CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much to our guess. You`re optimistic, sir, and we need that. Thank you all for joining me tonight. Much more on this breaking story all night tonight on MSNBC. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes, of course, starts right now.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. NBC News is reporting that Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, a base that houses American service members, along with Iraqi service members has been attacked by multiple missiles.
Less than an hour ago, the Pentagon released the following statement. "At approximately 5:30 p.m. Eastern, Iran launch -- Iran launch more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq. It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Asad and Irbil." Irbil being in Iraqi-Kurdistan in the North.
"We are working on initial battle damage assessments in recent days and a response to Iranian threats and actions. The Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners. These bases have been on high alert due to the indications the Iranian regime plan to attack our forces and interests in the region. As we evaluate the situation, our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region." Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, we will continue to provide updates as they become available."
All of this, of course, coming just five days after the U.S. assassinated the number two official in Iran, widely seen as the number two most powerful official Qassem Soleimani that happened last week. Iran has been vowing revenge since. NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief Ali Arouzi reports the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that was the special forces that Soleimani oversaw, that guard corps in Iran is claiming this is revenge for the killing of General Soleimani and that any countries that allow U.S. attacks from their soil will also be attacked.
Arouzi also just reporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is saying that a second wave of missiles has now been launched. And joining me now is Ali Arouzi, NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief who is in Tehran tonight. What is the message from Iranian state television and sources about what is happening tonight?
ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF: Hi, Chris. Well, they`ve launched that first wave of attacks and revenge for Soleimani`s killing. We`re getting reports, as you just mentioned, that they have launched a second wave of attacks in that same vicinity. We`re also getting unconfirmed reports from state media saying that they have leveled the Al- Asad base in Iraq and they have killed 30 U.S. troops.
Now, Iran is saying that if there is any retaliation from the United States from these latest two attacks that they have launched by the IRGC directly, they will target all U.S. bases. And the first immediate targets will be in Dubai because U.S. planes have been reported to take off from Dubai.
They said that they will destroy what they called that tourism resort, and then they will target Haifa in Israel. We`re also getting reports that Iranian militias that Qassem Soleimani had built up in this region are now ready for all sorts of attacks. The Hashd al-Shaabi, a major militia in Iraq is saying that they are on alert and ready and waiting orders from Iran to launch attacks on any basis that are necessary.
An Iranian state media (INAUDIBLE) news is saying that Hezbollah in Lebanon is also ready to attack Israel if Iran is attacked by the United States after these latest rocket launches. Iran is saying that they launched medium board ballistic missiles at the Al-Asad base in Iraq.
I just can`t begin to tell you how serious the situation is. There has never been any sort of confrontation between Iran and America directly like this since the Islamic revolution happened in 1979. And things are just very, very unpredictable. Iranian officials here are all putting out messages on their social media shank, the Iranian flag that is a signal of being battle-ready in this country.
On my way to the Bureau, the radio is on. Songs of battle marches were being played on the radio. We have reports as well from the IRGC that Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of this country, was in the control room coordinating all of these attacks. They`re also reporting that Iran`s Air Force has been deployed and they are ready to intercept any attacks from the United States.
Now, of course, Chris, Iran`s air force and navy are no match for the might of the U.S. military, but Iran does have this widespread network of militias in this region that are all located very close to U.S. personnel, U.S. bases. They have said time and time again, that they could strike immediately at any of these bases and cause severe damage.
So that`s what we`re expecting to happen next, if there is an attack by the United States. Basically, the message coming out of Iran right now is that they have launched these two attacks. The ball is in the court of the United States. If they decide to retaliate for what Iran has just done, well, then all bets are off, and we could be in a full-blown war, Chris.
HAYES: Ali, I want to just refer to something you said earlier, which is state media talking about leveling al-Asad airbase and there being 30 casualties. I just want to be very clear. We don`t have independent confirmation of that as of -- as of yet. That is a claim being made on Iranian state media, just so that viewers who are tuning in understand that that is not confirmed independently by reporters on the ground or by -- or by Pentagon at this moment.
I want to follow up on your question about the sort of the kind of escalatory calculation here. Obviously, there was widespread anticipation after the United States took the extraordinarily escalatory step of assassinating the general Qassem Soleimani, that there would be some kind of retaliation from the Iranian government against U.S. forces.
There is some question I suppose about whether there has been a calculation made to do that in a way that would allow an end to the back and forth if there`s a calculation by the Iranian regime that this won`t lead to further attacks or whether that wasn`t the calculation, that essentially they need to sort of save face and need to retaliate in their mind, and this is what they`re doing.
AROUZI: Well, it`s a little bit of both, Chris. They definitely thought that they have to retaliate, no matter what happens. The mentality here amongst the leadership was that if they don`t strike back, they`re going to come across as weak, and there will be more pressure from America on Iran.
Now, the question is the proportionality of this attack. As you mentioned, the reports of the level of damage and the casualties are completely unconfirmed. But if it`s a small attack, it could give the United States enough space not to launch an all-out reprisal. But if we are talking about, you know, 10, 20, 30 numbers of U.S. personnel being killed, I don`t think President Trump is going to see that as proportional. He has been putting messages out that he will hit back if Iran hits. And I don`t think he`s going to take us troops being killed very lightly.
So as the fog sort of clears and we find out what sort of damage has happened, then we will be able to assess what kind of response is going to come back from America. But it`s not looking good, Chris. You know, Iran has launched an attack, a direct attack not by its militias, but by its armed forces on U.S. bases in Iraq by -- with ballistic missiles. This is a huge step across the precipice and it`s really unclear, unpredictable how this is going to fold out in the coming minutes, if not hours, and days.
HAYES: All right, Ali Arouzi, stay safe and thank you so much for joining us. I want to make an important note here. Those bases that are being attacked are Iraqi bases. They host Iraqi members of the Iraqi military, and they also host American service members. There is the fact that this is all being waged in Iraq, that a country that has seen nothing but war since the U.S. invasion since 2003.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, civilians, as well as combatants. It`s a generation of Iraqis who have been raised amidst war. And now in the last week, there have been two foreign powers executing strikes against each other in Iraq. The American attack, of course, against Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia had happened just outside the Baghdad airport. And this -- these attacks now happening against Iraqi military bases.
And joining me now where he is reporting from Irbil in northern Iraq is Richard Engel. Richard, we`ve had some reports of possible missiles directed to Irbil. What can you tell us about what`s going on there?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: So we heard two explosions a couple of hours ago here. We`re not exactly sure what it was. We drove around and we couldn`t see any signs of damage. There were initial reports that perhaps it was a car bomb. We didn`t see any evidence of that.
Then the U.S. military put out a statement saying that Iran had fired about a dozen ballistic missiles from inside Iranian territory at two locations, two bases where American personnel are housed. One, the Al-Asad Air Base which is in western Iraq, and the other here in Irbil. So the presumption is that perhaps those explosions we heard were either the ballistic missiles landing or being intercepted but somehow related to the ballistic missile attack.
What Ali was saying is absolutely right. This is unprecedented. We are seeing now conventional cross border attack from Iran using ground to ground missiles, medium-range missiles, apparently, against American airbases here. And as you said, these are -- these are our rocky bases that are housing American personnel. There are already calls in this country for American troops to leave.
Now that it seems that the United States and Iran are fighting what could be the early stages of a low-level war on Iraqi territory, those calls for U.S. troops to leave will only grow louder. Iran does not -- Iraq does not want to become the staging ground for the United States to carry out targeted assassinations or for Iran to carry out retribution on Iraqi soil.
So this could have a very significant effect on not just -- not just what happens between Iran and Iraq in the coming hours, but the future presidents of U.S. troops in Iraq which has enormous consequences for the - - for the war on ISIS, for the geopolitical strategic positioning of us in the Middle East. We may be on a road to a very different Middle East come sunrise.
HAYES: The point you just made there about the fact that in the wake of the assassination, again, Qassem Soleimani, there was the vote of course in the non-binding resolution in Parliament Iraq to get rid of American troops, to have them withdraw, to revoke the invitation under which they are currently staying in Iraq, and then a confusion about whether the U.S. had acceded to that. How many troops are in the region and how exposed are American military members as well as Iraqi to Iranian retaliation?
ENGEL: Well, frankly, they are quite exposed because if you listen to the different capabilities that Iran has, so Iran today launched some of its conventional weapons firing at a -- at these two military locations here in Irbil and the Al-Asad Air Base according to the U.S. military. But Iran also has its proxy militias, a large proxy militia inside Iraq. That is all over Baghdad. It is deeply entrenched inside the Iraqi security forces themselves.
There is Hezbollah. Hezbollah, which according to Iranian media is poised to attack Israel tonight should Israel decide to get involved in this -- in this growing conflict. Hezbollah has international reach as well. There are -- there are also regimes -- there are also allied militias in Syria. There are militias in Afghanistan.
So it is not just Iran`s conventional capability which we saw some of tonight. Iran has the ability to infiltrate and attack American facilities, consulates, domestic -- diplomatic facilities of other nature, military bases in many countries in the Middle East shouldn`t choose to do that.
And tonight, according to the Iranian media, it is absolutely saying it is prepared to do that depending on how the U.S. responds to what has happened over the last few hours with these ballistic missiles being fired over the border.
And Iran wants the world, wants its own people to know that it did this, that it was the Revolutionary Guard that did this, that it was Qassem Soleimani`s own units that did this, the operation supposedly named Martyr Soleimani with a codename, Oh Zahra, a reference to Shia tradition.
So this for Iran is a -- is a symbolic moment where it is striking back at the United States directly with its own military for the first time since the -- since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
HAYES: I want to ask you one more question, Richard. As someone who`s been in the region for years and covered Iraq, and the war and the aftermath of just what it means for an Iraqi society that has lived through so much violence and war, so much death and destruction for so long, that has been the subject of proxy wars between foreign powers that has had people marching in the streets, shouting this slogan, no U.S. domination, no Iranian domination, Iraq for Iraqis, what it means to have Iraq now be the site of this violence and this war happening between two powers that are not Iraq?
ENGEL: Well, it`s going to increase calls for U.S. troops to get out. There are about 5,000 U.S. troops in this country. They are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and they are here to fight ISIS. They`re not here to fight Iran. The official mission of the U.S. troops is to fight a combined effort to support the Iraqi government in its efforts to fight against ISIS.
They don`t have a mission to launch assassinations of senior Iranian officials, even though the U.S. claims those officials are terrorists, even though Qassem Soleimani had a lot of American blood on his hands and was involved in organizing attacks against U.S. troops.
That is not the mandate, however. And if you are an Iraqi here, you might see that the U.S. presence here is only bringing problems not necessarily bringing more stability. So this is -- this is decisive. We will see if the U.S. response, if there is a response, is proportionate, if it is a response to a few remote bases that don`t cause many casualties, perhaps this could cool down.
If however, the U.S. responds heavily and there is massive devastation or the U.S. attacks a civilian population area in Tehran or something close to a civilian center, then Iran will escalate and perhaps mobilize the militias it was talking about, the militias here in Iraq, the militias in Lebanon, and in other locations.
But in the shadows here, and I don`t want to take you too much on a tangent, but in the shadows here, just something to watch, Vladimir Putin just showed up in the region. He made an unannounced visit to Damascus today. He`s supposed to go to Istanbul tomorrow to meet with the Turkish president Erdogan.
Vladimir Putin is someone who in the past is like to play peacemaker, like to intervene particularly when the U.S. is finding that its chips are down. Russia has very good relations with Iran, and Russia is someone that -- Vladimir Putin is someone that President Trump does like to listen to.
So I would not be surprised if he started to hear Russia try to play peacemaker and all of this if there is the opportunity to broker some sort of agreement.
HAYES: All right, Richard Engle, thank you for all your work tonight. I really appreciate it. Joining me now Courtney Kube NBC News Correspondent covering national security in the Pentagon. Courtney, the first statement, if I`m not mistaken by the Department of Defense about the strike against Soleimani last week was that it was done as an act of deterrence. We`ve had repeated statements from Mike Pompeo and Secretary Esper saying that this is -- that they want to de-escalate. Tonight`s attacks would seem to show almost by definition, that is not what they brought about.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That`s right. So Secretary Esper even just today in the Pentagon briefing rooms called on Iran to de- escalate. We`ve heard over the last several days that the ball is in Iran`s court for the next action. Well, it seems as if Iran has lobbed the ball back into the U.S. court for now.
I mean, the big question is we don`t really know. Yes, they`ve launched these ballistic missiles onto Al-Asad where there are U.S. and coalition forces and up into Irbil, where there is also a U.S. military and a U.S. diplomatic, so strong U.S. diplomatic presence, as well. But we don`t yet know what the casualties look like here. And that could be a big deterrent or a determining factor in what happens next.
We also don`t yet know if this is all Iran plans as their retaliation. Iranian -- part of the Iranian regime and the IRGC, they`re putting out statements and they`re tweeting tonight and saying that if the U.S. responds to this, then Iran will respond yet again. So that could indicate that in fact, this is all they`re doing as their response to the death of Soleimani, but we have absolutely no idea if that`s the case yet if this is it.
You know, what`s interesting is if in fact, this attack is successful in that these attacks -- and that they`re successful and that they damage facilities, they are -- obviously, they`re disruptive they are, they get a lot of attention, but they don`t actually end in a lot of casualties, particularly U.S. or coalition casualties. The question is, will that be considered a proportionate response to the death of Qassem Soleimani.
And then the other question is, you know, will the U.S. feel the need to respond. Remember, they are -- there were much smaller and a much smaller level and they were done by Iranian proxies. But these proxies have been firing rockets on two bases where there have been U.S. military for about two months in Iraq with growing intensity and growing frequency since you know, about October.
So --and the U.S., the first time the U.S. responded was when that American -- that U.S. contractor was killed outside Kirkuk at the end of December. So I think the really big question we all have here right now, and I have no answer to it is, is this the end? Is this the Iranian response and will the U.S. military not respond in any way? That`s really the question that we`re all kind of watching here right now.
HAYES: Yes, we are in a cycle of action and reaction here and retaliation, and that`s how we start, but also how they can stop based on the choices that leaders make. Courtney Kube, thank you for joining us. Here to talk about the context here, Ariane Tabatabai an Associate Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation who co-wrote an op-ed at New York Times yesterday entitled The choice That`s Coming: An Iran With the Bomb, or Bombing Iran, and Jake Sullivan, former National Security Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Jake, let me -- let me start with you. And I want to read you something Liz Sly who`s the Washington Post bureau chief from Beirut said, and this was early so we don`t know. She said, this doesn`t feel like a major escalation. The U.S. military was anticipating an attack and personnel are taking cover.
Iran can claim it took revenge. It feels more like an escalation than de- escalate. We don`t know if that`s true. We don`t know if the details will bear that out. But I guess I`m looking for some way out of the doom loop that we seem locked into right now, I think the President`s initiative, frankly, based on what we did last week that leads to an American war with Iran.
JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO JOE BIDEN: Well, Chris, this is exactly the challenge with these tit for tat escalation cycles, is that each side is trying to read the other side`s intentions. And misreading those intentions can lead to exactly the doom loop you just described. And so this could be a circumstance exactly as Liz Sly described where the Iranians have decided to launch a few ballistic missiles, there aren`t any casualties. We don`t know yet. whether that`s true or not. That will be an important factor in this as other guests have said. And then that could be the end of it.
But the United States might not read it that way. The United States might read that there`s going to be a further wave of attacks if we don`t respond with great force, and so on and so forth. So I think the most important thing at the moment is the time is actually on the U.S. side in terms of how to respond to this. And it should take the time to assess Iran`s intent, to determine what exactly the damage was, and then to be methodical and how it thinks through responding to this.
Just getting whipped up into a frenzy and thinking well, they hit us so we have to hit back is exactly how we end up in a war that maybe neither side really wanted.
HAYES: Ariane, what is this status right now of any diplomatic channels or bad -- there`s no official channel or back channels or any diplomatic communication between the Iranian government and the Trump administration?
ARIANE TABATABAI, ASSOCIATE POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: Well, unfortunately, most of the channels that had been established under President Obama have essentially been destroyed. They no longer exist. We still have the Swiss channel. The Swiss ambassador in Iran represents U.S. interest there, and he has been going back and forth trying to mediate trying to bring the two sides of messages to one another.
There are also a number of other channels that exist, president -- French President Macron, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and others have been going back and forth trying to de-escalate tensions between the two sides. But the lack of official channel between the two sides on a diplomatic level is particularly challenging at a time where things are escalating and where we could really benefit from direct conversations between the United States and Iran.
HAYES: I mean, this -- Jake, I mean, you were one of the people that negotiated first in secret and then less secretly the joint agreement with the Iranians, the Iran nuclear deal was six parties that the Trump administration left. One of the aspects of that was that it did provide a channel even though it was about the nuclear agreement. It provided for diplomatic channel, really a functional diplomatic channel for the first time since the hostage crisis. How much is getting out of that deal what has brought us to this point?
SULLIVAN: Well, Chris, it`s a great question because the fact is we did not need to be here tonight. If Iran -- if Donald Trump had not torn up the Iran nuclear deal, then we wouldn`t be in a circumstance in which you had all of this chaos and escalation. While the deal was in place, Iran wasn`t launching rockets against U.S. bases, Iran wasn`t advancing its nuclear program, Iran wasn`t attacking shipping in the Gulf. All things that happened once we pulled out of the deal.
So it was a huge error to do that, and it`s exactly why we are in this mess that we`re in, which is a crisis of Donald Trump`s making. But I just want to reinforce the point that at the end of the day, the only way to escape a cycle of escalation like this is to have the kind of channel where you can properly assess what the other side`s intentions are, and you can send messages about what is going to be required to resolve this and de- escalate.
We had that before, not just on nuclear issues, but on regional issues as well. The Trump administration has plenty of available options to do that again. And I think tonight they should be finding ways to communicate very clearly what their intentions are, but also seeking to gain very directly what Iranian intentions are so they can make a sound strategic decision about what the next step is here.
HAYES: That`s the question you, Ariane. I mean, one of the sort of bewildering aspects of the administration`s talking points in the wake of assassinating this massively important Iranian official was that it was a de-escalatory action, and that they want to talk. And it`s been unclear what exactly Iranians would be talking about, what the framework for any negotiation would be in the wake of them leaving a deal unilaterally that Iran had signed on to. Is there any way to get back to some diplomatic channel?
TABATABAI: Look, it`s incredibly challenging right now, this is probably one of the most challenging things the President will have to face during his tenure. I think part of the problem is the messaging. The messaging that has -- that has been coming out of the administration has not always been coherent to say the least. So on the one hand, the President has said a number of times that he would like to negotiate, he would like a deal, and that he`s not looking for regime change, and he thinks that Iran can prosper even under this leadership.
On the other hand, though, everything we have done so far seems to indicate otherwise. The maximum pressure campaign has really been based around sanctions and isolating Iran. And it`s not very clear what sort of objectives the United States is looking for that -- objectives that would be grounded in reality today. So, yes, that is the main challenge, I think, that the messaging is has not always been coherent. We`re sending very conflicting signals to Iran.
Again, just recently, just this past week, we`ve talked about potentially striking cultural sites in Iran. That does not sound like a country who is willing to go and talk to the Iranians. Not only that, we`re now alienating the majority of the population in Iran, not just the regime. This is not -- these sites do not belong to the regime, they belong to the Iranian people and humanity. So we should be careful in the way we are communicating and sending signals to Iran.
HAYES: Ariane Tabatabai and Jake Sullivan, thank you so much for being here. Just to reset here, we have confirmation of Iranian the ground missiles being launched at several bases in Iraq, Iraqi bases that has American troops. We have no word yet on damage, or casualties. Of course, those are huge questions that we will be following very closely. There are, according to Iranian state television, there`s a second round of missiles that have also been launched that we have no confirmation on the receiving end from the Pentagon or for reporters on the ground there about the status of that.
And there are also state T.V. threats from the Iranian that if there is further retaliation after those two rounds, that there will be then devastating consequences. Joining me now is Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist and MSNBC Contributor. And I just feel like we did not need to be at this point.
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The genie is certainly out of the bottle now. Watching this when you think about history, and you think about momentous events, and we look back, for example, a year in Vietnam, did that occur in 65, or 66, and the memory doesn`t quite get there. But history unfolds in real-time, going forward action by action, event by event, day by day. And we`re at the early stages of a hot war.
It is a monumental moment that the Iranian military has launched a ballistic missile attack against U.S. military personnel on Iraqi bases in Iraq. It is almost certain that there will be a response from the United States. I think the analysis that from the Iranian perspective the symbolism of the attack, the importance of this attack for Iran`s domestic political situation is the same here. Donald Trump simply politically is not in a position to not be able to escalate from here. So we`re at a -- we`re at a very dangerous moment now.
HAYES: Although, I just -- I mean, I don`t want to take away the agency here because I mean, one of the things that I think we`ve learned over 19 years, the longest period of war in the republic`s history in 19 years, we still -- Mark Esper today talked about finishing wars where we don`t want to start one, we finish one.
We`re still in Afghanistan right now, of course. I had a flashback as I watched these news reports coming home from a basketball game in sixth grade, and to watch missiles over a rack in 1992, 1991 when I was 12 years old, so 30 years.
SCHMIDT: 1991. That`s the exact same thought for me.
HAYES: 30 years of missiles into that country, 30 years of -- that each individual discrete action at some point someone has to stop and make a decision to not. And the attack on Soleimani was retribution for the embassy storming. That was retribution for the airstrike that killed 25 Shia militia members which was retribution for a rocket attack that killed one American contractor, that there has to be a decision by the U.S. as a democratic society, not just the president, not just the person watching cable and thinking about -- saving face about whether we are going to enter into a hot war with Iran?
SCHMIDT: We`ve entered into a hot war with Iran. American personnel are under attack by Iranian ballistic missiles right now, as we speak. This has been wrought by the judgment of a president who was very clear over the course of the campaign that he knows more than all of the generals. We have seen the diplomatic corps of the United States utterly gutted over the last three years. We have policy made by tweet, by watching "FOX and Friends."
There is no indication except in an alternate fantasy land universe that this now will be the moment where we see judiciousness on the part of the president of the United States. And so when we look at this situation now and we look at the fact that there has de facto been a civil war between Sunni and Shia playing out over the last decade across the whole of the Middle East, through proxies in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Iraq, we now see a direct military engagement between Iran and the United States.
And I think the chances that the United States will allow a ballistic missile attack to go unanswered are extremely low. And so now we stand at a most dangerous hour waiting for the next page to turn. And this could very quickly, very quickly become a wider regional war with the Sunni power.
SCHMIDT: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Israel fighting Hezbollah across the border in Lebanon. So we stand at the most dangerous moment in the Middle East that we have lived through in our lifetimes and there`s been plenty of dangerous moments.
HAYES: Well, one thing I would say to that, and there are war powers resolutions that are being introduced. I spoke to several members of Congress yesterday in the Senate, Tim Kaine and Robert Menendez about that. The president of the United States is commander-in-chief of the American armed forces as stated in the Constitution. We also have the power to make war given to Congress. It has been essentially eviscerated over 35 years but I just think it`s important that there`s some Democratic say here about what happens next.
The country is bigger than the president. War making is vested in the United States Congress, even though that`s been essentially abdicated by that same Congress.
SCHMIDT: Of course.
HAYES: And there should be domestic political debate about what happens next because in the absence of that we are headed towards precisely the kinds of regional conflagration you just described.
SCHMIDT: I made the point earlier today that when you think about the wars that began on 9/11, it is almost certain before this next presidential election that we will see the first soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, killed in action somewhere in the Middle East who was born after those attacks took place. That`s extraordinary. And when you consider almost 20 years of war has a pernicious effect on democracy, on democracies.
SCHMIDT: Democracies are not rigged to exist in a state of perpetual war.
SCHMIDT: Iran has the 14th most powerful military ranked job in that assessment, in the world. This is not the Iraqi military. It is not comparable and it is not able to stand toe-to-toe with the American military. However, it does have the ability to deliver lethal blows and we stand right now tonight with a president who we have seen over these last years, polarize the country, divide the country.
When war comes it`s not the MAGA rally that goes to war. It`s not the Republican Party that goes to war. It`s the United States of America that goes to war. The assessments about the justification for the killing that there was imminent to an attack I think are not credible.
SCHMIDT: The president has lied many, many thousands of times to the American people so structurally, you can`t imagine I think a worst president.
SCHMIDT: A worst possible leader to stand at the head of America`s armed forces at this very dangerous moment.
HAYES: And we should say that there are thousands who are already being deployed in the wake of that strike to Qasem Soleimani. There are thousands in Iraq. There are thousands of Iraqi servicemembers. And then of course, and I think just important to keep thinking about this. There are millions of civilians in Iraq, in Iran, and throughout the region who have done nothing wrong and whose lives will be upended and destroyed and will probably lose lives should there be a war. And I`ve already seen way more than anyone ought to in a lifetime.
Steve Schmidt, thank you very much.
SCHMIDT: Thank you.
HAYES: Joining me now to help get a better handle of what`s going on, Ambassador Christopher Hill was ambassador to Iraq under President Obama, and Brett McGurk, former special president envoy for the Global Coalition Defeat ISIS and NBC News and MSNBC senior foreign affairs analyst.
Ambassador Hill, what is your reaction to what we know about what has happened and what it means?
AMB. CHRISTOPHER HILL, AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ UNDER BARACK OBAMA: Well, I wish I could disagree more with Steve but I can`t. I mean, I think he said a lot of things that I completely agree with. You know, we`ve talked many times about how will this administration do in a crisis? Well, there`s no question we have a crisis on our hands and I don`t look for any deft handling of this.
I mean, in a perfect world, you would have a team that would understand we need to slow this down, we need to figure out how to de-escalate, we need to reach out to allies, friends. We`d be talking to the Omanis, we`d be talking to the French, we`d be talking to a lot of people.
This is an administration that doesn`t do that. In fact, when there were efforts to try to mediate and get back with the Iran nuclear deal, the president essentially vetoed it all and said, I will sit and talk with the Iranians and sort it out. Well, you know, the Iranians are not interested in talking to President Trump. I mean, their view was all sanctions had to be relaxed, relieved until they would talk to President Trump.
So this is going to be a real tough one in the next few days. I do hope the U.S. slows it down a little, doesn`t allow the president to get up and start taunting the Iranians as he has already done. So we`ll have to see in the next couple of days. I`m not optimistic.
HAYES: Brett, your thoughts.
BRETT MCGURK, MSNBC SENIOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, I think it`s important to try to slow this down. I hope somebody is being a voice of calm and caution. In a crisis like this, I`ve been in the situation room, everyone`s adrenaline can be up. We don`t know all the facts.
But we know one thing, Chris. You said it at the front of the show, if this was an attack Iran against Iraq, these are Iraqi bases. So let`s keep that in mind, number one. And I think some diplomacy with the Iraqis -- we`re going to try to like salvage that relationship because if we`re kicked out of Iraq, it gives Soleimani, the Iranians exactly what they want strategically. So, number one, this was an attack against Iraq.
Number two, are there casualties? What is the assessment? I think we`re all hoping for the best tonight. We don`t know yet that there are no American casualties. Iraqis are also on these bases. Are there Iraqi casualties? But this is an attack against Iraq. Our personnel are in harm`s way. And we need to think through very carefully our response. This has been on an escalatory ladder since May of last year.
A series of provocative attacks in the Gulf, leading to additional U.S. Military deployments in the region. Iraq`s Iranian-backed militia is starting to attack us again in Iraq this past October. They have not done that in almost eight years. So that`s a significant change. And now what do we have to do? And I think we have to think through this extremely, extremely carefully. But I am not optimistic that there`d be much diplomacy going on because that`s just not the M.O. of this administration.
HAYES: Just to follow up on something you said I think is an important point in part of what is so just horrible about this, frankly, that this is being staged in Iraq, the -- a country that is not essentially party to the conflict that is now happening on its oil. But to you point about an attack on Iraq, I mean, if this was an attack on Iraq, and the U.S. ordering an airstrike outside, just outside the Baghdad airport, the civilian international airport as far as I can understand, has to be counted as that as well, right, Brett?
MCGURK: Well, you know, that`s what the really kind of led to this -- look, a couple of things happened here, we kind of forget. The attack south of Kirkuk that tragically killed an American contractor. We then made the decision to attack an Iraqi Iranian-backed militia, Kata`ib Hezbollah, in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And killed about 25 Iraqi militia fighters. These guys are like cannon fodder to Soleimani.
And then we had the attack on the embassy and then the attack on Soleimani. Yes. And the attack on Soleimani was right outside the international airport. So it has a dramatic impact on Iraq. I think we got to try to salvage that relationship and remind ourselves, this was an attack tonight against Iraq.
HAYES: All right, Brett, thank you very much. Brett McGurk who served two presidents -- three presidents over a long and distinguished career. Two as the head of the anti-ISIS coalition which has essentially now been shut down and disbanded.
Brett, thank you very much.
Ambassador Hill, I want you to stay with me and I want to ask you. The context here is that the president ordered the strike against Soleimani. I think the reporting indicates that there were some surprise that he did that. There`s other reporting indicating that Mike Pompeo and others were agitating for that for a long time. But then he also quite literally threatened war crimes against Iran. He talked about hitting cultural sites. Mark Esper had to sort of wriggle away from that today.
HILL: Right. Right.
HAYES: What is the -- I mean, when you talk about diplomacy, right, you`re talking about it`s not just an Iranian audience. The president of the United States threatening war crimes against another entity in the wake of an assassination of a prominent military official.
What does that do to the credibility or the ability to speak to any other country, ally, friend or foe?
HILL: Well, the president has spent the last three years kind of distancing himself from any conceivable friend and ally in the world. I mean, you can imagine how appalled the Europeans were by the idea that we`re going to start to, I don`t know, blowing up mosques or something. I mean, this is pretty appalling stuff. But it speaks to how the president deals with these issues. He doubles down on everything.
And he says, oh, you haven`t seen the worst of it yet. And he kind of goes after things. That`s why, I mean, if there is a voice of reason, you know, we had high hopes for Pompeo when he first came in. Well, that`s pretty much out the window right now, and it`s not at all clear whether there`s anyone who can slow this president down.
So, you know, if he`s going to talk about war crimes, and then obviously, you know, he pulls them back, but then he goes at them again. He never really finishes off. He comes back with it. This is going to get really bad. And I think it`s high time Republicans in the Senate stood up and said, Mr. President, we cannot support you when you do things like this. And we`re not seeing that at all from Republicans. But that is I think the group that really needs to tell the president that they`ve heard enough.
HAYES: All right. Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you so much for joining us.
I want to bring in now from DOHA, Qatar, Cal Perry, NBC News correspondent, and Erin Banco, national security reporter of the Daily Beast in Washington.
Erin, you`ve been reporting on the Iraqi military, the Iraqi government`s reaction to all this. What have you learned and what can you anticipate will be effects of tonight`s strikes?
ERIN BANCO, THE DAILY BEAST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: So we`ve been in touch with our sources on the ground. Iraqi officials -- senior Iraqi officials in both Baghdad and Irbil, who are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on on the ground in their own country. And I think this is important given the context of the communication between the U.S. and Iraq over the last several days.
We know that Washington has been in touch with Baghdad over the last couple of days about what their reaction is going to be to the vote that happened in parliament a couple of days ago to oust U.S. troops and about what their posture would be toward Iran in the country of Iraq in the coming weeks.
Now if Iraqi officials are on the ground telling us we`re not exactly sure what`s going on in our own country, how many people have been killed, what kind of infrastructure has been hit, I think that underscores the lack of communication or at least quality of communication between Washington and Baghdad about this attack.
Now secondly, we`ve heard a couple of other things from analysts and other officials in Washington who are saying, nobody really knows what the Trump administration is going to do next. For the past several years, they have laid out a very strict, sort of tactical policy on Iran that`s been financial in nature. It`s been the maximum pressure campaign where they`ve, you know, put over 1,000 sanctions on Iran and Iranian entities.
With the killing of Qasem Soleimani last week, everything turned military in nature. And so I think what people are waiting to see is if Trump will continue on that path or whether some of the people who are the architects of that maximum pressure campaign will say listen, this is the time to go back to that campaign, it was working. There`s no need to go further with this military campaign.
HAYES: Cal, you know, Steve Schmidt references, and others have as well, of course this comes in the midst of this kind of regional proxy war that has happened over the last few years. Largely in the wake of both the American invasion of Iraq, the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a sort of growth of Iranian hegemony across the kind of crescent and also its projection of force to save the government of Bashar al-Assad against the revolution that happened there.
And now you`ve got into this, this hot war or the beginnings of one that has happened. You`ve got to imagine that those regional players don`t want this to escalate but it`s hard to say because there`s been such agitation from folks in the UAE and the Saudis as well to kind of confront Iran.
CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And look, and this was the reason that Qasem Soleimani existed. When a million Iranians died in the `80s with a war in Iraq, it was decided that Iran as a principal military would fight its enemies outside of Iran and not inside of Iran. That`s why you see Hezbollah on the Israeli border, fighting the Israelis in 2006.
It`s why Qasem Soleimani was so engaged in fighting American troops in Iraq and it`s why the most recent warning coming from the Iranians in just the last half an hour was a warning specifically about Dubai and the Gulf nations. They want to keep them out of this. It`s going to be very difficult to do so.
I`m here in Qatar. Twenty minutes from where I am is the largest U.S. base in the Middle East. It houses some 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. personnel. But, look, two million people live in the shot behind me. And that`s what is sort of the risk here. That this can get out of control. And all we`re hearing from are the most extreme voices on either side.
You have the U.S. Defense secretary saying that they`ll be happy to not start a way, but finish a war. Then the IRGC says well, we`re going to target Israel, we`re going to target Dubai. Then the U.S. president says, I`m going to respond disproportionately. So you can see how these countries are simply not communicating at all.
I think all of that is borne out of the U.S. dumping and ripping out the nuclear agreement. The nuclear agreement allowed for a certain level of communication between these two countries. That level of communication tonight just doesn`t exist. And that`s at the point right now when you need it the most. When you need to de-escalate the situation and the mechanism just doesn`t exist, Chris.
HAYES: All right. Erin Banco and Cal Perry, thank you both. Appreciate you guys lending us your expertise tonight.
We are going to take a quick break and be right back. Don`t go anywhere.
HAYES: We are following the breaking news out of Iraq where we have confirmation that Iran has launched missile strikes at two Iraqi bases -- at least two Iraqi bases that also housed U.S. forces. We have no confirmation yet of the assessment of damage or casualties. Iranian state media is now saying that they have launched these two rounds of missile strikes, and this is I think important and really actually crucial as we think about this moment.
Iran saying there is no -- if there is no retaliation from America for its latest attacks, then they will stop attacking. But if America attacks them, their response will be crushing and widespread. It seems to me that this is a calculation here by the Iranian regime at least that getting to some point that does not further climb up the escalatory ladder that we have now been on for quite some time and is threatening to plunge the entire region into another unfathomable war.
Joining me now, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, Mickey Edwards, former chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, and former Democratic congresswoman from Maryland, Donna Edwards. Also with me, Sam Seder, host of "Majority Report" podcast and an MSNBC contributor, and Zerlina Maxwell, host of Signal Boost on Sirius XM and an MSNBC political analyst.
Donna, let me start with you. You know, the way that we talk about this tends to resolve or revolve around the president, what decision will he make and who`s influencing. But America is a democratic nation with a constitution that gives the power to declare war to the Congress of the United States which represents this democratic nation all of its citizens. It should not be in the hands of one man, particularly one man with the faculties that the current president has.
It seems to me extremely important that across -- Democrat and Republican, particularly Democratic Party and Democratic House, come out strongly to say no war with Iran. This is madness. And they do whatever they can to halt escalation. Is that a possibility as you see it?
DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSWOMAN: Yes, I mean, I do think that there will be and there already have been tonight really strong voices coming from Speaker Pelosi herself that we do not want a war with Iran. And you know, very sadly, this is so reminiscent of where we`ve been before and I think it`s also important for the American people to step up and declare that there should be no war with Iran.
And we are at a place where, you know, there is a possibility that there could be some de-escalation, but it requires sane voice and cool heads to preside both in the White House, which I don`t expect, but certainly coming out with a strong voice from Democrats in the Congress. And I would expect others who do not want to continue to put servicemen and women in harm`s way, and to jeopardize the safety of the American people.
HAYES: Mickey, you know, there`s been an interesting fissure in Republican and conservative coalition on this question. We`ve seen it sort of break out in the open sometimes. Rand Paul was on our air earlier, senator from Kentucky, urging us not to enter in a war with Iran. There are some conservative commentators who have the president`s ear who have also said the same. This seems to me a kind of testing ground of that. What do you expect to see from Republicans on the hill?
MICKEY EDWARDS, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, you know, if we stay with what they have been saying for many, many years, is that we should be very cautious about going into war. But the bigger issue here is what you were talking about, Chris. So I would hope that the Congress is able to back the president off and not have us go into a major war.
But it`s also important that Congress start reasserting its primacy in the field of international affairs, its primacy in terms of deciding when we go to war, because it`s not just this war, but with this man in the White House or frankly any president, the idea that the Congress would step out - - we are the democratic voice, Chris, that you`ve been talking about.
And that Congress would back off and let any president, just on his own whim or any other reason, take the country into war is unacceptable, and it`s time Republicans and Democrats both came together on that one issue.
HAYES: It`s just crazy to me to view what`s happening right now as this thing that`s just happening out there in the world. Like we`re -- we live in a democratic society precisely so that we have -- can exert some control, and that`s part of constitutional design. I mean, by design, the founders of this constitutional design that there is some democratic control.
SAM SEDER, HOST, "MAJORITY REPORT": Right. I mean, the idea that regardless of what we have in terms of casualties, that we must respond is absurd. We have agency. People are going to call for de-escalation. They`re either going to call for it now, tonight, or they`re going to do it 18 years from now after what we`ve been in Iraq. And so the bottom line is every single Democratic presidential candidate should tonight come out and say no war with Iran. Every single member of the Democratic caucus in the House and the Senate should be backing the bills by Tim Kaine and by Sanders and Khanna in the House and stopping funding and stopping the legal auspices for this war.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And some of this feels worse than Iraq. Because at least with the Iraq war in 2003, there was a reason. They put forward a reason. And so an American citizen could say, well, there`s WMDs. Now it turned out that that was a lie, right? But there at least was an articulated reason that the administration collectively was trying to put forward to tell the American people this is why we`re doing this.
I have no idea why this is happening, Chris. The American people likely do not understand why we are on the brink of war with Iran. And I agree with Sam. All of the Democratic candidates have a chance to step forward in this moment and show that they can be competent, they can be strong, and stand on principle. There is no reason for this in this moment. We need to take a step back, a giant step back.
M. EDWARDS: Yes. However, this cannot be a partisan moment. The Republicans in Congress have to do the same thing. They took the same oath of office. They swore to uphold the same Constitution. And just having Democrats oppose what`s happening, what the war is about, without any information here, but they can`t do it alone.
Republicans have to say, in this case this is American lives at risk and we are going to take back the constitutional power the Congress has. It can`t be just the Democratic thing.
HAYES: Donna, the politics of this which in some sense seems secondary as we await at this moment to find out if there were casualties, both among the Iraqi -- again, Iraqi servicemembers on these Iraqi bases or American servicemembers, but of course, the politics matter because the politics are part of what will produce the outcomes that happen and the decision that gets made.
I mean, again, this is all part of democratic self-governance. It does seem to me like the war weariness is a very real thing. It shows up in the polling, it showed up on the campaign trail. There is very, very little appetite for a war with Iran, if you poll that question. And even the airstrike against Soleimani which was, to my mind, a reckless escalation along this trajectory was essentially partisan split.
Like, do you trust that Democrats will have the kind of courage of their convictions about how they navigate this?
D. EDWARDS: Well, I have to say -- I mean, I do -- I mean, I remember, you know, the lead up to the Iraq war in 2000, whatever was it, `03, `04. And you know, people believed the evidence that was in front of them. I never believed it. But even in the face of thousands and thousands of people taking to the streets, still legislators felt a need to, like, go right up and march toward war.
We cannot afford that -- to have that outcome again. And I think it`s as incumbent on members of Congress, but the American people have to speak up. And we know that they`re weary because they wanted to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and out of the region all along, and now here we are, you know, escalating again. And it`s time to put the brakes on this. Coming both from the Congress in terms of them exercising their authority as Mickey has said, but also coming from the American people, saying, we do not want another war in that region.
HAYES: You know, part of this --
M. EDWARDS: Yes, the ball is in the hands of the people themselves. The power to declare war, being Congress, means that the people are supposed to make these decisions. And this is when they have to show up at town meetings. They have to contact their members of Congress and they have to be heard.
HAYES: Well, and there should be vote. I mean, there`s going to be -- war powers resolution says there`s going to be privileged resolution and there should be a vote. There should be a vote in the United States Senate.
M. EDWARDS: Right.
SEDER: Absolutely. And I`ll say I am struck by how many Democratic politicians -- and look, I have little expectation of the Republicans at this point. I`m sorry about that. But I am struck by how few -- how little maturation there seems to be. When I look at the Democratic politicians who are coming out there and equivocating at this point, because the American public has grown since 2002.
SEDER: And to a certain extent, I mean, I remember that time vividly. I was one of those millions of people --
HAYES: As do I.
SEDER: -- who were in those streets at that time. And the fact is there was a lot of people who were shell shocked after 9/11. That shell shock does not exist amongst the American public any more. But you look at the eyes of a lot of these Democratic politicians and they look like deers in the headlights. They need to lead.
SEDER: And we need to fight back against what is obviously, obviously an attempt to draw this country into war, by whose -- you know, who is driving this bus is unclear. But we cannot allow the idea that the president of the United States can willy-nilly create provocations that drag this country into this type of quagmire again.
MAXWELL: The American people have to understand why we are entering into a military conflict. They don`t know that tonight and that`s a really big problem.
HAYES: Well, and the communication here, I mean, we should just go back to say what the facts are on the ground in terms of the latest -- there was an attack outside Kirkuk, a rocket attack, there have been increasing rocket fire at American forces from Shi`a militias in Iraq starting in October as Brent McGurk said. That hadn`t happened in eight years. That itself was part of the escalatory cycle that started with the withdrawal from the Iran deal.
That kills an American contractor back in December outside Kirkuk. It killed an American contractor, it wounded several American servicemembers. There was a retaliatory strike by the U.S. It killed 25 Shi`a militia members in Iraq and then that storming the embassy which was essentially dispersed with no casualties. And then in response to that, the wildly provocative escalating act of taking out, killing Qasem Soleimani.
So that is the situation that has brought us tonight to these reports of ground-to-ground missile fire from the Iranian government directed at Iraqi bases that hold both Iraqi servicemembers and American servicemembers.
Donna, what do you think is happening right now? We have reports that Vice President Pence has briefed Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Pelosi tweeted out she`s closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers including ending needless provocations from the administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America and world cannot afford war.
What do you think is happening in Democratic leadership at this moment?
D. EDWARDS: Well, I think right now, I mean, they are trying to figure out a way that they can put the brakes on this president and this administration. And I think, you know, a war powers resolution limiting the president`s ability to conduct all-out war is one step. But even with that, the president would essentially have 30 to 60 days during which he could have full-scale military operations. This is absolutely insane.
D. EDWARDS: And it`s going to draw us into that region in a way that we absolutely cannot afford.
HAYES: All right. Mickey Edwards, Donna Edwards, Sam Seder, Zerlina Maxwell, thank you all for being here tonight.
Before we go, I just want to say this very clearly, that a war with Iran is madness and it is strategically and morally a disaster in the making. And don`t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. That is all for this evening. "The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
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