All In With Chris Hayes, Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Read the transcript from the Wednesday show
ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
September 4, 2013
Guests: Tony Blinken, Robert Costa, Deborah Pearlstein, Joe Sonka, Jonathan Chait, Laura Flanders, Matt Yglesias
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes.
Tonight on ALL IN:
We are one step closer to military strikes on Syria. But as more of
our elected representatives move into the "aye" column, I find myself more
and more opposed. The latest news and my position coming up in a moment.
Also tonight of all the voices being heard from on the Syrian issue,
it seems to me the guys who marched us to war in Iraq are the least
credible. So, why is anyone listening to any of these people? We`ll talk
about that a little later.
Plus, last night, we told you about Mitch McConnell`s new charm
offensive to win over women voters in Kentucky. Today, his spokesman is
out with a nasty attack on his female opponent, which is probably not going
to help. That is coming up.
But we begin tonight with the White House one step closer to obtaining
the congressional stamp of approval as the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee voted today to approve U.S. military action against the Syrian
government of President Bashar al Assad. The tally: 10 to 7 in favor of
military action. The ayes were compromised of seven Democrats and three
Republicans, Senators Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and John McCain. The nays,
two Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Christopher Murphy and five
Republicans, including Senator Jim Risch, who was on this program last
night, and Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
The White House quickly reacted with a statement, reading in part, "We
commend the Senate for moving swiftly and working across party lines on
behalf of our national security. The military action authorized in the
resolution would uphold America`s national security interest by degrading
Assad`s chemical weapons capability and deterring the future use of these
weapons, even as we pursue a broader strategy to strengthen the opposition
to hasten a political transition in Syria."
Earlier today in Stockholm, the head of G-20 Summit, the president
defended his decision to pursue what could very well be U.S. unilateral
action to uphold an international norm. The president was asked about his
infamous red line comment on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I didn`t
set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when
governments representing 98 percent of the world`s population said, the use
of chemical weapons are abhorrent. Congress set a red line when it
ratified that treaty.
So, when I said in a press conference that my calculus about what`s
happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which
the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn`t something
I just made up, I didn`t pluck it out of thin air.
My credibility is not on the line. The international community`s
credibility is on the line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And today, Secretary of State John Kerry after a classified
briefing with senators headed to hearings before the House, where he faced
a skeptical group of lawmakers.
In a particular tense exchange, Secretary Kerry responded to a reborn
Republican criticism about Benghazi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I can`t discuss the possibility
of U.S. involvement in Syria`s civil war without also talking about
Benghazi. The administration has a serious credibility issue with American
people. When you factor in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, "The
A.P." and James Rosen issues, Fast and Furious, and NSA spying programs --
bottom line is, there`s a need for accountability and trust-building from
the administration, the same administration that was similarly so quick to
involve the U.S. and Syria now was reluctant to use the same resources at
its disposal to attempt to rescue the four brave Americans that fought for
their lives in Benghazi.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I am not going to sit here and be
told by you I don`t have an opinion about what the judgment is. We`re
talking about people being killed by gas, and you want to talk about
Benghazi, and Fast and Furious. We don`t deserve to drag this into another
Benghazi discussion when the real issue is whether or not the Congress is
going to stand up for international norms with respect to dictators that
have only been broken twice, until Assad -- Hitler and Saddam Hussein.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Meanwhile, the latest whip count of the House shows mostly
undecideds with only narrow band in the middle band there of 46 likely yes
votes. Most of them, we should note from the Democratic column. May I
point to the broader political obstacle the White House faces in the House,
which is a Republican House whose grassroots hates the idea of intervention
and dislikes the president to say the least.
And in somewhat surprising news of the day, Liz Cheney of all people
has come out against the resolution. If you`re looking for the clearer
sign yet of which way the winds are blowing among the conservative base,
the newly minted Wyoming resident Liz Cheney may be an indicator, as she
seeks to unseat Senator Mike Enzi in the Republican primary.
Of course, this is the same Liz Cheney who has all but accused the
president of being a traitor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ CHENEY, DICK CHENEY`S DAUGHTER: People have got to begin to ask,
who is benefiting from Barack Obama`s foreign policy. And time and time
again, sadly and disturbingly, it`s America`s enemies who are benefiting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now is Tony Blinken, White House deputy national
Mr. Blinken, the president`s comments this morning about a red line
caught some confusion when he referred it being essentially international
red line. The president himself did talk about how use of chemical weapons
on the scale that we`re now seeing would change his calculus when he
Can you clarify those comments for people?
TONY BLINKEN, WH DEPUTY NATL. SECURITY ADVISOR: Sure, Chris. The
president was exactly right. There`s been a longstanding international red
line against the use of chemical weapons. It goes back nearly 100 years.
After World War I, when these weapons were used to terrible effect. The
world got together, the Geneva Protocol emerged and it said, you can`t use
chemical weapons in war.
And then, more recently, Congress strongly got behind something called
the chemical weapons convention in 1997. And countries representing 98
percent of the world`s population also signed on. That, too, said, you
can`t use chemical weapons.
And even more recently than that in 2003, something called the Syria
Accountability Act passed overwhelmingly by Congress because of concerns
Syria was getting chemical weapons.
So, there`s an international red line. There`s a congressional red
line. And the president adheres to that very same red line.
HAYES: In terms of the international red line, my understanding is
that the treaty that we`re a signatory too that 98 percent of the countries
are, Syria is not actually a signatory to that? Am I correct?
BLINKEN: That`s correct. They`re an outlier.
HAYES: And my other question would be, under that treaty, what is the
remedy here? I mean, it strikes me that we`re talking about is a bizarre
situation, we will act unilaterally without U.N. approval or authorization,
or even our closest ally, the U.K. with us, in order to defend
international law. It`s something of a paradox.
BLINKEN: You`re right, Chris. And, you know, we would like nothing
better than to be able to work this through the U.N. Security Council.
And, unfortunately, since the beginning of the Syria conflict, we have
tried time and again to get the Security Council to act in a much lesser
fashion, just to make statements condemning what was going on in Syria.
And, unfortunately, we`ve been stymied, we`ve been blocked by other
countries on the council.
So, at some point, if that doesn`t work, and you have a profoundly
important international norm, like the one prohibiting the use of chemical
weapons, you have to stand up and enforce it. You know, we went through
this in Kosovo as you`ll recall, about a decade ago, when the U.N. was also
blocked and the Clinton administration acted. You know, at that time, the
secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, after Kosovo happened, he was
critical of the fact that countries went around the Security Council. But
he was equally critical of the Security Council for being paralyzed and not
being able to assume his responsibilities.
HAYES: This secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said yesterday, he
highlighted the fact that under the U.N. Convention, which obviously we are
a party to, there are two legitimate bases under the U.N. convention for an
act of force. One is in self-defense. The other is through the U.N.
Security Council resolution. He says neither applies here, is he wrong?
BLINKEN: Chris, what we have here is something that in our judgment
is very legitimate, because we have, as I said, a norm that`s been around
for nearly 100 years, against the use of chemical weapons. If we don`t
stand up for it, if other countries don`t stand up for it, the norm will be
And we will see two things happen. We`ll see Assad continue to use
these weapons with impunity, and we`ll see other countries in the region
and beyond who have such weapons or aspire to get them, come to the
conclusion that it`s OK to use them. And nothing will happen.
HAYES: Respectfully, Mr. Blinken, the original question is -- when he
says there are two legitimate uses of force under the U.N. charter, the
U.S. is the signatory to. This does not fall into either of them. Is he
right or wrong about that?
BLINKEN: So, as a matter of international law. You`re correct that
either the Security Council needs to act or you need to be acting in self-
defense or in the defense of a partner country.
Here what we believe is, we have a very legitimate basis, including
with other countries supporting what we need to do, to enforce a profound
international norm that`s been around for nearly 100 years.
HAYES: Are you terrified in the White House that this is going to go
BLINKEN: No. Chris, simply put, two things, one we`re seeing growing
support in Congress for this, we had yesterday the speaker, Boehner, the
leader, the Republican leader, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi on the other side
come out in support of this. Today, we had the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, led by Chairman Menendez, a Democrat, and Bob Corker, the
Republican, pass out a resolution supporting the use of force.
So, we`re seeing momentum develop behind us in the Congress, and in
terms of what we need to do, no, we believe strongly, that the action we
propose to take will say to Assad, stop using this stuff, and it will make
it much more difficult for him to use it going-forward if he chooses to try
HAYES: If Assad is facing essentially life and death, I don`t think
that`s an exaggeration. We saw what end Gadhafi came to, after he lost
essentially militarily there. If he`s facing life and death, if that`s
what`s on the other side of this, is there any incentive to stop him from
doing whatever he thinks necessary to win?
BLINKEN: If he concludes because we take action, that using chemical
weapons is going to cost him and cost him dearly, and if we actually make
it more difficult for him to use those weapons, then I think his calculus
will be affected and his ability to use these weapons will be affected.
That`s the result we can achieve.
HAYES: Tony Blinken, White House deputy national security adviser --
thank you for your time.
BLINKEN: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Joining me now is Robert Costa, Washington editor of the
conservative magazine and Web site, "The National Review". Also, a CNBC
Robert, Marco Rubio`s no vote out of committee today, a surprise?
ROBERT COSTA, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: A real surprise. Marco Rubio got
elected to the Senate in 2010, has been a Bush hawk. He`s been one of
those guys who`s for intervention. This is a big surprise, a big win for
the Paul wing of the party.
HAYES: What does it say about where the conservative grassroots is,
that you`ve got Rubio making this apparent reversal, and Liz Cheney, of all
people, coming out opposed to the resolution?
COSTA: The Tea Party wing of the party is really moving against the
Syria resolution. Rand Paul, I think his influence is permeating the
entire party, even permeating Marco Rubio`s politics.
This is a real problem for Speaker John Boehner and President Obama.
They`re going to try to get a tough House vote. They have Boehner. They
have Pelosi, but they don`t have the conservative base.
HAYES: There`s a precedent here, 1999, Kosovo resolution. Of 217
Republican members of Congress, 187 vote against it. In the Senate, you
have twice as many Republicans voting against it as for it.
So, we`ve seen this before. What -- how many votes are they going to
-- how many yea votes can they get out of this House Republican caucus.
COSTA: Not too many. Boehner has made a conscious vote. Boehner and
Cantor will not be whipping the Syria vote in the house. It`s going to be
a free for all. It`s going to be a circus on the Republican side. The
hawks are going to try to for an aye vote, it doesn`t mean it`s necessarily
going to pass.
HAYES: What do you think the reasoning is there in terms of the House
leadership to take that approach?
COSTA: It`s really an interesting question, Chris, because the House
leadership has so many fiscal drum has approaching this fall, because of
the debt limits, sequester, et cetera, they don`t want to take a large
stand on Syria. They`re going to stand with the president in terms of
appearance. They`ll stand at a press conference with him. And say they
support him, but they`re not going to whip it, that`s where it really
matters, that`s where the president can get hurt.
HAYES: Not going to spend any political capital, Robert Costa, from
"The National Review", great thanks.
COSTA: Thank you.
HAYES: Joining me now is Deborah Pearlstein, assistant professor of
law at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. Her work
focuses on national security law and the separation of powers.
OK. Let`s put aside the War Powers resolution, which has been -- the
War Powers Act, which was passed over presidential veto, is
constitutionally contested, not quite an issue yet in this case. Let`s
talk about the Constitution. Give me the legal argument that you would
make if you were White House council right now for why the president has
the power to act even without Congress.
DEBORAH PEARLSTEIN, PROF., CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: The only argument,
and it`s an argument I disagree with. The president has the power to act
without Congress. Recent president`s have done it before, and the recent
presidents they`ll point to include Obama`s intervention in Libya, which
was done a couple of years.
Even the broad theory of executive power that was at issue there,
right? We have authority to act as commander in chief without
congressional authorization. Despite the fact that the Constitution gives
the power to declare war to Congress, as long as we don`t do something that
amounts to war under the Constitution, right? That`s the limits on the
president`s current theory.
Here, the resolution the administration put forward to Congress the
other day, saying, please authorize our use of force. It contains no time
limits on the use of force. It said we can use force in Syria, we can use
force beyond Syria, and it was an enormously broad resolution for the use
of force, one that seems to contemplate a much broader action than
something less than war, which is what their own constitutional theory
HAYES: So, their constitutional theory says, if it`s a lesson, we`ve
seen this actually being parsed out in these hearings. John Kerry making
the argument that what we`re doing isn`t, quote, to use his words, "war in
the classical sense." And to play devil`s advocate on behalf of the White
House, it does seem to me there`s a big difference between a ground
invasion in Iraq -- and the firing of certain cruise missiles. We know
President Clinton for instance fired several missiles into North Africa,
during his presidency.
Isn`t there some space in between war and military action?
PEARLSTEIN: Well, that`s the theory that they use in practical terms,
yes. There are a couple of problems with here. Number one, neither
resolutions introduced by the White House nor the Senate resolution that
was passed by committee today actually prohibit all the use of ground
troops, right? The administration`s resolution didn`t contain such
The Senate version that was passed prohibits combat troops, but that
means plenty of room for troops for other purposes, including intelligence
and all kinds of reasons. It doesn`t prohibit troops for covert action
purposes. It`s not at all clear how limited this use of force is going to
HAYES: Quickly, is there a president for a president going to
Congress and saying, I`m coming to you for authorization, but I retain the
legal right to act even without you.
PEARLSTEIN: Presidents have said that, before, right? Presidents
always say I retain the legal authority. But I don`t think we`ve seen this
type of sweeping claim and it think it would be surprising and deeply
disappointing if the administration goes to Congress, Congress says no.
And they act anyway.
HAYES: Deborah Pearlstein from Cardozo Law School -- thank you very
HAYES: My take on the Syria situation.
Plus, a conversation about why it is we`re hearing now from a bunch of
people who have no business talking about Syria, the architects of the Iraq
war, because we all know how well that went.
Stay with us.
HAYES: Tomorrow night, we`re going to have a big interview with the
person everyone wants to talk to right now about Syria.
You do not want to miss it. Ahead on the show, Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell is totally hedging on Syria, which is a little ironic,
since he has the word leader in his title. Something tells me it`s n
because he`s truly conflicted about what to do. I`ll explain, coming up
HAYES: We`re now at the point where people are forced to take a stand
on whether or not the U.S. should intervene in Syria. I`m going to tell
you where I stand and why I believe as I do, coming up.
But, first, there`s been one person who`s been noticeably absent in
this debate. There are only four leaders in Congress. This person happens
to be one of them.
Of course, you have John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi in the House. And in
the Senate, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.
Three of them have told us where they stand, while one has yet to
weigh in. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky senior
senator, is mired in a tough reelection campaign, thus far remaining vague
on the war talk. McConnell seems torn between the militaristic instincts
of your average Republican lawmaker, and the party`s grassroots base who
want no part of this intervention.
It didn`t help, the Kentucky`s junior senator, Rand Paul, sent him
McConnell a not so subtle message through some impromptu polling he
conducted on the issue back home.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I was in Kentucky for a month. I went
to 40 cities, I didn`t meet one person who was for going into Syria. When
I told them I was opposed to it, I got a standing ovation.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HAYES: So, no, the McConnell campaign doesn`t want to talk about
Syria. They are instead continuing to focus on their charm offensive.
Team Mitch`s latest crack at courting women voters with this attempt at
sweet talking from Brad Dayspring, communications director from the
National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Dayspring telling "The Hill" that McConnell`s likely Democratic
opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is an empty dress, because I suppose
calling her an empty pair of panty hose would have been considered
Oh, that`s not all. Let me read here, "Alison Lundergan Grimes seems
incapable of articulating her own thoughts. When face with questions,
either directly parrots the talking points handed to her by Senator Chuck
Schumer or she babbles incoherently and stairs blankly into the camera as
though she`s a freshman struggling to remember the cliff`s notes after
forgetting to read her homework assignment.
McConnell`s camp whacks Grimes for holding an upcoming fundraising
event in California. Grimes has also enlisted the help of mega producer
Jeffrey Katzenberg to bring in the big bucks. McConnell spokeswoman says
it`s no surprise that Obama`s liberal Hollywood friends are supporting
Grimes -- this coming from the campaign of the guy who started fund-raising
in 2014 literally the day after the 2012 election season indeed. He`s done
his fair share of fundraising in the great of California. The guy likes
asking for money. What can you say?
Now, I have always been a little skeptical. McConnell is as
vulnerable as some optimistic Democratic operatives have been telling. But
the more his campaign lashes out, the more convinced I become that those
optimistic Democratic operatives are right. Mitch McConnell is in big
Joining me now is Joe Sonka, news editor at "Leo Weekly", Louisville,
Kentucky`s alternative news weekly.
And, Joe, what`s your take on this from where you sit in Kentucky and
talking to voters and watching this campaign unfold. Is McConnell scared?
JOE SONKA, LEO WEEKLY: I think he`s definitely scared. I think you
can see that from his woman for teen event that he had Friday, trying to
convince the women voters of Kentucky about his voting record is on their
side. You can also tell that he`s very scared of the primary challenger
And particularly, you can look at his silence on Syria right now.
Matt Bevin is against Syrian intervention. Rand Paul is the most popular
Republican in Kentucky. And he is very strongly against the Syrian
intervention. Right now, Mitch McConnell will not say which way he`s going
to go on the intervention. He says he`s going to take a couple more days
to find out where he will be, which is very odd, considering he`s been a
hawk in his days.
HAYES: Mitch McConnell has been a colossus for years in Kentucky
state politics, has a strong machine down there, has delivered the goods
for folks down there. I mean, he`s got power and a base. What has
happened to Mitch McConnell that he`s now in danger?
SONKA: I think that one of the key themes that both Matt Bevin and
Alison Lundergan Grimes are using is that he`s been in Washington way too
long, and that he`s gone to Washington. He`s been there almost 30 years
and he`s lost touch with Kentuckians.
And I think if you look at the polling, that shows why his negative
ratings are so high, there in the mid-50s, which for an incumbent running
for reelection is very bad. So, he`s definitely not in a strong position
right now as he goes into re-election next year, both from the primary and
HAYES: How much cover could Rand Paul give him on his right flank?
SONKA: He could give him some. The one way that Rand Paul really
isn`t helping McConnell, he`s not being an attack dog against Matt Bevin.
He`s not going after him personally. But at the same time, he`s probably
the reason why McConnell escapes in a primary, because he is the most
popular Republican in Kentucky. He`s able to convince many of the Tea
Party people in Kentucky that they should give him another chance, even
though they`re among the grassroots of the Tea Party, there`s a lot of
antipathy towards Mitch McConnell.
HAYES: Joe Sonka from "Leo Weekly" -- thanks so much.
SONKA: Thank you.
HAYES: We`ll be right back with #click3.
HAYES: Coming up, what I think we should be doing about Syria, and a
conversation about people who should not be part of a debate about war.
All that`s ahead.
But, first, I want to share the three awesomest things on the Internet
today. We begin with a mad dash around New York City. Someone named afro
duck claims to set the record time for driving around the island of
Manhattan. He posted the time line lapse video seen here. Afro duck (ph)
He tells the website, he floored his 2006 Beamer around 26-mile course in
just over 24 minutes.
Of course, Afro Duck has released the video under a pseudonym, because
he knows Johnny Law can`t be happy with Afro Duck.
Afro Duck is right, according to "The New York Post", Police
Commissioner Ray Kelly promised to hunt down the dangerous driver saying,
"We now have license plates in the city that will assist in this type of
investigation." (INAUDIBLE), as a fellow New York driver, I say, go get
The second awesomest thing on the Internet today comes to us from
busymockingbird.com, by way of "The Huffington Post". These are the
drawings of artist Mika Angela Hendricks (ph), as we scroll through them,
you can see the heads are finally and professionally drawn, the bodies less
professional, with the child-like whimsy. And that`s because the heads are
drawn by the adult artist, Ms. Hendricks, and the bodies are finished by
her 4-year-old daughter. Hendricks says she was drawing in a sketch book
one day, and her daughter asked if she could help. The two have since
collaborated on more than a dozen portraits of old tiny women with bodies
of dragons, dinosaurs.
Hendricks saying, "I`m sharing my artwork and allowing my daughter to
be an equal in our collaborations. It helps solidify her confidence, which
is more pressure than any doddle I could have done."
The best news is that mother/daughter art is for sale on the Web site,
And the third awesomest thing on the Internet today, John McCain repo
man. Fresh off being caught playing poker in the middle of the war debate,
Senator John McCain is taking time between being the loudest proponents on
the Syrian invasion, to go after Vladimir Putin for stealing the Super Bowl
ring of New England Patriot`s owner Robert Kraft.
Back in 2005, not unlike Mr. Burns showing Fidel Castro, a trillion
dollar bill only to have el Presidente pocket the thing and walk away.
Putin allegedly tried on Kraft`s championship right and the comical
strongman fashion, left the room with it on his finger. To this day, Putin
insists the ring was a gift and Kraft is (INAUDIBLE) side of the story.
But outraged Patriots fans are not quick to forget about the act of theft.
Enter John McCain, who was approached by the web site TMZ for his
feelings about the 8-year-old heist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I think sports fans, especially Patriot fans, are enraged,
and I share their outrage. And I`m not a Patriots fan, I`m a Cardinals
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: McCain continued the comedy routine on CNN this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: The worst thing you could do in the old West was to steal
another man`s horse. I would think in New England, the worst thing you can
do is steal another man`s Super Bowl ring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Well, it`s pretty bad, but probably not the worst thing you
could do in New England. Salem witch trials were arguably worse, as was
the Boston massacre, and nothing tops the worst possible New England
offense, being named Alex Rodriguez while playing baseball for the Yankees.
You can find all the links for tonight`s Click 3 on our website,
allinchris.com. We`ll be right back.
HAYES: Now that the president has gone to Congress for authorization
of a military strike in Syria, members of both Houses can no longer get
away with asking questions and second guessing. They have to declare where
they stand and vote on it. So here is where I stand.
I don`t think we should send missiles into Syria. If I was in
Congress, I would vote against it, and I think it`s a grave mistake that
will make a bad situation worse.
Before I explain my reasoning, let me say I don`t think that the
people who disagree with me are contemptible scoundrels and war mongers.
My own father, an ex-Jesuit community organizer and a true moral beacon in
my life, thinks we should intervene. That counts for a lot in my book.
That said, here`s why I think a military strike like the one being
proposed is a bad idea.
First of all, there`s always a likelihood we will kill innocent
people. It`s a risk you run with any kind of military engagement,
particularly aerial bombardment.
Second, while I think the general idea of enforcing the international
norm against the deployment of chemical weapons is a laudable goal, I am
deeply skeptical this kind of strike will do that. If Assad did in fact
use chemical weapons, and you`ll excuse me if the experience of Iraq makes
me a wee bit reluctant to definitively state he did based solely on U.S.
intelligence -- but again, if Assad, as the evidence would seem to suggest,
did use these weapons, and he likely did so as a way of basically burning
the bridge that could have let him retreat. In other words, he sent a
message to supporters that the only way out is through. That he will fight
to the end, and all the people included in his coalition of support, Syrian
Christians, Alawites, members of the military and business elite, they are
in the same bunker with him. If the rebels win, the family members of the
people Assad gassed will not look kindly on his supporters.
Given the fact that Assad`s fighting literally for his life, I`m not
quite sure a targeted punitive strike, like the one being proposed, will
have that much of an effect. It may slightly alter the calculation of
deploying such weapons again, but even if it does, if Assad thinks he has
to use chemical weapons to win, or lose and find himself drawn and
quartered, guess what he`s going to do?
Also, imagine the quagmire the U.S. will find itself in, if Assad does
go ahead and use chemical weapons after we have punished him for doing so.
Clearly, our red line will have to be enforced by even more punitive
measures. And that way lies full entanglement in a bloody, brutal civil
Third, there`s a good chance an American military strike will make the
situation worse. As Middle East scholar Juan Cole argues, the only hope
there is of any kind of eventual negotiated settlement in Syria, is if both
sides conclude they`re stuck in a stalemate and grow weary of the
bloodshed. But U.S. intervention on the side of rebels will act as a
signal that rebels should keep fighting, with the possibility of future
intervention that might be decisive on their part, and get rid of whatever
incentive they may have to go to the negotiating table.
Of course we should be honest here. Bashar Assad is a maniacal
butcher, and what he`s done is unspeakable. At the same time, many, though
certainly far from all fighting against him, are jihadis who have also
committed atrocities. And I`ve heard people I`m quite allied with
ideologically talk about a political resolution to this war or a diplomatic
solution. I sometimes get the nagging sense that`s just a phrase those of
us on the left use to assuage our conscience, so we can point toward a
solution to this bloodshed and misery that doesn`t involve missiles.
But maybe there isn`t a political or diplomatic solution. I don`t
think there was ever really a political solution to our own civil war here
in the U.S., which didn`t feature any chemical weapons, but left 600,000
dead and rotting in blood-soaked fields. If there had been a political
solution, Lincoln would have loved to find it. But ultimately, history`s
verdict is that the side of the war defending bondage and evil had to be
vanquished definitively. That may be the case here in Syria, in which case
those of us who oppose military intervention, both for practical reasons
and on principle, need to have the moral courage to stare into the gaping
maw of horror that is the Syrian civil war and the Assad regime and the
murder of hundreds of innocent children, and say, we can`t make this
situation better. We just can`t.
Except that too is not quite right. There are things we can do. If
our primary concern here is alleviating the misery of the Syrian people, 2
million of whom have been turned into refugees, there are many concrete
things we could do that do not involve missiles. The cost of a single
Tomahawk missile is estimated to cost over $600,000 to $1.4 million.
Reports have indicated a strike could use up to 200 of them. That`s
anywhere from $120 million to $280 million. You could write a check
tomorrow from the Treasury to the U.N. High Commission of Refugees in that
amount to get much needed supplies to the refugee camps. Right now, you
can give money at the URL Donate.unhcr.org/syria.
We as a country could also do what Sweden, now hosting President
Obama, has announced they`re doing to help, offer asylum to Syrian
refugees. Yesterday, Sweden became the first European country to announce
they will give permanent resident status to all Syrian refugees who apply,
and their families. Or, we could offer Syrians the same streamlined
immigration process that Cubans now enjoy. Say what you will about Fidel
Castro, he sure as hell has never gassed 1,400 of his own people.
Every once in a great while, a war is waged by us or by others that
has a positive outcome for human flourishing. But the blunt fact is that
the majority of wars we as a nation have entered into, we should not have.
This is one of them. Let`s not make the same mistake again.
HAYES: Jon Stewart was back at the anchor desk last night after a
three-month hiatus, so instead of watching a replay of a certain MSNBC news
program at 11:00 Eastern, I cheated on myself and watched the Daily Show.
And I am glad I did, because there was a moment when I just basically stood
up and cheered, and that is when Stewart gave some background on the latest
foreign policy elites who are pressing for action in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, DAILY SHOW: You know what else is weakness?
Asking the advice of a parade of idiots who got the same issue completely
wrong in Iraq. Or as those people are known on cable, experts.
PAUL BREMER, FORMER AMB. TO IRAQ: He`s got to act in Syria. I hope
frankly he acts in a much more vigorous and robust sense.
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The idea of demystifying
what you`re going to do for the enemy is (inaudible). I can`t imagine what
BILL KRISTOL: I wish we had intervened and he could have intervened a
year ago, two years ago.
STEWART: Hey, everyone, the idiot parade is in town. Shut the [
expletive deleted) up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I wish we could do that on a live broadcast. Every day it
seems like we`re trying to map the opinions of everyone who helped bring
about one of the worst decades in American foreign policy and get them to
weigh-in on whether the president should intervene in Syria. It is like
there are two whip counts. The whip count in Congress and the whip count
of people who almost destroyed the country, and who basically did destroy
other countries. People like Dan Senor. John Bolton. Liz Cheney. Dick
Cheney. I wonder where Dick Cheney is on this? Could we check on that?
People like Paul Bremer. And how about former Senator Joe Lieberman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: How much trouble are we in in the Middle
East right now?
FORMER SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I`m sure that our enemies are cheering
now as a result of this decision, because they realize it`s not clear that
the president will get authority and our allies are worried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Or what before George W. Bush, what does he think about the
U.S. response to Syria`s alleged use of chemical weapons?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH: I was not a fan of Mr. Assad. He`s an ally of Iran.
And he`s made mischief.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Here`s what`s so crazy to me. In the 12 years of war in which
we have engaged, we`ve had full scale ground invasions in two separate
countries. According to the "Cost of War Report," we lost over 6,600
American men and women in uniform, not counting the private contractor
workers. There`s a number -- then there`s a number of Iraqi and Afghan
dead that would be living had we not bombed, invaded and occupied those
countries. Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost between $4 trillion
and $6 trillion.
We launched an all-out air war in another Arab land, Libya, and let`s
not forget, we delivered drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. And
after 12 years of endless war, every bit of polling shows Americans are
just sick and tired of war. People now have default skepticism of American
military intervention. And you know what? Default skepticism is the
appropriate and correct default position. And yet somehow that does not
seem to be the case in the general insular world of elites. What in God`s
name have the people in power learned about the past 12 years?
Coming up, I`m going to talk to three people who each had a specific
take on our involvement in Iraq. Two changed their minds after the
invasion; one was against it from the beginning. We`ll debate it in the
context of Syria when we come back.
HAYES: Joining me now is Laura Flanders, host of GritTV.org and
contributing writer to "Yes" magazine. She was opposed to the Iraq war
from the beginning. Jonathan Chait, columnist for "New York" magazine. He
supported the Iraq war, now says he was wrong about it. And Matt Yglesias,
business and economics correspondent for Slate. He supported the Iraq war,
but has since called that a mistake. He`s written a book about it called
"Heads in the Sand, how Republicans Screw up Foreign Policy and Foreign
Policy Screws up Democrats."
Matt, I want to begin with you, because you seem like you`ve had this
real conversion process. You supported the Iraq war, you realized not only
was that wrong, but the entire way of thinking about foreign policy, that
led you to support it, was wrong. And now you are completely on the other
side. You`re very, very, very skeptical of military intervention.
MATT YGLESIAS, SLATE.COM: I am. And I remember, I think back to that
sort of time when I was weighing these arguments about Iraq. And it seemed
to me a lot of these skeptics of war, they really almost seem like they`re
just sort of knee-jerk, anti-war people. They are almost pacifists.
Looking back on it, it seems to me it was true. They were sort of knee-
jerk, anti-war people and almost pacifists, and it`s because you should be
kind of knee-jerk, skeptical about war.
You know, I mean, we cannot (ph) go through individual mistakes that
individual people made, but one general lesson I`ve learned, if you look at
Philip Tetlock`s (ph) study of this, expert political judgment, it turns
out that even the most well informed experts are very poor at predicting
what`s really going to happen in wars and international conflicts. It`s
very dangerous. It`s very risky, it is very unpredictable. And I think
that means really, we should try to stay out of military conflicts unless
there`s really no choice but to get in it.
If we want to help people around the world, be involved in
humanitarian issues, I think that`s great. There`s a lot of sort of
better, safer, cheaper, and more easy to foresee how our efforts will
achieve the end way to do that. You talked about some of this stuff with
refugees. There is a lot that can be done on global public health, and
just sort of go around looking for civil wars to insert ourselves into just
strikes me as a foolish overall approach.
LAURA FLANDERS: Skepticism isn`t just called for, but it is
absolutely demanded of journalists, and much as we would like to say that
things have radically changed, it`s a bit better. But to be worse this
time around would really be accomplishing something. I`m almost expecting
Thomas Friedman is still on the op-ed page of the New York Times. He was
wrong. Still is. You`ve got Judith Miller, is she going to be
But the fact is, it`s not just the people who are being seen and
heard, as you said. Who are some of the same people who are wrong last
time around. It`s who isn`t being heard from. And it`s who isn`t being
heard from for the very same reasons that Matt`s talking about, because
it`s assumed they`re somehow knee-jerk. These are people who are
thoughtful, critical, curious, and the other thing to bear in mind here, I
think, is that, you know, the discussion of the debate itself is
problematic. It`s very bracing to see a chief international correspondent
of CNN, Christiane Amanpour this weekend, talked about democracy as a
disease. She talked about the vote bug. Having started rolling in Britain
and then catching on in France, and what a catastrophe this would be. This
is not a disease, this is democracy in action, and we should be
celebrating. And to be fair, a lot of local reporters are doing a very
good job of covering the kind of protests that`s out there.
HAYES: There is a split, I think right now between the citizenry and
the national security establishment. Although I think the national
security establishment is far more skeptical of this than they`ve been of
previous things. I think there are people inside the White House, the
administration, I mean, the body language of Chuck Hagel and Dempsey is
like, they want to have nothing to do with this.
But Jon, I want to ask you, you supported the Iraq war, you were wrong
about that, you wrote this piece not everything`s Iraq and stop carping on
this. But it`s like, why should we listen to you, why is it that you have
not forfeited whatever authority you had along with everyone else who got
this huge thing wrong?
JONATHAN CHAIT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: If you don`t think you should
listen to me, you shouldn`t have me in the program.
HAYES: I want you to explain why I should listen to you. I`m
charitable enough to be persuaded on the meta question on whether I should
listen to you on the substantive issue.
CHAIT: Or whether you should let me talk and turn down the volume
while I do.
HAYES: That`s right.
CHAIT: We`re all shaped by our formative experiences. Especially on
foreign policy. Matt`s younger than me. Matt`s formative experience was
the Iraq war. And that`s become the prims through which he views all
foreign entanglements and all wars. I`m a little older than Matt. I have
a different formative experience, I remember the Gulf War, when all the
experts were wrong in the opposite way. People were completely stunned at
the speed of this military success. Almost all Democrats in Congress voted
against the war. Everyone assumed it would be a long, bloody, trench
warfare stalemate, and then we had the 1990s, you had a very successful
humanitarian intervention in the Balkans. I think worked quite well.
So I don`t think you should overlearn the lessons of one particular
episode or to assume all the people who got any one particular episode are
FLANDERS: What about the people who got it right?
CHAIT: All the people who were wrong about the Gulf War were on the
left, and I think to discount --
HAYES: Actually, wait a second. Here actually I think this gets to
Matt`s point, about what should your default position be, right? That to
me is what`s so important here, is that the default posture, I think of the
journalists, of policy maker, of a citizen, is that war is horrible and we
should stay the hell away from them, unless there is an absolutely,
overridingly compelling reason to do it. And that to me is -- that`s why
the burden of proof question about the experience of Kosovo and Iraq,
doesn`t essentially expiate later support. You still should return to that
FLANDERS: The default position of journalists this time around should
be even more critical. And as I understand it, it took days for reporters
at the New York Times and elsewhere to be even warned about what had
happened before. I still want to say, where are the peace leaders, where
is the leader of Peace Action. I called them today, the group represents
90,000 people. They are having demonstrations all around the country. And
yet we have yet to see the head of Peace Action on any show.
Medea Benjamin, the Washington Post gives her somewhat respectful
coverage in the paper yesterday, when she protested Kerry, but let`s have
her talk inside the studio, not just kind of wildlife coverage screaming
outside or in the congressional hearing room. There are protests happening
today. The congresswoman from New Hampshire, Ann McLane Kuster, held a
conference call on her phone for her constituents. 2,000 people called in.
She tried to go four against, four -- she couldn`t get past round three
before she ran out of people in favor.
HAYES: That is being reflected in the press. I mean, that is
absolutely reflected in the press, the majority position. One of the
ironies now is Rand Paul is now the voice of anti-war, because it`s like,
oh, this is a person who`s not Medea Benjamin, whom we can put on Sunday
But, Jon, you think I`m -- I`m burden shifting. This is a really
important thing, right? It`s about this record, it`s about looking back at
American foreign policy. We`re making these decisions about how past is
prologue. You`re saying it`s burden shifting or duplicitous to say somehow
to say your default should always reset to being against a military action
until persuaded to do it.
CHAIT: No. What you`re making is an ideological assumption, and what
you`re proposing is a rule by which anyone who`s on your side can make any
number of wrong predictions and continue to be listened to and have that
not count against them. Whereas people on the other side can never be
wrong a single time without being disqualified.
HAYES: No, it`s actually an empirical argument, which is that if you
tally up the number of wars the U.S. has been involved in, the overwhelming
majority were not good wars that we shouldn`t have been involved in.
That`s what it is. It`s an empirical argument.
CHAIT: If you want to judge who to ignore, you should look at the
overall body of what they say. How often they`re right and how often wrong
-- you should judge people individually. You shouldn`t just say my side
could be wrong as many times as we want.
HAYES: But here`s the thing -- I want to read this quote to you,
because this to me --
CHAIT: I`m not even necessarily in favor of this.
HAYES: We`re having a discussion about how to make up your mind.
Because that actually in some ways, who are we kidding, right? We`re a
democracy, people are going to have to vote. Members of Congress are going
to have to vote. They are going to listen to their constituents. We`re not
Syrian experts, the average constituent, right? So the question is, how do
we go about this decision-making as a republic, as a group of people that
has a self-governance mechanism, and how do we make these decisions in the
absence of specific expertise. And Matt, you wrote this thing I think
that`s important. You said, you wrote about your misjudgment in Iraq. And
you said, the point is, it wasn`t really a series of erroneous judgments on
Iraq, it was a series of erroneous judgments about how to think about the
world and who deserves to be taken seriously and under which circumstances.
What do you mean by that?
YGLESIAS: I mean, it`s to say that, you know, to think that we`re
making these decisions by having a detailed look at the military balance of
power or the specifics of the internal dynamics of these countries is
really kind of an illusion. It seemed to me, you know, I was a college
student at the time of the Iraq war debate. But a lot of the people who
struck me as quote/unquote serious, you know, were all for it. I was the
kind of person who would be in favor of this kind of war, not the kind of
person who would associate with Medea Benjamin. But that turned out to be
sort of really wrong-headed, and I think you see in the greater skepticism
in Congress itself.
HAYES: That impulse I think has been cleansed from people. That`s a
really important point. Jonathan, not to -- your point, I think -- the
point I want to make here is just about the default presumption people
have, and also about who we think of as taking seriously is really
Lauren Flanders, Jonathan Chait from New York magazine, and Matt
Yglesias from Slate, thank you all.
That is ALL IN for this evening. (inaudible), happy new year. The
"Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Chris, remember when we used
to have those conversations about who`s not in the room, and we`d be like
the random liberal on a panel of five people, who were totally opposed.
HAYES: There are people way far to my left.
MADDOW: Exactly. It`s a different world. Thanks.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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