THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
September 10, 2013
Guests: Howard Dean, Marc Ginsburg, Bob Casey, Hunter Walker
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: On the eve of the 12th anniversary of 9/11,
President Obama delivered his ninth special address off to the nation
explaining what he thinks the next steps should be on Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last few days
we have seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat
of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with
President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join
with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical
weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and
even said, they joined the chemical weapons convention which prohibits
It`s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. And any
agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But,
this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons
without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: President Obama announced that Secretary Kerry would meet
on Thursday in Geneva with Russia`s foreign minister. The president made
clear that he considers the threat of American military intervention in
Syria an important incentive for progress and the option he still prefers
if negotiations with Russia and Syria break down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have ordered our military to maintain their current posture
to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now: Chuck Todd, NBC News political director,
chief White House correspondent and the host of MSNBC`s "DAILY RUNDOWN."
Howard Fineman, the editorial director of "The Huffington Post", and MSNBC
political analyst, and Howard Dean, former DNC chairman and former Vermont
Chuck Todd, as the speech, as the hour for the speech approached
today, there was a sense here in this town, Washington, there were rewrites
going on fast and furiously. What can you tell us about the process in the
White House leading up to 9:00 p.m.?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, as I had been told
before this, I didn`t fully believe them. But it was pretty clear to me
after listening to the speech that 2/3 of the speech was written a couple
days ago. And, frankly, if you listen to that speech, it certainly sounded
like it. That the first 2/3 of the speech was in the can and it`s the same
speech he was planning on giving two days ago, as he gave today.
And the part that was being rewritten and worked on over the last few
hours today was that last third of the speech. And, frankly, that`s where
you could tell, that it felt like two speeches put together. One I thought
was the clearest and most concise explanation for his policy on Syria, why
he believes it is America`s duty to act. He was explaining what it would
be, what it wouldn`t be. And it was as clear as he has been during any
point during what has been a fairly haphazard, very public debate.
And then you got to the point where he says, "But now, there is a
pause button that has been pushed. We`re pursuing a diplomatic end." And
that part got confusing. And then you realize, you say to yourself,
Lawrence -- we don`t see this very often, where a president asks for this
time in primetime to essentially, and talk about foreign policy. It`s not
to tell us of an action that happened, or an action that was about to
And that`s where it felt a little bit as if, I said, two speeches.
Two different speeches that we tried, they tried to glue together.
O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, the first half of the speech that Chuck is
referring to is the presentation of the evidence, it was kind of the
prosecutor`s opening statement, without, I was struck, by no specific
reference to real exhibits, no proof.
How much consideration did the White House give to actually putting
slide ups up there, tonight, actually showing us things the White House has
Congressman Keith Ellison sat here the other night saying, I have seen
what they have, I urged them to release maybe half of what they have.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I think that what Chuck said.
The fact that there were two speeches here, one with its foot on the gas
pedal, and the other with the foot on the break, that the president was not
going to take his valuable time to lay out an even more urgent case. If,
in the last, third of the speech he was going to say, but, hey, Putin and I
have been talking. Maybe we have a deal here. It would be even more
dissident than it was, listening to it tonight.
I mean, he was like, Curtis Bombs LeMay in the first 2/3. And then he
said, however, let any see if we can work out a deal. So, I think it would
have been more disjunctive than it was.
I agree with Chuck that the president made the moral case, and he made
his best attempt at the strategic case as well. Don`t forget, there are
two things here -- the moral track and the strategic track. I thought more
important, the president, was to lay out how this might eventually become a
threat to the United States. And I thought he did a pretty good job of
Then he, he called a halt to the whole thing. It was really
remarkable. I agree with Chuck. I haven`t seen anything like this, ever
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, what was your reaction to the president`s
integration of these two parts of the speech? Including the incorporation
of the most recent developments with Russia and Syria?
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIR: I thought it was fine. I actually
thought, it was what the American people wanted to hear, which is really
Second of all, I thought he did a great job. The first 2/3 lays out,
as you all said, clearly what the case was. And then he says -- but we
don`t have to do these things right now.
I thought it was great. You could argue putting the speech together
and all that stuff. But the American people are going to see the president
is in tune with them. And that`s important.
O`DONNELL: There were clearly in the speech some specific reactions
to things said in the last couple of days. John Kerry said it is going to
be at a certain point, a very, very small attack. That provoked people to
refer to it as a pinprick, and that phrase found its way into the speech
Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me make something clear: The United States military
doesn`t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad
that no other nation can deliver.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Chuck Todd, clearly reacting to some very specific
rhetorical developments in the course of the week.
TODD: It has been. And, Lawrence, what`s been interesting about the
specific issue because some of us had been pushing back behind the scenes
with national security staff, going, you know, guys, your rhetoric doesn`t
match the action that you are promising. You`re comparing this guy to
Hitler a lot. You are talking about these evils that we haven`t seen in
100 years. And yet what you describe, you are going out of your way,
saying it is limited.
And then they would push back and say, listen, remember, limited in
the U.S. is still the biggest bomb that has ever fallen on Damascus. So it
has been something that has been, on one hand, annoying to the White House.
That they have had to remind reporters, hey, remember, the U.S. military is
a heck of a lot more effective than people realize. But at the same time
they know the public doesn`t want to hear that it`s going to be this huge
O`DONNELL: From the first half of the speech, let`s listen to what
the president said if we fail to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop
using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other
tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and
using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of
chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist
organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.
If fighting spills beyond Syria`s borders, these weapons could
threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand
against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other
weapons of mass destruction. And embolden Assad`s ally Iran which must
decide to whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon
or to take a more peaceful path.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, the piece you wrote this afternoon, on the
issue in there in the middle, where the president says it could be possible
to use these -- to attack civilians in some other areas. You raise the
possibility that Russia has a serious concern.
FINEMAN: Oh, I think Russia -- I think that whole, that by the way, a
succinct summary of Barack Obama`s version of the domino theory, as it
applies to chemical weapons in the 21st century and in the age of
terrorism. I think that`s an argument that Vladimir Putin is very much in
tune with and very much concerned about.
The Russians are very concerned about Chechnya. Still, they`re
concerned about terrorism there. They`re concerned about chemical weapons.
They`re concerned about some kind of Islamist conspiracy to get those
weapons over into the under belly of Russia. I think that`s one of the
things that`s motivating Putin here.
So the president and Vladimir Putin, however they got to this point,
may have sort of backed themselves into peace. I mean, it`s quite possible
that they backed themselves in to being the backbone of an alliance that
could get something done at the United Nations. If they can get the
Chinese to go along, that`s the only other piece of the puzzle.
DEAN: I actually think this is all over. I think Chinese gets
(INAUDIBLE), which I don`t they will. We are done here. Putin has now
said Assad is not going to use these. I will make sure he doesn`t.
He is on the hook, whether you get an agreement of the United Nations
is irrelevant. We are done with this, unless Assad does this another time.
Then I think the president is going to go in. He is not going to stop at
Congress first. He is going to go in.
I think Assad knows it. Putin knows it. This is over.
It doesn`t matter what negotiations are because Vladimir Putin now is
on the line for making sure, he doesn`t use chemical weapons. And I think
the president has accomplished his goal. He`s going to stop the use of
O`DONNELL: Chuck Todd, do you get the sense from the White House that
they feel as confident as Howard Dean does right now about how this will go
in the next few steps?
TODD: They`re not as confident. But I get the same sense here that
this is sort of OK, there is a path forward that, because -- they take --
they see that Putin is acting very rationally here, right?
Putin`s interests are what? He doesn`t want to see Assad go. He
believes Assad can win the civil war without the chemical weapons. He
believes if the chemical weapons are there, the U.S. acts. What does that
do? That weakens Assad. Suddenly, he is gone. They don`t have an ally
So, if you look at it at a purely pragmatic, old-fashioned, Cold War,
you know, the First World War, Second World, geopolitical stuff, then you
see pragmatic position of Putin.
But, Lawrence, I want to bring up one part here that I thought was a
little bit, an interesting moral part of the case. Remember, he did the
Q&A. I have gotten questions about X. So, it`s sort of like, well, why --
you know, why do we want to potentially get rid off Assad with the people
that might replace al Qaeda, the other guys, they might not be so good.
And then he made this case that, well, al Qaeda will end up getting more
involved in Syria if it looks like we`re not acting.
Well, what happens if we don`t act and looking at it through the lens
of a humanitarian crisis that`s going on there. It was an interesting way
he answered the question on the chemical weapon. But you could argue that
that Q&A that he did with himself could be something that could be applied
toward the idea -- the humanitarian aspect of this civil war that is
killing hundred of thousand of people over there.
O`DONNELL: Chuck Todd, Howard Dean, and Howard Fineman -- thank you
all very much for joining me tonight.
DEAN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up -- the negotiations over Syria`s chemical
weapons, what is next. The diplomatic steps. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and
Joy Reid will join me.
And later, we will have breaking news in the New York City mayor`s
O`DONNELL: The red line on chemical weapons is a way to try to make
war more civilized. Is it really possible to make war more civilized?
That`s in the rewrite. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies,
France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation
with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security
Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately
destroy them under international control.
We will also give U.N. inspectors an opportunity to report their
findings about what happened on August 21st. And we will continue to rally
support from allies from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle
East who agree on the need for action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now is former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and
former Clinton Middle East policy advisor, Marc Ginsberg, and MSNBC`s Joy
Let`s listen to what Secretary Kerry had to say about this, this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This cannot be a process of delay.
This cannot be a process off voidance. It has to be real. It has to be
measurable, tangible and it is exceedingly difficult, I want everybody here
to know, to fulfill those conditions.
But, we`re waiting for that proposal. But we`re not waiting for long.
President Obama will take a hard look at it.
But it has to be swift. It has to be real. It has to be verifiable.
It cannot be a delaying tactic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ambassador Ginsberg, I think you might have just heard
Howard Dean say, he thinks that this process will be a little smoother than
John Kerry just outlined?
MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Well, you know --
optimism can spring eternal here.
GINSBERG: But the fact that of the matter is we -- what else do we
have to hold on to, Lawrence? The clear goal here for the Russians is to
give Assad the opportunity to live to fight another day.
And any American attack, no matter how limited the president may have
had that attack limited, could have upset the balance of power sufficiently
with unintended consequences. And, Lawrence, the dirty little secret is
that the administration doesn`t want Assad to disappear that quickly either
for fear of what may happen if there`s a vacuum in Syria. Already that is
dangerous enough for the United States.
What was missing here is not so much what the Russians may or may not
do. But after we reach some sort of U.N. resolution, if it ever, emerges,
the light of day in the Security Council, that is acceptable. Well, then
the question is, then what? Can we get some sort of cease-fire? Where is
the follow-up diplomacy? I thought the president did a fantastic job,
laying out what he needed to lay out. But I would have gone a little
further, Lawrence, and ask, where is the peace conference to stop the
killing in order to accomplish the U.N. Security Council role and to
basically provide humanitarian relief that is necessary to get a political
O`DONNELL: "Reuters" is reporting tonight that the French-drafted
U.N. Security Council resolution would give Syria 15 days to make a
complete declaration of the entire chemical arms program, the draft
resolution would demand that Syria grant U.N. inspectors access to all
chemical arms -- all sites, personnel, records, equipment.
Joy Reid, that certainly sound like a start on drafting a resolution?
JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it`s a start. And then the problem
with the Security Council always is the "or what", right?
The United Nations Security Council resolutions were not backed by the
threat of U.S. based force have been phenomenally unsuccessful. The whole
point of the U.N. charter was to supposed to be to prevent World War III,
to sort of stop the proliferation of war. It has been spectacularly a
failure if you just look at the masses of internal conflict as well as
country to country conflict that have taken place since 1945.
And president after president have in a sense sidestepped the U.N.
process because it really is pretty much broken.
So, the U.N. resolution I think is a good idea from the political
standpoint for the Obama administration. It gives them some breathing
room. It adds some international legitimacy to what they want to do. But
the reality, there has to be an "or what", because what Assad need is an
incentive to stop killing Syrians. There is really almost nothing, I don`t
think even that ambassador that could probably (INAUDIBLE) in the charter
that prevents internal civil conflict. It`s supposed to be about country
to country conflict.
GINSBERG: Lawrence, just if I may add for a second -- one thing that
is very important to understand is that Syria has the fourth largest cache
of chemical weapons in the entire world. And the Pentagon issued a report,
public report by the way which we can all read. It would take 75,000 U.S.
troops -- now, I`m not saying U.S. troops would do this, blue helmet of the
United Nations, to basically safe guard for removal of the chemical weapons
cache that the United States estimates.
So think about it. Where are the 75,000 blue helmet U.N. forces going
to come from in order to accomplish that goal? I mean, these are the
And unlike what Governor Dean said, I don`t think the Russians are
going to basically put Russian boots on the ground to accomplish that goal.
O`DONNELL: But, Joy, we weren`t going to put American boots on the
ground to go do those searches and do that kind of work.
So, it seems that any number of U.N. inspectors you actually get in
there on the ground, is more than, we were going to have on the ground
after doing some kind of air strike.
REID: Yes, and I think, you know, what`s interesting when you listen
to what the president was saying, Lawrence, is that the whole idea is that
we are trying to enforce this international norm, that chemical weapons
cannot be used, that this cannot be done. And to do that, we, we weren`t
going to put boots on the ground, but we needed to send a significant
enough strike to provide a disincentive, right, for Assad to do this again
or for other actors in the region to do it again.
You know, I guess maybe I`m just very cynical about the U.N. process.
But the problem again is that countries like Syria have a patron, Security
Council, that in a sense can stand in the way of the real consequences that
really could be a preventative measure. And the United States has no
appetite to go in there and do this work.
And to the ambassador`s point, let`s just say that this works, that we
get this resolution. And Syria agrees to hand over the weapons. Then, to
whom? Do we think the blue helmets are even capable of it? Who`s going to
secure those convoys, as you talked about in the earlier segment to make
sure that they don`t fall into the hand of terrorists?
GINSBERG: In the middle of a civil war, with no cease-fire.
REID: Right. But I think there is hope in the fact that at least
the Security Council is acting.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the Syrian foreign minister said
today to NBC News. Someone we might be hearing more from over the next few
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALID AL-MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We accept the Russian
proposal which was offered to us yesterday, and we are ready to fulfill it
according to the agreed plan between us and Russia. But, unfortunately, we
started to hear some voices in the West, in Britain, France, even inside
the United States, people who believe only in wars. We believe hat when we
accept this proposal, this mean we put an end to the war and we put our
track in Syria on a peaceful solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ambassador Ginsberg, especially in that last line, he
said, everything you would want to hear at this point anyway.
GINSBERG: Well indeed. And the fact is, is that the president and,
Secretary Kerry as you know, Lawrence, they sort of stumbled into a
potential diplomatic solution. I am all in favor.
Look, this may be sausage-making diplomacy style. But the bottom line
is the bottom line. If this forestalls an attack that could lead to some
sort of opportunity to end the humanitarian suffering, you know, my biggest
concern has always been that if the president`s threat was not going to be
considered to be real, if we thought that the two million refugees on the
borders of Syria were a significant problem for the international
community, let me guarantee you that if Assad felt that he could even use
chemical weapons again, without -- with impunity, there would be more than
six to seven or eight or 10 million refugees fleeing destabilizing the
So, in effect, the president right now has a window of opportunity to
get the Russians back to the negotiating table. By the way, let me add --
that Secretary Kerry has a good relationship with the Foreign Minister
Lavrov. They had jointly announced a peace conference for Geneva in June,
just a few months ago. It did not happen because the Syrian opposition
refused to abide by who would represent them and the terms by which they
would in effect attend the conference.
We can`t give them the veto. We need to get to be able to get to the
negotiating table for a political settlement.
O`DONNELL: Joy Reid and Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, thanks for joining
REID: Thank you.
GINSBERG: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: The president says he`s asked Congress to postpone votes
on military action in Syria. We will get reaction from Senator Rand Paul
and Senator Bob Casey.
And, breaking news tonight on the primary election in the New York
City mayor`s race. That is coming up.
O`DONNELL: In the spotlight tonight, congressional action on hold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This initiative has the potential to remove the threat of
chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is
one of Assad`s strongest allies. I have therefore asked the leaders of
Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue
this diplomatic path.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, Bob
Casey. He`s a member of the National Security Working Group and co-chair
of the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Caucus.
Senator Casey, your reaction to the president`s speech tonight.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It was a strong speech, Lawrence.
He laid out the case for why we have to act when chemical weapons are used.
I think he also laid out very clearly our national security interests. I
would have added a few more lines about Iran, the threat posed by Iran and
Hezbollah, which I would argue is a two-fold threat. Not just the nuclear
ambition of Iran, to development --
O`DONNELL: And your decision-making hierarchy, would you rank that as
the top of this ladder of importance in the factors affecting --
CASEY: Well, it`s certainly -- I would argue it is -- there are two
interests. One is the chemical weapons threat that posed by the use of
chemical weapons. Certainly the threat posed by the regime, Iran,
terrorism, and ultimately, a nuclear capability.
O`DONNELL: And then, we have an unusual situation here. In which
Republican Senator Rand Paul took it upon himself to deliver a responds to
the president which has been, which he has done while I have been doing
this show. I haven`t seen it. We have a little clip from it. He did it
at 10:00. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Some argue that American credibility is
on the line. That because President Obama drew a red line with chemical
weapons, America must act or lose credibility. I would argue America`s
credibility does not reside one man. If our enemies wish to know if
America will defend herself, let them look no farther than our response to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: What is your reaction to that?
CASEY: I think Senator Paul is wrong because first of all, when
either a dictator or terrorist organization, uses chemical weapons; that is
only a threat to the world. And I would argue right now, even a threat to
our troops in the near term.
But what he doesn`t point out is that ten years ago, the Congress of
the United States, passed a law that said, the very acquisition by Syria of
chemical weapons was, was a threat to our national security interests. And
that`s a decade ago where the Congress made that determination.
So, adding this whole debate about a red line, really misses the
point. When, when the international community came together decades ago
and said this is wrong. You can`t even use it in war. I think the
consensus was arrived at then. Then, the question is, do you condemn only,
or do you condemn and take action which is proportional to the crime?
O`DONNELL: We have a little bit more of what Senator Paul had to say
in his very unusual, unofficial response to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: It is said America must act to prevent Assad from using
chemical weapons again. But it is unknown whether attacking Assad
encourages him or discourages him. It is equally likely that Assad could
feel cornered and resort to chemical weapons in an expanded. It is equally
likely that the bombing could destabilize Assad and he could control of the
If the vole occurs, I will vote no and encourage colleagues to vote no
as well. The president has the not made a compelling case that weapons are
at risk in Syria. The threshold for war should be a significant one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senator Casey, what`s your reaction to the hypothetical
aftermaths to a military strike?
CASEY: Well, first of all, I would argue that we face threats every
day of the week from proxies for Syria, whether it is the Iranian regime or
Hezbollah. I think Senator Paul and others should read intelligence about
But in terms of ability of the Syrian regime and to take action
against our country, I think that`s really, an argument without a lot of
merit. So, there is no question that any kind of operation has some level
of risk. But I think when you are talking about the technology that we
have, whether it is tomahawk cruise missiles or other technology, to be
able to deploy that without the use of troops and even without the use of
pilots in Syrian airspace, I think when the president said tonight,
moderate risk, maybe that was even too high an estimate. I think that is a
very low risk in terms of our -- in terms of the return we get for our long
and short term security interests.
And look, if this were about troops, not only would there be no
support in the Congress. I wouldn`t vote for the use of troops in Syria.
Nor would, anyone I know. But there is a way I think to have a good
outcome here by demonstrating we use force. But then also considering as a
group of Bashar right now, a proposal that would keep that force in place
but have a set of condition for the Syrian regime. There is a way that we
might be able to resolve this and get a better result because of the
credible threat of force.
O`DONNELL: Senator Casey, thanks very much for joining us on this
important night. I really appreciate you drop by.
CASEY: Thanks, Lawrence. Good to be with you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the votes are still being counted in New York
City in the mayor`s race. We will have the latest tallies coming up.
O`DONNELL: With 55 percent of the vote counted already in the New
York City Democratic primary for mayor tonight, Bill de Blasio, very
significant lead, 39.1 percent. If he gets over 40 percent, he avoid a
run-off for that Democratic nomination. Bill Thompson, running second
right now at 25.7 percent. And Christine Quinn, running now at a distant
third at 15.4 percent. We will have more of the latest numbers in that
race coming up.
The rewrite is next.
O`DONNELL: Harvard chemistry professor, Louis Feezer came this close
to winning the Nobel prize in the early 1940s for his work on the structure
elucidation of vitamin K. And in the middle of his pioneering work Vitamin
K, Professor Feezer walked down what is called John F. Kennedy Street and
across the bridge over the Charles River to a Harvard football field to
test something else he was working on then.
It was the fourth of July 1942, Profess Feezer was conducting the test
of what was to become his most important invention, napalm. The test was a
smashing success because as Spen Lundquist (ph) tells us in his book, "the
history of bombing," the new Harvard formula for napalm increased the,
quote "ability to penetrate deeply into the musculature where it would
continue to burn day after day.
Professor Feezer and his Harvard colleagues had invented a new way of
death. Napalm eating into your skin, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
Napalm attaches to human flesh in a way that is impossible to remove. But
it kills in other ways too. If you are within the 2,500 square yards
affected by a single 100-pound napalm bomb. You can be untouched by the
napalm and still be killed by heat stroke. You can be killed by
suffocation. You can be killed simply by breathing carbon monoxide
poisoning. You can be killed by dehydration without ever seeing, touching
Napalm was an instant hit in World War II. Military record indicate
that half the bombs that our side dropped on Dresden were napalm bombs.
The Germans came up with a 25-letter word meaning fire bomb shrunken flesh
to describe what was happening to them.
Many Germans were actually baked to death by the intense heat without
ever being touched by the napalm. Napalm was extraordinarily effective in
Japan. Napalm burned 40 percent of the land area in the Japanese cities
that we attacked with napalm.
Japanese homes were the easiest possible kindling for napalm. Whole
neighborhoods made of wood and paper home they just disappeared. They just
disappeared. And that was before we dropped our ultimate weapon of mass
destruction on Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We then used much more
napalm in the Korean War where we dropped about 250,000 pound of napalm
every day. It was our cheapest weapon of mass destruction, each napalm
bomb was made of plastic, held about 100 gallons of napalm and cost $40
Then came Vietnam where we dropped napalm, literally by the ton. But
this time around, the 400,000 tons of napalm that we dropped on soldiers
and civilians, and animals, and babies, were seen around the world and our
first televised war. And as America watched napalm lighting up our TV
screens, night after night on the evening news, America`s collective sense
of moral superiority in war slipped away.
The single weakest argument I think I have heard for military
intervention in Syria is that death from sarin is a uniquely horrifying
form of death, uniquely inhumane. But if we are going to get clinical
about this, there are many forms of death in war that can be more inhumane
than sarin gas which kills within minutes or hours.
Syrians can take days to die from gun shots, treated or untreated
gunshots. Syrians can lose parts of their bodies to a traditional bomb and
take days or weeks to die without access to any form of painkiller. Stab
wounds could leave you clinging to life in excruciating pain for a much
longer time than sarin gas. And how do we judge the quality of death in
war? By the elapsed time from initial wound to death? By the pain level?
I don`t think there is a reasonable way to make that evaluation.
Here is the most famous napalm victim in history. Kim Phuc was 9-
year-old June 8, 1972, when we dropped napalm on her village in Vietnam.
Her two infant baby cousins were burned to death. Kim ran down the road
screaming. This photo was taken by Nick Utt, an Associated Press
photographer who then heroically immediately rushed Kim to a South
Vietnamese hospital. She then spent 14 months recovering in an American
hospital in Saigon. She had 17 operations in that hospital. We dropped
napalm on her and then we saved her life.
And yes, in the madness of war there is in that story some moral
superiority over the Assad regime in Syria which would probably never tried
to save the life of one of the children that they attacked.
Kim is 49-years-old today, and says, she still feels pain but she is
learning to deal with it. About napalm, Kim says this.
Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine. Water boils at 100
degrees Celsius. Napalm generates temperatures of 800 to 1,200 degrees
We invented napalm. And we have used more of it than anyone else in
the world. I pointed out last week that we also have an unholy history
with sarin gas and that we helped supply Saddam Hussein with necessary
ingredient so he could use it against his own people and Iranian soldiers.
In his column today, conservative George Will quoted the same passage
that we quoted here last week about American officials knowing that Saddam
was going to use sarin.
U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian
troops to Iraq, fully aware the Hussein`s military would attack with
chemical weapons George including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. George Will
did not find room in his column today to mention that at happened under
President Ronald Reagan. But he acknowledges that that history weakens our
current claim to have always stood on the right side of the red line on
Tonight, the president asked what would happen if we stood on our side
of the red line and allowed Assad to get away with using chemical weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What kind of world would we live in if the United States of
America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas
and we choose to look the other way?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: It will be the world we have lived in since president
Reagan looked the other way when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons. The
red line on chemical weapons suggests there are civilized and uncivilized
ways of death in war. But war is not civilized. War is the breakdown of
civilization. War making nations need to believe otherwise. They need to
believe there are reasonable rules of war.
That belief system was strengthened after the Vietnam War when the
United Nations general assembly voted to ban the use of napalm on civilian
populations. The United Nations took action against napalm because of the
way the United States of America used napalm. They were taking an action
against an American invented way of death in war. The world watched those
television reports of use of napalm against civilians in Vietnam and drew a
new red line to prevent what we did from ever happening again.
But the United States took 29 embarrassing years to sign the United
Nations protocol on napalm. The United States finally officially accepted
the United Nations red line on napalm, January 21, 2009, when the U.N.
protocol was finally signed by President Barack Obama on his first full day
It is still perfectly legal under the U.N. protocol to use napalm
against military targets including military personnel. Now, obviously, it
is good, it is always good for us to try to make war civilized. But no
matter how hard we try, no matter how many rules we write, no matter how
many red lines we draw, we will never succeed in making war civilized and
death in war will never be humane.
O`DONNELL: The polls are closed in New York City. And the primary,
the Democratic primary for New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, a big lead
in first place at this point. Christine Quinn, running third. Bill
Thompson running second. We are going to have all the latest number for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY WEINER, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR CANDIDATE: Now, sadly we did not
win this time. I don`t think a city has ever seen a race, ever seen a
campaign, with so many specific idea. We had the best ideas. Sadly, I was
an imperfect messenger. No one was going to let this campaign quit. It
started with my family, who is here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was imperfect messenger Anthony Weiner who has come
in at right now with 76 percent of the vote counted he is running fifth.
He is running below what the polls indicate heed would he would get. He is
at 5.1 percent with 76 percent of the vote counted. The front-runner is
Bill de Blasio at 39.4 percent. If he gets 40 percent, this is the end of
the contest for the Democratic nomination. He will have it.
Running second is Bill Thompson at 26 percent. Running third is
Christine Quinn at 15.4 percent. John Liu polled in at fourth or is it
fourth right now with 76 percent of the vote counted. Counted here. He
has 7.7 percent.
Joining me now is Hunter Walker, reporter for "Talking Points Memo"
who has been studiously covering the New York City mayoral race.
Hunter, thank you very much for joining me tonight. Bill de Blasio,
he is within a hair of just closing this thing up on the Democratic
nomination. What`s your reaction to the numbers so far?
HUNTER WALKER, REPORTER TALKING POINTS MEMO: Well, you know, I think
along the lines of what everybody expected. They are pretty close in with
the last bunch of polls we have seen. Blasio`s people are saying he always
expected a run-off. And it looks like it is going to be a really, really
close call. He is just on the edge of what he needs to avoid it.
It is natural that they say they are expecting it because of course,
they want to keep expectations low. And it is natural that everyone else
is saying that they are expecting there will be a run-off because they want
to keep themselves alive. So, I think we will see what happens.
O`DONNELL: Well he has ticked up to 39.5 percent. You might be up
late counting every one of these, Hunter. But of it looks pretty solid in,
in terms of the finish here that Bill Thompson looks like he is in a
position to hold on to the number two spot at 26.
WALKER: Yes, I mean the only question is whether or not Bill de
Blasio crosses that 40 percent thing. One point that is really worth
pointing out here is that the BOE in New York City has the had a history of
disputed election results that ended in legal drama, kind of shifting
counts, issues, Florida-like issues with paper ballots. And we have
already seen some indications there were equipment problems at the polls.
Anthony Weiner and (INAUDIBLE) are two candidates in the race, were unable
to vote. So that kind of thing could mean we go to court next week.
O`DONNELL: And of course, we have Eliot Spitzer running for
comptroller. And I don`t have the numbers in front of me right now. But
they are going to whisper them in my ear as we speak here. We have 79
percent in and Spitzer is -- Stringer is at 51.6 percent.
WALKER: I think Eliot Spitzer--.
O`DONNELL: Spitzer, 48.4. There Hunter, got to listen into the phone
call with the control room. So that`s too close to call. That`s for sure.
WALKER: Yes, that has been a tossup for a while. Early polls showed
Spitzer who has better name recognition with a huge lead. As soon as
Stringer got his ad up. He really, really closed the gap. So, I think you
see a toss-up where Spitzer has all the name recognition and Stringer has
all the momentum.
O`DONNELL: Now, on the Stringer campaign which I did not follow
closely, Eliot Spitzer was looking good in the polls at the outset for what
I thought was a perfectly reasonable reason which is he may very well be
the most qualified candidate for that office in the history of New York
City. And his problem as the a candidate is his personal history and the
reason he had to resign his governorship. What has been the dynamic of the
race? Has it been on substance or it has simply been Eliot Spitzer trying
to overcome the reason he resigned the governorship?
WALKER: Well, you know, I think Elliott Spitzer does have this really
well-deserve reputation as, you know, sort of the Wall Street crusader.
What Stringer has in his favor is the support of the entire political
establishment in New York City. He has gotten all of the endorsement in
Spitzer has been out of the game for a while. And he is just nowhere
on that field. And in a race where, you know, there are three million
registered Democrats in New York, only about 500,000 to 700,000 expected to
have voted in the race. So, only really hardcore, engaged voters turned
out. And that`s the people who are following their local machines and
those are the pooh who backed Stringer.
O`DONNELL: So basically, it is the stringer model is playing it safe,
playing it traditional in a campaign which is what it seemed to me that
Christine Quinn campaign was. Why didn`t that work for her?
WALKER: Well, the difference is Stringer had this sort of support
across the board. Christine Quinn was kind of operating in this almost
conservative wing of the New York City Democratic Party, allied with
Bloomberg. So, she had some establishment support coming from Bloomberg
but not across throughout the city elected establishment.
O`DONNELL: So in the run-off, de Blasio/Thompson run-off, what`s the
schedule for that?
WALKER: That would happen on October 1st, in the next couple days, if
it is close enough to 40 percent. We are going to be looking at paper
ballots and we are going to be seeing if there are any challenges.
O`DONNELL: Yes, looks like we`ll be looking at paper ballots, 39.4
percent, New York City race. We are going to be on this for a while.
Hunter Walker, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
WALKER: Thanks for having me.
O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is live next.
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THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL