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All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 4/6/2017

Guests: Jennifer Rubin, Shadi Hamid, Ken Vogel, Sam Seder, Michael McFaul

Show: All in with Chris Hayes Date: April 6, 2017 Guest: Jennifer Rubin, Shadi Hamid, Ken Vogel, Sam Seder, Michael McFaul



HAYES: The president puts military action on the table as White House infighting breaks into the open.

Tonight, what we know about what Trump is considering for Syria and the brutal details of Bannon versus Kushner.

Then, Trump and the Russians.


HAYES: Why Devin Nunes suddenly stepped aside today.

And this is what going nuclear actually looks like.

ORRIN HATCH, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM UTAH: The decision of the Chair does not stand as the judgment of the Senate.

HAYES: The untold fallout from today`s big change by republicans. When ALL IN starts right now.

Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. At this hour, President Trump is once again at Mar-a-Lago, where he is wrapping up a dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of what are expected to be very contentious talks on trade, North Korea, and a host of other issues. Trump just addressed reporters saying he and the Chinese President are building a friendship, and he ignored shouted questions about Syria. And we begin tonight with a stunning reversal from the White House with potentially huge consequences. President Trump is considering a military response against Syria as early as tonight, perhaps in the next couple of hours. Less than one week ago, the Trump administration maintained it was not seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that in the wake of Tuesday`s horrific chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held region of Syria, Assad has, quote, "no role governing his country."


REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad`s role in the future is uncertain, clearly. With the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people. It`s a serious matter. It requires a serious response.


HAYES: That aforementioned serious response could come soon. Today, Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed Trump on military options including air strikes. U.S. officials tell the Intercept, the current proposal would likely result in Russian military deaths and mark a drastic escalation of U.S. force in Syria. At a news conference yesterday, President Trump said that images of Syria had a big impact on him. And on the flight to Mar-a- Lago today in front of a screen that was showing the movie Rogue One, he told reporters that, quote, "something should happen."


TRUMP: I think what Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes, and it shouldn`t have happened. And it shouldn`t be allowed to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Assad should leave power in Syria?

TRUMP: I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity, and he`s there, and I guess he`s running things. So something should happen.


HAYES: Joining me now, Hans Nichols, NBC News Pentagon Correspondent. Hans, what are you hearing from your sources there?

HANS NICHOLS, NBC NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We`re hearing that plans have been presented and that the Pentagon have been working out on options pretty furiously on a military response against the Assad regime in Syria over the last 24, 28 hours. And there`s a range of options. You can either ground all of Assad`s air force. That means pockmarking all of their runways, taking out a lot of aircraft, or, on the other end, going after the assets that Assad used that the U.S. thinks they saw pretty clearly those assets on that chemical weapons attack that left civilians dead. That`s where we are right now, we`re waiting for decision, we`re waiting for some news here at the Pentagon. Just one - you know, what Trump said in that - (INAUDIBLE) back of the plane there at the end, something should happen. It`s unclear if Trump was referring to military action, or was he referring to regime change with Assad? Obviously, Secretary of State Tillerson talked about an effort being under way to remove Assad from power. Later an official clarified that Tillerson was speaking about the diplomatic effort, not an actual formal marine change by the United States Military. Guys?

HAYES: So, Hans, just a little bit of clarity on that. You had referred to two different options, a sort of broad attack on the air power, airfields, and assets of the Assad regime, a narrower one on where we think the chemical weapons is? Is that right?

NICHOLS: Not necessarily where the chemical weapons are because in a lot of ways, remember the deal that was brokered between then Secretary of State Kerry and the Russians, a lot of those weapons were supposed to be taken out of the country. So there isn`t and I - it`s not necessarily that they don`t - the military - the Pentagon doesn`t know. We don`t have the reporting to know that they know precisely where all these stockpiles are. What I meant by that, Chris, and apologize for any unclarity, is that the assets that they use, the Assad regime used, the delivery assets.

HAYES: I see.

NICHOLS: So, if they think the planes took off from a certain runway, that runway might not be a place where you hang out too long, the certain planes that they used. But think of it - don`t think of this as a binary choice. Think of it as a continuum. And on the far end of the continuum, grounding Assad`s air force, that has a great deal of risks because - you know, we get a lot of briefings here at the Pentagon. Pentagon officials pretty much always use Russian and regime forces interchangeably. They are embedded together. The command unit, at the local unit. When you hear of a column of regime troops going forward, there are almost certainly to be Russians involved there. So the challenge if you go for the more aggressive option - and this is the Intercepts reporting that you mentioned - at what point do you risk hitting and killing Russian nationals,

HAYES: Right.

NICHOLS: and then do you invite a response?

HAYES: Hans Nichols, thank you for that. Joining me now from Mar-a-Lago, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson. And Hallie, I`m struggling to describe how surreal it is to have the Chinese President in town for a state dinner at the President`s personal seaside club while they`re contemplating possible military action in Syria.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It is a - to say the least, Chris, a jarring juxtaposition if you will. Standing out amongst palm trees and the South Florida evening breeze, or having this discussion about what President Trump is going to do, this sort of ultimate test of Commander in Chief of whether to activate military assets here and how and what he will do. Let me fill you in on what`s been happening over the last couple of hours. We know that back home in Washington, Vice President Pence has returned to the White House after dinner with his family according to a source, in order to have meetings with staff. Don`t read too much into that. I`m presenting it to you, though, as something that is happening.

We know that President Trump is over at Mar-a-Lago. We just saw some pictures, some video of him in the ding room there with President Xi. And if you noticed who else is at that table, his inner circle of advisers, right? You have Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, obviously his daughter and son-in-law next to him, along with Steve Bannon, along with members of his cabinet, including Secretary Ross who was there. The President was heard joking about these negotiations with Xi, saying Hey, I didn`t get much out of him, at least so far. But he is working at least right now to break the ice given that Xi is only here for 24 hours or so before he heads back home. At the same time, you`ve got - as Hans was talking about - this discussion on what kind of military options you will - he might look at here. He might consider in Syria. I think it is important to note, to underscore some of that reporting, which is that amidst talk of the strongest signal yet from President Trump that he may take action now to try to push Assad from power, his Secretary of State is saying it needs to be done through international allies, through an international coalition and to start the political process. That is what he`s talking about, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, when he says steps are under way. It was an interesting moment, though. We saw the Secretary of State here at the - you know, on the tarmac at Palm Beach. He came in here, addressed reporters. It was an almost empty room. He had a couple of folks that are peppering him with questions about what the administration is going to do next. So I think at this point in the evening, Hans at the Pentagon, us here in Palm Beach, waiting and watching to see how exactly this will unfold.

HAYES: All right, Hallie Jackson down at Mar-a-Lago. Joining me now, MSNBC Anchor Ayman Mohyeldin, MSNBC Military Analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs, Medal of Honor recipient. Colonel, let me start with you. In terms of these options, I mean, the thing that I`m obsessed with here is the fact that this won`t be the end of anything should there be a strike, and it certainly won`t be the end of anything if Russian soldiers are in the strike, are killed.

JACK JACOBS, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, the thing - the thing to ask is what is it that there - that we`re trying to accomplish? I mean, I say this all the time, but I`m amazed at how prescient he was. In "Through the Looking Glass", he wrote, if you don`t know where you`re going, any road will take you there

HAYES: Right.

JACOBS: Lewis Carroll. And I think that`s appropriate in any - the use of any instrument of power, particularly this one. What is it we`re trying to do? Once we decide what it is we`re trying to do, then we can decide whether we`re going to act or not act. But if what you`re trying to do is change the regime, you`re going to have to send lots of people, probably a multi-national force. We`re going to have to have lots of people occupying the place. We`re going to have to be - do it in coordination with the Russians and Iran too. Can you see this happening? And then have a large number of people there for, you know, a decade or two. We`re not going to do that. If all you`re trying to do is say - just demonstrate that we`re annoyed --

HAYES: Don`t use chemical - don`t use sarin gas again.

JACOBS: Yes. So we decide that we have to do something short of occupying the place, so we`re going to send, what, one or more cruise missiles and blow up a few airfields, and that`s not going to have the desired effect. If what you want to do is have him stop doing that, you can`t do that unless you`re going to go in and have regime -

HAYES: OK. So that seems to me a key point here, right? Because the idea here is -and I think we should go back to 2013 for the context here, right? 2013, there was reports of chemical weapons attacks against rebel-held areas very similar to these. The President of the United States said it was a red line. When it was crossed, he intended -- he announced an intention to strike with military assets. He then decided to go to Congress. No one in Congress wanted to vote for this thing, democrat or republican. All of a sudden, everyone said no way. It didn`t happen. People then subsequently said this was a mistake, and it hurt the credibility of the United States. Now we have this situation. How do you understand what the Assad - how the Assad government is reading this as well as their allies?

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: I mean that`s a really good question. I think from one hand, they could look at it as Trump trying to assert himself from domestic purposes. Keep in mind that the scenarios that are going to be presented to the President or that have been presented to the President can run the gamut of everything from regime change and occupation and invasion to just bombing the airfields will not necessarily deter the president of Syria from continuing his operations. Also, the backbone of the regime is -

HAYES: That`s a key point. I just want to reinforce that, right? Because the idea is there`s some vision of this in which there`s some air strikes that basically say, don`t do this again. And what you`re saying is his own incentives are such that if he feels the need to use chemical weapons or wants to use chemical weapons to keep himself in power, he`s going to be undeterred by the kinds of strikes.

JACOBS: And by the way, we have to remember, not just him. He`s almost - he`s not irrelevant, but he`s a relatively minor figure.


JACOBS: He`s got any - the top of the military food chain is running the country.

MOHYELDIN: And the point is that the air force of the Syrian government is the backbone of their fighting capability. So unless you`re prepared to take out that entire capability, you`re really not going to be able to deter the Syrian regime from continuing its operations in the areas that it wants to do that. But keep in mind, again, they`re using helicopters. So you don`t necessarily need an airfield for a helicopter if you`re still using barrel bombs and crude mechanisms of delivering some of these weapons. But there is an assumption that we`re still making that they are using it based on the U.S. saying that they believe it was fixed-wing aircraft that dropped the sarin gas. And obviously, the U.N. resolution that was up for debate today at the United Nations was not going to pass with the Russians expressing that they wanted to veto it. And that just gives you a sense of like how all these roads go through Moscow. You want to address the Syria conflict, you`re probably better off dealing with it in Moscow before you get to Syria.

HAYES: I just also want to say two points of context as people are watching this as we`re talking about the possibility of military action. One is this horrific scene of people gassed, about 100 people dead. Estimates that are hundreds of thousands, 500,000 Syrians killed by Assad`s forces through the brutal use of barrel bombs, bombing hospitals, bombing civilians, shelling them using basically any means at his disposal before you get to chemical weapons. That`s the backdrop here. And number two, and this strikes me as important is if the desire here is humanitarian because people watched those images, there are humanitarian things that can be done, letting in refugees, for instance, fully funding humanitarian funds that are not funded that could have a humanitarian effect in Syria it seems to me.

JACOBS: Well, there are military people - you can bet that right now during whatever briefing is being conducted with the President, that there are military people who are arguing that that is the right thing to do. That the way to really have an impact here, a positive impact, low-risk, high-reward exercise is humanitarian and not military. And it points again to the fact that frequently our default instrument of power has been the military, and that`s because military people do a very good job. If you want stuff blown up, want people killed, we`re the guys to do it. But the military has to be integrated into the entire force of the country -

HAYES: Right.

JACOBS: - and all the other instruments that we have, but there will be military people there arguing that we need to do humanitarian things.

MOHYELDIN: The conflict in Syria has dragged on for six years. This is not the first chemical attack. It is not the worst chemical attack. It`s not the first chemical attack to happen in Trump Presidency. Yet somehow it was the one attack that made the President change the course of action in the past several weeks that he`s been President, almost 180 degrees. I don`t think there is a critical question as to why is that happening now. What is the calculus that has changed that is suddenly making this President say that limited strikes, surgical strikes, taking out airfields is somehow going to change the dynamic of the Syrian conflict?

HAYES: Right.

MOHYELDIN: It doesn`t address that.

HAYES: Ayman Mohyeldin and Colonel Jack Jacobs, thank you, gentlemen.

JACOBS: Your welcome.

HAYES: Joining me now, MSNBC National Security Analyst Evelyn Farkas, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Evelyn, the Syrian conflict is at once both sort of intractable and morally abhorrent, shocking to the conscience and also seems really difficult to form effective, coherent policy around.


HAYES: As someone who has sort of been in the trenches on the policy front, particularly Vis-a-Vis Russia, your response -

FARKAS: And Syria.

HAYES: Right. So your response to the idea of some sort of set of air strikes in response to the chemical weapons deployment in Idlib?

FARKAS: I mean, I think, Chris, absolutely we have to do something, and so I think a punitive air strike, a limited punitive air strike that seeks targets very carefully, targets linked of course to what the Syrians did. So either units or actual aircraft that were responsible makes a lot of sense. Look, as Ayman just said, they`re the nine chemical attacks just in the first three months of this year alone by the regime. But most of them were deemed to be chlorine attacks. So this sarin gas - it looks like sarin gas, and it`s pretty bad. And I think the President had a visceral and a proper reaction to it, which was outrage.

HAYES: OK. But I guess my - explain to me - convince me that "do something" is a reasonable operating standard here

FARKAS: Yes. It -

HAYES: - because it just seems to me that "do something" can get you into a lot of trouble.

FARKAS: Yes. So I don`t have a lot of patience for that argument because frankly, we need to punish the Syrians for what they did and then try to deter them. It is true that it may not work in deterring them. You have to have a strategy for what comes next, absolutely. But that does not mean that you don`t do anything because, again, the world is watching. The - actually the organization that`s responsible for enforcing the chemical weapons convention, they have had people on the ground. They had people on the ground in 2013 when I was in the Pentagon and we were working with the Syrians and the Russians to get rid of chemical weapons. They still have a mandate to go in there. They should go in there. That should be part of the overall strategy. You are right and everyone else is right to say that the administration needs to have a follow-on policy. I believe from all the media accounts they`ve been working on that. They - the Pentagon was tasked by the President with putting together a 90-day - in - within 90 days, a strategy on Syria. I would expect that this would be part of that, but it`s - but it`s just frankly speaking from my perspective a punitive action would be important.

HAYES: OK. So explain, then also - and I`ve seen Syrians actually that I - that I follow on Twitter. They said this back in 2013. I`ve seen they`re saying it again, basically saying to you in the U.S. and the west, like why do you care so much if they gas us, but you don`t care if they barrel bomb us? He`s been slaughtering children left and right for six years. So there`s some distinctness in your mind to chemical weapons. From where we sit, we`ve been in a - in a shooting gallery for six years.

FARKAS: Sure. I would agree with that. I mean, I think it`s absolutely abhorrent what the Syrian government has done with the use of its air force, what the Russians have done. You know, deliberately bombing a U.N. convoy last year, bombing hospitals and innocent civilians in order to force them to flee to become refugees. That`s why a lot of our generals have called the refugee flight to Europe a weaponization. I mean using conventional weapons, they`ve done enough damage. So personally, I would have responded a lot earlier and put together a strategy on Syria before this. But when you`re violating the chemical weapons convention, when you`re using weapons of mass destruction, you do - you do run into a bigger - you`re crossing a higher bar.

HAYES: Right.

FARKAS: And the international community has responded, and this is also an area where Russia has a strong track record. They`re proud of the work that they have done to support non-proliferation efforts worldwide, including in Syria as I mentioned in 2013-2014.

HAYEs: So let`s talk about Russia here because they are obviously a huge player. We`ve seen, you know, photo after photo of members of Russian armed forces embedded with regime troops. I mean in some ways these are essentially mixed units at this point.

FARKAS: Yes, and don`t forget the Iranians.

HAYES: And the Iranians as well.

FARKAS: We haven`t discussed them, and they`re case.

HAYES: Yes. Right. And - but although the Iranians - so here`s my understanding of the sort of strategic implications here, right? I mean, obviously our relationship with Iran is what it is already. Russia is a sort of different story, and one wonders if there`s an air strike in which Russian soldiers are killed, what the counter move by Russia would be in that case.

FARKAS: My guess is that inside the Pentagon, they`re working very carefully to identify targets where that risk is as low as possible, and they may even go as far as to notify the Russians. They won`t give them too much notice, but they may go so far as to notify the Russians. They`re going to try to minimize the friction in the relationship. And, again, I think understanding that for Russia, because we`re talking chemical weapons, this is a separate and distinct situation, and they will probably accept a punitive air strike.

HAYES: As someone who worked in the previous administration, that moment is a moment of tremendous amount of second-guessing, the moment in 2013. It sounds like you`re one of those people - I feel like there`s many people in the administration who feel like that was - that was wrong. Is that your feeling?

FARKAS: Well, I was not in the policy office at the time. I don`t want to second-guess the decisions my colleagues made and the President made. But I will say that I am somebody who`s been very outspoken on the issue of Syria and the need to take action. We can use military force for limited means. I believe we could have and we could still use our military to safeguard lives and certainly to demonstrate that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely unacceptable.

HAYES: All right. Evelyn Farkas, thank you for your time tonight. Really appreciate it.

FARKAS: Thank you.

HAYES: All right. I want to bring in Washington Post Columnist Jennifer Rubin and Shadi Hamid, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, author of a fantastic book - I really recommend it to everyone, it`s called Islamic Exceptionalism, how to struggle over Islam reshaping the world. Jennifer, I`m going to start with you because you are particularly situated in an - in an ongoing debate about in the sort of internal coalition of the center-right in this country. And this to me, in the last 24 hours, marks something fairly remarkable. The President ran on his opposition of the Iraq war, which was never actually extant or it came too late. In 2013, we had the tweets from him saying it`s ridiculous to go to war in Syria. The U.S. gets nothing. Do not get dragged into this. His support within the party comes from a sort of part of the center-right that is incredibly opposed to Syrian intervention generally. In some cases, as you move out towards the margins, just straight-up pro-Assad. Here he is now taking the Jennifer Rubin, John McCain, Lindsey Graham sort of line of things. It`s a pretty stunning 180.

JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, we`ll see what he actually does. Donald Trump obviously has a record of saying one thing and doing the other or doing nothing. Listen, reality does catch up with people, and that`s the problem with running with very little information, very little senior advice, very little expertise, and then having to govern. Those are two different things. And right now he is getting probably his first information that - oh, by the way, the Russians are with Assad. That level of basic information may have escaped the President of the United States. I`m not making this up. I`m not kidding. So I think he`s getting a crash course in international diplomacy. I agree with Evelyn, your previous guest, that, listen, there is always an argument that we should have done something before, therefore we can`t do anything now. We should have done something in 2009 when that first started, therefore we couldn`t do anything in 2012. Then we couldn`t do anything in 2013. At some point, we do have to do something, and I think there are a range of options here. Whether the President decides that he`s going to go full bore on the most extreme options or whether he`s going to seek a middle ground has yet to be determined. I think there is a problem, however, and that is he has to decide what he wants to do.

HAYES: Well, that`s right.

RUBIN: He has to decide, is his goal now to get rid of Assad? A few days ago we were hearing from Mr. Tillerson and also from our U.N. Ambassador that the Syrian people were going to decide, as if they can decide anything as they`re being barrel bombed and chemical - and gassed by chemical weapons. So what does he want? Does he want Assad out? Does he want to change the battlefield enough that diplomatic measures can then try to move -- to move (INAUDIBLE) can move Assad out? I don`t know what he wants, and he probably doesn`t know what he wants. You can`t just order up whatever from the Pentagon.

HAYES: Right.

RUBIN: They`re going to ask, what do you want to do? And I don`t think we have a good answer to that right now.

HAYES: Shadi, you have been really outspoken in your critiques of American policy in Syria, which I think you view as a sort of both moral and strategic failure thus far. How do you understand what appears to be on the table tonight?

SHADI HAMID, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION SENIOR FELLOW: So I support strikes, but I don`t think that we should do something just for the sake of doing something. and I think the problem is this very narrow focus on chemical weapons. To me, this isn`t about chemical weapons. It`s about the Assad regime`s brutality. And I think that there has to be a broader strategic vision. So I`m someone who has been outspoken in favor of targeting the Assad regime for quite some time now. But I worry that Trump wants to just go in, do some punitive strikes, leave it at that, we forget about Syria and that we`re not addressing the root causes of the broader conflict. So what I would like to see is a focus on using military force to push Assad to negotiate in good faith, to force him to compromise, and to strengthen the mainstream rebels, and to actually try to shift the battlefield balance. That has to be the bare conversation here because chemical weapons, you can - as you and others have said, you can kill a lot of people without chemical weapons. And we also should be thinking about military force in the sense that we want to make it harder for Assad to kill people. I mean let`s not forget about the humanitarian calculus here. And I worry that we`re sort of - we`re sort of getting very focused on the narrow aspects of chemical weapons.

HAYES: Yes, so here`s - I want to detach two things in this conversation as we`re looking at a map there and we`re at this hour, the Presidents at Mar-a-Lago. There are reports that he`s been briefed from the Pentagon on possible strikes against Syria, this six years into the war in Syria, which began as a revolution which was violently suppressed, has since become a civil war, has seen the entrance of Iran and then Russia in a big way, which have altered the sort of balance of gravity of the battlefield back towards an Assad regime that was reeling at one point, a fracturing of many different rebel groups. All of this is the context, Shadi, that I think it`s important to talk about what the democratic process here is. And I`ve read your critics to the President, it was, of course, Congress that declined to authorize that strike. Here`s Senator Mike Lee tonight saying if the United States is to increase our use of military force in Syria, we should follow the constitution, seek the proper authorization from Congress. President Trump should make his case in front of the American people, allow their elected representatives to debate the benefits and risks of further Middle Eastern intervention to our national security interests. Do you agree?

HAMID: No. I mean so Obama was very close to striking as it in August 2013, and we were at the 11th hour. French jets were readied in terms of targets. So it wasn`t as if Obama was waiting for Congress. It`s only when he apparently had second thoughts at the very last moment that he said, OK, let`s table this and have a conversation about it. But I think that for Obama, it was about skirting responsibility, and he already had made his decision, and he knew the votes weren`t there in Congress.

HAYES: Right, but the votes not being there - and, Jennifer, I`d like you to talk about it as well. I mean, the votes are not being there, right? It`s not just the votes not being there, it`s that as a sort of democratic matter, does America want to go to war in Syria? Now, we should also say we`ve been bombing in Syria. We`ve been bombing ISIS, and there are many people in the revolution in Syria who say that we`ve essentially been helping Assad in that respect, so I should be clear about that. But the votes not being there is representative of something broader, Jennifer, which is that the American people don`t seem to have much appetite for another military intervention in the middle east.

RUBIN: Well, we`re in Syria right now. We not only have been bombing, but we have people on the ground. The exact number is up for debate. So it`s not like we`re not at war yet. The question is do we want to increase that? listen -

HAYES: Well, also, do we want to go - do we want to war against another new - I mean, the point here should be clear, right, that we have not been striking Assad as Shadi has said. We have been going after ISIS, which in a perverse way, many people argue, has been aiding Assad. In fact, many people think that the American policy thus far has been essential to keep maintaining the status quo.

RUBIN: Well, the original idea was that so long as there was a non-jihadi rebel force, that we could support, those people and then push towards a negotiated settlement. Unfortunately, because of inaction of the Obama administration, that force, that middle ground force, has really been very much decimated. But to the point, I do think that if we`re going to make a military action, if we`re going to do something more than what Obama was accused of doing back in 2013, pinpricks, that we should come up with a coherent strategy to wrap around that.

HAYES: Right.

RUBIN: President Obama did lose his nerve. What he - what triggered him to lose his nerve was that the British parliament -

HAYES: That`s right.

RUBIN: - if you remember voted down the extra force. And suddenly he said, oh, my gosh, I might be out here alone. So he did go to Congress. I do find it interesting that many people now who are insisting on action, including people like Marco Rubio by the way, were against use of force. And by the way, this was not a partisan thing.

HAYES: No. No one wanted to vote for this thing in Congress. I just want to be clear.


RUBIN: So, we had republican leaders and we had democratic leaders to be very fair who were in a bipartisan way willing at the upper levels. Whether there were the numbers down below is another matter. But the President believed at that time - other Presidents believed that they have the authority to escalate and to at least consult but then go forward. The question is, is it in our interest to get Congress involved, and I actually think now he could get the vote, and it would be helpful to go to Congress at this point.

HAYES: Well, that`s interesting. Jennifer and Shadi, I want you to stay with me because I want to bring in Ken Vogel, who is Chief Investigative Reporter at Politico, and MSNBC Contributor Sam Seder, host of Majority Report. And Ken, I want to go with you because I`ve been sort of monitoring the world out of which Steve Bannon emanates. This sort of alt- right parts of that for more extreme, you know, explicit white supremacist and white nationalist all the way to the Breitbart folks. And whether it`s Alex Jones or Ron Paul or Richard Spencer, there is no appetite in that part of the universe ideologically for a strike on Syria. It - I wonder given the kind of civil war that`s happened in this White House between Bannon and Kushner - you`ve reported on it in really eye-opening way is, what this says about the stakes of the battles that are happening around personnel inside the Oval Office.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, certainly I think that as you suggested, that there`s not of appetite for what the alt- rights, what the Breitbart folks see as interventionism. They were very much cheered when Donald Trump took this tack that he didn`t want the U.S. to be the policemen of the world. Bannon does represent that.

Ultimately, though, I think what we see, despite all the shake-ups of the NSC and all our efforts to read the tea leaves there, this is Trump. This is Trump making a decision. You know, he could have been advised, his advisers could have sort of evolved on what they were recommending, but he came right out and said it. He saw the video. The video crossed lines for him. The video changed his opinion, and it really speaks to how Trump makes these decisions where, you know, no matter what inputs he`s getting, it ultimately comes down to him.

HAYES: And Sam, I mean, to me what was striking to watch the president yesterday in the Rose Garden was that his command of the issues seemed charitably extremely thin. But this is a place in which he is watching cable news all the time, and that is how he is producing his opinions on things. He doesn`t have deeply held strategic visions or world view or a thick ideology or politics. He`s sort of watching cable news, and that`s how he`s making these decisions.

SEDER: Yeah, I mean that`s conceivable. I mean it`s also conceivable that that`s a story. I mean within weeks of him being inaugurated, we killed eight children in Yemen, one of whom was an American citizen. We did.

HAYES: Right.

SEDER: We just killed over 200 people in Mosul in bombing attacks.

So it`s quite possible he`s not aware of that, and just those children he saw for the first time on television in Syria have created this incredible change of heart, or it`s also more likely that he`s a grown-up who has adult advisers around him who say, you know, historically to engage in some type of military action when your numbers are rather low can give you seven points in the polls and bring you back up into the 40s so that you can start to move a legislative agenda.

I mean that`s also...

HAYES: That`s a very cynical interpretation, I will say.

SEDER: Well, it`s also just as probable, it seems to me, then, that the only awareness he has of children dying in the world are from the most recent cable television.

HAYES: We should also be clear that the context here is that drone strikes under this president have gone up. They`re about five times the rate of what they were under Barack Obama.

There has been.

SEDER: An explicit removal of the guidelines that protected civilians, which is not to excuse anything President Obama did, but there was an explicit choice in Yemen and in Somalia to basically allow for more civilian casualties.

HAYES: But to the politics of this, Shadi, that Sam is referring to, again, it just seems to me without any kind of actual political will, commitment to some sort of long-term strategy that will genuinely aid the Syrian people in their quest to be self-determining and free of the brutality of the Assad regime. Absent any actual political will domestically in the United States, it`s difficult for me to envision military interventions that make their lives better?

SHADI HAMID, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yeah, but I think there are voices that do support that broader strategic vision, people like Senator McCain, and people can criticize him all they want, but he`s at least been consistent on this point, that there has to be a day-after plan.

But what I would say is this, critics of the use of any military force, they have to be able to say something to this question. They can`t just say, let`s just sit and accept this such egregious acts that are really an affront to who we are as Americans. And I think they have to say what is their alternative? If they don`t want to have strikes against the Assad regime, then what do they suggest as an alternative, because doing what we`ve been doing for the past six years -- or the past five years, really since 2012, that cannot be our answer to this predicament. It has failed time and time again.

And the question is whether are we as a country going to say, there has to be a strategy on Syria because are we going to allow -- are we comfortable saying as Americans that another 100,000 or 200,000 people will die over the next four years? I`m not comfortable saying that.

HAYES: Right.

I will just say for myself -- and I don`t feign incredible mastery of expertise, a low hanging fruit it seems to me is not banning Syrians from the country and also massively expanding the number of refugees we take in. That seems like something we can do without expenditure of military force, we could take 75,000, 100,000, 150,000, 200,000. We`re a very big country. There are much smaller countries that have taken much smaller numbers.

So, you know, and I under, Shadi, that that does not solve the problem. But in terms of the obvious, most low-hanging fruit in that regard.

RUBIN: We can also not slash foreign aid, by the way, which is the other thing that he is doing right now. So you`re absolutely right.

The right hand doesn`t know what the extreme right hand is doing here.

But I do disagree with Sam in that I think Trump is somebody who is impulsive, who operates off of specifics that are in front of him at the moment. He may want to deport everybody in general, but given a sob story about a particular person, the DACA people, for example, he doesn`t want to do it.

So he has this push-pull between these grandiose, very extreme stances and then in the particular, he gets very uncomfortable, very upset, and wants to act in a more humane way or way that he thinks will be perceived as more humane.

So now he`s trapped. He has his ideology, which you`re right, he`s been saying for months, if not years now, that he doesn`t want to go in. This isn`t our problem. We have no interest in Syria. And on the other hand, he`s confronted with the reality. So what is he going to do?

And I think this juxtaposition of what he says in a very dramatic, sort of campaign setting and then the reality of the pictures he sees, coupled with the absolute array of choices before him with no great option here - no one is saying there`s a fabulous option here -- is probably hitting home just about now even though he`s at Mar-a-Lago yucking it up with the Chinese.

HAYES: Yeah, he is in Mar-a-Lago at this hour.

I want all of you to stay with us. We`re going to take a quick break and come right back. Don`t go anywhere.


HAYES: And joining me now from the White House, NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker. Kristen, what are you hearing there?


I can tell you that Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with staffers right now in the West Wing. I`m told not to read too much into those meetings. No readout yet on specifically what they`re discussing, but undoubtedly this is at the forefront here at the White House even as the president is in Mar-a-Lago, of course meeting with the Chinese president and trying to determine next steps in Syria.

It`s our understanding that the administration, the president considering a range of options to respond to that chemical attack in Syria that the responded to so personally yesterday when he held that joint news conference here at the White House, talked about how it impacted him and infuriated him and thought that there needed to be some kind of action and that multiple lines were crossed. Those are his words.

So, we know that he has been briefed by the Pentagon, is considering a range of options, everything from a limited strike to potentially a multi- day attack. The question is how will he proceed? What will happen next?

What we can say, Chris -- and you`ve been obviously talking about this throughout the hour, the fact that we`ve seen this real shift in tone here from this president and from this administration - remember, just several days ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was up to the Syrian people to determine the future of President Bashar al-Assad. Well, today a very different tone from the secretary of state, who indicated the United States now believes that Assad does need to go, but that they want to achieve that through working with its international partners.

That also echoed by President Trump, who spoke with reporters aboard Air Force One.

So we are waiting and watching along with obviously our teams who are in Mar-a-Lago with President Trump right now as he continues to have that important summit with the president of China. And of course we know that they are going to be discussing another major international crisis, the recent provocations by North Korea. The president expected to press the president of China to do more to stop North Korea.

But it is a crisis in Syria, Chris, that is clearly at the forefront here tonight at the White House and in Mar-a-Lago, Chris.

HAYES: All right, thank you, Krsitien.

Joining me now from Mar-a-Lago, NBC chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.

Hallie, the latest.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWSCORRESPONDENT: Chris, listen, Kristen summed it up well from her perch there at the White House. From our vantage point in Florida, what is striking is how much this is essentially, when you pull back and look at a big picture, a crash course in crisis management for President Trump.

He is juggling not just what in any other instance would be the top headline of the day, right, this crucial summit that he is holding with president Xi Jinping of China, expected to press him, as Kristen talked about, on North Korea and on trade.

Instead, the focus is on the crisis in Syria as the president essentially has to sort of split his thinking here and split his attention.

We know that he`s already been briefed. We are told that people like H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, obviously the Defense Secretary James Mattis was in there, giving the president what these military options could be, this range of options overseas in Syria. We also know that tomorrow he will be back on these meetings with Xi Jinping. He`s surrounded right now by his top advisers at this dinner. Steve Bannon`s at the table, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, et cetera. So, we are watching and waiting to see some developments here from South Florida, Chris.

HAYES: All right, Hallie Jackson, thank you very much. Back with me, Jennifer Rubin, Shadi Hamid and Ken Vogel, and Sam Seder.

And Ken, let me go to you, because Hallie just said to me about his top adviers. And this to me is what is so striking here. The president`s world view is ambivalent, amorphous, it changes. He said yesterday how flexible he is.

We are in the midst of this war over essentially of what Trumpism is. It`s been what you`re reporting. And when he just said here he is managing these twin crises. He`s surrounded by his advisers, Jared Kushner, a 36- year-old real estate heir with no foreign policy experience, Steve Bannon, a man who purchased Seinfeld residuals and then ran a right wing web site, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who has a clothing business among other things.

Those are the individuals that are guiding him through these very freighted, difficult decisions.

VOGEL: Well, of course there are foreign policy professionals that are all around him, including folks who the Republican establishment feels comfortable with.

But the fact of the matter is these advisers who are closest to him at the seat at the table, you just detailed, and the president himself are in fact an ideological blank slate when it comes to foreign policy.

Bannon a little bit more non-interventionist. You certainly did hear the non-interventionist theme make its way into Trump`s rhetoric by the end of the campaign, but that was relatively new.

As many have documented, he was for going into Iraq and later sort of recalibrated his position, said he was never for it. So he is flexible is a charitable way to put it, sort of not having any hard and fast foreign policy principles is perhaps the more realistic way to put it. And that`s what leads to the infighting.

A couple things lead to the infighting. First of all, that he is a blank slate on so many issues, so you have so many competing constituencies that are trying to get their world view, make it preeminent preeminent in sort of the Trump administration. And then additionally Trump has over the course of his career in business, over the course of his short political career, even over the course of his reality TV career, he has fostered these cultures where there is competition and sort of competing fiefdoms that are jockeying to get his attention domes that are jockeying to get his attention and to win the day. We have that here in foreign policy, we certainly saw that with the health care negotiations, we`ve seen it on a range of issues. That`s why there`s so much in-fighting.

HAYES: And Sam, to Ken`s point about he has Republican establishment folks around him. I mean, this to me seems like a classic example of the fact that in the end, the foreign policy establishment of the Republican Party is the foreign policy establishment of the Republican Party, which is quite disposed towards intervention.

Nothing changed, even if Donald Trump got elected.

SEDER: Well, yeah. And the problem I`m hearing frankly with everything that we`ve heard on this program tonight is on one hand we`re hearing people who are calling for intervention, do something but it must be backed up with a very smart strategy as to what to do after this one bombing or whatever it is.

But the fact of the matter is - and we`re also hearing that the president is childlike enough that he watches something on television and does what is essentially a 180 degrees on the policy of Syria, which, you know, Syria has been around for quite a while.

HAYES: Of the U.s. government`s stated policy.

SEDER: so this brilliant strategy, this black box that appears after we drop bombs, that is going to fix things going forward is going to be executed by a man of this stature and experience. I`m sorry, you cannot divorce these things.

HAYES: Shadi, let me ask you that. I mean, I guess the question here right is ultimately do you trust this president with the experience he has, the people around him, to be the steward of a military and diplomatic strategy that will be a net improvement for the lives of the Syrian people.

HAMID: Well, first of all, Chris, I mean at least for today, I like the fact that Trump is promiscuous on policy. I mean when we prefer the alternative where he`s immovable in his support for the Assad regime, what senior officials were saying just the other week was a very dark moment, I think, for us as a country to say that we`re okay with Assad, and we don`t have a problem with that.

So I`m happy that Trump is willing to be flexible and shift his position.

HAYES: right.

HAMID: Because he`s been moved by something. I don`t know why we`re criticizing him for that. HAYES: But the question there, the most specific question it seems to me, and as someone of my age cohort, you know, Iraq looms over all of this always with U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, it will be this president with the people around him who will be stewarding whatever happens tonight, and then the next day, and whatever happens as a result of that. It will be him that is the person that oversees a strategy that does or does not make things better for the Syrian people.

HAMID: Well, that`s why I`m coming in, and I`m not willing to say, oh, I`m 100 percent excited about military strikes. I mean that`s why I`m offering this note of caution that I hope that the people especially around him -- and let`s also be fair, there are people like H.R. McMaster and Secretary Mattis who have given a lot of thought to the day after, to stabilization, to state building. And my hope would be that these people lead the way and have influence with Trump and say - so you can`t guarantee that Trump will grow into his role, but my hope is that this moment will encourage Trump to think a little bit more strategically. If he has the right people around him telling him the importance of having this broader strategic vision.

HAYES: Let me go to Ambassador Mike McFaul, who is the former ambassador to the United States of America to the Russian Federation.

And you know, the Russian intervention in Syria has been -- has altered the trajectory of that war quite significantly. It was really the Iranians first, but then the Russian intervention that has really altered the trajectory of it.

The Russians clearly are all in on Assad. How do you understand how they will be interpreting, reacting to what may happen this evening in terms of American military strikes?

MIKE MCFAUL, FRM. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, so far the Russian media and government officials have denied that there has been a chemical weapons attack. That doesn`t mean they won`t reverse that position. They do that often. But so far they don`t recognize that this has happened.

Number two, of course, there are Russians military on the ground, so a very important concern for the Trump administration would be to coordinate with the Russians to make sure that there are not Russian casualties in this attack.

But number three, this is going to sound a little counter intuitive, and I want to build on the conversation you just had. But we should not assume that the Russians are going to just rally behind President Assad. Remember, when I was in the government, I worked on Syria for five horrible years. We did not achieve our objectives in the Obama administration. We thought we had a breakthrough in 2013 after we threatened force, President Obama met with President Putin in St. Petersburg in September 2013 and we cut a deal. We cut a deal to get rid of all the chemical weapons in Syria, or so we thought.

So the fact that Mr. Assad still has chemical weapons is not just an affront to the international community and the United States, it`s also an affront to Putin, because Putin back then was the hero for getting rid of these.

So I don`t want to predict the way they`re going to react, but we should not assume we think that they`re going to rally behind Assad.

HAYES: Yeah, that`s interesting because it echoes something Evan Farkas (ph) said, that essentially Assad`s use of these weapons shows up the Russians in a certain way, because they were so instrumental and it was such a public deal that they were the ones who were going to shepherd those chemical weapons out of the country and vouchsafe them.

MCFAUL: Yeah, it was a big deal. I was there. I was the ambassador. We thought it was a great breakthrough.

And remember, in the Russian eyes, the way it was portrayed in Russia, it was their deal that saved Assad from military attack from the United States.

Now, whether that`s right or wrong - there are a lot of other factors there, but that`s the way it was portrayed. So this is also a challenge to Putin and to his influence over Assad without question.

HAYES: It also seems to me, Michael, that part of the sort of strategic imbalance here is the fact that it is is more important ultimately as this has developed in this kind of proxy war way, whatever happened in Idlib, as ghastly and horrific as those murders are, and whatever the president says about that changed his mind, in a strategic sense, it is more important to Putin -- to Russia and Iran that Assad stay than it is important to the United States that Assad go. And there`s no way to rectify that imbalance.

MCFAUL: Correct. Correct.

But I want to point out a couple of things. We`re jumping to conclusions to equate a military strike with the fall of Assad.

HAYES: Yes, of course.

MCFAUL: You mentioned Iraq is lingering over your head, I want to remind you, there are many other instances in American history where we took a shot at the Taliban or took a shot in Libya, but it did not lead to a big war, it did not lead to an intervention, and it didn`t lead to regime change.

So remember, between doing nothing and invading a country to overthrow the regime, there`s lots of options on the table. I don`t -- obviously I don`t know what the Trump administration is thinking, but I can think of a scenario where there would be military strikes that would not lead to the fall of Assad, that would make Mr. Putin, President Putin and the Trump administration, happy.

HAYES: Well, I think we should be clear, I mean, as far as we can tell, the idea that anything that was launched imminently by the United States government would be to the fall of Assad, I don`t even think even is on the table as an immediately tactical aim.

MCFAUL: Right. It`s not.


Sam, Michael just mentioned Libya. And that I think is part of the context here as well is the notion of, you know, Libya was passed out of the UN Security Council and it had a very specific set of non-regime change aims that were humanitarian, having to do with the responsibility to protect civilians that were surrounded by Gadhafi`s forces that were explicitly being threatened with murder. He was going to go door to door. It was under those auspices that that was passed. And, of course, it did lead to regime change and then the post-war situation in Libya which has not been far from ideal.

There`s always that possibility of that kind of mission creep.

SEDER: Yeah, of course. And not to mention what it did to the ability in the future, i.e., now, for the UN to be able to on a very limited basis protect people from imminent slaughter because didn`t hold. Because of that mission creep, we are now left with basically prove to the world that we cannot...

HAYES: It`s a cover for regime change.

SEDER: Indeed.

HAYES: And indeed, Michael, my understanding is that the Libya precedent was also really weighed heavily on Putin as Putin understood how to interpret American action in the region that what Putin viewed essential as a bait and switch, it was something that was passed under the cover of a limited humanitarian strike, became regime change, that that altered his understanding of American actions.

MCFAUL: Yes. But let me be clear, you know, from my perspective as a U.S. official at the time, I worked at the National Security Council at the time of these deliberations, we did not consider this mission creep but it leads to something else, that once you take kinetic action, once you militarily intervene it changes the balance of forces on the ground in ways that you don`t predict.

That`s what happened in Libya. It was not a strategy of regime change. And when we met with the Russians subsequently after it, they blamed us for that. And they were right about that, by the way, they were right to say that`s not what we signed up for when they signed up for UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.

And Putin pivoted hard and said we`re never going to do that again. And try as we may on several different attempts to get a very modest resolutions on Syria, we could not do so because of Libya.

Jennifer, if this were to go, if there were to be a congressional vote, and I don`t believe there will be, your sense of whether -- you said this before, and I`m curious to hear you elaborate a little bit on this, the votes being there. I mean, the Republican party did not, I don`t think had the votes in 2013 and that was when Obama was the president of the United States. You think they would be there now?

RUBIN: I think so.

Frankly, I have been candid about this before, I think the Republicans were wrong in 2013. They helped move us into a very bad decision which was a non-decision. And with their own president of their own party, I think they would be much more likely to follow on and to follow him.

And many Democrats have been speaking out about this as well, demanding a more forceful, more robust foreign policy.

But let me go back to something that Sam said that I think is very troublesome. I didn`t vote for this president, but he is the commander-in- chief. And we`re going to have to live with him. And we can`t not take action because we now don`t trust him. It`s why I didn`t vote for him. I thought he was a disaster. But now that he`s there, it is his call. And frankly, not acting is a decision as well. You can`t tell the world we`re never going to go into any kind of military action with this president because we don`t trust him. That is a recipe for disaster.

SEDER: It`s not simply...

RUBIN: So we have him there. We have him there. And let`s be thankful that Michael Flynn isn`t there. Let`s be thankful that H.R. McMaster is there, that Jim Mattis is there and that for better or worse, he hasn`t made a lot of appointments in the deputy undersecretary, assistant secretary level so there are State Department, Defense Department professionals who are filling out those roles.

HAYES: Sam, I want to give you a second to respond and then we`re going to move on.

SEDER: Well, I mean, the point is not that the president doesn`t have authority to do it, because I didn`t vote for him, the point is when we say we`re supporting something that is reliant on a very complicated strategy that sees beyond this first military action which we`ve just heard in Libya turned out with a lot of unintended consequences, this is part of the calculus as to whether or not the American public should support an action like this, as to whether or not it can be executed.

HAYES: Yeah.

HAMID: Sorry, why are we viewing Libya as a failure? I just worry about this kind of narrative. Gadhafi fell. Libyans were saved from an imminent mass slaughter. If it wasn`t for NATO intervention in 2011, Libya would more likely look like Syria today, so Libya is bad now, but it could have been a lot worse in terms of the numbers of people killed.

The failure in Libya was the failure to follow up the day after.

HAYES: Right.

HAMID: And that wasn`t on Trump or Republicans, that was on a Democratic president.

HAYES: Right, of course.

HAMID: Obama.

HAYES: Right.

But that -- there`s a continuity there I think is -- would be my point, right, that there`s always a failure to follow up and has to do with what the U.S. is sort of structural and, again, this gets back to I think political capital and democratic will about what the actual democratic constituency is for long-range sustained interaction, whether diplomatic or financial or political in the region is and whether that can be sustained in a net improving way.

All right. I`m going to thank everyone for your time tonight. That was a really illuminating, Ken Vogel, Michael McFaul, Jennifer Rubin, Shadi Hamid, and Sam Seder.

The Rachel Maddow Show - that does it for All In this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show will start right now with Rachel.



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