ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
August 8, 2014
Guest: Marie Harf, Chris Murphy, Howard Dean, Barbara Lee, Ishaan Tharoor,
James Zogby, Rajiv Chandrasekaran
ARI MELBER, GUEST HOST: Good evening. I`m Ari Melber, in for Chris
Hayes, with our special live coverage of those new operations in Iraq.
U.S. warplanes have now launched three separate rounds of airstrikes
on multiple ISIS positions in northern Iraq. This is the first direct U.S.
military action in the country since 2011.
Now, in a moment, we will hear directly from a top Obama
administration official about the effort, plus reaction from Senator Chris
Murphy, and former Democratic Party chair, Howard Dean.
First, though, let me give you a rundown of what we know. Shortly
after 10:00 a.m. this morning, according to the Pentagon, an armed drone
dropped hellfire missiles on an artillery position that ISIS was using near
Irbil, that key U.S. area that houses the U.S. consulate and some of the
last Americans in Iraq.
A little over an hour later, four FA-18 fighter jets took off from a
U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and hit an ISIS convoy of what we
believe to be seven cars. Now, those four planes circled back and launched
another round of airstrikes, hitting eight targets total and leading to
what are estimated to be significant casualties.
And earlier in the day, two FA-18 fighter jets also dropped 500-pound
bombs on a mortar position near Irbil.
Now, while these tactical operations are underway, President Obama
also launched a new diplomatic squeeze on Iraq`s embattled prime minister.
The White House is trying to oust Nouri al Maliki, who has been widely
criticized for his failure to form an inclusive or sustainable governing
That is difficult. Al Maliki has so many enemies he may be afraid
losing power will mean losing his life. As one former U.S. official in
Iraq said yesterday, "Maliki knows if he steps down, virtually he is a dead
Now, while many forces in the region support a change of government
there, few American allies are backing today`s airstrikes in general.
Great Britain will not join the strikes, limiting its support to the
humanitarian mission. Turkey, a key NATO ally, said its bases were not
used for those U.S. strikes.
And today, a June statement that is circulated was put back out and
was addressed to, quote, "America, the defender of the cross." Saying,
quote, "Soon enough, you will be in direct confrontation -- forced to do so
-- God willing, and the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this
day. So wait and we will be waiting, too", end quote.
Marie Harf is the State Department`s deputy spokesperson, and a former
CIA analyst on the Middle East. She also served on President Obama`s re-
Thank you for joining me on what I know is a busy day for you.
MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: Thank you for
having me, Ari. Happy to be here.
Let me start directly. Is the U.S. now at war with ISIS?
HARF: Well, look, we`ve been clear for months now that ISIS is an
incredibly dangerous enemy, not just for Iraq, not just for the region at
large, but for the United States and the rest of the world.
So, the president made very clear last night that they present a
threat. We don`t want them to be able to advance closer to Irbil, because
as you said, we have a very large consulate there, we have a joint
operation center there where we`re sharing intelligence with the Iraqis,
So, we took some strikes today as you mentioned to halt their advance
and to give the Kurds really some room for this really good fighting force
they have, the Peshmerga, to regroup, to rearm. And we`re helping them do
that. And to take the fight aggressively to ISIL, because we know that`s
the long-term solution here.
MELBER: So, I notice you didn`t say we are at war. Will you say we`re
not at war? Are we not at war with ISIS at this point?
HARF: Well, ISIS, or ISIL, whatever you want to use, is an incredibly
dangerous terrorist organization. They are -- ISIS, itself, said they`re
at war with all of the different sects in Iraq, whether it`s Christians, or
Yazidis, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, anyone who gets in their way. All you have to
do is look at those horrific photos and videos they`re putting out to see
how really barbaric they are.
So, we have made clear -- the president made clear that we will take
military action to prevent them from advancing towards Irbil. The same
concept would apply also to Baghdad, of course, because we have a number of
people there as well. But also took action on the humanitarian side, to
use U.S. military assets to get much needed food and water. Tens of
thousands of people are on top of this mountain, potentially starving to
death, where the U.S. military saw they could help, we absolutely wanted to
MELBER: Right. And that goal of helping has been laid out. I
listened to the White House conference call last night. As you know, your
colleagues talking about the validity the White House thinks it has under
domestic and international law. And they said, internationally, this is
valid in part because the Iraqi government has requested this U.S.
Does that mean, Marie, that if a new government does not authorize
this, or withdraws that support, that then the U.S. would have to cease
HARF: Well, when we talked last night and today about the Iraqis
requesting our assistance, parts of that are actually this new government.
The Iraqis have already named a new council of representative speaker,
they`ve named a new president, they`ve requested our assistance, as has
Nouri Maliki -
MELBER: Sorry to interrupt. We put up on the screen several of those
officials that you mentioned in your State Department briefing today.
MELBER: Beyond al Maliki, who have said, according to the U.S.,
according to the State Department, that they are on board.
But if that changes in the future, in your view, then does the U.S.
have to cease these operations?
HARF: Well, some of those officials are part of the new government
was the point that I was making.
HARF: They`re partway through this government formation process.
We`ve been working with both the old government and the new government.
So, I understand the question, but the point I was making is that a number
of these officials are part of the new government. A number of them are
religious leaders or tribal leaders.
We really have seen across the board Iraqi leaders asking the United
States for assistance and want the Iraqis to government with government
formation. We do want a new government fully formed as soon as possible.
They`ll pick their prime minister. And, hopefully, that will happen in the
MELBER: Now, as you know, the president said this operation isn`t
open ended. Administration officials declining to give an exact end date,
and that`s not unusual in a military campaign. But what do you think, is
it reasonable to say this operation would still be going, say, a month from
HARF: Well, there are two distinct operations here. In terms of the
humanitarian side, that is a very discreet operation. If we can get
humanitarian supplies to the mountain and help the Kurdish Peshmerga allow
for these Yazidis to leave the mountain, hopefully get a humanitarian
corridor, that is really a little more time-bound. But that is really a
little more time-bound.
But our principle that we will protect our people, whether it`s in
Irbil or Baghdad, that is not time bound. You know, this is something we
care about very deeply, but to be clear, there`s no long-term U.S. military
solution to the problem in Iraq. Our long-term strategy here is to help
the Iraqi forces, help the Kurds, help them fight this threat on their own,
give them some space and time to regroup and really get better at this
because, again, that`s the long-term strategy here.
MELBER: All right. Deputy spokesperson for Secretary of State John
Kerry, Marie Harf, thanks for your time tonight.
HARF: Thank you so much, Ari.
Now, I want to turn directly to Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from
Connecticut, and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Good evening, Senator.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Good evening.
MELBER: You have said you support what the president is doing at this
MURPHY: Well, I think he`s laid out some very limited but very
important goals. Clearly, the United States stands against genocide and
protecting this small minority group that has consolidated up on the top of
a mountain is a legitimate use of American humanitarian but also military
And, of course, we are always going to protect our own people who are
right now in Irbil and who are under threat from an advancing ISIL army.
Now, the question is, when does Congress come into play here? There
is a War Powers obligation on behalf of the president if these operations
are to last past about 30 days in time to come to the United States
Congress and seek additional authorization.
But, I think, today, you`re seeing relatively broad support for these
limited actions as we await some additional information and evidence from
the administration that they are going to be real controls to make sure
this isn`t open ended, this doesn`t spill over into months and years.
MELBER: Right. And, I mean, you mentioned the War Powers Act which
we should mention presidents in both parties disputed aspects of its
constitutionality. But as you`re saying, it`s a big part of the timing.
Yet many of your colleagues, Senator, aren`t interested in this because
they want it to expire by 30 days, but rather several Republican senators
have said this should be an even larger military operation.
MURPHY: Yes, I think it`s a big mistake to have the United States try
to weigh in in what is really a regional proxy war between Shia and Sunni.
Right now, we`re already severely compromised. In Iraq, we are now with
these actions increasing our support for a Shia dictator, an Iranian proxy
fighting a Sunni insurgency.
And, of course, within the same conflict, just on the other side of a
relatively artificial border in Syria, we are supporting with increasing
fur ferocity a Sunni insurgency against a Shiite leader with Iranian
And so, this is a very tricky position for the United States to be in
and part of the reason why so many of us are supporting these limited
objectives but not supporting any additional measures because it will
further compromise a position that is untenable. The United States
essentially right now being on two sides of the same conflict in the
MELBER: Yes, and you may have heard Secretary of State Kerry`s
spokesperson just previously not able to say whether we are at war with
ISIS or not.
What is your answer to that question? And do you think it matters?
MURPHY: Well, we`re not legally at war with ISIS. We have an
authorization that Congress has granted the president with respect to a war
that was waged against Saddam Hussein, and so, if there is going to be a
new long-term engagement against ISIS, that would require, in my opinion,
the president to come back to Congress and get a new authorization.
We have to have a much broader conversation because right now we have
15 authorizations for military force on the books that the president can
pick from, but legally, we are not at war with ISIS and that would require
congressional action if we were to open up a much broader front.
MELBER: And what would you like to see the end game of this set of
operations look like?
MURPHY: Well, ultimately I think our end game has to be the
protection of our people there. And we have the ability as we move into
days and weeks not simply to use firepower to protect them but actually get
them out of Irbil. So, I hope that`s part of their plan.
The question of trying to protect this minority group is a more
difficult one, because it`s not clear that that can be achieved in just a
period of days or weeks. ISIS is strong. And maybe we can disable them
within a short-term military campaign, but if we can`t, that`s a much more
difficult conversation. If there continues to be an ongoing threat to
minority groups, to small religious groups, requiring a larger American
response, then that has to be a conversation that the Congress and the full
American public takes part in.
MELBER: Right. And ISIS is much more of a conventional-style
military here than what we`ve seen in al Qaeda. And you mention,
authorization of force, for example, the 2001 AUMF against al Qaeda which
said, well, you can go anywhere to find them, but they were basically a
Do you think it`s ultimately a good idea to just lightly poke this
army and then say, well, we`re not going to do much more because we don`t
want to have this larger fight with them?
MURPHY: Yes, I think that`s really the operative question here. If
you`re not all in, there`s a question of whether you`re in at all. And
remember, we`ve been fighting Taliban for 10 years in Afghanistan, not just
with occasional air strikes from above, but with substantial ongoing ground
operations and they are only slightly less strong today than they were at
the outset of that conflict.
And so, I think that`s why this has to be a broader conversation
because a lo of us are going to raise some real serious concerns about the
ability of the United States to poke and prod from the air without
ultimately engaging at a broader level.
MELBER: All right. Senator Chris Murphy, thank you for your time
tonight. I really appreciate it.
MURPHY: Thank you.
MELBER: And joining me now is former Governor Howard Dean, who ran,
of course, a first major presidential campaign against the Iraq war in
Good evening, Governor.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Hi, Ari. How are you?
MELBER: I`m good.
Tell us your thoughts. Do you support the president`s operation as
DEAN: Well, let me -- let`s stop back for a second.
I think a lot of progressives are very suspicious because this is
Iraq, because the American people have been lied to before about Iraq.
I want people to try to imagine this as Rwanda or Bosnia. I think a
lot of things change in that way. And I would agree with a lot of -- my
position is fairly similar to Chris Murphy`s. With this exception: unlike
the Taliban and the situation in Afghanistan where you have a pretty
corrupt president, and a pretty difficult situation, the Kurds are a real
Our policy in Iraq is not entirely sensible. We`re trying to keep the
country together, 1/3 of it are our friends which are the Kurds. Another
third are essentially corrupt dictators. That`s Maliki, who`s aligned with
Iran who for some reason we just recently realized we need to get out of
And the third section is divided between people who are pretty much
like the Nazis, absolute terrorists, almost subhuman, and Sunnis -- and
Sunnis who have legitimate grief, grievances against the government of
So, this is a different situation. We are supporting a -- what I
think is a country, which is Kurdistan. I think that`s reasonable. We do
not under any circumstances want to have boots on the ground, but we`re
fighting with somebody who can defend themselves as opposed to what`s
happening in Afghanistan or what was happening in Vietnam.
So, I do support the president but I think he needs to look at the
long-term Iraq policy, not just this short interlude.
MELBER: So, when you divide it up that way, Governor, and you look at
the history and skepticism, as you say, well-warranted in this realm, are
you getting at a point partly that ISIS is a fundamentally different and
more dangerous enemy than Saddam Hussein`s government from all those years
DEAN: ISIS is terribly dangerous to the whole world. They are
absolutely ruthless. They have no value on human life whatsoever. They`re
exterminating practically every minority they can get their hands on.
These are people who are going to be deeply entrenched in causing trouble
all over the middle east, and they will draw America back in. I think it`s
better to get rid of them sooner before they actually control real
MELBER: Are you making to some degree, then, an anti-war argument for
this kind of intervention? Because if they get bigger, you fear that we
might get pulled in either way? Is that what you`re saying?
DEAN: We`ll get -- the reason we`ll get pulled in is if they get to
the border of Israel, which I think is likely if they take over Syria, the
Israelis will need our help in order to fend them off. I do not believe we
should have boots on the ground in the Middle East. I do not believe that.
The way to stop boots on the ground is make sure ISIS does not get further.
We have a good ally, a well-trained ally in the Kurds. We should support
MELBER: So, part of what you`re saying, Governor, there, is different
than the public emphasis the president has offered up to this point, you
just spoke to the fact that is very clearly does want to move into the
Syria vacuum. That`s what it`s been able to do and get a foot hold.
That`s why in its name it talks about being of Iraq and Syria and that gets
you all the way out west to Israel`s eastern border.
Why doesn`t the president speak to that sort of geostrategic goal, in
addition to the humanitarian emphasis he offered last night?
DEAN: I think because in the State Department, there`s not a clear
comprehensive vision of the entire Middle East. I think they take this
country by country, and that`s a mistake. It turns out, I think the
president has mostly been doing the right thing. He couldn`t intervene in
Syria because to intervene in Syria, on the side of the Sunni, is to help
not just the reasonable thoughtful moderate Sunni who are Democrats, with a
small "D", but also to be on the same side as ISIS.
So, that was an impossible situation. This is not an impossible
situation. This is a group of people who essentially have their own
country, the Kurds. They have a well-trained fighting force. They simply
We ought to be able to do that from the air. Under no circumstances
should we put boots on the ground.
MELBER: And let me ask you the domestic question, for those who you
mentioned progressives earlier. For nose who believe this president is
credible on this subject, because of his record, and because of the type of
campaign he ran, but still maintain this concern and skepticism about
mission creep, what do you think the right domestic line is, at which point
folks should say politically and otherwise, this has gone too far or he
needs to go to the Congress?
DEAN: I have no problem with him going to the Congress. I think
that`s always a good idea. This Congress, of course, has been particularly
awful in getting anything done whatsoever. But I think that`s what the
Constitution says, and I always thought then to Tonkin Gulf Resolution sent
us down a very slippery slope and resulted in a lot of trouble that never
should have happened over the last 30, 40 years.
I do also think that we -- look, I`m not for wars. I think I pretty
much establish that during my campaign. But there are violent, very bad
people in the world who are willing to do the kinds of things that ISIS is
doing. They want to bring back female genital mutilation. They`re
shooting Christians and all other kinds of religious minorities.
They have to be stopped. You can`t simply hope that diplomacy is
going to solve that problem. That`s why I support what the president`s
MELBER: All right. Strong words from former Governor Howard Dean.
Appreciate you sharing your expertise with us tonight.
DEAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Thank you.
After all the military action we have had in Iraq, should we trust the
president or any president when we`re told that we will not be allowed to
be dragged into fighting another war or ground operations? We`re going to
talk about that straight ahead.
MELBER: When the president spoke yesterday, you may have never heard
of the Yazidi people. And now, we are back in Iraq preventing what the
president says could be a potential act of genocide against them. We`ll
have some more context on that, straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: We must not let history repeat
itself. These calls to be dragged back into a war in Iraq must be rejected
because the reality is there`s no military solution in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Since 1991, four U.S. presidents have ordered military
operations in Iraq. And multiple elected to Congresses have authorized
those operations or at least generally allowed them to proceed. We now
that history, and it`s a big reason why the nation is so war-wary today.
And while politicians often prove more hawkish than their
constituents, lately even the Republican-led House arrived at what may be
its most skeptical position on Iraq ever.
Just last month, the House passed a resolution designed to slow any
march back into that country. The bill required the president to get
approval from Congress before sending any new combat troops to Iraq. That
line in the sand drew huge bipartisan support, 370 to just 40. That is a
long way from 2002 when the House voted by 296 to 133 to authorize
President Bush to go to Iraq and go to war. Support was even higher there
in the Senate with 77 votes for war.
Now, let`s be clear, the president did not declare war yesterday. He
did not call for regime change yesterday, and as I mentioned earlier in my
discussion with Governor Dean, this president has a lot more credibility
and consistency on the issue of Iraq than most politicians.
But there`s a "but" here. The question does remain, and it`s one
worth asking. With skepticism of Iraqi intervention at an all-time high,
why are we heading back towards some kind of military role in that nation?
Joining me now is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat from
LEE: Good evening. I`m glad to be with you, Ari.
MELBER: Glad to have you. Let me start with that question, why are
we headed back?
LEE: Well, let`s hope that we`re not headed back. I mean, the
president laid it out very clearly last night. One is that there`s a very,
very serious issue right now as it relates to genocide that could be
perpetrated. And so, we`re there as the president said to prevent a
horrific act which could be an act of genocide.
Secondly, we have United States personnel there. And part of the
military strategy now is to ensure that our personnel are protected and
secured. So, it`s very limited and it`s targeted.
Anything beyond that, let me tell you, the president should come to
Congress and debate it, and we mentioned the resolution before Congressman
McGovern, Congressman Jones, myself. Let me -- it is no -- no sentiment, I
think, in our country, to go back in a combat role in Iraq. And so --
MELBER: Congresswoman, let me ask you, then -- and, yes, you`ve been
clear on that. Does your resolution do anything in your view that would
limit this particular set of operations at any point?
LEE: Yes. I think what it does is because certainly first of all,
mission creep could happen. This could be expanded into a broader
conflict. I think this resolution very clearly says that any expansion of
military conflict, especially as it relates to combat troops, the president
would be required to come to Congress.
But I also have to say that last night, and I listened to the
president`s speech very clearly, he very clearly stated that there`s no
military solution in Iraq, and that he did not intend to engage militarily
So, this operation at this point is targeted. It`s limited but it
can`t go any further. And I think that the American people must be
vigilant because there`s always the risk that there could be a rationale
for it to spread.
So, we`re saying that the president must come to Congress if, in fact,
the mission changes.
MELBER: Right. You`re speaking to that relationship between
supporting something that may have a good goal, but also being clear
upfront about the line. Let me ask the hard question, which is more a
question admittedly for the president than for you at this juncture,
But given that rationale about genocide, if these airstrikes don`t
work, and then the genocide that has been predicted and discussed happens,
is the position then of the White House and is it the proper position that
that should be allowed to happen because we don`t want anything more than
LEE: Well, that`s premature, and, again, I`m glad you said that`s for
the White House to decide. Let me tell you what I think, in terms of the
protection of these, what, 40,000, 50,000 people.
LEE: One is the United Nations and the international community right
now are talking about how to develop a humanitarian and evacuation
corridor. We must support that and call on the world community to support
this international evacuation corridor, excuse me, and do this right away.
Secondly, I think if the president intends to use combat troops,
especially, or expand the operation, it`s essential that Congress be called
back into session. And we debate that and talk about that because, no, we
do not want to see anyone die and genocide occur as a result of what is
taking place. ISIS is very, very dangerous. As the previous speaker,
Howard Dean, and others have said.
But we cannot engage militarily in this conflict and be drawn back
into what, unfortunately, was a war without end because we see now what has
It`s time that we recognize that the Iraqis need to come together.
The region needs to come together. Come up with some form of a regional
stability program, process, diplomatic initiative, and try to get this and
allow the Iraqis to develop their solutions moving forward and support that
effort. But in no way should we be there for the long run militarily.
MELBER: And just briefly, the other line from perspective of limiting
this beyond the ground operation piece is other types of air strikes.
Senator Graham now saying this doesn`t go far enough unless we also do at
least airstrikes in Syria.
Briefly, your response.
LEE: Well, I say that`s what mission creep is all about. That`s
expanding the United States` role militarily in the region which the
American people, quite frankly, do not want to see happen. We have got to
figure out a strategy that`s going to allow for the end of this conflict
with our support, but not engage militarily.
It`s tough. Yes. But I tell you, we cannot go down this road again.
We did it in Afghanistan. We did it in Iraq. We lost thousands of our
brave young men and women. Our national treasury is lost to the tune of a
trillion dollars or so. So, we must figure this out in a way that makes
sense. That does not engage the United States in military combat operation
MELBER: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you for your views and your
LEE: Thank you.
MELBER: Now, after efforts to extend a cease-fire between Israel and
Hamas failed, today the violence there resumed.
Another big story that we have been watching. Where do things go from
here? That`s straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We regret -- I personally
regret and the people of Israel regret every civilian casualty that we
have. Israel does not target civilians. It targets the terrorists. I do
not know of any army that does more than the Israeli army does to avoid
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there continuing his
U.S. media outreach on FOX News last night. Now, that was hours before a
three-day cease-fire came to an end. Shortly, after it expired today at
8:00 A.M. local time, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Southern
Israel, ending what was the longest pause in this conflict since it began
about a month ago.
Israel responded with air strikes hitting 70 targets in the Gaza
strip, which killed five people. This is according to the Gaza Health
Ministry, including a 10-year-old boy. The Israeli army said 61 rockets
have been fired at Israel since the cease-fire broke this morning.
Earlier, they also reported two rockets fired from Gaza hours before dawn.
Two Israeli sustained injuries from shrapnel according to Israel`s
Now, anger over the ongoing conflict also spilled into the west bank
where Palestinians have head run marched in support of Gaza and Hamas and
clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces reportedly left at
least one person dead. Well, now with the Egypt brokered negotiations at a
stand still, it is not clear where things go from here. Israel offered to
extend the cease-fire with no added conditions.
Hamas refused to do so, however, unless Israel met its demand to end
the Gaza blockade and open some kind of seaport. And, Hamas` spokesperson
said in a statement just out today, quote, "We think Israel is dragging its
feet. They did not respond to our demands and have not done a thing to
show. There is a reason to extend the cease-fire. However, the door to
continued conversations is not closed. The decision to comply with our
requirements is in Israeli hands," end quote. Israeli delegation returned
from Cairo this morning. The government later saying in a statement,
quote, "Israel will not hold negotiations under fire."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In recent days, Yazidi
women, men, and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives
-- and thousands. Perhaps, tens of thousands are now hiding high up on the
mountain with little but the clothe on their backs.
When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I
believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act,
carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: As everyone suddenly knows, tens of thousands of Yazidi
refugees are stranded on a remote mountaintop in northern Iraq. Many dying
of thirst and starvation, and surrounded by ISIS militants, who are
threatening, as well, to kill them directly.
We are beginning to learn more about this small religious sect who
have become a major focal point in the conflict in Iraq. They are a group
that championed the presidents of American military in the not too distant
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CORRESPONDENT: A decade ago, U.S. soldiers were
welcomed as saviors by the Yazidi community. Back then, American forces
used the same mountain as the ultimate lookout post. Now, these are
MELBER (voice-over): Now, the looming humanitarian tragedy has
prompted the U.S. to air drop those supplies we have been reporting on
including food and water and it is already too late for some according to
UNICEF. Dozens of Yazidi children have already died of dehydration. Many,
many more face similar risk.
Earlier this week during a session of Iraq`s parliament, a distraught
Yazidi lawmaker made a plea for help that is gone around the world, saying,
quote, "We are being slaughtered. Our entire religion is being wiped off
the face of the earth. I am begging you in the name of humanity."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER (on camera): Now, while the U.S. continues air strikes against
the terrorist group targeting the Yazidis, members of this religious
community continue to wait.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CORRESPONDENT: One man trapped on the mountain
spoke to I-TV news by phone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CORRESPONDENT: "There is a human amount of terror
and fear," he said. Adding "whether we convert or not, they want to kill
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now is Ishaan Tharoor, Foreign Affairs Reporter
for the "Washington Post" world views blog. Good evening, to you.
ISHAAN THAROOR, "WASHINGTON POST" WORLD NEWS BLOG FOREIGN AFFAIRS
REPORTER: Good evening.
MELBER: As I mentioned, people have learned a lot more about this
group, but there I much we do not know. Who are they and why are they so
targeted in this instance?
THAROOR: Well, the Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority in Iraq.
There are not many of them. They are roughly under a million of them. The
majority lives in Iraq still. They are elsewhere in Europe as well. They
practice a faith that is a fascinating mix of various traditions,
Abrahamic, non-Abrahamic, that some Muslims misinterpreted as devil
worshipping for a variety of complex reasons.
They have been targeted in the past by everyone from Mongols to the
Ottomans. But, there are resilient group and they have remained in Iraq --
I mean this part of northern Iraq, which is in Sinjar, where the mountain
is, which is their heartland for centuries. But, now, ISIS in the current
environment, it seems like the greatest existential threat they faced in a
MELBER: Let me play for you what Secretary of State John Kerry said
about this because it goes to both the humanitarian argument and the
geopolitics where this has been something of a wake-up call in his
argument. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Campaign of terror against the
innocent including the Yazidi and Christian minorities and its grotesque
targeted acts of violence, show all the warning signs of genocide. For
anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And, you have been reporting that that wake-up call actually
suggests that ISIS may have overdone it, so to speak, and this may be in
its own way help the Kurds.
THAROOR: Yes, in a certain sense, you know? It is prompted the kind
of American reaction that we are seeing now that is emboldening the Kurdish
forces -- The Peshmerga, where it looked like a defeated force just this
weekend when they were retreating from ISIS --
MELBER: The Kurdish Militias.
THAROOR: -- The Kurdish Militias, yes, the Peshmerga. And, there was
panic in Erbil, The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan just a few days ago. There
were reports of people leaving town. Now, the mood seems to have probably
changed now that the U.S. more directly involved.
And, we will see what kind of gains they can make. We already know
right now that there are Kurdish forces trying to reclaim certain routes to
the mountain where the Yazidis are stranded. The Yazidis, themselves, are
largely Kurdish-speaking. And, then, we will see what kind of territory
they can consolidate out of this.
MELBER: And, we have talked a lot and reported a lot about how ISIS
does a lot in terms of intimidation and sort of promoting and menacing
through social media and other mechanisms its killings.
MELBER: Speak to their strategic -- their strategic type of targeting
here, because obviously this is not just a religious blood feud. They have
a larger objective.
THAROOR: Well, it is hard to speak to strategy when the strategy does
amount to grotesque, savage, barbaric acts of killing, the enslavement of
women for all sorts of purposes. But, yes, they are a group that has, you
know, tried to burnish their jihadist chops in many ways online through
these incredibly brazen acts of destruction of shrines, of the murder of
people they believe as apostates.
And, this fits into a large amount of what they want to create, that
they are building this anachronistic, mythical Islamic caliphate and
reclaiming the sense of purity and this is all part of a larger project.
MELBER: And, what do you think they will do with the dam they
captured in Mosul?
THAROOR: Well, it is, again, the details about that are a bit murky.
And, if we see the -- if we see the kind of Kurdish gains that we may be
seeing in the next few days, they may not have that dam for long.
MELBER: They could be pushed back.
THAROOR: They could be pushed back.
MELBER: Because, one argument that has been made at least, again, as
you say, caution warranted. But, one argument, is that if they had full
operational control for a long time, they could use that as a type of
weapon, that could by some accounts actually flood Baghdad.
THAROOR: Yes, with a 15-foot wall flood of water. Well, that is a
bit too extreme at this point. But, hopefully, we will see -- again, ISIS
has been fighting on a number of fronts. They have been battling in oil
fields, and near Baghdad, Baiji. And, it has always been unclear how much
actual operational control they have. And, we will see, you know, if the
Kurds can make real gains now that they have a bit of cover from --
MELBER: Right. A bit of air cover and something we have been
discussing with a lot of leaders tonight. How far that air cover goes and
what the line is because we have a president saying this is important, but
will not be a long-term, let alone ground operation.
THAROOR: Right. And, again, the U.S. is inching toward a much more
complicated geopolitical conflagration in the region. There are Kurdish
Militias, who are aiding the Kurds, the Iraqi Peshmerga from Syria, who are
related to other groups that are considered terror groups by the state
department. So, it is a very complicated situation.
MELBER: It is hard to pick sides when everyone hates each other for
five different reasons. Ishaan Tharoor from the "Washington Post." Thanks
for joining us this evening.
THAROOR: Thanks you very much.
MELBER: And, with desperate humanitarian situations happening all the
time, all over the world, why do we choose to get involved in the one
happening right now in Iraq? That is straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. OBAMA: Today, I authorized two operations in Iraq. Targeted
air strikes to protect our American personnel and a humanitarian effort to
help save thousands of Iraq civilians, who are trapped on a mountain
without food and water and facing almost certain death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Here is something worth thinking about. Over the past 20
years, every American president has done what President Obama did last
night. Order air strikes against Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Saddam Hussein started this
cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined.
BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Earlier today, I ordered America`s
armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq.
FMR. PRES. BUSH: On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking
selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein`s
ability to wage war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: As we already know, most of those operations were justified
by more than one reason. Presidents talk to both national security
objectives and broader ideals. Like human rights or even democracy
building. Last night, President Obama presented his decision as a way not
only to protect Americans, to help ourselves, but also to help others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. OBAMA: Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the
world, "There is no one coming to help." Well, today America is coming to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And, help may be on the way. And, it may be the difference
between life and death for many innocent people. That is no small thing.
But, that help is certainly not available to everyone in equally dire
conditions around the world. The U.S., like most nations, has declined to
intervene in massive humanitarian crises, from Darfur to Syria. And, that
civil war next to Iraq still raging today has actually claimed 170,000
lives already over 3 years.
That is a much bigger scale than even what we are considering doing
right now in Iraq. And, the president has repeatedly said long before his
announcement this week that just because we cannot act everywhere does not
mean we should not act anywhere. And, as a matter of pure foreign policy
doctrine, inconsistency is not necessarily a vice.
But, look, as the world learns more about the plight of religious
minorities in Iraq, and watches President Obama wade a little bit back into
Iraq, it is worth asking, what is so different about Iraq? Why do
humanitarian appeals seem to win there when they are ignored in so many
other places? We have some experts who are going to help explore those
important questions. Please stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back, joining me now is James Zogby, Founder and
President of the Arab American Institute, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Senikor
Correspondent Associate Editor for the "Washington Post." James, let me
start with you. Should we be more skeptical of humanitarian arguments when
they seem so selectively applied?
JAMES ZOGBY, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF THE ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: I
do not think this one is selectively applied and I think it is an important
initiative by the president. Look, the America invested a lot in Iraq; a
lot of lives, a lot of treasure, a lot of political capital. President was
right to get out of Iraq, but he does not want to be -- no one wants to be
the president who lost Iraq.
ZOGBY: And, I think Prime Minister al-Maliki mishandled his
premiership. He abused, instead of incorporating Sunnis into governance,
and alienated people and has been, in fact, a fomenter of this unrest.
What no one expected was that ISIS as the cancer that is, would move so
rapidly, absorbed and steals so many weapons and become a state unto itself
MELBER: I think your point that this is important and potentially
very positive. I do not know that it would be fair to say no one expected
it. Many of our critics from Iraq have argued that leaving would embolden
ZOGBY: Well, leaving Iraq was an agreement made with the Bush
Administration and Prime Minister Al-Maliki.
ZOGBY: And, the Iraqis were not going to budge. So, the withdrawal
of troops was part of the status of forces agreement.
ZOGBY: And, it was put in place, and it was done. The question now
is, is that as a result of ISIS moving, they are not only risking the lives
of Chaldeans, hundreds of thousands, and Yazidis, but they are also moving
north toward Erbil as we understand, which is where the Chaldean refugees
have moved. If ISIS crosses that line, there is nowhere for the Chaldean
Christians to go.
ZOGBY: And, so the issue here is that not only American lives are at
risk in Erbil, but also the lives of people who fled the areas where the
ISIS group has taken over, and this is the potential humanitarian disaster
the president was speaking about.
MELBER: Yes. Rajiv, let me go to you. Take a listen to a pretty
revealing exchange at the state department today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: We had a situation
where tens of thousands of people could starve to death and we have the
ability to do something? We are going to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Why is it that you chose to stop a
potential act of genocide in this one place, when you have signally chosen
not to prevent things you have actively described as genocide in other
HARF: Dishonest. Well, my job, our shot is to defend and talk about
why we make decisions now today. I understand there are questions about
why decades ago, we did not take action. Those are historical
conversations that I think are not inappropriate, but that are not
appropriate for me to discuss or opine on from up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I fully recognize why the state department does not want to
get into history, but it is not just distant history. As we have been
reporting, we are not seeing the same approach to the slaughter in Syria.
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT ASSOCIATE EDITOR FOR THE
"WASHINGTON POST": Indeed. I mean just across that border, I mean, not
more than 100 miles from this mountaintop, you have communities that have
been decimated by the civil war in Syria. You have 2 million refugees from
the Syrian conflict. Now, truth be told, Ari, we are providing with the
international community meaningful humanitarian aid to those civilian
refugees in Syria --
CHANDRASEKARAN: -- And, many of whom have streamed across the border.
But, yes, we are selective here in the case of Iraq. I think Iraq is
different. Iraq is different for a couple of different reasons. One is
there is a different standard. The president in withdrawing forces told
the American people that Iraq is reasonably stable and secure.
And, so there is a huge optic issue here if you have a slaughter of
tens of thousands of people or at least mass starvation. And, this is one
where you can tie the humanitarian relief effort to a more kinetic
operation as the military would call it, to the air strikes against ISIS.
So, it is not just purely humanitarian mission. It is a humanitarian
component to a broader security force assistance mission in Iraq, in
support of the Iraqi Military and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
MELBER: James, you are nodding. Go ahead.
ZOGBY: Look, I understand -- I think the point here about Iraq being
different from Syria is critical to understand. In Syria, we were being
asked to be in a position not unlike Libya, but Libya on steroids, where it
was not only help and get involved, but it was then pick up the pieces and
create a system of governance.
We have done that in Iraq. It did not work. We do not want to get
into it again. This is different. This is a short-term immediate goal of
stopping the slaughter of Chaldean Christians, of the Syrians, of Yazidis
and stopping the advance of ISIS toward Erbil. I think the president made
a smart case, a good case.
We had a meeting with the national security folks last week with
Chaldean Christians. I think that they came away feeling their case was
understood and I think that the president has responded. I think that it
is a very important gesture and we need to understand lives are being saved
and yes it may actually help move the situation in Iraq toward a new
government that is actually can represent all the people in that country.
MELBER: Yes, and that would be the greatest hope. If you can do
something to isolate Al-Maliki and also save lives and the president will
certainly have a big step forward here that a lot of people will welcome.
That is the test. That is a lot of the questions we are going to continue
to ask. James Zogby from the Arab American Institute and Rajib
Chandrasekaran, thank you very much for your time. That is "All In" for
this evening. Good news. "The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now with
Steve Kornacki sitting in for Rachel. Good evening, Steve.
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