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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/23/14

Guests: Courtney Kube, James Stavridis

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Tomahawk missiles have been around since the 1970s. They`re about 18 feet long, they`re about 20 inches in diameter which means I`m not good in measurements, 20 inches in diameter. You laid one down on my desk. It would be about this tall, I think. They were around 3500 pounds. They could be fitted with nuclear warheads or not. Obviously, the ones that the U.S. military fired by the dozens last night in the Middle East. Those were not fitted with nuclear warheads. But if you ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on boat at night while that boat is firing multiple 18-foot long, 3500 pound nuclear capable cruise missiles, here is what that look like -- looks like. It turns out it is something that is punctuated by some very, very bright light. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING) MADDOW: Our footage was released by the U.S. navy today showing operations on a guided missile cruiser called the USS Philippine Sea as it launched multiple tomahawks land attack missiles. And it shows the crew in sharp relief as they fire off those missiles. I should also say if you watch these things closely, it also shows these amazing little details. Like if you see the red arrow there, it turns out while they`re shooting these missiles, they`re drinking blue Gatorade. It turns out also in one of these things, you can put your water bottles and your binoculars right against the window while the missiles are going off on the other side of the window. And no, Gatorade, you are not allowed to get a sponsorship deal out of this. Leave it alone. The navy also released this footage today from the same ship showing the same missile launches but from a different angle. And in this case, the camera is outside on deck of the ship looking up at the part of the ship from which the missiles are being launched. Watch. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING) MADDOW: That was released by the Navy today. But, wait, there`s more. From the same ship, those same tomahawks, they also shot from two other camera angles. And the first one, you`ll see missiles being launched from a little bit further away. The vantage point is a little farther away. And then because of that, you can see the trajectory of the missile when it takes off into the sky. In the second shot, from the second camera angle, you`ll see the way the trajectory of that missile as it flies off toward Syria, how it lights up the entire ship and the shadow of it moves as it passes overhead. Watch. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING) MADDOW: That was all footage shot by the U.S. Navy last night distributed publicly by CENTCOM today. It`s all footage taken from the guided missile cruiser that is called the USS Philippine Sea and a guided missile destroyer called the USS Arleigh Burke. It was also the sources some other footage. The Arleigh Burke fired the same kind of 18-foot long 3500 pound tomahawk missiles into Syria last night from the red sea. On the Arleigh Burke, the sailor shooting the video, you are going to see here, you can tell the sailor shooting the video is watching the missiles fired -- watching while the missiles are being fired while the sailor stands on the deck k of the ship. And as the sailor follow it is trajectory of the missile taking off from the ship, the sailor kind of spins around with the camera in his hands which creates this sort really rare perspective. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING) MADDOW: Again, that is Navy footage released from the USS Arleigh burke. They released that today. They shot other multiple camera angles, multiple perspectives on these huge missiles being launched from these ships in the middle of the night. So watch this one. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING) MADDOW: It`s all footage released by CENTCOM today, all footage shot on U.S. Navy vessels as they fired tomahawk land attack missiles. More than 40 of them fired last night from a guided missile cruiser and a guided missile destroyer. One in the red sea and one in the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon, also, today, released three very short pieces of video that they say -- shows basically what was visible from the air as U.S. pilots bombed other tar gets inside Syria. Here are those targeting videos that they released today. The first one that they released shows a building that they say was near Raqqa in Syria. You see missiles entering the roof of the building; you see the building partially destroyed. Another one of these videos, they describe as an ISIS storage facility on the eastern side of Syria near the border with Iraq. And then the third video that they released of targeting is from that same area, again on the eastern side of Syria near the border with Pentagon -- near the border with Iraq, excuse me. The Pentagon described that strike as happening in a residential area. They say the specific area that they hit, as you see, with those multiple munitions all landing at exactly the same time. They say they hit it precisely. They say that was a vehicle staging ground for the ISIS militant group. All of this footage today, this many, many, many, many, minutes of footage, long multi-layered compelling multiple camera angle footage of the US air war in Syria. This was all released by the U.S. military today. And this is the only verified footage that we have of the air war so far. We know what the fireworks looks like when it comes to the U.S. launching (INAUDIBLE) from the air and from the sea. We have all of this incredible visual close-up detail about what it looked like from the U.S. military`s perspective to get missiles and bombs in the air heading toward the ground in Syria. And we know what the military tells us they were shooting at and we know what they say about how precise they were at hitting all of their targets. But we do not have any independent information as to what those targets actually were or what the effect was of those U.S. strikes. I mean, bombs are launched and then bombs land. And we know in this war, so far, what it looks like for the bombs to be launched. We have no idea what it looks like for the bombs to land. The closest that we have in terms of the impact in Syria is unverified video, that, I kid you not, was posted to facebook. The Reuters news agency curetted a lot of this stuff today, user uploaded video and curetted it in terms of where people say this footage was shot and what they say it depicts. But honestly, they got it on facebook. And nobody knows exactly what it means or exactly what it shows for sure. But this is the closest thing that we`ve got in a totally unverified way. The Pentagon did a briefing today in which they released all of their own video, their own before and after pictures describing what they did. The general leading that briefing said that they think the first night of the air war in Syria was a real success. His exact quote was "our national indication is that the strikes were very successful." But if you wanted to get an independent objective assessment about whether or not things were very successful, there is not a way to get that right now. Because there isn`t a professional, international media presence inside Syria right now. And nobody`s to blame for that except for the terrorists who keep capturing and kidnapping and ransoming and torturing and murdering journalists at a rate that has never been seen before in any modern conflict. I don`t think there`s any reason to blame news agencies for not having foreign correspondents the middle of this war inside Syria. The wire service (INAUDIBLE) in fact just announced that they will no longer accept any material submitted by freelance reporters inside Syria because they cannot, in good conscious take the risk of incentivizing people to go there and try to report out of an environment that is so deadly, specifically, for journalists. But that`s the fact of that environment in which we are wagering our newest war. The absence of international media, totally, is a fact of this war. That is a really important part of understanding it. And in understanding the limits of what we are allowed to understand about it. Columbia journalism review has been publishing journalists lament about what this means about this war and what it means for journalism. Quote "there has never been a more important or difficult time to report on Syria. But in areas held by the rebels, journalists are not just routinely but frequently targeted, abducted, kidnapped, even killed. And in the areas the government controls, while the government in Syria has now cut- off western journalists` access to those parts of the country as well." The result is that quote "the international media has scarce and dwindling access to the country that remain the world`s deadliest ongoing civil war and the country that is now the site of the newest air war in the Middle East. And so, yes, we`ve got all of this footage. Right? It is an uncomfortable thing to be relying on one single stream of information that is directly from the Pentagon as our soul source of data in terms of what is happening. But that`s what`s going on right now in terms of pictures from the war zone. What were flooded with these admittedly dazzling fireworks display, right? The sort of sensory overwhelming, dazzling presentation of the U.S. military is handling its side of the story. And it`s incredibly impressive. But that is all that we have got to on. And when it comes to figuring out what we are doing in this war and how this war is going thus far. And what effects the U.S. are likely to have, frankly, we`re in a position with what they give us and build out from there in terms of what we can understand about the region and the impact of our actions. And so getting specific, what we are told is that those tomahawk missile launches from the USS Philippine Sea and the USS Arleigh Burke, we`re told that they were mostly not aimed at ISIS. They were not aimed at ISIS targets inside Syria. They were instead, aimed at another group that we had no advanced warning was going to be part of this war. It is a group that was first mentioned in public by U.S. official only last week when the director of national intelligence James Clapper mentioned the group by name at a conference. President Obama had never sent the name of the group or described it all in public until today after the bombing attacks on the that are already been launched. He then sent a letter to Congress explaining the administration`s legal rationale for waging war on this group which they says called the Khorasan group. They say it is off shoot of al-Qaeda. But they were tomahawk missiles that were launched at eight different Khorasan sites west of Aleppo in Syria. There was also a different round of strikes last night. This is the footage that the U.S. Navy released today of f-18 Hornets and prowler jets being launched at night off the carrier deck -- off the deck of the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier. This was last night. F-18s and Hornets -- excuse me, f-18s and prowlers. And those f-18s targeted ISIS militants sites in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. Another round of bombing from a whole different range of aircraft was launched not from the U.S. aircraft carrier, but instead, from some as yet undeclared land site in the Middle East. And the aircraft launch from that undeclared site included f-22s being used in combat for the first time ever. Also f-15s, f-16s, B-1 stealth bombers, also drones, all flying from that undisclosed location. They hit targets in and around Raqqa, which is thought to be the headquarters for ISIS. So we know about these three different sources of attacks from the U.S. last night. Those tomahawks targeting the Khorasan group and those two different groups of aircraft from two different sources, one out in an aircraft carrier, one on land, is targeting ISIS sites. We know a little bit about the 22 different sites they say were targeted, eight sites for the Khorasan group were targeted, 14 sites were targeted for ISIS. The Pentagon released maps explaining those targets, showing the press what they were trying to do. The story is not just what they`re trying to do, what in fact, they have done. And these bombs and missiles are landing in the Middle of the civil war that has been raging for three years already inside Syria. Again, without direct professional reporting on the ground, it`s very hard to be able to say. What the relationship is between what the U.S. military is saying and what`s actually happening on the ground. Without anybody there on the ground to tell us what it looks like, where a lot of basically to extrapolate from what they let us know. And with those constraints, maybe one thing we can contribute to understanding, what`s happened here already, and that is effect might be, is this. This map shows who was thought to be in control of different areas of Syria as of roughly two weeks ago. This is the work of "The New York Times." This is "The New York Times" assessment of who was in control where in Syria as of the night that President Obama made that address to the nation where he said he was considering air strikes there. And don`t reveal the next thing here yet. Which you can see, though, the green dots and the Syrian government. The blue dots are other opposition groups. And the purple dots are ISIS. So it gives you a rough guide to who was in control where in Syria. Now, let`s reveal the next thing on the map. OK. We overlaid on top of that where the airstrikes were last night. Because the relationship between these two different facts is really important, right? If the U.S. military is doing what it says it`s doing, and these airstrikes are, you know, precise and in a devastating, they are taking on exactly the ISIS militants and the ISIS assets and the ISIS target that the U.S. is targeting in these strike. Well then, the effect of that on the ground, right? Will be to hurt is in those areas where they`re being targeted. And to hurt a Khorasan group in the areas where they are being targeted. If so, so, it then becomes really important to know what`s going to happen as a consequence of that. Who else is operating in that area. Who is going to win by virtue of the fact that we`re picking some people to be losers. If ISIS or indeed the Khorasan group is effectively taken out by the U.S. in these air strikes and who else is there and will take over in those groups` place? Who will fill the vacuum? I the western part of Syria, there is still pretty significant presence of the government right there. So anything that weakens rebel groups that have been fighting the government, whether it is the Khorasan group of ISIS or anybody else. Attacks on those rebels may very well clear the way for the regime of the Syrian government, Bashar al-Assad to take more ground there. He`s likely to benefit from those strikes taking out the people who are fighting him in the most fierce way. Over in the eastern side of the country, well, frankly, there are very few green dots there. There`s minimal government presence in or near the places that appear to have been targeted last night. And if ISIS is significantly degraded or hurt in those areas that were hit by those airstrikes. Well, those are areas that have already been abandoned by the Assad regime. There really isn`t the presence of either the government of other rebel groups. In those areas in the east which where all those juts blue last night, right, that we just watched, we wants taking off in that aircraft carrier, where ISIS alone is the sole authority, who`s likely to take advantage there if those airstrikes hurt ISIS. Who is going to capitalize on U.S. airstrikes there if those U.S. airstrikes are as effective as the Pentagon says they are. NBC`s Richard Engle joins us live in a moment from near the Syrian border. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Yesterday afternoon, NBC`s Richard Engle was at my office standing right in front of my desk, 30 Rock in New York City talking politics. Tonight, Richard Engel is there. You can see on the map he`s in a place called Orca in Turkey which is right on the Syrian border. Richard Engel, I`m not asking you how you got there between yesterday afternoon and tonight because I think you`re magic and I don`t want you to ruin it. But can you describe where you are and the relationship to where you are and the air strikes that started last night? RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reason we came here, and there`s many places you can go to along the Turkish-Syrian border is that, is that this area in the last several days, there have been tens of thousands, up to 150,000 refugees flooding out of is controlled areas and coming into Turkey. So it is a place where this conflict is very much alive. It is not very far from Raqqa, the ISIS home base. So it is the best we can do at this stage to assess what`s going on inside Syria by talking to sources who are still in the country by interviewing the refugees as they are coming in and out and monitoring the social media which is coming out already. And the impression that we`ve been able to get so far is a very confused picture. These airstrikes have began, tomahawk missiles strikes have began. They`ve hit ISIS. They`ve hit the Khorasan group. They`ve hit also some other radical groups or at least that is what the other radical groups are claiming to have been hit. And it is creating to a sense a bit of solidarity among the radical groups because they feel they are attacked by Bashar al-Assad and now being attacked by the United States. And this is going to be very tricky in the days and weeks and I think years going forward. If you were in a part of rebel-controlled Syria and suddenly your house blows up or a building next to you blows up, it would be very convenient for those rebels to say it was the Americans. And how would they know if it was really Bashar al-Assad? Maybe it`s convenient for Bashar al-Assad`s forces to say it was the Americans. But all you know if you`re in that village is something fell out of the sky and blew up. And there`s only two people right now are doing that, Bashar al-Assad`s forces and the U.S. So if you`re on the receiving end, it certainly looks like those two forces are fighting together. MADDOW: So strategically, how does that play out then, Richard? If the result, at least thus far, of the U.S. getting involved in this way, is that there is, as you say, sort of solidarity among different, maybe previously fighting among themselves radical rebel groups inside Syria. If they are essentially brought together under duress by the U.S. getting involved here, what does that do to the overall situation on to the ground and to the U.S. aims to turn the essentially new there (ph) ISIS so they pose less of a threat beyond that borders in Syria and Iraq. ENGEL: Well, on one level, the U.S. strategy is quite simple. And the air strikes are quite simple. There`s a militant group operating in an ungoverned space and go and fight them. And you saw that very clean gun camera footage and footage of the tomahawk missiles and your map with the purple and green dots. But people here don`t wear green dots and purple dots on their clothing. And the actual confusing situation on the ground is far more complicated. And, as the U.S. gets deeper and deeper involved in this, it`s going to find it`s impossible to distinguish among all of these different groups. And all of the different competing agendas. Just look who`s on this battlefield right now. You have ISIS, you have the Khorasan group with more people have never heard of before. You have (INAUDIBLE) which is anti-Assad group which the U.S. sometimes considers a terrorist group, but not entirely, you have Jabhat al-Nusra, you have Hezbollah, Iran, Bashar al-Assad. Now you have U.S. air strikes reigning in. And the U.S. is trying to pick just the really bad actors and surmise what their intentions would be. And only attack the really bad actors who impose a direct threat to the United States. And I think that is an impossible challenge, frankly, no matter how good our intelligence are and our optics are from drones. It is a complicated policy. MADDOW: Richard Engle, NBC News chief foreign correspondent and the person from who I have learned the most about this by a mile. Richard, thank you so much for staying up until the middle of the tonight, of course. I really appreciate d it. Thanks. All right, lots more tonight including who is flying alongside the U.S. during these air strikes and why and how long that might be expected to continue. We`re also talking strategy with a former NATO commander. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were joined in this action by our friends and partners, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Could this take years? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would it would think of this in terms of years, yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I would think of this in term of years, yes. Lieutenant General William Mayville at the Pentagon today expanding on some of the operational details of the air war that President Obama launched last night in Syria and then he talked about with the press this morning at the White House before he headed to New York for his big speech to the U.N. General Assembly. But here`s the question. When you are attending three days of meetings with 140 other world leaders at the U.N. in New York and you have just launched a war in the Middle East, it`s obviously really crucial for the way that that was is received, that the U.S. is not seen to be going it alone. And, indeed, the five countries that were involved in the opening salvos of the war last night along the -- alongside the United States, those five countries, that makes up the largest coalition of Arab militaries joining in on a U.S.-led military operation since Gulf War In 1991. But if the Pentagon is right, and the war that started last night is going to be a years-long operation, how much should we expect from those five Arab countries over the long haul if this is in fact going to be a really long haul? Well, the Saudis for their part they have a really, really big air force including hundreds of state of the art fighter jets. We agreed to sell the Saudis $30 billion worth of new F-15 Strike Eagles back in 2011 and we also agreed at the same time that we would upgrade the 70-more of them that they already had. The Saudis also buy Eurofighter typhoons from the Brits. They also buy British tornado fighter jets. So the Saudis have a huge and expensive and very well-equipped state-of-the-art air force. United Arab Emirates, they also have a pretty robust air force. They`ve got dozens of American-made F-16s already. They ordered 30 more of them this year. French Mirage single fighter jets, Emirates also has about 70 of those. And Jordan, their air force is really interesting. They have somewhere around 60 F-16 fighter jets. An American plane, right? They used to have more F-16s than that, but get this, earlier this year, Jordan decided to sell one of their F-16 squadrons to Pakistan. So they used to have 13 more F-16s than they do, now they have 13 less but Pakistan has 13 more. Jordan`s king, I should mention, is also personally qualified as a cobra attack helicopter pilot. And perhaps because of that personal interest on behalf of the king -- on the part of the king, the Jordanian Air Force flies dozens of Korean War era, F-5 Tiger and Cobra Attack helicopters. And the remaining two countries in this five-nation Arab coalition, they are much smaller countries. Bahrain has just over a million people. They have a dozen or so F-5 fighter jets. Over the past two decades, Bahrain has also bought 17 American F-16s. Qatar is also a tinny tiny little country, but in addition to being very, very, very rich, Qatar also plays a key military role in the region in part because they host a giant base for U.S. Central Command. CentCom has a huge base in Qatar. In their own right, the Qataris also reportedly have about a dozen of those French Mirage fighter jets. Earlier this year, they also made plans to buy 24 U.S. Apache attack helicopters. So that`s a lot of American made, another European made hardware. The U.S. and American allies have been actively involved in helping to arm these countries to the teeth in recent years. Last night, the U.S. flew the lion`s share of the bombing raids and dropped the lion`s share of the more than 200 bombs and missiles that hit more than 20 targets in Syria. But if this really is going to go on for years, is it going to be, effectively, the United States alone? Or is this a real joint effort in an ongoing way with a pretty big coalition of Arab partners? Joining us now is NBC News national security producer Courtney Kube. Courtney, thanks very much for having here tonight. Appreciate your time. COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So during last night`s airstrikes, we know about what they describe as operational involvement of these five countries, Saudi, Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain. But do we know exactly what each of those countries did? KUBE: The U.S. military has been somewhat hesitant to speak for the other nations, these Arab partners. But we know a little bit. For instance, there were F-15s, F-16s and Mirage fighter jets that were flying. And four of the five nations, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan all flew and actually dropped munitions as part of -- part of the third wave of strikes that occurred overnight last night. Qatar was in more of a defensive role. They were up there in case -- any of the U.S. aircraft were targeted by any kind of Syrian air defenses or Syrian air force aircraft. Qatar would be there and they would be able to respond. They weren`t called to do that, of course, but they were there. So all five of the partner nations actually did fly as part of the third wave of strikes that occur last night. That was the largest of the three waves of strikes that occurred in Syria overnight. There were -- during that wave, there were 37 aircraft in the air, including U.S. -- the majority were the U.S. and then the rest were the coalition aircraft. So the question is, what`s next? You know, are these partner nations, are they going to continue to participate in strikes as they go on over the course of the next days, weeks, months and years? Is it going to drop off a little bit? I think that the idea that they would continue at the same rate, the same scope that we saw last night is probably unrealistic. But everyone that I`ve spoken to in the Pentagon U.S. military officials insist that these partner nations are in this for the long haul. MADDOW: Courtney, let me ask you about part of what happened last night. As you mentioned there is these three waves that were described to us. Those Tomahawk missiles being fired from two U.S. Navy vessels, one of them in the Red Sea, one of them in the Persian Gulf. Then we saw F-18 Hornets flying bombing raids. They took off from a USS aircraft carrier from the USS George HW Bush. And there was that big third wave, you say 37 aircraft in the air all at once, we know those took off from land but we don`t know more specifically what land that was. If the U.S. is using air bases for ongoing air raids like this, and this is something that`s going to take place over a period of months and years, are we ever going to be allowed to know where they`re taking off from? KUBE: This is actually something that Pentagon and National Security reporters have fought with for years now. There`s one air base that we`re all presuming is where some of these aircraft came out of in, frankly, the second and the third wave. It`s in the United Arab Emirates` al-Udeid. It`s one that when you go there as a reporter, you`re not even allowed to acknowledge that you`re there. You generally have to use your byline, has to say something like a base in Southwest Asia. That`s the one that we`re all sort of assuming that these flights came out of. We don`t know that for certain, but it makes sense given the geography, given the fact that the United Arab Emirates has signed on as part of this coalition. There were others, the third wave also included some aircraft that flew off the U.S. George H.W. Bush, some of the F-18s. But there were -- there were predators in that third wave, as well, which a lot of people aren`t reporting. The -- you can kind of look at it as the first wave of strikes were all from the sea. They were the tactical Tomahawks, the T-lands, that went in, and they took out the Khorasan target. The second wave was the U.S. Air Force with a little bit of coalition help. And then the third wave, that was the big one. And that went and it took out a ton of ISIS targets. And that included both -- I think there were about 18 coalition aircraft and then about 19 U.S. aircraft that were involved including, as I said, those two predators. MADDOW: That is the clearest description of what happened last night that I`ve heard from anybody today. (LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK) KUBE: Well, I`m relying -- as you said, I`m relying on the Pentagon for -- and the U.S. military and CentCom for all of our information. MADDOW: Exactly. But there`s this -- KUBE: So -- MADDOW: There is this thing that happens -- it always happens in national security, but it particularly happens at war time which is the distance between what is acknowledged but never said and what is known but never admitted. (LAUGHTER) KUBE: Exactly. MADDOW: And we`re in that gray area right now. But you`re saying it very clearly. Courtney Kube, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. KUBE: Thank you. MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The U.S. Central Command, CentCom, is a unified command of the U.S. military that`s responsible for missions in the Middle East. Their region is 20 different countries including everything from Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, and Syria and lots else. The CentCom YouTube page is great. Actually it`s a really well curated thing. It`s very popular. The most popular videos CentCom YouTube page are usually of airstrikes, like this video from last night`s operation in Syria. But today, along with the videos of airstrikes in Syria and those videos that we showed earlier of Tomahawk missiles being launched from U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea, in the Persian Gulf, CentCom also today posted something that frankly is really hard to get your head around if you are not in the military. It`s one of those "how are we as humans even capable of that" sort of things. It`s a video of an F-16 fighter jet refueling in midair. This is from a mission that was conducted last night. You can see the weapons stacked on the F-16`s wings. Right? Just bristling on the F-16. Shuddering in the air. This is a plane capable of going something like 1600 miles an hour. And this incredibly powerful fighter jet, in flight with the missiles on it nudges up against another plane, the plane that is shooting this video footage. And that other plane that it nudges up against is carrying tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel. And those two airplanes touched while flying in midair. And while touching and flying, they perform this really highly choreographed transfer of highly volatile jet fuel from the refueling plane into the F-16. And then the fighter jet very carefully edges away slowly from the other plane and flies off covered in live missiles to go do combat. And this routine happens over and over and over again. I know this is not something that we just started doing. Right? This is what it means to be involved in a modern air war. This is what they train to do. But in the civilian world, there is no parallel to that in terms of your daily life at work. As civilians, we will never, ever, ever do anything like that. As a human accomplishment, it`s just an incredible thing. And there`s a lot to understand about what`s going on with this new air war that we have just launched in Syria. But as humans, it is sometimes worth remembering that we are doing things that is impossible to get our heads around like the fact that aerial refueling is part of what`s going on in the skies over the Middle East right now. We`re joined now for the interview by retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis. He commanded an aircraft carrier strike group in support of operations in Iraq from 2002 to 2004. He also served as NATO Supreme Allied commander in Europe during the war in Afghanistan, a job that he left just last year. Admiral Stavridis is currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. And he has a new book out called "The Accident Admiral." Admiral Stavridis, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate your time. ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Good evening, Rachel. It`s good to be here. MADDOW: So as a former Supreme Allied commander in Europe, for NATO, you have experience of dealing with a big, diverse coalition of nations. What kind of challenge is it to get from maintaining a coalition for diplomatic purposes to maintaining it for operational purposes and getting multiple district countries to act together in a kinetic military campaign? STAVRIDIS: It`s a big challenge. And as the NATO commander, I was in charge of all global operations so I had responsibility, strategic oversight for ops in Afghanistan, where, Rachel, as you know we had the 28 NATO nations plus 22 other countries, a total of 50 countries with troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The first word out of anybody`s mouth in dealing with coalitions ought to be patience. The second one is understanding the different cultural aspects and how different partners are going to bring different things to the table. The third is a concrete understanding of their capabilities, their military capabilities. And the fourth is understanding the very delicate member between the political and the military operation. That coalition in Afghanistan is being quite durable for over a decade. A short-term example of it was the one that operated in Libya for about nine months, which I also led. MADDOW: In terms of that political -- that dyad, that political-military coupling, and the relationship between those two things. One of the things I was just discussing with Courtney Kube at the Pentagon is sort of diplomatic domestic political need in some countries for secrecy around what they`re doing. At least one of the nations that was involved, one of the Arab militaries that was involved in these air strikes last night made no official statement today to their own people publicly at all about what they did. There is this strange situation in which nobody acknowledges where the air base is that U.S. and coalition planes took off from last night. Obviously, that`s because it`s important to those countries that they keep things pretty quiet. But does that strain the ability of our military to be accountable to us about what they`re doing? STAVRIDIS: I think our military is quite transparent, as you know, although as you mentioned earlier in the show, we have a challenge in this particular operation because of the great difficulty on having reporters on the ground safely. I saw Richard Engel, a good friend, reporting from Turkey, hopefully we`ll get back to embedding reporters. That really is ground truth. But I think the broad strokes of the way the U.S. approaches is very transparent. Other nations are going to do it differently. As I was saying earlier, that`s something you need to understand and appreciate about coalitions. Not every nation is going to operate in the same way in that regard. MADDOW: When the Pentagon today the -- one of the -- one of the Joint Chiefs operational spokesman today talked about -- operational commanders today talked about this being a year`s long effort. I think that sent a shiver down a lot of people`s spine. Do you think it`s appropriate to be talking about an exit strategy at the outset of this campaign? They`re telling us to be patient. That this will take a long time. Our own Congress hasn`t weighed in on this or authorized this use of force in a direct way. They`re saying it`s going to be a long one, but should we already be talking about how this ends and what the end state is that we`re working toward? STAVRIDIS: Rachel, I think it is too early for that. We really are at the beginning of this. And what I like about this strategy is that it`s not just the bombing in Syria. We`re really going to put the Islamic state under a three-front war. We`re going to rearm the Peshmerga in the north. We`re going to stiffen and reinvigorate the Iraqi forces in the south and we`re going to do the bombing, cut off logistics and go and command and control in the West. I think once we put that kind of three-front pressure on the Islamic State, we may find this goes quicker than we think. But it`s too soon to say that as yet. MADDOW: Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts now. Thanks very much for your time tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here. Thank you. STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Stay with us. Just more ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So after a string of people got past the White House fence recently, the Secret Service today gave the White House another fence. A second fence outside the first one. Here it is. A second fence around the White House just added today. It`s a fence that is about three feet high. And rising? Presumably this is a temporary measure, one that frankly looks like a bike rack and doesn`t seem like it would do much to stop anything. But presumably it is there to at least slow the fence climbers down while the Secret Service looks for a better solution. Congress has now announced that they will interrupt their 54-day vacation and come back to Washington one day next week for a hearing on the issue of the White House fence. So we now know that they are willing to interrupt their two months off for something. Even if they are not at all willing to interrupt their two months off to vote on the new war that the U.S. just started waging in the Middle East. I wonder sometimes if they know that we can see them at times like this. We can see you. This Congress will go down in history for a lot of reasons. None of them are good. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So last night on the show after the airstrikes started we raised five questions about the U.S. going to war in Syria. Question one, will this work? What will be the effect of what we`re doing? Question two, who is involved and how will the world react to what we`re doing? Question three, how will Syria react to this and other nations using military force inside their borders? Question four, has ISIS integrated itself into civilian areas so any attacks on them will also harm Syrian civilians? And the fifth question, is this legal? Are the airstrikes legal? Five question to approach in an ongoing way, I think the strategy, the wisdom, the ethics, and the politics of this new war. And in the last 25 hours since we raised those questions, since the airstrikes started, this is what we can add in terms of what we know about the answers to those five questions, at least as of the first day of this war. Let`s take the last one first in terms of is this legal. We now know that the White House says that this war on ISIS is legal under the authorization that was passed by Congress right after 9/11. Even though that authorization was to use force specifically to fight the people responsible for 9/11, and that was 13 years ago and this group did not exist then. So that was the initial claim from the administration leading up to yesterday. But in the last 24 hours, new justification. In addition to that, when the Pentagon today came up with a new one, they`re now saying that these strikes against ISIS in Syria are legal because Iraq asked for them. Countries are not usually allowed to ask for things to happen in other countries. I mean, you can ask but if Canada asked Mexico to bomb us -- anyway. It`s another legal argument that we got from the administration for the first time today after these strikes had already started. That`s new from them. In terms of the effect on civilians, question four, the administration today is saying they have no reports of civilian injuries associated with the airstrikes. That said, there are not Western reporters on the ground checking these things out. Activists in Syria say between eight and 24 civilians were killed by the airstrikes last night. In terms of the reaction from Syria, question number three, there is no sign as yet that Syria is activating its air defense systems or indeed its air force against U.S. planes. The Pentagon said today that Syria left its air defense system basically on passive radar for the strikes last night. We`ll see if that changes over time. In terms of question two, how other countries have responded, how the world is reacting. Well, British Prime Minister David Cameron came out today and said he supports the U.S. strikes in Syria but he`s not certain yet whether the British parliament would support him in that opinion. Our ally France, they made at least one airstrike against ISIS targets inside Iraq, but not in Syria. In fact, France`s government has ruled out the possibility of them also running bombing raids inside Syria as well. They want to keep their efforts confined to Iraq. Russia, Syria`s great ally, Russia, not unexpectedly condemned the U.S. strikes, as long as they proceed without consent from the Syrian government. And the Iranian president who`s become more of a wild card than Iran used to be, Hasan Rouhani said today in New York, he`s here for the U.N., he said that the U.S.-led airstrikes are flat-out illegal. That they would need either the invitation of the Syrian government or the U.N. to say yes. Neither of which have happened. So the global reaction thus far is mixed. Finally, the big question of what`s going to happen here, what the impact of these strikes will be, whether they will work, what they will do, how they will change this part of the world? Well, stay tuned. The administration said today they have every reason to believe that these airstrikes were successful, that they hit their target. They did real damage to ISIS. Today the Pentagon said they launched two more airstrikes in Syria overnight and a third one in Iraq -- This air war is under way and ongoing. But will this work? Who knows? I don`t know and you don`t either. My magic 8-ball is at the cleaners. At this point, the important thing to know is neither us, here, nor the U.S. government nor anybody else in the region knows how this works out in the end. Keep watching. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL. Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END