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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

September 3, 2013

Guests: Chris Coons, Marc Ginsberg, James Morrow

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: The president has just left for the G-20
Summit in Russia as the debate continues in Syria. And we have breaking
news about the wording of that congressional resolution on the intervention
in Syria.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president is not asking you to go
to war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All eyes will be on Capitol Hill.

KERRY: That is not what the president is asking for her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, Hagel and Kerry
head to the Hills to convince more members of Congress to act.

this is not Afghanistan.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: The president is meeting with members of
Congress at the White House.

OBAMA: We will be stronger if we take action together.

JANSING: To try to convince them to vote for a military strike.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Not everyone is on board.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Both parties are deeply divided over
just how to respond.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: You cannot split this along partisan

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, I am not persuaded. I need to be

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the main goal? Why can`t we concentrate
on our own problems?

hundreds of children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy Pelosi, for once, supports the call for

weapons has to be responded to.

PELOSI: We must respond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many members are still skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not a single American has been attacked.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don`t see a clear-cut American

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not any of our allies has been attacked.

PELOSI: My 5-year-old grandson said, I think no war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a rising solid no vote.

PELOSI: I don`t know what news he is listening to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be a very tough sell.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: This is not an Iraq type of

OBAMA: This is a limited, proportional step.

way to make our use of force effective.

HALL: Even if this is a limited, strategic strike.

DEMPSEY: A developed, capable moderate opposition, and we know how to
do that.

HALL: What are the results?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would come next?

DEMPSEY: We are very focused to the response on the chemical weapons.

JANSING: The furious lobbying continuing on Syria.

WAGNER: President Obama talks to Congress. Hagel and Kerry head to
the Hill, and America decides what to do about Syria.


O`DONNELL: Breaking news tonight, we have the first details of the
Senate resolution that would authorize the United States military action
against the government of Syria for using chemical weapons. The resolution
would limit any military involvement to just 90 days and expressly bars the
use of U.S. ground forces or, quote, "combat operations", end quote.

President Obama made the case for action to congressional leaders this
morning at the White House.


OBAMA: So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American
people, the military plan that has been developed by our joint chiefs. And
that I believe is appropriate is proportional. It is limited. It does not
involve boots on the ground.

This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.


O`DONNELL: The chairman of the joint chiefs, the secretary of defense
and the secretary of state made the case to the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee today.


KERRY: You know, you got three people who have been to war. You`ve
got John McCain who has been to war. There is not one of us who doesn`t
understand what going to war means. And we don`t want to go to war. We
don`t believe we are going to war in the classic sense of taking American
troops and America to war.

The president is asking for the authority to do a limited action that
will degrade capacity of a tyrant who has been using chemical weapons to
kill his own people.

PAUL: I think by doing so --

KERRY: It`s a limited -- it is limited.

PAUL: By doing so you announce in advance that your goal is not
winning. And I think the last 50 years of secretaries of defense would say

KERRY: Senator, if you were to ask do you want to go to war in Syria?
Of course not, 100 percent of Americans will say no. We say no. We don`t
want to go to war in Syria either.

It`s not what we`re here to ask. The president is not asking you to
go to war. He is not asking you to declare war. He is not asking you to
send one American troop to war.


O`DONNELL: A new "Washington Post" poll finds that 59 percent of
Americans oppose U.S. strikes on Syria, with support from 36 percent.
Republicans, Democrats and independents are all opposed.

When the committee`s senior Republican member, Senator Bob Corker,
asked how an American military intervention could help the rebels fighting
the Assad regime, General Dempsey said this.


DEMPSEY: The path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through
a developed, capable moderate opposition, and we know how to do that.


O`DONNELL: Of course, we do not know how to do that. Develop a
capable operation to a Middle East dictatorship. We never have done that.

But we do know how to bomb things. And so, the president is asking
for authorization to do the only thing we know how to do in these
situations. A situation in which everyone agrees there is no good choice.

Joining me now is Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who is a member of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, this is where you earn your paycheck on that committee. I
think everyone does agree that there is no good choice to make and that
seems that is why you`re still undecided on this.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I think that`s right, Lawrence. I
think this is a very difficult vote. I think this is the sort of thing
that challenges senators and congressmen.

I have been hearing from Delawareans over many days now that they are
weary of war, and they are weary of being drawn into a conflict like Iraq
that was sold on false premises and bad intelligence and became an open-
ended and ultimately very expensive commitment. There is a great deal of
concern amongst our constituents.

So, when I went to Washington this morning for a classified briefing
to follow up on a number of conference call briefings we had in the last
couple of days, the first thing I wanted to do was to reassure myself about
the quality of the underlying intelligence that the administration has been
presenting to us and to drill down into the details of the intelligence
that demonstrates that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the deadly
chemical weapons attacks two weeks ago that killed more than a thousand
Syrian civilians, including hundreds of children. I came out of that
meeting this morning persuaded.

Then, this afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as you
referenced, held a several hours-long hearing meeting. And you really
can`t predict based on whether there were Republicans or Democrats, new
senators or more seasoned senators, exactly where the members are going to
come out.

I think the most important question in front of us, Lawrence, is how
do we narrow the authorization to demonstrate to the people we represent
that this is not Iraq, we`re not considering even signing off on an
unlimited commitment or an open-ended authorization? I am more comfortable
that we have a president who is hesitant, deliberate, reluctant to go into
war. And that they are not seeking, as Secretary Kerry mentioned in the
clip you just showed, they`re not seeking an opposition for an open-ended
ground troop commitment in Syria.

So, I think we`re going to have a vigorous debate tomorrow as the
Foreign Relations Committee takes up proposals for limiting or narrowing
the authorization for the use of force that was initially drafted and
presented by the administration.

O`DONNELL: Senator, what do you think the most important limitation
is that should be in a resolution that you could consider voting for? Is
it the time limitation of 90 days?

COONS: Well, the draft that we have that has been sent around has 60
days with the possibility of an extension of an additional 30. I asked
several questions of Secretary Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey about
this today. I am comfortable that they feel they can achieve the
objectives that the president set out, well within 60 days, possibly less
than that.

But the other restriction I think is important to the constituents
that I`m hearing from is clarity that this does not include ground troops.
That we`re not contemplating the sort of mass invasion and occupation of
Syria that was ultimately the result of the authorization at the beginning
of the Iraq war.

O`DONNELL: Now, Republican Senator Ron Johnson asked a series of
question that actually would have been on my list, almost word for word.
And I`m wondering if you heard satisfactory answers to -- one of them,
which is related to a point that Rand Paul has been trying to make, that is
when Senator Johnson said, our stated goal is to move Assad. Why wouldn`t
we use this opportunity of military action toward that goal? Did you hear
a satisfactory answer to that?

COONS: Here is the answer I heard across several conversations,
several briefings on that exact point, and I think this is complicated
because we have two goals that are intentioned here. The short-term goal,
what we are debating today and what the authorization seeks, is a brief
strike that is intended to deter Assad from continuing to use of chemical
weapons against his own people.

Our longer term objective as a country is to make sure that Assad
leaves Syria, that the Assad regime ends. But we shouldn`t try to achieve
that through military goals. To do that would require the kind of massive
intervention that was required in the Iraq war to remove Saddam Hussein
from power.

Instead, we heard today, in response to Senator Johnson`s questions
and at other points in the hearing, and from Secretary Kerry, and from
General Dempsey, a clear commitment by this administration to pursue that
goal through diplomatic means. This is one of the issues I expect
President Obama will be raising with Putin in Russia this week. It is our
real hope, rather than have a collapse of the Syrian state and it breaking
into warring factions and years of instability that then threatens the
entire region with the spread of terrorism and chemical weapons, that
instead there could be a negotiated transition, new elections and some new
accommodation in Syria for a post-Assad country where the civil war comes
to an end here some semblance of stability and peace can be restored.

O`DONNELL: Senator Coons, what`s your timetable? Your personal
timetable for decision-making? Are there going to be votes on the foreign
relations committee tomorrow where you`re going to have to decide?

COONS: I expect there will be votes maybe as soon as tomorrow. At
the latest, Monday, and then we`ll move to consideration on the floor next
week. There will be a wide range of amendments, I expect, given the wide
range of opinions on our committee. And I`m spending some time tonight and
tomorrow morning, reflecting what I want to see in an ultimate forum, what
sort of authorization I would be willing to vote for.

We have another classified briefing tomorrow to talk more in detail
about exactly what sorts of threats the Assad regime poses to our regional
allies, to Jordan, to Turkey, to Israel, and what sort of focus there might
be to this military strike, if it ends up being authorized by Congress and
carried out by our military.

O`DONNELL: Senator Chris Coons, thanks for sharing some of your
concerns with us tonight on this very difficult decision you have to make.
Thanks for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Joining me now is former White House deputy adviser for
Middle East policy and former ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg, and
MSNBC`s Richard Wolffe.

Let`s listen to more about what Secretary Kerry said today about the
possible long-term implications in this policy area.


KERRY: I cannot emphasize enough how much they are looking to us now,
making judgments about us for the long-term, and how critical the choice we
make here will be, not just to this question of Syria, but to the support
we may or may not anticipate in the Middle East peace process, to the
future of Egypt, to the transformation of the Middle East, to the stability
of the region and other interests that we have.

There is no way to separate one thing from all of the rest.
Relationships are relationships. And they are integrated and that`s why
this is so important.


O`DONNELL: Ambassador Ginsberg, isn`t one of the things that can`t be
separated from this question on the intervention in Syria, Iran? And how
much of this is about Iran?

so much about Iran, because after all, this is a proxy war. This is a
religious proxy war between Sunni and Shiite. This is a proxy war between
Iran and Saudi Arabia and Qatar and other Sunni Arab states. This is a
proxy war more or less between Russia and the United States and Israel and

And most importantly, it only shows you what you and I talked about
before. Syria is an extraordinarily complicated place with an
extraordinary capacity to harm everybody that touches it.

O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, are you surprised that the White House`s
approach to this so far? It seemed to shock Washington that President
Obama held to some real consistency here in his view that Congress should
be consulted in matters like this?

doesn`t shock me that he was hesitant and tried to undo what seemed like a
pretty firm decision last week. Actually, last week, shocked me much more,
seemed much more uncharacteristic that he would rush quickly and without
seemingly any support internationally -- although you could count the
French as one of the few supporters. But before an Arab league statement
comes out which turned out to be fairly positive, before a report from the
chemical weapon inspectors. All of that was very un-Obama-like and
actually, this reversal is much more in keeping with who he is.

And I think, you know, given how things have been in the last 48, 72
hours, this huge gamble seems to have at least paid off to political
domestic issue. He`s got Republicans on the side. The House seems to be
coming around to his point of view.

Of course, what that means foreign policy-wise is a completely
different calculation.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Secretary Kerry said when he wanted
to clear up the matter of boots on the ground and how that absolutely is
not an option, because there seemed to be a moment in the testimony where
he left open the theoretical possibility. But let`s listen to him trying
to shut that down.


KERRY: Let me be clear now, I don`t want anything coming out of this
hearing that leaves any door open to any possibilities. So, let`s shut
that door now as tight as we can. All I did was raise a hypothetical
question about some possibilities, and I`m thinking out loud about how to
protect America`s interest. If you want to know whether there`s any -- you
know, the answer is whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress and the
American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with
respect to the civil war.


O`DONNELL: Ambassador Ginsberg, it seems pretty clear that the
resolution will have to contain specific language forbidding American
troops from entering Syria.

GINSBERG: Lawrence, my biggest problem with this as I told you
before. I have really been opposed with the Obama decision to go to
Congress for a resolution, why?

Because if they straitjacket him to the point in any resolution that
ties him so much and lets Assad escaped and become a hero as a result of
this strike and they close the window and say you cannot do anything after
90 days and he goes ahead and uses chemical weapons again, well, let me
tell you something, this will be a major foreign policy defeat for the
United States. It will ruin our credibility. And letting Assad become a
hero in the Middle East is the worst possible outcome.

O`DONNELL: And, Richard Wolffe, that is -- the White House is
obviously mindful of that, which is why they drew up a draft resolution
that is much broader.

WOLFFE: Right. Look, we don`t know how this is going to play out.
But I take the remarks seriously, it is very real. But honestly, if there
is a point where Assad is gaining propaganda power and he goes out and
strikes again with chemical weapons, I find it hard to imagine that the
United States Congress won`t vote again to extend this further and punish
Assad further.

Once America gets sucked into this, precisely to Mark`s point, it
doesn`t really have a defined end. This will just continue on. The
rationale -- this has to do with American credibility and a statement of
Iran, or further enforcement of chemical weapons will only continue as long
as American troops are not on the ground.

If this is conducted from what we perceive to be a safe distance, then
it will continue for as long as they define it to be needed.

O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe and former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, thank
you both for joining me tonight.

GINSBERG: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the new split in the Republican Party on the
American military intervention in the Middle East. Krystal Ball and Ari
Melber will join me.

And in the rewrite, why politicians are wandering off their Syria
talking points and improvising, and why that`s driving their staffs crazy.

And the shadow that hangs over the Syria debate -- President Bush,
Ronald Rumsfeld and the Iraq Qatar.


O`DONNELL: Here is the thing that I`ve been trying to figure out: why
would Assad use chemical weapons? Now, let`s just assume for the moment
that there is proof that he definitely did it, as you just heard Senator
Coons say in the last segment. But why would Assad do that, knowing that
it was likely going to provoke a military response from the United States?

This absolutely makes no sense unless you have read the dictator`s
handbook, which is a real book, which explains the peculiar thinking of
dictators. We will see why using chemical weapons could make sense for
Syria`s dictator, later in this program.



PAUL: I think the line in the sand should be that America gets
involved when American interests are threatened. I don`t see American
interests involved on either side of the Syrian war.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: A vote against that resolution by
Congress, I think would be a catastrophe because it would undermine the
credibility of the United States of America, and the president of the
United States.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now, MSNBC`s Krystal Ball, and Ari Melber.

Krystal, here we have it, some Americans have actually found a
military intervention that they don`t like.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC HOST: Well, you know, Rand Paul, I think, you
know, is an example of someone who like his father before him who would
have been against basically all military interventions. But when you look
at the Republicans first lining up last week when they thought that the
president would not go to Congress for approval, first lining up saying he
must go to Congress for approval, and being very skeptical, you have to
think that if this were any other president, and certainly under George W.
Bush, there would be a much different tone coming from that caucus.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to an exchange today between Secretary Kerry
and Rand Paul on chemical weapons.


KERRY: If the United States of America doesn`t do this, senator, is
it more or less likely that Assad does it again? You want to answer that

PAUL: I don`t think it is known --

KERRY: Is it more or less likely he does it again?


PAUL: I think it is unknown whether or not you have the attack --

KERRY: Senator, it`s not unknown. If the United States of America
doesn`t hold them accountable with our allies and friends, it is a
guarantee Assad will do it again. A guarantee.

And I urge you to go to the classified briefing and learn that.


O`DONNELL: And, Ari Melber, and Rand Paul then went on CNN and said,
well, John Kerry must be clairvoyant. But this struggle over this issue
has -- there is one of those cases where there are good arguments on both

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I think there are, and I don`t think the
administration has completely outlined why this is of both national
security interest, and necessary at this point in time. The problem for
Senator Paul there in both the quote you just showed, Lawrence, and
throughout the hearing was his argument about the constitutionality and the
requirements on the president really reflected sort of a willful ignorance
of recent military history, both Presidents Bush Sr. and Junior invoked
constitutional authority for the president to conduct the military
operation and go after Iraq, without the Congress.

And we`ve seen other presidents in both parties do that. We`ve seen
it in Lebanon, in Iran, in Korea, in the earlier part of Vietnam. Those
are precedents, whether or not they are all encouraging, which is to the
military policy question, they clearly are there on the books and on the

And so, I think the Republicans have the biggest problem in trying to
beat up on the president for doing something that most presidents in the
modern era have done and the war powers era, which is discuss and maintain
and invoke a constitutional authority, while also sometimes consulting

O`DONNELL: Well, I think to be fair to Rand Paul and the Paul family,
Ron Paul, they have been pretty consistent on this throughout the years.
I`m pretty sure Rand Paul, if he had been in the senate would have opposed
those military interventions also, and, by the way, voted against the war
powers act that enables all of that kind of thing.

BALL: True.

O`DONNELL: But I want to get to something that erupted here. Rush
Limbaugh and the others, with this notion that Assad used chemical weapons
is something that has been invented. And let`s listen to the way it came
out on Bill O`Reilly show tonight with John McCain.


BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: There is a contention has been set up by the
rebels who want Assad punished by the USA, want to get USA inside that
country, they did it, Assad didn`t do it. That`s the float contention that
is around.

MCCAIN: That`s ludicrous -- that`s ludicrous and an insult to your
intelligence, the rebels don`t have access to those chemical weapons, to
start with.

O`REILLY: When you hear allies and Putin and others say they didn`t
do it, are they lying, Senator?

MCCAIN: Of course.


O`DONNELL: Krystal, Republicans like Bill O`Reilly would never be
that skeptical about questions of going to war in the past.

BALL: Right, and they should have been. In this case, we have a very
different situation, though. I mean, let`s be honest, if the president
could avoid feeling like he need to get involved in Syria, he would do so.
Everything that we`ve seen, everything that we`ve heard suggests that it
would be absurd to think that the rebels did this.

I mean, none of the attacks were in the regime-held areas. They were
all in rebel-held areas. All of the evidence suggests that this was almost
certainly Assad.

So that piece is not even to me, the real argument. I think as you
said and as Ari said, there are good arguments to be made on both sides in
terms of intervening. I think the question is not whether or not Assad
used chemical weapons here. That part is clear.

O`DONNELL: Ari, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a
statement today supporting the intervention. It`s a Washington group that
speaks very consistently in line with the Israeli government. Hillary
Clinton has come out publicly supporting the intervention today.

And we have Bill Kristol, who is at least now one of the consistent
Republicans on this. I want to listen to what he said to Andrea Mitchell


BILL KRISTOL: Congress did not object when Assad had to go. Congress
didn`t object when they drew the red line. They are somewhat complacent.
And he is our president. I voted against him twice, but he won re-
election, and he is speaking there as president of the United States. Not
as leader of the Democratic Party.

So, Congress has to think long and hard before just walking against
the president.


O`DONNELL: Ari, there is consistency with Bill Kristol.

MELBER: Yes, I think they are always very interventionists. And they
sort of gather humanitarian arguments when convenient, but are very
comfortable going into a lot of countries.

I think the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee is complicated.
They obviously have put out a public stance here. It`s not clear how they
are lobbying. Labor and Likud in Israel are very weary because they have
no idea whether oppose Assad, Syria is more stable.

And again, the fallout here, I understand the administration`s concern
that nothing is dangerous. You showed Secretary of State Kerry`s comments
on that.

But action also carries a big risk factor, and that is a factor we
care about. Regardless of Israel, you have Assad talking about working
with Hezbollah to go after the U.S. interests, go after ships in the
Mediterranean, or potentially Israel. That brings us back to Iran, which
as you pointed to earlier in the show, which is also a big risk.

So, all of those things make it a big question mark in terms of where
the highest risk factor is.

O`DONNELL: Krystal Ball and Ari Melber, thank you both for joining me

MELBER: Thank you.

BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, deja vu for Americans and for Washington as
memories of the Iraq War hang over the Syria debate. David Corn will join
me next.



SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Back in 2001, and 2002, the threat
obviously was that the next attack against the United States could come in
the form of a mushroom cloud from Iraq. And although there were inspectors
on the ground for 100 days in Iraq who could not find it, before the war
started, nonetheless that war began. And I think people are understandably
worried because of what did precipitate that war.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: That was the Secretary John Kerry`s
successor in the Massachusetts` senate seat that John Kerry occupied for 28

In the spotlight tonight, the shadow of the Iraq war.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Secretary Hagel and I, and many of
you sitting on the dais remember Iraq in a special way because we were here
for that vote. We voted. And so we are especially sensitive, Chuck and I,
to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty
intelligence. And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and
re-scrubbed the evidence. We have declassified, unprecedented amounts of
information. And we ask the American people and the rest of the world to
judge that information.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now, MSNBC`s political analyst David Corn of
"Mother Jones" and co-author of "Hubris, an inside story of spin scandal
and the selling of the Iraq war."

David, what are the lessons in the selling of the Iraq war to Congress
that Congress should be thinking of tonight?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think we heard them on
display -- well, we have seen them on display today. It is don`t buy a pig
in a poke, you know. It is question, question, question.

When Michael Isikoff and I did that quote, we poke to many senior
members of Congress on both Republican side and the Democratic side. Tom
Daschle, Dick Armey, who sort of afterwards beat themselves up for having
not asked enough questions in taking at face value, what was sort of very
slim intelligence to begin with.

In this instance, though, I have to say things are dramatically rather
different. You have doctors without borders, people who don`t have a dog
in the intelligence fight, if you will, you know, putting out their
information on what they saw and they have treated in the tragic,
nightmarish attack outside of Damascus. You have administration being much
more, I think, forthcoming on what they have and being quite careful.

And again, the major difference here is that George W. Bush used
intelligence, faulty intelligence, misused it, abused it to get a blank
check for a total invasion. Well, Barack Obama, and Kerry are asking for a
much more limited authority to go in there and have a small and more narrow
punitive strike.

So, a lot of differences here. But I mean, it is a good thing that
members of Congress remember the lessons of Iraq. I would hope that one
lesson that they and others would take into account, too, is that all the
cheerleaders for war back in 2002 and 2003, you know who they are. We are
seeing them again on TV in the op-ed pages, Bill Crystal and others. And
you know, it is like, if you have -- get into a big crash when you drive,
they may take your license away. But when it comes to advocating war, they
never take your license away if you get something wrong.

O`DONNELL: Yes, you can never get as many wrong as you want. Let`s
listen to what Senator Boxer said today to Secretary Kerry about using the
Iraq experience as a different.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Out of ale the different
agencies, because I remember in Iraq, sure, eventually the word came down,
everyone agreed. But then we found out there was disagreement. To your
knowledge, did they all come to the same conclusion, the various
intelligence agencies?

KERRY: To my knowledge, I have no knowledge of any agency that was at
the center or anybody who had you know, an alternative theory. And I do
know, I think it is safe to say that they had a whole team that ran a
scenario to try to test their theory to see if there was any possibility
that they could come up with an alternative view to might have done it.
And the answer is, they could not.


O`DONNELL: David, is Congress going to insist on a public
presentation of evidence similar to what Colin Powell did at the United

CORN: Well, as we know from that instance, a public presentation
doesn`t always do much good. Because unless you can go back and look at
the war intelligence and talk to the analysts, you know, you don`t know
what you`re getting. They scrubbed that pretty well for Colin Powell and
he was a bit skeptical about his own presentation and took a lot of things

But still, the amazing thing about the presentation ten years down the
road here is that literally everything he said was false, not like most of
it, not like 90 percent of it, but really everything in it. And so, you
know, we`re dealing with a much more discreet, smaller event in which it
should be pretty easy for the administration to convince and show members
of Congress, if not the public, real evidence.

O`DONNELL: David Corn, thank you for joining us tonight.

CORN: My pleasure, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up in the rewrite, just how kooky it gets when some
politicians wander off their talking points about military intervention in
Syria, especially, the ones who opposed the military intervention in Iraq.
There is a way you can tell just how uncomfortable Nancy Pelosi is with her
position supporting intervention in Syria and I will show you that in the


O`DONNELL: This weekend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Supreme
Court justice to officiate at a same-sex wedding. Justice Ginsburg conduct
the wedding ceremony of Kennedy senator president Michael Kaiser and
economist John Roberts as the Kennedy center Saturday night. Kaiser is a
personal friend of the Justice Ginsburg. And Justice Ginsburg is set to
officiate another same-sex marriage later this month.

The rewrite is next with a couple of the most ridiculous things said
today about the military intervention in Syria and they were said by people
who many of you like, very much. That is next.


O`DONNELL: Congressional staffers work hard writing talking points
for their bosses so they answer reporters` questions on the fly. House
members and senators are frequently caught in the hallways by reporters,
and they have to have something to say about almost everything. And no one
can always be ready with something to say about almost everything, hence,
Teleprompters for cable news anchors and talking points for politicians.

It is the rare politician who is well versed enough and well spoken
enough to wisely handle any question at any time. So nothing terrifies
most congressional staffers more than their bosses going beyond the talking
points. You know, rewriting the talking points, by adding some after
thought that was not written for them.


this story, and then I really have to go. My 5-year-old grandson as I was
leaving San Francisco yesterday, he said to me, Mimi, my name, Mimi, war
with Syria, are you yes with Syria or no with Syria?


O`DONNELL: And at that point, Pelosi staffers were tearing their hair
out. Now, they will, of course, deny that for the record, loyal the way
they are, but there is no one or should be no one on the Pelosi staff who
thinks that that was the time and place for us to learn that Nancy Pelosi`s
grandchildren call her Mimi. And there is no one or should be no one on
the Pelosi staff who thinks anyone in the world was waiting to hear what a
5-year-old thought about war with Syria in the White House driveway after
congressional leaders, possibly most important meeting with President Obama


PELOSI: I said, well, what do you think? He said I think no war. I
said well, I generally agree with that. But you know they have killed
hundreds of children there. They have killed hundreds of children, and he
said 5-years-old, were these children in the United States? No, but
they`re children, wherever they are. So I don`t know what news he is
listening to, but even a 5-year-old child has to, you know, with the wisdom
of our interests, how does it affect our interests?


O`DONNELL: This is what happens when politicians are uncomfortable
with their public positions. Now, I`m not saying that Nancy Pelosi doesn`t
firmly believe that President Obama has chosen the right course in Syria.
I`m just saying this is an uncomfortable area for her, supporting military
intervention. Nancy Pelosi wisely voted against the authorization for the
Iraq war. She was then voting in sync with her constituents in San
Francisco and in sync with her experience of failed American military
intervention like Vietnam.

Now, Nancy Pelosi is in sync with John McCain and that is going to be
uncomfortable for her no matter how convinced she is of the righteousness
of her positions. And when politicians are uncomfortable with their
positions, they become uncomfortable with their talking points and then
they reach. They nervously reach for more ammunition and find themselves
talking about 5-year-olds, or worse, their own childhood.


COMMITTEE: I have listened to my colleagues particularly express concern
as to whether the actions we conceive would in fact deter or degrade the
ability of Assad to pursue chemical weapons attacks in the future.


O`DONNELL: OK, so far, so good. But this was at the very end of a
three and a half hour hearing today. And chairman Menendez` staff clearly
had not written a closing statement for the senator. And as t and so this
is what he actually said next.


MENENDEZ: And I`m reminded in a much different context of an
experience I had in my own life. General Dempsey is actually originally
from my area, Jersey City and Bayonne. And I grew up in a tough
neighborhood. And we had a bully in the neighborhood. And I was walking
along the street one day, and he just slapped me in the face and I went
away and told my mom, and she said avoid him. Avoid him. Just avoid him.


O`DONNELL: OK, this is where the Menendez staff is just tearing their
hair out. They never dreamed that their guy was going to do something as
childish on national television as compare dealing w a chemical weapon-
wielding dictator to dealing with a childhood bully in Bayonne.


MENENDEZ: And a week later, I saw the bully again, and I did all my
best to avoid him, and this time he punched me in the nose. And it was
bloody, and I went back to her and said, you know, mom, I tried to avoid
him. She said well, just avoid him. And it wasn`t until the third time
when we were by a construction site that I got a piece of wood and whacked
the bully, and that was the end of it. I never got whacked again. It`s
not quite this. But there is a lesson to be learned.


O`DONNELL: No, it is not quite like this, and no, there is no lesson
to be learned. There is absolutely no foreign relations lesson to learn
from that bully story which I don`t believe word for word. You whacked a
Bayonne bully with a piece of wood, and chances are he is going to whack
you again, and you go home to your mother and cry again.

And funny thing about the Bayonne story? Then Congressman Robert
Menendez didn`t use that particular story when he, along with Nancy Pelosi,
wisely voted against authorizing President George W. Bush to whack that
last bully in that neighborhood, Saddam Hussein.


O`DONNELL: Up next, why Assad used chemical weapons.


O`DONNELL: Here is the question that most of Congress is just rushing
right past without asking. Why would Assad use chemical weapons knowing
that it could provoke this kind of intervention that is being contemplated
now? Well, there is a book that can help answer that question, "the
dictator`s handbook." That is a real title, the dictator`s handbook, why
bad behavior is almost always good politics.

Today, co-author Alister Smith told "Slate" reporter, Joshua Kidding
(ph), that Assad did not use chemical weapons to punish the rebels, but to
send a signal to his core supporters.

First of all, using chemical weapon has absolutely cemented for Assad
that there can be no soft landings, that has two effects, the domestic and
the coalition that they should stick with him. He is there for the long
run, and there is no easy way out for him, and so they know they won`t
desert him. These crimes against humanity have also made it very clear
that it is going to be very bad for the Alowites if there is any political
transition which makes them even more loyal to him. They have nowhere else
to go.

Joining me now is James Morrow, the professor of world politics at the
University of Michigan. Professor Morrow contributed to the research that
lead to the dictators` hand book.

Professor, it is the thing I have been wondering about for days now,
and only through the dictator`s handbook does it begin to make sense,
dictators don`t think like any other leaders, do they?

very, very different political world.

O`DONNELL: And this messaging, in this perspective, is all to shore
up his support and make sure his supporters in Syria know that he is in
there for the long haul. He is now committed a kind of crime that does not
allow him any way out of Syria.

MORROW: Absolutely. For Assad, this war is a matter of life and
death. And the only people he can rely on are his supporters. And it is
therefore, it is critical that he holds their loyalty. They are the people
who fight for him and they do his killing for him. By committing
unspeakable atrocities, he makes sure that if his side loses, his
supporters and their families are at grave risk. Therefore they will fight
harder for him.

O`DONNELL: If you were advising a senator considering these
evidences, we heard that Chris Coons (ph) as earlier in the show, what
would you suggest the senator concentrate on in terms of proof that Assad
has used chemical weapons?

MORROW: In general, I have studied chemical weapons and when they`re
used. Because they`re typically controlled very tightly by government,
when they are used, it is almost always directly by a government. So
therefore, I would want to look at as close ties as possible to tracing the
links back to the Assad government. But personally, I have little doubt
that Assad`s government carried out these attacks and did so deliberately.

O`DONNELL: Why do you have little doubt about it given your

MORROW: Because there is other strategic advantage to this. There is
a very interesting aspect about this attack. If you may recall about three
months ago, the tide to the civil war in Syria changed. And the rebels
stopped gaining ground and the government forces began to moving them back.

So, why would you use chemical weapons when you`re winning? Well, if
you notice the neighborhood this is done outside Damascus, is an area held
by the rebels for months now. By using these weapons and doing in a very
public fashion, it scares the civilians and moves them out so you can bring
in the heavy weapons and clean the rebels out that neighborhood.

If you notice, the U.N. just recently reported that the total number
of refugees in the Syrian civil war is over two million and is increasing
rapidly. I think that this is just another attempt to drive out the
civilians so that his forces can use the utmost brutality to win this war.

O`DONNELL: And quickly, Professor, before we go, is there a way to
take out or to prevent him from using chemical weapons in the future.

MORROW: Sure of the insertion of ground troops to seize the locations
where those weapons are stored and secure them, I think that would be
extraordinarily difficult.

O`DONNELL: Professor James Morrow of the University of Michigan,
thank you very much for joining us tonight.

MORROW: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.


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