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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/08/14

Guests: Brian Katulis, Michael Crowley

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