THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
April 25, 2013
Guests: Amy Smithson, Tommy Vietor, Steve Clemons, Wayne Slater
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris.
Everybody within the sound of both of our voices, I just want to say,
if you missed what Chris just said about the chemical plants and the
regulation and how that all went haywire during the Bush administration,
stay up and wrap the rerun. That was outstanding.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Totally riveting. Amazing. It`s amazing. Thank you. Great
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
There is a lot going on in the news tonight.
There is a lot going on in the news tonight, even if you`re only
talking about the news tonight from Texas. There is a lot to get to.
But we`re going to start tonight right here, in San Diego, California,
in the fancy Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood in San Diego, California -- where
in March, 1997, the local sheriff`s office got a tip that something was
very wrong inside one specific mansion in Rancho Santa Fe. Inside that
mansion, they found 39 cult members dressed identically, all tucked away
neatly in beds, all dead. It`s a mass suicide.
Their cult was called the Heaven`s Gate. And as best as anybody could
figure, the Heaven`s Gate cult members killed themselves because they
thought doing so would somehow convey them to an alien spacecraft they
wanted to be on, that they believed was trailing behind a particular comet,
absolutely bizarre and tragic, 39 people killed in that cult mass suicide.
The people who indeed that Rancho Santa Fe mansion were all members of
the cult. At least this cult in its mass suicide did not try to take
anybody else out with them.
That was not the case in Jonestown. Jonestown was a cult that was
founded in the Midwest. It grew hugely in the San Francisco Bay Area. And
then it eventually moved to South America in 1976.
The Jonestown cult is, of course, remembered for its mass suicide in
Guyana two years later, in 1978, 900 people dead. But not every Jonestown
cult member who died made a decision to die. It was not all suicide,
including the cold-blooded murder of a U.S. congressman and NBC News
reporter and NBC News cameraman and photographer for the "San Francisco
Examiner" and member of the group trying to defect back to the U.S., those
people were all shot to death on the airstrip in Guyana, while they were
trying to leave to get the story out.
Five people killed, nine other people shot and injured including now
Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.
Even the cults we think of as suicide cults do not always want to kill
themselves. They often want to take somebody else with them when they go.
In 1995, it was the apocalyptic pseudo-Christian death cult Aum Shinri Kyo
that turn out to be not just foretelling the end of the world, they were
also kind of working on the end of the world themselves. They`ve worked on
things like trying to develop a massed spraying system for the botulinum
toxin, so they could spray it over large numbers of people maybe from
moving vehicles. They had worked with cholera. They had worked with
When their compound was eventually raided in Japan, it turned out they
had managed to get themselves not only explosives, not only those toxins,
but also things like, oh, yes, a Russian MI-17 military helicopter.
So, who knows what their larger plans were. But what they did do was
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Through the night, anti-chemical warfare troops searched
Tokyo subway stations for more nerve gas containers but found none.
Searched for clues who would have done this, terrorized the subway system
that carries 7.5 million people a day, twice that of New York.
Seven people are dead including a worker who tried to remove a
suspicious container and died instantly, more than a dozen critically
injured, over 3,400 treated, some choking for air. Some were blinded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It got dark all around and I couldn`t see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw something on the train wrapped in plastic.
REPORTER: Investigators found six container wrapped in plastic and
doctors said the poison was sarin, a nerve agent that cripples the nervous
system. A drop can kill almost instantly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In the end, that sarin attack the Japanese death
cult/terrorist group released on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. In the
end, that sarin attack killed 13 people. It sent thousands of people to
Law enforcement then realized at the time that same group had also
been responsible for a previously unsolved gas attack on another Japanese
site a year earlier, about three hours west of Tokyo. That one killed
fewer people but it was the same basic idea. The sarin they used in both
instance instances was homemade. The second batch stronger than the first
Authorities say it was only because the group had not rigged better
means of dispersing the poison that they were not able to kill hundreds
Sarin was invented by German scientist in the late 1930s. They were
trying to build a stronger pesticide at the time and they came up with this
For anybody waiting for me to mispronounce something spectacularly in
this show, I can tell you that it`s proper name is isopropyl
methlphosphodfluoridate. I`m sure that`s not how you say it.
Sarin is a chemical that does not occur naturally in the world. You
have to make it in a lab. It`s considered one of the most toxic substances
on earth. It`s 500 times more deadly than cyanide.
The deadliness of this drug was not lost on the scientist who
developed it. They promptly turned it over to the German military who
promptly turned it into a weapon for use in World War II, although the
Nazis did not end up using it in combat.
Sarin works essentially by jamming the nervous system. It causes the
synopsis to fire the same message over and over again and that has lots of
effects on the body, none of them good. One of the things it does is
pretty quickly, it paralyzes the muscles that make breathing possible.
Exposure to enough sarin, and it does not take much, can lead to fatal
suffocation within minutes. Sarin, again, which does not occur in nature,
which has to be made by man, it makes a terrifying weapon.
Human skin absorbs sarin, so it can kill on contact. In liquid form
it is clear and odorless. It mixes well with water, which, of course,
makes it a potent poison that can be added to food or water or anything
else. It, of course, can also be used in chemical warheads. There would
be a cluster munition.
Sarin is not, however, the most stable compound in the world. The
process of putting it on a missile or rocket or cluster munitions can mean
relatively complicated weapon design. Lots of countries have sarin or have
had it at some point. The United States and Russia both used to mass
produce sarin during the Cold War. In the war between Iran and Iraq that
raged through the 1980s.
Saddam Hussein used sarin in combat against the Iranians. He famously
used sarin and mustard gas both -- the same mustard gas in World War I --
Saddam used sarin and mustard gas in 1988 against his own Iraqi people. He
bombed the civilian Iraqi-Kurdish population in the northern Iraqi city of
Halabja. He bombed them with sarin and mustard gas. The death toll from
that attack was estimated in the thousands.
Sarin is technically illegal now. An International Chemical Weapons
Convention banned it in 1983. But not every country in the world signed on
to that convention. Angola, North Korea, Egypt, the new country of South
Sudan, Somalia and Syria have not touched the chemical weapons convention
that banned sarin.
And that last country there, Syria, is thought to have the largest
stocks of sarin in the whole world.
Syria reportedly started making chemical weapons in earnest in the
1970s. They really stepped it up during the 1980s. That was a strategic
decision made by the Assad government. For whatever reason now, the Assad
government has huge stockpiles of chemical weapons.
In the bloody civil war that that has been raging for two years in
Syria, there are frequent allegations the Syrian government is using its
chemical weapons against the rebels, against its own civilians. The Syrian
government itself has even alleged that chemical weapons were used by the
rebels, not by the government, but by the other side.
But either way, it should be noted the use of chemical weapons is much
easier to allege than it is to prove. I mean that in the technical sense.
It is hard to prove if chemical weapons have been used, especially for
trying to prove it from a distance.
This is not the same kind of situation it was in Iraq where the debate
is about whether or not this particular guy has chemical weapons. In
Syria, it`s clear that they do. We know they have stockpiles of chemical
weapons. The question is whether or not they have been used.
It`s not that easy to tell, especially far away. Tear gas and other
riot gases that are not counted as chemical weapons technically, the use of
those can cause some of the same superficial effects chemicals especially
if they`re used in really concentrated doses.
Chemical contamination on the battlefield or besieged areas where
traditional weapons were being used, it can be hard to distinguish from the
effects of chemical weapons.
The way you really tell if you want to be sure chemical weapons have
been used or not is by taking physical samples.
Positions for Human Rights, the American human rights group, was one
of the first groups in the world to prove that Saddam really had used sarin
and mustard gas against the Iraqi Kurds at Halabja. They were not able to
conclusively prove it, though, until four years after the attack, four
years after the fact when they were finally able to collect soil samples
that showed trace evidence of the elements that sarin breaks down to over
Well, today, I say all that because today, knowing that much about
sarin, knowing how sarin is used, knowing how you can tell if it has been
used, knowing that much about sarin today suddenly became really important
for all of us -- for understanding what it means for us a country our
defense secretary today said this very carefully worded thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The U.S. intelligence community
assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has
used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical
agent sarin. As I have said, the intelligence community has been assessing
information for some time on this issue. The decision to reach this
conclusion was made within the past 24 hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Some degree of varying confidence. What does that mean?
If we`re saying this country, Syria, has used chemical weapons in this
war, our president, President Obama has said that would be a red line.
That would be a game changer in terms offing the going about the United
States potentially getting involved somehow in that war over there we have
thus far stayed out of.
So, when you say it has been assessed with some degree of varying
confidence that they`ve crossed that red line, well, what the heck does
that mean? Does that mean some U.S. intelligence agencies think that sarin
got used and some don`t? How do we know? What are we basing this on?
I mean, forgive me for splitting the hairs, but if the split in this
hair is the difference between America going to war again and us not going
to war again, then this hair needs splitting.
The letter the White House sent to Congress today does add this
important detail. Quote, "The assessment is based in part on physiological
samples." Physiological samples. OK, well, that would imply they have
physically tested something to come to this conclusion. They`re not
relying on diagnosing it from afar just by sight or by allegations, right?
They tested something.
There was a follow-up call with reporters today to explain what this
all means. But the White House would not elaborate at all what these
physiological samples showed or how definitive their results were. There`s
been some other reporting today that maybe it was blood samples with people
who were gassed by sarin, blood samples smuggled out of Syria and tested by
U.S. analysts. That was reported at "The Danger Room" blog at "Wired"
There`s also been other reporting this week from the "New York Times",
quoting Syrian rebels saying Americans, the CIA specifically, were asking
the Syrian rebels to go collect samples. But that`s the reporting. We
U.S. officials are not explaining it yet. So, we have the mainly (ph)
qualified assertion but really don`t have any proof. If there were proof,
President Obama has said repeatedly that would cross a red line in terms of
the possibility of U.S. intervention. Another war in this Middle East
right next door to Iraq.
With war and peace on the line, with potentially American war and
peace on the line, the official word from the White House today about this
sarin issue is that they want U.S. inspectors to be allowed access to the
sites where people say chemical weapons were used and want U.N. inspectors
to be able to test properly, to test the soil, to test the victims to
determine conclusively whether it really did happen and it`s not just the
same old allegations we`ve been hearing for month from people who want us
to go to war in Syria.
The line from the White House is let the U.N. inspectors in to
determine the truth. Is it starting to sound familiar to you?
Here at home today, a senator named John McCain reacted to this news,
by saying that to him, it`s obvious this is already a slam-dunk case, that
WMDs were used. So, let`s start arming the rebels. Let`s start shooting
down Syrian planes right now. He said today, the intel is good enough for
I assure you that we are not just reenacting an old script for old
time`s sake to celebrate the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential
Library today. I assure you that this is new news breaking today.
Joining us now is Amy Smithson. She`s a senior fellow at the James
Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. She`s chair of the global
affairs council, a nuclear and biological and chemical weapons of the
When newsbreaks like this today, the person you want to ask about it
is the person who wrote "Germ Gambits," the bio weapons dilemma, Iraq and
beyond. That would be Dr. Smithson.
Dr. Smithson, thank you so much for being here.
AMY SMITHSON, CNETER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: It`s a pleasure to
be with you this evening.
MADDOW: So, first of all, I am no expert in this field and you are.
Would you tell me if I screwed up anything materially in that explanation
SMITHSON: No catastrophic mistakes. I can pick a few nits but let`s
MADDOW: OK, thank you. Fair not.
Deploying a chemical, using a chemical weapon against a civilian
population, against an opposing Army, that`s a really specific thing. It
is in fact a specific crime. But lots of other things can look like that
from afar without actually being that.
How do you tell if the use of chemical weapons has actually happened?
SMITHSON: Well, this is one of the things this team hopefully will be
able to do. -- the investigators for the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
And they have a series technical steps that they will go through. Among
them are taking a variety of different types of samples. One of the
telltale marks is if a munition was actually used to deliver a chemical
So they`d be looking for fragments of munitions. They`ll be testing
vegetation. They`ll be looking for biomedical samples from humans, or from
animals, food and water sampled, clothing and also just general
environmental samples from the soil.
MADDOW: None of that is going to happen until the U.N. inspectors can
get in and do that. There`s sort of woolly reporting that there may be
efforts to get samples out of Syria, two outside analysts that may have
been the source of this assessment from the U.S. intelligence community, we
don`t know for sure.
In that case, where you can`t necessarily identify the providence of
some of these samples, we can`t say for sure where they came from or when
they came from, is it possible they can seem to indicate something that
might be disproven had we understand their providence better?
SMITHSON: Well, if you`re using samples indeed genuine, then you`re
probably running them through very specific equipment like gas
chromatograph mass spectrometer, which would be analyzing soil or water
samples, and there are very particular chemical signatures for all the
chemicals that are out there and also their degradation by-products, how
they were able to identify sarin being used in Halabja four years after the
But in this case, the problem, which is cited in the letter to Senator
Levin is chain of custody. Now, that`s something that your viewers will be
familiar with from all the law enforcement shows like "CSI" and the like.
his is a procedure, a use of procedures law enforcement used to make
sure that a jury has confidence that the evidence that was collected has
been properly collected, sealed so that it can`t be tampered with, and
every single step from the crime scene to the laboratory, somebody is
certifying the possession of that to be in law enforcement hands. So you
can`t be accused of spiking the sample, so to speak.
MADDOW: I see.
SMITHSON: In this case, it`s possible maybe they could train some of
the Syrian opposition to take these samples and put video cameras in their
hands so that they can document this process to the satisfaction of the
international community, if the Syrian government continues to balk at
letting the inspectors in.
MADDOW: Why are chemical weapons and biological weapons as well, but
chemical weapons in this case, treated so differently from different
weapons in terms of international law, in terms of the kind of
international red line President Obama has rhetorically drawn in this case?
Why is there such a hard distinction made between types of weapons?
SMITHSON: Well, chemical weapons are the lowest on the ladder of
weapons of mass destruction. They were used widely during World War I.
They are generally considered a battlefield weapon that can tactically the
course of a battle.
But weapons like biological weapons and nuclear, those are considered
strategic and can change the course of the war.
In this case, the civilians and any opposition fighters or troops in
this area of combat that are not equipped with protective gear are
particularly vulnerable. That`s one of the reasons why the military
generally does not like to use these types of weapons.
MADDOW: Dr. Amy Smithson, senior fellow at the James Martin Center
for Nonproliferation Studies -- it`s very helpful to have you and your
expertise here on the show with us tonight. Thank you very much.
SMITHSON: Pleasure to be with you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots more ahead, including the very
first ever mention on this show of the poop cruise. And I promise that we
are not bringing up the poop cruise in a chemical weapons context. It`s a
whole different thing.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Coming up, the gala opening celebration of the George W. Bush
Presidential Library. Who feels like celebrating? Come on. Who? Come
Come on, you guys. Come on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A president bears no
greater decision, and no more solemn burden that serving as commander in
chief of the greatest military that the world has ever known. As President
Bush himself has said, America must and will keep its word to the men and
women who have given us so much. Even as we Americans may at times
disagree on matters of foreign policy, we share a profound respect and
reverence for the men and women of our military and their families, and we
are united in our determination to comfort the families of the fallen and
to care for those who wear the uniform of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking today at the dedication of
the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas.
President Obama spoke at the Bush Library at around 10:40 a.m. Central
Time this morning. Just about 25 minutes before he spoke, this was the
news that crossed the wires. U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel says U.S.
intelligence confirms to some degree of varying confidence that Syria has
used chemical weapons on a small scale. Sometimes the gods of national
karma are not subtle.
President Obama gets handed fuzzy intelligence about a Middle Eastern
dictator suppose WMDs while he`s dedicating the President George W. Bush
Presidential Library? If this were fiction, this turn in the plot would be
rejected as ham-handed and way too obvious.
But the official letter to Congress on this issue makes it clear that
nothing looms larger on a news day like today than the disastrous
presidential mistakes of the guy who got his new library today. Quote,
"Given the stakes involved and what we have learned from our own recent
experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient."
In "The Washington Post" reporting this news today, same idea, "A
senior U.S. defense official said the Pentagon did not want to repeat the
mistakes of the Iraq war." Quote, "We have seen very bad movies before
when intelligence is perceived to have driven policy decisions that in the
cold light of day have been proven wrong.
You can seen see it in the reporting on this claim today, not just the
commentary but the reporting, "The New York Times" taking care to not pull
another Judith Miller this time. The "New York Times" taking these claims
to outside experts today who told them for their main article about this
news today it`s not a smoking gun. The evidence that has emerged so far is
suggestive of chemical attacks but not conclusive.
Not conclusive. Imagine needing something to be conclusive before
starting a war about it.
How much does the Bush administration`s experience with intelligence a
decade ago color what`s happening right now? Color the way that this
administration is dealing with this intelligence right now?
Let`s ask somebody who knows. Tommy Vietor served as National
Security Council spokesman in the Obama administration. Before that, he
served as assistant press secretary under Robert Gibbs.
Tommy, I`ve talked to you many times and never had you on the show
before. Thank you so much for being here.
TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER NSC SPOKESMAN: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So you have been close to the national security decision
making process in this administration. How much does getting it wrong in
Iraq, blaming the bad intelligence about Iraq, how much does that loom from
the previous administration over the decisions of the current one?
VIETOR: I think it`s something that looms in every single meeting
about intelligence or matters of war and peace. I think that letter makes
clear the president doesn`t want to go to war over a piece of intelligence
by definition isn`t black and white, but always shades of gray.
You know, I worked a lot with the intelligence community and saw a lot
of intelligence. You almost never get a piece of intelligence that says x
is true. It`s we assess with medium confidence that the following could be
true or low confidence or high confidence.
But these are analytical judgments made by human beings and so, they
can be wrong. They sometimes are. That`s not to take anything away from
our intelligence community. What they do is extraordinary, you know, the
things you get to see when you`re in those positions would make your jaw
But it`s important to keep in mind. It`s also important to remember
that we had 150,000 troops in Iraq, they couldn`t prevent a sectarian war.
And a lot of people think that Syria has become a sectarian war.
MADDOW: Tommy, after this news came out today, the kind of reticence
you are describing and I think we are observing in the administration to
not jump to conclusions on this, we saw the opposite from a number of
members of Congress, mostly Republicans, but a few Democrats, that are now
using this to pressure the White House really to say, all right, let`s
intervene in Syria now.
Does the administration -- is the administration likely to have
anticipated that? Do they feel like they have political mechanisms in
place to resist that kind of pressure?
VIETOR: Yes, I think there`s nothing new to hearing comments what
Senator McCain said. I think what`s important is in-depth reporting like
you did tonight, which is to talk about what these options really mean.
And so, when we talk about a no-fly zone we should tell the American people
the Syrians have the fourth best air defense system in the entire planet.
And that means we have to hit targets not just on borders, but in
population centers, civilians will be killed. It`s very likely that U.S.
service members could be killed or wounded in the process of taking out
those air defense systems.
Similarly with the humanitarian corridor, that`s euphemism. Let`s
call it what it is. It`s invasion of part of Syria. It`s more likely that
you`d have to do it in the north near Turkey because geographically that
makes sense, but the population isn`t necessarily in the north. There`s
lots of people in Damascus that are innocent that are being killed.
So, it`s not just that there aren`t great options available to the
president. There really are no good options. There`s also the question of
the legal basis, which is something you almost never hear discussed.
MADDOW: And that in this case, I mean, we have seen the president,
White House already coming out saying what they want in terms of a response
to these assessments so carefully couched but released today is the U.N. to
be involved in trying to substantiate what we are saying now with no degree
of confidence whatsoever.
Do you expect that a sort of multi-lateral approach trying to look for
leadership from the U.N. or for some other sort of multi-lateral alliance
would be the next step if the president decides he`s got to move?
VIETOR: I mean, they`ll make a decision based on the evidence and
then they will tee up a series of policy options for the president. I`m
sure, you know, people are meeting right now trying to do that. We had a
very similar sort of chemical weapons scare when I was still in the White
House. And what happens is the most senior people in administration and
national security get together. The I.C. presents them the evidence and
they make decisions and offer the president options.
And so, the easiest option, which is still very difficult is going to
the U.N. and getting international support or maybe a U.N. Security Council
Now, the problem is that the Russians and the Chinese have been
shameful in their blocking of any meaningful action at the U.N. Security
Council, and as the Russians have continued to sell them arms, not even to
mention the Iranians which have pumped in material support, weapons,
fighters, you know, they have gone all in to continue propping up the Assad
So, there are all these factors internationally making things more
difficult. But let`s be clear. This is a global problem. We all need to
put as much pressure as we can on Russia and China to take meaningful
MADDOW: Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman in
the Obama administration -- Tommy, thank you very much for helping us
through with this. I appreciate it.
VIETOR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Now, I want to bring in Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the
New America Foundation. He`s also Washington editor at large for "The
Atlantic" magazine, and he`s my friend, full disclosure.
Steve, thank you for being here.
STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: Rachel, great to be with you.
MADDOW: Thinking about the crucial parts of the administration
outside the White House in a moment like this, Steve, we heard this first
today from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, quickly thereafter from Secretary
of State John Kerry. Do the Defense Department and State Department
operate with the same kind of framing in mind about not jumping to
conclusions when it comes to intelligence that Tommy was just describing at
the White House? Do they think about these things differently than the
White House does?
CLEMONS: Well, I think they have different missions. And I think by
nature, it`s a good thing not every element of the national security breaks
is on the same vector. John Kerry has been worried how to organize the
diplomatic echo system around Syria, working with Lavrov in Russia and
others to try to pull the Russians into some more compliant mood.
He`s, I think, very concerned that you could see a disintegration
inside the Syrian state that was a lot like Iraq when you had the severe
Baathification and disillusion of the army there and you had utter chaos
So, Kerry has been worried about that and trying to put those pieces.
Chemical weapons kind of moved Syria from being a humanitarian issue into
the realist camp, because as you just pointed out, chemical weapons are
clearly on everyone`s concern of U.S. national interests. So, what do you?
And I think in that case, the Pentagon focused on those elements have
to begin and have been for some time laying out scenarios how they might
respond and either using allies and partners or various interventions
inside Syria, what they would do to secure those chemical weapons, and keep
them from falling in other hands.
The White House, as Tommy Vietor just said, really plays the role of
systems integrator and the brain of the system. But it`s not unusual for I
think State and DOD to be in different tracks, I think we`re lucky that
MADDOW: Steve, one of the things that I have been surmising about
Washington from afar, while this whole thing has been going on, we`ve seen
a lot of allegations about chemical weapons before today. And, obviously,
this is a big thing to have the intelligence community saying in this
melliemouth way, yes, sort of we`re on board with this as well.
When we were previously getting leaks less substantiated, I felt like
the one thing that prove -- didn`t prove anything about chemical weapons,
but it proved that there were people inside the administration who were
trying to force the president into going to war in Syria. Are there
enclaves inside this administration that are pushing for it?
CLEMONS: You hit something a taboo subject hard to discuss, because
you asked, what are the motives that certain players in this discussion
have had? They want to see an intervention and thus they want to organize
evidence to try to trigger the behavior from the U.S. government they want
to see, an intervention with what they see as the FSA and they often
present it as a more organized and synthesized and warm and friendly
operation than it really is. And I think that`s critical.
And so, when I talk to both people in the Pentagon today and in the
White House, the chain of custody issues are critical, because you could
have any number of scenarios. I`m not saying these scenarios are the ones
that I believe. Let`s take Lindsey Graham`s favorite movie reported,
"Seven Days in May" made many years ago. And we said we`ve got to be wear
military demagoguery. And in that movie, you had parts of the military
operating against the White House.
What if you had something similar inside Syria?
CLEMONS: What if you had rogue elements operating in Syria? And what
if you had people like Senator McCain or others looking for triggers to
trigger what they want, which is an all in involvement of the U.S.
So, I think we need to be very, very careful. And even the foreign
governments that have come out, France, England, Israel, others, none of
them with the exception of one general in Israel, not even the Israeli
government in full, have made the robust -- fully robust comment about the
So, our media has already jumped on and kind of decided this is a done
deal, but it is not even a done deal for the government that have said,
probably there is something going on but they don`t know how, why, or who
is in control?
MADDOW: And neither Israel nor England nor France have produced
physical evidence that this happened whatsoever, physical evidence is the
only way to prove it. We have assertions that there is some physical
evidence, but no detail about that at all.
And I am reserving judgment with a capital R or capital J with
exclamation point here.
CLEMONS: That`s the right the move.
MADDOW: Steve Clemons, senior fellow at New America Foundation,
Washington editor at large for "The Atlantic" -- Steve, thank you so much.
CLEMONS: Thanks, Rachel.
All right. I really never thought that I would mention on this show
the cruise ship with the power outage and broken toilets a couple months
ago, but the poop cruise has new news value today, thanks to another big
story in today`s news.
The poop cruise is suddenly important, kind of. That`s coming up.
MADDOW: So, did you get invited to Texas today for the George W. Bush
administration reunion? The big George W. Bush Presidential Library VIP
dedication gala thing? Did you get invited? No. Sad.
MADDOW: This is not CNN, so I have never talked about this on TV
before. But, hey, how about that poop cruise? The poop cruise, also known
as the Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that was stuck for five days in
the Gulf of Mexico with more than 4,000 people on board and no working
toilets. It happened in February. I will not go on and on about the
details. You probably heard them, but perhaps this one line from one
passenger`s pending lawsuit against Carnival cruises will suffice to give
you the basic idea.
Quote, "Plaintiff was forced to wade through human feces in order to
reach food lines only to receive rations of spoiled food." Here also is a
picture of people on board the cruise ship trying to use their bodies to
spell the word "help" for the purposes of news helicopters. It`s a little
hard to make out. Kind of -- we help them.
This was a nightmare, even without the wall to wall tabloid TV
coverage. It was just a real low point for the cruise industry in
particular. I mean, whoever is going to book a cruise again after the poop
If you work in the cruise industry, you might be worried about the
long term impact of the poop cruise on your business, right? It turns out,
no. Not really super concern.
A chief executive of European cruise line called MSC was quoted right
after the poop cruise thing saying the industry was pretty confident nobody
was ever going to remember this. The CEO reminded "Reuters" that actually
the cruise industry had a disastrous year in 2012 as well. 2012, of course,
included the Costa Concordia nightmare when the cruise ship ran aground and
killed 32 people. That was 2012.
But the CEO told "Reuters" people forgot about even that fatal
incident in 2012 right away, so it stands to reason he said even if 2013 is
the year of the poop cruise, by next year, by 2014, people will have
forgotten all about it.
He said, quote, "It`s amazing how 2012 has been forgotten. We have
seen already the new wave season, 2013, that the first comers are coming
So, in other words, poop cruise, schmoop (ph) cruise, people forget,
it doesn`t matter.
It was the same line from another crisis management expert interviewed
after the poop cruise debacle. He said, quote, "Americans have short
memories." Americans have short memories. That`s idea number one from the
Here`s idea number two. This was the president of the United States
on May 1st, 2003, 10 years ago next week, President George W. Bush putting
on a fake flight suit complete with the ejection harness and did a fake
fighter pilot landing from an S3 Viking jet. The USS Abraham Lincoln was
carrying soldiers return home after an 11-month deployment.
But before they got to go home, they got lined up to watch as
President Bush stripped off his flight suit, put on his suit and stood in
front of a banner that said "mission accomplished" and gave a speech that
said the Iraq effectively war was over. And it wasn`t just over, it was
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, major
combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United
States and our allies have prevailed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was day 43 of the Iraq war that would go onto last 8 1/2
So, idea number one, the poop cruise idea is Americans have short
Idea number two is we are fast approaching the 10 year anniversary of
the "mission accomplished" speech on May 1st. So, next week is the 10 year
anniversary. These are two seemingly unrelated ideas, but nevertheless
offer the best help I can spring together for understanding the public
relations onslaught we are enduring as a nation. You`ve probably noticed
over the past 24 hours, a very familiar face all over your TV.
Like this interview on CBS, for example, that featured either the most
impressive segue ever or really strange edit. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some argue and I think Karl Rove has said this, if
there had been no weapons of mass destruction probably the decision would
never have been made?
BUSH: It`s hard to tell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what does painting bring you?
BUSH: Relaxation and a whole new way of looking at the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, cool with the war? Yes, whatever. Painting? So
CBS got one of these interviews. FOX News got two and aired them on
these interviews an hour apart on the same night. One of them on the left
there, that`s Dana Perino interviewing President Bush. Dana Perino now
works at FOX News. But she used to have a different job. She was
President Bush`s White House press secretary. So, her getting the
interview is kind of all in the family.
The event that was supposed to warrant all this news coverage today
was the big stately ceremony dedicating the George W. Bush Presidential
Library, all five living U.S. presidents were there. All the first ladies,
except for Nancy Reagan, were there. Heads of state from around the world.
The presidents all spoke and had very kind words for President Bush.
President Bush talked about his friendship with Dick Cheney and he talked
about other stuff, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the
administration, is that the United States of America must drive to expand
the reach of freedom. When future generations come to this library and
study this administration, they`re going to find out that we stayed true to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If that alone, Mr. Bush`s cadence and style and doctrine, if
that alone is not enough to stir memories of how it all actually went for
all those years, take note also that today was just the private opening,
the first day of the general public can go visit the George W. Bush library
would be next week. The first day the general public can go with
specifically be May 1st, May 1st, 2013, ten years to the day after this
happened on May 1st, 2003.
They are opening the George W. Bush Presidential Library to the public
on the 10-year anniversary of the mission accomplished speech, which is
either an inside joke or this is some kind of crisis management business
school test of the poop cruise thesis that Americans really do have
shockingly short memories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The honor of a lifetime to lead a country as brave and as noble
as the United States. Whatever challenges come before us, I will always
believe our nation`s best days lie ahead. God bless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Former President George W. Bush at the end of his 13-minute
speech in Texas today, dedicating his presidential library.
Joining us now is Wayne Slater. He`s senior political writer for the
"Dallas Morning News." He`s co-author of the seminal Bush administration
users manual called, "Bush`s Brain." Wayne was there today for the
Wayne, thanks so much for being here.
WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Great to be with you, Rachel, as
MADDOW: You know, when I saw that clip, I had read before that
President Bush teared up at the end of his speech. But I didn`t know it
was quite as dramatic as it was until I saw the clip. Having been there,
do you have any insight into him becoming so emotional at the end of his
speech? What else was going on there?
SLATER: Yes, I mean, you know George Bush. He`s the guy who says I
don`t want to be psychoanalyzed on the couch, I don`t want to be so
emotional, I don`t want to look this way. And yet, you saw a very
emotional guy today.
And to be honest, this was a moment I think he recognized it`s over.
I mean, it`s really, really over. The monument has been built. That`s the
end of a long process.
And I think what`s very important to him was his mom and dad were
there, not only did you have the alumni, the extended Bush legacy project
network, but you had mom and dad. And frankly, I don`t want to say too
much about it, but anyone who watched that moment where George Bush 41
talked briefly, we all know our parents won`t last forever. And I think he
was awfully happy they were there on this day.
MADDOW: Wayne, when I have found it to be noteworthy and strange and
sort of surprised that it`s not bigger news that the date they picked for
the public opening of the library is the 10-year anniversary of mission
accomplished. It`s not even like the random 16th anniversary which nobody
would notice. It`s 10 years.
Is that -- is that an oversight? It seems like impossibly awkward
SLATER: I talked to a guy today in the -- couple people in e crowd,
one of whom said -- was talking about the accomplishments of the Bush
administration. Iraq was an accomplishment. Flat-out.
So there are those folks, the Bushies, the loyalists, who consider
virtually everything he did as a great accomplishment, the history be
But on the other hand, I think if, in fact, the folks at the Bush
library -- putting this thing together had really thought this thing
through, they probably wouldn`t have wanted this to be the 10-year
anniversary. If they really thought that that was no big deal, that
America`s short-term memory would be completely vanished, you know, be 10
years later, which is obviously not the case, we could see the banner
inside the library.
Rachel, the banner ain`t there.
MADDOW: Was there any substantial mention, other than conversations
like you had in the crowd there? Were there any substantial mention of
Iraq? Was that word mentioned today from the podium?
SLATER: No. Amazing.
MADDOW: Not once. Amazing.
SLATER: So, the most significant thing to define the Bush
administration, the Iraq war, a decade of war, the word "Iraq" was never
Now, the word "wars" were, something about a dictator, and a whole lot
of sentences that had the word "freedom" in them. That`s the word that
Bush uses "freedom" as a kind of cloak to cover everything. So "Iraq," the
most significant thing, was never spoken from the stage.
Wayne Slater, senior political writer with "Dallas Morning News", co-
author of "Bush`s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush" -- Wayne, it`s
always great to have you here. Thank you so much.
SLATER: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
That`s -- the word "Iraq." not going to be there in the transcript.
You can search for it. Not there.
All right. Tomorrow morning, President Obama is going to do something
that is going to make the right go nuts, at least I think it`s going to.
It was something that was supposed to happen tonight. It`s now been
rescheduled for tomorrow. I`ll tell you what that is, next.
MADDOW: There`s a lot going on in the world right now. One
consequence, we have had an intense schedule for the president and the vice
president, and a lot of high-profile, high-emotion events in the past few
Yesterday, Vice President Biden was in Massachusetts for the funeral
of the police officer who was shot in his patrol car a week ago, allegedly
by the suspects in the Boston bombing. Then this morning, the president
attended a rare gathering of all of the nation`s living presidents, all
five of them in the same place at the same time for the first time since
early 2009. Also there, almost all of the living first ladies. The only
one missing was former first lady Nancy Reagan.
The occasion today, of course, was the dedication of the George W.
Bush Presidential Library in Dallas.
When that was done, though, President Obama and First Lady Michelle
Obama stayed in Texas. They flew by helicopter. They flew in Marine One,
south from Dallas out toward Waco. They circled over the small town called
West, where President Obama saw the flattened remains of the homes and
buildings devastated when the fertilizer plant there exploded last week.
President and first lady then continued another 20 minutes to the city
of Waco, and a memorial service for the 14 victims of that explosion,
including 12 first responders represented by flag-draped coffins at the
service. They, of course, died trying to protect their neighbors.
The president previously had other plans for tonight. The president
originally had been announced as the keynote speaker at the big gala for
Planned Parenthood that`s happening right now in Washington, D.C. The
right, of course, is all poised to go nuts about that Planned Parenthood
speech tonight, but the speech has been postponed until tomorrow morning.
The political right will still go nuts about that speech, but they`ll
be able to do it now after a good night`s sleep.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Have a great night. Thanks for being with us tonight.
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