IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/22/14

Guests: Adam Smith, Laith Alkhouri, Anne Gearan, Spencer Ackerman

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