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Iran launches attack on Iraqi Airbase. TRANSCRIPT: 1/7/20, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Tammy Duckworth, Barbara Lee

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Before we go, I just want to say this clearly.  A war with Iran is madness and it is strategically and morally a disaster in the making and don`t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciate it. 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

It will all happen at once.  No matter how much we might wish that was not true, it will all happen at once.  And because of that, part of our responsibility as citizens in this country at this time will be for us all to maintain the capacity to see multiple things at once, to follow multiple stories, to follow more than one bouncing ball at a time. 

And, yes, it would be easier to follow, it would be easier to absorb, it would be easier to anticipate what was going to happen next if these kinds of world-changing and historic calamities would please happen in sequence, or even bless us with a break in between them.  But in our time, in our country, that is not our fate.  Not in this administration. 

And if all these things are going to happen at once, what that means for us is we are just going to have to scale up our ability to understand, to synthesize, to keep the lens as wide as possible so we can be smart about multiple things at once.  This is not a test. 

Today at about 2:15 p.m. Eastern Time, the screen started to split.  Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has seen seven senior Defense department officials quit just since December 1st, whose own chief of staff just announced his sudden and unexpected resignation yesterday, after his name surfaced in connection with key new evidence about the impeachment scandal and the vice-president`s role in it, today around 2:15 p.m. Eastern, it was Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the embattled defense secretary, the most recent defense secretary -- secretary of defense speaking live today from the Pentagon about this new crisis the administration has just unleashed with Iran. 

But because this is our time and this is our fate, while he was speaking, while he was in the middle of those critical remarks, the screen split because simultaneously, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate also began his own live remarks from the U.S. Capitol on the impeachment crisis, announcing live his intention to go forward with the impeachment trial of President Trump in the United States under rules -- in the United States Senate under rules that will be decided by Republicans alone, by members of the president`s own party alone with no Democratic support.  Those rules will offer no guarantee that any witnesses or any actual evidence will be presented or discussed at the president`s so-called trial. 

But that split-screen moment today is a microcosm of our times now.  And it`s an unavoidable split screen.  It has been only 20 days, it`s been less than three weeks since the house passed articles of impeachment against this president for only the third time in U.S. history.  It`s been 20 days since he was impeached.  It has been five days since he ordered a U.S. military airstrike to kill the top military official and the second most powerful figure overall in the nation of Iran. 

And these two stories are unavoidably inextricable now.  This president will go down in history as having launched this airstrike against Iran immediately following his impeachment in the House while he was awaiting the start of his impeachment trial in the Senate, the trial that will decide whether or not he will be removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction.  And the explanation from our government as to why the president ordered that airstrike that started all of this, the explanation has been all over the map. 

First, they gave initial assertions the strike was necessary to avert some sort of imminent attack that was going to be led by the general who was killed or planned by him or maybe it was something he was thinking about.  It`s not clear.  No actual evidence was ever put forward by the administration to back up that initial claim from them that the strike was necessary to avert some sort of imminent attack.

Now, the administration appears to be backing off the imminent attack claims, at least publicly, with officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, now just justifying the strike instead by talking about previous bad actions by General Soleimani, this Iranian official who was targeted. 

Whether the strike that set off this crisis was legal under U.S. and/or international law, whether its motivations were driven by domestic political concerns of the president or some real threat that they`re still keeping secret or something else they have yet to explain or invent, that strike has predictability -- predictability with an exclamation point, kicked a hornets nest in the Middle East, with nobody able to tell you where this will end. 

We don`t know the extent of the retaliation that Iran or its sympathizers will mount in the short term, the medium term or the long term.  We don`t know the extent of the retaliation that will come from Iran rather than from its proxy forces or its sympathizers.  But tonight, a spokesperson for Iran`s supreme leader posted this online, this on Twitter just a full frame Iranian flag.  This was that government`s obvious rejoinder to the full frame American flag that President Trump posted as his full explanation of the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani five days ago. 

As this rejoinder was posted by the Iranian government, the Iranian government announced on Iranian state TV then confirmed with footage and the U.S. Defense Department then acknowledged that Iran has launched multiple ballistic missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq, at multiple sites inside the nation of Iraq where U.S. troops are based. 

And how did we get here?  Again, we don`t know why our president launched the airstrike against Iran that set off this chain of events that has resulted in these missile strikes tonight.  We don`t know why he thought that this was the time to do it. 

"The New York Times" has described Pentagon officials as being flabbergasted and stunned by his decision to launch that airstrike last week.  "The New York Times," quote, when Mr. Trump chose the option of killing General Soleimani, top military officials flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region.  Quote, top Pentagon officials were stunned. 

Well, those retaliatory strikes against U.S. troops in the region have now begun.  Because the Americans who are now being called on to cash the check that this president and this Pentagon just wrote, without apparently much planning at all for what would happen in response or who would pay for their decision, the Americans who are quite literally in range of the initial direct retaliatory response from Iran -- not the officials who made this decision.  It`s the thousands of American troops based at military outposts in the region. 

The two bases that we know for sure were targeted in this missile attack tonight from Iran are the Al-Asad airbase which is in Anbar province in western Iraq, and the U.S. base at Erbil in Northern Iraq.  We`ll have a live report from Erbil in just a moment, as well as a live report from Tehran and we`ll be speaking with other reporters and experts in the field. 

But again, for us as citizens here, our responsibility now has to include the ability to process multiple things at once.  And so, yes, we are going to talk in as much detail as we can about the fact these two air bases were apparently hit by Iranian ballistic missiles tonight.  We are still awaiting damage reports in terms of the impact of those missile launches. 

Speaking in rough terms, there are known to be about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces Iraqi forces at the Al-Asad Airbase in Western Anbar province in Iraq.  Up in northern Iraq, Erbil, the number of U.S. troops there is basically seen sort of fluid.  As far as we understand, the use of that Erbil base is used as a transit base.  That means that the numbers there wax and wane depend on what`s happening in operations, including in Syria. 

"The New York Times" estimates there are hundreds of U.S. forces at that Erbil air base that was targeted tonight.  So, we`ll look specifically at those two bases that were targeted, but widen the lens to consider the other locations where U.S. forces are sitting in Iraq right now, which include some of the facilities we have mapped here in Fallujah, in Anbar, in Taji, in Balad, right? 

U.S. forces are the ones who will be immediately targeted by Iran.  We know that tonight.  It was believed by U.S. military officials that that would be the immediate response in terms of which Americans would have their lives put in danger by this decision by President Trump.  And that has now come to pass. 

And if you widen the lens a little further from that, right, this is the rough, very rough contour of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq overall.  But this is the broader U.S. presence of American troops in the Middle East right now, right, and in countries that neighbor Iran, including 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan which borders Iran to the east.  Thousands of U.S. troops in Bahrain and Qatar and United Arab Emirates and Kuwait and Jordan and Syria. 

One of the things we`ll talk about over the course of this hour with reporters and experts is the likelihood, the risk and reward calculation that Iran may make when it`s looking at those other locations, those other countries beyond their own borders, and they`re near abroad, right, where there are U.S. facilities and U.S. troops who are potentially within missile range for the Iranian military and who are certainly within range of Iranian proxy forces and militias and terrorist groups. 

But these ballistic missile attacks tonight from Iran are being described by the Iranian government as the beginning of their retaliation for the Trump-ordered airstrike that killed General Qassem Soleimani five days ago.  The general who was promoted to replace Soleimani as head of the Quds Force in Iran`s Revolutionary Guard Corps said in an interview to Iranian state television yesterday that his guiding principle, now that he is the head of the Quds Force, his guiding principle and goal in the wake of the death of Soleimani would be to secure the expulsion of all U.S. troops from the Middle East. 

Well, in Iraq specifically, U.S. troops are there in significant numbers and in multiple locations.  That`s why Iran chose those Iraqi military bases as their initial targets for the missile strikes tonight as they try to kill American troops in Iraq.  The question of an ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq isn`t just an aspirational thing for Iran.  It`s not just an open question or a point of contention any more. 

It`s something that`s being, right now, almost ridiculously bungled by the Trump administration.  It is one thing to see the president make wild swings on important and potentially deadly matters, matters within his control as president.  To see the administration, including the Pentagon behaving like this, like a blind fold bumper car fight, oops, didn`t mean it.  Who is that?  What did I hit?  What was this? 

I mean, the Iraqi parliament voted that U.S. troops should leave in the wake of the airstrike that was on Iraqi soil, targeting that top Iranian military official.  The Iraqi parliament voted that U.S. troops should be kicked out of Iraq.  The Iraqi prime minister who is in sort of a caretaker role in the Iraqi government, personally insisting that parliament should do that, they should take that vote, and that U.S. troops must get out. 

Iran saying that their goal, the Quds Force goal now would be to get all U.S. troops out of the region.  Whether or not you have any feelings about the merits of U.S. troops being in the Middle East more broadly or being in Iraq more specifically, one of the things that we are contending with now as U.S. citizens watching our own government at work, watching our own government set this situation on fire is not just the behavior of the president.  The behavior of the president without even bothering to explain in the middle of his impeachment, we are also contending with this bizarre circumstance yesterday in which a letter was delivered from the U.S. military to the Iraqi government saying that U.S. troops are, in fact, leaving Iraq. 

Thank you for the vote in parliament.  We respect your sovereign decision to kick us out.  Here`s what our departure plans look like.  Don`t be alarmed if you hear extra helicopter traffic. 

We`re not getting our troops in.  We`re getting our troops out.  We respect your decision.  Very respectfully, Marine Corps general commanding -- Marine Corps commanding general for U.S. Task Force Iraq. 

That letter gets delivered to the Iraqi military yesterday.  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and defense secretary are now trying to insist that letter, while it was delivered to the Iraqi government, it shouldn`t have been. 

It was a mistake.  It was a draft that they never should have seen.  It was an internal document that was improperly worded and implied things that aren`t true.  It was never actually meant to go to Iraq. 

Almost unbelievable, almost comical assertions, not from the president today, but from the Pentagon today, that not incidentally are being flat- out rejected by Iraq.  The Iraq prime minister today responding by saying, quote, this is not something that happened all of a sudden.  It was not a piece of paper that fell out of a photocopy machine. 

The Iraqi government insisting this wasn`t an error, this wasn`t a draft.  They received this through official channels.  In fact, they received it through official channels, not once, but twice.  Because they sent it back for a better English to Arabic translation after they got the first version of it. 

And no matter how much the Trump administration is now comically complaining we didn`t mean to send this letter.  Oh, did we actually send you a letter announcing all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq because of your sovereign decision to kick us out of Iraq?  Did we accidentally do that? 

While the U.S. government tries to insist it was a mistake and everybody should pretend it didn`t happen, the Iraqi government considers that letter to have been officially delivered and to be binding.  According to "The Washington Post" tonight, quote, the Iraqi minister views the letter from the U.S. government as binding.  He wants a detailed timeline on when exactly all U.S. troops will be gone out of Iraq.  And he says he believes, quote, that there is no way to ensure the stability of Iraq without the withdrawal of foreign forces. 

One Iraqi official quoting the Iraqi prime minister as saying, as a state we deal with the official letters that we receive and we will act in accordance with this letter. 

President Trump is in the middle of being impeached.  He launched this airstrike that has set off this chain of events with Iran that include multiple ballistic missile strikes on U.S. targets inside Iraq tonight.  He launched this series of events for reasons that remain unstated.  There is no coherent explanation from the administration as to why in the middle of his impeachment, he launched this airstrike that has now set off what very much appears to be a war with Iran. 

As Iranian missiles rain down on U.S. facilities in Iraq tonight, targeting thousands of U.S. troops, both Iran, our antagonist, and Iraq our host and would-be ally, they both insist that U.S. forces must all get out of Iraq now.  Now that we`re in this circumstances -- this circumstance, all Americans have to get out. 

The Trump administration apparently acceded to that question as of yesterday.  They`re trying to pretend that they didn`t. 

This, honestly, this honestly is a mess.  It`s not like we`ve never been in national security messes as a country before, particularly in this part of the world.  In other national security crises, we try, at least, to count on or at least account for official statements from our government, right?  Some guidance as to what`s happening and why. 

We as a country have learned to be skeptical of the official line in times of war and peace.  But with this administration in particular, do you pay attention to anything they say about what they`re doing, or, in fact, what factually has occurred? 

Do you believe Mike Pompeo at the State Department?  Do you believe Mark Esper at the Defense Department?  Do you believe the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  Do you believe anybody who works in the White House? 

This crisis is all of our crisis now, regardless of who started it on our behalf.  In terms of us doing our responsibility as citizens here, though, our ability to get information that we can believe from our own government has never been in more question in modern times.  Our ability to responsibly engage with this crisis as informed citizens is now dependent on the fourth estate.  We are going to need for this crisis in a way we`ve never quite needed before, we are going to need reporters on the ground, including in dangerous places, and good journalism, and American citizens respecting good journalism standing up for it, because we are going to need to all be actively engaged citizens, paying close attention in a way we desperately needed to before in this cavalcade of crises that is this presidency. 

Joining us from Erbil in northern Iraq, which is where one of the U.S. bases apparently targeted by these Iranian missiles tonight is NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. 

Richard, I know you are on the ground near one of the targets of the missile attacks.  What can you tell us about Erbil tonight, about what you`re seeing about the impact of these strikes? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  So, we heard two explosions here in Erbil.  I must say they were not very powerful explosions.  There was a little bit of trembling at -- on the window of the hotel where we are staying.  Not massive at first.  We weren`t even sure we heard something at all. 

So we drove around the city trying to see if there was massive damage or any damage at all.  We did not find any, so the U.S. military says that some of the ballistic missiles fired from Iran were fired at the base here, but they do not appear to have caused massive damage, at least as far as we can tell. 

The other attack was on the Al-Asad air base which is in western Iraq, a much more remote location.  The base here in Erbil is more or less in the city.  The base in Al-Asad is out in the middle of the desert, not much else around it. 

That apparently took the brunt of the Iranian assault with U.S. troops going down into bunkers there.  But I must say it is a very large base with many bunkers, and these missiles, even a dozen or so, would not have been able to level that base.  And we are still waiting to hear if there are any American casualties.  There are some reports of some Iraqi casualties, but we have not been able to confirm that at this stage. 

So, so far, it seems like the Iranian response has been -- and they say this is the response to killing Qassem Soleimani -- has been to launch these attacks.  Iran is making a big deal of it on its domestic media.  It is also launching something of a propaganda war, saying that these attacks were devastating, that dozens of Americans had been killed.  It appears to try to be placating the Iranian people to say that there has been a forceful response.

But so far as far as we can tell, these were not devastating attacks.  These were, these were attacks.  They targeted military facilities.  And as far as we can tell, at least here in Erbil, did not have significant -- result in significant damage. 

But this could only be the early phases because if you listen to what the Iranians are saying, they are saying that this could be just the beginning or it could be the end.  They say that if Iran -- if the United States does not respond, it does not attack Iran, then it will be over for now.  But if the U.S. does, it is prepared to escalate dramatically, mobilizing the militias that it has the support of, to a degree control over here in Iraq. 

It says it will also mobilize Hezbollah to attack Israel.  It says it will attack Dubai.  It has issued a variety of blood curdling threats if the U.S. does respond. 

Now, several hours have passed since the first -- since the first word that these ballistic missiles were fired from Iran, and so far we have not heard about a U.S. military response against Iran.  That, so far, I would say is a good sign because if the U.S. wanted to respond, it could have done so in a matter of minutes, and hours have passed and we haven`t seen big explosions on Iranian bases or inside Iranian cities. 

But I can say -- and I know you are going to talk to our colleague Ali Arouzi -- Iran is certainly poised.  Iran is on war footing. 

But so far, we had this attack.  The U.S. did its attack.  It is a moment where potentially cooler heads could prevail.  We will see in the next, in the next hours if that is, in fact, the case. 

MADDOW:  Richard, let me ask you.  We`ve seen the stated goal, stated intention announced by the successor to Qassem Soleimani at the head of the Quds Force, they want -- his guiding principle would be to get all of U.S. forces out of the region, out o the Middle East.  Not surprising to hear him articulate that. 

But it obviously it dovetails a little bit with some of the politicking we have been seeing inside Iraq since this airstrike, with a vote in the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi prime minister insisting that, yes, U.S. forces should leave.  This ridiculous confusion over whether or not the U.S. Defense Department appeared to have acceded to that request.  They notified the Iraqi government yesterday that there were intentions to leave. 

With Iran shooting missiles into Iraqi territory, what will that do to the fight and the decision-making process inside Iraq as to whether or not U.S. troops are allowed to stay there? 

ENGEL:  I think it`s almost certain that it will cause the Iraqi government to increase its demands that U.S. forces pack up and leave.  U.S. forces are here, supposedly, to be fighting against ISIS, not to be fighting a proxy war with Iran. 

U.S. forces are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government.  There are no U.S. bases here.  Even those bases that were attacked tonight are Iraqi bases.  Sovereign Iraqi bases that are housing some American personnel and some coalition personnel from other countries. 

They are not supposed to be engaged in other kinds of activities.  And if the Iraqi government continues to make the assessment that, that having U.S. troops here is more harm than it is good, then you`re going to find the U.S. in a difficult position arguing with the Iraqi government that it should stay. 

So far, we have already seen a little bit of that with the U.S. military issuing this retraction.  First, sending a letter to the Iraqi government saying that U.S. troops are, are leaving in accordance with their wishes, and then saying that was a mistake, that the letter was poorly worded. 

Also, some U.S. officials have been saying, well, this current Iraqi parliament and the current prime minister doesn`t have the constitutional authority to kick out U.S. troops because it is a caretaker government, because it wasn`t a proper quorum in government.  It would be an awkward and uncomfortable position if the U.S. is arguing with the Iraqi government over articles of its own constitution about whether the United States should stay here or not. 

So, pressure is going to grow after this on the U.S. to leave.  I think that`s quite certain. 

MADDOW:  Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent reporting live from Erbil tonight -- Richard, stay safe.  Thanks for being with us tonight.  I really appreciate you being with us. 

I want to let you know that while we have been on the air, the Federal Aviation Administration has put out a new statement.  It`s a notice to airmen, issuing basically flight restrictions, prohibiting U.S. civil aviation operators from operating in the air space over Iraq, Iran, the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. 

The FAA issued notices to airmen tonight, outlining flight restrictions that prohibit U.S. civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.  The FAA says we will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East.  We continue coordinating with our national security partners and sharing information with U.S. air carriers and foreign civil aviation authorities. 

No surprise there, given these ballistic missile attacks from the Iran -- targeting two locations where U.S. personnel are based in Iraq, but still stark to see it in black and white. 

I want to bring into the conversation now, Courtney Kube, who is NBC News national security correspondent at the Pentagon tonight. 

Courtney, let me just ask you, if anything you heard from me in the last couple of minutes has been overtaken by events or is incorrect, have we got any further information as to the scope of this attack tonight or any damage that it`s caused? 

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT:  No, we don`t.  I mean, we`re still waiting to hear that.  So far there are no, I will say there are no reports yet according to U.S. military officials of American casualties, but it is still early. 

You know, as we keep saying, Al-Asad particularly is a sprawling base, so we don`t even really know what, if anything, these missiles hit.  We should point out, too, you know, the attacks on these bases in Iraq over the past several months have been mainly these more crude rockets, often Katyusha rockets.  Some of them have been a little more sophisticated.  Some have been 240 millimeter rockets which fire a -- fly a little longer and can inflict a little more damage. 

We`re talking here about ballistic missiles.  And Iran actually in recent years, according to the U.S. military and Defense Intelligence Agency who issues reports about Iran`s capabilities, their short range ballistic missiles actually have become increasingly accurate in recent years, and they have a relatively large arsenal of them. 

As evidence of that, they`ve actually launched twice in the last several years.  Once in 2017, once in 2018.  Short range ballistic missiles from western Iran into Syria to target ISIS when there were threats inside of Iran, they responded and they had successful strikes from western Iran. 

So, these -- firing ballistic missiles into both Erbil and into Al-Asad, it is very clear the U.S. military is very conscious to the fact that they had that capability.  The big question now is what comes next?  Is this the entire Iranian response to the death of Qassem Soleimani?  Or is this an opening salvo?

And not just that, but how will the U.S. respond?  Will they respond in a diplomatic path?  If, in fact, there`s no U.S. casualties and it turns out the damage is not as bad as could possibly be with these ballistic missiles, or will there be some sort of U.S. military response?

That`s the big question here we`re trying to figure out that everyone here is waiting to see what happens right now, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Courtney, to be clear, we`ve been told, at least advised, we shouldn`t expect any sort of statement from the White House tonight, from the president.  Do we also not expect any formal statement or briefing from Pentagon officials tonight?  They`re going to allow us to sort of follow events as they evolve, but we`re not actually going to hear from them directly? 

KUBE:  Yes, we are not.  We don`t expect to have anything on camera on the record.  We`re getting, you know, some officials are coming in, they`re talking to us a little on background.  We can expect to have a little more of that. 

But, you know, it`s funny.  Secretary Esper briefed by himself the first time as secretary of the defense in the briefing room today before all this happened, you know?  So he`s already come out and spoken to us prior to this.  I don`t expect to hear from him tonight. 

It`s very rare that we hear from the secretary of defense in the briefing room on camera.  So the fact we heard from him right before this happened today, but no, I don`t expect anything more other than -- another one of the big questions, we`re hoping and we`ve been really impressing on the people here in the U.S. military and Iraq and Central Command, U.S. Central Command, to give us any sense when they have any sense of what the battle damage assessment here is. 

So what was hit on -- at Al-Asad, what exactly was targeted and may have been hit in Erbil and, of course, any casualties both U.S. and Iraqi and potentially other coalition?  There are other coalition members who are at Al-Asad as well.  They don`t talk about it very much, but there are some British -- there are generally British troops and others who will rotate through there. 

MADDOW:  Courtney Kube, national security correspondent for NBC news.  Thank you for reporting tonight.  I imagine we`ll be talking with you again.  Thanks. 

KUBE:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  As we speak now in Iran, hours ahead because of the time difference, it`s just before 6:00 a.m. in Iran.  They are holding the funeral for Qassem Soleimani, for the Iranian general, who was attacked and killed in that U.S. airstrike last week.  It is for that fatal strike and response to that strike that Iran says it launched these ballistic missile attacks tonight on two U.S. military locations in Iraq. 

But what you`re looking at right here is actually live footage of the Soleimani funeral as the culmination of three national days of mourning in Iran.  Soleimani, a household name and essentially a revered figure in Iran, somebody about whom there was, what you could make describe as a cult of personality.  Certainly, a figure who loomed very large in the Iranian public imagination.

And his funeral ceremony is big enough that there was a massive stampede at part of a funeral procession today that killed dozens of people.  This is the actual funeral underway right now as we speak. 

I want to turn to Ali Arouzi now who is NBC News Tehran bureau chief.  He is reporting live from the Iranian capital tonight. 

Ali, thank you very much for talking to us.  I know you`ve been monitoring Iranian state television, statements from the Iranian government, as well as what we`ve been able to follow here from the U.S. what can you update us on in terms of what Iran is claiming about these strikes and what you understand about the veracity of those claims? 


Well, Iran has directly claimed responsibility for the attacks in Iraq.  They`ve claimed responsibility for two waves of attacks on bases in Iraq.  They say that they`ve launched at least 12 medium-range ballistic missiles. 

Now, obviously, here they`re playing it up quite a lot.  They are claiming U.S. casualties have been hit, but these are completely unsubstantiated reports.  They obviously are playing to an audience here in Iran when they are saying that they wanted to show a strike of force.  They have been warning about it for days now, saying that there will be a retaliation for Qassem Soleimani`s death, and we`ve seen that now. 

Now, the big question is, Rachel, have U.S. forces been killed?  How big was this attack on them?  We were talking about the size of these attacks and how Iran would retaliate. 

If it was proportional, if it wasn`t that big, how is the U.S. response going to be?  But what Iran is saying right now is that they`ve launched two waves of attacks.  If the United States does not respond to those attacks, they will stop attacking right now, but they are also warning that if the United States does attack Iran in response to these two waves of missiles that they have launched, this will be widespread and crushing.  They are saying on state media here that Iranian militias in this region have all been mobilized, that they are battle ready, and that they are waiting for orders from Tehran. 

State media is also reporting that Hezbollah and Lebanon, Nasrallah has sent a message to Tehran, saying that his forces, probably Iran`s largest militia anywhere, are also ready to strike Israel if Iran is retaliated against. 

Now, the Iranians are saying -- again, I want to reiterate this, Rachel because this is very important.  They`re saying if the U.S. doesn`t attack Iran, they will stop attacking at this stage, that they have exerted their revenge.  But they say if the U.S. does come back, their third wave of attacks will target Dubai if U.S. airplanes take off from there.  They`re threatening to destroy Dubai, calling it that tourist resort.  They are also saying that they will hit Haifa in Israel which would draw Israel quickly into a conflict if that happens. 

State media reporting that Ayatollah Khamenei was in the control room coordinating these attacks.  Don`t forget, this was devastating blow to him to lose Qassem Soleimani.  Qassem Soleimani was arguably the second most powerful man in this country, and he was Ayatollah Khamenei`s right hand.  He had been able to realize Khamenei`s strategy in this region by developing all of those militias that have become so dangerous to U.S. forces and assets in this region.  So this was personal for him, Rachel. 

But we have to see now what the U.S. response to this is going to be.  The Iranians are also saying, state media has said, that all of their underground missile depots are now battle ready.  Their missiles are in place and are ready to respond to any attack by the U.S. or any other coalition forces that the Iranian air force has been deployed.  Iranian state media is claiming that Iranian fighter jets are now in Iraqi air space. 

And there`s also a great sense of anxiety here in Tehran.  On the way to the bureau, I had the radio on and songs of war marches were being played constantly on the radio.  Senior officials here were putting out tweets with the Iranian flag.  That`s a sign that they are battle ready. 

And just for regular folks here in this country, I`m hearing all sorts of reports that if people have places to go outside of Tehran, they`re trying to go there.  There are massive queues at the gas pump they`re scared there will be a shortage of petrol in this country if the country is attacked. 

But, Rachel, we have gone into a very unpredictable period right now and the Iranians are saying the ball is in the U.S.`s court.  Now, there has been also a lot of tough talk.  The man who stepped out of the shadows to replace Qassem Soleimani, General Ghani, just released a statement via state media saying that we have heard the screams of the Americans and we have crushed their bones, and now it`s time for them to leave this region. 

And that was the ultimate goal of Qassem Soleimani.  That seems to have been expedited in his death.  I couldn`t have imagined this scenario going on while he was alive, so the strategy of taking him out and de-escalating seems to have backfired somewhat. 

But this is, without a doubt, the most serious confrontation between Tehran and America in 40 years since the founding of the Islamic Republic.  So very, very tense times here, Rachel, and we`re just not sure how it`s going to unfold.  But the reality is that that decision right now lies with President Trump as Iran is saying that they`re willing to stop as long as they`re not attacked. 

MADDOW:  Ali Arouzi, NBC News Tehran bureau chief, joining us live from Tehran tonight -- Ali, thank you so much for being here.  I appreciate you being there, particularly given the hour and the circumstances. 

I want to bring in somebody else to the conversation now who has a very unique perspective on this.  There is a short list of United States senators who can speak directly about what is at stake for U.S. service members who have been targeted by this attack tonight in Iraq who can speak about that, not just in abstract terms, but in personal terms.  And at the top of that list is our next guest. 

Senator Tammy Duckworth flew more than 120 combat hours in Iraq as an Army National Guard pilot.  She was awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs when an RPG hit her Blackhawk helicopter over Iraq. 

Joining us now is Senator Duckworth.  She`s a Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee and as I said, a wounded Iraq war veteran. 

Senator, thanks for being here tonight on this tense and important night.  I really appreciate you making time to be here. 

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL):  Thanks for having me on, Rachel.  It indeed is a very, very scary night for the American people. 

MADDOW:  Let me just get your top line response to this news tonight out of Iraq.  Over the past five days it`s been a sort of remarkable string of circumstances.  The president launched, apparently ordered this airstrike in Iraq that killed the number one military official in Iran on Iraqi soil. 

That set off a chain of events in which the Iraqi government has now demanded the departure of all the U.S. forces from Iraq.  It has set off an alert from the U.S. government that all U.S. citizens should leave Iraq.  It has now apparently led to the Iranian government shooting not just Katyusha rockets or militia-borne weapons, but ballistic missiles at Iraqi sites tonight housing U.S. forces. 

When you look at what`s happened over the course of the last five days and why, questions about why, what`s your overall take of this moment, its importance and its risk? 

DUCKWORTH:  Well, my overall take is the incompetence of this president as commander-in-chief has achieved the end goal that Iran wants in the region.  You have to remember, Rachel, that we actually since October have had protests in Iraq against Iranian influence by Iraqi people, you know.  We had thousands of Iraqis protesting against Iranian influence for months and months and months. 

It even was happening in Lebanon.  Hezbollah was being protested against. 

And within the space of just a couple of days with this poor decision made by this president, we have now turned that around so that now Iraqi -- the Iraqi parliament has voted to kick us out of their country and we have now turned the sentiment into one that is much more pro-Iranian in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East as well.  Essentially, with this one decision, this president has actually achieved the end goals of the Iranian regime. 

I don`t think they want their guy killed and frankly I don`t shed a tear for this man.  He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans over the decades.  But at the end of the day, this president`s decision has made America`s national security less safe, has put our troops` lives in danger and has achieved the end goals of what Iran wants, which is greater influence in the region.  And the United States being not just requested, but ordered to leave. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the role of the U.S. military right now and what`s going on at the Pentagon, I ask you this particularly as a member of the Armed Services Committee.  If you have any insight at all, I would love it if you could help us understand what has gone on with the U.S. military apparently notifying the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military yesterday that U.S. troops would, in fact, all leave Iraq and that the withdrawal had started and giving them logistical advice as to what that might look like, saying they respect the sovereign decision of the Iraqi prime minister in parliament to tell the U.S. troops to get out. 

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense appear today to be saying that that was an oops, it was a mistake, it was a draft, it was a mis-implied or mis-worded piece of paper that never should have made its way to the Iraqi government.  This is just a super bizarre circumstance, at least from the outside looking in. 

Do you have any insight for us into what happened there, what went wrong or what ultimately that`s going to mean? 

DUCKWORTH:  I mean, it shows a breakdown in what`s happening in this administration where you have the State Department is not talking with the Defense Department, where you even have ground commanders in Iraq not talking to their leadership in Washington, D.C.  It`s bizarre, and it actually is really scary to me, and I`m very deeply concerned that the processes within the Pentagon has broken down to this extent. 

Listen, a letter like that doesn`t just leave from the U.S. commander forces on the ground and make it to the Iraqi parliament, not once, but twice without it going through all sorts of channels.  So, for them to say this is an oopsie mistake, I don`t buy that.  I`m going to try to find out what`s going on here.

And, in fact, we`re going to be getting a briefing here in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon, so tomorrow afternoon, on both their decision to attack and kill Soleimani, but also we`ll be asking some tough questions about what exactly is going on.  Do you guys not have any control over the different aspects of this administration?  And, you know, you can make this decision to kill this general, but to actually have no plan for what to do next? 

The whole situation has just spiraled out of the control of this administration.  You know, he should have people around him, this president, that can give him good advice.  And he either isn`t listening to them or those people don`t exist. 

MADDOW:  Senator Duckworth, let me ask you one last question, which is that, as citizens, as people actively engaged with what`s going on in the country and sort of trying to keep all the story lines straight here, it is remarkable that the split screen here is that the president ordered this airstrike in between the time when the House impeached him and the Senate started his trial to potentially remove him.  The fact of the timing there, the fact that there hasn`t been any coherent explanation from the White House as of yet as to why the president ordered this provocative strike now, given the kinds of blowback it would undoubtedly -- we`re seeing would ensue. 

In the midst of that, today we saw the Republican leader of the Senate, Senator McConnell, say that he is ready to go ahead with the impeachment trial of the president in the Senate under rules that will be decided purely on a party line vote.  He says that he`s willing to do it just with Republican votes, even if no Democrats support the rules under which that trial will be conducted. 

Do you think that the confluence of these two events -- and indeed, the coincidence of these two events should change anything about how the impeachment process goes forward and what happens with that trial? 

DUCKWORTH:  Well, unfortunately, I don`t think Mitch McConnell is going to pay attention to Democrats.  But what I want is a fair trial with witnesses.  Trials have witnesses.  Conspiracies and cover-ups don`t. 

So, I want to make sure there is a fair trial with real witnesses and actual witnesses that, not just the Senate, but the American people can see so we can have a real fair process.  But we all know that this president has zero impulse control.  I mean, Rachel, my 20 month old who still has diapers has better impulse control than this president.  So, between impeachment happened and his decision to do this, there was impetuousness with this president. 

And obviously, they move forward well before they were ready with any plans to handle the consequences and you`ve seen that in the last 72 hours.  And so, let`s make sure as we move forward, I`m going to be pushing for a fair trial with real witnesses so that I can do my constitutional duty as a juror. 

MADDOW:  Senator Tammy Duckworth, decorated combat veteran, member of the Armed Services Committee -- Senator, thank you so much for being here tonight.  I really appreciate it on tonight of all nights. 

DUCKWORTH:  Thank you for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  And the news tonight we are continuing to follow is the nation of Iran has launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles into Iraq targeting two military air bases there.  One in the north of Iraq, one in the west of Iraq, bases that house U.S. troops.  We await formal word from the administration, if nothing else, in terms of the battle field damage assessment, in terms of what those missiles have done. 

Iran is making vast claims as to the amount of damage that they have caused tonight with these missile attacks.  The U.S. government thus far is silent as to what the effect of those missiles has been. 

We have much more ahead.  Stay with us tonight. 


MADDOW:  Even before tonight`s strikes by Iran on two air bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are housed, NATO had said it would begin pulling troops out of Iraq in response to this latest increased intentions.  NATO has roughly 500 soldiers in Iraq.  Some of those soldiers were air lifted out of Baghdad`s Green Zone just last night. 

Some specific NATO countries including Canada and Germany and Croatia have also announced they`re moving all of their troops out of Iraq, at least temporarily.  Canada announced earlier today that they are moving about 500 of their military personnel to Kuwait. 

I want to bring into the conversation now somebody with extensive experience in this part of the world.  Brett McGurk was the George W. Bush administration`s senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was special envoy for the Global Coalition to Fight ISIS for both President Obama and President Trump.  Mr. McGurk resigned from that post last December. 

Brett McGurk, thank you so much for making time for us tonight.  It`s good to have you here. 


MADDOW:  So, we are obviously watching this as an unfolding news story.  We`ve got word, claimed responsibility by the Iranian government and confirmation by the U.S. Defense Department that it`s more than a dozen ballistic missiles fired at least two U.S. -- two sites in Iraq where U.S. troops are based. 

How important is it that Iraq has used ballistic missiles here and what do you make about this sort of level of escalation given what we`ve seen over the past few days? 

MCGURK:  Well, Rachel, a couple hours ago, it looked like this was really dramatic event potentially with casualties.  It looked like the president might address the nation.  I said then it was very important to calm down, slow things down, let`s get all the facts.  As the facts come in, it looks like ballistic missiles launched from Iran on Iraqi bases that house Americans, targeting Americans is a significant event. 

If the facts come out that there are no American casualties, I think we will learn very soon the U.S. military will have the capabilities, did they deliberately not really intend to cause any casualties?  What was the Iranian intention?  And I think we should really take our time as a country and as a government to work through this and determine how we respond.  This could be a moment to try to de-escalate the situation and I would hope that the administration would consider -- consider doing that. 

MADDOW:  In terms of taking our time and considering our response, I`m always worried about saying these words, especially live on television, but the president has just tweeted tonight about these missile strikes just within the past couple of minutes.  Let me put this to you and get your response. 

The president says, and I quote: All is well!  Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq.  Assessment of casualties and damages taking place now.  So far, so good!  We have the most powerful and well-equipped military anywhere in the world by far!  I will be making a statement tomorrow morning. 

Your reaction to the president saying "all is well" here. 

MCGURK:  I`m not sure I`d say all is well.  I`ve been under fire from rockets.  I know what that sounds like, what that feels like.  Never ballistic missile.  I can imagine, we`ve got Americans under fire tonight. 

I think it`s very fortunate that there are no casualties.  We should all be very thankful.  There may be Iraqi casualties here. 

One thing, Rachel, you mentioned this kind of cycle of events since the Soleimani attack, with the letter in Iraq and the Iraqis trying to kick us out of the country, that`s what Iran wants.  They want us to leave the country, they want NATO to leave.  T

hey want all our coalition partners to leave so they can really dominate.  You would see ISIS resurge.  I think you see Russia fill in behind us.  It would be a strategic calamity. 

There`d be a strategic calamity.  This could be an opportunity with some diplomacy from the president, Secretary Pompeo if they want to go that route.  I hope they do, to really work with the Iraqi leadership as weak as it is. 

And you make the point this wasn`t an Iraqi base targeting us, Americans, it was an attack on an Iraqi base.  And just try to reset that relationship a bit to get out of the spiral that`s been going on with this letter and what`s happening. 

So I hope somebody in the Situation Room -- I`ve been in the Situation Room in moments of crisis.  There`s usually an authoritative voice will come in and say, let`s calm down, let`s work our way through this.  Let`s think of our response.  That`s really what`s needed now. 

So hopefully somebody is doing that and we can find our way through this to a better outcome than where we`ve been over the last 96 hours. 

MADDOW:  Brett McGurk, former special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, somebody with extensive experience in this part of the world -- sir, thanks for being with us tonight.  I really appreciate you making the time. 

MCGURK:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  I want to bring into the conversation now somebody who has had a historic role in the leadership of how America should be involved in this part of the world and how we should make considered decisions about our use of military force in this part of the world, Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.  She serves as vice chair of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.  She was a lone voice against the authorization for use of military force that was passed almost unanimously after the 9/11 attacks. 

Congresswoman Lee, thank you so much for being with us tonight.  I really appreciate you making the time. 

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA):  Thank you, Rachel.  I`m happy to be with you tonight, but not under these circumstances.  This is really a grave and serious moment which unfortunately could lead us closer to war with Iran, which really is opening Pandora`s box.  And so, we`ve got to, I think, move forward quickly to de-escalate. 

And, Rachel, I have to say my thoughts and prayers are with our service members, with the Iraqis, with all of those who are under attack right now.  Both parties need to come to some senses, their senses and begin to de- escalate. 

MADDOW:  What should we expect from the U.S. Congress right now?  Obviously, the votes in the past, including the one in which you stood out as a lone dissenter on that post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force.  Let`s go down in the history books. 

Tonight, we`re not so much worrying or thinking about how any particular individual member of Congress might vote.  We`re wondering what Congress will do at all in terms of exerting their own authority under the Constitution to make a decision about war and peace here. 

What do you anticipate? 

LEE:  Certainly, Rachel.  Congress has, unfortunately, been missing in action.  There are several courses of action that we`re talking about. 

One is we`re talking about a very strong War Powers Act which would rein in this administration and require them to come to Congress before they take military action. 

Secondly, we`re looking at and I`m working to -- work to make sure the 2002 authorization which was the authorization to use force against Iraq, is repealed.  That passed in the National Defense Authorization bill with 242 votes.  It was bipartisan. 

So we should repeal that because this administration uses the 2001, 2002 authorizations in many ways, we`re hearing, as the legal justification. 

Thirdly, Congressman Khanna, myself and others have passed legislation that would say no funding to use force against Iraq unless the administration comes to Congress and asks for an authorization or a declaration.  So we need to withhold the funding until this administration comes and debates an authorization to talk about so the public can understand the cost and consequences of what this means. 

MADDOW:  Congresswoman Barbara Lee, senior member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, so when she talks about withholding the funding, everybody ought to listen.  Congresswoman, thank you for making time to be with us tonight.  I really appreciate it. 

LEE:  Thank you.  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  Joining us now here on set is Colonel Jack Jacobs, retired U.S. Army colonel, Medal of Honor recipient, MSNBC military analyst. 

Colonel, thanks for being here tonight.  We appreciate benefiting from your experience and your advice over the course over the days we`ve been watching this news come in. 

First of all, let me ask you about something Brett McGurk just said.  He said, I have been under rocket fire.  When the president says all is well, that`s hard to take, essentially, Americans under fire.

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  No, it is, especially if you`re at the other end of that. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  But he also said, I`ve never been under ballistic missile fire.

How big a difference are we talking about here in terms of rocket fire versus ballistic missiles?  What do you make of the tactical choice that Iran made tonight to use ballistic missiles? 

JACOBS:  Ballistic missiles, especially in their current configuration from Iran, far more accurate than rockets.  Rockets come over in large volume, large numbers.  They`re not all that accurate, but it`s very scary nonetheless.  You`re talking about 122 millimeter weapons that have huge explosive potential. 

But ballistic missile is something else altogether.  You`re talking about medium range ballistic missiles and Iran select that had so they could fire them from Iran and demonstrate that they were doing it directly and it`s not by proxy and that`s why they used those. 

MADDOW:  And there were claims in Iranian state media, according to Ali Arouzi tonight in Tehran, that Iranian jets, Iranian aircraft were over Iraqi air space implying a threat of potentially airborne munitions.  We haven`t seen anything like that.  It`s just these missiles. 

JACOBS:  No, and I don`t think you will see anything like that unless the United States responds in some fashion that will threaten Iran further, and then they will launch the rockets, other missiles and also aircraft. 

MADDOW:  When people talk about needing to take a step back, maybe this is a moment when this de-escalation actually could happen, maybe this would be -- maybe we`d have one tit for tat and it would stop here. 

Does that strike you as possible? 

JACOBS:  It might, and that`s a function of two things.  First of all, whether or not any Americans are killed.  Secondly, whether or not we`re using our route to the Iranians through the Pakistanis. 

Are we talking to the Pakistanis?  Because that`s our route to talk to them.  If we`re making an effort to do that, then this will end soon. 

MADDOW:  We channel our talks with the Iranian government through Pakistan? 

JACOBS:  Yes, through the Pakistanis.  So, if we`re talking to them seriously, if we`re working, as we should be doing right now, talking to them right now about de-escalating, that de-escalation will happen fairly quickly. 

MADDOW:  I have been critical over the course of this hour, last night`s show as well, about the Pentagon, secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being involved in this fiasco where the U.S. apparently accidentally offered to withdraw all troops from Iraq and then tried to take it back. 

JACOBS:  Yes, somebody will get fired over that.  I mean, somebody is going to get thrown under the bus. 

What concerns me more is the original sin of suggesting to the president that they kill Soleimani in the first place. 

MADDOW:  Putting this on the menu was one of the things --

JACOBS:  Why would you -- I don`t think -- I`m trying to think under what circumstances somebody who knew what he was doing at the top of the military food chain, would suggest to any president let alone this one who is impulsive and quixotic, that it would be a really good idea to kill a serving member of the military of a sovereign nation, whether it`s Iran or anybody else.  I have no idea what their objective was. 

You know, I guess it was Lewis Carroll.  Start at the end and work backwards.  If you don`t know where you`re going, any road will take you there. 

But just to suggest something like this and then to go ahead and execute it when it is selected is the height of stupidity. 

MADDOW:  Especially if they only put it on the menu, assuming that he wouldn`t pick it because it was too crazy.  We can no longer make those assumptions. 

JACOBS:  No, no. 

MADDOW:  Colonel Jack Jacobs, retired U.S. Army colonel, Medal of Honor recipient, MSNBC military analyst -- it`s my honor to talk to you. 

JACOBS:  Good to be with you. 

MADDOW:  That`s going to do it for us right now at least. 

MSNBC`s live coverage including this ongoing developing story of the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces at two bases in Iraq, that coverage continues now on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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