Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: October 3, 2014
Guest: Irwin Redlener, Robert Ford
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
They`re called Aeromedical Biological Containment Systems, ABCs. An
air ambulance service called Phoenix Air operating out of Cartersville,
Georgia, they decided roughly a decade ago that they were going to buy
three business jet-style planes. They`re called G3s. And these G3s used
to be owned by the Danish air force apparently.
But when Phoenix Air bought them, it was so they could outfit these
planes with plastic modular units inside. These things called ABCS.
Apparently, the company thought that they`re most likely use for the SARS
epidemic back in the early 2000s. They did not ever get used for that.
What they have been use for a number of times now recently is bringing
patients with Ebola from West Africa to the United States for treatment.
And not just people who have been exposed to Ebola or who are being watched
to see if they`re developing symptoms, but people who are actively
symptomatic and therefore a potential risk to infect anybody near them who
comes into contact with their bodily fluids.
Essentially, this ABC idea is a plastic content -- excuse me, a
plastic tent that gets tied on to a metal frame inside the body of this
jet. There is enough room inside the tent for the patient and for all of
the equipment that the patient needs to be hooked up to in there and I.V.
line, monitors, that sort of stuff, but also other medical personnel who
are tending them while they are in flight. The patient, all of the gear
and the medical personnel are all inside that sealed plastic unit inside
Descriptions about the past flights indicate they take great
precautions to make sure nothing sharp is used inside the plastic tent on
these flights. They have some sort of needleless I.V. system that they
use, for example, because they don`t want anything to puncture the tent,
thus exposing anything outside the tent to what is supposed to be contained
The idea behind the aeromedical containment system is that, obviously,
anybody inside the tent with the patient has to be totally geared up and
all their protective gear to keep them safe from the patient`s bodily
fluids as they try to help the patient. But if the tent works, if it just
its jobs, the people on the plane, so like the pilot and flight crew, they
can just be in their normal work clothes, working as they normally would
because everything else is sealed inside the tent, inside the plane.
Once the plane lands and the patient is taken off the plane, the
genius of the Aeromedical Biological Containment System is that after it`s
been used, all they do is they untie the little cloth ties that were
holding it up inside this metal frame. The whole plastic tent then
collapses and they just scrunch the whole thing up and put it in its
entirety into medical incineration.
So, basically, they`ve created a sterile room, and then when they`re
done with it, the whole room just disappears and it`s incinerated. And
they wash on inside of the plane with disinfectant. They prepare another
one of those plastic tent, one of those ABCS ready to go for the next
patient, and presto, what you have super expensive but super effective
infection control medical transport, even for the most dangerous pathogens
In August, the U.S. State Department gave Phoenix Air, this air
ambulance company a $5 million contract for them to provide six months of
service using those G3 jets with ABC plastic tent containment systems
inside as needed to move Americans infected with Ebola around the globe.
Now, that is not the kind of system that you use to deal with an
epidemic, right, that is a system to rescue specific, very fortunate
individuals from epidemic environments. But the State Department topped
those resources, the CDC worked with this air ambulance company to develop
it. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
developed all the very serious, specific protocols for how people are
handled in high tech transit systems like this.
At the very high-end of this crisis, it is impressive what they`ve
been able to do. I mean, self-contained flyable bio pods, right? I mean,
it`s great. It`s nuts but it`s great.
The U.S. Air Force today also released photos of the its very
impressive resources they`re bringing to bear against the Ebola epidemic.
This is a C-17 Globemaster giant cargo plane. It`s going to be
transporting Air Force personnel and lots of supplies to go essentially
build medical infrastructure in Liberia and in the countries that are
ground zero for the Ebola epidemic.
They`re not going to be providing direct medical care to patients
these airmen, but they are going to be building modular, customizable
treatment facilities that can be self-sustaining, even in austere
conditions when there`s no other infrastructure around to support them.
Our military can do that. The military announced today that in
addition to the 3,000 personnel who were already going to be deploying to
West Africa to try to help control epidemic there, they may be adding 1,000
more troops to that deployment.
So, at the level of massive U.S. military logistical efforts and at
the level of high-tech private jet-borne hepa-filtered incineratable bio
pods, I mean, at the sort of the level, it feels like the response to Ebola
is the future, right? I mean, it`s a very 21st century effort. It`s very
technological intensive. It`s very impressive. That`s one level.
And then there is what it looks like on the ground in Texas, at the
site of America`s first actual Ebola case in this country. Behold the
For all that high-tech effort and all those resources internationally
and at the federal level and big picture, this is the strategy on the
ground in Texas. You see the Cleaning Guys` trucks today with the vinyl
wrapped advertising slogans outside the apartment complex in northeast
Dallas where America`s first Ebola case was isolated.
Today, nine days after a man first became symptomatic in Dallas, nine
days into the period in which body fluids from that patient started to pose
a real risk of transmitting Ebola to other people in this country, nine
days into it, Texas today finally got their act together to send in this
company called the Cleaning Guys to go collect the soiled sheets and towels
and bedding from the apartment in which a man with Ebola first got sick.
Nine days. No rush.
Amid questions about whether Texas really has been on top of the
situation, Texas Governor Rick Perry today left the state and instead went
to Iowa to do a fund-raiser for a Republican state representative who you
haven`t heard of, and who probably Rick Perry hadn`t heard of before about
five minutes ago. It`s a person who doesn`t necessarily mean anything to
Rick Perry other than the fact that Perry would like to run for president,
so he has to do fund-raisers for state representatives in Iowa in order to
try to curry favor with that state`s Republican Party.
So, even though the first Ebola case is happening in Texas and at
times, the reaction to that case and dealing with that case in a public
health level has seemed a little out of control, Governor Perry left Texas
today and went to Iowa. He was asked about the Ebola situation once he was
on the ground in Iowa, he did not seem to have a very well-prepared
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Again, I think the CDC, the city of
Dallas, we respect the right decisions that have been made at this
particular point in time. And again, I think try to second-guess them at
this particular time is not particularly a healthy thing for us to do. And
we`re comfortable that we have the right, the right safeguards in place to
monitor these individuals, because I think it`s important to realize that
unless an individual is exhibiting signs of the disease, that they are not
contagious. So, at this particular point in time, we`re not seeing those
types of individuals from the standpoint of having the signs of this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So, at this particular point, we`re not seeing those types of
individuals from the standpoint -- I realize that unless the -- we`re
comfortable -- Governor Perry is being asked about there is that nobody in
Texas collected the Ebola infectious waste from the Dallas apartment
building from nine days until today and all that time, up to and including
today, not only was the waste not cleaned up, but the Ebola patient`s
family members had been ordered by Texas officials to stay in that
apartment with the infectious waste.
And you can tell that Dallas is struggling with this. Today, Dallas
County`s top elected official Judge Clay Jenkins, we`ve actually talked to
him about other matters on this show, he`s obviously a guy with a very big
heart and who is trying very, very hard. We spoke to him on this show on
efforts in Dallas to provide schooling and welcoming family environment
homes for kids who are coming unaccompanied across the border from South
America into Mexico -- sorry into Texas.
Dallas County Judge Jenkins, he personally went and visited the family
in that apartment, the family who`s staying in the apartment where the
Ebola patient had gotten so sick. Clay Jenkins went there today. He
apologized to family members of the man who has gotten sick, told them he
was sorry they had been confined in the apartment with infectious waste and
no real way to protect themselves, no way to clean up.
Texas officials said they wanted to find another place to move the
individuals as they`re monitored to see if they develop symptoms of the
disease. But as of this afternoon, that had not yet happened.
Before the cleaning guys showed up in their vinyl wrapped trucks and
their hazmat suits, the families had been putting things in plastic bags
themselves, hoping that would help. One of the four people in the
apartment says her daughter had brought some Clorox to the apartment, so
they use some Clorox bleach on the bedding. They figured that might work.
But other than that, they had no resources to do anything else. No
instructions on what to do and they`ve been basically left to fend for
Not fending for themselves in Liberia, right, or in some country that
doesn`t have good health infrastructure as we keep hearing about other
countries coping with Ebola, right? That`s the way they`ve been treated
here in this country, in Texas. The infectious waste left there for nine
days and them ordered by Texas officials to stay in there with it, with no
way to clean it up.
Finally, nine days later, we are learning late tonight that the family
of the guy who contracted Ebola, the people who have been forcibly cooped
up in that apartment with the soiled and infected sheets, they have finally
as of this evening been relocated, and Dallas could not find sort of an
official place to relocate them. They relocated them to a private
residence as arranged by a Good Samaritan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANA SYED, DALLS PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: The city and county has
been working very hard to put this family in a safe location and it has
been tough because no one wanted them. And so, someone was kind enough to
offer up a private residence that is gated, that is separated from any
neighborhood, any apartment complex, so that they can have their privacy
and be away from anyone who has concerns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the announcement today from the public information
officer for the city of Dallas. And it has been tough because nobody
wanted them. They used personal connections, Dallas City officials used
personal connections, to find somebody who would be a Good Samaritan, who
would make their personal home available to that family. That`s the
response in Dallas.
So, what we`re going through is a test for the country, right? This
would be a test for any country, to handle any case of infectious disease
that has become an epidemic in other countries that haven`t been able to
handle it well. This is a test.
And at one level, the American response has been very impressive,
right? When the federal government and top health officials talk about
what we`re capable of, it is, in fact, very impressive and they inspire
confidence. You know, the White House briefing today with all these top
health officials today and representative from the military and president`s
advisers talking about the U.S. can do, what resources we`re marshalling --
it`s impressive. The way they talked about it, it does at one level
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA MONACO, ASST. TO PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: I think it`s
very important to remind the American people that the United States has the
most capable health care infrastructure and the best doctors in the world
bar none. And it`s why people travel from all over the world to receive
medical care here in the United States.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the United States is prepared to
deal with this crisis, both at home and in the region. Every Ebola
outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped. We know how to do this.
And we will do it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We know how to do this.
When they talk about what we can do, what we will do, what we`re
capable of doing, what we know how to do -- it is very impressive.
But when it comes to what we`re actually doing, and what we have done,
now that we don`t have a hypothetical case, we have a real case, that is
where the worry comes in. And you actually saw that today in the White
House press briefing. In the contrast between the confident detailed
statements from the expert officials talking about the top-down U.S.
government response and having everything completely in hand.
But then, as do you at a good press briefing, you open the floor to
questions and you get questions from reporter Michael Scherer of "The New
York Times", confronting these officials with these very confident
statements with the litany of how despite the best intentions and despite
all the preparations and despite all the resources, and despite America
being the best health system in the world, right, despite everything that
sounds so good in theory, on the ground in Dallas, it has been kind of a
mess. It has been one thing after another.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHERER, NEW YORK TIMES: So help me understand the stuff that
you talked about in terms of preparedness here in this country, the
conversations with the hospitals, coordination with the local authorities
and all, seems very distant I think to people in the country who look at
basically the first case or one of the first cases and see that the whole
thing broke down.
At every step of the way, they were breakdowns. It broke down as
person back there when was saying when he lied on the form. It broke down
when the hospital turned him away. It broke down when the materials that
were in his apartment haven`t been thrown away.
It broke down -- I mean, it feels like to Americans like you guys are
up here talking about we have this great and perfect system that`s going to
be able to, you know, contain this virus because we`ve done all this
preparation and yet, it doesn`t look like it`s work. So, what -- how
should the regular, the average person have confidence that whether it`s
the case in Howard or whether it`s some case somewhere else in the country
at the moment, that somebody isn`t being turned away there, that somebody
didn`t get their temperature got taken in Africa but didn`t get caught, so
they`re on a plane as we speak?
What -- square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact
that things don`t seem to be working?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact
that things do not seem to be work. That`s what happened today at the
White House press briefing and that is what`s happening right now in the
country. Hold that thought.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY: I want the public to understand
this. I`m a married man with a little girl who will have her ninth
birthday next week, OK? I`m wearing the same shirt I was when I was in the
car with that family. I was in their house, next to those materials,
visiting with them, listening to them, and assuring them last night and,
again, of course, today. Then I was in the car in close quarters with them
for 45 minutes or so. And then -- Mike and I, you know, we`re in close
proximity to them as we showed them into their new home, that they`ll be in
for the time being. If there were any risk, I would not expose myself or
my family to that risk but there is zero risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the earnest and in some ways rather heroic top
official in Texas, Judge Clay Jenkins, describing today how he and the
mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, personally called their own friends in
order to find a place for the family to stay, the family of the nation`s
first Ebola patient. The county executive and the mayor of Dallas called
their personal friends until somebody would allow their own home to be used
to house that family, which had otherwise been housed for the last nine
days with uncollected infectious waste in the apartment where the Ebola
patient, the nation`s first known Ebola patient got sick to the point where
he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
It is a remarkable response at one level in terms of the human
initiative of those elected officials. On the other hand, that doesn`t
sound like much of a plan if this has to be done in more than one place.
Joining us now is Dr. Irwin Redlener. He`s the director of the
National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. He
specializes in public health response to large-scale catastrophic events.
Dr. Redlener, thank you for joining us.
DR. IRWIN REDLENER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Thank
MADDOW: Can you talk about how we should view the response in Dallas?
And one hand, I`m very moved by Judge Jenkins and the mayor and the way
they`ve gone to personal lengths here. On the other hand, it feels like it
shouldn`t be this haphazard.
REDLENER: It`s hard to know where to begin actually. Every step of
the way just like that reporter from "The Times" was asking the federal
official, every step of the way, there were unbelievable problems. The
challenge here now, though, is those problems weren`t just in Liberia.
Those problems were here in the United States, where the highly touted
health and public health systems are supposed to be fully functional.
The fact of the matter is, those systems are not functional. So, we
had those ludicrous happenings in Dallas with this guy and the people who`d
been contact with, with Ebola. But is this really a window into how
prepared the country is to deal with a large scale disaster, especially a
And I`m telling you, we are simply not ready. And we`re lucky that
this is just Ebola. And I`m saying that because there is SARS, there are
bird flus, there`s other things that would have been far more dangerous.
MADDOW: More contagious. More easily --
REDLENER: Much more contagious and much more problematic, and I am
telling you that our public health system and our hospital systems are not
prepared at this moment as we`re sitting here to deal with an event of that
scale, and we`re getting a glimpse of that and whys and why-nots as we`re
watching this scenario -- this ludicrous scenario unfold in Dallas.
MADDOW: Did we used to have a better public health structure that
they`ve been able to deal with something like this? Has it eroded? Or is
it that we haven`t ever developed something good enough to deal with the
challenge like this?
REDLENER: Well, we`ve never really developed anything good enough.
But I`ll tell you, here`s a couple of facts that people probably don`t
realize, we have a hospital preparedness program for large-scale disasters
in country. In 2004, that was $500 million a year to spread among 5,000
hospitals in U.S. The proposed budget for that now is $255 million. It`s
exactly 50 percent. Every year, it`s gone down.
REDLENER: Because it`s easy -- you know, it`s low-hanging fruit. So,
when you try to trim budgets, you trim stuff that hasn`t really happened
yet, hoping, I guess a wish and a prayer that something is not going to
happen, that it won`t be noticed.
And by the way, the same diminution of funding also happened for the
support of our public health programs. The ones in Dallas, Minnesota, the
ones throughout the entire country.
So, we have we`ve lost probably 40,000 public health employee
positions over the last decade. Lost.
And, you know, you look at what happened in the hospital and they
talked about what is a breakdown in the computer system. The two
electronic health systems, one for nurses and one for doctors didn`t
communicate with one another. But for God`s sake, if you are the triage
nurse and the guy says, I`ve been in Africa and now, I have a fever and I`m
sick, you stand up, you go to the phone and you say, we have a crisis here
or you walk not emergency department, grab the medical team and start the
The fact that they sent this person home is indicative of failure at
the hospital. But more importantly, it`s an indicative of the fact that
hospitals do not have the money to do drills, the practices, the protocol
development, and now, we`re paying a price and it`s really sad.
MADDOW: Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for
Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, turning this into not just
something we`re watching with alarm and sort of chronicling as it unfolds,
but turning this into a teachable moment in terms policy is the thing that
must happen after this and you`ve been clarifying in doing that. Thank you
for being here.
REDLENER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Mom, I`m sorry. My mom likes the show, generally speaking.
I think she likes me generally speaking.
But my mom does not like it when I swear. It`s not like I swear all
that often particularly on TV, but there was this one time.
You remember that time when there was an American ambassador out in
the world being such a freaking superhero we said he shouldn`t be called
ambassador anymore. He should be called the ambadassador. My mom was not
happy about that.
Mom, I`m sorry. I`m going to do it again, but I have a great reason
this time, and it`s because the ambadassador is here, finally. He has
agreed do an interview with me. So, I am -- I have to warn you -- I`m
going to say that word again. I`m sorry but it`s worth it.
He`s here. It`s coming up tonight on the interview. I`m so looking
forward to this.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, there`s a lot going on in the world right now. Almost
none of it is good -- between Ebola and ISIS and the crackup of the Secret
Service. I mean, this week is basically just racing from bad news to bad
news to bad news, right?
But in addition to all of the big bad news in the world right now,
there is also the matter of the forthcoming elections. I think next week,
once the elections are with in the last month timeframe, more of the
country`s attention is going to turn toward the elections. But in advance
of that, something unexpected just happened in Colorado that may scramble
what people are expecting from the really important swing, swing, swing
state this year. And you should know about it.
It involves this guy, Bob Beauprez. You see him on the right there.
He`s running for governor against the incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper.
It`s a close race in Colorado.
But one of the wild card issues in the state of Colorado this year is
the issue of personhood. You heard about this, right, for the third time
this year, voters in Colorado are again going to be voting on a bill that
would give fertilized eggs the legal status of full-blown persons.
Colorado voters have already voted this thing down by huge margins twice
before, but they`re getting it again this year.
And the reason it keeps getting voted down is because it would not
only make abortion 100 percent illegal in every circumstance, it`s also
designed to make illegal a lot of the most popular forms of birth control
of this country, because of the super anti-abortion right that`s pushing
this has decided that birth control is abortion, too.
So, Colorado voters have voted this thing down twice, even Mississippi
voters have voted this thing down but it is back on the ballot. And that
has been a real pain for Republican congressmen, like Mike Coffman and Cory
Gardner, who are on the ballot this year in Colorado and who in the past
had been out-loud and proud supporters of personhood legislation.
Cory Gardner is now running statewide, because he`s running for
Senate. Mike Coffman is running in a district that`s been redistricted to
be not quite as conservatives as it used to be. So, both of these guys
have realized this personhood thing is not great for their record. So,
they had to renege on earlier support for personhood. They`re both saying
they not longer support it and oh, they never realize it would ban birth
control and they`re very much pro-birth control. It`s been very awkward
for Colorado Republican Congressmen Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner.
But it has not been awkward for Bob Beauprez, because Bob Beauprez
shocked the state when he did a debate with John Hickenlooper and he
basically decided to stop beating around the bush. He just flat out came
out and said he`s against birth control. Like let`s stop talking about us
not being against -- I`m against birth control.
Specifically he said he`s against IUDs because he doesn`t think an IUD
is birth control at all, he thinks an IUD is an abortion -- a rolling,
ongoing, semi permanent abortion clinic that you`re operating right there
inside your body.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB BEAUPREZ (R), COLORADO GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: So, the devil
might be in the details, but I think it`s an extremely important
distinction to draw and understand to respect both the taxpayers` will and
the technology you refer to.
Did I answer your question?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: Well, we`re talking about
implants and IUDs, I don`t think they fit that --
BEAUPREZ: IUD is an abortifacient, John.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An IUD is not an abortifacient. An IUD is a device you have
implanted in your uterus, Bob, so that you never get pregnant in the first
place. It`s birth control.
And as all of the other top of the ticket Republicans in Colorado are
changing their previous support of personhood legislation and saying, no, I
don`t want to ban the IUD, no, I love all birth control, I love
contraception -- old Bob Beauprez is just cutting through the noise and
saying, actually, you know, I`m not, I really am against birth control.
And that was a remarkable development this week and it should be
clarifying for voters in Colorado especially because they`ve got that ban
abortion, ban birth control personhood thing on the ballot again this year
for a third time.
I mean, Colorado right now has Doug Lamborn saying he`s trying to get
generals to quit the military in wartime as some sort of political protest.
Colorado has two Republican congresswomen changing their mind on what used
to be their signature anti-abortion/anti-contraception issue. And now
they`ve got Bob Beauprez running for governor flat-out running against
contraception in 2014 in Colorado.
Colorado`s getting even more fun to watch than it already was. The
whole country will start paying attention to the elections probably next
week. Colorado is already worth watching.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Just because we`re not supposed to call it combat doesn`t
mean there aren`t casualties. Today, we got word of the first American
casualty of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. U.S. Naval Forces
Central Command announced the death of 21-year-old Marine Corporal Jordan
Spears of Memphis, Indiana. He was serving on the USS Makin Island in the
Persian Gulf. The Makin Island is an amphibious assault ship deployed to
the Gulf in support of the U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria.
The military says Corporal Spears was one of the crew members onboard
a V22 Osprey when the Osprey was taking off from the deck of the Makin
Island. Ospreys are those tilt rotor aircraft that can take off and land
like a helicopter, but then they tilt their rotors once they`re in the air
and they can fly like a plane.
For some reason, the Osprey in which Corporal Jordan Spears was
serving apparently lost power shortly after takeoff from the deck of the
ship. Corporal Spears and one other crewman bailed out as the aircraft
descended toward the ocean. Interestingly, the two pilots remained on
board the aircraft and they were able to regain control, they were able to
safely land back on board the USS Makin Island.
But the search and rescue mission for the two crew members who had
bailed out, that was only able to recover one of the two crewmen. Efforts
to locate Corporal Spears were unsuccessful. He`s now considered lost at
sea. He`s the first known U.S. casualty in the air war against ISIS
militants in Iraq and Syria -- very sad news today.
Today, ISIS released another one of their terror videos. This one
shows the murder by beheading of a British aid worker and citizen named
Alan Henning. Alan Henning had been kidnapped last December, two days
after Christmas. In an earlier ISIS video, the group has shown Alan
Henning and threatened to kill him. Well, today, they released the video
showing his death and threatening to kill another hostage.
This time, the threat is against an American, 26-year-old Peter Kassig
from Indiana. He`s an Army veteran who served in Iraq but in Syria, like
Alan Henning, Kassig was there doing humanitarian work, humanitarian
assistance specifically with Syrian refugees. ISIS has him and they are
now threatening to kill him as well.
He`s been in captivity in Syria for almost a year exactly. His family
put out a statement tonight asking for prayers for their son.
Since all this began, the person I have most wanted to interview about
the situation in Syria, about understanding what we`re getting into there,
about understanding what our waging war there is likely to do there, the
person I wanted to talk to about that is the American official who the
Syrian government tried to kick out of the country for reasons that made me
like the idea of this guy. As get this very serious news about the British
hostage being killed this American hostage being threatened, first U.S.
military casualty of this war, that guest I`ve been trying to talk to for
months about what we`re doing in Syria is finally here for the interview.
And that`s next.
MADDOW: So, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is
General Martin Dempsey.
The previous chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Admiral Mike
Mullen. He had the job from 2007 to 2011, which means when he was in the
top job, he oversaw four years of the war in Afghanistan and four years of
the war in Iraq, in fact, he oversaw the end of the U.S. war in Iraq
before, of course, that war was un-ended and we started it back up again
Well, this week, Admiral Mike Mullen, now retired, went on "The
Colbert Report" on Comedy Central and he let out kind of a primal scream
about the fact that we`re going back to war now without really talking
about it as a country.
Admiral Mullen is a fairly reserved guy, so he didn`t really scream
but it was a pretty visceral thing. Watch it. It starts with Stephen
Colbert asking him about ISIS -- the ISIS terrorist group, and what it
means to be afraid of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, THE COLBERT REPORT: We`re asked to be afraid of it
and we`re reminded to be afraid of it but we no longer have much of a voice
in it, because our congressional representatives won`t vote on whether
we`re supposed do anything about it. We`re not asked to sacrifice that
much for it. Very few of us go fight. And we`re also not told all that
much about what`s happened over there.
So, all we have is the fear and none of the action. And so, we
eventually want to stop thinking about it.
What happens to our men and women who go over there? We don`t want
them to sacrifice for something that we don`t think is right but we don`t
have much voice in it anymore.
MIKE MULLEN, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: So --
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
MULLEN: So, you bring up a concern that I have with respect to a
growing disconnect between the men and women who serve and in this all-
volunteer force, who are the best I`ve ever seen, they`re less than 1
percent of the population. They come from fewer and fewer places in
America. And the American people who didn`t have to buy into these wars,
and certainly, the vast, vast majority didn`t have to fight in them, don`t
know who we are as a military.
And in fact, I said this many times, what I actually do worry about is
that we become some version of something like the French foreign legion,
which is please go off and fight our dirty little wars and let us get on
with our lives. And I think that`s a disaster for America.
We need to be connected to the American people and we need to do that
through the system that`s here, those that are elected, and I certainly
agree that those who are elected ought to vote on what we do. And we ought
MULLIN: If I can make -- we ought to have a fulsome, raging debate
about that in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Admiral Mike Mullen speaking with Stephen Colbert this week
on Comedy Central.
Before our Congress gave them 54 days off to campaign for re-election,
we had been keeping a whip on the keeping a whip count of members of
Congress who said they wanted to have a debate about U.S. military force in
Iraq and Syria.
Now, since Congress left town without having that debate, we`ve
started a new whip count of members of Congress who say, actually, you
know, this is ridiculous, that we are fighting a whole new war in Iraq and
Syria, and Congress has never debated it or authorized it. We know we gave
ourselves 54 days off, but let`s pitch that.
Let`s come back and vote. Let`s debate this thing and let`s vote on
it. Let`s come back now before the election.
So, we`ve got this new whip count going. As you can see, the number
of members of Congress who want to do that is still a small number. But
the number is growing.
And now, the top Democratic in the House, Nancy Pelosi has joined the
count. Nancy Pelosi now says Congress should come back to Washington now,
ahead of the election and debate this use of U.S. military force in Iraq
and Syria, and should vote on whether or not to authorize it. Again, the
numbers are still small, but the numbers are growing.
And meanwhile, the un-debated war continues. And it keeps throwing
off these details that seem like they really could benefit from a robust
debate if we as a country were capable of having one.
Por ejemplo, what the United States is doing in this war so far is
airstrikes. Today, Iraqi defense officials confirmed claims by ISIS
militants that one of Iraq`s attack helicopters was just shot down by ISIS.
How much do we really understand about the military capability of this
group that we are fighting in Iraq and Syria? Are U.S. aircraft and U.S.
pilots at risk, as they mount airstrikes against this group? It seems like
something we ought to debate.
Also the issue of Turkey. The Turkish parliament, they have not
wussed out like our parliament has. Their parliament just voted this week
to join the military effort against ISIS and that`s not an easy decision
They have a 500-mile-long board we are Syria. They just voted to let
their military cross that border. They`ve been holding open part of their
boarder to sensually let foreign fighters go join the civil war in Syria,
including eventually joining up with ISIS in some cases.
There`s plenty of anti-war sentiment inside Turkey. Lots of people in
their own population don`t want the Turkish military getting into this
fight, because in part they don`t see how Turkey will ever get out of it
once they get in. But at least they were bold enough to debate it, bold
enough to debate it and take a vote and now according to the Turkish
parliament, they are in. How important is that?
They keep telling us that Turkey is the most important player in the
region who before this week hadn`t weighed in on what they would do in this
war against ISIS. How important is it to understanding what`s going to
happen to ISIS and what`s going to happen to Syria now that Turkey is in,
in this war that our military is in now, at least from the air, but we as a
country are not debating at all right now. How big a deal is Turkey
Robert Ford is our former ambassador to Syria. In December 2010,
Ambassador Ford got that job by way of a recess appointment because our
miraculous Congress couldn`t get its act together to confirm him. Way to
But he did get the recess appointment. Then in July 2007, the Assad
regime in Syria tried to forbid Ambassador Ford from traveling outside the
capital without their permission. But Ambassador Ford and the French
ambassador decided forget that, they were going to take a road trip anyway.
They drove two hours north of capital to visit Syrian dissidents, to see
the protest against the Assad regime for themselves. The anti-government
protesters responded by greeting them with flowers and olive branches.
A few days later, both the U.S. embassy and Ambassador Ford`s home
were then targeted and attacked by pro-Assad loyalists. Undeterred,
Ambassador Ford decided to take another road trip, this time an hour south
of Damascus to visit more anti-Assad government protesters. He attended
the funeral of a prominent anti-government activist and dissident.
After that, Ambassador Ford`s convoy was attacked on its way to a
meeting with another opposition leader. That was back in September 2011.
It was shortly after that, following month, October 2011, when Ambassador
Ford was pulled out of Syria for his own safety. He returned six weeks
later, only to have to evacuate the country again in February 2012 when
embassy staff had to quickly close down shop and leave the country in the
face of Syria`s growing and more calamitous civil war.
All of that confrontation and bravery on the ground in Syria led us on
this show to give Robert Ford the nickname the am-bad ass-ador.
Our own politicians right now are too afraid to debate what we are
doing in this war. But now, even though he`s no longer the ambassador to
Syria, he`s not afraid to participate in that debate.
Joining us now tonight for the interview, I`m happy to say, is
Ambassador Robert Ford, our ambassador to Syria from 2010 until earlier
this year. He`s now senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.
Ambassador Ford, thank you very, very much for your time tonight.
ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: It`s nice to be with
you, Rachel. And thank you for their nice introduction.
MADDOW: Oh, I hope, the am-bad ass-ador thing was not a problem or
offensive to you. I meant it in the most positive, possible way.
FORD: To be honest, Rachel, we like your show. And friends of ours
actually had that prepared for us on a block of wood and it`s hanging in
If I achieved nothing else in life, that`s great.
I want to get your take overall on what we`re doing with this war
effort in Iraq and Syria against this Sunni militant group, ISIS. But
first, I have to ask you about this news that we received late today, this
terrible news that ISIS has apparently now beheaded another Western
hostage, British aid worker they were holding named Alan Henning.
They ended that video today by threatening another American who they
are holding hostage. Broad picture in terms of what they are trying to do
and why they keep doing these things. What`s your reaction to this latest
FORD: Well, first I`m very, very sorry.
Henning went there to help people. He`s a humanitarian aid worker.
He doesn`t deserve this.
And the people, Syrian people he was trying to help certainly don`t
deserve it either. He`s a totally innocent victim and I have to say -- my
prayers go out to his family.
And as for the threat against another American, I wish these people
from the Islamic State would understand that killing hostages is not going
to change the way the American government is looking at this situation.
It`s just killing people for no purpose.
MADDOW: In terms of why they do it -- obviously, they are thinking
strategically about their long-term goals just as every other actor in this
conflict is. Is there anything about what must be their strategy for these
acts of -- you know, globally broadcast terror? Is there anything we
should understand about their strategy to sort of help us not do what they
want? Not fall into the trap that they are trying to create for us in
terms of our own policy decisions being made in an atmosphere of being
terrorized by them. Is there any way that, anything we should understand
about what they`re trying to do that would help us not do it?
FORD: Well, what I understand them to be doing is basically trying to
warn us off and to get out of attacking them in Iraq and attacking them in
Syria. I think very unfortunate Jim Foley and David Sotloff were murdered
basically as a message to the United States from the Islamic State, stay
away from this, we will come after you if you get involved.
They were trying to intimidate us from getting involved, because they
were advancing on the ground. I think they were concerned about the impact
against them of American airstrikes, for example.
MADDOW: In terms of what happens next here, I have just ask you at
personal level, having had the experience of having to be recess-appointed
to your job, seeing the way that U.S. Congress handles foreign policy
issues and diplomacy issues recently, I feel frustrated that the U.S.
government, U.S. Congress hasn`t had a robust debate on what we`re doing
and sort of aired out all the different sides of the argument and taking a
vote on whether or not to authorize this.
As somebody who was there on the ground, do you think it would
materially matter? Does it disappoint you? Do you think it would be
FORD: I think it`s extremely important. I can`t emphasize this
enough. It`s extremely important that the U.S. Congress have a debate
about this. And I say it for two reasons.
Number one as an American citizen myself, I think it`s very important
for the Congress to discuss this. We are putting our people in uniform in
harm`s way. And that needs to be discussed. That people in uniform
deserve that discussion.
Second, if the Congress has that debate, and if the Congress votes in
favor of authorizing sustained U.S. assistance to the Syria modern
opposition, and if the U.S. Congress votes in favor of giving the president
the authority to use military force when he sees it useful and necessary,
that sends a very powerful message to the Islamic State. It sends a very
powerful message to Bashar al Assad. It sends a very powerful message to
countries like Russia and Iran who support to Assad is keeping this
wretched civil war in Syria going.
MADDOW: Ambassador Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2010 to
earlier this year, the man who we`ve been calling the ambadassador for his
bravery in that post -- sir, thank you so much for being here tonight.
It`s a real pleasure to have you here.
FORD: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
FORD: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us tonight. Wrapping up what
admittedly has been a dark but busy week of news. We`re going to see you
again Monday whereupon hopefully my voice will be back to normal. Until
then, though, I hereby sentence you to many, many consecutive hours in
prison -- starting right now.
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