of ethnic strife which we haven`t done.”
Candidate Obama argued that the U.S. military can`t be used to solve
humanitarian problems, that even genocide is not something that the United
States military can necessarily fix. Any discussion of genocide and
potential U.S. military intervention to prevent genocide, any such
discussion involves the very complicated political history.
Twenty years ago in 1994, when hundreds and thousands of ethnic
Tutsis were being killed in Rwanda, the Clinton administration, which was
resisting military involvement in the ethnic conflict, did not even want to
use the word genocide to describe the devastating atrocities that were
occurring there. Even in the face of a growing international chorus
calling on the United States to do something in Rwanda, reports emerged
that the Clinton administration had instructed its officials to avoid
defining what they were seeing there as a genocide, even when they were
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE SHELLY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We have every reason to
believe that acts of genocide has occur.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many acts of genocide does it take to make
SHELLY: Alan, that`s not a question I`m in position to answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it true that you have specific guidance, not
to use the word genocide in isolation, but to preface it with this word,
acts of –
SHELLY: I have guidance to which I try to use as best as I can. I`m
not – I have – there are formulations that we are using that we are
trying to be consistent in our use of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That State Department briefing in March of 1994, where a
State Department spokesperson tried her best not to call the violence in
Rwanda a genocide was just one example of what was administration-wide
Declassified documents from that time backed that up. The State
Department discussion paper in Rwanda cautions officials to, quote, “be
careful. Legal at State was worried. Genocide finding could commit U.S.
government to actually do something.”
And doing something in Rwanda was exactly what President Clinton and
his team were trying to avoid. The young National Security Council staffer
at the time, Susan Rice, reportedly argued against using the word genocide
for fear it would have negative effects on the upcoming congressional
In the end, upwards of 1 million Rwandans were killed in a span of a
mere 100 days. President Clinton now cites his failure to intervene in
Rwanda as the biggest single regret of his presidency.
And he`s not alone in that thinking. Veterans of that conflict,
including Susan Rice have taken their experience to Rwanda to heart. In
2001 “Atlantic” article, Susan Rice was quoted saying, “I swore to myself
if I ever faced such a crisis again, I`d come down on the side of dramatic
action. Going down in flames, if that was required.”
That article, taking a deep assessment of the Clinton
administration`s failure to act in Rwanda, was written by a reporter
studying the issue of genocide for years and became a staunch supporter of
intervention in humanitarian conflicts and that reporter`s name was
And now, a decade later, Samantha Power and Susan Rice as part of
President Obama`s foreign policy team, they would press the president to
see the growing conflict in Libya as a humanitarian crisis – one that the
United States should do something to end. So, in March of 2011, President
Obama who as a candidate had argued against the use of U.S. military in
exactly these kinds of situations, in 2011, he authorized military
intervention in the civil war in Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The United States and the world faced a choice. Gadhafi
declared he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to
rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past,
we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over 1,000 people in
a single day.
Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that
if we wanted – if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size
of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across
the region and stained the conscience of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: To prevent a massacre – that was the reason the president
gave just a few years ago for his decision to authorize airstrikes against
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. This was seemingly a turning point for the
president`s foreign policy. A president who had been voted into office to
end wars but not necessarily one with predictable outcomes.
In Syria, which many described as a humanitarian crisis tantamount to
genocide, in Syria, the Obama administration has avoided defining it as
such. Recently here on this network, Secretary of State John Kerry,
speaking with Andrea Mitchell, refused to define the conflict in Syria as a
genocide – just partly why what the president said last night was such a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a
massacre, I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.
We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: A potential act of genocide.
Last night, the president actually used the word “genocide” to
describe what could be unfolding in Iraq, something that presidents before
him have refused to say.
That is now the justification for action, the reason U.S. military is
now engaged in air strikes in Iraq.
Joining us now is Michael Crowley. He`s chief foreign affairs
correspondent for “Time” magazine. He wrote an article for “Time” today
titled, “How Obama evolved on the issue of genocide in Iraq.”
Mike, thanks for being here tonight. So, that`s –
MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME: Thanks, Steve.
KORNACKI: Start with that evolution. I mean, you wrote about it
today, but it`s so fascinating to me because we have the quote from Obama
in 2007 where he basically seems to be saying about genocide, you can`t
prevent all of them. So, therefore, you shouldn`t try to prevent or stop
any of them. And, clearly, there`s been an evolution there.
CROWLEY: That`s right. So, there`s two points to make. One is on
the practical side. You know, I got a lot of feedback on this point. You
know, it`s fair.
The war looks very different now than it did in 2007. So, what the
president was saying back then was, no, we`re not going to leave 100,000-
plus ground troops in the country to prevent a genocide, we`ve got to get
And in this case, we`re talking about dropping supplies to these
people on the mountaintop or limited airstrikes. It`s a very different
But, you know, another shift as you put your finger on, is that his
implication in the first answer, I don`t know if it`s exactly what he
meant, but the clear implication, as you say, we can`t do it everywhere, so
why would we do it there? And what we heard from him last night and what
we also heard when he explained why he was in intervening in Libya was kind
of a twist on that, which is to say, we`re doing it in this place, in a
very targeted, limited way because we`re able to, but that doesn`t mean I`m
obligated to do it in all these other places where there`s terrible
And right now, of course, the big contrast a lot of people are asking
about is Syria.
And so I think, you know, part of what`s implicit in his statement
last night is this is doable. There are a lot of reasons why we should do
it and we can do it. But that doesn`t mean that it makes sense or it will
work in Syria.
And some people say – well, that`s inconsistent, and there`s no
clear Obama doctrine. Well, it`s a very case-by-case thing, particularly
with this president. I think he looks at each case individually. In this
case, there was enough weight on the scale for him to act here.
KORNACKI: That word genocide, we went back and looked at the Rwanda
conflict in 1994 and had the White House basically saying back then, you
know, to itself basically saying, don`t go out there and use that word.
And now you have, as we showed Secretary of State John Kerry so hesitant to
use the word, refusing to use the word in the context of the conflict in
Is the difference between saying genocide and not saying genocide,
the difference between we`re willing to do something and we`re not willing
to do something? Literal definition of genocide doesn`t matter?
CROWLEY: Yes, I think that there`s a kind of emotional resonance to
that word. And, therefore, it has a political impact. So, once you
introduce it into the public debate – the natural question is going to be,
if you`re calling it genocide, why aren`t you doing something about it?
Obviously, you have to do something about genocide. The Clintonites
weren`t prepared to intervene in Rwanda, so they did not want that word out
Actually, an interesting twist in this story is then-Secretary of
State Colin Powell calling what was happening in Darfur, I think in the
kind of mid-00s, he actually called it a genocide in congressional
testimony and I think was trying to spur more American action in response.
You know, so in this case, I think that in Iraq, when you`re looking
at the Yazidi and the effort to basically massacre them, it does meet the
definition of genocide pretty clearly. The genocide convention of 1948 has
four criteria, and I believe it`s race, ethnicity, nationality, or
religion. And in this case, you have a religious group that is essentially
being slowly starved and killed.
It`s possible when John Kerry avoids using the word as it applies to
Syria: A, it`s administration policy not to get too deeply involved in the
Syrian civil war which I think they think is just not a place where we can
have a practical useful effect. And, B, it`s not really a case there where
you have one of those four groups that`s being sort of systemically wiped
out by another one. You kind of have everyone killing everyone in this
horrendous way. It does have sectarian religious component to it. But I`m
not sure it is what we would typically call genocide.
KORNACKI: Yes, you get into there`s genocide and atrocity, and
delightful debate to be having.
Michael Crowley, chief foreign affairs correspondent for “Time” –
appreciate you taking some time on a Friday night. Thank you very much.
CROWLEY: Oh, my pleasure, Steve. Thanks.
KORNACKI: All right. So, where does Congress fit into all this?
Does Congress fit into all this? That`s next.
KORNACKI: America`s latest military intervention in Iraq is the
biggest story in the country tonight.
Back with more in a minute.
KORNACKI: Today`s military strikes in Iraq were obviously authorized
by the president of the United States. President Obama`s renewed force in
Iraq has recent precedent, and that precedent includes more than a little
bit of squawking from Congress.
In June, when a militant Sunni terror group ISIS began its assault on
Iraq, the president deployed a limited number of U.S. forces to Baghdad to
shore up the defense of our diplomatic personnel there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are prepared to send a small number of additional American
military advisers, up to 300, to assess how we can best train, advise and
support Iraqi security forces going forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The president later increased the number of ground troops
to nearly 800. He did it without congressional approval, citing the War
Powers Act by which he`s allowed to do 60 days to do what he thinks is
necessary before he has to ask Congress for permission.
When president Obama acted back in June, at least some members of
Congress were alarmed. This was Iraq. This was the president who came to
power in 2008 largely on the strength of his opposition to the Iraq war,
who had campaigned on an explicit promise to end that war.
Very next day, the Republican controlled House passed an amendment
written by two Democrats. The amendment said the president could not use
Pentagon funds to escalate the military response in Iraq. And last month,
the House passed a resolution saying the president cannot deploy the U.S.
military in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific authorization.
So, according to the War Powers Act, the president had 60 days from
boots on the ground in Iraq before a reckoning with Congress. Those 60
days are set to expire this coming Wednesday.
In the last 24 hours, a new military operation from the air. It is
now underway. And, again, if you go by the War Powers Act, that begins
another 60-day window before Congress would be required to approve further
Or so the White House vaguely suggested today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The administration will
comply with any applicable reporting requirements in the War Powers
resolution. Sometimes these War Power notifications are classified.
Sometimes they aren`t. In this case, if one is necessary, and if our
lawyers determine that it is necessary, I would anticipate that it`s
something we would likely be able to release publicly. So, stay tuned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Stay tuned. That was the suggestion to the news media
earlier today from the White House.
And then, within the last hour came that official notification from
the White House to Congress that, quote, “U.S. military forces had
commenced targeted airstrike operations in Iraq.”
But what about Congress? What is their reaction to how the president
of the United States has now decided to engage the military in Iraq? Well,
members of Congress are away from the Hill. They`re back from their home
districts for the whole month. And most of the reaction we heard today,
even from Republicans, has actually been supportive.
But there are also voices that are again warning against getting
mired in a long campaign. Both Connecticut senators, both of them
Democrats, they weighed in today with skepticism.
Senator Richard Blumenthal saying, quote, “The president owes the
American people a better, fuller explanation of the scope and strategy of
Connecticut`s junior senator, Chris Murphy, saying, quote, “I will
oppose any efforts to continue this military campaign in order to provide
tactical advantage or disadvantage to either side of this conflict.”
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, Democrat from Hawaii, who co-authored
the amendment roping off Pentagon funding from Iraq to military expansion,
and has actually trying to unseat Hawaii`s appointed Democrat senator in a
primary that`s going to be held tomorrow, she warned today, quote, “Getting
involved in airstrikes moves us a step closer to direct involvement in
Iraq`s sectarian civil war, an entanglement we must avoid.”
And the strongest voice of caution today belongs to Congresswoman
Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing
military force after the 9/11 attack.
She said today, quote, “While the president has existing authority to
protect American diplomatic personnel, I remain concern about U.S. mission
creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose. There
is no military solution in Iraq. I will continue to call for the president
to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations. For too
long, Congress has abdicated its constitutional role in matters of war and
peace. The president should come to congress for authorization of any
further military involvement in Iraq.”
So, there are two key dates for you. Next Wednesday, it will mark 60
days since President Obama committed limited American ground forces to
Baghdad. And then, 60 days from today puts us sometime in early October,
60 days from today – today, when the president authorized airstrikes
against ISIS in northern Iraq.
Democrats generally don`t want the United States reengaged militarily
in Iraq. Republicans generally don`t want President Obama exerting his
So, the question is, will members of either party or both say
something or do something to determine the course of America`s latest
unilateral show of force? Will Congress step up and demand a role here, or
will they, not for the first time, make some noise before deferring to the
Watch this space.
KORNACKI: American airstrikes against targets in Iraq held and
operated by the militant Sunni group ISIS were carried out today. But the
White House has indicated that there is no date certain for the end of U.S.
operations against ISIS. At play are both the humanitarian concerns for
the Yazidi people of northern Iraq whom ISIS has targeted for killing, and
also the safety and welfare of the Kurdish city of Irbil, the duration and
exact nature of the military mission remained unclear.
So, stay tuned to MSNBC this weekend where we will report all the
developments of President Obama`s military action in Iraq.
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