THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
August 7, 2014
Guest: Jeff Mason, Paul Rieckhoff
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Ari. Thanks for that.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.
We are continuing to cover the breaking news tonight as at this hour, the
United States is weighing taking military action in Iraq again. Throughout
the day today, President Obama met with his national security team to
consider authorizing American airstrikes in Iraq to protect Iraqi citizens,
civilians trapped by Islamic militants in the northwestern part of that
For some context into how the United States has found itself in this
position, it`s found itself once again considering a military operation in
Iraq tonight. It`s helpful to two back six months to February, February of
this year, because it was in February of this year that serious fracturing
among terrorist groups spilled into public view, when al Qaeda released a
statement disavowing any connection with a group called the Islamic State
of Iraq in Syria, more commonly known as ISIS.
ISIS not a branch of al Qaeda, the statement read. ISIS does not have an
organizational relationship with al Qaeda. And perhaps most importantly,
the al Qaeda statement made it clear. Al Qaeda is not responsible for the
actions that ISIS takes.
Al Qaeda and ISIS were once united together. Before this, ISIS used to be
called al Qaeda in Iraq. These two Sunni Islamic terrorist groups, they
fought together side by side in Syria against the ruling regime there. But
the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria began ignoring al Qaeda leaders as they
aggressively expanded across large swaths of eastern Syria, into the border
ISIS took over city after city. They took control of a border crossing
between Syria and Iraq. They moved quickly. They moved brutally.
And it was in part the group`s extreme brutality that eventually alienated
even al Qaeda. Their indiscriminate public killings and torture led al
Qaeda to fight against ISIS in Syria, alongside more moderate elements of
the Syrian opposition. Al Qaeda deemed ISIS too brutal to be associated
with. That was back in February.
And since then, is has lived up to that designation and more than lived up
to it. ISIS` goal is to create their own Islamic state, what they want to
call a caliphate. It`s governed by their own extremist brand of Islam.
The territory would include virtually all of Syria, and large swaths of
In recent months, ISIS has been swift and merciless and also successful on
their way to achieving that vision. ISIS captured cities spanning from
northwestern Syria to northeastern Iraq. Back in January, they also took
Fallujah in central Iraq. That development had a unique significance for
the United States not just because Fallujah is one of Iraq`s largest
cities, only about 40 miles from its capital of Baghdad, but also because
Fallujah was the site of one of the most hard fought and deadliest battles
for U.S. troops during the Iraq war.
ISIS captured oil fields in both Syria and Iraq, which they`ve used to fund
their operations. They have reportedly captured Saddam Hussein`s hometown
of Tikrit. They bragged online that they staged a mass execution there.
But perhaps one of their most valuable gains so far has been Iraq`s second
largest city, Mosul. In Mosul, the Iraqi military tried and failed to fend
off ISIS. And after a two-day battle, ISIS won control of the city, which
was notable not just because of Mosul`s size, but also because of its
location in a strategic spot that links Iraq and Turkey and Syria.
And tonight, it is the plight of the city called Sinjar in Iraq. It`s
located roughly 80 miles west of Mosul. It`s the plight of that city that
is causing the United States to weigh re-engaging militarily in Iraq.
Over the weekend, as ISIS continued their brutal land grab in Iraq, they
seized the city of Sinjar, which is home to an ethnic and religious
minority group. The Yazidi people are not Muslims. They practice a
religion derived from Christianity and Islam and Judaism and other ancient
And when ISIS took over their town, they forced them to flee for their
lives. ISIS vowed to kill them unless they renounced their religion. So,
they fled. Some of them into the mountains surrounding their town. And
now, they`re stuck in those mountains. They`re stuck there with no food
and no water. They are surrounded by ISIS forces which have vowed to kill
them if they try to return home from the mountain.
It`s estimated that 40,000 people, most of them women and children, are
stranded in that mountainside right now dying of dehydration, of hunger,
unable to flee or look for water because ISIS will kill them if they
Several children have already died in the mountains. There are tens of
thousands more trapped there in dire need of food and water.
Their plight led to this moment today -- United States debating military
action in Iraq.
Back in March of 2011, President Obama authorized U.S. military
intervention in the civil war in Libya. He authorized American airstrikes
against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He made a humanitarian case for
that military intervention.
Here`s how he explained it back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and the
world faced a choice. Gadhafi declared he would show no mercy to his own
people. He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to
inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the
streets and kill over 1,000 people in a single day. Now, we saw regime
forces on the outskirts of the city.
We knew that if we wanted -- if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city
nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have
reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It
was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that
And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of
Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1973.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: ISIS` current stranglehold in Iraq is also a humanitarian
crisis. ISIS has targeted and killed innocent civilians because they`re
members of a religious minority group, it has trapped and vowed to kill
tens of thousands more of them. Those civilians are trapped right now in
desperate need of food and water.
So, tonight, the United States once again faces the question: will we
intervene? Will we use American military power in Iraq to try to stop what
seems like it could be an impending ethnic genocide?
This hour, we know that there is an operation under way to airdrop supplies
to those trapped people in Sinjar, Iraq. That is in part a U.S. military
operation to get those supplies to those people. We are also still
awaiting word of a decision by the White House on airstrikes, on whether we
are on the verge of an American military intervention in Iraq once more.
Joining us now is NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
Jim, thanks for taking the time tonight. Maybe you can start by explaining
something I think has confused me --
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CHIEF PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: If I can
interrupt you for a second, we`ve got some news here.
KORNACKI: Go right ahead.
MIKLASZEWSKI: U.S. military officials have told NBC News that those
humanitarian airdrops have been completed over the Sinjar mountains where
up to 40,000 of these Yazidi members of that small religious sect had to
flee from Sinjar from the ISIS rebels.
Now, according to officials, there were C-17s used for those air drops that
were escorted by American F-16 fighter jets. The drops, it`s not clear
just how long they took, but now, we`re told that those air drops of food,
water, medical supplies, humanitarian relief, to those Iraqis on the ground
there, those Yazidis, have, in fact -- has, in fact, been completed
successfully and all U.S. planes are now out of that specific airspace,
KORNACKI: OK. Thanks. That`s important information. And I think it
leads to the next question which is what we`re hearing today about the
possibility, now you`re saying the successful completion apparently of this
humanitarian portion --
MIKLASZEWSKI: I would say this phase of it.
MIKLASZEWSKI: I mean, because who knows how long the Yazidis are going to
be stuck up on that mountain, and at this point, unless -- unless ISIS
rebels actually move in and physically threaten those Yazidis, those taking
refuge on top of the mountain, then U.S. military airstrikes against that
group of ISIS is highly unlikely.
So, it may be a situation unless they find some way, some kind of relief
valve to escape their situation on top of the mountain that additional
relief operations may be required in the future.
KORNACKI: Yes, well that`s one thing that`s confused me today because
we`re talking about the potential for U.S. airstrikes here. Would the U.S.
airstrikes only be about liberating those, the trapped Yazidis from that
mountain, or would it also be what we`re hearing reports potentially of
ISIS moving closer to the capital region of the Kurdish region of Iraq?
Would it also be -- airstrikes potentially be aimed at doing that as well?
What specifically are we talking about here with the goal of airstrikes,
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, it`s interesting because in terms of U.S. military air
operations over Iraq, the White House today very strongly emphasized the
humanitarian missions. We`re told that was pretty much the goal of the
president when they started out putting these plans together. It was an
emphasis on the humanitarian mission with a backup combat mission if those
refugees were threatened.
But at the same time, now, we find ISIS fighters poised on the border of
that capital city, Irbil, 1.5 million people in the city. But more
importantly, not only is it a part of a larger U.S. strategy in trying to
stitch together some kind of government in that part of the -- stable
government in that part of Iraq, but it also contains a U.S. consulate with
some 30 to 50 State Department workers. There are some 40 American
military advisers there working with Iraqis.
So, they do have somewhat of a stake and somewhat of a reason to issue a
veiled warning to the ISIS rebels that is if you advance on the city of
Irbil, itself, you will be subject to U.S. airstrikes.
But I can tell you, Steven, ultimately, nobody in the White House, nobody
in the pentagon, wants to get involved in a shooting war with ISIL. They
realize with the first bomb drop the U.S. is not quite but almost all in.
And one of the major concerns is that they don`t want to become caught
right in the middle of a sectarian war. They don`t want to be seen as the
Baghdad`s private air force attacking ISIS. They`d like to do whatever
they can to restrict is` ability to further its gains, to move about the
country freely, potentially attack Baghdad.
But the last thing the U.S. wants to do is get caught in the middle of that
KORNACKI: All right. NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski --
thanks for your time tonight. Really appreciate that.
We should let you know, we are receiving word right now that President
Obama is preparing to address the nation at 9:30 Eastern Time. Just about
20 minutes from now from the state dining room. He`ll be addressing the
nation on the subject of Iraq. We`ll obviously have full coverage of his
statement when that comes, expected 9:30 tonight Eastern Time.
Now, let`s bring in NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea
Andrea, really appreciate you taking the time tonight.
So, I guess the first thing I want to start on is this point that Jim was
raising, this might be the first of many, or at least several humanitarian
missions because these are people who are trapped in a mountain, they feel
if they come down, ISIS wants to kill them. And it strikes me, it raises a
more simple question here of how do you get ISIS out from away of the
bottom of the mountain, from the town they`ve taken over? Is that a job
ultimately for the Iraqi army? Is that a job ultimately for the United
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, as
Mik was saying, it is the last thing this president wants to is get
involved in clearing those ISIS members around -- out from where they are
and circling these trapped Yazidis.
And this is -- I mean, this is a humanitarian crisis primarily initially.
I think it is conceivable that certainly if any American airlift operation,
any of those planes were fired upon, they would be fired back. And if
there were an attack on Irbil as Mik was saying, all our people there, the
consulate, our military advisers -- Irbil is a key part of the Iraqi
solution, according to diplomatic officials.
I was there with John Kerry just a number of weeks ago, and he was very
keen to be supporting the Kurdish leaders there. But holding them from
creating their own country, keeping them as part of a united Iraq, is a
very fragile but important goal right now.
And interestingly, just today, there was some focus on the diplomatic front
at getting a solution to a new government. Getting an alternative, a
Shiite alternative to Maliki, something that they`ve been trying to do for
weeks and weeks.
So, as they were moving on this front, the humanitarian crisis evolved.
There is no way to get those is fighters out without getting engaged
militarily. And it is conceivable that you would have Turkish or Jordanian
or Kurdish forces joined with Iraqi forces but right now, there is very
little confidence that Iraqi air force personnel could do this job.
KORNACKI: You mentioned you were in Irbil recently and talking about the
significance of Irbil in Iraq. The areas ISIS has taken so far, are
basically Sunni areas, Sunni movement taking Sunni areas. And significance
of Irbil being, now you`re moving into Kurdish territory. Mosul, the
largest city they`ve taken. Irbil, you`d be taking Kurdish territory.
In terms of -- again, I certainly understand, I think we all feel the
hesitancy of the Obama administration to get involved in any way militarily
in Iraq again. But at the same time, what is the calculation? What do you
suspect the calculation is in the White House when it comes to protecting a
city like Irbil?
MITCHELL: Irbil has to be protected. It is an economic force. It is oil
wealthy. It is very, very well developed. It is a hub of commerce. It is
the future of the Kurds.
And the Kurds have been the most loyal allies of the United States. We
have facilities there. We have military advisers, as I say. We have a
There`s no question that the U.S. would be involved in some fashion to try
to protect Irbil.
The other big question now is Mosul and the capture that`s been reported of
the big dam that Saddam built in Mosul. If that dam is blown up by ISIS as
a way of flooding out the Shiite cities to the south and even affecting
Baghdad, that would be another crisis. So ISIS was blocked from taking
Baghdad. They began to lose steam.
They then took the opportunity to move north and to move west and now they
are controlling this territory, and they are attacking and ravaging these
minority communities. And it is -- it is a criminal operation, but it is
beyond any description, what has been described by people who are up there,
by Bobby Ghosh who knows the area so well, talking to him earlier here on
It is a destruction of mosques, of artifacts, of sculptures, but most
importantly, of people. These communities are being devastated. Men are
being killed. Women are being attacked and kidnapped as plunder. Children
are being murdered.
KORNACKI: And do we know, this, Andrea, sounds like a basic question, so
forgive me. What is preventing right now ISIS -- if ISIS has an aim of
killing the Yazidis, what is preventing them from going into the mountains
and doing it if they know tens of thousands of them are up there? Why
aren`t they doing that?
MITCHELL: I mean, there are logistical problems. They don`t -- that`s a
very good question. I don`t know the topography well enough to know why
they are not climbing up after these people who have retreated, because
these are largely unarmed people and women and children.
So, you`ve got thousands and thousands of people who need to be rescued.
And long term, and it seems from briefings that have been done by the White
House to the Hill tonight, because under various notification rules and
protocols, the leadership of the Hill and other committee members have been
notified. This is going to be a long-term engagement. This is not a quick
KORNACKI: And just one final question on Irbil. We were talking, again,
about the significance of it, to Iraq and to sort of the entire, you know,
enterprise over there. But I wonder, do you have a sense in terms of how
imminent the threat is of ISIS making a move on the city of Irbil?
MITCHELL: That`s another good question. We don`t. And we need better
ground information from what is going on there. But I don`t know how
imminent that is. I don`t know how close they are to Irbil.
But if they were very close, you would see an evacuation of the American
team certainly. But you`ve got oil pipelines. You`ve got the wealth of
Iraq at stake when you`re talking about any attempt to capture this Kurdish
KORNACKI: All right. NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea
Mitchell, I really appreciate you taking the time tonight. Thank you very
MITCHELL: Sure thing.
KORNACKI: Again, we`re now awaiting a live address to the nation from
President Obama. He`s expected to speak from the state dining room at the
White House. That`s at 9:30 Eastern Time. Just over 10 minutes from now.
Stay with us. Be right back.
KORNACKI: You`re looking at live pictures right now from the White House.
This is the state dining room. It`s where we expect President Obama to
address the nation from just moments from now.
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Today, news broke that Sunni militants have captured the largest
dam in Iraq, potentially devastating development for Iraqi civilians.
Right now, NBC News reports the White House has completed this phase of the
humanitarian mission and is bag weighing military strikes. That`s what Jim
Miklaszewski reported at the top of the show.
One of the many factors going into the president`s decision was the U.S.
citizens` well-documented war fatigue. All this comes as support for
military action is at historic lows among American people.
Now, let`s bring in Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for "Reuters."
Jeff, so, we`re about 10 minutes away apparently from hearing from the
president. Do you have any sense what we can expect him to say to the
JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Well, Steve, I think he`ll start by talking about
what just happened. This humanitarian mission has been accomplished, that
U.S. planes were involved in dropping off meals and dropping off water and
dropping off medicine to the tens of thousands of religious minorities who
have been displaced by ISIS. He`ll talk about why that was important. And
then he`ll talk about what the United States` interest is in being in Iraq
I think the fact that that setting is the state dining room of the White
House means he`s not going to take any questions. That means journalists
won`t have a chance to press him as to whether the next option or next
operation will be a military strike. So, I suspect he will not talk about
military strikes, but he will -- if he does, it will echo what Josh
Earnest, the White House spokesperson, said earlier today, which is that
any military operation by the United States in Iraq would be limited in
scope and that there is not a role for boots on the ground, that this is
not a time for the United States to get back into a major war.
KORNACKI: So, do we -- I mean, no boots on the ground, obviously the
suggestion there is air strikes. When they say limited in scope, that
seems so nebulous, I guess. Do we have a sense -- do you have any sense in
particular what they might have in mind potentially when it comes to
MASON: I think it`s purposely nebulous. I think they don`t want to define
what that means. What they want to do, taking into account the polls that
you referred to at the beginning of this segment, is reassure Americans
that we`re not starting another war. But they want to leave the option
open to do some significant military strikes that would stop the advance of
this group, of ISIS, or at least curb the advance that they have
successfully done so far.
KORNACKI: And do you have any sense -- I mean, you know, we went into Iraq
in the first place now over 10 years ago. Of course, there was a
congressional debate, a congressional vote on that.
How much latitude the White House has here to act without Congress`
MASON: Well, I think -- it was interesting what Andrea already mentioned
that there have been communications between the White House and Congress
about this. So, clearly, they don`t want to run into the situation that
they have with the operation to extract Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan,
recently, of being criticized for not talking to Congress.
In terms of latitude, I think that`s something that we`ll have to explore
the next coming days. Certainly, the White House wants to keep its options
opened. But, again, as we said before, they`re not looking for latitude
from Congress to start a major war. There`s no appetite among the American
people, and really among either party for that.
That said, you may start seeing some more criticism of the president from
Republicans in the coming days about the fact that this situation in Iraq
has deteriorated so much and they`ll find a reason to blame the president
for that largely because of that troop pullout in 2011 which was such a big
part of the president`s campaign promise in 2008.
KORNACKI: Yes, I`m curious what you make of that. We`ve heard that
rhetoric before, certainly, Republicans especially in the last six months
or so pointing back to 2011 saying that wasn`t handled the right way, that
was the president too hastily trying to get headlines about getting out of
Do you sense any connection between that decision back then and where we
are right now?
MASON: Well, I think there are two sides to that. Certainly, Republicans
will say that -- many Republicans will say the Obama administration should
have worked harder to agree a deal with the Iraqi government to keep some
U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Obama administration will say, hey, we tried and the Iraqi government
did not agree to provide immunity to U.S. troops and we`re not going to
leave them there as a result of that. But, again, going back to the core
political argument that Barack Obama made as a candidate in 2007 and 2008,
was to extract the United States from Iraq. And he feels like that was
something, a promise he has kept in 2011 which makes it all the more ironic
now that as president, he`s facing the possibility of further U.S. military
involvement in that country.
KORNACKI: All right. Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for "Reuters"
-- thanks for your time tonight. I really appreciate that.
MASON: My pleasure.
KORNACKI: And joining us now is Steve Clemons. He`s a foreign policy
expert, and MSNBC contributor as well.
Steve, thanks for being here.
So, I`ll start with this question. I mean, we`ve been talking about --
there`s a couple different issues here. There`s the Yazidis who are on
this mountain now with their lives in danger. There`s also the question of
the city of Irbil, sort of the capital region of the Kurdish area of Iraq
where apparently ISIS is about 40 miles away right now.
We had Andrea Mitchell on in the last segment saying she`s not sure how
imminent the ISIS threat is to Irbil, but she does say, as a bottom-line
issue, Irbil cannot fall.
I just wonder from your standpoint looking at this, we have the White House
now saying limited in scope, no boots on the ground. At what point,
though, does that thinking sort of interact with this reality of Irbil
being such a significant city?
STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s shifting now. We`re going to
learn a bit more in a few minutes. Not necessarily toward armed strikes,
though I tell you the White House and Department of Defense and others have
been so buttoned up, we don`t know what they`re about to do.
Andrea is right. Irbil would be a big game changer. We are really close
with Kurdistan. There`s been a big investment in trying to make Kurdistan
both play along with the Baghdad government but also secure itself. We`ve
given them lots of support to help the Peshmerga.
I just received word from someone in a few minutes, the president is going
to announce more aid to Iraq. I don`t know what form that aid will be.
But that will part of his talk. He will say while he doesn`t want to get
bogged down further in Iraq, it`s important to stand by these people. The
Department of Defense just confirmed that they have made the air drop and
the first wave of mission has happened.
So, there is stuff tilting forward, and, you know, it makes one wonder how
if this is a Libya-like or Benghazi-like situation, with a mountain that is
encircled by ISIS troops, we wouldn`t do more. But the president is trying
to make sure that we don`t have a slippery slope that takes us deeper into
the middle of a civil war.
KORNACKI: Yes. I`m curious what you think the calculation, the strategy
might be there. You talk about we have the mountain, we have apparently a
completed humanitarian mission right now, and basically until and unless
ISIS is leaves from the bottom of this mountain, it seems like you`ll have
to have perpetual humanitarian missions to keep the people alive until it`s
safe to come down from the mountain.
Is this basically a move on the United States` part to buy time for the
Iraqi government to be in a better position to deal with this or some other
end game here?
CLEMONS: I think they are buying time, but I also think we`re trying to
figure out ways to turbo-charge the Iraqi military so they can be more
active. We`ll be puppeteers behind the scene, trying to make them much
more effective in fighting ISIS and ramp that up as fast as we can.
KORNACKI: All right. Steve Clemons, MSNBC foreign policy analyst --
thanks so much for your time tonight.
Joining us now, we have Kristen Welker. She`s NBC News` White House
Kristen, I know we`re any minute now we`re hearing from the president.
What`s the latest there?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, I can
tell you President Obama has been in meetings really throughout the day
starting early this morning in the situation with his national security
team trying to weigh his options in terms of how to deal with this
And as we have now reported, the decision was made to move forward with
those air drops delivering humanitarian aid in the form of food and water.
And part of the reason why this announcement is coming after the fact is
because this was such a dicey mission. It`s a slippery slope. They wanted
to make sure that this went off without a hitch.
Here comes President Obama. Back to you.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening.
Today, I authorized two operations in Iraq: targeted airstrikes to protect
our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of
Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and
facing almost certain death.
Let me explain the actions we`re taking and why.
First, I said in June -- as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance
across Iraq -- that the United States would be prepared to take targeted
military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation
required it. In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move
across Iraq, and have neared the city of Irbil, where American diplomats
and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise
To stop the advance on Irbil, I`ve directed our military to take targeted
strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.
We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces
threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our
consulate in Irbil and our embassy in Baghdad. We`re also providing urgent
assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more
effectively wage the fight against ISIL.
Second, at the request of the Iraqi government -- we`ve begun operations to
help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain. As ISIL has marched
across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And
these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious
minorities, including Christian and Yazidis, a small and ancient religious
sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe
ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and
enslaving Yazidi women.
In recent days, Yazidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have
fled for their lives. And thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- are
now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their
backs. They`re without food, they`re without water. People are starving.
And children are dying of thirst.
Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of
the entire Yazidi people, which would constitute genocide. So, these
innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: descend the mountain
and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.
Now, I`ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene
every time there`s a crisis in the world. So, let me be clear about why we
must act, and act now.
When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent
people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a
mandate to help -- in this case, a request from the Iraqi government -- and
when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I
believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act,
carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That`s
what we`re doing on that mountain.
I`ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help
forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect
the civilians trapped there.
Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of
food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive.
Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, "There is no
one coming to help." Well, today, America is coming to help. We`re also
consulting with other countries, and the United Nations, who have called
for action to address this humanitarian crisis.
I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military
action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these. I understand that. I ran
for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home,
and that`s what we`ve done.
As commander-in-chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged
into fighting another war in Iraq. And so, even as we support Iraqis as
they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be
returning to fight in Iraq, because there`s no American military solution
to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation
among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.
However, we can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability
to Iraq. So, even as we carry out these two missions, we will continue to
pursue a broader strategy that empowers Iraqis to confront this crisis.
Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that
represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back
against the threats like ISIL.
Iraqis have named a new president, a new speaker of Parliament, and are
seeking consensus on a new prime minister. This is the progress that needs
to continue in order to reverse the momentum of the terrorists who prey on
Once Iraq has a new government, the United States will work with it and
other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with
this humanitarian crisis and counterterrorism challenge. None of Iraq`s
neighbors have an interest in this terrible suffering or instability.
And so, we`ll continue to work with our friends and allies to help refugees
get the shelter and food and water they so desperately need, and to help
Iraqis push back against ISIL. The several hundred American advisers that
I ordered to Iraq will continue to assess what more we can do to help
train, advise and support Iraqi forces going forward.
And just as I consulted Congress on the decisions I made today, we will
continue to do so going forward.
My fellow Americans, the world is confronted by many challenges. And while
America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the
world a more secure and prosperous place. And our leadership is necessary
to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our
grandchildren will depend on.
We do so by adhering to a set of core principles. We do whatever is
necessary to protect our people. We support our allies when they`re in
danger. We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms.
And we strive to stay true to the fundamental values -- the desire to live
with basic freedom and dignity -- that is common to human beings wherever
That`s why people all over the world look to the United States of America
to lead. And that`s why we do it.
So, let me close by assuring you that there is no decision that I take more
seriously than the use of military force. Over the last several years, we
have brought the vast majority of our troops home from Iraq and
Afghanistan. And I`ve been careful to resist calls to turn time and again
to our military, because America has other tools in our arsenal than our
military. We can also lead with the power of our diplomacy, our economy,
and our ideals.
But when the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action.
That`s my responsibility as commander-in-chief. And when many thousands of
innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we
have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action.
That is our responsibility as Americans. That`s a hallmark of American
leadership. That`s who we are.
So, tonight, we give thanks to our men and women in uniform -- especially
our brave pilots and crews over Iraq who are protecting our fellow
Americans and saving the lives of so many men, women and children that they
will never meet.
They represent American leadership at its best. As a nation, we should be
proud of them, and of our country`s enduring commitment to uphold our own
security and the dignity of our fellow human beings.
God bless our armed forces, and God bless the United States of America.
KORNACKI: All right. We just heard from President Obama.
The president saying that he has authorized targeted U.S. military strikes
in Iraq to protect American interests.
Kristen Welker is back at the White House for us.
Kristen, you just heard that. Take us through what you made of the
statement from the president. Sounded like two different things:
humanitarian drops which we knew about. He`s talking about air strikes and
seems to be saying only if necessary, sort of a contingency on the
Can you take us through what you heard?
WELKER: I think that`s right. That`s the major headline. We knew he was
going to come out and announce the humanitarian aid had been dropped in the
form of food and water. But the real headline here in addition to that is
the fact that the president announced that he had authorized military
airstrikes if it is deemed necessary.
So, that is a contingency, and he said it depends on a few things. One, if
this administration believes that the extremist forces are moving into the
city of Irbil, of course, the United States has a consulate there.
And number two, if it is deemed necessary to break the siege if those
40,000 religious minorities cannot come down from that mountain, if they
are essentially trapped. If they continue to be trapped, if the only way
to get them off of that mountain is to authorize military strikes, the
president tonight saying that he is prepared to do that. We know that
military aircraft is at the ready should the president signal the green
One other headline that I would point out, the fact that you heard the
president use the term "genocide." He said he came to this conclusion
because he wanted to prevent a potential genocide. Prevent something like
we saw in Rwanda.
So, that frames the thinking here behind the scenes tonight. We know that
the president has been in meetings throughout the day as he`s been trying
to determine exactly what actions to take here.
You also heard the president reiterate something that we`ve heard
consistently from this administration, which is that the Iraqi government
needs to be more inclusive. They have been calling on Prime Minister Nouri
al Maliki to create a more inclusive government for months now as they`ve
been tracking this escalating crisis in Iraq. So, again, tonight, you
heard President Obama say that and reiterate that there are not going to be
U.S. boots on the ground.
Again, as he said, he ran on a platform of withdrawing from Iraq. So, in
an attempt to stay true to that, he has authorized the possibility of
airstrikes. But, again, no American boots on the ground.
Back to you.
KORNACKI: All right. Kristen Welker, NBC News` White House correspondent,
joining us tonight. Really appreciate the coverage there.
Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff. He`s the founder and executive director
of the IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Paul, thanks for being here tonight.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IAVA: Thanks, Steve.
KORNACKI: So, a lot there in obviously what the president just said. As
Kristen was taking us through the issue of airstrikes, the president saying
it`s a contingency, if he deems it necessary to free the Yazidi people from
the mountains, he might do it then. If ISIS were to make a move towards
the city of Irbil, he might make it then.
So, contingencies there, but obviously big news with that. He also made a
point of saying, quote, "I will not allow the United States to be dragged
into fighting another war in Iraq." I think that`s the first thing
everybody is obviously thinking about in this country right now.
When you look at that, the situation in Irbil, specifically, if ISIS forces
were to start moving on Irbil, apparently they`re only 40 miles away right
now. Are you confident air strikes could take care of that?
RIECKHOFF: I have no idea. And I think most of us have no idea.
The president is in a unique position to have a source of information, a
source of information that we don`t know about. It`s obviously a very
dynamic situation, as combat often is. For our community, we`re always
pinned to, does this mean boots on the ground, does it more troops in Iraq?
Our community is always concerned about whether, you know, our brothers and
sisters are going to get phone calls. And that`s been a very, very tough
time for us over the last few years watching this situation unfold in Iraq.
We`ve shed blood there. We`ve lost friends there. We still have Iraqi
friends there that we`re concerned about.
So, I think it`s a very trying time for our military. If there`s one thing
we can underscore is the heroism and bravery of those pilots, the people
who are on the ground. There are a small number of military folks there.
And the folks who continue to fight and die in Afghanistan every day.
KORNACKI: So, I wonder, I mean, given your unique perspective -- I mean,
he made a specific point of saying he`s said in the past the U.S. can`t
intervene militarily in every situation around the world. So many
situations in the world you can look at and say if only we put the United
States military power behind us, we could do something positive.
He`s saying this one, though, passes that test. He invoked, as Kristen
said, he invoked the term, genocide. Listening to him, knowing what you
know about the situation over there, do you agree in a basic level, the
situation he described tonight does warrant some sort of U.S. intervention?
RIECKHOFF: It sounds like it. But what kind of intervention, we don`t
know. I mean, it`s clear right now that they`ve dropped food and water.
They`ve dropped thousands of gallons of water and thousands of MREs to
people whose lives may depend on. And I think if the U.S. can do that
safely, it`s our obligation to do that.
What happens beyond that, we don`t know. You know, there`s obviously
tremendous war fatigue in this country in the civilian population, but also
in the military. So, we need to know what is the plan, what happens next,
what`s it going to look like in six months or a year? Because frankly,
most of American has turned their eyes away from Iraq as it continued to
spiral downward over the last couple years.
But veterans are watching. We know how this has gone south, how bad ISIS
is, and we know that it could potentially bleed over into our personal
lives that have been so aversely affected by over 10 years of war.
KORNACKI: He also went out of his way to say, this was a request made to
him by the Iraqi government. I wonder what you make of that, because I
guess there`s two different ways of looking at that.
One is it sort of contributes to the sense of urgency around this, right?
I mean, this is taking place in Iraq, the government of Iraq saying to the
United States, we can`t handle this, we need your help. If you want this
to stop, you`re going to have to help us. So, there`s a sense of urgency
The other side of that, I guess, though, the purpose of Iraq war in part.
The purpose of the reconstruction effort after going in was Iraq would be
able to handle situations like this on its own. And here were are in the
middle of 2014 and they`re turning to us for help.
What do you feel when you hear that?
RIECKHOFF: It`s a total mess. Those who have been on the ground know it.
Whether you`re there in 2003 or you`re there now, it`s still a complete
mess. We can`t unwind that now, but I think we`ve got to look forward.
I think the question that I and most American troops often ask is, you
know, is it only going to be us? Is the rest of the world going to stand
by and just let this happen as well? We can`t do it alone and it can`t be
only a military solution. That`s part of why Iraq got into this situation.
The economic pieces weren`t in place. Political reconciliation wasn`t in
So, I hope after many years of war America understands you can`t solve
everything with military, gun and bombs. It`s much more complicated and
much more in-depth and it looks it may take a long time.
KORNACKI: Yes. Well, I think timetable is something people are thinking
about a lot right now. Again, the issue here of military -- of air strikes
is an issue of he`s saying it`s a contingency.
When you look at the situation at the mountain there with the Yazidi
people, tens of thousands in the mountain right now, it does seem like,
look, we completed apparently a humanitarian mission there tonight, but
we`re going to have to keep doing that until and unless ISIS goes away.
RIECKHOFF: There`s no solution presented to what to do about ISIS. And I
think that`s what we`re all stuck with right now.
I think -- for our community, especially, earlier today we were with the
president talking about the V.A. scandal, and how we haven`t taken care of
the folks who were in Iraq the first time. So, I think there has to be an
honest conversation how much our country can do and if we can uphold our
obligations not just overseas but here at home.
There are still veterans who served in Iraq who are stuck on waiting lists,
who have been a result of cooked books, who haven`t gotten their benefits.
And we`ve got to take care of them.
So, it`s oddly come full circle here just in one day.
KORNACKI: Right. That was the other piece of news, getting overshadowed
by what the president said to the country.
But Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
of America, thanks for your time tonight.
RIECKHOFF: Thanks, Steve.
KORNACKI: Appreciate that.
We`re going to bring in now former Pennsylvania congressman, Patrick
Murphy. He`s the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress, now an MSNBC
Patrick, thanks for taking a few minutes tonight. So, again, we were
talking about this with Paul, but the first thing that every American
thinks of, I imagine especially every veteran thinks of when they hear the
president talking about military intervention in Iraq, potentially boots on
the ground, getting dragged into something bigger than we thought it was
going to be.
What did you make of the case the president made tonight? Does it meet the
standard in your mind that he set?
PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think so. I think he was spot-on,
Steve, because what the president said was we did a humanitarian effort,
doesn`t mean an act of Congress. What he said was really -- ISIS, don`t
make a move. These 40,000 minorities, refugees you`re trying to kill and
murder, if you take one more step toward them, then I`m going to take
action, military action.
Now, he let congress know about it. Under the War Powers Act, we know
that`s constitutional. But, you know, there`s a debate in Congress whether
or not the War Powers Act is constitutional or not.
But the bottom line is, Steve, the military is asked once again to solve a
problem or come to the aid of the Maliki government. And the Maliki
government, the solution is a political one, and it`s reconciliation.
Let`s hope we find a solution now. We can`t wait more weeks, can`t wait
more months. Maliki needs to step down now.
KORNACKI: But, you know, he`s saying if you take one more step toward
these people, toward these people in the mountains, you know, then we`ll
come after you, so don`t do that. But it does freeze in place a situation
-- they`ve got these -- is has got these people`s town. They`ve come in,
taken it over. They forced them up to the mountain.
So, it`s one thing to say, don`t go into the mountains, you know, it`s
another thing to say, get out of the town. Let them come down from the
mountain. Let them take their town back.
Do you think anything the president said tonight will have that affect? Or
it seems to me like that might require more just looking at the track
record of ISIS here.
MURPHY: Right. That`s where you`re talking about collateral damage,
Steve, because you can`t just do it with an air force. You do need boots
on the ground and America doesn`t want boots on the ground because ISIS
right there in that town is not a clear and present danger to Americans.
Now, ISIS, as a terror organization, they are worse than al Qaeda.
KORNACKI: Yes. Patrick, I don`t mean to interrupt you. You just said a
phrase there, obviously, that`s such a powerful phrase. Boots on the
ground - - the president going out of his way in the speech tonight to say
no boots on the ground.
But as you -- as somebody who`s obviously an expert on this, looking at the
situation, looking at these goals and objectives, am I hearing you right?
Are you suggesting in your mind to accomplish the goals of getting ISIS out
of this town, to keep is potentially from Irbil, it might require boots on
the ground to really do that job right?
MURPHY: I don`t think that should be the decision. I don`t think that --
I don`t think that`s the right answer to this political solution as need.
So, but I will tell you, yes, to get ISIS out -- you need the American
military or the Iraqi army. Hopefully, it`s the Iraqi army and not the
I don`t think the American military should be the one to answer the call to
solve the solution which is really a sectarian, religious issue going on
right now in Iraq. Because Maliki has been such a failure and he`s been a
Shia leader and not Iraqi leader.
KORNACKI: All right. MSNBC contributor Patrick Murray. Thanks for your
time tonight. I appreciate that.
Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. He`s
live from Tel Aviv. He`s, of course, reported from Iraq for much of the
Richard, thanks for joining us tonight.
I`m just curious what your reaction is to what you heard the president say
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I think it`s an
indication of how serious the situation is in Iraq. How the is problem
continues to grow.
I was in Baghdad just a few months ago. I`m here because I was covering
the war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. But before this, I was watching
this march as is was ISIS was driving toward Baghdad.
And ISIS militants, they first took over Mosul, the second largest city in
the country. The Iraqi army crumbled in front of them. They captured many
weapons, U.S.-donated weapons that were given to the Iraqi military. And
they were driving toward Baghdad.
The U.S. ultimately intervened, Washington deciding that military advisers
had to be sent. Because of that, and because of the rise of the Shiite
population there, terrified that Baghdad would come under assault, ISIS
never got to Baghdad. But they didn`t stop fighting. Instead, they moved
back to their stronghold in the north around Mosul and they spread out to
the east and west.
And they moved toward the city of Irbil, the Kurdish city, and they moved
toward Sinjar. And in Sinjar, they drove a lot of the ethnic minorities,
especially the Yazidi people. They accused them of being devil
worshippers. And ISIS accuses them of being devil worshippers because they
have a very ancient religion that ISIS doesn`t respect, doesn`t understand,
wants to eliminate, and drove about 40,000 people up on a barren mountain
with no water, no food, no chance of survival.
And now, the president, after first saying we`re going to send military
advisers has approved these two limited missions, to try and get
humanitarian supplies to the people on the mountain and to try to break the
blockade around them, to try and destroy the ISIS position if necessary, if
they present a threat that are around the mountain, keeping the people
pinned in, and to try and protect the city where the U.S. has advisers.
The question is, yes, what will happen when there is the next crisis? What
will happen when there is another group of people forced into a valley or
up another mountain? I think we`re seeing the extent of the problem, but
also the absolute inability of the Iraqi security forces to deal with it.
KORNACKI: Well, the other question it raises to me, Richard, and I`m
curious based on what you know of is, what their reaction will be to what
the president is saying? The president is saying, you`re 40 miles away
from Irbil, don`t go any further, or I`ve authorized airstrikes, you`ve got
these tens of thousands of people in the mountains, don`t lay a glove or
I`ve authorized these airstrikes. How do you think ISIS response to that?
ENGEL: Well, this is a group that is not going to be deterred by threats.
They were deterred only when confronted with a superior force. Only did
they slow their advance toward Baghdad when troops were put there, Iraqi
troops in this case and Shiite militia troops were put there. I don`t
think they`re going to be intimidated by these threats.
Perhaps they won`t consider driving toward Irbil. I don`t think they would
have had a chance of taking the city or Irbil anyway. It`s a very strong
firmly held Kurdish city. It`s held by the Kurdish Peshmerga. It was one
of the capitals of the Kurdish region. They would have had a tough fight
getting into Kurdistan anyway, but they could have gotten close to the city
and lobbed artillery into it.
I think the U.S. has drawn a line in the sand saying we will stand with
Irbil. We will help our Kurdish friends.
By the way, the Kurds in Iraq were always the closest allies to American
forces. They were the U.S. best friend in Iraq. So, not to commit to
protecting them would have a tremendous betrayal from the U.S. government
after the Kurds were so loyal for so many years to U.S. troops.
KORNACKI: And also, you mentioned the failures of the Iraqi military.
Again, the president, as part of the case he was making to the nation
tonight, he was saying this was a request that was made specifically to him
by the Iraqi government. We were talking about this on the show earlier,
this idea of, is the United States, with doing the humanitarian drops and
basically warning ISIS away from this mountain, or trying to warn ISIS with
this mountain, is the United States trying to buy time and a little bit of
space for the Iraqi government, for the military to go in and deal with the
situation at the base of the mountain? Do you think that`s something
that`s plausible in any time in the near term future?
ENGEL: I think this was more of an act of desperation than even that. I
don`t think the Iraqi military has the logistical capability to get
anywhere close to this mountain. We`ve been told that Iraqi generals
called to Baghdad for supplies -- gasoline, more vehicles, air support in
particular, and those supplies simply are not coming.
The U.S. would not be intervening here because the president knows the
allergy that most people in the United States have to involvement of any
kind in Iraq, unless there was a complete inability for the Iraqi forces to
KORNACKI: All right. NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel,
live from Tel Aviv for us tonight. Thanks for joining us. Really
I want to bring in Steve Clemons now, foreign policy expert, MSNBC
So, Steve, we had you on right before the president spoke. You`ve now
heard the discussion here. I`m just curious, your thoughts on it?
CLEMONS: I think the president is -- that the key word tonight was
genocide, which you mentioned earlier. You know, he has people like Susan
Rice and Samantha Power in his administration and they don`t want to have a
moment that was like Bill Clinton and Rwanda. So, I think when you
mentioned genocide, it demands action on the humanitarian front.
Now, you asked them to be careful not to have this expand. It is
interesting that Vice President Biden`s office just put out a readout of
his talk with the Kurdish President Barzani and he says explicitly that the
United States will do whatever it takes to protect our interest in Irbil,
including airstrikes, which begs the question of what more beyond air
strikes? That`s just an interesting sentence and a readout. It`s like
Kremlinology, but these read outs are important.
KORNACKI: No, that`s the first thing I thought of as well. If you`re
drawing that line and you make another move, we`re going to drop you with
airstrikes and the airstrikes don`t get it done, what then?
CLEMONS: Well, there have been times when the White House has said in
various cases, not with Irbil but with Baghdad that we would take whatever
measures necessary, far beyond what we were talking and they would be upon
specific in that, but talk about there were key lines that would be take us
into sort of an order of magnitude difference in response of what we`ve
seen, sort of beyond drones, beyond cruise missiles, beyond intel sharing.
We`ve also seen a creep-up of advisers that have gone to Iraq. It`s hard
to imagine if we begin bombing ISIL that you won`t see those numbers creep
up. The president showed real discipline in Libya of not growing the foot
print of military action, and as he heard from him tonight, he doesn`t want
to go down that road.
But it`s very hard in these situations, and essentially, ISIL is operating
across the borders of three or four countries right now, you know, Jordan,
Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. And we`re talking about this as an ISIL story.
It`s is really a Sunni story, and this is a manifestation of a Sunni-Shia
civil war in the region, and we need to begin thinking about what the
stakeholders are there.
This is beyond Maliki. We need to look at how to bring the Saudis, the
Iranians, the Turks and other stakeholders into a very different kind of
strategic social contract in that region. That`s where the action needs to
KORNACKI: And, Steve, it`s also a situation where you`ve had ISIS taking
over these Sunni areas. Sunni movement taking over Sunni areas. Now, when
you start talking about Irbil, you start talking about Kurdish territory,
you start talking about a possible incursion into sort of another group`s
territory. That seems the significant moment, and that`s something the
president seems to be interesting in stopping.
CLEMONS: Well, I mean, when you begin to open up the question, which
already we`ve been flirting with a number of people, including Prime
Minister Netanyahu and others talking about it may be time for an
independent Kurdish nation, we`ve got have 3 million Kurds in Syria, you`ve
got many Kurds in Turkey. That continues to blur the lines. It furthers
the notion of ethnically cleansed states.
And I think when you begin looking at that kind of ethno-nationalism in
this region, it can be toxic and destabilizing for all the current
countries in that area.
KORNACKI: And, Steve, I wonder, we`ve been talking about this a little,
too. Do you have any sense just knowing the area fairly well about the
timetable? We know the president said if ISIS makes a further move towards
Irbil, that would warrant airstrikes in his mind. The other question,
these people who are trapped on the mountain right now, that seems a little
bit more open ended in terms of when the president might say, OK, now the
situation warrants some sort of military strike, some sort of airstrike.
Do you have any sense of where that line would be? If ISIS is not actively
going into mountains and trying to kill them, but at the same time, is not
letting them come down, not letting them return to their town, do you have
any sense of when at that time the president would say we`ve got to take
some sort of airstrike?
CLEMONS: I think we`ve animated every personnel that we have in that
country in Iraq, to get Iraq military forces, get Iraq capacity devoted to
doing something here. We`re going to be the puppet masters, driving the
Iraqis to be responsible for these people, moving them forward with various
forms of intelligence. And so, we`ll be engaged but we`ll be a step
behind. But that`s the only way they can move expeditiously to bring
relief to those people under siege.
KORNACKI: All right. Steve Clemons, MSNBC foreign policy analyst, thanks
for being with us this hour. I really appreciate the insight. And that
does it for us tonight.
MSNBC`s continuing coverage of this crisis in Iraq continues now with "THE
LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Lawrence, good evening.
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