THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
September 23, 2014
Guest: Courtney Kube, James Stavridis
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for
this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Tomahawk missiles have been around since the 1970s. They`re about 18 feet
long, they`re about 20 inches in diameter which means I`m not good in
measurements, 20 inches in diameter. You laid one down on my desk. It
would be about this tall, I think. They were around 3500 pounds. They
could be fitted with nuclear warheads or not. Obviously, the ones that the
U.S. military fired by the dozens last night in the Middle East. Those
were not fitted with nuclear warheads.
But if you ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on boat at night
while that boat is firing multiple 18-foot long, 3500 pound nuclear capable
cruise missiles, here is what that look like -- looks like. It turns out
it is something that is punctuated by some very, very bright light.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MADDOW: Our footage was released by the U.S. navy today showing operations
on a guided missile cruiser called the USS Philippine Sea as it launched
multiple tomahawks land attack missiles. And it shows the crew in sharp
relief as they fire off those missiles. I should also say if you watch
these things closely, it also shows these amazing little details. Like if
you see the red arrow there, it turns out while they`re shooting these
missiles, they`re drinking blue Gatorade. It turns out also in one of these
things, you can put your water bottles and your binoculars right against
the window while the missiles are going off on the other side of the
window. And no, Gatorade, you are not allowed to get a sponsorship deal
out of this. Leave it alone.
The navy also released this footage today from the same ship showing the
same missile launches but from a different angle. And in this case, the
camera is outside on deck of the ship looking up at the part of the ship
from which the missiles are being launched. Watch.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MADDOW: That was released by the Navy today. But, wait, there`s more.
From the same ship, those same tomahawks, they also shot from two other
camera angles. And the first one, you`ll see missiles being launched from
a little bit further away. The vantage point is a little farther away.
And then because of that, you can see the trajectory of the missile when it
takes off into the sky.
In the second shot, from the second camera angle, you`ll see the way the
trajectory of that missile as it flies off toward Syria, how it lights up
the entire ship and the shadow of it moves as it passes overhead. Watch.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MADDOW: That was all footage shot by the U.S. Navy last night distributed
publicly by CENTCOM today. It`s all footage taken from the guided missile
cruiser that is called the USS Philippine Sea and a guided missile
destroyer called the USS Arleigh Burke. It was also the sources some other
footage. The Arleigh Burke fired the same kind of 18-foot long 3500 pound
tomahawk missiles into Syria last night from the red sea.
On the Arleigh Burke, the sailor shooting the video, you are going to see
here, you can tell the sailor shooting the video is watching the missiles
fired -- watching while the missiles are being fired while the sailor
stands on the deck k of the ship. And as the sailor follow it is
trajectory of the missile taking off from the ship, the sailor kind of
spins around with the camera in his hands which creates this sort really
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MADDOW: Again, that is Navy footage released from the USS Arleigh burke.
They released that today. They shot other multiple camera angles, multiple
perspectives on these huge missiles being launched from these ships in the
middle of the night. So watch this one.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MADDOW: It`s all footage released by CENTCOM today, all footage shot on
U.S. Navy vessels as they fired tomahawk land attack missiles. More than
40 of them fired last night from a guided missile cruiser and a guided
missile destroyer. One in the red sea and one in the Persian Gulf.
The Pentagon, also, today, released three very short pieces of video that
they say -- shows basically what was visible from the air as U.S. pilots
bombed other tar gets inside Syria. Here are those targeting videos that
they released today. The first one that they released shows a building
that they say was near Raqqa in Syria. You see missiles entering the roof
of the building; you see the building partially destroyed.
Another one of these videos, they describe as an ISIS storage facility on
the eastern side of Syria near the border with Iraq. And then the third
video that they released of targeting is from that same area, again on the
eastern side of Syria near the border with Pentagon -- near the border with
Iraq, excuse me. The Pentagon described that strike as happening in a
residential area. They say the specific area that they hit, as you see,
with those multiple munitions all landing at exactly the same time. They
say they hit it precisely. They say that was a vehicle staging ground for
the ISIS militant group.
All of this footage today, this many, many, many, many, minutes of footage,
long multi-layered compelling multiple camera angle footage of the US air
war in Syria. This was all released by the U.S. military today. And this
is the only verified footage that we have of the air war so far.
We know what the fireworks looks like when it comes to the U.S. launching
(INAUDIBLE) from the air and from the sea. We have all of this incredible
visual close-up detail about what it looked like from the U.S. military`s
perspective to get missiles and bombs in the air heading toward the ground
And we know what the military tells us they were shooting at and we know
what they say about how precise they were at hitting all of their targets.
But we do not have any independent information as to what those targets
actually were or what the effect was of those U.S. strikes.
I mean, bombs are launched and then bombs land. And we know in this war,
so far, what it looks like for the bombs to be launched. We have no idea
what it looks like for the bombs to land.
The closest that we have in terms of the impact in Syria is unverified
video, that, I kid you not, was posted to facebook. The Reuters news
agency curetted a lot of this stuff today, user uploaded video and curetted
it in terms of where people say this footage was shot and what they say it
depicts. But honestly, they got it on facebook. And nobody knows exactly
what it means or exactly what it shows for sure. But this is the closest
thing that we`ve got in a totally unverified way.
The Pentagon did a briefing today in which they released all of their own
video, their own before and after pictures describing what they did. The
general leading that briefing said that they think the first night of the
air war in Syria was a real success. His exact quote was "our national
indication is that the strikes were very successful."
But if you wanted to get an independent objective assessment about whether
or not things were very successful, there is not a way to get that right
now. Because there isn`t a professional, international media presence
inside Syria right now. And nobody`s to blame for that except for the
terrorists who keep capturing and kidnapping and ransoming and torturing
and murdering journalists at a rate that has never been seen before in any
modern conflict. I don`t think there`s any reason to blame news agencies
for not having foreign correspondents the middle of this war inside Syria.
The wire service (INAUDIBLE) in fact just announced that they will no
longer accept any material submitted by freelance reporters inside Syria
because they cannot, in good conscious take the risk of incentivizing
people to go there and try to report out of an environment that is so
deadly, specifically, for journalists.
But that`s the fact of that environment in which we are wagering our newest
war. The absence of international media, totally, is a fact of this war.
That is a really important part of understanding it. And in understanding
the limits of what we are allowed to understand about it.
Columbia journalism review has been publishing journalists lament about
what this means about this war and what it means for journalism. Quote
"there has never been a more important or difficult time to report on
Syria. But in areas held by the rebels, journalists are not just routinely
but frequently targeted, abducted, kidnapped, even killed. And in the
areas the government controls, while the government in Syria has now cut-
off western journalists` access to those parts of the country as well."
The result is that quote "the international media has scarce and dwindling
access to the country that remain the world`s deadliest ongoing civil war
and the country that is now the site of the newest air war in the Middle
And so, yes, we`ve got all of this footage. Right? It is an uncomfortable
thing to be relying on one single stream of information that is directly
from the Pentagon as our soul source of data in terms of what is happening.
But that`s what`s going on right now in terms of pictures from the war
zone. What were flooded with these admittedly dazzling fireworks display,
right? The sort of sensory overwhelming, dazzling presentation of the U.S.
military is handling its side of the story. And it`s incredibly
But that is all that we have got to on. And when it comes to figuring out
what we are doing in this war and how this war is going thus far. And what
effects the U.S. are likely to have, frankly, we`re in a position with what
they give us and build out from there in terms of what we can understand
about the region and the impact of our actions.
And so getting specific, what we are told is that those tomahawk missile
launches from the USS Philippine Sea and the USS Arleigh Burke, we`re told
that they were mostly not aimed at ISIS. They were not aimed at ISIS
targets inside Syria. They were instead, aimed at another group that we
had no advanced warning was going to be part of this war. It is a group
that was first mentioned in public by U.S. official only last week when the
director of national intelligence James Clapper mentioned the group by name
at a conference. President Obama had never sent the name of the group or
described it all in public until today after the bombing attacks on the
that are already been launched.
He then sent a letter to Congress explaining the administration`s legal
rationale for waging war on this group which they says called the Khorasan
group. They say it is off shoot of al-Qaeda. But they were tomahawk
missiles that were launched at eight different Khorasan sites west of
Aleppo in Syria.
There was also a different round of strikes last night. This is the
footage that the U.S. Navy released today of f-18 Hornets and prowler jets
being launched at night off the carrier deck -- off the deck of the USS
George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier. This was last night. F-18s and
Hornets -- excuse me, f-18s and prowlers. And those f-18s targeted ISIS
militants sites in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.
Another round of bombing from a whole different range of aircraft was
launched not from the U.S. aircraft carrier, but instead, from some as yet
undeclared land site in the Middle East. And the aircraft launch from that
undeclared site included f-22s being used in combat for the first time
ever. Also f-15s, f-16s, B-1 stealth bombers, also drones, all flying from
that undisclosed location. They hit targets in and around Raqqa, which is
thought to be the headquarters for ISIS.
So we know about these three different sources of attacks from the U.S.
last night. Those tomahawks targeting the Khorasan group and those two
different groups of aircraft from two different sources, one out in an
aircraft carrier, one on land, is targeting ISIS sites.
We know a little bit about the 22 different sites they say were targeted,
eight sites for the Khorasan group were targeted, 14 sites were targeted
The Pentagon released maps explaining those targets, showing the press what
they were trying to do. The story is not just what they`re trying to do,
what in fact, they have done. And these bombs and missiles are landing in
the Middle of the civil war that has been raging for three years already
Again, without direct professional reporting on the ground, it`s very hard
to be able to say. What the relationship is between what the U.S. military
is saying and what`s actually happening on the ground.
Without anybody there on the ground to tell us what it looks like, where a
lot of basically to extrapolate from what they let us know. And with those
constraints, maybe one thing we can contribute to understanding, what`s
happened here already, and that is effect might be, is this.
This map shows who was thought to be in control of different areas of Syria
as of roughly two weeks ago. This is the work of "The New York Times."
This is "The New York Times" assessment of who was in control where in
Syria as of the night that President Obama made that address to the nation
where he said he was considering air strikes there.
And don`t reveal the next thing here yet. Which you can see, though, the
green dots and the Syrian government. The blue dots are other opposition
groups. And the purple dots are ISIS.
So it gives you a rough guide to who was in control where in Syria.
Now, let`s reveal the next thing on the map. OK. We overlaid on top of
that where the airstrikes were last night. Because the relationship
between these two different facts is really important, right? If the U.S.
military is doing what it says it`s doing, and these airstrikes are, you
know, precise and in a devastating, they are taking on exactly the ISIS
militants and the ISIS assets and the ISIS target that the U.S. is
targeting in these strike.
Well then, the effect of that on the ground, right? Will be to hurt is in
those areas where they`re being targeted. And to hurt a Khorasan group in
the areas where they are being targeted. If so, so, it then becomes really
important to know what`s going to happen as a consequence of that. Who
else is operating in that area. Who is going to win by virtue of the fact
that we`re picking some people to be losers.
If ISIS or indeed the Khorasan group is effectively taken out by the U.S.
in these air strikes and who else is there and will take over in those
Who will fill the vacuum? I the western part of Syria, there is still
pretty significant presence of the government right there. So anything
that weakens rebel groups that have been fighting the government, whether
it is the Khorasan group of ISIS or anybody else. Attacks on those rebels
may very well clear the way for the regime of the Syrian government, Bashar
al-Assad to take more ground there. He`s likely to benefit from those
strikes taking out the people who are fighting him in the most fierce way.
Over in the eastern side of the country, well, frankly, there are very few
green dots there. There`s minimal government presence in or near the
places that appear to have been targeted last night. And if ISIS is
significantly degraded or hurt in those areas that were hit by those
airstrikes. Well, those are areas that have already been abandoned by the
Assad regime. There really isn`t the presence of either the government of
other rebel groups.
In those areas in the east which where all those juts blue last night,
right, that we just watched, we wants taking off in that aircraft carrier,
where ISIS alone is the sole authority, who`s likely to take advantage
there if those airstrikes hurt ISIS. Who is going to capitalize on U.S.
airstrikes there if those U.S. airstrikes are as effective as the Pentagon
says they are.
NBC`s Richard Engle joins us live in a moment from near the Syrian border.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Yesterday afternoon, NBC`s Richard Engle was at my office standing
right in front of my desk, 30 Rock in New York City talking politics.
Tonight, Richard Engel is there. You can see on the map he`s in a place
called Orca in Turkey which is right on the Syrian border. Richard Engel,
I`m not asking you how you got there between yesterday afternoon and
tonight because I think you`re magic and I don`t want you to ruin it.
But can you describe where you are and the relationship to where you are
and the air strikes that started last night?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reason we
came here, and there`s many places you can go to along the Turkish-Syrian
border is that, is that this area in the last several days, there have been
tens of thousands, up to 150,000 refugees flooding out of is controlled
areas and coming into Turkey.
So it is a place where this conflict is very much alive. It is not very
far from Raqqa, the ISIS home base. So it is the best we can do at this
stage to assess what`s going on inside Syria by talking to sources who are
still in the country by interviewing the refugees as they are coming in and
out and monitoring the social media which is coming out already.
And the impression that we`ve been able to get so far is a very confused
picture. These airstrikes have began, tomahawk missiles strikes have
began. They`ve hit ISIS. They`ve hit the Khorasan group. They`ve hit
also some other radical groups or at least that is what the other radical
groups are claiming to have been hit.
And it is creating to a sense a bit of solidarity among the radical groups
because they feel they are attacked by Bashar al-Assad and now being
attacked by the United States. And this is going to be very tricky in the
days and weeks and I think years going forward.
If you were in a part of rebel-controlled Syria and suddenly your house
blows up or a building next to you blows up, it would be very convenient
for those rebels to say it was the Americans. And how would they know if
it was really Bashar al-Assad? Maybe it`s convenient for Bashar al-Assad`s
forces to say it was the Americans.
But all you know if you`re in that village is something fell out of the sky
and blew up. And there`s only two people right now are doing that, Bashar
al-Assad`s forces and the U.S. So if you`re on the receiving end, it
certainly looks like those two forces are fighting together.
MADDOW: So strategically, how does that play out then, Richard? If the
result, at least thus far, of the U.S. getting involved in this way, is
that there is, as you say, sort of solidarity among different, maybe
previously fighting among themselves radical rebel groups inside Syria. If
they are essentially brought together under duress by the U.S. getting
involved here, what does that do to the overall situation on to the ground
and to the U.S. aims to turn the essentially new there (ph) ISIS so they
pose less of a threat beyond that borders in Syria and Iraq.
ENGEL: Well, on one level, the U.S. strategy is quite simple. And the air
strikes are quite simple. There`s a militant group operating in an
ungoverned space and go and fight them. And you saw that very clean gun
camera footage and footage of the tomahawk missiles and your map with the
purple and green dots.
But people here don`t wear green dots and purple dots on their clothing.
And the actual confusing situation on the ground is far more complicated.
And, as the U.S. gets deeper and deeper involved in this, it`s going to
find it`s impossible to distinguish among all of these different groups.
And all of the different competing agendas.
Just look who`s on this battlefield right now. You have ISIS, you have the
Khorasan group with more people have never heard of before. You have
(INAUDIBLE) which is anti-Assad group which the U.S. sometimes considers a
terrorist group, but not entirely, you have Jabhat al-Nusra, you have
Hezbollah, Iran, Bashar al-Assad. Now you have U.S. air strikes reigning
And the U.S. is trying to pick just the really bad actors and surmise what
their intentions would be. And only attack the really bad actors who
impose a direct threat to the United States. And I think that is an
impossible challenge, frankly, no matter how good our intelligence are and
our optics are from drones. It is a complicated policy.
MADDOW: Richard Engle, NBC News chief foreign correspondent and the person
from who I have learned the most about this by a mile. Richard, thank you
so much for staying up until the middle of the tonight, of course. I
really appreciate d it. Thanks.
All right, lots more tonight including who is flying alongside the U.S.
during these air strikes and why and how long that might be expected to
We`re also talking strategy with a former NATO commander. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were joined in this
action by our friends and partners, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder
with these nations on behalf of our common security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Could this take years?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would it would think of this in terms of years, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I would think of this in term of years, yes.
Lieutenant General William Mayville at the Pentagon today expanding on some
of the operational details of the air war that President Obama launched
last night in Syria and then he talked about with the press this morning at
the White House before he headed to New York for his big speech to the U.N.
But here`s the question. When you are attending three days of meetings
with 140 other world leaders at the U.N. in New York and you have just
launched a war in the Middle East, it`s obviously really crucial for the
way that that was is received, that the U.S. is not seen to be going it
And, indeed, the five countries that were involved in the opening salvos of
the war last night along the -- alongside the United States, those five
countries, that makes up the largest coalition of Arab militaries joining
in on a U.S.-led military operation since Gulf War In 1991.
But if the Pentagon is right, and the war that started last night is going
to be a years-long operation, how much should we expect from those five
Arab countries over the long haul if this is in fact going to be a really
Well, the Saudis for their part they have a really, really big air force
including hundreds of state of the art fighter jets. We agreed to sell the
Saudis $30 billion worth of new F-15 Strike Eagles back in 2011 and we also
agreed at the same time that we would upgrade the 70-more of them that they
already had. The Saudis also buy Eurofighter typhoons from the Brits.
They also buy British tornado fighter jets. So the Saudis have a huge and
expensive and very well-equipped state-of-the-art air force.
United Arab Emirates, they also have a pretty robust air force. They`ve
got dozens of American-made F-16s already. They ordered 30 more of them
this year. French Mirage single fighter jets, Emirates also has about 70
And Jordan, their air force is really interesting. They have somewhere
around 60 F-16 fighter jets. An American plane, right? They used to have
more F-16s than that, but get this, earlier this year, Jordan decided to
sell one of their F-16 squadrons to Pakistan. So they used to have 13 more
F-16s than they do, now they have 13 less but Pakistan has 13 more.
Jordan`s king, I should mention, is also personally qualified as a cobra
attack helicopter pilot. And perhaps because of that personal interest on
behalf of the king -- on the part of the king, the Jordanian Air Force
flies dozens of Korean War era, F-5 Tiger and Cobra Attack helicopters.
And the remaining two countries in this five-nation Arab coalition, they
are much smaller countries. Bahrain has just over a million people. They
have a dozen or so F-5 fighter jets. Over the past two decades, Bahrain
has also bought 17 American F-16s. Qatar is also a tinny tiny little
country, but in addition to being very, very, very rich, Qatar also plays a
key military role in the region in part because they host a giant base for
U.S. Central Command.
CentCom has a huge base in Qatar. In their own right, the Qataris also
reportedly have about a dozen of those French Mirage fighter jets. Earlier
this year, they also made plans to buy 24 U.S. Apache attack helicopters.
So that`s a lot of American made, another European made hardware. The U.S.
and American allies have been actively involved in helping to arm these
countries to the teeth in recent years.
Last night, the U.S. flew the lion`s share of the bombing raids and dropped
the lion`s share of the more than 200 bombs and missiles that hit more than
20 targets in Syria. But if this really is going to go on for years, is it
going to be, effectively, the United States alone? Or is this a real joint
effort in an ongoing way with a pretty big coalition of Arab partners?
Joining us now is NBC News national security producer Courtney Kube.
Courtney, thanks very much for having here tonight. Appreciate your time.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So during last night`s airstrikes, we know about what they
describe as operational involvement of these five countries, Saudi,
Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain. But do we know exactly what each of
those countries did?
KUBE: The U.S. military has been somewhat hesitant to speak for the other
nations, these Arab partners. But we know a little bit. For instance,
there were F-15s, F-16s and Mirage fighter jets that were flying. And four
of the five nations, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan all flew and
actually dropped munitions as part of -- part of the third wave of strikes
that occurred overnight last night.
Qatar was in more of a defensive role. They were up there in case -- any
of the U.S. aircraft were targeted by any kind of Syrian air defenses or
Syrian air force aircraft. Qatar would be there and they would be able to
respond. They weren`t called to do that, of course, but they were there.
So all five of the partner nations actually did fly as part of the third
wave of strikes that occur last night. That was the largest of the three
waves of strikes that occurred in Syria overnight. There were -- during
that wave, there were 37 aircraft in the air, including U.S. -- the
majority were the U.S. and then the rest were the coalition aircraft.
So the question is, what`s next? You know, are these partner nations, are
they going to continue to participate in strikes as they go on over the
course of the next days, weeks, months and years? Is it going to drop off
a little bit? I think that the idea that they would continue at the same
rate, the same scope that we saw last night is probably unrealistic. But
everyone that I`ve spoken to in the Pentagon U.S. military officials insist
that these partner nations are in this for the long haul.
MADDOW: Courtney, let me ask you about part of what happened last night.
As you mentioned there is these three waves that were described to us.
Those Tomahawk missiles being fired from two U.S. Navy vessels, one of them
in the Red Sea, one of them in the Persian Gulf. Then we saw F-18 Hornets
flying bombing raids. They took off from a USS aircraft carrier from the
USS George HW Bush.
And there was that big third wave, you say 37 aircraft in the air all at
once, we know those took off from land but we don`t know more specifically
what land that was.
If the U.S. is using air bases for ongoing air raids like this, and this is
something that`s going to take place over a period of months and years, are
we ever going to be allowed to know where they`re taking off from?
KUBE: This is actually something that Pentagon and National Security
reporters have fought with for years now. There`s one air base that we`re
all presuming is where some of these aircraft came out of in, frankly, the
second and the third wave. It`s in the United Arab Emirates` al-Udeid.
It`s one that when you go there as a reporter, you`re not even allowed to
acknowledge that you`re there. You generally have to use your byline, has
to say something like a base in Southwest Asia.
That`s the one that we`re all sort of assuming that these flights came out
of. We don`t know that for certain, but it makes sense given the
geography, given the fact that the United Arab Emirates has signed on as
part of this coalition.
There were others, the third wave also included some aircraft that flew off
the U.S. George H.W. Bush, some of the F-18s. But there were -- there were
predators in that third wave, as well, which a lot of people aren`t
The -- you can kind of look at it as the first wave of strikes were all
from the sea. They were the tactical Tomahawks, the T-lands, that went in,
and they took out the Khorasan target. The second wave was the U.S. Air
Force with a little bit of coalition help. And then the third wave, that
was the big one. And that went and it took out a ton of ISIS targets. And
that included both -- I think there were about 18 coalition aircraft and
then about 19 U.S. aircraft that were involved including, as I said, those
MADDOW: That is the clearest description of what happened last night that
I`ve heard from anybody today.
KUBE: Well, I`m relying -- as you said, I`m relying on the Pentagon for --
and the U.S. military and CentCom for all of our information.
MADDOW: Exactly. But there`s this --
KUBE: So --
MADDOW: There is this thing that happens -- it always happens in national
security, but it particularly happens at war time which is the distance
between what is acknowledged but never said and what is known but never
MADDOW: And we`re in that gray area right now. But you`re saying it very
Courtney Kube, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
KUBE: Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The U.S. Central Command, CentCom, is a unified command of the
U.S. military that`s responsible for missions in the Middle East. Their
region is 20 different countries including everything from Afghanistan and
Iran and Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, and Syria and lots else.
The CentCom YouTube page is great. Actually it`s a really well curated
thing. It`s very popular. The most popular videos CentCom YouTube page
are usually of airstrikes, like this video from last night`s operation in
Syria. But today, along with the videos of airstrikes in Syria and those
videos that we showed earlier of Tomahawk missiles being launched from U.S.
Navy ships in the Red Sea, in the Persian Gulf, CentCom also today posted
something that frankly is really hard to get your head around if you are
not in the military.
It`s one of those "how are we as humans even capable of that" sort of
things. It`s a video of an F-16 fighter jet refueling in midair. This is
from a mission that was conducted last night. You can see the weapons
stacked on the F-16`s wings. Right? Just bristling on the F-16.
Shuddering in the air.
This is a plane capable of going something like 1600 miles an hour. And
this incredibly powerful fighter jet, in flight with the missiles on it
nudges up against another plane, the plane that is shooting this video
footage. And that other plane that it nudges up against is carrying tens
of thousands of gallons of jet fuel. And those two airplanes touched while
flying in midair.
And while touching and flying, they perform this really highly
choreographed transfer of highly volatile jet fuel from the refueling plane
into the F-16. And then the fighter jet very carefully edges away slowly
from the other plane and flies off covered in live missiles to go do
And this routine happens over and over and over again.
I know this is not something that we just started doing. Right? This is
what it means to be involved in a modern air war. This is what they train
to do. But in the civilian world, there is no parallel to that in terms of
your daily life at work. As civilians, we will never, ever, ever do
anything like that. As a human accomplishment, it`s just an incredible
thing. And there`s a lot to understand about what`s going on with this new
air war that we have just launched in Syria.
But as humans, it is sometimes worth remembering that we are doing things
that is impossible to get our heads around like the fact that aerial
refueling is part of what`s going on in the skies over the Middle East
We`re joined now for the interview by retired U.S. Navy Admiral James
Stavridis. He commanded an aircraft carrier strike group in support of
operations in Iraq from 2002 to 2004. He also served as NATO Supreme
Allied commander in Europe during the war in Afghanistan, a job that he
left just last year.
Admiral Stavridis is currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and
Diplomacy at Tufts University. And he has a new book out called "The
Admiral Stavridis, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I really
appreciate your time.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Good evening,
Rachel. It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: So as a former Supreme Allied commander in Europe, for NATO, you
have experience of dealing with a big, diverse coalition of nations. What
kind of challenge is it to get from maintaining a coalition for diplomatic
purposes to maintaining it for operational purposes and getting multiple
district countries to act together in a kinetic military campaign?
STAVRIDIS: It`s a big challenge. And as the NATO commander, I was in
charge of all global operations so I had responsibility, strategic
oversight for ops in Afghanistan, where, Rachel, as you know we had the 28
NATO nations plus 22 other countries, a total of 50 countries with troops
on the ground in Afghanistan.
The first word out of anybody`s mouth in dealing with coalitions ought to
be patience. The second one is understanding the different cultural
aspects and how different partners are going to bring different things to
the table. The third is a concrete understanding of their capabilities,
their military capabilities. And the fourth is understanding the very
delicate member between the political and the military operation.
That coalition in Afghanistan is being quite durable for over a decade. A
short-term example of it was the one that operated in Libya for about nine
months, which I also led.
MADDOW: In terms of that political -- that dyad, that political-military
coupling, and the relationship between those two things. One of the things
I was just discussing with Courtney Kube at the Pentagon is sort of
diplomatic domestic political need in some countries for secrecy around
what they`re doing.
At least one of the nations that was involved, one of the Arab militaries
that was involved in these air strikes last night made no official
statement today to their own people publicly at all about what they did.
There is this strange situation in which nobody acknowledges where the air
base is that U.S. and coalition planes took off from last night.
Obviously, that`s because it`s important to those countries that they keep
things pretty quiet.
But does that strain the ability of our military to be accountable to us
about what they`re doing?
STAVRIDIS: I think our military is quite transparent, as you know,
although as you mentioned earlier in the show, we have a challenge in this
particular operation because of the great difficulty on having reporters on
the ground safely.
I saw Richard Engel, a good friend, reporting from Turkey, hopefully we`ll
get back to embedding reporters. That really is ground truth. But I think
the broad strokes of the way the U.S. approaches is very transparent.
Other nations are going to do it differently. As I was saying earlier,
that`s something you need to understand and appreciate about coalitions.
Not every nation is going to operate in the same way in that regard.
MADDOW: When the Pentagon today the -- one of the -- one of the Joint
Chiefs operational spokesman today talked about -- operational commanders
today talked about this being a year`s long effort. I think that sent a
shiver down a lot of people`s spine.
Do you think it`s appropriate to be talking about an exit strategy at the
outset of this campaign? They`re telling us to be patient. That this will
take a long time. Our own Congress hasn`t weighed in on this or authorized
this use of force in a direct way. They`re saying it`s going to be a long
one, but should we already be talking about how this ends and what the end
state is that we`re working toward?
STAVRIDIS: Rachel, I think it is too early for that. We really are at the
beginning of this. And what I like about this strategy is that it`s not
just the bombing in Syria. We`re really going to put the Islamic state
under a three-front war. We`re going to rearm the Peshmerga in the north.
We`re going to stiffen and reinvigorate the Iraqi forces in the south and
we`re going to do the bombing, cut off logistics and go and command and
control in the West.
I think once we put that kind of three-front pressure on the Islamic State,
we may find this goes quicker than we think. But it`s too soon to say that
MADDOW: Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher
School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts now.
Thanks very much for your time tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here.
STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Stay with us. Just more ahead.
MADDOW: So after a string of people got past the White House fence
recently, the Secret Service today gave the White House another fence. A
second fence outside the first one. Here it is.
A second fence around the White House just added today. It`s a fence that
is about three feet high. And rising? Presumably this is a temporary
measure, one that frankly looks like a bike rack and doesn`t seem like it
would do much to stop anything. But presumably it is there to at least
slow the fence climbers down while the Secret Service looks for a better
Congress has now announced that they will interrupt their 54-day vacation
and come back to Washington one day next week for a hearing on the issue of
the White House fence. So we now know that they are willing to interrupt
their two months off for something. Even if they are not at all willing to
interrupt their two months off to vote on the new war that the U.S. just
started waging in the Middle East.
I wonder sometimes if they know that we can see them at times like this.
We can see you. This Congress will go down in history for a lot of
reasons. None of them are good.
MADDOW: So last night on the show after the airstrikes started we raised
five questions about the U.S. going to war in Syria.
Question one, will this work? What will be the effect of what we`re doing?
Question two, who is involved and how will the world react to what we`re
doing? Question three, how will Syria react to this and other nations
using military force inside their borders? Question four, has ISIS
integrated itself into civilian areas so any attacks on them will also harm
Syrian civilians? And the fifth question, is this legal? Are the
Five question to approach in an ongoing way, I think the strategy, the
wisdom, the ethics, and the politics of this new war. And in the last 25
hours since we raised those questions, since the airstrikes started, this
is what we can add in terms of what we know about the answers to those five
questions, at least as of the first day of this war.
Let`s take the last one first in terms of is this legal. We now know that
the White House says that this war on ISIS is legal under the authorization
that was passed by Congress right after 9/11. Even though that
authorization was to use force specifically to fight the people responsible
for 9/11, and that was 13 years ago and this group did not exist then. So
that was the initial claim from the administration leading up to yesterday.
But in the last 24 hours, new justification. In addition to that, when the
Pentagon today came up with a new one, they`re now saying that these
strikes against ISIS in Syria are legal because Iraq asked for them.
Countries are not usually allowed to ask for things to happen in other
countries. I mean, you can ask but if Canada asked Mexico to bomb us --
anyway. It`s another legal argument that we got from the administration
for the first time today after these strikes had already started. That`s
new from them.
In terms of the effect on civilians, question four, the administration
today is saying they have no reports of civilian injuries associated with
the airstrikes. That said, there are not Western reporters on the ground
checking these things out. Activists in Syria say between eight and 24
civilians were killed by the airstrikes last night.
In terms of the reaction from Syria, question number three, there is no
sign as yet that Syria is activating its air defense systems or indeed its
air force against U.S. planes. The Pentagon said today that Syria left its
air defense system basically on passive radar for the strikes last night.
We`ll see if that changes over time.
In terms of question two, how other countries have responded, how the world
is reacting. Well, British Prime Minister David Cameron came out today and
said he supports the U.S. strikes in Syria but he`s not certain yet whether
the British parliament would support him in that opinion.
Our ally France, they made at least one airstrike against ISIS targets
inside Iraq, but not in Syria. In fact, France`s government has ruled out
the possibility of them also running bombing raids inside Syria as well.
They want to keep their efforts confined to Iraq.
Russia, Syria`s great ally, Russia, not unexpectedly condemned the U.S.
strikes, as long as they proceed without consent from the Syrian
government. And the Iranian president who`s become more of a wild card
than Iran used to be, Hasan Rouhani said today in New York, he`s here for
the U.N., he said that the U.S.-led airstrikes are flat-out illegal. That
they would need either the invitation of the Syrian government or the U.N.
to say yes. Neither of which have happened. So the global reaction thus
far is mixed.
Finally, the big question of what`s going to happen here, what the impact
of these strikes will be, whether they will work, what they will do, how
they will change this part of the world? Well, stay tuned. The
administration said today they have every reason to believe that these
airstrikes were successful, that they hit their target. They did real
damage to ISIS. Today the Pentagon said they launched two more airstrikes
in Syria overnight and a third one in Iraq --
This air war is under way and ongoing. But will this work? Who
knows? I don`t know and you don`t either. My magic 8-ball is at the
At this point, the important thing to know is neither us, here, nor
the U.S. government nor anybody else in the region knows how this works out
in the end. Keep watching.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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