The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/22/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
At 8:30 p.m., the United States military says they started bombing inside
Syria. It is awkward to say that the U.S. is bombing inside Syria, instead
of just saying they are bombing Syria.
But that awkward phrasing is because this bombing campaign tonight is not
against the Syrian government, or the Syrian military. It`s against a
group that in fact is fighting the Syrian government, a group that controls
huge swaths of both Syria and Iraq.
U.S. bomber and fighter jets and drones have been bombing inside Iraq since
August 8th. The Iraqi government welcomed and in fact begged for those
airstrikes to help Iraqi security forces fight against is in that country.
But over the border in Syria, it is a very different story. The government
in Syria does not welcome and is certainly not asking for U.S. airstrikes
inside their country.
In fact, Syria has said it would see any airstrikes by anyone on its
territory as an act of aggression. But those airstrikes have in fact,
started tonight. The U.S. military announcing these aircraft, F-22s, F-
16s, F-15s, FA-18s and also stealth B1 bombers, they`ve announced that all
of these aircrafts are taking part in the official bombing attack on Syria
tonight or inside Syria tonight.
I should mention that this may be the first time that F-22 raptors are
being used in this kind of a combat mission. So, that may be significant
as a matter of military history and capability.
But all those aircraft reportedly used in the initial attack which started
at 8:30 p.m. Eastern with a target list of about 20 sites. About 20 ISIS
targets in and around Raqqa, which is in eastern Syria. They described,
the Pentagon describing these as ISIS command and control facilities,
headquarters facilities, logistics sites, fuel depots, weapons depots,
training sites and troop encampments.
Following those attacks from manned aircraft, the Pentagon said the first
wave of bombings from manned aircraft would be followed by further bombing
by drones and also by missile strikes from tomahawk missiles fired from
U.S. Navy ships nearby.
So, these air strikes are not being done in conjunction with any on the
ground troops in Syria. In Iraq, on the other hand, the U.S. military has
said they are hoping Iraqi forces would be able to capitalize on the ground
following those U.S. bombs from above.
It`s not like that in Syria. There are no plans for that in Syria.
There`s no Western ground troops in Syria, certainly. There`s no friendly
government ground troops in Syria. There`s a raging multisided civil war
And so, somebody will capitalize on these U.S. airstrikes against ISIS
targets but we don`t know who will capitalize anthem and can`t control who
capitalizes on them. So, with that as the setting, here`s a few things to
consider. The first question is, will it work? Is this new air war likely
to succeed at its objectives?
To that end, look at this. This is from the front page of “The New York
Times” earlier tonight. Can we drop the breaking news bug for a second so
we can see the screen? Thank you.
The bottom story was their lead all day at “The New York Times.” Air
strikes fail to dislodge is in Iraq. That was first. Then, they had to
run the new big headline. U.S. and allies strike ISIS targets in Syria.
So, one and then the other, right? And this is kind of a Rorschach test.
One way to see this sequence is – well, it didn`t work in Iraq, so why are
we doing more of this thing that didn`t work?
The other way to see it is, yes, of course, it wouldn`t work just to target
ISIS in Iraq without hitting them in Syria. Without hitting them in Syria,
you`d never get anywhere. So, now, that you`re hitting in Syria, now
they`ll start to work everywhere.
So, what kind of person are you? Glass half full? Glass half empty?
Worried about this more than you`re excited about it?
I mean, question one, can is be hurt or beaten this way? Open question.
Also, question two, who is involved in this? Initial statement from the
Pentagon said the U.S. undertook military action tonight along with partner
Well, NBC News has been told tonight that the nations involved
operationally in tonight`s actions include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United
Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar.
Now if they are, in fact, operationally involved in these air strikes, that
may be hugely important in terms of how the world sees this military action
and how the world reacts to these airstrikes. That is an acute
consideration at the outset any of war.
But what is particularly acute right now is because there`s something like
140 world leaders, including President Obama, who are convening right now
at the United Nations in New York for the General Assembly. When President
Obama speaks at the United Nations over the next couple of days, he`s going
to be getting direct personal reaction from world leaders into what he`s
doing. Who is involved with the U.S. in these strikes will make a very big
difference in terms of how the world reacts.
So, number one, will it work? Number two, who is involved? And how will
the world react?
Number three, is how will Syria react? Because the Syrian government has
substantial air defense system, a very substantial air defense system.
They have their own considerable air force as well.
When Syria said they would see air strikes by us or anybody else as an act
of aggression against them as a nation, did they mean that they would shoot
at our planes? Is this now a war with Syria in addition to being a war
And beyond those questions, I`ve got two more. Because the U.S.
telegraphed in advance that this attack would be coming, has ISIS
integrated itself into civilian areas so that attacks on them will also
harm Syrian civilians? How isolatable are they? And did that problem get
worse over the last two weeks after the U.S. directly telegraphed we`d be
doing this but before we started it?
While I`m on a, roll, here`s more. Not to put a fine point on it, but is
this legal? The administration says its basis for waging this new air war
against ISIS is the authorization for using military force that the U.S.
Congress pass inside the immediate aftermath of 9/11. That authorization
for the use of military force, authorized force against the perpetrators of
the 9/11 attacks, which were 13 years ago, long before ISIS or anything
like is was a twinkling in any terrorist`s eye.
In terms of this fight against is, the U.S. Congress has not authorized
anything in Syria, let alone in Iraq. Is it legal for the U.S. military to
be doing this right now? Is it legal for the president to have ordered
this? And is Congress really going to sit an its hands and stay on
vacation for the next two months now that the U.S. has started a new air
war in the Middle East?
We`re going to speak with a member of Congress about that last point in
just a moment. But, first, let`s bring in NBC News foreign correspondent
Ayman, thanks for staying up until the dead of night with us and being
here. I really appreciate it.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: As the U.S. targets what they say are 20 is targets in and around
Raqqa, is it fair to ask how much ISIS is actually headquartered in Raqqa
in this area in Syria where the U.S. is launching strikes tonight? Are
they the kind of group you could cut the group off at headquarters and it
would make an important difference across the region?
MOHYELDIN: Well, the short answer to that is, as you mentioned, the air
strikes in Iraq have not yet dislodged ISIS completely.
Now, there`s no doubt that there have been over the course of the last
several months a solidification, if you will, of ISIS` positions inside
Raqqa that`s been the operational headquarter. Certainly an area they`ve
firmly in their control and have been able to use to coordinate attacks, to
store weapons, to build up their ammunition supplies and deploy them. And
in some cases even train fighters. It`s also believed to be an ideological
center point for the group to draw recruits and then spread those out
across the regions they are trying to fight.
I think it`s important that symbolically and operationally, Raqqa has been
struck. I think it`s going to be not so clear in the coming days whether
or not it`s going to degrade ISIS just with at least one day of strikes as
we`ve seen tonight, Rachel?
MADDOW: What do we know about the level of involvement from these other
Arab nations? The Saudis, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar? Do we know how much
they are involved? And is that the sort of thing we will hear from them
officially or will this always be covert from their perspective?
MOHYELDIN: Both. I`ve spoken to some Arab leaders this evening, some Arab
diplomats. And they have spoken to me privately saying that some will make
comments following President Obama`s speech. They want President Obama to
come out first and set the tone for this international engagement if you
But more importantly, they`ll come out and speak about it. Now, they may
not necessarily address the operational involvement but they`ll certainly
lend their diplomatic support to the United States and to the operation.
There`s no doubt Arab countries in the region are going to spin this into
their favor. Every country that is supporting this fight against ISIS will
use this in some ways as justification for something it is doing
Consider, for example, the case in Egypt where President Sisi has been
cracking down on dissent. He`s also waging a war against terrorists inside
the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. So, he`s been saying if the U.S.
goes to war against ISIS inside Syria, it should not stop there. This
should also be an example for what he`s trying to do in neighboring Libya
and in his own territory.
So, I think you can see countries try to spin this politically and
diplomatically for their own consideration. But you`ll also get some idea
of what involvement they may be playing.
Now, there`s no doubt the U.S. is the lead military force on this, but
there are indications that countries like Jordan are providing intelligence
on the ground that other countries like Bahrain which is home to the naval
fleet is providing key logistical support for some of the operations. And
other countries perhaps like Egypt providing the waterways, including the
Red Sea, access to the Red Sea for U.S. naval ships to fire some of those
missiles into Syria.
MADDOW: Ayman, what should we think about – or what should we expect in
terms of the Syrian government response? Obviously, ahead of this, they
said you cannot do this without us. You must work through us if you want
to fight these groups. We`ve been fighting them all this time. The only
legitimate force in Syria is the Syrian government. U.S. officials are
telling reporters that Syria was not given advance notice these strikes
were going to happen.
We`re also hearing through Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski that
U.S. military officials aren`t that worried about Syrian air defenses. Not
that they aren`t considerable but that Syria wouldn`t dare shoot at U.S.
planes who are engaged in sorties this way.
What do you think we should expect from the Syrian government in response
MOHYELDIN: That is certainly going to depend on what happens in terms of
the U.S.` intensification of strikes on the ISIS targets in the next coming
days. If the United States really degrades ISIS over the course of days or
weeks and really allows for Syrian rebels to regroup to once again have a
front line against the Assad regime, you can bet that the Syrian regime is
going to launch back ferociously and try to suppress that.
Now, right now, they`re certainly not going to object to U.S. airstrikes
against ISIS. The Syria conflict is a very complex one. Right now, U.S.
and Syrian interests have aligned, albeit very briefly in this fight
against ISIS. There`s no doubt if the Syrian government feels that it is
once again being threatened by these air strikes, I suspect the United
States will have a hard time perhaps not necessarily militarily with trying
to penetrate Syrian air defenses, but you`ll see the Syrian government find
other ways to lash out against perhaps interests – U.S. interests in the
Again, not necessarily militarily, but diplomatically and in other ways
against Syrian rebels that the U.S. is trying to prop up inside that
country, to hold the territory that it wins over for by degrading ISIS.
MADDOW: Watching to see ground forces of any stripe try to capitalize on
U.S. air power is going to be both chaotic and fascinating in terms of
seeing the power balance in the region. NBC News foreign correspondent
Ayman Mohyeldin, it is after 5:00 in the morning in London where you are
right now. I really appreciate you doing this for us, Ayman. Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. Let`s bring in Congressman Adam Smith of Washington.
He`s the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressman Smith, thank you very much for staying up to the wee hours to
talk with us tonight. I really appreciate it.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON (via telephone): Thanks for the chance,
MADDOW: So, first, let me just get your overall reaction to this news
tonight that the U.S. has begun bombing ISIS targets in Syria. I know you
said you supported the president`s efforts to arm and train rebel forces in
Syria. Do you support these air strikes as well?
SMITH: Well, I think the biggest thing about this is the coalition that
has been brought together, to have Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Jordan,
Qatar and UAE as part of this is absolutely critical. If this is a U.S. –
dominated U.S. alone effort, it won`t be successful. I think that`s an
The next most important step is we have to get the Sunnis in Iraq and then
some in Syria hopefully with the training mission as part of it to join in
this fight. We still have a long way to go in that regard. Getting the
Sunnis on the ground to be willing to oppose ISIS. I mean, the airstrikes
the coalition has put together is a good first step. But there`s a long
way to go to have the local support necessary to be successful here.
MADDOW: After the amount of time the United States spent in Iraq, in
particular trying to build an inclusive and effective Iraqi army, working
on Iraqi security forces at every level, trying to do things like build
Iraq an air force and all the other things we did and all the tens of
billions if not hundreds of billions of dollars that the U.S. spent trying
to built capacity in Iraq, is there anything left undone that we haven`t
already tried in terms of trying to get Iraqi toss do something that we see
in their interest that they plainly don`t see that way? I mean, what else
could the U.S. do in Iraq to change Sunni tribesmen`s minds about what
their own interests are?
SMITH: I think that`s an excellent point and good cause for skepticism.
Look, if you didn`t have a threat like ISIS popping up here that`s so
clearly a threat to the region. I mean, it`s a threat not just in Syria
and Iraq but to Jordan, the surrounding countries. They wish to export
terrorist attacks. You can make a strong argument there`s really nothing
much we can do.
But ISIS is the changing factor. And the only hope we can have is that
that threat, the vision in Iraq of is rolling through Mosul down into
Tikrit, out to the outskirts of Baghdad will force them to reconsider.
Really, it`s just one issue. They have to be inclusive instead of
sectarian. That is what Maliki utterly failed to do. He continued to
drive out the Sunnis, drive them away.
And we`ll see if Abadi does any better. The initial signs are not
necessarily positive, the Sunnis are still saying that promises are not
being kept, there`s not being enough to include them in the government.
That has to happen.
The hope is that the very real terror threat of ISIS, you know, right
outside of Baghdad will hopefully focus their minds on the fact they just
can`t afford to be a corrupt sectarian government and survive. But it`s no
guarantee, that`s for sure.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Smith, one last question for you. Do you expect
that Congress may return to Washington to try to vote on whether or not
these strikes should continue to vote on authorizing this use of force?
The U.S. military and the president just ordered the start of a new
significant U.S. air war in the Middle East. Congress has not weighed in
at all on this. And Congress, in fact, isn`t due to be back in Washington
for another two months.
Do you expect Congress may come back to address this matter?
SMITH: I think the pressure is building to do that. I`ve been working
specifically with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer about ways to pull together a
working group. Congress should speak on this issue.
This is, without question, war. This is something that Congress should
authorize. The president has his Article II authority and can make his
argument but, you know, Congress is always complaining that the president
is overtaking our power. Well, here`s an opportunity.
So, absolutely, Congress should pass an AUMF. The problem, of course, that
the politics, very, very difficult in getting that done for a wide variety
of reasons. But no question we should act. I think the pressure is
building to overcome those political policy objections and actually do what
the Congress ought to do.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed
Services Committee, thank you for your time tonight, sir. I really
SMITH: Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s actually news to hear from a member of Congress in a position
to know. Congressman Smith is the ranking Democrat, a top Democrat on the
House Armed Services Committee. So, if he`s saying that pressure is
building in Congress, that they ought to say something here, (a), I think
that`s news but, (b), I think those political winds may in fact, be
shifting in Washington. I`m not sure a Congress can give itself 54 days
off in a row and just walk away when a new air war starts and they haven`t
said anything about it.
But again, news breaking late tonight that U.S. airstrikes have started in
Syria. Less than two weeks after President Obama announced in an address
to the nation that he intended to attack ISIS fighters inside Syria.
Administration sources telling reporters tonight that the government of
Syria was not given advance notice before those strikes, but we`ve got much
more ahead as news continues to break in Syria.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) air strikes in Syria continues. We`ll be right back.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: From the outside of this crisis, one thing that has been clear is
that ISIS wants war. ISIS has been taking territory and murdering people
over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria. They say they want to control all the
way from Iraq to the Mediterranean, taking all or part not only of Iraq and
Syria but Lebanon and Jordan and Israel and Turkey and, and, and.
But then there`s us. ISIS has not yet tried to launch a physical assault
in the United States if they ever will. But they have declared themselves
to be at war with the United States. ISIS propaganda over and over, like
this propaganda video from last week, they cast their situation in the
world as a war between ISIS and the U.S. They desperately want the world
to see them as an equal and opposite force fighting the Americans.
The group has made basically an art of trying to provoke and terrify
specifically an American audience. Today, they taunted the U.S. in a new
audio message released this morning. It has not been verified
independently by NBC, but the ISIS spokesman who appears to be the speaker
on the tape basically begs the United States for a ground war.
He says, quote, “Are America and all its allies from amongst the crusaders
and the atheists unable to come down to the ground?”
It`s basically begging the U.S. for a ground war. What ISIS wants and what
they use to recruit followers and funders and fighters from all offer the
globe is the prospect of them fighting their own war with the United
States, particularly one that can be fought on the ground.
Well, tonight, America brought them an air war in Syria instead.
For more, let`s bring in Laith Alkhouri. He`s a senior analyst at
Flashpoint Global Partners, a security consulting firm that tracks militant
Web site activity.
Laith, it`s good to see you. Thanks for being here.
LAITH ALKHOURI, FLASHPOINT GLOBAL PARTNERS: Good to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, are ISIS militants or their supporters reacting to this air
campaign in Syria tonight in a way that`s visible media or on the web?
ALKHOURI: They are actually reacting on both open social media and on the
dark web. There`s been a rally around these platforms, let`s call them,
where they are encouraging really attacks on the United States, not only in
the homeland but also Western interests generally speaking around the
region. They acknowledge that the United States has naval ships. They
acknowledge the United States has financial institutions. It has a number
of strategic interests in the region.
And that goes back to attacking even what they call proxy regimes in the
region, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Jordan.
They believe that by attacking this proxy, so-called proxy countries, that
the United States will be greatly harmed.
MADDOW: So, they are calling for retaliatory strikes against the U.S. or
U.S.-associated resources around the world as a reaction to these air
strikes? Strike back because they struck us?
So, one of the things we`ve talked about in previous days in terms of
overall U.S. strategy in terms of overall U.S. strategy against ISIS is how
much they posit themselves as an opposite force to the United States when
trying to recruit, when they`re trying to get support.
Are they trying already to turn these airstrikes tonight toward a
recruiting effort for themselves? Not just to cite attacks but get more
support, get more funding?
ALKHOURI: Most certainly. Actually, they`ve anticipated these attacks a
little over 24 hours ago. The spokesman of ISIS, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani
(ph) issued a 42-minute audio specifically declaring what kind of strategy
he reached out to all kind of supporters. Not only supporters of Islamic
state in the Middle East or in the region, but also across overseas, in the
United States, in Australia, in Europe, to carry out attacks not only on
military targets but also on civilian targets.
They feel that civilians should be targeted just as much as military
targets. And so, for them, it`s an all-out war.
MADDOW: In terms of that call today, actually before we knew about these
airstrikes tonight, we`re talking about that on a show that was planned to
be on a totally different subject tonight, but looking at that audiotape
and what that call means – I mean, when I see the content of that tape, I
have two simultaneous feelings. One is, is this all you`ve got? I mean,
literally, if that`s your strategy, let`s tell everybody in the world
attack anybody they can and we`ll call that our victory. It seems like,
really, weak sauce from a group that doesn`t have much more operationally
On the other hand, what they are asking is very doable. It`s a very low
level buy-in, just asking anyone to attack in any of the 50 countries
supporting the U.S. in this. It`s a very doable thing.
How do you see it in terms of competing impulses?
ALKHOURI: Well, I think there are a number of points to discuss here.
We`ve talked about ideology before and how ideology doesn`t really need
that much recruitment where somebody can pledge allegiance to the Islamic
State and (INAUDIBLE) to the Islamic State. They don`t have to ever have
had membership or join them on the ground or have any operational training.
On the other hand, I think it`s an all-inclusive rallying cry. Not only
for ISIS supporters but also for the normal Muslims out there. They are
trying to present this as an actual crusader war. They`re trying to
present themselves as a state. Crusader state attacking a Muslim state and
thus you guys should react.
You know, it`s a double-edged sword. To add to that, Al-Adnani summed his
42-minute audio with a sentence. If you attack us, we just get more
powerful. And if you just don`t attack us, we justice grow. So, his
message, you know –
MADDOW: Also, I`m under your bed right now. It`s horror movie terror.
There`s nothing you can do and if you do anything it will make it worse,
and if you do nothing, that will make it worse, too.
ALKHOURI: And I think the threat does not emanate from their capability.
I think the threat emanates from them being violent and opportunistic at
the same time. So, when you have opportunity and being violent, you know,
put that together and that`s a deadly recipe.
MADDOW: And being scary enough to Western states that wouldn`t necessarily
do anything to them, that they might act in a way that might hurt
themselves, which, of course, is sort of the long ball in all of this.
Laith Alkhouri, senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, which is
security consulting firm – thanks, Laith.
ALKHOURI: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Busy night.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In the past few hours, the United States has officially launched a
new campaign of air strikes against ISIS militants inside Syria. Those
with knowledge of the strikes tell NBC News that those U.S. allies involved
in this include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and
Now, we understand all these countries are involved in these air strikes
and some sort of operational level. These countries have not publicly
confirmed their participation but they are more or less expected to do so
One thing to note about these strikes inside Syria, from what we can tell
so far, the U.S. does not appear to have European allies joining in this
military operation tonight. France did start striking ISIS targets last
week inside Iraq, but those targets were not the targets in Syria that are
being hit tonight. The French government has explicitly said they wouldn`t
extend their bombing into Syria. They only plan to act in Iraq.
So, the timing is also interesting here. This news comes as the U.N.
General Assembly convenes in New York, 140 or so world leaders have
gathered in New York. One of the things they`ll be able to see while
they`re here is President Obama making a case for expanded international
cooperation against groups like ISIS, particularly in terms of foreign
fighters traveling from around the globe to fight with the group and then
trying to come home after it`s done.
President Obama will personally chair a meeting of the U.N. Security
Council on the issue of foreign fighters on Wednesday.
We`re joined by Anne Gearan, diplomatic correspondent for “The Washington
Anne, thanks very much for coming in.
ANNE GEARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
MADDOW: In terms of these five other countries said to be operationally
involved in some way with what`s going on tonight, obviously, that has huge
GEARAN: It does. I mean, it`s extraordinarily difficult, particularly for
the Persian Gulf countries to be on the same side as the United States in
this against a Sunni opponent. These are all Sunni nations.
That said, they`re not hiding it. I mean, they may not announce it
publicly but they`ll let the U.S. whisper it on their behalf.
MADDOW: Well, and that`s what`s happened so far. So, the U.S. officially
has just said partner nations. U.S. officials, without putting their name
on it, are letting it be known that it is these five nations.
MADDOW: Presumably, these countries have given them the OK to do that.
So, how much do they want to be known about what they`re doing? How
dangerous is it for themselves domestically in their own countries for it
to be known they`re participating not just in, you know, support efforts
but in airstrikes?
GEARAN: Well, I mean, it`s sort of uncomfortable, but not dangerous. And
there`s actually a domestic benefit which, is that these are authoritarian
nations that want to be seen as squashing like the bug the – you know, the
insurgent forces that these groups represent or that certainly this
particular group represents. I mean, this is a force that formed to topple
a government like themselves. So, they have an interest here.
MADDOW: In terms of what happens tomorrow at the U.N., it is remarkable
timing that we`ve got the president due to speak tomorrow at the U.N. on
climate change, chairing the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. We`ve got
140 world leaders in New York. I can testify that New York is completely
gridlocked because of all the motorcades.
GEARAN: It is no accident this is happening as President Obama arrives.
This is something that the United States has been telegraphing for weeks,
and, oh, by the way, it happens to happen the night before –
MADDOW: What`s the advantage to the U.S. government in having this right
GEARAN: He walks in here and makes the entire week 100 percent about what
are we going to do about this problem? The United States is already doing
something about it. Where are you?
MADDOW: What does the United States want that it is not otherwise getting?
Obviously, having Gulf States operationally involved, not just in helping
out and sending money and intelligence, but actually being involved in
kinetic military activities. They wanted that. What else did they want?
GEARAN: Well, they want little extra help from Turkey. They want some
help from Iran. They want money.
And they more importantly than any of those, is they want diplomatic unity.
They want a lot of support. They want a lot of people saying this is a
great thing. You`re doing the right thing and we`ll support you.
As opposed to previous U.S. endeavors in the Middle East, which – where we
had countries from A to Z saying you`re doing the wrong thing.
MADDOW: In terms of Turkey specifically, obviously, turkey is in a
position that nobody else is in, in terms of their border with Syria. Yes.
And how much they are affected by what`s already happened, this huge
refugee crisis that blossomed in a way over the weekend in a terrible way.
What is the United States expecting from Turkey on a realistic level?
GEARAN: On a realistic level, they don`t really think they`ll get
operational military use of the air base, but they would like to see a much
greater effort along the border. They would like to see Turkey do some
serious effort along the Syrian border to stop the flow of foreign fighters
and to stop the flow of oil coming over the border from Iraq, on the Iraq
side of the border which is being sold in Turkey.
MADDOW: Why wouldn`t they close the border in terms of fighters?
GEARAN: Well, it`s really hard to do. I mean, it`s a porous border. It`s
500-mile, really long. It`s really difficult.
But on the other side, it`s also sort of a – you know, wink, wink, nudge,
nudge thing for Turkey not to have to do, right? We`ve never really
totally leaned on them to 100 percent do it. Now, it`s a bit of greater
pressure being applied.
MADDOW: Anne Gearan, diplomatic correspondent for “The Washington Post”,
burning the midnight oil, thank you. It`s good to see you.
GEARAN: Thank you. It`s good to see you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it. Thanks.
All right. We are finding out new details about tonight`s airstrikes in
Syria, including not just what the targets are but how the strikes are
being carried out at a pretty specific level. We`ve got that just ahead.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Some breaking news from the “Associated Press” in just the past
few minutes. Syria`s foreign ministry is now saying that the United States
let the Syrian government know before launching airstrikes against ISIS in
Syria tonight. We`d previously heard reporting to the contrary. U.S.
administration officials telling reporters tonight there had been no
advance warning to the Syrian regime. But Syria`s foreign ministry says
the U.S. told Syria`s envoy to the U.N. before the airstrikes started.
Now, on the one level, that`s just, you know, manners. On the other hand,
it may have operational considerations.
Again, the Syrian government and the Syrian military have been very
preoccupied with the civil war they`ve been waging, that they`ve been
fighting in over the last few years in that country. But Syria has
invested a lot in its military over the years. It has a lot of Russian
founded equipment, Russian produced equipment, including pretty
considerable air defenses.
When Syria said that they would take any air strike on their territory as
an act of aggression, it raised the prospect that the U.S. trying to wage
war in Syria against ISIS might inadvertently end up waging war in Syria
against Syria, if they decided to turn those air defenses in the Syrian
forces against U.S. planes. They now say they knew in advance before this
Let`s bring Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for “The Guardian.”
Spencer, thanks for being here.
SPENCER ACKERMAN, THE GUARDIAN: So honored, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about the Syrian government, Syrian
military capability, air defenses. They`ve been making threatening noises
about don`t come in here and launch airstrikes here. We`ll see that as an
act of war.
How does the U.S. military feel about something like – how threatened
could U.S. pilots be by Syria?
ACKERMAN: It really depends if Assad decides he wants to use his air
defense missiles. The air defenses in Syria are along the Mediterranean
coast, not where the strike was around Raqqa, and not where ISIS is.
Assad will have his option of scrambling his jets if he wanted to do that.
But we`ll know in a few more hours, whether this was, in fact, uncontested
air space or not. And that should tell us about where future airstrikes
will have to face Syrian defenses or not.
MADDOW: In terms of the reaction from the Syrian government, the other
thing they have to consider is whether or not they can capitalize for their
own civil war purposes on softening of any targets the U.S. does as a
favor. So, it`s not exactly enemy of my enemy is my – because we don`t
talk about it that way.
ACKERMAN: Far past that in this conflict.
MADDOW: Right. But so, I mean, do we have any sense of who might be able
to capitalize on the ground if these ISIS strikes do actually succeed on
what they`re aiming at?
ACKERMAN: That is the single biggest question of this next phase of this
latest U.S./Middle Eastern war, who takes the territory away from ISIS. If
you listen to the Pentagon and their explanation for this, they`re not
going to have anyone at all they can rely an as a proxy ground force for at
the earliest and most optimistic estimate eight months. That`s eight
months after this training program if it begins tomorrow in Saudi Arabia
actually yields credible units, capable units, units capable of
communicating with one another, of orchestrating a campaign that makes
sense and find something way of communicate with U.S. and apparently Middle
Eastern pilots above.
MADDOW: Almost impossible to imagine even if you take them an their own
ACKERMAN: Exactly. Extremely logistically complicated, and then that`s
ceding that the idea they`ll be able to capitalize against the force that`s
deeply entrenched, that`s far more battle hardened. That`s been able to
make astonishing and to some even degree historic gains in the Middle East
– and that`s ISIS – against this force is an enormous, enormous question
MADDOW: In terms of what the U.S. has done already, we`ve seen this long
list of the types of aircraft used and these tomahawk missiles that were
used. Can you give us a sense, as somebody who`s covered national security
for a long time, how big an effort was launched tonight? How – I mean, we
don`t use the term shock and awe because that`s a specific thing that`s
been misinterpreted in a lot of ways. But how big should we see what
ACKERMAN: This is considerable, and when we`ll start to see real pictures
emerge in the hours after the battle, after the campaign. We don`t really
know it`s a battle, don`t mean to say that. But we`ll be able to know at
that point really how enormous this is and the questions that will
immediately come out next. What are the follow-ons? How long does this
U.S. officials have been talking tonight about something that looks like
the air campaign in Iraq in terms of its pacing, which is now reached a
point of being daily.
ACKERMAN: Multiple attacks daily.
This – if they are looking at the Pentagon and Central Command, is that a
template? That really does give a sense of the enormous amount of effort
that`s going to go into another open-ended campaign in the Middle East.
MADDOW: Absolutely. Spencer Ackerman, National Security for “The
Guardian” – I have a feeling we`re going to be seeing a lot more of each
other soon as this stuff unfolds. And it seems like this is not going to
be a short effort. It`s good to see you.
ACKERMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. More ahead on what the White House has said about
extending air strikes into Syria to fight ISIS. Please stay with us.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Tonight, the United States and a handful of Arab allies in the
region have launched the first of what`s expected be many air strikes on
ISIS targets inside Syria. We have not yet had reports from the Pentagon
about the success or lack thereof these first bombing raids and missile
strikes tonight, but that`s what we`re waiting for on the operational
front. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last month, I gave the order
for our military to begin taking targeted action against ISIL. Since then,
American pilots have flown more than 170 air strikes against these
terrorists in Iraq. And France has now joined us in these air strikes.
Going forward, we won`t hesitate to take action against these terrorists in
Iraq or in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s President Obama during his radio address this past weekend.
As of tonight, the United States has in fact, taken action against is
targets in Syria. It`s been 12 days since the president`s primetime
address to the nation on Syria when he told the country that he would not
hesitate to take military action against ISIS in Syria, as well as in Iraq.
The president said that night, quote, “If you threaten America, you will
find no safe haven.”
The United States has conducted a total of 190 airstrikes inside Iraq
against ISIS so far. That`s not a surprise that the U.S. has also now
launched an air war against Syria. We didn`t know it happened now but knew
it was coming.
Here`s my question, though – after 190 air strikes against is in Iraq,
with Iraqi ground forces there able to capitalize on what the United States
military is delivering from the air, after 190 strikes against ISIS in Iraq
already, still today, the Iraqi government is announcing that they are
losing at least one more town to ISIS inside Iraq. If ISIS is still able
to expand the territory it controls in Iraq even in the face of that from
the U.S., what are we getting ourselves into and for how long in Syria?
Joining us is Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for “The Atlantic.”
Steve, thanks for being here.
STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is it fair to ask that question that the Iraqi strikes have been
going an for a long time. They were invited by the Iraqi government. The
Iraqi security forces are trying to capitalize anthem. It`s not like is
has been rolled back considerably in Iraq. Is that fair as a comparison
for what`s about to happen in Syria?
Oh, I`ve lost Steve. This makes it sound like a rhetorical question. Are
we going to be able to get him back?
All right. We`re going to take a quick break. We`ll be back with Steve
Clemons in just a moment. I have to find somebody who works on the audio
side of things and bribe them.
I`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Welcome back.
Breaking news this hour as we`ve been covering all night is that we are now
officially at war inside Syria, even though we sometimes don`t call it a
At 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time tonight, the United States military did start
bombing raids inside Syria. It does represent a major escalation in the
U.S. war against the Sunni militant group ISIS.
This video was posted online by a group called Step Agency News. It
purports to show the beginning of the U.S. bombing mission from an the
ground in Syria. NBC News hasn`t independently verified this video, but
the Pentagon has confirmed to NBC tonight that U.S. manned and unmanned
aircraft have begun targeting sites in and around Raqqa, sites that include
ISIS command and control, ISIS headquarters, ISIS logistic sides, fuel
depots and weapons depots, ISIS training sites and troop encampments.
Now, that`s just what the Pentagon says it is targeting in Syria. We do
not know if that`s actually what`s there for them to hit or if indeed they
are hitting targets like that tonight and into the morning.
Joining us now once again is Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for
Steve, do we have you?
CLEMONS: Yes, you do.
MADDOW: Yay, I`m sorry about that earlier issue.
CLEMONS: No worries.
MADDOW: One hundred and ninety air strikes in Iraq already. And the Iraqi
government announced today after all that that ISIS took another town in
Iraq. It doesn`t seem like U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have been able to
meaningfully turn the tide against ISIS. Is there reason to believe it
would be different in Syria?
CLEMONS: This is a real test of ISIS` resilience against the attack. You
have to remember, on the Iraqi side of the ISIS equation, we`ve had a lot
of reports that many of its commanders came out of Saddam Hussein`s
military, and when Saddam was being attacked, that military dissolved into
the ferment, into the population inside Iraq and disappeared. And that`s
one of the techniques that some of the units inside, broadly in the Middle
East and North Africa region have used.
So, we`ll need to see if somehow we got remarkably lucky and hit command
and control density of ISIS and were able to make a dent in just how that
operation runs fully or whether or not it has the capacity to basically pop
So, I think it`s an impressive show of force but there`s also a day after.
There`s always some degree of blowback and we`re going to have to see as
you and I have talked about many times, whether this is something that
drags us deeper than just power from the air.
MADDOW: What would deeper really look like in Syria? I feel like I know
what it would look like in Iraq, in part because we`ve seen that movie
before. In Syria, if the United States, or indeed the United States and
its allies wanted to go from airstrikes and missile strikes tonight into
something either broader or deeper, what else would come next?
CLEMONS: Well, you`ve got – a lot of speculation but you`ve got all sorts
of possible horror stories. You had one of the largest displacement of
refugees inside Syria, up to the Turkish border. Kurds are evacuating like
crazy, more than 200,000.
What if you had just mass casualties in that? What if you had the
beginning of kidnapping, not only of the Americans being held but Americans
elsewhere? There are about 1,600 troops – of U.S. troops inside Iraq now.
You could imagine they fall into some sort of jeopardy and then find
themselves in the hands where you have these televised shock and awe horror
shows that ISIS like to put on? So, there are many number of things in
which this could go in an unexpectedly bad directions.
MADDOW: In terms of the U.S. and its allies trying to upscale what it`s
doing inside Syria, though, after air strikes – is it clear they have a
next thing in mind, that they might be able to do operationally?
CLEMONS: Well, it`s not clear. I mean, the president of the United States
has said over and over and over again that absolutely no troops an the
ground, even though if we have troops technically inside Iraq.
At the end of the day, there are limited things that one can do from the
air. The president seems to have set that and said we`re going to keep
bombing. We`re going to keep eroding and degrading ISIS over time. And
that seems to be here. But nearly every other major commander from the
former central commander, General Mattis, and others have come out and
said, that`s not a winning strategy.
So, we`re going to have a tension inside Washington, D.C., about how this
war is conducted. And like Afghanistan, you`re going to see that war
litigated in the pages of “The New York Times” and “Washington Post” and
“Wall Street Journal”, despite what`s going on over in Syria on the ground.
So, I worry that in these other episodes, the political posturing of
different institutions and people can make a White House move. And I think
that`s a problem for us to consider.
MJADDOW: Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large with “The Atlantic” –
Steve, thanks for being with us on this auspicious night. I really
CLEMONS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us now.
MSNBC`s coverage of the airstrikes in Syria continues with Lawrence
O`Donnell. Thanks for being with us tonight.
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