'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Saturday, August 9th, 2014
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UP with STEVE KORNACKI
August 9, 2014
Guest: Steve Clemons, Lawrence Korb, Joan Walsh, Jack Jacobs, Phyllis
Bennis, Anna Galland, Robert George, Michael Breen, Hisham Melhem, Nour
Malas, Rick Perlstein
JONATHAN CAPEHART, GUEST-HOST, "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI": Good Saturday
morning to you. I`m --
Let`s try that again. Good Saturday morning to you, I`m Jonathan Capehart
in for Steve Kornacki. We have a lot we want to get to this morning on the
developing situation in Iraq which more than two and a half years after
U.S. troops withdrew, two and a half years after we handed over security of
the country to Iraq`s military, two and a half years after President Obama
said our war in Iraq was ending. Iraq is once again the focus of our
military and our commander-in-chief.
Just hours after President Obama announced we were returning to an active
role in Iraq, the U.S. launched two rounds of air strikes yesterday against
ISIS fighters near Erbil. The U.S. has a consulate in that northern Iraqi
city and thousands of Americans live there. In addition to those military
strikes the U.S. is also trying to keep a humanitarian crisis from
worsening. The U.S. military conducted a second air drop of food and water
late last night to thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority
who have been trapped on Mount Sinjar for days and are surrounded by ISIS
militants. The situation may be even worse for hundreds of Yazidi women.
And spokesman for Iraq`s human rights ministry says, militants are holding
them captive at schools in Mosul. He told the A.P. quote, "We think that
the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for
them." Secretary of State John Kerry has an even more ominous description
of what`s going on right now in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ISIL`s campaign of terror against the
innocent including the Yazidi and Christian minorities and its grotesque
targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: Despite these air strikes, the White House insists there will be
no American boots on the ground in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What is not contemplated here is the introduction of
American troops in a combat role to alleviate the situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: Let`s turn now to the White House. NBC`s Kristen Welker is
there. Kristen, the headline this morning in the New York Times suggests
the Obama administration press ahead with the airstrikes decision because
it was afraid of another Benghazi. What are you hearing from your sources
today at the White House?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jonathan, I
don`t have confirmation of that specific report, but I can tell you that
senior administration officials here have consistently made reference to
the president`s decision to intervene in Libya. And of course, what
happened in Benghazi happened in the wake of that, the destabilization in
Libya, so it would stand to reason that that was certainly at the backdrop
of the president`s decision making process as were a number of other
foreign policy crises including the genocide in Rwanda. That of course
happened under Bill Clinton.
And Jonathan, we`re learning a lot more about the president`s decision
making process. I am told that on Wednesday after he wrapped up his news
conference with reporters at the Africa Summit, the chairman of the joint-
chiefs-of-staff General Martin Dempsey told President Obama that the
situation in Iraq had reached a critical moment, that the ISIS forces were
making significant gains to Erbil where the U.S. has a U.S. consulate and
that the humanitarian crisis on top of that mountain, those 40,000
religious minorities who were driven out of their home by ISIS and trapped
on that mountain that several of them were dying and facing dire
So, that is when the discussions here at the White House began. There was
a very senior level meeting here at the White House on Wednesday and then
the president met with his national security team on Thursday. I am told
there was broad agreement that action needed to be taken. There was debate
about what, specifically, that action should look like, but President Obama
was insistent. He wanted it to be limited in scope and again, no boots on
the ground -- Jonathan.
CAPEHART: Kristen, there is concern about it particularly among some
democrats, but what is the White House saying about that?
WELKER: Right. That is the big concern and White House officials first of
all, are not giving us a real sense of the timeline for this military
operation although one official here at the White house says, this could
last at least several weeks. In terms of ramping up the scope of the
military action that`s being taken right now. White House Press Secretary
Josh Earnest essentially didn`t rule it out during his daily briefing. On
Friday he answered a number of questions about what would happen if ISIS is
not deterred by these initial rounds of air strikes and what Earnest
response was if the President Obama would assess the situation, assess the
developments as they unfolded. So, he did leave open the possibility that
there could be some type of broader military intervention here but again
insisted that is not the president`s preference -- Jonathan.
CAPEHART: NBC`s Kristen Welker at the White House. Thank you.
CAPEHART: I want to turn now to my panel. Lawrence Korb is a senior
fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary
MSNBC contributor Steve Clemons is Washington editor-at-large for "The
Atlantic" magazine. Here in New York, MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh,
she`s also editor-at-large at Salon. And MSNBC military analyst and Medal
of Honor recipient retired Colonel Jack Jacobs. Thank you all for being
Lawrence, I want to start with you. ISIS has already gained control of
parts of Iraq and Syria and even clashed with soldiers in Lebanon. What
threat does the organization pose to the entire Middle East?
LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It certainly poses a threat
to the entire Middle East, but I think it`s important to focus on Iraq in
addition to the humanitarian reasons. We have a responsibility. We
created this mess by going into Iraq and, you know, breaking up the society
and everything because a lot of people are saying, well, you know, why you
in Iraq and not in Syria? Why not do it in other places? And the other
thing is we have a fighting force there, the Peshmerga who will going to
So, with our assistance we have a much better chance of prevailing in this
particular area but I don`t think this is going to lead us to attacking
them for example, in Syria. I think it`s focused mainly on preserving the
independence or the security of the Kurds which we`ve been trying to do for
almost 25 years.
CAPEHART: Colonel Jack, let me play something the president said the other
night when he first announced he was authorizing these air strikes. Let`s
take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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 is no American
military solution to the larger crises in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: Colonel Jack, can the president achieve his goals in Iraq
without American combat troops returning there.
COL. JACK JACOBS, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: I think he can, but there`s
going to have to be more concerted effort from the air. I mean, knocking
out one or two towed howitzers and the mortar crew is not going to take the
pressure off Erbil. I think it`s interesting also to note that the
president at another time said when he authorized the attack said we`re not
going to let Erbil fall. I don`t think that means that we`re going to put
the second armored division down there, but we also have to remember that
we do have Americans on the ground now, trainers, Special Forces and
special operations forces right this very moment. But I think what he`s
talking about is no -- no conventional troops on the ground. If you really
want to save Erbil you will have to do more than what we`ve already done,
eight sorties or whatever it was not going to be effective in deterring the
CAPEHART: And so Joan of course naturally, as soon as the president spoke
there were reactions. I want to read part of what House Speaker Boehner
had to say about, you know, President Obama`s actions in Iraq. He said,
"The president`s authorization of air strikes is appropriate, but like many
Americans I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering
the grave threat ISIS poses to the region. Vital national interests are at
stake, yet the White House has remained disengaged despite warnings from
Iraqi leaders, Congress and even members of its own administration." So,
Joan, what sort of dilemma does the president face encountering criticism
from republicans about his strategy especially when you consider the
president`s history on this issue when he campaigned for president?
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right. Well, I think John Boehner should really
concentrate on doing his job and stop accusing the president of being
disengaged which is one thing, on this issue that he`s not. But speaking
as a democrat, I think the question the democrats have is, you know, yes,
we all understand the concept of genocide. We all understand the need to
intervene here to prevent genocide, but there is, as has been said before,
this other implicit or explicit thought that we`re not going to let Erbil
We did not say that about Fallujah. So there is clearly something
important in shoring up the Kurds, but is that accepting a kind of separate
Kurdistan? And where does that lead to? We`ve also got, you know,
Chaldean Christians, we`ve got lots of people besides the Yazidis, all the
ethnic minorities and all the religious minorities are in some danger here.
So, you know, if we use this genocide. I didn`t mean to put that in air
quotes. If we use this word genocide to defend this strike, when does that
stop? And I think the president has to be very clear about that.
CAPEHART: Steve, the president I mean, as Joan points out, the president
is in a tough spot. How can -- I mean, he can keep the military response
limited and be accused of not doing enough but if he ramps up this military
campaign, he`ll be accused of going back on his promise to wind down the
war in Iraq. So, how does he walk that fine line?
STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he does what he does and
what he did in Libya which is he acknowledges that in many of these
military engagements it is easy to fall under that slippery slope with a
much deeper engagement, but basically send the signals to all of these
stakeholders in these military decisions that they have a very, very
limited mission, and that they`re going to stay on top of that mission
right now which is twofold and under the rubric which the president
outlined before when he sent military advisors, both protect U.S. people
interests and institutions there which is in Erbil and also for
I think the broader issue is we need desperately. You know, this is the
time when I really Miss Richard Holbrooke. I miss the fact that we don`t
have -- we need people who can look at this region and realized that ISIS
grew out of our fight in Syria in part and they were an uncomfortable ally
of the free Syrian army, they began to move and you have attached to this a
large Sunni-Shia struggle through the region. We continue to silo this as
an Iraq-ISIS issue.
But fundamentally, to solve these problems, we need people come in both
looking at the humanitarian side and who can do deals with the devil and
begin figuring out how they can bring in other stakeholders to look at how
they`re going to shape this region. Because the status quo, the lines
between countries we see today will not be here in five years from now and
ten years from now, so they need to be re-sculpted and I think that`s the
conversation that stakeholders in the region need to do. And United States
should be leading on that and we`re not.
CAPEHART: Lawrence, I heard you reacting. Did you want to react to
something that Steve said?
KORB: Well, I think, you know, if you really want to deal with ISIS, your
allies are going to be Assad and Iran. Are you willing to, you know, work
with them to deal with it? And I think that`s the key thing because too
often we say well, Iran is bad, we can`t deal with them. Or Assad, you
know, we don`t want to deal with him either. Interestingly enough,
speaking of the old foreign policy establishment a couple of weeks ago, Tom
Pickering, Ryan Crocker and a couple of other people, had an op-ed in The
Washington Post says if you want to deal with ISIS, you`re going to have to
work with Assad. And that`s very very difficult to get into when you have
people like Boehner and others in the republic I think who paint these
people as you know, as evil incarnate.
CAPEHART: I mean, that was the question that popped into my head.
Politically speaking, could the president even, could he do that?
JACOBS: Well, not when he`s campaigned against doing that now for, what,
six years. You know, I`m reminded of Harry Truman`s observations when
somebody brought up Samosa in Central America says, you know, the guys in
s.o.b., they said, well, he`s our s.o.b. And that didn`t work out well
either over the long term. But it`s really important to note two things.
First of all, we do not necessarily have -- we certainly don`t have the one
that`s articulated a mid or long-term strategy that is achievable with any
of the instruments of policy.
I mean, if you ask anybody, even inside the beltway, what is our strategy
with respect to this area? The response is we don`t have one. We
certainly haven`t articulated it. The second thing that`s of interest is
that they use the military issue of power even over the short term doesn`t
seem to work very well. You know, Steve properly brought up Libya, except
look what happened to Libya after we -- and not because of what we did, but
a lot of people say it`s because of what we did not do, but none of this
works unless we start at the end and work backwards, what it is we`re
trying to achieve and how we`re going to get there? We haven`t done that
CAPEHART: So, my panel is staying here. Up next, a reality check on how
we got to this point more than a decade after the invasion of Iraq.
CAPEHART: In 2008 then Senator Obama campaigned hard on his promise to end
the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: As president, I will end this war.
We don`t have to choose between retreating from the world and fighting a
war without end in Iraq.
I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office, ending
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: And in 2012 he campaigned on delivering that promise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Four years ago, I told you we`d end the war in Iraq and I did.
Governor Romney said it was tragic to end the war in Iraq. I disagree.
After a decade of war it`s time to do some nation building right here at
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: So, we have a president in the White House who ended a war in
Iraq, a conflict that he`s been speaking out against for more than a decade
and we have an American public that is extremely war weary. Yet, as much
as we want to close the door on our involvement in Iraq, we seem to keep
getting pulled back in. In June, President Obama sent 300 Special Forces
to Iraq to assess the situation and increased surveillance there. Now, the
U.S. is conducting air strikes on militants outside the Kurdish city of
And while the president has pledge he will not send combat troops back to
Iraq. It`s possible that more strikes are planned and it could be the toe
in the door to further involvement. So, my first question is to you, Steve
Clemons, how did we find ourselves back here and why are we still involved.
I mean, why does the U.S. seem to be only world leader involved in this
most recent effort?
CLEMONS: Well, the United States is a unique power in the world in the
sense that it alone has a global capacity to deliver power, to manage
intelligence, to synthesize problems around the world and kind of trying to
deliver solutions. The problem with that is that a lot of other nations
like China, India, Brazil and others have grown in their capacity but not
taken on a lot of these kinds of global public good responsibilities. So
we`re there essentially as a kind of guarantor, but we can`t do everything
and you have regions like the Middle East where the sense of America`s
weakness has changed the behavior not only of our foes, but it`s changed
the behavior of our allies who don`t count on the United States as much as
And so the equilibrium that we basically used to have has broken and it was
shattered completely with the invasion of Iraq which opened up not -- which
created chaos in Iraq, but it also opened up the pretentions and
aspirations of Iran. That then fed Saudi paranoia and now we have this
today. So, that invasion of Iraq was a real game changer and it has
punctuated in the minds of many people around the world how weak the United
States is on a relative basis and that is the problem we`re in.
CAPEHART: Colonel Jacobs, you brought up Libya in our last block, I want
to play something, talk to you about something President Obama said to Tom
Friedman of "The New York Times" about our participation in that coalition.
The over throw Colonel Gadhafi. Here is a bit of that sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I absolutely believe that it was the right thing to do. When
people say, look at the chaos, they should have let Gadhafi stay there.
They forget that the Arab Spring had come full force to Libya and had we
not intervened it`s likely that Libya would be Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: So Colonel Jacobs, what are the implications that this has for
what`s going on in Iraq and what`s going on throughout the Middle East
JACOBS: Well, the notion that all we have that our responsibility extends
only to decapitating the bad guys from any kind of society and then a
miracle happens and we have republican democracy is complete nonsense and
we`ve never, ever seen that work. And we can`t pat ourselves on the back
for creating chaos either in Libya or Iraq or any other place. You really
do have to do what I think it was Louis Carroll once observed. That if you
don`t know where you`re going any road will take you there. We`ve seen
this happen time and time again. We confuse means with objectives.
When we say we`ll drop bombs on bad guys, that`s great as far as it goes.
I mean, if you want bad guys to be destroyed. I`m all for that. I`m your
man. I`ll suit up and go up there, but at the end of the day it`s got to
be with some objective in mind and none of these in the current world, in
the current situation, none of these things we tried to accomplish include
any realizable objectives. It`s just eliminating a bad guy. Eliminating a
bad guy ain`t enough, folks.
CAPEHART: Lawrence, this brings me to something that my colleagues and I
at the Washington Post editorial board of which I am a part, we support the
airstrikes, but our editorial says that they don`t go far enough. And
here`s what the rest, part of the editorial says, the steps the president
authorized on Thursday amount to more of his administration`s half measures
narrowly tailored to this week`s emergency and unconnected to any coherent
strategy to address the conflagration spreading across the Middle East.
The United States should offer sustained military support to friendly
forces that fight the Islamic State, beginning with the Kurds and including
moderate Syrian rebels and Iraqi Sunni tribesmen. It should seek to erode
the Islamic State`s military power as much as possible with air strikes.
What`s your response to that, Lawrence? I want to get everyone`s response?
KORB: OK. With all due respect to your editorial board you guys were
cheerleaders for that dumb war in Iraq which as Steve pointed out is part
of the reason we have all of these problems. It wasn`t that we withdrew.
We put in, you know, too much. So I think the real key here is basically,
like Libya, we were right the way we did it because we didn`t do it alone.
We were only 25 percent of the force. Now with a mistake the world
community made which we should have taken the lead was to put a
peacekeeping force in there like we did in the Balkans.
But, you know, we got rid of Gadhafi cost us one billion, three or four
trillion whatever we`ve spent in Iraq and where are we. And I do think
that basically right now in Iraq, it`s because we created the mess,
therefore we have the responsibility, but the world community needs to
worry about this, we`re less and less dependent on that part of the world
and the other folks that Steve mentioned, these other powers, they also
have a vested interest in there. So, we`ve got to get the world community
involved, we shouldn`t be doing it all by ourselves.
CAPEHART: And Joan, when I was reading part of the editorial you were
shaking your head no. What`s your reaction?
WALSH: I shook my head specifically at the term moderate Syrian rebels
because we`re always in search of the moderate Syrian rebels which are a
little bit like unicorns. I do know that they`re out there, but the idea
that we could have found them and armed them in the appropriate way is a
little bit crazy to use the precise scientific term. And I guess, John,
the thing that I heard in President Obama`s conversation with Tom Friedman
is we learned from Libya.
Now, we probably didn`t do enough in Libya. We went in, we decapitated but
we didn`t do enough to create civil society there if that was even
possible. We were not going to do the same thing, we were not going to go
in and topple Assad with moderate Syrian rebels and give a whole bunch of
American weaponry that then falls into the hands of ISIS anyway. So, it`s
not like there are obvious things for the president to be doing in this
situation right now.
CAPEHART: We`re going to have to take a break. We will be right back.
CAPEHART: We`re back with the panel talking about "The Washington Post"
editorial and the policy prescriptions in that editorial. Colonel Jacobs,
what is your reaction?
JACOBS: From a purely military standpoint, the only thing you will going
to do with only the use of the military instrument of power is to -- is to
keep the bad guys at bay long enough to do something else. By itself the
military instrument of power can`t do anything and it certainly shouldn`t
be the default instrument of power. Indeed even in the Second World War we
were still using economics and diplomacy until 1943 when we finally decided
that it was unconditional surrender. We weren`t going to put up with
anything less than that.
But for a long time, we were trying to integrate the instruments of power
and so the assertion that all we have to do is like drop some bombs and
then the problem will be solved, trust me, it doesn`t work. We`ve tried it
before and it didn`t work either.
CAPEHART: Steve, let me get your reaction real quick and I want to move on
to the American sentiment.
CLEMONS: Well, you know how I love "The Washington Post," Jonathan. But
at the same time, "The Washington Post" which was in part so defined in
this interesting area by its adversarial take with Richard Nixon, with the
45th anniversary of Nixon`s resignation. But nonetheless, Nixon is very
important to remember because, you know, on one hand you have to balance
issues of the heart with the question of balances of interest. And the
Washington Post is high on sentiment and low on strategy. It doesn`t look
at the contending issues of cost benefit involvement. It wants a sort of
never-ending resource of American military power deployed to humanitarian
problems around the world without looking at tomorrow, what capacity do you
have to continue to try to shape the world in a positive way. So my
problem with the Washington Post editorial is sloppiness when it comes to
CAPEHART: Oh, Steve, someone in the rooms where these discussions are
happening, I think you`re dead wrong.
CLEMONS: No votes. No votes.
CAPEHART: So, most Americans do not want to go back to Iraq and less than
half support air strikes against ISIS and only 30 percent support sending
in ground troops. But the president says, he`s using limited airstrikes in
part to prevent a potential genocide which is generally more popular and as
this 2012 survey from the Chicago Council on global affairs shows stopping
genocide tops the list of reasons people would support sending in U.S.
troops. So, Colonel Jack, what kind of public reaction do you expect to
see to the current air strikes?
JACOBS: I think there`s no reaction because it doesn`t affect anybody and
there are no planes at risk since we`re firing these weapons from a great
distance away and the aircraft at the moment are not at risk. I think
there would be far less support for even this strategy where we were to
lose an aircraft to ground fire, for example, which is very, very unlikely
to happen. But it`s interesting to note that when people say, you know, in
order to save lives for humanitarian reasons, I support the use of ground
troops. Yes. That`s probably because most people really don`t understand
what it takes to use the military instrument of power and use conventional
ground troops on the ground.
I`m reminded of General Ric Shinseki at the time, the chief of staff of the
united states army, in front of congress just before we went into Iraq and
somebody said how many troops are you really going to need once you get rid
of the bad guy and we actually have to consolidate on the objective and he
said correctly because he studied this for many, many years, several
hundreds of thousands of people. And most people don`t understand that
once you take the objective it takes a lot more effort, money, men and
material to hold on to the objective than it does to take in the first
place, holding on to the objective is really what it`s all about and
sending even a division there is not going to be enough to hold on.
CAPEHART: And Lawrence, I want to end with you and get your take on what
kind of public reaction you expect to the current air strikes.
KORB: Well, you know, I think as Jack pointed out, as long as nobody gets
hurt, they really won`t even be concerned about it. And, you know, for
example, during the Libyan operation which went on much longer than we had
had expected, there was no reaction because it didn`t cost us a lot of
money. No American lives were lost, so I don`t think there will be any
reaction. I think if a plane gets shot down or we decide to even put in
the Special Forces, I think you will going to see a much different
CAPEHART: All right. Lawrence, thank you very much. I want to thank
MSNBC contributor Steve Clemons, Lawrence Korb with the Center for American
Congress and MSNBC military analyst retired U.S. army Colonel Jack Jacobs.
When we return we`ll talk about how progressives view the return of
American military forces to Iraq. That`s next.
CAPEHART: We`re back with more coverage on the developing situation in
Iraq where President Obama has authorized air strikes, but take a step back
with me for a moment and remember this. You could argue that Barack Obama
owes his presidency to the Iraq war, well, to his opposition to it. Most
prominent democrat especially the ones with national ambitions supported
the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by force, but not Barack Obama who took a
bold stance on the impending conflict and an October 2002 anti-war rally in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When I look out over this crowd today I know there is no shortage
of patriots or patriotism. What I do oppose is a dumb war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: In the 2008 election, President Barack Obama`s earliest
political distinction from Hillary Clinton was his steadfast opposition to
the Iraq war from the very beginning. He even joined a small minority of
democrats in 2007 who voted against this funding. And as commander-in-
chief he led a drawdown of combat troops within his first term and now
we`re back. In an address to the nation, President Obama said on Thursday
that he is steadfast against ground troops and he did somersaults to
explain why this situation is exceptional.
American personnel on the ground, a potential genocide, is this president -
- is this president who was so opposed to intervention in Iraq from the
beginning still face what Colin Powell and Vice President Bush in 2002, his
infamous warning of the pottery barn rule, you break it, you own it.
You`re going to be the proud owner of 25 million people Bob Woodward`s 2000
book, quoted, Powell telling Bush. You will own all their hopes,
aspirations and problems. You`ll own it all. And now this belongs to
President Barack Obama. Despite all his efforts to end U.S. involvement in
the civil war-torn country. So, how are progressives reacting to this
Here to help me figure it out, we have Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the
Institute for Policy Studies, a research organization for peace activists.
Anna Galland, executive director of Moveon.org. She joins us from Ann
Arbor, Michigan. And with us in studio is Robert George, editorial writer
for "The New York Post" and a former aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Phyllis, I`ll start with you. Do you think these air strikes will make
things in the region better or worse?
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: I think it`s going to make
it worse. I think it makes it worse one because putting in more ordinance
bombing, more people always makes things worse. Bombs recruit terrorists
that we`ve seen for 15 years now, on the longer term, but in the immediate
bombs kill people. I don`t think that is a humanitarian act, and I think
the history of the U.S. in trying to blur humanitarian and military goals
has not been a pretty one. If we look back to Afghanistan in the first
months of the Afghan war when Afghans were fleeing from the bombings of the
cities and they were running to the mountains and looking for safety.
And it was the beginning of winter, it was cold, they escaped with nothing
but the clothes on their backs, no blankets, no tents, no foods. And the
U.S. said, well, we`re going to air drop food. Very much like what they`re
doing in -- now than it was cold, now it`s heat. Very real humanitarian
considerations, of course, but the decision to drop yellow plastic-wrapped
MREs, meals ready to eat, the military food rations, they didn`t take into
account that they were simultaneously dropping yellow-wrapped cluster bombs
right in the same zones. So, children were being killed running to what
they thought was food that turned out to be cluster bombs.
And when asked about it at the Pentagon, General Meyers said, well, we put
out a radio call and told people to be careful and when the press pushed a
little harder and said, well, aren`t you at least going to stop using the
cluster bombs. He said, no, no. Of course we`re not going to stop using
cluster bombs. We`ll change the color eventually when we finish those that
are in the pipeline. So it was clear that the humanitarian considerations
had really fallen by the wayside. They were simply not the important part.
Now I think that what we`re seeing in Iraq today is a similar blurring.
There is this very specific, immediate humanitarian need. You could argue,
and I do that the U.S. military was not the best or most appropriate outfit
to be carrying that out. The U.N. before President Obama`s speech had said
let us provide the technical help, the technical wherewithal to the Iraqi
government to get planes in. We know how to do humanitarian air drops.
The Maliki government said no, and the U.S. instead of insisting saying to
Maliki, look, we pay your salaries, we pay your army, we buy their
uniforms, we buy their weapons, you`ve got to do this. You`ve got to let
the U.N. in there.
Instead, the Obama administration simply said, oh, you don`t want the U.N.,
OK, we`ll send the U.S. Air Force. I think that`s a huge mistake when at
the same time the U.S. Air Force is going in to bomb ISIS and maybe they`ll
get the Islamic State people and maybe they won`t, maybe they`ll miss. You
know, this is not a good mix of tactics and the claim somehow that this is
all about protecting American lives simply doesn`t fly. You know, we`re
talking about -- go ahead.
CAPEHART: Phyllis, I want to bring the conversation into what`s being said
by members of Congress and statements came in yesterday from prominent
democratic members of Congress. Care of the House progressive caucus,
Minnesota democrat Keith Ellison said he supports the actions, but he added
that if military operations continue, the president should seek
Congressional authorization. And on the Senate side, Senator Elizabeth
Warren said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, quote, "I remain
concerned about possible unintended consequences of intervention. We must
not get bogged down in another war in the Middle East." So while there`s
skepticism, there doesn`t seem to be outright opposition yet to these
So, Anna, let me ask you, how do you see Congressional reaction going
ANNA GALLAND, MOVEON.ORG: I mean, I think that it`s important to note
that, you know, members of Congress are responsive to their constituents
and where constituents are, I think, although we`re all just getting this
information, this is all unfolding over the last 48 hours. And I think
Moveon members and the American public at large are right to be quite
concerned about what this means. We`re all worried about the slippery
slope here. We`re all worried about mission creek, I think everyone has
the right to be concerned about the humanitarian crisis that`s unfolding on
the ground. But we need to be thinking very hard about where this leads
and I do think that President Obama will need to come back to Congress to
have a real discussion about what the next steps are here so that that we
don`t find ourselves in another open-ended conflict and another ten years
of American war in Iraq.
CAPEHART: Well, I`ll stick with you in just one second because yesterday,
Moveon.org issued a statement against the air strikes yesterday and it
concludes the civil war in Iraq can only be resolved and peace and
stability can only be achieved through an Iraqi-led political solution as
President Obama has said before there is no viable military solution to
this crisis. So, Anna, my question to you is, should America have any role
in the region in your view?
GALLAND: I think that Moveon members and the American Public At Large are
supportive of an engaged United States around the world and Moveon members
are not isolationists, we support diplomatic engaging, we support robustly
engaging with the United Nations, we support efforts the humanitarian aid
certainly. I think the question is, is the United States ready to sign up
for an open-ended war against ISIS which by the way is a completely new
mission. This is not something that Congress has approved, it`s not
something that the United States citizens have I think really wrapped their
minds around. So do we want to be engaged with the rest of the world?
Absolutely. Are we ready to sign up for another ten years of open-ended
war in Iraq? I think not.
CAPEHART: Robert, conservatives are saying this is about a coherent policy
in the Middle East, but what -- what is the conservatives` coherent vision?
I mean, reinvasion? What does that mean?
ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK POST: Well, I think there are probably some
differences among conservatives that you`ll talk to. However, since we`re
sort of talking where progressives are, I`m actually going to say that I
have to agree with Phyllis. When she`s making this observation that the
president didn`t enforce, wasn`t stronger with Maliki and insisting that
the U.N. go in. Now, I`m not a fan of the U.N., but Iraq and Maliki, they
are basically a client state of the United States.
And if the president cannot enforce that as an option, he ultimately ends
up looking weak and this actually kind of goes back to the whole argument
about whether Maliki should have allowed the U.S. to leave a residual force
and the president at that time didn`t want to push that view and it seems
he doesn`t want to push Maliki this time, either. And I think that`s
something that conservatives definitely are a little bit concerned about.
CAPEHART: Uh-hm. I want to thank Phyllis Bennis with the Institute for
Policy Studies for joining us this morning and Anna Galland from
Moveon.org, thank you.
President Obama has a new comment on the state of the Republican Party.
That, and more today`s political headlines are up next.
CAPEHART: It`s time for our round-up. A look at some of the stories
making headlines on this Saturday morning and we want to begin in Hawaii
which looks like it dodged a major bullet this weekend. Tropical storm
Iselle steered clear of most of the state and Hurricane Julio is now on
track to pass well north of the island later this weekend.
But things still could prove to be rough this weekend for Hawaii`s
democratic governor. According to recent polling, Governor Neil
Abercrombie trails a little-known state senator named David E.J. heading
into today`s democratic primary. Abercrombie is a longtime friend of
President Obama, the president even cut a radio ad for the guy, but that
may not be enough to help Abercrombie pull off a victory today.
Back here is MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for Salon.
And New York Post opinion writer Robert George. So, Joan, does this
primary have any implications with democrats nationwide?
WALSH: No, it doesn`t.
CAPEHART: Not at all.
WALSH: Yes. I don`t see any. It`s a democratic primary. It`s not
indicative of a wave. Yes.
Moving right along. In this interview with Thomas Friedman yesterday,
President Obama also compared our current domestic political situation to
what`s happening in the Middle East.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our politics are dysfunctional and something that I said earlier
serves as a warning to us and that is societies don`t work if political
factions take the maximum positions. And I have to say here, you know,
I`ve been speaking in generalities and trying not to be too political, but
that ideological extremism and maximum positions is much more prominent
right now in the Republican Party than the democrats. Democrats have
problems, but overall if you look at the democratic consensus it`s a pretty
common sense, mainstream consensus. It`s not a lot of wacky, ideological
nonsense and by the way, is generally fact based and reason based.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: Uh-mm. The president went on to say that he thinks the
Republican Party will free itself of extremist ideology, but is that a
reason-based claim itself. Robert, do you see any signs that the two
parties will move toward the middle on any issue right now?
GEORGE: Not right now. Not in an election year and when we`ve got these
like serious divisions over immigration and, in fact, frankly, I think the
divisions on immigration on the democratic side are somewhat profound, at
least in the context of the current humanitarian crisis. But no, there`s -
- in a sense there`s no real logic in terms of political calculus for them
to move together until after the election.
CAPEHART: Now to a piece out yesterday from our own Joan Walsh. "The
Rights Impeachment Trap: How Pundits Blame Obama for GOP Extremism." Joan,
you write, "Even President Obama has to regret some of his 2008 rhetoric
which partly blame the Clintons for the rights vengeful crusade against
them as pundits use it to claim that he not only broke politics but that
he will actually deserve the blame if republicans impeach him for doing
his job." Journalists still blame democratic presidents for the unhinged
behavior of republicans.
So, Joan, talk to us briefly about what`s behind this dynamic.
WALSH: Well, you know, Charles Krauthammer can be expected to say the
things he says and he actually insist that if the president goes ahead and
defers deportation of some people who are here illegally that he will be
doing that intentionally as impeachment bait which I think is really
cynical and not at all true. I don`t believe this president wants to be
impeached. But you see a few journalists also piling on and suggesting
that that may be correct and even if he can do what he`s planning legally,
even if he actually has the power to do it, he shouldn`t do it because it
will make republicans so mad and it will further polarize the country and I
think this is the kind of rhetoric that has enabled republicans to go
farther and farther to the right to -- Robert is right, that journalists
don`t call them out, I think it`s true, that journalist don`t call them out
on their extremism and instead blame democrats for somehow provoking it by
wearing short skirts or something.
GEORGE: I mean, I think if he does go ahead with the executive orders on
immigration, it does further poison the well in terms of getting anything
done on immigration. Forget about the impeachment stuff. So I mean, there
is a legitimate --
WALSH: And they`re waiting, waiting, waiting for the House republicans to
do something. So, he has not moved, it`s clear they`re not going to do
anything. I think he should move.
GEORGE: And again --
CAPEHART: Very quickly.
GEORGE: Very quickly though on the humanitarian crisis on the border, it`s
the democrats who are actually opposed to what the president suggested to
change the 2008 law. So again, it`s not just the extremism of the
CAPEHART: Well, that`s a nitpicking point and we don`t have time to do it.
Robert and Joan will be back with UP next. Develop news overnight on the
continuing fighting in Gaza.
CAPEHART: Hope is all but gone that the temporary cease-fire between
Israel and Hamas would last. Violence erupted even before the 72-hour
truce has expired. Israel has launched more than 20 air strikes in the
Gaza Strip today alone. One of those strikes killed a senior Hamas
official. The Israeli military says, "Militants have fired 70 rockets into
Israel since the truce expired." Two Israelis were hurt. At least 10
Palestinians have been killed since the cease-fire ended. More than 1900
Palestinians have died since this conflict began a month ago. Sixty seven
Israelis have also been killed.
Much more ahead including a report from the ground in Gaza in our next
hour. Plus, why the president has us back in Iraq. We`ll take a look at
the stakes, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Tens of thousands of Yazidi and religious
refugees forced to flee the rebels remain trapped on a mountaintop dying of
thirst and starvation.
Each U.S. airdrops of tons of food and thousands of gallons of water is
welcome relief, but U.S. military officials predict unless ISIS rebels
threatening the refugees are driven from these mountains, those
humanitarian airdrops are all that will keep them alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: It`s been six days since militants from the Islamic State or
ISIS made their first major gains into Iraq`s Kurdish region, taking over
the northern city of Sinjar and forcing tens of thousands of residents to
flee their homes.
Most are Yazidi, an ancient religious sect, mixing Zoroastrianism,
Christianity and Islam, a group that`s been persecuted for centuries. "The
Washington Post" reports that when the Sunni extremists entered the city,
they blew up a Shiite shrine and demanded that residents convert or die.
And so the Yazidi people fled. Some of them into the mountains surrounding
their town. Now thousands of Yazidis find themselves trapped atop Mount
Sinjar boxed in by extremist militants. There`s no water and no vegetation
to keep them alive. The mountainside is so rocky they can`t properly bury
According to "The Washington Post," quote, "The mountain that had looked
like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children."
And it`s these innocent civilians, in addition to U.S. diplomats and
military personnel in the region that President Obama is trying to protect
with the airstrikes he authorized Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: Here to talk about all of this, Michael Breen is executive
director at the Truman National Security Project and a founding director of
the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project.
Hisham Melhem is a bureau chief with the Al Arabiya news channel and joins
us from Washington.
And Nour Malas, correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," joins us on
the phone from Erbil.
So Nour, to you first, you just heard the president using the G word,
genocide. Using the term genocide has big implications.
What`s your assessment of the situation in Erbil?
NOUR MALAS, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Erbil is a little bit north of the
(INAUDIBLE) region where the all of the Yazidis are trying to flee to the
mountainside. There is (INAUDIBLE) because (INAUDIBLE).
CAPEHART: OK. We`re having a little problem with Nour`s connection.
So, Mike, I want to come to you surrounding the humanitarian crisis. The
choice is often framed, should we intervene militarily or should we do
Are there other better options here?
MICHAEL BREEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: Well,
I think that`s a great point.
Too often we feel like the only choices available to the United States are
send the 82nd Airborne Division or sit back and watch the world burn. And
I think the United States of America has other options.
Certainly we`ve started to exercise them. I mean, as you said, these
people are on top of a mountain; daytime temperatures, according to
military colleagues of mine who served up there, can reach as high as 130-
So you`re talking about without assistance, a couple of days, half a week
at most these people can make it.
So we do have choices and we`re already doing things like dropping food and
water, but you have got to ask what happens if ISIL doesn`t let them walk
back down off the mountain. And that`s where the military option becomes
You have the problem of the well-fed dead. They didn`t go up that mountain
to go hiking. They went up that mountain because their only option was to
run up the mountain or be slaughtered. And so if ISIL doesn`t just back
off, we`ve got to ask ourselves how far are we willing to go to make sure
that these people have safe passage and can sustainably survive, not just
in a few days.
CAPEHART: Hisham, in the United States, we talk a lot about humanitarian
military intervention, taking out targets and saving lives.
How is this kind of intervention viewed in the Middle East?
HISHAM MELHEM, AL ARABIYA NEWS CHANNEL: Well, unfortunately, many people
in the region have been numbed by the continuing violence in Arab and
Muslim societies. That`s why there was very little empathy with what`s
happening in Northern Iraq.
In fact, even the Iraqi television networks did not cover it well if you
were in Iraq and in Baghdad and you wanted to know what`s happened in the
north. You would have to watch Arab satellite stations or foreign
television networks, unfortunately.
Iraq has been a broken country for a long time and we allowed Nouri al-
Maliki to pursue his narrow-minded parochial sectarian policies for a long
time. George Bush did that and Barack Obama did that.
Look, people don`t realize that the United States has a moral
responsibility for what is taking place today in Northern Iraq. It was the
American invasion of 2003 that unleashed all these dark forces, that
created Al Qaeda in the Mesopotamia, which was the antecedent of ISIS.
So we have a moral responsibility. And only the United States can stop
Now the question, did the right -- did the president do the right thing? I
would say yes, but the problem is also I`m not sure and we don`t know
whether it is too little, too late.
If you`re going to continue with these pinprick attacks, you will not roll
back ISIS. You would have to embark on a long, sustainable program of
training, rearming the Kurds and getting rid of Maliki very quickly in
Baghdad, form an inclusive government that would give the Sunnis, the
disgruntled, alienated Sunnis of Central Iraq and Northern Iraq, something
so that they can turn against ISIS the way they did turn against Al Qaeda
when Petraeus and Ryan Crocker was the ambassador in Baghdad.
But it was inevitable for the President of the United States to find
himself face-to-face with ISIS, because ISIS is a different breed of
terrorism. This is Al Qaeda on steroids. This is not your run-of-the-mill
terrorist group. This is led by a claimant of caliphate and the violence
that they perpetrated in both in Syria and in Iraq is unimaginable and the
United States cannot just turn its back.
CAPEHART: So, Mike, the Associated Press is reporting that ISIS is holding
hundreds of Yazidi women captive in Mosul. The humanitarian concerns and
potential genocide could be extending beyond Mount Sinjar.
What could that mean for U.S. involvement?
BREEN: That`s a great question. I think Hisham offers, as he so often
does, a wonderful perspective from the region. He`s right on many counts.
One of the most important ways he`s right is that this is more than a
humanitarian crisis, I would argue. We have a clear national security
interest in the stability of the region, the survival of Iraq as a
coherent, united representative country, if they can get that far
And ISIS is a threat, unlike anything we`ve seen in at least the last
decade. This was a terrorist offshoot of Al Qaeda that was actually thrown
out of Al Qaeda for excessive brutality if you can believe that. It is now
an army that is attacking population centers and seizing critical
infrastructure like oil refineries and dams.
So this is -- they`re carving out a country by the sword, out of the
remnants and the ashes of Syria and out of parts of Northern and Western
Iraq. This does not end well for anybody including the United States. So
you have a clear national security interest. You also have a clear, I
agree, moral imperative in part because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
I was an Army officer on the ground during that initial invasion phase of
the war. I witnessed the disintegration of Iraqi society in front of my
eyes. And I think we`re still trying to claw our way back from that
Also the United States cannot simply sit by and watch the textbook
definition of genocide. ISIS` stated intention and their actions say
they`re trying to eliminate a tribe, an ethnic group, on the basis of their
religion. That`s genocide. You can`t simply watch that happen.
And not only do we have a national security interest and a moral
imperative, we actually have the tools to help in a concrete way here, not
just in terms of humanitarian aid, but this is one case where people talk
about airstrikes a lot, but this is one case where airstrikes could
actually help because of the force on ground in the Kurdish Peshmerga that
can take fight to ISIL, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball.
CAPEHART: So, Mike and Hisham, we have Nour Malas of "The Wall Street
Journal" back on the phone.
And, Nour, what I asked you before is to give us a sense of what`s
happening on the ground there.
MALAS: Yes. Sorry. I couldn`t hear you. So Erbil is pretty tense and no
one`s expected this advance over the past week. It`s a little bit calmer
today, though. ISIS had pushed, continued to push up north into the Iraqi-
Kurdish border, separating Kurdish-controlled territory, which is hundreds
of miles --
CAPEHART: I guess we lost Nour Malas` line again.
But, Mike, I`m going ask you this question. This isn`t the first time
President Obama has launched airstrikes for humanitarian reasons. Here is
what he said in 2011 when talking about Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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 happen. 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)
CAPEHART: Actually, I`m going to take this to both of you, Hisham and
Mike, I`ll start with you.
How does that rationale and that situation compare to the airstrikes we`re
launching now in Iraq?
BREEN: Well, I think there are certainly massive differences between the
situation in Libya and Iraq.
But you have the confluence of those three factors again, you have a
national security interest; I would say it`s even greater now than it was
in Libya, vastly greater.
You have a humanitarian moral imperative. You have very good reason to
believe that a lot of people will die at once unless you can do something
about it. And this is something that I think is lost in the complexity
A couple of days ago it was a near certainty that 40,000 Yazidis would die
on top of that Sinjar mountain. Today their prospects are much better
because of U.S. action. We can say that in an additionitive (ph) way, in a
region where you can almost never say things like that. You can say that
So we have the ability to make things better and I think you put those
three things together, the tools for the job that can actually work, a
national security interest that`s clear and a moral imperative that can`t
be ignored and the imminent threat to so many innocent people.
And I think the United States of America has to act or it`s not the United
States of America anymore.
CAPEHART: Hisham, final thoughts from you?
MELHEM: Look, we cannot escape our moral responsibility in Iraq. I think
the president has to review his whole approach to the region and he has to
include America`s friends in the region, the Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt;
has to work on his relationship with Turkey.
But the United States has to lead and I think he was a little bit late
because he did not want to get involved in Syria. We allowed ISIS to grow
in Syria for the last three years and now we have this incredible challenge
that is going to require a great deal of creativity, a great deal of
patience and a great deal of sacrifices.
I think he is doing the right thing. But he has to commit the United
States for the long haul and I know this is not easy. This is the fourth
consecutive American president to do battle in Iraq or with Iraq. And but
there are only -- there are certain things only the United States can do.
The United Nations cannot do it. There is no leadership in Europe; there`s
no leadership in the Arab world. Most of the Arab world is broken. And
that`s why this is -- call it the burden of leadership. Call it the burden
of empire but the United States cannot escape its responsibility in Iraq.
Half of the Christian population of Iraq fled the country when we had more
than 100,000 soldiers there. We failed them when we were there. We cannot
afford to fail them again.
CAPEHART: I want to thank my guests for this discussion. Apologies that
we couldn`t keep Nour Malas with us, technical difficulties reporting live
Michael Breen at the Truman National Security Project and Hisham Melhem
from Al Arabiya news channel, thank you both so much for being here today.
BREEN: Thank you.
MELHEM: Thank you.
CAPEHART: Up next, I`m going have a heart-to-heart with you, America. We
need to talk. That`s next.
CAPEHART: America, we need to talk, because I`m thoroughly confused.
You`re down on President Obama; 40 percent approval rating, the lowest he
has ever registered in the NBC Wall Street Journal poll.
At the same time you seem to really hate Congress. Fourteen percent?
Polyester has a higher approval rating among supermodels.
America, you can`t stand the fighting and the dysfunction running rampant
in Congress, believe me, I can sympathize with that; 79 percent of you, I
repeat, 79 percent are dissatisfied with the country`s political system.
If that were an election, it would be a landslide.
America, you have a chance to do something about this dysfunction in
November to change it, in the mid-term election. Only when you`re asked
who you want in charge, you say the Republicans, the party that is trying
to grind Washington to a halt.
A slim plurality favors the Republicans to keep the House and an equally
slim margin wants them to take over the Senate to give Republicans complete
control of Congress, full gridlock, if not another outbreak of 1990s
And what baffles me even more, this new poll shows that 71 percent of you
think gridlock in Washington is to blame for our economic problems. You`re
saying gridlock is making it harder to find a job, but actually I think
I`ll take more gridlock.
And on top of all this, America, you`re saying that the economy is getting
So, America, let`s talk, because I thought we knew each other, but this?
What is going on with you these days?
Here to help me figure it out we have MSNBC contributor Jared Bernstein.
He`s a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities plus a
former economic adviser to Vice President Biden.
MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh with "Salon" is back; Robert George,
opinion writer with the "New York Post" and my "Sun Times" doppelganger is
back and historian journalist and author Rick Perlstein.
I asked you this before, PERLSTEIN is here. He`s got a great new book
called "The Invisible Bridge." We`ll be talking with him later on in the
show about it.
But let me go to Jared first to ask about the economy.
In the new poll, 50 percent say they believe the economy is improving. And
while that number seems low, it`s the best it`s been for a few years.
So, Jared, what are the indicators the American people are experiencing
that are making them have a slightly more positive outlook here?
JARED BERNSTEIN, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: Well, I`ll share
some of those indicators with you in a second, but first, vis-a-vis your
very good, tough question you`ve asked an economist here when you may need
a psychiatrist, the cognitive dissonance of that opening, I think, was very
First of all is the job market. You know, we talk a lot about financial
markets. You get the stock market ticker every five minutes. But what
matters to most people is their job, their paycheck, their sense of
economic security and the extent to which they`re linked to the growing
You know, this poll result -- and it`s probably the only favorable result
in the poll you`ve been citing -- shows that the percent of respondents who
think that the economy is still in recession is actually still pretty high.
It`s about 50 percent, but if you go back a year it was 60 percent.
So this slow, steady improvement, particularly in the job market, is
seeping into people`s consciousness. We`ve now added over 200,000 jobs a
month for the past six months. The unemployment rate is coming down for
the right reasons, not because people are leaving the job market, because
more people are getting jobs.
We don`t see it yet in the paychecks and that`s why some of those
dissatisfaction figures are too high, but we are moving in the right
CAPEHART: So, Joan, given what we know from the poll and I just ran
through everything, 71 percent, that think that gridlock is a problem; 43
percent want the Republicans to stay in control of the House and the same
percentage want them to be in control of the Senate.
As I just said in the opening, none of it makes sense to me. I`m confused.
Help me out.
WALSH: Well, to continue on with what Jared was saying, yes, the economy
is getting better and, yes, people are starting to perceive it, but the
place at the poll actually had some interesting numbers on the economy and
why people say they`re not feeling the improvement.
They have adult kids living with them. They or their kids are paying off
student debt. They`ve got credit card debt. Someone in their household
lost a job in the recession and there`s still a lot of part-time work
And so what you have, what President Obama inherited, not just the Bush
recession, but he inherited basically 30 years of declining living
standards for the middle class and the working class, stuff that began
under Ronald Reagan -- and Rick can talk to you about that later.
But these are long-term trends. We really stopped being an opportunist
society a while ago and people are still digging out and don`t have a way
to expect their paychecks to rise.
GEORGE: I think there is something to that, and I wish I could take credit
and I wish I could remember exactly who originally said it, but in terms of
how people see this as a divided country, somebody once said that the
American people elect Democrats because they want things and they elect
Republicans because they don`t want to pay for them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn`t make much sense. The Republicans are the
ones who run up the deficits.
GEORGE: Be that as it may, but I think this issue, it seems that the
economy is increasing, is getting better. We`ve got 200,000 jobs created
for the last six months.
The problem is, though, there is a certain kind of a credibility gap where
the public is not actually crediting the president or the Democrats for the
improvement in the economy partly because, you know, there is a concern
that he wasn`t, you know, honest with them on ObamaCare and --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
GEORGE: -- and so forth. That is why you do have a definite enthusiasm,
more enthusiasm on the Republican side to turn out in November.
CAPEHART: Jump in there, Rick. You`re itching to get in.
RICK PERLSTEIN, HISTORIAN, JOURNALIST, AND AUTHOR: Let`s put some of that
on the president as a communicator. I wrote this about Reagan. He was
called "the great communicator." He always, when there was good news, he
took credit for it and he blamed the bad guys who were the Democrats and
liberals when there was bad news. He always was able to subtly and with a
smile put it on the Democrats.
You showed earlier in the show an interview with Barack Obama and he
complained about the extreme in the country. And the next sentence out of
his mouth was I don`t want to get political about this.
The whole idea that Barack Obama cannot play the political game of taking
credit for the good stuff and blaming the bad guys for the bad stuff it`s
very much at the center of his appeal in 2008, but when you`re doing the
hard game of getting credit, I`m not really sure that`s enough.
BERNSTEIN: Let me jump in there, so I think the problem that the president
faces, it gets back to some of the things Joan was saying. It`s actually
kind of a dissonant to use that word again for people to hear the president
crowing about the economy when they`ve got their kid living in the basement
and when their paycheck has been relatively flat.
He`s actually had to stick to a pretty kind of balanced message that
doesn`t really jump out with optimism. So he`s constantly saying -- which
happens to be the case -- things are improving, but they`re improving
slowly; we know we haven`t reached the middle class yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that we`re not improving is the Republicans`
BERNSTEIN: No, I think that`s a strong point. He really would be able to
do more if he had obviously a Congress that would --
GEORGE: Or perhaps the Federal Reserve, there is an element there why
there is not more job creation there because they`ve kept interest rates
low, but that`s a very complicated political argument to make.
WALSH: Can I point to one other thing I thought was fascinating in that
poll? MSNBC actually did a word cloud around the words that people
mentioned in the poll, Democrats versus Republicans, the things that were
On the Republican word cloud, impeach President Obama, stop violating the
Constitution, fix the borders, some other really negative, harsh thing.
The Democrats was immigration reform, fix ObamaCare and compromise,
compromise was one of the biggest words in the Democratic word cloud.
There was no compromise even in tiny, tiny print in the Republican word
cloud, and I think that is really a problem, because you have this
asymmetric engagement in the business of compromising, because it`s the
business of government and a president that has been very reluctant to call
out the evildoers.
PERLSTEIN: And don`t forget that you compromise with an extremist every
time you compromise the --
WALSH: You`re going farther right.
PERLSTEIN: -- and that was what -- that`s one of the things that the
president`s base and the progressive movement and the Left complained about
President Obama about in his first term that he constantly compromised with
CAPEHART: This is TV, hold the thought. We`ll be right back with some
thoughts on this from the president himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Over the past year we`ve added more jobs than any year since 2006
and, all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the
past 53 months. That`s the longest streak of private sector job creation
in our history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAPEHART: That was President Obama at his press conference last Friday
shortly after the latest reading on unemployment was released.
Jared, I`ll direct this question to you, is the president doing an
effective job at explaining the strengthening of the job market?
And do Americans want to empower Republicans because they`re not hearing
enough from the president?
BERNSTEIN: Well, you know, it`s funny just listening to that clip he
sounded like he was reading his microwave manual there.
BERNSTEIN: So, you know, I guess you could talk about communications
because I know Rick raised Reagan`s prowess in that regard.
I think, here`s the thing, as I mentioned earlier this poll actually shows
marked improvement in the trend in the way some Americans feel about key
variables. In economics we often differentiate between the level and the
So the trend is your friend right now. It`s going in the right direction,
but these levels are so unfavorable that it`s going to take a long time
before the trend actually helps anybody.
As regards this political question you`ve been asking, this very tough
question, I actually don`t think that people look at the situation we`re
dealing with and say, boy, we have a ton of really intractable problems.
Congress is dysfunctional, they`re not compromising and that`s why we need
more Democrats. That`s just not the way people are thinking about these
things these days. They really don`t have a sense that either party is
ready to step up and do what needs to be done, even though it`s factually
correct that it`s hard right Republicans that are blocking so much
GEORGE: I think there is a real leadership component here and I think Rick
touched upon it. This -- President Obama doesn`t like to be politically
combative and I think actually that shows both in domestic policy and even
actually when he`s negotiating on the world stage.
You know, strength tends to recognize strength, and if you have somebody
who seems to be risk averse and is not -- is unclear and doesn`t want to
either call out his enemies or, quote, "evil" or so forth, the other side
I think Republicans can see that and I think Vladimir Putin also sees that
internationally as well. That`s not the same case with Reagan or even Bill
WALSH: But to be fair, when he does call out evil or pick on the
Republicans, he is called petulant, whiny, mean, he won`t lead, he won`t
compromise. What`s the matter with him?
And that`s a question of rhetorical skill. Reagan was able to say really
nasty things, really twisting the knife with a smile on his face.
PERLSTEIN: I called out Obama before but let`s widen the frame to the
Democratic Party as a whole. The kind of mean that should be on every
Democrats` list is look, historically, the worst Democrat is better than
the best Republican when it comes to historical job growth. We don`t seem
to say things like that.
CAPEHART: Let me ask you this question, Rick. President Obama was
reelected in 2012 when the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent. That`s the
highest unemployment rate that a president has been reelected with since
Franklin Roosevelt and the only other president besides Ronald Reagan to
win it -- to win when it was above 6 percent.
So my question, Rick, is how much does the strength of the economy matter
in elections and will it play any role in November?
PERLSTEIN: It matters enormously when the unemployment rate was 10 percent
in 1982 and Reaganomics seemed to have completely failed and the Democrats
received a shellacking and everyone was like the Reagan demonstration is --
to coin a phrase -- "irrelevant," the economy turned around by 1984 and
that was all because decisions Jimmy Carter made, but that`s another
And Reagan --
PERLSTEIN: -- Reagan got his 49 states but the thing about it was when he
got his 49 states, he didn`t say I have a mandate for economic policies.
He said I have a mandate for everything and he used that; he ignored the
defeat when he gave his press conference in 1982 and he just said it
It was only because the Democrats were really mean and unfair on the
campaign trail and in 1984 he said I have a mandate to do whatever I want,
just like Bush did when he wanted his mandate to, quote-unquote "privatize
BERNSTEIN: Just a quick point. I actually think -- I`ll go out on a limb
and make a bit of a prediction here. I actually think that the economy
will be a bit more of a win than Democrats back both in the midterm and
even by 2016. I know that`s looking out pretty far, but my sense is it`s
what I`ve said before.
You`ve got some trends that are moving in the right direction. I think
they`ll keep moving in that direction and they`re going to bring some of
these unfavorable levels down to ways that can help Democrats if as others
have suggested they take credit for.
CAPEHART: And Rick, as you were talking, I seem to recall President Obama
saying -- using the -- trying to use the 2012 reelection as a mandate and
was pushed back as though he`s imperial and autocratic.
But, Joan, I want to come to you, because in a review of Rick`s book on
Ronald Reagan, earlier this week you wrote about the Republicans`
demographic problems. And you conclude that even with all their troubles,
there is a pattern. Conservatism strikes a nerve in people.
Could that help explain some of these contradictor numbers we see in the
WALSH: Well, yes. I think people are not necessarily paying very close
attention to who is doing what, but I also think what I -- what I`ve seen
in Rick`s books over the years -- and I`m a big fan -- is that when
Republicans are defeated -- we`re talking about Democrats actually doing
fairly well and still not making the most of it.
But when Republicans are -- even when they`re defeated, they double down.
They go back to work and Democrats, we often are in love with the idea of
our own moral superiority or our demographic -- demography`s destiny and
Republicans are dying out. And we don`t really have to make --
PERLSTEIN: -- doesn`t matter if you have a demography deficit. If we have
a gerrymandered system in which Obama can win 55 percent in a state like
Pennsylvania but you still have the 12 Republican congressmen and five
Democrats and when you have unlimited money, we can`t rely on demography.
We can`t rely on what Richard Nixon called the silent majority becoming a
GEORGE: And that`s one of the reasons why the Democrats are basically
basing their survival this year in trying to turn out African-American
votes, turn out women`s votes and that is actually why the president is
talking about -- is pushing the envelope on immigration and what he can do
with executive power to bring out Hispanics as well, because that --
PERLSTEIN: Maybe he thinks it`s good for the country.
GEORGE: But it`s political in terms of pushing the demographic argument so
CAPEHART: Good policy, good politics there.
Jared, my thanks to you, MSNBC contributor, Jared Bernstein with the Center
on Budget and Policy Priorities; the country that is -- the country that is
offering to help some of the victims of the conflict in Gaza, details and a
report from the ground next.
CAPEHART: Right now, hundreds of Palestinian orphans and children are on
their way to Venezuela. They`ll receive medical attention and other care
in Caracas. Two U.N. agencies are supervising the transfer and it comes as
fighting between Hamas and Israeli troops has resumed after a 72-hour truce
Bill Neely is chief global correspondent for NBC News and he`s in Gaza --
BILL NEELY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Jonathan. Israeli warplanes and
drones circling above us, firing off flares. We are once again in a deadly
and frankly depressing situation here, a second day of fighting since the
truce ended and a conflict that is now entering its second month.
People on both sides of the Gaza border are now asking when and how on
Earth this conflict can be over?
NEELY (voice-over): The sound of war across Gaza once again, Israeli
airstrikes by day, more than 30 overnight. Five Palestinians reported
dead. Three of them buried in the rubble of one of several mosques hit.
Israel says it`s striking Hamas positions, a command post, a weapons store,
but civilians are also dying once again, a 10-year-old boy, the first
casualty, mourned by his inconsolable father.
Across the Gaza border in Israel, two civilians and one soldier were
injured by rockets, but the return of the war, the sirens and the terror is
wearing people down. Ashkelon, the first town hit by renewed rocket fire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody wins in a war. Everybody is getting hurt and
getting damaged. It`s a lose-lose situation.
NEELY (voice-over): The renewed fighting has forced thousands back to U.N.
shelters in Gaza. This school held 600 refugees during the truce. Today
it`s nearly 3,000.
Some of the children who should be at school are recovering in hospitals
from terrible injuries. "The same tragedy," he says, "keeps repeating
itself again and again, there is little sign of peace in the new rubble."
What about the future?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no future is in Gaza, man. No future. Is never
going to stop.
NEELY (voice-over): Egypt, holding peace talks, is calling for a new
cease-fire, but Israel won`t talk while the rockets fly and missiles are
still being fired by both sides here.
NEELY: So, Jonathan, the Israeli warplanes and the drones are still
circling here and not long ago, about 200 yards up the road there was a
double Israeli missile strike, one bomb followed about five minutes later
by another, much larger explosion.
The target was said to be a police building, which we believe was empty at
the time -- no casualties reported. If there are signs of hope here it`s
that the pace of the attacks recently has somewhat diminished and that the
Cairo peace talks, which both sides say they`re interested in continuing,
no one has yet declared them dead. Back to you, Jonathan.
CAPEHART: Many thanks to NBC`s Bill Neely in Gaza.
We`ve just learned President Obama will speak about a half hour from now
about the situation in Iraq. He`ll talk before heading to Martha`s
Vineyard for his summer vacation, a trip he is cutting short to return to
Washington to monitor the crisis. We`ll carry the president`s remarks live
here on MSNBC.
CAPEHART: We are waiting for remarks this morning from President Obama.
He will speak in about a half hour from now about the situation in Iraq.
He`ll talk before heading to Martha`s Vineyard for his summer vacation, a
trip he`s cutting short to return to Washington to monitor the crisis.
We`ll carry the president`s remarks live here on MSNBC.
In the meantime, exactly 40 years ago today, President Richard Nixon
formally resigned from office, and if you`re like me, you probably read
more than a few think pieces about his legacy this week.
Former Clinton White House speechwriter Jeff Shessel (ph) reminded us of
this quote. It`s from Kevin Phillips, who was an aide in Nixon`s 1968
"The whole secret of politics was knowing who hates who."
Richard Nixon knew that well and, unfortunately for him, he let it show, so
much so that on this day in 1974, he had to walk across the White House
lawn to an awaiting helicopter and fly off to political exile in
In exchange, California gave America another leader, a leader who inherited
the Nixon legacy, a leader who also knew that political secret about
knowing who hates who, except he did it all with a smile.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We may be fewer in
numbers than we`ve ever been, but we carry the message they`re waiting for.
We must go forth from here united, determined at what a great general said
a few years ago is true, there is no substitute for victory.
CAPEHART (voice-over): That was Ronald Wilson Reagan at the 1976
Republican National Convention. That speech came after Reagan failed to
capture the nomination that year, but in the time between Nixon`s
resignation and that convention, Reagan captured the hearts of conservative
America and he led them to capture the Republican Party.
Back with me now to talk about how Reagan restored the Republican Party
after Watergate and cemented the silent majority in power, we have Rick
Perlstein, whose new book, "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and
the Rise of Reagan," chronicles those years.
So Rick, how did Reagan help the Republican Party brush aside Watergate?
PERLSTEIN: Yes. It was a fascinating thing. At the time Richard Nixon
resigned and for a long time afterwards, we were talking about polling.
The Republican Party had a party identification number in polls of 18
percent -- 18 percent.
And what Ronald Reagan did with Watergate was very interesting. I was kind
of the first guy to really figure this out, but every time he was asked
about Watergate in a press conference, he would dismiss it. He would say
it wasn`t a big deal or he would say the Watergate conspirators were not
burglars at heart.
He would say that Richard Nixon was being the victim of a lynching, right?
It was a partisan Democratic attack on a Republican candidate meant to
erase the mandate of 1972, and it was really fascinating to see how pundits
responded to that, right?
In the summer of 1974, two very influential pundits, Evans and Novak, wrote
a piece in which they said Reagan`s political aides are beside themselves
because they don`t know how they could possibly position Ronald Reagan for
the presidency unless he finally repudiates Richard Nixon.
He never repudiated Richard Nixon. And what the pundits didn`t understand
was this was the soul of Ronald Reagan`s appeal. He gave people -- he gave
the American people permission to not worry and just kind of ignore
CAPEHART: I want to go to something -- a bit of Ronald Reagan history that
sticks with me, and it`s the first trip Reagan took after becoming the 1980
Republican nominee. And it`s a place where three civil rights workers were
murdered in 1964. Here is a clip from NBC`s coverage of that event. Let`s
take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Ronald Reagan fans waved and flashed the
victory sign all along his route to Mississippi`s Neshoba County Fair.
Ronald Reagan said he figured 90 percent of them were Democrats. The crowd
shouted back, "No." He told the Deep South crowd he believes in states`
rights and said government is out of balance because the federal
establishment has taken powers never intended in the Constitution.
The real purpose of Reagan`s trip is a speech to the Urban League in New
York tomorrow on black unemployment. In Mississippi, it was difficult to
find a black face in the crowd.
CAPEHART: I mean --
CAPEHART: -- 16 years after civil rights workers were murdered.
PERLSTEIN: A couple miles from that site.
CAPEHART: Yes. So my question is, how were racial overtones part of
PERLSTEIN: Well, a historian discovered that not long before he went to
that fairgrounds his campaign got a letter saying, you have to get the
Wallace vote, which meant the segregationist vote and a great way to do it
is to go to the Neshoba County Fair.
So that`s kind of like they had motive, means and opportunity to exploit
the racial resentments that were going on in Mississippi.
But, you know, you can`t go down to the South and say, you know, I think we
must preserve the Southern way of life. You can`t be like George Wallace
saying if I see a protester in front of my limousine, I`m going to run him
You have to, like Lee Atwater said, use those code words. States rights,
everyone knew exactly what it meant. It was states` rights to ignore the
federal government when the federal government told them that they had to
let little black boys and little black girls go to the same school.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Rick. Again, we`ve learned that President Obama will
address the situation in Iraq live this morning. He will speak from the
South Lawn of the White House in about half an hour from now. We`ll carry
the president`s remarks live right here on MSNBC. And we`ll be right back.
CAPEHART: I want to find out what my guests know now that they didn`t know
when the week began. Let`s start with Rick. He not only writes about the
1970s, but wears them as well.
Can you see them? What are they, five-inch? Three-inch heels.
PERLSTEIN: Six, seven, I don`t know. I learned that the `70s are the best
decade ever. Because short guys could feel what it was like to be tall.
CAPEHART: Joan? Quite a feat.
WALSH: I learned that Senator Rand Paul has a fitness program and it
involves sitting down at a table, taking a bite of his hamburger, meeting a
DREAMer. You drop the burger; you don`t finish it, you run and you stay
CAPEHART: It`s called the DREAM Dash?
WALSH: Yes, the DREAM Dash.
CAPEHART: Robert George?
GEORGE: Moving away from politics, we found out that, surprise, college
athletes actually have economic rights, big -- very big decision handed
down yesterday that said that college athletes have the rights to
endorsement deals and things like that. It, frankly, may change college
CAPEHART: And I know I`m not supposed to take part in this, but I`ll just
say I now know that Herman Cain is right when it comes to the Tea Party --
and only that.
I want to thank all my guests this morning -- and thank you at home --
well, he said that the Tea Party and the Republican Party are basically one
and the same.
Thank you at home for joining us today for UP. I`ll be back tomorrow, same
time, 8:00 am Eastern. But up next is Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa will
have the very latest on the airstrikes in Iraq, including remarks from the
president from the White House. "MHP" will carry those remarks live.
Keep it right here on MSNBC. Don`t go anywhere because "MHP" is next.
Thanks for getting UP.
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