'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, August 9th, 2014
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
August 9, 2014
Guest: Michael Hanna, Earl Catagnus Jr., Eric Talbert, Melissa Boteach,
Scott Winship, Bob Woodson, Mariana Chilton, Heather Reynolds
<High: Experts discuss U.S. military and humanitarian involvement in Iraq.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question: did the jury
reach the right conclusion?
Plus we`ll take Paul Ryan seriously. Seriously.
And the Ebola outbreak is officially an international health emergency.
But first, the U.S. returns to Iraq.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris Perry, and we have breaking
news this morning. The president is expected to address the media to talk
more about the situation in Iraq, and we`re going to bring you his
statement live when it happens. We expect to hear from the president just
a little later this hour. The United States military conducted a second
round of humanitarian aid Friday dropping 72 bundles of supplies for Iraqis
being threatened by hard line militants according to the Pentagon. This
relief comes after the U.S. military carried out air strikes against ISIS
targets yesterday in northern Iraq. This is a situation in that country
deteriorates. Before the first strike Friday morning President Obama
addressed the American people Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now the innocent people that President Obama is referring to
there are the Yazidis, a religious minority, often persecuted for a
theology different from the rest of Iraq`s Kurds. And they number between
400,000 to 500,000 in Iraq alone, and govern a portion of the country in
the northeast. Nearly 40,000 Yazidis are stranded on Mt. Sinjar, which is
located near Mosul in Iraq, and they are dying of hunger and thirst. The
Yazidis had to flee because they have been persecuted by ISIS and
threatened with execution if they refuse to convert to Islam. ISIS has
swept across a wide swath of both Iraq and Syria as the terror group tries
to establish an Islamic Caliphate and has resorted to forced conversions,
destruction of religious shrines for other sects and killing many people.
In addition, hundreds of Yazidi women have been kidnapped so they can be
sold into slavery. That is the fact confirmed by the United States.
Yesterday three air strikes against ISIS targets destroyed artillery, hit a
terrorist mortar position, and an ISIS convoy in Erbil where the U.S. does
have a consulate. The White House reiterated on Friday that a prolonged
U.S. military intervention is not the administration`s end goal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a situation that is a
very difficult challenge, but it`s not a challenge that can be solved by
the American military. There is support that can be provided by the
American military. But this is a situation that will only be solved by the
Iraqi people and a government that reflects the views of Iraq`s diverse
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Last night Vice President Biden called Iraqi President Masum
to discuss the U.S. military operations in northern Iraq as well as the
continued government formation process in Baghdad and this morning
President Obama used his weekly address to assure against the possibility
of a mission creep.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As commander-in-chief I will not allow the United States to be
dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. American combat troops will not
be returning to fight in Iraq because there`s no American military solution
to the larger crisis there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to bring in NBC News White House correspondent
Kristen Welker. Kristen, can you help to tell us about how and why the
president made the decision to go ahead with the air strikes?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Melissa, we`re
learning more about that and more about the tick tock of his decision
making process as well. According to a senior administration official
President Obama wrapped up his news conference at the Africa summit this
Wednesday. That historic summit. And it was after that that the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, told President Obama
that the crisis in Iraq had reached a breaking point. He told President
Obama that ISIS, those militant forces, were moving toward Erbil and that
is where the consulate sits. He also described the humanitarian crisis,
which you just mapped out, Melissa. The fact that as many as 40,000 of
those Christian minorities were trapped on top of that mountain without
access to food, without access to water, and that they were starting to die
including several children. So there was broad -- there was a broad sense
here behind the scenes that something needed to be done. I`m told that
President Obama met with his senior staff here at the White House on
Wednesday and then again Thursday morning in the situation room. He met
with his national security team, and they all agreed that some type of
action needed to be taken for two reasons, one because U.S. interests were
at risk there. It`s also a Kurdish stronghold, by the way, so there was a
real concern about that falling to the militant forces and then because
this is a humanitarian crisis, you heard President Obama use the term
genocide, that part of the reason that he wanted to take these limited air
strikes was to prevent a potential genocide.
I can tell you that there were some concerns raised in those meetings,
concerns about the F-18 fighters jets who were dropping those bombs, those
500-pound bombs. Those jets have to fly relatively low. They fly fast.
But there was concern about protecting the U.S. personnel who will be
carrying out the air strikes. Ultimately, it was determined by the
president that the benefits outweighed the risks and that something needed
to be done to prevent this ongoing atrocity that is unfolding there. So
that is why he decided to move forward with those limited air strikes. But
you are right to point out that the president`s policy right now is to make
sure that they stay limited and that he is not putting boots on the ground.
Senior administration officials calling on the Iraqi government to create
an inclusive government. That is something that hasn`t happened yet.
Melissa, this is really about buying some time to allow that to happen and
also to allow the U.S. to provide more arms to the Kurdish fighters who
were trying to beat back those militant forces. Melissa?
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC News` Kristen Welker at the White House, thank you.
We`ll come to you when we hear the president speak a little bit later this
morning. But right now I want to bring in NBC News chief Pentagon
correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski. Jim, we just heard from Kristen that
there is a continued interest here in making sure that this is a very
limited operation, but is there any indication from the Pentagon as to
whether or not there are going to be more air strikes at this point?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Melissa, they clearly
anticipate at some point there will be more air strikes. But after three
strikes on those targets there outside of Erbil that you mentioned a moment
ago, it seems that the ISIS militants sort of got the message and they`ve
put their efforts to advance on Erbil to launch attacks against those
Kurdish Peshmerga forces on hold. Everything seems to be very quiet
outside Erbil as of today. They are apparently, according to military
officials, no movement by militant forces to either come close or advance
further on Erbil or launch any kind of attacks as we saw yesterday when
there were some random artillery attacks in the direction of Peshmerga
forces. And as a result, as of now, as far as we know, just a short time
ago we were told that there have been no combat air strikes by U.S.
aircraft on any of those militant targets outside Erbil as of today,
HARRIS-PERRY: So, at this time, Jim, is there any reason for us to expect
that this is sort of the end of this mission or do we just simply have to
wait for what the president is going to tell us in a bit?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, it`s certainly not the end of the mission. Just
because there`s a pause in the fighting. And look, you know, these ISIS
militants have proven to be very well trained, their operations have been
very precise and disciplined, which has surprised a lot of military
analysts here in the Pentagon. So, there`s an indication that they`re
thinking this through right now. After taking a slight beating, and I will
emphasize, slight beating yesterday. It seems like they`re re-gathering to
figure out what their next move is. But nobody thinks this is over by any
stretch of the imagination.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC News` Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon, thank you.
MIKLASZEWSKI: All right, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me in studio now are Michael Hanna, who is senior
fellow at the Century Foundation, he also formerly served as a consultant
for human rights watch in Baghdad in 2008. And also Earl Catagnus Jr., an
Iraq war veteran, who is also an assistant professor of history and
security studies at Valley Forge Military College. Thank you both for
Let me start with you, Earl, based on sort of two things I heard from our
correspondents there. One from Kristen Welker talking about the
possibility that we could be dragged into larger operations if something
were to happen to one of the planes that is there doing the air strikes and
on the other hand Jim saying that the air strikes appear to have at least
momentarily met their goal and pushed back, caused a halt in the advance of
ISIS. How do you look at that strategically? What do you it think is
going on in this moment?
EARL CATAGNUS JR., VALLEY FORGE MILITARY COLLEGE: One, we wouldn`t be
dragged into an expansion of the conflict because of a downed aircraft. In
fact, there`s already plans in place they called, it`s a trap missions,
packed a recovery of air personnel. Marine expeditionary units are trained
in it. It`s almost a daily mission that you are trained on when you are
part of the MEW. They are already pre-positioned in the Gulf to do that as
well as they have about a 200 Marine security force fleeting anti-terrorism
security team company based in Baghdad as well as you have forwardly
deployed the Special Operations forces that are operating within the - So
we`re never ever going to forwardly deploy or put aircraft in danger
without the ability to recover those personnel. And so we`re not going to
be dragged in because of that. We will have the capability to do that.
Now how effective it is, if we take more casualties that may depend on the
situation on the ground. I think that the president here has set clear
guidelines for not engaging as opposed to engaging, and I think that the -
It`s interesting the language he used. He said to protect American
personnel and facilities, which sounds surprisingly familiar to the early
20 Century when we engaged in the Caribbean - the banana wars in the
Caribbean with - to protect American lives and property. So it leaves an
opening to expand the engagement. But we`re not going to see an increase
in ground combat troops, and there`s no reason for it because they have --
the Iraqi military has - is there. We have the - we will be -- we`re
putting in place adviser teams, we`re exploiting intelligence while trying
to put intelligence assets in place and then, I think, more air strikes
will be in there.
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president clearly early this week was saying on the
one hand the question of American personnel and interests in the sort of
narrowest sense. But, of course, the other piece of what the president
said was, in this case, the G-word and attempting to halt a potential
genocide to the extent that we have the military capability to do so. Is
that an appropriate way to frame what is going on with this population of
Kurds on the mountain at this moment?
MICHAEL HANNA, SR. FELLOW, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: I think it was
certainly a potential. The potential was there. ISIS has proven its
intent previously. The Yazidis were cornered and there was every reason to
fear mass atrocity. I think we also have to think that this was a very
unique circumstance in which this humanitarian situation converged with
these strategic concerns, and in which we saw that limited air strikes
could have a real impact in terms of blunting ISIS`s expansion and also
serving is really important purpose in terms of protecting what was a
defenseless community. And very unique. There are 400,000, 500,000
Yazidis in Iraq, small minority community. So many of them concentrated in
one geographic area. We`ve seen the ways, in which ISIS previously has
systematically targeted minority communities, Christians in Iraq
previously. And so it`s not flippant to toss around the word genocide. It
was something that was a real concern and I think was part of why we`ve
seen the president engage in this way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us. We`re going to dig into this a bit more.
And so, stay with me. We have much more on the crisis in Iraq. I also
want to get you an update on the renewed fighting in Gaza as well. And we
will continue to wait President Obama`s live remarks since morning. We are
going to bring that to you later this hour as soon as they begin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Following - this morning in Gaza as talks in Egypt have
collapsed. As the three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended on
Friday at 8:00 a.m., militants in Gaza began firing rockets into Israel and
Israel responded with air strikes. Since midnight, Israeli defense forces
have struck 30 targets in the Gaza Strip while 11 rockets fired from within
Gaza have landed in open area in southern Israel. This renewed round of
violence since the latest ceasefire ended has left at least ten
Palestinians dead including a ten-year-old boy and more than 60 wounded in
Gaza. Two Israelis have been injured from shrapnel. Additionally, one
Palestinian was killed near Ramallah and about 40 were injured in clashes
that occurred in the West Bank on Friday. We will keep an eye on this
developing story. But right now I want to turn back to the crisis in Iraq
where the U.S. has launched air strikes targeting ISIS militants that hope
to stopping the group`s advance across the country. This morning we are
awaiting live remarks from President Obama on the situation in Iraq. Back
with me at the table are Michael Hanna, senior fellow with the Century
Foundation, who formerly served as a consultant for Human Rights Watch in
Baghdad in 2008 and Earl Catagnus Jr., an Iraq war veteran who is also an
assistant professor of history and security studies at Valley Forge
Military College. Also at this moment I want to bring in Juliette Touma,
who is an Iraq representative for UNICEF, an organization focused on the
rights of children affected by violence around the world. And she`s going
to join us now via Skype. Good morning.
JULIIETTE TOUMA, UNICEF IRAQ REPRESENTATIVE: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to play for you what President Obama said on Thursday
about the individuals, the Yazidis who are in the mountains. Let me play
this for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: How effective are these air strikes likely to be in helping
to stop this kind of persecution and potential genocide?
TOUMA: Thank you. I am not in a position to comment really on the air
strikes because I work for a humanitarian organization. I can tell you
about the humanitarian situation, of those people, including the many
children who are stranded on the mountains. Their situation is really
dire. They need water. They need food. They need shelter and they need
protection. They need to get to safety right now and time is of essence
here, and we`re running out of time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Are the humanitarian aid air drops, which are also part of
this military operation, likely to have that effect of providing some
protection and shelter for these individuals?
TOUMA: Well, the United Nations and UNICEF included has not been part of
these air drops. The humanitarian supplies delivery is very, very
important to reach these people. They`re very much in need for these
supplies and reaching them with all the supplies is quite important.
What`s equally important is trying to find an opportunity and a way to get
the stranded people including 20,000 children out of these mountains into
HARRIS-PERRY: And when you say into safety, is there any possibility at
this point of their being able to return to their own homes, or is this now
a refugee crisis likely to cross a border?
TOUMA: Well, it`s a good question. Our information says that the Islamic
state formerly known as ISIS has taken over the area of origin of the
stranded population including many children would return home, but right
now this seems highly unlikely. And what we need to have - is that they
reach any place that is safe and that is not really where they are stranded
in the mountains.
HARRIS-PERRY: UNICEF`s Juliette Touma in Erbil, Iraq. Please stay with us
if you can. But we are going to need to take a break here. We are
expecting remarks from President Obama on the situation in Iraq any moment
now. Stay with us. We`re going to bring those to you live.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. We are awaiting President Obama, who`s
expected to speak at any moment from the South Lawn of the White House
about the U.S. air campaign in Iraq. Until (INAUDIBLE), I do have a few
more questions for us here to try to get my head around what`s happening.
So, Earl, part of what I keep hearing commentators say is that we are at
least somewhat surprised as a state of a little bit back on one foot about
just how organized, how disciplined, and how well armed ISIS is? Why are
we surprised to find that out? In other words, I`m surprised that our
intelligence didn`t tell us just how well armed and prepared ISIS is.
CATAGNUS: I think that it might be a little bit overstating.
CATAGNUS: I really don`t think that we were completely taken aback. We
have been watching this ISIS develop in Syria and we knew that they were
getting an influx of weapons from many different sources between - the
captures of the Syrian army, the ISIS, when they captured Mosul they
secured many of the weapons that we had procured for them, for the Iraqis.
So, I`m not so sure that we .
HARRIS-PERRY: Some of the weapons that ISIS is currently fighting with are
weapons that were U.S.-provided for the Iraqis?
CATAGNUS: Well, through - they were Soviet bloc weapons.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. We didn`t give them?
CATAGNUS: No, we didn`t give them. So, they were captured weapons. As
far as how the training that they are, I think that we have to look at it
not from a training of a Western prospective, but a training of the level
of types of insurgents and terrorists that we had encountered before, so
this is that they`re much more sophisticated than what we`ve previously
encountered, not necessarily that they`re on the part of, say, a China
military or a Russian military or ours or even a Saudi Arabian division or
anything, or even in Iraqi, a well-trained Iraqi division. That said, so
we -- I don`t think we have been completely surprised. I think we`re just
surprised that they are very methodical in their movement. They`re not
overstretching themselves. They`re taking town by town. After their
initial push through Mosul, they`ve stopped. Largely because of the Iraqi
military and the Kurdish Peshmerga, but we`re seeing slow gains.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Michael, then help me to connect that, these realities
about sort of their deliberation, their armaments with, also, sort of their
motivation. Because part of what I am consistently concerned with in
understanding them as an Islamic group, which is a kind of discourse that
we hear regularly, is that we might be obscuring more than we`re
illuminating by talking about the religious aspect. So clearly a certain
form of a kind of bastardized Islam is part of what they`re doing here.
But I wonder if that actually helps -- makes it harder for us to understand
what is, in fact, motivating ISIS.
HANNA: Well, it`s part of the motivation. I think you`re right to focus
on it as part. But the core of this group has been operating for years.
It grew up during the Sunni insurgency against the United States. So many
of these people including some of the core leadership have been at this for
years. And even back in 2005 when it was the Islamic state, when it was
the al Qaeda franchise in Iraq, they made noises about establishing an
Islamic state. It sounded fantastical then, but now we wake up today, many
years later, and they control territory, huge swaths of territory, on both
sides of the Syrian and Iraqi border. They control oil resources, some of
the key oil resources in Syria are now under ISIS control. They have a
self-sustaining financing mechanism. And so, they are something like a
proto state. And within that proto state, there are clearly religious
motivations. This is an Islamist movement. A very hard line Islamist
movement that has been disowned by al Qaeda central again now, which gives
you an idea of how radical this group is. And they do want to found an
Islamic state. They hold territory. They are something is like a proto
state today and, of course, they want to expand. And I think we have been
surprised at how quickly they have expanded. We`ve known about their
capacities. But we are surprised at how quickly this is happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, with interests that are that territorial in nature, does
that suggest that there is a responsibility not only for the U.S., but
potentially for other allies to engage beyond simply these kind of
immediate interests in protecting this community, and in - the Yazidi, and
in protecting the kind of immediate American interests? If we`re talking
about an expansionist group.
CATAGNUS: I think that -- and I said this before -- that ISIS`s success
will be its failure ultimately in the long run. Because there are no
states in that or even regional players that want ISIS or I Islamic state
to be successful. And even - and if you look at the Sunni tribal leaders
and you get the feeling from them that they`re just siding - they are just
siding with them because they`re in charge right now and it`s almost like
the biggest tribe, concept that the Marine Corps went in with in al-Anbar,
the biggest and strongest tribe right now. So, they`re waiting to see how
things play out. And I think that when we were talking earlier that the
United States is now starting to re-engage with those Sunni tribal leaders
that we had left and just walked away from and so there`s a reluctance on
their part because we aren`t present there.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s very different than suggesting military
intervention, to talk about engagement with Sunni leaders. You`re talking
about diplomatic is the wrong word, but you are talking about more sort of
process building than you are boots on the ground military.
CATAGNUS: There`s never -- there`s no reason for American combat troops
with the exception of Special Operations Forces or positioned in Baghdad
for protection of the consulates or the embassies. There`s no reason for
it because Iraq has a military, has -- and with the right support given to
it with the advisers, with all of the - with the air support, they can --
they are sustainable. Now ..
HARRIS-PERRY: But there is undoubtedly going to be some political cross
pressures about this. So, on the one hand I hear you say strategically
there`s no reason for it. On the other hand, we have unquestionably heard
that there are -- that there are some efforts - of both - the president -
actually, we`re going to take one moment. Because we are going right now
live to the White House where President Obama is addressing the media
regarding the situation in Iraq.
OBAMA: . forces outside the city of Erbil, to prevent them from advancing
on the city and to protect our American diplomats and military personnel.
So far these strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that
ISIL terrorists could have used against Erbil. Meanwhile Kurdish forces on
the ground continue to defend the city and the United States and the Iraqi
government have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as
they wage their fight.
Second, our humanitarian effort continues to help the men, women, and
children stranded on Mt. Sinjar. American forces have so far conducted two
successful air drops delivering thousands of meals and gallons of water to
these desperate men, women and children. And American aircraft are
positioned to strike ISIL terrorists around the mountain to help forces in
Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there.
Now even as we deal with these immediate situations, we will continue to
pursue a broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our American citizens
in Iraq whether they`re diplomats, civilians, or military. If these
terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to
protect our people. We will continue to provide military assistance and
advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these
terrorists so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.
We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the
growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Even as our attention is focused on preventing an act of genocide and
helping the men and women and children on the mountain, countless Iraqis
have been driven or fled from their homes including many Christians. Now
this morning I spoke with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom and
President Hollande of France. I`m pleased that both leaders expressed
their strong support for our actions and have agreed to join us in
providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians who are suffering so
much. Once again, America is proud to act alongside our closest friends
More broadly, the United Nations in Iraq is working urgently to help
respond to the needs of those Iraqis fleeing from under threat. The U.N.
Security Council has called on the international community to do everything
it can to provide food, water, and shelter. And in my calls with allies
and partners around the world, I will continue to urge them to join us in
this humanitarian effort. Finally, we continue to call on Iraqis to come
together and form the inclusive government that Iraq needs right now. Vice
President Biden has been speaking to Iraqi leaders and our team in Baghdad
is in close touch with the Iraqi government. All Iraqi communities are
ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi
communities need to unite to defend their country. Just as we are focused
on the situation in the north affecting Kurds and the Iraqi minorities,
Sunni and Shia in different parts of Iraq have suffered mightily at the
hands of ISIL. Once an inclusive government is in place, I`m confident it
will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against ISIL and to mobilize greater
support from our friends and allies. Ultimately only Iraqis can ensure the
security and stability of Iraq. The United States can`t do it for them,
but we can and will be partners in that effort.
One final thing as we go forward, we`ll continue to consult with Congress
and coordinate closely with our allies and partners. And as Americans we
will continue to show gratitude to our men and women in uniform who are
conducting our operations there. When called, they were ready as they
always are. When given their mission, they perform with distinction as
they always do, and when we see them serving with such honor and compassion
defending our fellow citizens and saving the lives of people they`ve never
met, it makes us proud to be Americans as we always will be. So with that,
let me take a couple of questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For how long a period of time do you see these air
strikes continuing for? And is your goal there to contain ISIS or to
OBAMA: I`m not going to give a particular timetable because, as I`ve said
from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are
threatened, it`s my obligation, my responsibility as commander-in-chief, to
make sure that they are protected. And we`re not moving our embassy
anytime soon. We`re not moving our consulate anytime soon and that means
that given the challenging security environment, we`re going to maintain
vigilance and ensure that our people are safe. Our initial goal is to not
only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this
humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent
ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there.
But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do
we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we
ultimately relocate them so that they are safe? That`s the kind of
coordination that we need to do internationally. I was very pleased to get
the cooperation of both Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande in
addressing some of the immediate needs in terms of air drops and some of
the assets and logistical support that they`re providing. But there`s a
broader set of questions that our experts now are engaged in with the
United Nations and our allies and partners and that is how do we
potentially create a safe corridor or some other mechanism so that these
people can move. That may take some time because there are varying
estimates of how many people are up there. But they`re in the thousands
and moving them is not simple in this kind of security environment.
Just to give people a sense, though, of a timetable, the most important
timetable that I`m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting
formed and finalized. Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is
very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct
air strikes, but ultimately, there`s not going to be an American military
solution to this problem. There`s going to have to an Iraqi solution that
America and other countries and allies support. And that can`t happen
effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government. So right now we
have a president. We have a speaker. What we don`t yet have is a prime
minister and a cabinet that is formed that can go ahead and move forward
and then start reaching out to all the various groups and factions inside
of Iraq. And can give confidence to populations in the Sunni areas that
ISIL is not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those
Iraqi security forces that are able and functional and they understand who
they`re reporting to and what they`re fighting for and what the chain of
command is and it provides a structure, in which, you know, better
cooperation has taken place between the Kurdish region and Baghdad.
So we`re going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their
government together. Until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the
unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the United States has fought long wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq with uncertain outcomes. How do you assure the
American people that we`re not getting dragged into another war in Iraq?
Have you underestimated the power of ISIS? And, finally, you said that you
involved international partners and humanitarian efforts. Is there any
thought to talk to international partners as far as military actions to
prevent the spread of ISIS?
OBAMA: Well, a couple of things I would say. Number one, I`ve been very
clear that we`re not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And
we are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from
our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq and that is that our
military is so effective that we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are
-- or if we put enough, you know, personnel and resources into it. But it
can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to
arrive at the kinds of political accommodations and compromise that any
civilized society requires.
And so it would be, I think, a big mistake for us to think that we can on
the cheap simply go in, tamp everything down again, restart without some
fundamental shift in attitudes among the various Iraqi factions. That`s
why it is so important to have an Iraqi government on the ground that is
taking responsibility that we can help, that we can partner with, that has
the capacity to get alliances in the region. And once that`s in place,
then I think we end up being one of many countries that can work together
to deal with the broader crisis that ISIL poses.
What were your other questions? Did we underestimate ISIL? I think that
there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several
months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the
expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq. And part of that
is, I think, not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqis`
security forces, when they`re far away from Baghdad, did not have the
incentive or the capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary.
And so that`s one more reason why Iraqi government formation is so
important because there has to be a rebuilding and an understanding of who
it is that the Iraqi security forces are reporting to, what they are
fighting for, and there has to be some investment by Sunnis in pushing back
against ISIL. I think we`re already seeing and we will see even further
the degree to which those territories under ISIL control alienate
populations because of the barbarity and brutality, with which they
But in order to ensure that Sunni populations reject outright these kinds
of incursions, they have got to feel like they`re invested in a broader
national government. And right now they don`t -- they don`t feel that. So
the upshot is that what we`ve seen over the last several months indicates
the weaknesses in an Iraqi government, but what we`ve also seen, I think,
is a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognizing that
we`re going to have to rethink how we do business if we`re going to hold
our country together. And hopefully that change in attitude supplemented
by improved security efforts in which we can assist and help, that can make
a difference. Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just expressed confidence that the Iraqi
government can eventually prevent the safe haven. But you`ve also just
described the complications with the Iraqi government and the
sophistication of ISIL. So, is it possible that what you`ve described and
your ambitions there could take years not months?
OBAMA: I don`t think we`re going to solve this problem in weeks. If
that`s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi
security forces in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate
effectively with the support of population in Sunni areas are going to have
to revamp, get resupplied, have a clear strategy. That`s all going to be
dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have
confidence in. We can help in all those efforts. I think part of what
we`re able to do right now is preserve a space for them to do the hard work
that`s necessary. If they do that, the one thing that I also think has
changed is that many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been
generally suspicious or weary of the Iraqi government are more likely to
join in in the fight against ISIS. And that can be extremely helpful.
But this is going to be a long-term project. Part of what we`ve seen is
that a minority Sunni population in Iraq as well as a majority Sunni
population in Syria has felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from
their respective governments and that has been a ripe territory for these
Jihadists and extremists to operate. And rebuilding governments in those
areas and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going
to take time. Now there are some immediate concerns that we have to worry
about. We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that
could cripple a country permanently. There`s key infrastructure inside of
Iraq that we have to be concerned about. My team has been vigilant even
before ISIL went into Mosul about foreign fighters and jihadists gathering
in Syria and now in Iraq who might potentially launch attacks outside the
region against Western targets and U.S. targets. So there`s going to be a
counterterrorism element that - and we are already preparing for and have
been working diligently on for a long time now. There is going to be a
military element in protecting our people. But the long-term campaign of
changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these
areas feel connected to and well served by a national government, that`s a
long-term process. And that`s something that the United States cannot do.
Only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help. We can advise, but
we can`t do it for them.
And the U.S. military cannot do it for them. And so, this goes back to the
earlier question about U.S. military involvement. The nature of this
problem is not one that a U.S. military can solve. We can assist and our
military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering
efforts of an Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their
country together. But we can`t do it for them. OK? Last question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: $100 billion in Iraq. Do you anticipate having to
ask Congress for additional funds to support this mission?
OBAMA: Currently we are operating within the budget constraints that we
already have. And we`ll have to evaluate what happens over time. We
already have a lot of assets in the region. We anticipate when we make our
preliminary budgets that they may - the things that come up requiring us to
engage. And right now at least I think we are OK. If and when we need
additional dollars to make sure that American personnel and American
facilities are protected, then we will certainly make that request. But
right now that`s not our primary concern. Last question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President, do you have any second thoughts about
pulling all ground troops out of Iraq? And does it give you pause as the
U.S. - is doing the same thing in Afghanistan?
OBAMA: You know what, what I just find interesting is the degree to which
this issue keeps on coming up. As if this was my decision. Under the
previous administration we had turned over the country to a sovereign,
democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain
troops in Iraq we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government. And we
needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if,
for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a
firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn`t be hauled before Iraqi -- an
Iraqi judicial system. And the Iraqi government based on its political
considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation,
declined to provide us those assurances and on that basis we left. We had
offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say do you
regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops? That presupposes that I
would have overridden this sovereign government, that we have turned the
keys back over to, and said, you know what, you`re democratic, you`re
sovereign, except if I decide that it`s good for you to keep 10,000 or
15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don`t have a choice. Which
would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about
turning over the country back to Iraqis. An argument not just made by me,
but made by the previous administration. So let`s just be clear the reason
that we did not have a follow on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were
-- a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there. And politically
they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our
troops in Iraq.
Having said all that, if, in fact, the Iraqi government behaved the way it
did over the last five or six years where it failed to pass legislation
that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership, if it
had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them, if it had alienated
some of the Sunni tribes that we had brought back in during the so-called
awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006, if they had done all those
things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn`t be holding
together either. The only difference would be we`d have a bunch of troops
on the ground that would be vulnerable. And however many troops we had, we
would have to now be reinforcing -- I`d have to be protecting them and we`d
have a much bigger job and probably we would end up having to go up again
in terms of the number of ground troops to make sure that those forces were
So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently
pedaled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous
policies that they, themselves, made. Going forward with respect to
Afghanistan, we are leaving the follow-on force there. I think the lesson
for Afghanistan is not the fact that we`ve got a follow -on force that will
be capable of training and supporting Afghan security efforts. I think the
real lesson in Afghanistan is that if factions in a country after a long
period of civil war do not find a way to come up with a political
accommodation, if they take maximalists positions and their attitude is I
want 100 percent of what I want and the other side gets nothing, then the
center doesn`t hold. And the good news is that, in part thanks to the
excellent work of John Kerry and others, we now are seeing the two
candidates in the recent presidential elections start coming together and
agreeing not only to move forward on the audit to be able to finally
certify a winner in the election, but also the kinds of political
accommodations that are going to be required to keep democracy moving. So
that`s the real lesson I think for Afghanistan coming out of Iraq. Is if
you want this thing to work, then whether it`s different ethnicities,
different religions, different regions, they have got to complement each
other. Otherwise you start tipping back into old patterns of violence and
it doesn`t matter how many U.S. troops are there. If that happens you end
up having a mess. All right? Thanks a lot, guys.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama speaking on the White House South
Lawn before departing for his vacation in Martha`s Vineyard. I want to
bring in NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Jim, can
you give me your take on the president`s remarks just now?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, quite frankly, Melissa, he appeared to make all kinds
of news in this sort of impromptu greeting an exchange with reporters there
on the South Lawn just before he heads off to vacation. First of all, for
the first time he talked about a timetable in which he said there is no
timetable. That it`s not going to be all of this U.S. military involvement
is not going to be over in a matter of weeks but is going to take some
time. So it`s an open-ended at this point timetable. But he seemed to
expand the U.S. military mission there at the same time. What he was
talking about not only using airpower to protect those Yazidi religious
minorities trapped up on that mountain, starving and dying of thirst, but
he said that he`s willing to use air strikes to protect them against the
rebel forces that are surrounding that mountain. But he also talked about
opening a corridor, a safe corridor, from which they could leave that
mountain top and seek some safe refuge somewhere else. You cannot do that,
really, without some kind of boots on the ground. Now he`s not saying they
will be American boots on the ground but he was talking about some European
participation and others getting involved. So that expanded the mission
there. He also talked about infrastructure, critical infrastructure, and
that`s referring to the Mosul dam, which is currently held by those Islamic
rebels which could mean that there might be some kind of military operation
being planned to try to drive those militants away from that dam. And
finally he talked about a counterterrorism mission for the U.S. military.
Now, that`s brand new. And again, nobody is talking about boots on the
ground, but it`s going to take some unraveling to figure out just what the
president was talking about. But he was talking about much more than just
a few air strikes to halt the advance of those Islamic militants, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski
pointing out all of the news that president Obama just made on the South
Lawn of the White House. So we are going to take a quick break. But up
next, we are going to talk more about those remarks, the news that was
made, and what it all means for the U.S. in Iraq when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We begin right now with the story in Iraq and the comments from President
Obama just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`ve been very clear we`re not going to have U.S. combat troops in
Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that because we should have
learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: These comments followed three air strikes on ISIS militant
targets in northern Iraq.
The United States military also carried out two air drops of relief
supplies providing more are than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of fresh
drinking water for refugees stranded on Mt. Sinjar. Nearly 40,000 Yazidis
remain stranded on the mountain top, which is located near Mosul in Iraq.
And in addition, hundreds of Yazidi women have been kidnapped to be sold
Right now, I want to bring in NBC News White House correspondent Kristen
Kristen, will the White House continue to stay on this message of not
committing U.S. troops on the ground in coming days given that we did seem
to hear from the president that this could be a much longer and potentially
broader mission than was first discussed?
WELKER: Well, I think he indicated it could be a longer mission. He
really left it open ended, Melissa. I think that`s the headline here. He
said this could be a long-term project. He said, quote, "I don`t think
we`re going to solve this problem in weeks."
So, I think you`re absolutely right about that. He was laying the
groundwork for the fact that this is now an open-ended, albeit limited
military engagement that the U.S. is engaged in. But in terms of putting
boots on the ground, the U.S. is insistent that that is not going to
And, of course, Melissa, as we have been discussing, this president ran on
a flat form of getting U.S. forces out of Iraq. So I think he is going to
do everything within his power to make sure he sticks to that promise that
he`s not going to put U.S. boots back on the ground.
The other headline, though, that I would point out here so fascinating is
that the president seemed to indicate that there`s not a plan yet in place
to get those Christian minorities off of that mountain. You heard him say
that those discussions are ongoing, that right now, he is reaching out to
his allies. He spoke with Prime Minister Cameron. He spoke with Hollande
They are onboard with assisting in the humanitarian mission. I have been
told based on my reporting that the president is going to be making a
series of phone calls in the coming days to his allies to get them onboard
to help with that humanitarian mission.
But that`s going to be the key here, Melissa. How do you get those people
off of the mountain? How do you deal with the immediate threat of the
humanitarian crisis, getting them food and water? That`s something that`s
already begun. But the second phase of that, getting them off the mountain
and getting to safety, it sounds like that`s something that`s still under
discussion -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC News Kristen Welker at the White House, thank you for
your continued reporting.
I want to bring right now my panel: at the table, Michael Hanna, senior
fellow at the Century Foundation, formerly served as a consultant for Human
Rights Watch in Baghdad in 2008, Earl Catagnus Jr., an Iraq War veteran,
who is also assistant professor of history and security studies at Valley
Forge Military College, and joining me from Washington, D.C., is Michael
Leiter, MSNBC counterterrorism analyst and former director of the National
So, hold on, because I`ve got sort of one for each of you.
Michael Hanna, let me start with you. This question about a pathway to
safety for the Yazidi, it does sound like potentially a longer mission,
maybe not a broader one, but it does sound potentially complicated. Is
that wrong? Is there a way we ought to be thinking about this?
HANNA: Well, it`s certainly complicated and we`ve known that from the
start. But in terms of the U.S. engagement, I don`t think the president`s
comments suggest any broader mission in that regard. Clearly, this is a
stopgap. We`re trying to contain and perhaps to a degree degrade ISIS`
capabilities. We know that airpower alone is not going to do the trick in
a matter of days and there will be heavy reliance on the ground on local
forces, that`s the Kurdish/Peshmerga, a group -- a fighting group we have
cooperated with for many years now.
And so, that basic template of stopgap assistance in terms of airpower and
a heavy reliance on the ground, on local forces, whether that`d be the
Iraqi security forces or the Kurdish/Peshmerga, that template remains
intact. I think we`ve been engaged now for months since June in terms of
sending military advisers to assess and to begin the process of
intelligence sharing, helping with targeting. That`s been under way for
So, I think the air strikes have focused attention on the overt use of
American military power, but in terms of the longer term, I think that
template is in place and I don`t think we`re seeing much of an expansion of
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, let me just follow up quickly on this. What
I heard that sounded different to me was that initially on Thursday night
what I heard the president saying was we have a responsibility and the
capacity to stop -- to step in and stop a potential genocide. That sounds
different to me than we need to make sure that these communities are
relocated to safety. In other words, the stopping of a horror is a little
different than this kind of re-establish, resettlement.
Do we now own this in a longer term sense is or was that always part of it?
HANNA: It was always part of it, because you have to find -- in terms of
humanitarian corridor, getting the people off of the mountain, that`s going
to be a task for those on the ground, for Kurdish forces. Most of these
displaced persons have ended up in the KRG, the Kurdistan Regional
Government, which is in the north of Iraq and that`s the most likely
destination for these displaced persons now.
So, it`s a question, I think, very practical, logistical question that was
always there from the start once you beat back ISIS, how do you get people
to safety? And I think that`s simply the next step in this mission.
HARRIS-PERRY: Got it.
OK, so if that is in many ways a practical aspect, Earl, let me come to you
on another big part of what I heard the president saying just moments ago,
which was in many ways echoing what I heard you say as we were waiting for
the president about the political realities there in Iraq and the necessity
that beating back ISIS in the short term may be military but defeating is
in the long term is really a question of what happens in terms of the Iraq
CATAGNUS: I don`t think the president could have been any more clear and I
think he actually is practicing some real politic, with actually saying to
the -- if al Maliki gets back in power and the prime minister that we`re
going to see a disintegration of the Iraqi state as we know it now, even
further than what it is. He has said it over and over and over and again
throughout his talk and even through the -- his talking.
You can tell that was the number one talking point. And he`s not signaling
that to the American people. I think he`s really telling the Iraqi
government and the Iraqi people, look, you will fail if he gets back in.
You have to have an inclusive government. Otherwise we are not going to
And he even opened it up and said where if it does change, he said
something about open space, meaning that we`ll continue to support this
open space, to allow this political, and that`s what we think he`s talking
about longer term. Internal Iraqi structure not -- I mean, obviously there
will be a military involvement but not that we`re going to be bombing
So, that is the number one thing and at the end, his last question, I
think, should never have been done. I think that is where he just went off
and really got off talking point, just talked streamline.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Earl, I`m so glad you brought up that last question,
because, Michael, I know that`s exactly what I want to come to you on here.
That -- because his -- the president first said last question and then he
gave a second last question. And in response to that got into a set of
domestic political concerns that made me wonder whether or not what we were
hearing was, in fact, an assessment of a counterterrorism strategy relative
to ISIS or a kind of annoyance with what he saw as a potentially partisan
question, and that was whether or not removing the troops from Iraq, not
leading a residual force, was in part -- that made the U.S. have some level
of culpability here.
How do you assess strategically what the president was saying as opposed to
politically what he was saying there?
MICHAEL LEITER, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, my counterterrorism
perspective, remember, I served President Bush and President Obama.
President Obama was dealt a very, very tough hand.
But there`s absolutely no doubt over the past two years, the U.S.
intelligence community has been clear in its warnings, the continued
conflict in Syria, al-Nusra front, and an affiliate of al Qaeda, and then
the growth of ISIS we now saw spill into Iraq poses a really serious
regional and threat to the homeland from a counterterrorism perspective.
The president in a very quick way noted that in his comments. But he is
now faced with that. That is a real problem. It is a real concern. I
think what his comments didn`t address is how we`re actually going to stop
Because the current mission is really quite narrowly tailored, quite
minimalist and the extent to which he didn`t speak about the broader
regional consequences we`ve seen, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, that is the piece
which I think his critics will still continue to say we are currently
fighting a very tactical battle around Kurdistan and we`re not addressing
the broader strategic context of the region.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you think the president was accurate in his assessment it
wouldn`t have made any substantial difference to have left residual forces
LEITER: No. I don`t. That is not to say I agree in part with the
president, that it wasn`t purely our decision. I think some of the
negotiating could have been much tougher. But I do actually think that a
U.S. military presence can change two things. One, it stiffens the spines
of our Iraqi partners. So, I have no doubt that U.S. trainers and guidance
on the ground were ISIS to come in would have helped the Iraqis fight.
The second thing it does, and we saw this over many years in Iraq, it helps
minimize the like likelihood that Iraqi state government elements will use
those in really offensive ways in terms of persecuting the Sunnis or
others. So, I do think that an American military presence would have
strengthened the current position in Iraq. It wouldn`t have done anything
to diminish the threat that was coming out of Syria and, again, this is now
one conflict. These are two countries which have been combined by ISIS and
we have to look at them in the same breath.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael Leiter, thank you so much for your contributions to
the panel this morning and from Washington, D.C.
Also, thank you to my guests here in New York, Michael Hanna and Earl
I`m going to ask everyone to stay right with us. There is a dire new
warning about another international crisis, this one quite different. The
Ebola outbreak, there are details when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus continues to
spread across with West Africa, has so far cost more 1,700 known infections
and more than 930 deaths. According to health officials the number of
fatalities and overall cases is on track to surpass the total number in all
outbreaks that have occurred since the disease was first discovered more
than 32 years ago. Nearly all cases in the current outbreak have been
concentrated in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
But Nigeria has now joined that list, after American consultant Patrick
Sawyer flew into the country from Liberia and unknowingly infected several
people in the capital city of Lagos, allowing the disease to gain a
foothold in Africa`s most populous nation.
Sawyer died of the disease last month after being placed in isolation at a
hospital in Nigeria. Yesterday, following an emergency meeting convened by
the World Health Organization to discuss the crisis, WHO`s assistant
director general for health security explains some of the reasons why those
West African nations have been especially susceptible to the transmission
of the disease.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. KENJI FUKUDA, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Importantly, one of the
critical parts is that we are seeing community transmission go on. This is
what is different than some of the other emerging infectious diseases that
we have dealt with recently. But in this instance, a majority of the
infections are occurring in the community, among families and so on.
If we look it at the area in which this is occurring in Western Africa,
this is an area which has had civil unrest in recent years and one of the
results is that it has left the health systems relatively weakened and
relatively fragile there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Although the infections have so far been limited to the four
African countries, WHO officials declared the outbreak is a public health
emergency of international concern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MARGARET CHAN, WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL: The committee`s conclusions and
my decisions are a clear call for international solidarity. Countries
affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of
this size and complexity on their own. Our collective health security
depends on support for containment operations in these countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thursday on Capitol Hill during a House committee meeting to
discuss the epidemic, Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden laid
out challenges facing the international community in containing the virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CDC: It won`t be quick and it won`t be easy.
It requires meticulous attention to detail because if you leave behind even
a single burning ember, it`s like a forest fire, it flares back up. One
patient not isolated, one patient not diagnosed, one health care worker not
protected, one contact not traced, each of those lapses can result in
another chain of transmission, and another flare of the outbreak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: During the hearing, a vice president of the Samaritan`s
Purse, the relief organization that has spent months on the ground tracking
and responding to the Ebola outbreak issued a strong criticism of the
world`s reaction to the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEOI CLIP)
KEN ISAACS, SAMARITAN`S PURSE: The international response to the disease
has been a failure. If a mechanism is not found to create an acceptable
paradigm for the international community to become directly involved, then
the world will be effectively relegating the containment of this disease
that threatens Africa and other countries to three of the poorest nations
in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The two Americans who contracted Ebola while working with
Samaritan`s Purse to treat victims in Liberia are said to be improving
after being given an experimental serum and brought back to the United
States for treatment at Atlanta`s Emory University Hospital.
One of the patients, Dr. Kent Brantly, issued a statement yesterday from
his hospital bed saying in part, quote, "I`m growing stronger every day and
I thank God for his mercy as I wrestle with this terrible disease. I also
want to extend my deep and sincere thanks to all of you who have been
praying for my recovery and for the people of Liberia and West Africa.
Joining me now from San Francisco is someone whose organization has spent
years providing health care to the people of one of those West African
nations. Eric Talbert is executive director of Emergency USA, which runs a
hospital, provides medical and surgical treatment for the people of Sierra
So nice to have you this morning.
ERIC TALBERT, EXEC. DIR., EMERGENCY USA: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Eric, can you tell me how your organization`s hospital
has been preparing to deal with the spread of Ebola inside Sierra Leone?
TALBERT: Well, we`ve been investing heavily in making sure we`re taking
care of our health care staff, as well as other patients who and those who
show up at our hospital. We`ve been operating since the civil war. We`re
seeing hundreds of patients every day coming in needing surgical care.
We`re the main referral trauma hospital for the entire nation of Sierra
Leone, so it`s vital we are able to continue to stay open to treat folks
who show up.
And so, we`re screening people who arrive at our hospital and if a case
presents, we`re fully equipped and prepared and ready to isolate them,
treat them, provide them with supportive care and, if need be, be able to
transport them to the national center taking care of Ebola patients.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it seems to me that part of what we heard on Capitol
Hill and from the WHO this week is a challenge for many Americans who tend
to think of disease prevention or addressing it responsively as a kind of
pharmaceutical question do we have a cure, can we inoculate, are there
serums? And what we heard and said this week was about epidemiological
work and public health work on the ground.
So, when you are a hospital, how do you -- how do you address this? How do
you do the work that is that tracking of every patient and their contact in
addition to doing the kind of pharmaceutical work?
TALBERT: Well, you know, for example, we`re not able to track every
patient. But a story after young boy, Mohammed, age 12. He was just
climbing a mango tree, fell. And that branch that he landed on stuck into
his side, so he was transferred from over 10 hours away to a hospital. So,
he could have been exposed at several different times to Ebola but we were
unable to know that. So, we were able to screen him immediately, provide
him with the surgery to save his life and be able to move forward.
From a public health standpoint as everybody mentioned before, this is
going to take a long-term capacity building commitment from the
international community to help these nations be able to deal with this
immediate outbreak but also to be able to help prevent it going forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: You mentioned before the organization has been working in
Sierra Leone since the civil war. How did the civil war -- that particular
-- conflict make the country especially susceptible to this outbreak?
TALBERT: Basically, it deteriorated the entire health care and education
infrastructure of Sierra Leone, and we`ve been working diligently to help
to rebuild that to our one center. We`re able to in the past 13 years,
over 500,000 patients with high standard, free health care, because we
believe that`s a human right, and be able to provide education, jobs,
primarily hire local Sierra Leone medical staff. They were all given the
option to, you know, stay home.
But all of our staff have recommitted to the hospital, to be able to show
up every day, to be able to treat hundreds of patients every day because we
understand the importance that they have as leaders, as health care workers
as the only surgical center that`s operating 24 hours a day, seven days a
week, in Sierra Leone, to be able to treat as many people as possible as
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s pretty stunning begin that it is health care
workers that have carried such an enormous part of the burden of this
particular outbreak. In other words, so many of the illnesses are actually
from the people who are caring for those who are presenting with this
TALBERT: Right. So, we`ve had to ramp up our protocol, invest
financially. We`re spending about $10,000 a month to make sure we`re
taking care of our health care workers and hospital to keep it clean, keep
it sterile, and be able to make that financial commitment. It`s been a
strain on our organization, but obviously, it`s critical and it`s
important. This is a long-term issue and being able to continue to do that
is vital to being able to stop this outbreak and able to prevent it from
happening again in the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eric Talbert in San Francisco, California, thank you for
your organization`s work and thank you for joining me this morning.
TALBERT: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up you next, challenge accepted. Last week one of my guests
put a challenge to me and this program. And so, here we go -- a serious
look at the policy proposals within Paul Ryan`s plan for poverty.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman Paul Ryan is running for president. No, there
hasn`t been an official announcement but the evidence is everywhere. Look
at the cover of his new book, "The Way Forward: Renewing the American
Ideal", darn presidential looking and his book tour launches in just a
couple of weeks and it feels pretty campaign-like.
Congressman Ryan will hit 20 stops in eight states, many by bus. One stop
in Chicago will include an on stage interview with Congressman Ryan`s
former running mate, Mitt Romney, and according to politico`s playbook,
Ryan will also do events at not one but two presidential libraries, those
of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Now, the book doesn`t come out until August 19th, but we still have plenty
of reading material in the meantime -- 72 pages outlining Ryan`s ideas for
ending poverty in America.
If you watched our show last Sunday, you may remember that we touched
briefly on Ryan`s plan. But we mostly focused on the politics. Can it
become law? What is Paul Ryan trying to do vis-a-vis his personal
ambitions, is it really a conservative document?
But one of our guests, NPR host Michelle Martin urged us to look past the
politics and look at Congressman Ryan`s actual policy proposals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE MARTIN, NPR: Today`s crazy idea becomes tomorrow`s policy, like
electric cars or alternative fuels. So, it seems to me it behooves people
who are very disappointed with the state of the politics today when people
do offer ideas to at least consider those ideas seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I do think it`s a bit of a false distinction to claim we can
discuss just the ideas without talking about the political context in which
those ideas arise, but that said, it is still a very worthy challenge and
one that Nerdland is excited to take on.
So, here are the ground rules. We are not so much talking about whether
all or part of the plan can become law. We`re not talking about whether
the costs of such a plan are politically feasible. Let`s just say they
All but taken as a given, do we want these policies? Are they really the
long-term solutions to poverty? And there`s a lot to unpack.
So, joining our table, Mariana Chilton, who`s associate professor at
Drexler University, and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities.
Bob Woodson, who is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood
Enterprise. Scott Winship, who is the Walter B. Wriston fellow at the
Manhattan Institute. And Melissa Boteach, who is vice president of the
poverty prosperity program at the Center for American Progress.
Thank you all for being here.
So, I want to go through some aspects of it and I want to start with the
Opportunity Grant, which is at the core of Ryan`s proposal. It is an idea
that is going to bring together a variety of current poverty programs like
Section 8, like TANF, which is a temporary aid to needy families, like what
we call food stamps although it`s now SNAP. Is that a good way to move
forward? Taking the Opportunity Grants, devolving to states, allowing
states to individually make decisions about how to spend the money?
MELISSA BOTEACH, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: No --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. We have one no. Tell me why and I`ll take a yes.
BOTEACH: OK. There are a couple reasons this is problematic. The first
reason is that 80 percent of the funds in Representative Ryan`s plans come
from programs such is as SNAP, which is our bedrock nutrition program and
housing. These are basic human needs. So, he`s proposing a plan in which
states can apply to use this money however they`d like in terms of case
management, in terms of more flexibility.
But because 80 percent of the dollars are coming from basic needs like food
and housing, it`s very likely that funds are going to be diverted for
meeting those basic needs.
Another issue is that this isn`t really getting at a lot of the root causes
of poverty. We need good jobs. We need better wages. We need policies
that enable families to balance their care-giving responsibilities with
working responsibilities. And Ryan`s plan is silent on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, let -- so I like what you`re saying about the end
here around root causes, because there are some other things that Mr. Ryan
suggests. I want to get to that in a second.
As you`re talking about the idea of Section 8 and of SNAP, which are food
and housing benefits. So, let me ask, because I heard you say, yes, it is
a good idea. This claim that those moneys might be used for other purposes
is not just an ideological claim. There`s empirical evidence that when it
comes as block grants sometimes governors make a decision and state
legislators make a decision to back fill state budgets on things that are
not direct spending on poverty, housing and food, for example.
SCOTT WINSHIP, FELLOW, MANHANTTAN INSTITUTE: Well, I think a little bit
that have happens, but I think it`s been overstated if you look at numbers
from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the left of center group
They show that actually the amount spent on services, on assistance to
families, on a per person basis increased by over 75 percent and there are
a couple reasons for that. The main one being over time welfare reform in
the 1990s was successful in moving people off of the cash assistance rolls
without increasing poverty, by the way.
And, so a fixed block grant, while it may seem that it`s going to be less
valuable over time in real terms to the extent that you have fewer and
fewer people receiving assistance, it actually ends up being more on a per
person basis and that`s what we saw with welfare reform the last 20 years.
So, I think if Paul Ryan`s proposal succeeds, you`ll see the sale sorts of
dynamics and some people won`t get food stamps or they won`t get housing.
In some ways, that`s the point of Ryan`s proposal is that not everybody
needs the same things and that there will be flexibility built in so people
get the assistance they do need.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you brought us to a really key point and that is about
the TANF reform, the AFDC reform that turned to TANF reform -- I go back to
your point, Melissa, about what is the key problem.
So, I want to listen for a moment because Paul Ryan was talking to our own
Chuck Todd about what the problem is. Let`s get his identification of it
and then I`ll come to this question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: The problem is, Chuck, our safety net isn`t
working the way it ought to be. We have all these government programs, all
these rules and regulations that are stovepipes of formulaic of fragmented
programs that don`t make a lot of sense. And the whole argument here is if
the status quo would be working, I`d be supporting it. It`s not. We have
the highest poverty rate in a generation yet we`re spending unprecedented
dollars on these programs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So he`s saying the problem is that we have these programs.
The programs don`t work. But I guess part of what I`m wondering, if we go
back to your point about good jobs, we`ve seen a decrease and then a return
of poverty. That does seem to have more to do with the general economy
than it does with programs.
BOB WOODSON, CENTER FOR NEIGHBORHOOD ENTERPRISE: I think we`re missing a
larger point and that is you cannot generalize about poor people.
Everybody is poor for a different reason. I think there are four
You got people who are just broke. A job is left. There`s a death of a
significant breadwinner and a person needs temporary help.
Category two are people who have disincentives to work because of the
grants pay more. And so, they withdraw.
And then there`s a third --
BOTEACH: Oh, I disagree.
WOODSON: May I finish?
There`s a third category of people who are physically disabled.
But the fourth category, I think is, are people who are poor because of the
chances that they take, the choices that they make. They`re engaging in
And so, the problem is people on the left talk about poor people as if
they`re all category one, and people on the right as if they`re all
category four. They miss each other.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. But so, let me just ask this within that, because you
said some poor people are poor because they`re just broken, but then there
are these other things. There are many wealthy people and middle class
people who are in category four, who make bad decisions. There are some
who are in category three who have disabilities. There are some who are in
category two who have a variety of disincentives to work, because, for
example, they have wealthy parents but they`re not poor.
And so, it seems to me the only reason that poor people are ever poor is
because they don`t have enough money. I mean, do you understand what I`m
saying? I mean, do you understand what I`m saying, like all the rest of
those things may be correlated with it.
WOODSON: It`s just not true. All of us probably have family members in
category four that you couldn`t give money to, or even loan into. And if
you did, so if you can --
HARRIS-PERRY: But there are wealthy people also in that category and the
thing that makes them wealthy versus poor is that some of them have money -
WOODSON: And they make bad choices for themselves. And so, therefore,
just giving money to people who are living destructive lifestyles injures
them with the helping hand.
And that`s why the organization that I represent, we focus exclusively on
dealing with the people in category four and, therefore, we support
innovative grassroots leaders who are in those communities, who are our
moral mentors and character coaches who help restore people from drugs,
prostitution, alcoholism, so that they can become restored, so that then
they`re able to take a job and also once they had money, they`ll be able to
use it responsibly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mariana --
MARIANA CHILTON, DREXEL UNIVERSITY: Let me jump in be on this, because I
think when you start talking about people fitting into categories, it
sounds almost violent in the way that you`re referring to people as if
they`re almost nonhuman.
I would love to turn it back into a sense of making sure we make sure
everyone is a deserving human being, someone who is deserving of dignity
I have to bring it back to this concept of punishing people who supposedly
make bad choices. When people are in a situation and so poor that they
have to decide between paying for food and paying for rent, they will
sometimes not pay their rent and pay for food to feed their children and
then be at risk for homelessness and even potentially go homeless. Then
they have to make other difficult choices.
So, what happens is it has major public impact on the health and well-being
of their young children.
HARRIS-PERRY: You brought us it to kids and you`ve also both of you to
decision making -- I`m still not quite sure whether or not the federal
government versus state governments do a better job of getting that on the
So, I want to come back to all of that. And when we come back what if
every poor person receiving benefits had his or her own case manager that
is part of Paul Ryan`s plan and we`ll talk about that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: A part of Congressman Paul Ryan`s plan to fight poverty is
the use of intensive case management for each person receiving benefits.
According to the plan, quote, "unlike formulaic federal programs case
management can provide a holistic kind of aid, one that takes a fuller view
of each person`s wants and needs."
Joining us now from Ft. Worth, Texas, is Heather Reynolds, president and
CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, who testified to the House Budget
Committee about case management`s role in fighting poverty.
Nice to have you with us this morning, Heather.
HEATHER REYNOLDS, CATHOLIC CHARITIES FORT WORTH: Good morning, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me, what is -- when you talked with Congressman
Ryan`s board here, what was your vision of case management?
REYNOLDS: Case management to us is very different than case work. Case
management is something that`s holistic, so it`s aimed at getting a family
out of poverty but all about working with them to identify the
opportunities they have, the strengths they have, and help them build
assets, assets can be -- external assets like their physical health but
internal as well like hope and motivation and things like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask a question that for me is hard to put it
together with that. So, there are lots of things I like about that. I
like the idea of folks on the ground in community, but I also can look and
see that poverty hits children most harshly in this country, and I wonder
how we can begin to even imagine that children have to be responsible for
getting themselves out of poverty? Does that make sense?
When you see such a large proportion of the poor who are children, how does
case management and setting goals and benchmarks help a 10-year-old who is
REYNOLDS: Right. Well, you have to work with the comprehensive family.
First, what you want to do is you want to make sure you assess the family
to find out what`s going on with the whole family. Then, you want to make
sure you serve that short, medium and long-term goals.
Your short-term goals are going to make sure basic needs are met. That
they have food, clothing, shelter, a roof over their heads, things like
that. But then what you want to do is you want to make sure you develop
assets and families, you get them higher-paying jobs, you get education if
that`s what`s needed because quite often, the cycle of poverty, poor
parents have poor children and more often than not, those children go on to
be poor parents.
And so, we want to show children something different and give them the
opportunity to experience a different childhood.
HARRIS-PERRY: Heather, hold on for us just a second.
So, Melissa, when you hear that, I mean, it really -- it sounds lovely and
it is part of the American charitable tradition within the context of
dealing with poverty. But it does seem to me that it misses certain kinds
of things, like to say we`ll get you a higher paying job and education when
we actually see education paying fewer returns for certain communities and
with higher paying jobs are simply evaporating.
BOTEACH: Right, exactly. So, it`s one thing to have work requirements.
What we really need is work opportunities, good jobs that people who are,
you know, in these situations can go into.
And part of the issue also with -- I mean, I`m not opposed at all to case
management where someone really needs it, but what we`re talking about in
this specific plan if it were enacted is intensive amounts of case
management for populations that may or may not need lots of help. I mean,
right now, four and five Americans are going to experience a year of
chronic economic insecurity during their working years. There is a
population of those folks who would benefit from more intensive case
But to say that everybody has to have case management means we`re cutting
into the guarantees of for example, food that our safety net currently
promises people who fall on hard times.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mariana, is that the tradeoff, food versus kind of life
CHILTON: Absolutely. I do think there`s a really strong rule for case
management and for helping to facilitate families to move forward, because
when children are experiencing deep poverty, and that could be homelessness
or hunger, that`s a form of toxic stress, and that cause major consequences
for brain development, cognitive, social and emotional development. And we
have the research evidence to show that.
What happens is when you start developing programs where you penalize
families for not getting into the workforce because the jobs aren`t
supportive, families who are poor, children are more sick, they have a hard
time being able to stay in the workforce and also to take care of their
So, we need to, again, have work support, as Melissa is saying. Child
care, family leave, paid sick leave -- all of those kinds of things as well
and the infrastructure to help those families succeed.
HARRIS-PERRY: (INAUDIBLE) both of you guys in as soon as we get back from
But, Heather, I just want to again say thank you for joining us from Fort
Worth, Texas, and also thank you for going and testifying before Mr. Ryan`s
We will be back --
REYNOLDS: Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, heather.
We`ll be back and will have much more on taking Paul Ryan seriously, when
we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and still trying to work our way through Ryan`s
poverty plan and proposals. Let me get you in on this.
WINSHIP: Well, I just want to respond to this idea that the Opportunity
Grant wouldn`t work because the jobs aren`t there, they don`t pay well
enough. These are the exact arguments that people made in 1996 when
welfare reform passed.
I was among those critics actually. I was 23. I sat out the 1996 election
to punish President Clinton. And --
HARRIS-PERRY: How did that work out for you?
WINSHIP: Well, you know, it wasn`t consequential, I don`t think. As it
turns out I and other critics of welfare reform were wrong because what
happened is child poverty declined actually for the first time since
Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, this serious declines in child
poverty. I --
HARRIS-PERRY: But let me ask, is that simply a correlation and opportunity
based on the fact we were in an economic boom or do you believe that was
causal as a result of --
WINSHIP: It`s a totally fair question. So, the `90s boom was a big part
of it. What happened in the 2001 recession and afterwards, poverty stayed
low and, in fact, the 2001 recession, the Great Recession, poverty rose
less among children than it did in the early 1990s, and in the early 1980s
So, actually the safety net did step in. We expanded food stamps. We
expanded unemployment insurance. We expanded Medicaid and a number of
HARRIS-PERRY: So -- all right. So, let me go back to your four-part
poverty question on this. So, if you have seen sort of dips, you know,
valleys and mountains in child poverty, for example, that are that
responsive either to policy or to EITC, doesn`t that undermine the notion
that it is about decision-making?
Because it`s hard to believe that people`s decision-making or the community
decision making shifts that swiftly. Does that make that a question (ph)?
WOODSON: Listen, when you -- many of the people in category four -- they
are immune to up-and-down turns in the economy because they`re not prepared
to participate. When you live in a community like the black community like
they are, where you have a 9/11 every six months with 3,000 kids being shot
by other kids and people are afraid to use the streets and even leave their
homes, you cannot -- they are withdrawing from the economy. So you must
address these crises in these communities which we do.
You must -- a part of the anti-poverty agenda has to be solutions. And
Paul Ryan has visited and saw examples of people solving those problems,
associated with this decline. And then you can have opportunity apply.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I would say, my favorite part of the Paul Ryan plan,
just hands down no question, isn`t even the expansion of earned income tax
credit, although I think that`s a valuable one in part of explains what
happens in the post-Katrina -- I mean -- post-welfare reform moment.
But my favorite part is the criminal justice reform part, the notion that,
in fact, criminal justice reform is associated with communities. But
again, that`s still different than decision making. In other words, so
even the violence in communities is simply too responsive to short-term
realities to seem to me as if it could be about people suddenly making
better or worse decisions.
WOODSON: It is about people making -- when you have Walmart coming in to
Washington, D.C., and they screen 500 people for jobs and 60 percent can`t
pass the drug test -- that is not a problem of a lack of opportunity for
HARRIS-PERRY: Do we have -- do we have any idea how many people working on
Wall Street would pass the drug test?
WOODSON: It doesn`t matter. We`re -- it may be. In other words --
HARRIS-PERRY: It does matter, if it would be 60 percent who fail, and yet
they`re wealthy, it simply can`t be that one -- look, I`m not suggesting
that rich people are more or less likely. But simply if you only have data
on the behavioral activities of the poor and you infer causation, then you
simply it`s a spurious causal argument. You just can`t know if those same
behaviors exist among whites --
CHILTON: Insert some actual concepts of health. When you think about
families that are suffering from drug addiction and exposure to violence,
it causes major damage for families, and they need a lot of assistance.
They need access to behavioral health services. They need to be
incentivized to be able to show up to behavioral health services and to be
able to take care of their children.
Right now, our systems are not doing that well enough and we need a more
comprehensive approach. And that`s why I do think that there are aspects
of Paul Ryan`s poverty plan that address those kinds of things.
But we can`t penalize families for those kinds of struggles. It`s not like
they`re making those decisions because they have the ultimate freedom to go
off and, you know, get a well-paying job and pay for their families.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mariana Chilton, Bob Woodson, Scott Winship and Melissa
Boteach -- thank you so much for being with us.
We`re going to be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is so much more to get to on this issue of how to deal
with poverty in America, but we have simply run out of time today. But, of
course, you know this is an issue we will come back to on this program.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow morning
at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Tomorrow on this program, we are going to take a very serious look at the
comments by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who said there
is, quote, "a war on whites." You are going to want to join us for that
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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