All In   |  August 30, 2013

Obama and Kerry outline US march to war in Syria

Chris Hayes talks about the U.S. officials making the case for military strikes on Syria with NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, Congressman Jim McDermott, and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes . u.n. inspectors tonight are preparing to leave syria in anticipation of an imminent strike by forces of the united states . a strike which seems all but assured after the secretary of state john kerry came before the nation today with a stunningly aggressive case for military intervention in syria . he began what he called facts about the chemical weapons attack that took place near damascus last week.

>> we know that for three days before the attack, the syrian regime's chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations. we know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. we know where they landed and when. the united states government now knows that at least 1,429 syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. we know that a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime. the american intelligence community has high confidence. high confidence. this is common sense . this is evidence. these are facts. the question is what are we collectively? what are we in the world going to do about it?

>> after ticking through the evidence in an intelligence report, he move on to why a chemical attack on the syrian people matters to the united states .

>> 100 years ago in direct response to the utter horror and inhumanity of world war i that the civilized world agreed that chemical weapons should never be used again. it matters today that we are working as an international community to rid the world of the worst weapons. it matters to our security and the security of our allies. it matters because a lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching. what we choose to do or not to matters in real ways to our own security. some cite the risk of doing things, but we need to ask what is the risk of doing nothing?

>> secretary kerry speaking directly to the american people then made two things very clear. the united states will go it completely alone if it judges it necessary, and the american people 's war fatigue is not, in his mind, an excuse for inaction.

>> president obama will ensure that the united states of america makes our own decisions on our own timelines based on our values and our interests. we know that after a decade of conflict, the american people are tired of war. believe me, i am, too. but fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about, and history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency. these things we do know.

>> john kerry 's extremely strong statement this afternoon seemed to leave almost zero doubt the white house intended to act unilaterally in syria with a military strike , but then rather confusingly, it was almost immediately followed up with a statement from the president, himself, at an event with baltic leaders that if not substantively opposed to kerry , the opposite in tone.

>> the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons . now, i have not made a final decision about various actions that might be taken to help enforce that norm. i have had my military and our team look at a wide range of options. without considering any open-ended commitment, we're not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach. what we will do is consider options that meet the narrow concern about chemical weapons , understanding that there's not going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy that's taking place in syria .

>> joining now with the latest is nbc news chief pentagon correspondent, jim miklashevski. jim , what's the latest from the pentagon in terms of whatever preparations are being made?

>> well, chris , as the president said, he'd made no final decision. i can tell you there is a final war plan in place here at the pentagon. it would require some last-minute tweaks as the syrian military moves around some of its forces and military assets, but the u.s. military is on standby and ready to pull the trigger. they've got five guided missiles destroyers there in the eastern mediterranean . each is loaded with as many as 50 tomahawk missiles . by the way, most of the targets are already programmed into those missile warheads, even this far in advance of any potential launch. in addition, you know, there is the "u.s.s. san antonio ," an amphib ship, with 300 marines aboard that moved into the eastern part today and they're not going to be involved in this operation against syria , but any time you're involved in a military operation , things go wrong and they're just standing there just in case. the primary targets, again, are chemical weapons command and control centers. no the weapons, themselves. and the delivery systems. artillery, rockets, and any aircraft that is associated with that chemical weapons program.

>> jim , can i ask you this?

>> sure.

>> can i ask you, is there a tactical logic that i am not grasping behind what has been essentially telegraphing this strike for days now and the nature of what it might be, the artillery that might be involved and targets we might go at. what is the thinking there about going about it in this fashion?

>> a tactical logic, no, as a matter of fact , there are already reports that the syrian military is dispersing many of those assets. so it may take many more cruise missiles than originally planned to take them out. and there are also reports that they're taking prisoners out of their jails, some militants, obviously, and they are dispersing them at some of the potential target sites. so from a military standpoint, this might be considered one of the worst things to do in advance of an attack, but from a political standpoint, it appears that the president believes and the white house believes this is absolutely necessary to win over the american public. polls have shown that most americans are against any kind of attack against syria until you insert, well, what if they're attacked with cruise missiles and there are no boots on the ground ? and then the favorable rate for an attack on syria increases. so there's a little bit of military and politics which don't always necessarily mix.

>> that makes a lot more sense now. nbc news chief pentagon correspondent jim miklashevski. joining me now, congressman jim mdermott from washington state , par of the bipartisan movement that wants congress to vote before any action in syria . congressman, what was your reaction to john kerry 's statements today?

>> well, it sounds very much like iraq . we've got the drumbeat of war, and we're giving the -- they're giving us the bums rush that everything is all in line and everything is perfect. i remember colin powell going to the united nations and telling us the very same sort of thing. they knew everything. and you can see what we got out of iraq . i actually remember the attacks that bill clinton made on sudan and afghanistan back in 1995 . those were also told that we were going to hit a munitions factory where they were making weapons of mass destruction , and we are rushing too fast. the congress should be brought in. we should all be made aware of what's going on. it should not be the president acting unilaterally. it is not his army. it is the army of the united states of america, and we are the ones who are sending them to war and we should vote to do it and take responsibility for it.

>> i have not agreed more, congressman. have you communicated with fellow members an this? one of the things i find troubling is the terms of the conversation between congress and the executives seem to be terms of consultation, of briefing, as opposed to assertions of the article 1 power of the constitution. people coming back from recess, joining in the capitol and actually calling a vote which you do not have to wait on the president to do.

>> well, that's my view. he could have called us back two, three days ago. i mean, they've been making all these preparations at the pentagon as though we were just bystanders in this whole business. we are the ones who tax the people. we raise the money. we buy the weapons. we do all of that. and we put the president in charge of them, but we don't give him the responsibility by himself to pull the trigger. he has to ask us for that. and i come from the vietnam era , so i have a long history of being worried about presidents who act unilaterally and he's doing it again just like george bush did. we made george bush come back to the congress and get a vote before we went into iraq . the congress , i think, made a mistake in doing it, but at least we all took responsibility for what happened. in this one, the president is taking it all on himself. what's the hurry and what is the goal? what are you expecting to be the goal that we accomplish day two after we've shot in 50 tomahawk missiles ? when we have taken out assad ? is that the goal? or is it take out the syrian army ? or is it to lay the country waste to make rubble? what is it we are intending to get out of this?

>> you clearly want a vote on this, and some of our viewers have been tweeting about this and there's a lot of consternation, obviously, as we stand now in the precipice of what looks like another war in the middle eve. one viewer writing into me, the president needs a vote here if for no other reason to have cover for what happens afterwards. do you think there will be political recriminations after the fact if the president doesn't go to congress ?

>> well, you know, we've seen how well the drones have worked in pakistan, and we've seen all kinds of collateral damage in pakistan and iraq and we had an 11-year war in which we killed thousands of people, and the long-term effect of that is that it makes a burned memory in the arab -- in the muslim mind about whether the united states is after muslims. and i think you have to take this thing very carefully and have everybody understanding what it is we want as a final result. what did we get out of going into iraq ? there was no al qaeda in there when we started. we, it turned out, well, we got saddam hussein . was it worth all that mayhem and all the money we spent there for one person?

>> that is the question, obviously, that's weighing over the congress , it's weighing over the citizenry as we head into this weekend with everyone on tenterhooks. congressman jim mcdermott . thank you so much. joining me, bill richardson , former democratic governor of new mexico , former u.s. ambassador to the united nations in the clinton administration . it's in that capacity, governor richardson , i'd like to ask the first question about the u.n.'s role in all this. new u.n. ambassador samantha power just has gotten the job in the last week or two. it's clear that the u.n. security council , unlike the libya intervention, won't be signing off on intervention. our closest ally, the uk, has said they won't be doing anything. is there any grounding in international law ? is it legal under international law for the u.s. to strike syria ?

>> first, chris , i support the president. i thought secretary kerry was very eloquent in laying out the moral, the legal justifications. i was u.n. ambassador. it'd be nice to get a resolution under chapter 7 authorizing military force . the problem is the russians will veto it. they've said they would. short of that, i would try to get some kind of ban on arm shipments, send assad to the international court of justice that the security council can do. a condemnation statement. i would continue this u.n. effort. at the same time, what we need to assemble to get some legal justification, as we did, for instance, with libya, is what is called a coalition of the willing . european countries , arab countries , the arab league has condemned this. i think this -- this is a very tough decision for the president. i was also, chris , a member of congress . i would like the congress to be brought in, but i think here the president has to make the judgment on what's in the national security of the united states . and what he has said and what secretary kerry has said is that there has been a violation of international norms. the gassing, the killing of 1,500 people with nerve gas . at the same time --

>> if i could interject for one second.

>> this is a violation of international law .

>> let me just say --

>> go ahead, chris .

>> two points on this. when you say -- i want to make this clear. when you use the term coalition of the living, are you aware there are americans screaming at their television sets around the country because it is precisely the term used by the bush administration when the u.n. refused to go along with the war in iraq . we look back and say, you know what, the u.n. security council was right to not go along with the war in iraq . it has uncomfortable resonances, doesn't it doesn't it?

>> the american people are skeptical. no question about this. president has to do what's the best case of the united states . i think the case has been made for us to respond. again, we're not putting boots on the ground . we're not assaulting and trying to have a regime change . it's a very tactical effort. degrade the bomb, the military bomb sites. find ways to destroy the artillery launches of the syrian military. find ways to shift the military momentum away from the syrian military that is winning the war right now. most importantly, a response to these butchering killings. assad cannot get away with what we did, and what i think the president is doing, if you get a lot of countries taking stands, is they will put together a coalition. hopefully there will be some action at the u.n. he is consulting with the the congress . the major national security leaders of the congress are being brought in. but this is a very tough decision.

>> can i ask you this --

>> i support the president.

>> you said assad can not be allowed to get away with this. and i think anyone who's looked at any of the footage, the chemical weapons attack, who is inclined to believe that it was, in fact, the assad regime that did it as was laid out by john kerry , although i have no idea. i haven't seen the unclassified -- the classified intelligence . but let's say that is the case. even the strikes that we're talking about do not mean that assad won't get away with what he did. which is to say if we have some set of limited strikes that take out some kind of -- some artillery or some delivery systems for these kinds of weapons, and then the civil war goes about its business, what exactly is the message there?

>> well, here's a message, chris . i trust, first of all, i trust our intelligence capability. we have the best intelligence, the facts have been laid out very strongly. i think the u.n. inspectors in the next couple of days with their inspections, with their samples, are going to certify what our intelligence people did. now, we have the best, strongest military in the world. these missiles launchers, these cruise missiles , the tomahawks, they're going to do some damage. now, it's not going to be perfect, but they're strategic. they're not aimed at civilian targets. they're aimed at degrading the military capabilities of the syrian army . the command and control centers. that's what we want to do, chris . the president is not asking for boots on the ground .

>> former u.s. ambassador to the united nations , i'm sorry --

>> my last point. this is not iraq .

>> i have to go to break. i'm sorry. thank you very much. we'll be right back. former ambassador bill richardson.

>>> secretary of state august 30th , trying to -- try there are differences. outside skepticism remains the same. we'll talk about