Guests: Paul Rieckhoff, Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington, Landon Donovan
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: All right. We‘re on.
That‘s “COUNTDOWN” for this, the 65th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
And now, to discuss the big win by the U.S. with the man who scored the winning goal—ladies and gentleman, I pass the ceremonial vuvuzela to Rachel Maddow.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Oh, thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We can‘t do that really, can we?
MADDOW: No. Someday, we‘ll get better technology. If you go with Mia Hamm, please, can I like drive or carry your bag or something? Or I could hold the vuvuzela for each of you?
OLBERMANN: OK. You‘re on.
MADDOW: Thank you. Yes!
All right. Thanks to you at home as well, for staying with us for the next hour.
We have got the incredible news about General McChrystal to get to tonight, of course.
Plus, we got some footage from the frontline fighting in Afghanistan -
footage that may very well change the way you feel about the McChrystal news.
There‘s the big news from the BP oil disaster today. It turns out we no longer got that containment dome thing anymore.
Plus, a Republican candidate for Congress says the BP oil disaster is a conspiracy by the government.
And in the midst of all that mess and incredulity, there‘s actually some good news, some straight up, unadulterated, awesome good news about the USA. We‘ve got an interview with the American goal-scoring superman, Landon Donovan, this hour.
It is all coming up.
But, first, this is the front page of tomorrow‘s edition of “Stars and Stripes” newspaper, which goes out to American military installations all over the world. As you can see there, it says “Booted: Obama Relieves McChrystal of Command, Petraeus to Take Over.” The lead of their front page story reads, quote, “General Stanley McChrystal‘s career could not survive another embarrassing public fight with his superiors, but America‘s fundamental strategic plan for conducting the war in Afghanistan may have.”
And summoning General McChrystal to Washington today, President Obama had a choice to make that was much more important and, frankly, much more difficult than whether or not to fire his top commander in Afghanistan.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 88 says, “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, the secretary of transportation, or the governor or legislature of any state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
I don‘t know where the secretary of transportation gets singled out there. Lucky him. But the contemptuous word standard in the Uniform Code of Military Justice made the decision about whether or not to remove General McChrystal from his post is not a foregone conclusion but it made easier of the two decisions that the president had to make today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘ve got no greater honor than serving as commander-in-chief of our men and women in uniform, and it is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out, that includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them.
The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Noah Shachtman writing at Danger Room today, summarized the direct impetus for the president removing General McChrystal today, in a post titled, “Why Obama Had to Fire McChrystal.”
He said this, quote, “In the end, it was Obama‘s only move. Keeping General Stanley McChrystal in place would have shattered of chain of command. No general could have taken Obama seriously after getting dissed so publicly by McChrystal‘s crew. No captain or sergeant could have been expected to shut up and salute when his superior officer gave an order. The guy at the top didn‘t respect his commander, why should he?
The culture of accountability so meticulously built up by Bob Gates during his tenure at the Pentagon—gone. The long tradition of civilian control of the military—wrecked.”
So, if there were two decisions the president had to make today, the first one: whether or not to remove General McChrystal from his position in Afghanistan—the first one was the more straightforward of the two. The more important and more complex decision was whether or not General McChrystal‘s firing also means that what the general stood for in terms of U.S. war strategy would also fundamentally be reconsidered.
The president made clear today that it would not. The general who personifies the strategy was fired. The strategy itself is retained.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me say to the American people: this is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy. We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban‘s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We‘re going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
That‘s a strategy that we agreed to last fall. That is the policy that we‘re carrying out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is a change in personnel, not a change in policy.
It is hard to believe that a war, a grand strategy involving the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and millions of civilians, a military doctrine should rise or fall with the fate of one man. The tales of military history and heroism so often do center on the fate and the decisions of just one man for a reason. Leaders and their behavior matter.
In this case, the behavior of General McChrystal captured by a reporter with unfettered access to him did not just show indiscipline or insubordination, they called into question the military doctrine that General McChrystal championed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. ARMY: The favorite saying of, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” We can‘t operate that way. We can‘t walk with only hammer in our hands.
This is something that takes a tremendous amount of understanding. What I‘m really telling people is: the greatest risk we can accept is to lose the support of the people here. If the people are against us, we cannot be successful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What is counterinsurgency, COIN as they call it, right? What is the strategy that General McChrystal is just describing there?
It‘s essentially the explosion of military objectives so that they
include all sorts of thing we don‘t usually considered to be military thing
things that you can‘t usually achieve through military means. It means, as General McChrystal says, that you can‘t kill your way out of a place like Afghanistan. You can‘t kill your way to victory. Instead, the goal is to secure population centers, set up Afghan governance, set up governance that itself keeps insurgents in check even after the military campaign is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are going to break the Taliban‘s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We‘re going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Building Afghan capacity, strengthening the capacity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to keep their own pressure on al Qaeda, standing up in a civil society and structures of governance as our war goals. Think about that for a second.
In the recent U.S. offensive in Marjah, which was seen as an important test case for this strategy, General McChrystal explained that the initial military operation was only to create enough calm, secure space to open up a, quote, “government in a box,” to set up a local government in Marjah that would replace and crowd out the insurgency there. That would be the measure of success.
So, you need not just infantrymen, you need city councilmen, you need magistrates, you need a court system, you need experts in agriculture and waste water treatment and education and economics—you need all of this stuff or the war can‘t be won. It‘s not like a war and development, they‘re altogether. You can‘t win the war without all those things working, too.
That‘s the basic idea of counterinsurgency. Not just people with guns but people with all sorts of things to offer. And if all you get right, if all of you do well is the guns part, you fail, you lose the war.
That is the big story of what came crashing down on General McChrystal when he agreed to talk openly with Michael Hastings from “Rolling Stone,” because if General McChrystal, if he is the guy responsible for that strategy and preaching that strategy that requires unity of effort between the military and all of these non-military people who are needed to win a war like this, you can‘t both be that guy and be the guy who‘s talking smack about all of the non-military people who even you say are essential to your mission. You can‘t be the guy who says that‘s necessary and the guy who talks all that smack.
Having that destructive and derisive an attitude not only towards civilian leadership in Washington but also towards every non-military resource and asset that you‘re supposed to be bringing to bear on your military objectives, means that you can talk all you want about the beauty and elegance of counterinsurgency theory, but you, sir, probably don‘t believe in it. General McChrystal says he believes in it, but he showed in his words and actions that he doesn‘t.
And so, the president had a decision to make. Now that the guy who was promoting and leading the counterinsurgency strategy has shown by his actions that even he doesn‘t believe in it, do you scrap the strategy altogether or do you replace General McChrystal with another true believer? President Obama chose the latter option. He chose to not change the policy but instead to just change the personnel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall.
And he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today in Afghanistan, military officials announced six more NATO soldiers were killed, including three Americans. That makes 76 international forces killed this month alone, among them 46 Americans killed.
The proponents of counterinsurgency, the COINdinistas, the people who really believe in this doctrine, warned us a year ago, longer, that this would be about the time we would see increased casualties. This is all expected, all part of the plan. It is one thing to ask us as a nation to endure these casualties as part of an overall plan. It is another thing to ask us to believe that the plan itself makes any sense.
Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, funder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He is a veteran of the Iraq war.
Paul, it‘s good to see you.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: My pleasure, Rachel. Good to be with you.
MADDOW: So, President Obama made clear today that this is a change in personnel, not policy. Would this have been the right time to reassess the overall counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan?
RIECKHOFF: I think we should be constantly reassessing our policy in Afghanistan. I think folks on the ground are constantly reassessing it. But I think, you know, there‘s also a larger message here. I don‘t know if the American public is really engaged here and I don‘t know if the White House has been fully engaged.
Now, look, McChrystal was out of lines and what he said definitely was out of bounds and he sends a poor message to the troops. But I think there‘s something to be drilled down in here. For the counterinsurgency doctrine to succeed, you need that full support of everybody in the civilian authority. You need that full support of every political resource. And there are a lot of folks who believe, who follow parts of what McChrystal said and feel like they‘re not getting those resources.
If you‘re a soldier on the ground in Afghanistan right now, you know you have the bullets, you know you have the bombs, but you don‘t always feel like you have all those bits and pieces alongside you to commit to that fight.
MADDOW: In terms of the relationship between the political debate here, Paul, and what‘s happening on the ground, I thought one of the things that Michael Hastings highlighted effectively in this “Rolling Stone” piece was soldiers complaining to General McChrystal about counterinsurgency.
Is there a lack of buy-in on this doctrine from frontline soldiers and from frontline soldiers who are coming home as new vets?
RIECKHOFF: I think there‘s a lack of buy-in nationwide. I don‘t think everybody is absolutely clear on what we‘re doing in Afghanistan. And I think that‘s in part because the president hasn‘t been focused on it. And I think we‘ve really got to drill down deep and hear part of what‘s coming out of the military.
McChrystal was a rock star. A lot of people in the field really support him 100 percent, feel like he has a sophisticated understanding of what‘s happening on the ground. He comes from the Special Operations community. All those pieces are critical.
But there are a lot of folks who feel like he wasn‘t getting the support he needed. And that maybe comes out in the wash over the next couple of weeks. Petraeus, everybody loves Petraeus. That‘s going over very well.
But the question is: what happens to the guys on the ground in the next couple of months when the casualties do increase and the fighting does get more complex?
MADDOW: What kind of support would McChrystal need in order to alleviate some of these doubts? What kind of focus would need to be demonstrated on this issue that would make a difference both to soldiers in the field and to the military brass that need to make decisions about how connected they are to political leadership?
RIECKHOFF: Well, I‘d ask you and I ask everybody watching right now:
how much are we talking about Afghanistan last week? How much were we talking about Afghanistan over the last month? I mean, folks have focused on BP, with good reason. People are focused on the economy.
But for the most part, I think a lot of folks on the ground feel like the country is not always paying attention. And if there is an upside that comes outs of all of this in the next couple of weeks and all the controversy that follows, I think we‘re going to be focused on Afghanistan, and that‘s something that‘s good for the folks on the ground, that‘s good for the country.
If we have a re-evaluation of the policy debate, that‘s a good thing. If it gets more attention, if only from the bully pulpit, and if only from the president, to commit to those folks on the ground when we really needed it, then that‘s going to be a positive outcome of all this controversy.
MADDOW: Let me ask you, though, Paul, in all honesty. And you and I have known each other a long time. Is it always a net benefit to have jerks like me and talking heads on television, partisan or not, talking about the war effort and talking about strategy, talking about tactics when we‘re this removed from it? I mean, I don‘t buy you have to listen to the generals on the ground and civilian leadership doesn‘t have a role. I‘m certainly not part of civilian leadership, but recognizing that I‘m part of the echo chamber and part of the political—I guess, political sphere in this country, sometimes, I worry about that we‘re just spinning our wheels and we‘re not actually helping when we do talk about it.
RIECKHOFF: There‘s a divide. There‘s clearly a divide. In the last couple of days, I‘ve been frustrated because a lot of people on television talking about counterinsurgency, talking about the Uniform Code of Military Justice, who have no idea what the heck they‘re talking about. And that is frustrating for somebody who comes from the military.
But there‘s also a frustration with the White House. They‘ve been missing some of the easy things, things like going to Arlington on Memorial Day. Things like—there‘s a director of Wounded Warrior Foreign Policy named Matt Flavin focused on the veteran groups and military groups, he‘s left and going over to the Department of Defense. Nobody has replaced him.
Michelle Obama has talked a lot about military families. But we don‘t see any points on the board. He‘s an anti-war Democrat who doesn‘t have a history of serving in the military. He‘s got to work harder to bridge that gap and he‘s got to work on it harder on all the time.
MADDOW: How do you get—how do you shed the label anti-war by doing
when you tripled the number of troops and leaders since you‘ve been president?
RIECKHOFF: Look, I‘m telling you about—there‘s always going to a rub with the military. When he comes in as someone who hasn‘t served on the ground, who is anti-war in his campaign stuff.
Now, he‘s changed that. I‘m not saying that you go can‘t support the troops and be anti-war. But he‘s got to work harder at it. This is an area of vulnerability for him. Command and control, understanding the military has always been an area of vulnerability for him and he has to work that much harder to get support of folks in the field.
MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, somebody who I have always enjoyed fighting with these things about—thanks a lot for your time. Good to see you.
RIECKHOFF: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, a long, long way from Washington, 90,000 American troops are in Afghanistan right now. Sebastian Younger and Tim Hetherington were with one platoon for a whole 15-month deployment is some of the worst fighting in the country. The footage they‘ve brought back is stunning. It‘s been made into an award-winning film called “Restrepo.” We‘ll be talking with them later on this hour.
And, we will also talk this hour with Landon Donovan, the soccer player who made Americans scream at their televisions this morning in a good way for once—a really, really good way.
Please do stay with us.
MADDOW: Our interview with Landon Donovan, America‘s sports hero today. Plus, the latest from the Gulf and Sebastian Junger—all coming up.
MADDOW: While the country awaited news this morning of the General Stanley McChrystal‘s fate as the top commander in Afghanistan, the headlines out of our other unbelievable national news story got unbelievably worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: The initial indications were that one of the vents, which is allowing the oil to vent so the cap will stay on, somehow might have been dislodged by coming in contact with an ROV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Coming into contact with an ROV, a remote operated vehicle.
Other than the containment cap, remember the cap that‘s been sitting on top of the leaking oil well since June 4th, siphoning off some of the gushing oil, other than that, what we have down there to get the oil out the water, what we have down there to try to contain it before it gets to the surface is that suction tube. Suction tube is like a straw collecting a small fraction of the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
We are now back at that incredibly lame point in the containment effort. That‘s it. That‘s all we‘ve got—because this morning at about 8:45 a.m. Eastern, one of the BP‘s remotely operated vehicles jostled the containment dome. No!
So, BP said they had to take the dome off, after it was jostled, thus bringing us back to the situation we were in before the dome.
You may recall that the first time we tried a containment dome, it didn‘t work because there were icy, slushy hydrates in it clogging it up. The robot jostling the new containment dome today apparently created that hydrates risk again. So, they took it off.
BP now says it‘s working to put the cap back on. If it‘s successful, that gets us back to the new normal, which is tens of thousands of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day.
Joining us now is NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders, live from Grand Isle, Louisiana. Yesterday, Kerry was out near the site of the oil leak.
Kerry, thanks very much for joining us.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Trying to get a handle on what happened with this containment cap, is that a relatively accurate description of what happened down in the Gulf this morning on the seabed?
SANDERS: Indeed. And what we don‘t have is the actual understanding of why the ROV, the remotely operated vehicle, hit that cap. And was it being operated from one of the vessels that‘s on the surface, or was it being operated from one of the locations where they have a command and control back in Houston?
The other question is: was it in part because the fatigue that is setting in? As you know, it‘s a highly qualified unique position, and they‘ve been working very long hours. Was it simply a matter of fatigue when the person was moving the ROV that they wound up bumping, or was it an unexpected current in the water? There‘s a lot of things.
But this is all part of that Corexit where they‘re spraying in that dispersant, and so, there‘s a lot of complications of what‘s going on down there.
But as you so appropriately point out, what it means is: if the estimate of 60,000 barrels every 24 hours is accurate, we‘re now at 50,000 barrels going directly into the Gulf, as opposed to what we had before this accident happened—a limited success I should point out where 10,000 was going up that straw to a ship on the surface called a Q4000. It goes into the back of the ship and they‘d combust it right there. They force air in and burn it. You see the black smoke.
We saw it yesterday. They‘re eliminating it at the source.
And then you had about maybe 27,000 other barrels that was making its way up to the Enterprise, and is being captured by the Enterprise, and the Enterprise fuel there, the petroleum they‘re catching, that‘s being captured and taken to the refineries.
So, now we‘re at 50,000 barrels flowing directly into the Gulf of Mexico.
SANDERS: It‘s an ugly situation because—you go ahead, Rachel.
MADDOW: I was just going to say, well, what‘s next in their effort to try to stem that? I mean, we‘ve heard from BP just tonight that they are trying to replace that cap. If that happens, we‘re just back to where we were. We still got tens of thousands of gallons flowing into the Gulf even if they‘re successful at resetting that cap, right?
SANDERS: Absolutely. And, you know, the cap is a little bit of good. It‘s not the solution. I mean, everybody has come to the conclusion that the only solution here is going to be those relief wells that are being drilled.
If there is any positive news—and I got to tell you, I‘m a little skeptical of a numbers game being played there—but if there‘s any good news, it is that those two relief wells are ahead of the schedule that was announced. One well is 40 percent ahead of the schedule, the other is 28 percent ahead of schedule.
But I suspiciously asked whether that schedule was already set back at a further date in mid-August just so that they could then announce that they‘re ahead of schedule. Just asking that as a curiosity, I did not get an answer when I‘ve asked it.
But, you know, there‘s a little bit of a—there‘s a little bit of anticipation here that those wells being drilled down are going to be get there by August. And if they don‘t, there will be a huge disappointment. One thing I did learn and I think this is really interesting, is that when they drill those wells, whichever one makes it there first, as that bit goes down and makes that turn, I‘ve wondered how are they going to actually hit it? I mean, it seems like it‘s a very difficult thing to do, so deep to get it dead on.
But inside the drill bit, they have a magnet, and the magnet is designed to seek the metal of the pipe. And so, they believe they‘re going to get it on the first or second time, Rachel.
MADDOW: NBC News correspondent, Kerry Sanders, live from Grand Isle, Louisiana—Kerry, thanks for helping us understand this. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: OK. I sort of can‘t believe we‘ve got this, but we‘ve got an exclusive interview with the most famous right leg in America coming up on tonight‘s show. Landon Donovan and his right leg—are still coming up.
MADDOW: So, the big headline from yesterday‘s primaries and runoff was Nikki Haley‘s win in the South Carolina Republican primary for governor. Nikki Haley may be the most prominent of yesterday‘s winners, but I put to you now that she‘s not the most interesting one.
I think this guy is. Bill Randall, a tea party-backed candidate who last night became the Republican nominee for North Carolina‘s 13th congressional district. Mr. Randall won the nomination decisively and he won it after he outbirthered the birther, out-tenthered the tenthers and outkooked the kook-enders, floating a conspiracy theory about the federal government deliberately causing the BP oil disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL RANDALL ®, NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE: Personally - now, this is purely speculative and not based on any fact. But personally, I feel there‘s a possibility that there was some sort of collusion.
I don‘t know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company proposing to violate the safety process and then the government signing off on it, excuse me. Maybe they wanted it to leak, but then it got beyond what was anticipated and we had an explosion and loss of life. And, oh, man, now we have panic. Is there a cover-up going on?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bill Randall, Republican nominee for Congress, believes there collusion between BP and the government to cause the disaster in the gulf. Collusion - now, there‘s a cover-up. You want panic? Imagine you‘re a Republican Party official and this guy‘s now your nominee and thus eligible for national news coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANDALL: Oh, man, now, we have panic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And finally, for the first and possible last time ever on this show, we have a tennis update for you. From the lawns of Wimbledon where play was suspended due to darkness in the match between America‘s John Isner and France‘s Nicolas Mahut.
The score at the point that they broke off was 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 59-59. You heard me. In the fifth set in what turned out to be the longest men‘s professional tennis match of all time, each player had won 59 games.
This war-and-peace length epic started yesterday when it was suspended for darkness and went on all day today until it got too dark. And they will pick up again tomorrow.
The match practically has its own time zone. If it were, competitors have been whacking away at each other for a mind-boggling 10 hours so far. Now, put that in perspective. You could watch the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and start rereading “The Hobbit” in less time.
And they weren‘t dogging it either. Isner hit 98 aces. Mahut hit 95 aces. If you ever wondered how much abuse the human rotator cuff could withstand, here‘s your insert. The fifth set alone was longer than the previous longest match in tennis history. That match was a breezy little six hours and 33 minutes.
Tomorrow, all one of them needs to do is win two straight games from the other and then retire or maybe get married. A perfect match doesn‘t come along every day. We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody‘s like, “Oh, you‘re going to Korengal,” and they feel sorry for you. And you feel like, “Oh, it can‘t be that bad.” You know, I show up there, and you‘re burning your own feces. You know, you‘re living in the tent.
We literally lived in a bunker about that high I couldn‘t even stand up in. You see bullet holes all rattled into Hescos(ph). And when you look up, it‘s like, I don‘t know why I have Hescos(ph) here because they‘re not going to stop the bullets that are coming down from the mountains. So I felt like I was, like, fish in a barrel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They‘re gathering intel right now basically on how to deal with us, because they haven‘t - there‘s no really research or intel on how to treat us right now. Because they haven‘t had to deal with people like us since, you know, World War II and Vietnam. Dealing with guys that are coming back from 15-month deployments with as much fighting, you know, as we went through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This week, a new film is being released that tracks one deployment by one U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan. It‘s called “Restrepo” after the isolated combat outpost built by the soldiers in the film.
It‘s not about the politics war. It doesn‘t even give you any context about the larger point of what those soldiers are doing there. It shows how they live and fight and die during their 15 months in the country.
That lack of political context, that lack of narrative explanation about how individual firefights fit into battlefields, fit into the war, actually helps rather than hinders, I think, our understanding of how and why Americans are still dying in this war, in the longest war we‘ve ever fought as a nation.
In year nine, the pace of combat is going up. The number of American troops is going up and the pace of NATO casualties is worse than it‘s ever been with 46 Americans killed already this month.
The film, “Restrepo,” shows Americans fighting in 2007 and 2008 in a place we now stopped fighting, the Korengal Valley. Before we pulled out from the Korengal Valley two months ago, at the time that second platoon battle company was there, this one six-mile structure valley was the site, they say, of one-fifth of all the combat happening in the entire country.
As our country today is shocked by the Gen. McChrystal firing, shocked back into paying attention to the war again, as Paul Rieckhoff was talking about at the top of this hour, trying to decide how much of Gen. McChrystal‘s fall is about Stanley McChrystal and how much is about the counterinsurgency strategy he personified.
I think we‘re fortunate to have this raw, combat film coming out this week to show us what that strategy means on the ground for the Americans not just debating this, who aren‘t just kicking it around on cable TV, but who are living it. Check out this one other clip we‘ve got here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Korengal outpost is at the 6-3 grid line, and then the 6-2 grid line - the insurgency has like drawn this imaginary line in the sand there. And every time the guys come out of the fire base straight until cross this 6-2 grid line, I mean, like, no, (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
Every time they cross the 6-2 grid line, they get in contact. Someone to extend the security bubble, because wherever I can place troops and wherever I can provide security is where I‘m going to be able to have any influence on the populace.
The hard part is that they‘re so deeply rooted down here because of family ties and because of religious ideals that getting these people to push out the insurgency and basically push out their family members is going to be the hard part. Right now, the road ends at the Korengal outpost, and where the road ends is where the Taliban begins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Filmmakers who lived with second platoon battle company at combat outpost, Restrepo, for most of 15 months, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we‘re talking about, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re taking it direct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need more (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to push them southeast (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big firefight. Right. (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Packing up rounds? That was fun, though. That was fun. You can‘t get a better high. It‘s like crack, you know. You skydive or bungee jump or kayak, but once you‘ve been shot at, you can‘t come down. There‘s nothing - you can‘t top that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to go back to the civilian world, then?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A scene from the new documentary, “Restrepo,” set in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. We‘re joined by the journalists who embedded with the second platoon at combat outpost “Restrepo” who shot that footage and directed the film, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. Gentlemen, thanks very much for your time. Congratulations on the film.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
MADDOW: I won‘t direct this to either one of you, but either one of you can jump in. Why document one long deployment by one small group of soldiers? Why not try to contextualize this valley and this fighting amid the overall war?
SEBASTIAN JUNGER, DIRECTOR, “RESTREPO”: So many great journalists have provided the context. The war is nine years old now. There have been many books, many movies that provided the big picture.
The one thing that hadn‘t been done was to document what it is like to be an American soldier in combat in Afghanistan. Not that policy decisions are based on that, but when these guys come home, we need to understand what their experience was. Not politically necessarily but on an experiential level.
MADDOW: You never see that the enemy that is shooting at these Americans in the film. You see an awful lot the gun-fighting. Is the enemy in this case shooting at Restrepo - are they definitely Taliban? Are they disgruntled locals? Are they tribal fighters? Did the soldiers know exactly who they were fighting with when they were fighting?
TIM HETHERINGTON, DIRECTOR, “RESTREPO”: The soldiers were trying to
kind of picture of who they are fighting. There are local Taliban in the valley. But there was a lot of foreign fighters. There are guys from Pakistan and Arabs. And Korengal really was a mixture of al-Qaeda and, you know, the Taliban forces.
MADDOW: I know that the Army has - the Army decided that the Korengal Valley would no longer maintain those - the U.S. Military would no longer maintain those outposts in the Korengal valley.
That‘s referenced at the very end of the film. Did that change the overall feeling about the soldiers who you worked with and lived alongside for so long about what they had done there for all those months?
JUNGER: That was a very painful thing for them, to watch the U.S. military pull out. They fought very hard there. They all lost friends there. They were - everyone we were with was almost killed there, so that was a very painful moment.
On the other hand, they‘re professional soldiers. They understand that strategic decisions are made. Basically, there were not enough men in the Korengal to be effective, and so they were placed elsewhere. I think they understood that.
MADDOW: That issue about not enough men - you guys may know that the
Army today reversed a decision to punish officers for command failures that
led to the death of nine soldiers in Wanat which happened while you were
there in the Korengal. It wasn‘t where you were filming but your soldiers
the soldiers that you were with are shown reacting to those nine deaths.
Were the men at Restrepo under-resourced? Were there enough people at that post to give them a fair shot at success?
HETHERINGTON: You know, when we first turned up in the valley of 2007, it was obvious to us that, you know, the war in Afghanistan was slipping out of the control, something we know now.
There was a company there, but extra soldiers were intended to arrive in order to protect the Peshawar Valley and those soldiers never came. So you know, if there had been more soldiers in the Korengal, I‘m sure security would have been better.
MADDOW: This is, of course, as you mentioned, not a film about politics. But it is sort of necessarily becomes a film about military strategy because we see the strategy in action.
Did the soldiers in battle company, the soldiers you were with, buy into or have opinions that they expressed about the overall strategy of what they were doing there, why they were there? I mean, because they‘re not just staying alive. They‘re going on offense. They‘re going out on this incredibly dangerous patrols and offensives. Did they talk about overall strategy?
JUNGER: They didn‘t for Afghanistan. What they discussed was the things - the things that were relevant to them that might get them killed. So they talked about strategy in the valley itself. They discussed it endlessly because their lives were affected by it.
They were very, very clear about trying to avoid civilian
casualties, for example, other than the obvious moral issues. If they
killed civilians, the civilians would side with the Taliban and more of
them would get killed. They understood that relationship. And there were
several times I saw them take very dramatic action to try to avoid civilian casualties.
MADDOW: Sebastian, let me follow-up with you on that. You have said that you don‘t think society understands war very well. Obviously, you have a book out now called “War” that‘s based on your time with these soldiers as well.
You said, “If society is going to solve the human problem of war, they have to figure out what it is about combat that attracts young men so much that they‘re willing to risk their lives to go back out there to get it.”
After spending all of those months with second platoon out in the Korengal Valley, do you feel like you‘re any closer to figuring that out?
JUNGER: You know, I think I am. We were at a very remote outpost on this hilltop that we were getting attacked three or four times a day sometimes. The guys - you know, when they come back, they often - they want to back - when they come back to society, how can they want to return to that hilltop into combat?
Society thinks - often, people think that it‘s a question of adrenaline - an adrenaline addiction. I think what they‘re really addicted to essentially is brotherhood, an otherwise very healthy impulse that is taking place in a very unhealthy place.
And I think if society understands that, they won‘t - it won‘t be pathologized(ph) so much and be understood on its own terms. And maybe society can provide that sense of inclusion and brotherhood here rather than in combat.
MADDOW: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, directors of the film, “Restrepo,” which won the grand jury prize for documentary at Sundance. The film comes out on Friday.
Sebastian Junger‘s book about his time with second platoon - the book is called “War” - is out now. And Tim Hetherington‘s book about the experience, which is called “Infidel,” is due out in October. Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time and congratulations again on this achievement.
JUNGER: Hey, thank you.
HETHERINGTON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” the most famous woman soccer player in American history, Mia Hamm, joins Keith. Coming up on this show, Landon Donovan, the guy who scored the goal today joins us from South Africa. The huge smile we all kind of needed today, coming up.
MADDOW: Except for the folks who write reports from the gulf at “BP.com,” there is consensus in the country that the news lately and particularly today has been mostly a big, fat downer.
The story of Gen. Stanley McChrystal‘s ouster is not happy news from any perspective. The BP oil disaster somehow got worse today. Did you hear that new home sales were down 33 percent today, their worst level ever?
To paraphrase the American classic, “Airplane,” looks like I picked the wrong day to quit eating insanely greasy and starchy ethnic food from street carts on 6th Avenue.
There was, however, one amazing, unifying, inspiring, awesome happy story in the news today. Not so much a green chute, as a red, white and blue chute. The USA soccer team, our guys, needed to beat Algeria to avoid elimination from the biggest sporting event on earth after coming tantalizing close to scoring several times including yet another apparent goal disallowed by the referees.
The USA found ourselves in a scoreless tie as time wound down. If they didn‘t score, they would head home defeated. And then, in the 91st minute of action, it happened. Except for people whose hearts are made of stone, everyone in America was instantly and totally psyched all at the same time all about the same thing.
Awesome. U.S. freaking A - A as in awesome. All thanks to the miracle last-second goal by Landon Donovan. My friend, Kent Jones, is a huge soccer dork as you may know. So Kent, did anything cool happen to you today?
KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rachel, I talked to this guy named Landon Donovan. He is famous.
MADDOW: Yes, I heard. Yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): Joining me now on the phone is Landon Donovan, the hero of today‘s U.S.-Algeria match who scored the winning goal. Mr. Donovan, thank you so much for joining me.
LANDON DONOVAN, U.S. SOCCER TEAM (through telephone): My pleasure.
Thanks for having me.
JONES: My first question is how heavy were your teammates when they dived on you after the goal?
DONOVAN: It was pretty intense. I think the moment I hit the ground, I kind of regretted it because I knew they would all be coming in running. There was a good 30 seconds where I felt it was two minutes so I was hoping that they would get off me, but it was all worth it.
JONES: You will feel that tomorrow.
JONES: Can you describe the emotions, as - you know, it was such an intense game and you kept having opportunity after opportunity. What was it feeling like in the second half?
DONOVAN: Yes. We played this game a long time and unfortunately, the better team doesn‘t always win especially in soccer. So sometimes you have games like that where you hit the post. You create a bunch of chances. A goalie has a great game and things don‘t go your way.
So it can be disappointing and frustrating. And I think the word I would use is “tense.” And just until the very last minute, there was just a sense of tension and anxiety that was finally relieved, thankfully.
JONES: Yes, I experienced all that tension and anxiety myself watching it. And then you scored and the entire country freaked out, including me. My neighbors hate me now. How did that feel to finally score?
DONOVAN: Well, obviously, when you are in the moment, you don‘t - you can‘t really appreciate, you know, the ramifications of it. But for us, we worked so hard and we put so much into, not only these three games, but for a long time with qualifying and getting here.
To have that all finally become worthwhile is really gratifying and it is obviously the most special night in my career.
JONES: Sure. Now, apparently the U.S. is playing Ghana in the next match.
JONES: How do you avoid a letdown after such a big win?
DONOVAN: I don‘t think there will be any letdown. I think we are all very excited. This is what we have - this was the expectation for a long time was to get out of our group. And then we always knew at that point that we can compete with anybody in the world.
So I think all in all, Ghana is a good team but we are excited a chance of playing them - for a chance in the quarterfinals.
JONES: When you were a kid, did you ever have that moment where you pretended that you were scoring a goal in the World Cup?
DONOVAN: Funny you‘d say that, because I talked to my dad after the game and we were talking about that. I used to sit, actually, in my driveway with all different stuff. I remember playing basketball and thinking, you know, Kobe Bryant gets it, three seconds left, he finally shoots. And you dream about those moments in all sports as an athlete. And then to have it happen to you is really cool.
JONES: Well, it was such an exciting moment and there‘s so much going badly in the world right now. How aware are you that this is one of the few really happy moments that the country can share?
DONOVAN: Well, you know, without getting too deep, I - in the past, I just thought this is a game that we play. And at the end of the day, maybe it is. But the reality is, there are people who want to be inspired and people want a break from their everyday life so that they can just enjoy something and be proud to be an American.
And hopefully, we gave that to them today. I know a lot of people skipped work so some bosses might not be happy. But I think that, for the most part, our country is very proud of us and that makes me feel good.
JONES: Well, we are all proud of you here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Thank you so much, Landon Donovan, joining us and good luck in the next round.
DONOVAN: My pleasure, Kent. Thanks a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, so awesome.
MADDOW: Can I just read you a quote?
MADDOW: Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, “The sports page records people‘s accomplishments. The front page usually records nothing but man‘s failures.” Today, we needed the sports page. Thank you, Kent. You‘re so awesome.
JONES: Thank you.
MADDOW: Really appreciate it. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Meanwhile, there is lots to add to what you see on the show. We are proud of our excellent blog at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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