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tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  January 2, 2020 9:00pm-10:00pm PST

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rachel maddow show begins right now. rachel? >> steve, thank you very much my friend. as we do continue our ongoing coverage of this startling news tonight that according to the pentagon a u.s. military strike has assassinated the -- effectively the top military leader in iran. general qassem soleimani was a very powerful figure in iran. he was revered. he was very, very well-known and immensely powerful. as news has been confirmed over the course of tonight of his killing outside the airport in baghdad, iraq, soleimani has been described tonight as effectively the second most powerful figure in iran after the supreme leader. so let's talk about what we know happened here but also about the potential implications. in terms of how we got here and what we know of the actual killing, it has really been a
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short, sharp escalation over just a period of days that has brought us tonight to fears of this potentially kicking off a war. just last week -- friday of last week there was a rocket attack in iraq, on an iraqi military base which is north of baghdad. u.s. officials in iraq said that they believed that that rocket attack was launched by iranian backed militias inside iraq. this rocket attack on this base reportedly killed one american contractor. several other americans and several iraqis were reportedly wounded. but again in terms of the time frame here all i'm asking you to think about is one week. that attack was on friday. the u.s. military then responded attacking a number of sites linked to iran backed militias. sites both in iraq and syria. about 25 fighters were
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reportedly killed in those retaliatory u.s. strikes. and then as these things go, there had to be a response to that as well. that's when we saw pro-iranian demonstrators attack and set fires at the massive fortified u.s. embassy complex in baghdad. that was earlier this week over the new year's holiday. so the rocket attack kills one american contractor, wounds some americans and some iraqis. u.s. military responds by killing the firefighters who they say are members of iran backed militias, that's in retaliation. then there's demonstrators and these attacks at the u.s. embassy complex in baghdad. this all happens in very quick succession, one day after another. the demonstrations and the attack on the u.s. embassy in baghdad was quelled or at least seemed to die down. the u.s. military announced that a hundred additional u.s. marines would be sent into
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baghdad to guard the u.s. embassy there. also 750 troops from the 82nd arabburn would be moved to kuwait as essentially a quick reaction force in case they were needed inside iraq. the chairman of the joint chief of staffs that if any attackers tried to overrun the u.s. embassy in baghdad they would meet a buzz saw, that was his phrase a buzz saw. again, whatever seemed to be going on around the u.s. embassy appeared to be over. but then tonight as i say this startling news for several hours of the coverage it was just iraqi television. it was then ultimately confirmed by iranian state television, and then soon thereafter by the pentagon that a u.s. military strike had killed a target of almost un-parallel military significance in the middle east. i mean, tonight you have heard that general qassem soleimani was the head of the quds force
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which is part of the iranian revolutionary guard. you have heard during the course of our coverage tonight that maybe a rough analogy for his kind of position in the united states might be had head of jsoc, the head of joint special operations command. and maybe that's the closest analogy we have but to make it fit you'd need the head of jsoc to be a household name in america, which it is. this person to have held the position more than 20 years, to operate such a sprawling economic operation that's it's believed he was able to run his military operations and intelligence operations and standing militias in multiple countries out of his own budget, without necessarily needing to tap into his country's own funds which in the case of iran meant he was essentially held harmless by the sanctions regime that targeted him personally as well as the government, the leadership and the economy of his country. if you wanted any sort of
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analogy in the united states, you'd have to invent something new. you'd need this military and intelligence and covert operations figure to be a figure of such renown and such power he was perceived to be the likely next leader of his country. when those pro-iranian demonstrators attacked the u.s. embassy in baghdad earlier this week "the washington post" reports they left three things scrawled on the walls of the embassy complex. number one the phrase america get out. number two, the name of iran's supreme leader the ayatollah, and number three, the name of general qassem soleimani. soleimani was put in charge of the quds force as part of the iranian revolutionary guard in 1998. he's held the position for more than 20 years. it was already a formidable force that seemed to have reached both into terror organizations and coalitions around the world.
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but from that position which he took over in 1998 soleimani not only consolidated his own power but consolidated the reach of the quds force in a way that doesn't have a parallel. from that position he stood up and supported militias and movements including hezbollah and hamas. he propped up the syrian regime of bu sassar. he played a huge, huge role in iraq including not only political "news now," essentially owning and operating whole swaths of ipolitics but crucially and this is something that will ring for you as an american watching right now, crucially he and the quds force also armed and organized shiite
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and pro-iranian militias in iraq. in the early years of u.s. war in iraq, it was qassem soleimani and his quds force who innovated the ied, the improvised explosive device into something much more reliably deadly, the explosively formed projectile, which this is oversimplifying it, but which basically added a hunk of copper that would become an armor piercing slug fired directionally out of these bombs. starting about 2004 these efps, that the quds force built and the militias that they armed and organized in iraq, they are blamed for the deaths of hundreds of american soldiers killed in that war. even so, the prospect of killing soleimani was seen as such an act of proveication wocation th
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special forces are reported to have considered and rejected clear opportunities to target him. again, even at the height of the u.s. war in iraq with tens of thousands of u.s. forces in theater in the middle of that hot war with americans being targeted and killed every day by quds force bombs and their proxies in iraq, u.s. special operators decided not to go after soleimani then because of what it might lead to even at the height of that war, even with all of those u.s. forces there. in part because he was seen as so important to iran and so important to iran's projection of military and terroristic force around the world and the region that no one could game out what an attack on him, what a strike on him would invite from iran and its proxies in return. that was then. "the new york times" reports tonight that it was a u.s. drone
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that targeted two cars in which soleimani and others were traveling today as they drove away from baghdad's airport. the defense department is describing it as a defensive strike because of what they say were planned attacks by soleimani in particular. but honestly the bottom line is nobody knows what happens next here. joining us now is nbc news tehran bureau chief and correspondent. he's in london tonight. he's been helping us understand the story as it's been breaking the last two hours. i really appreciate you making the time. >> hi, rachel. thank you. >> let me ask you first of all to correct anything i've just said there that strikes you as wrong. i'm just the lay observer of these things. i do not have any expertise. let me ask you if there's important new updates in the story. >> no, no, everything you said, rachel, was entirely accurate.
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qassem soleimani was not only the top military figure in iran but the most powerful man in iran after the supreme leader. he was revered not only in iran but amongst all these network of militias that he had built across the region that had become a very, very powerful force to reckon with. i wanted to point out you mentioned that all that graffiti sprayed on the walls of the u.s. embassy, yes they sprayed his name, but along with his name all those sprayed on the walls of the embassy that qassem soleimani is our leader. and this is being taken very seriously in iran right now. the head of the revolutionary guard just released a statement saying there is going to be a very, very strong revenge against the united states for this. and the top man in the country
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just weighed in, ayatollah homeni. he's declared three days of national mourning and released a statement saying there will be a tough revenge awaiting for the criminals who killed qassem soleimani. iran's foreign minister also tweeted out saying this is an extremely dangerous escalation, the u.s. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism. so this is -- this is seriously ratcheted up the situation. i also have to add, rachel, that qassem soleimani was the top man there, and there is no obvious replacement for him. if another top person in iran had been killed, say even the president of iran had been killed it would be qassem soleimani orchestrating what kind of reprisal would come. they have now last that figure.
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that's not to say the revolutionary guard, the irgc is suddenly going to fall apart, but he was their master strategist. they had very few people at his sort of level. and they're acknowledging that themselves in iran right now. he had built a very strong force within iran and outside iran and amongst all of those proxies. and that network was so strong for him that he was able to get into a car in tehran and drive through iraq into syria basically unimpeded. i have seen tons of footage of qassem soleimani on the front lines in syria walking around not wearing military fatigues, not carrying any weaponry, not wearing a flack-jacket while bullets are flying around. so he felt pretty confident in that area. you would see footage of him visiting the militias that are
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not iranian but under their patronage, and he would kiss them on the head or shake their heads, and they would be in a state of immersion. so he had a real effect on that region. and also it's not just him that was killed, we're getting reports that the deputy head of hezbollah in lebanon was killed, the leader of the militia group that attacked the u.s. embassy was also killed. so if there was any way to unite all of these factions in iran and make them want to react strongly to this, this was the way to do it. it's unclear what iran is going to do next. they are definitely going to have to react to this. they don't want to show weakness. they want to come back from a position of strength. that has been their strategy for
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now. but as you mentioned earlier a pandora's box has been opened. we have to see what iran does, if they do hit u.s. assets in the region, what will the american reaction be? and if that is -- that does make a war break out, this is not -- this is going to be very different to something in iraq. this would spread across the entire region because iran is spread across the entire region. >> to that point, that's so important and such a crucial insight in terms of this not -- this being a very, very important figure within the iranian government and power structure but his reach explicitly extending well beyond iran. and what you said about the prospect if you imagine the hypothetical the united states had just assassinated an iranian president or different political figure, it would be soleimani planning the strategic response how it would take its revenge.
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he obviously can't plan his revenge, but would you expect it to be launched by iran essentially in his style using proxy forces, attacking where enemies or our allies might be perceived as weakest, or would you expect them to try to take some direct hit against a directly american target? >> well, their whole way of military strategy this time around has been asymmetrical warfare. iran doesn't have a particularly strong air force or navy, but they do have a very, very strong asymmetrical setup through proxies, through these speed boats you see in the persian gulf that will suddenly surround a frigate and just fire rpgs and rockets from all direction. they're willing to take a hit on some of those smaller vessels if they can bring something big down. so iran does have a big ballistic missile program.
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they could use that, but it's their asymmetrical warfare that has to be taken very seriously and that's something soleimani had fine tuned. we'd seen the results, the beginnings of those in the iraq war. we've seen that unfold in various different fronts that are going on right now in the middle east as we speak. and that was all designed by him. so i guess if there is going to be a reprisal by iran, they would do it in the style he had setup because that is the most effective way. i mean, the iranian air force could never fight the u.s. air force. the iranian navy could never fight the u.s. navy. but if you bring them down into a sort of asymmetrical guerilla warfare in pockets of different locations, that could be very dangerous for a country that fights conventional wars. so that's probably the route they will go down.
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it will be a huge step for iran to suddenly launch a ballistic missile or an array of ballistic missiles in a u.s. base in the middle east because that could invite a reprisal from america that could be crushing for iran. but this could keep people in a quagmire, and that's what's very dangerous. also just moving away from the military point of this, rachel, within iran -- even people in iran that are not supporters of the regime in iran had a respect for qassem soleimani, so this is going to make folks in iran from all walks of life, even people that don't like the regime, rally around the flag. he had been seen amongst iranians as a man who had kept isis away from iran's borders. he was seen as a strong man. he was never really overtly
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involved in political decisions. not possibly behind the scenes but never overtly, and that struck a cord with many iranians. so this is going to unify people especially considering that only a month ago in iran we had probably the worst protests against the government in 40 years. that's not going to be happening any time soon now. anybody who wants to come out and criticize the regime within iran, would be seen as a traitor. >> nbc news bureau chief and correspondent, thank you so much. i know it is o dark 30 where you are. i want to bring into the conversation someone who's worked on matters of national security, ben rhodes, the deal of course the trump administration quit in 2018. ben, it's really good to have you here tonight. let me just get your top line
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response to what you've heard and what you know tonight. >> well, it is an extraordinary action. and frankly i would extend your time line. qassem soleimani was responsible for the deaths of many americans. nobody will shed a tear that he is gone. it should also be pointed out there were no rocket attacks against american personnel in iraq do you work the implementation of the iran deal. so we've been an a cycle of escalation since president trump stepped out of that iran deal. this has been an ongoing pattern over the last couple of years. and what worries me is what is the strategy to deal with these potential consequences? because as was referenced it doesn't necessarily matter qassem soleimani isn't here, they know they can hit us in places like iraq where they have a lot of proxies, in places like lebanon, in places like
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afghanistan where there are many u.s. troops. not to mention in the western hemisphere and even the united states. potentially a rolling kind of asymmetric war and this took place in baghdad. i can't imagine we had any consultation or notification to the iraqi government. so i think the first place to watch here, rachel, is iraq and if there's any action by those militias backed by iran to try to chase those out of iraq or target u.s. personnel inside of iraq. it's a very dangerous and escalatory moment here right now, and unfortunately we have a president in office who may have just created the largest international crisis of his presidency, and i'm not sure he's prepared to deal with it. >> when you put yourself in iran's shoes and you imagine the kind of reaction they're knowing
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to be facing, civil society, within their own government, within their security forces, the revolutionary government is unlike anything we've got but also its economic power, they do control whole industries, and they have huge amounts of their own income. they can divert resources both to themselves and proxies in ways other security services don't necessarily have the power to do. it's a unique thing. having soleimani taken out in this way, if you're the iranian government, if you're the iranian security services and you're thinking about how to respond, what's your worst-case scenario, what's your biggest card you can play if they wanted to expend everything they've got in revenge for this killing, what could they do? >> well, keep in mind they have these proxy forces in all the different countries in the region and they've been fighting in active conflicts for many years in iraq, syria, in lebanon
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at times, in yemen. they've been a state of war. it's not new to them there's violence. at the height of the iraq war when we had 50,000 troops in iraq their militias were active. if they want to hit back if i worry about the worst-case scenarios where worry about our embassy in baghdad, our troops in iraq, i worry about our embassy in beirut. the iranians like to do things they see in a certain way. and we just killed the probably second most important person in their government. it's like jsoc and the cia and whole set of -- this guy was the essentially figure to this play
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they've been running for 15 years. i would look first in terms of my biggest concerns at u.s. embassies and personnel in that region -- >> 5,000 americans in iraq right now. >> and a potentially targeted assassinations of americans in different places, maybe even here in the united states. certainly they've been active in the western hemisphere in latin america as well. so this won't necessarily look like a traditional conventional war. but we are dealing with a country that is three times the size of iraq, that weathered the entire iraq war and came out with far more influence at the end than they had at the beginning. so these are people sophisticated, and we have just opened the pandoras box and frankly engaged in an act of war. i can remember in my lifetime essentially assassinating a government official, again a terrible man who has lots of blood on his hands, but a very
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high ranking member of their government. i feel like they have to respond and i don't know how we get off this cycle of escalation. >> in terms of this stuff having work at the highest levels of the u.s. government on issues including like this, who should have known, we're learning tonight at least senator chuck schumer is a member of the gang of 8 in the senate said he has no notification of this, would you expect a gang of 8 notification on something of this magnitude? >> normally you'd have a consultation of allies, our european allies including countries like france have been actively trying to get something like the iran deal back in place. they live in this neighborhood. they're much closer to this part of the world. saudi arabia, another potential action for the united states -- for iran could be to target saudi oil facilities as they have in the past. so the question is whether or not any consultation with allies or congress took place. i doubt they did. and frankly you really saw the u.s. house of representatives pass legislation that sought to
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mandate congressional authorization for any war with iran. president trump just committed an act of war and clearly has no regard for congress' role in that decision. so the question is what is the role of congress going forward and trying to figure out what's the objective here, what's the strategy, what is the path to deescalation, what are we going to do to protect our diplomats and personnel. >> deputy national security advisor in the obama administration. big night. we're going to talk live with former presidential special envoy to defeat isis plus more guests ahead. stay with us. defeat isis plus e guests ahead stay with us take an informal poll. i used to be a little cranky. dealing with our finances really haunted me. thankfully, i got quickbooks, and a live bookkeeper's helping customize it for our business. (live bookkeeper) you're all set up! (janine) great! hey! you got the burnt marshmallow out! (delivery man) he slimed me. (janine) tissue?
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simple. easy. awesome. call, click or visit a store today. i want to bring into the conversation now someone with extensive experience in the middle east. he was also special presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat isis. first under president obama and then under president trump. he left that role late 2018 after trump announced a plan to pull u.s. troops out of syria. thank you so much for joining us tonight on short notice and on a
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very serious evening. >> thanks for having me. >> i know you've been following the news as we all have. i assume you've been able to talk with some of your former colleague from government and other experts in the region. let me just ask you your top line response to this news tonight that the head of the quds force was killed in a military strike in baghdad? >> as an american who has served a lot of time in iraq including 2007, 2008 period when we were in a hot war with a lot of these iranian backed groups, i really feel it's a measure of justice done. i feel as an american, as someone who's been out there for a significant period of my life and i know i have colleagues who were killed by some of these groups, i'm also hearing from former colleagues in the region a lot of concern about where all this goes. i think we need to presume now as a country -- like it or not, we need to presume we're in a state of war with iran.
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this has been a covert war, a shadow war for 30 years but i think this action we need to presume to protect our interests that we're in a state of war with iran, and that is not something that the trump administration appears to have been prepared for. their national security strategy is actually premised on the notion of getting out of middle east commitments and reprioritizing to asia, to a great power competition against china. so i think that is now pretty much over. we're now drawn back into the middle east, and we need to be very well prepared not only over the coming days and weeks, iran might take some time to respond but over the coming months and years to protect our people and our interests. it's a very serious situation. >> if we are as you say to presume that we are in a state of war with iran now, not that it is threatening but we are there because of this action, what should americans expect from a war with iran?
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what should we expect in terms of risk to the united states and to u.s. allies and u.s. forces and assets around the world? >> well, it means we are now -- we have in been trying now for really two administrations to try and reprioritize out of the middle east because this has been such a resource kind of black dark hole for us. and wree try to do that in various ways, and it turns out now two administration were kind of sucked back in. i think it would be difficult now to really significantly move forces and resources out. i mean president trump even as he says he's bringing forces out of the middle east, he's actually sent 15,000 troop tuesday the middle east since may because of the increasing tensions against iran and because of the consequences that began to unfold when he got out of the iran deal. another thing here if you want to take on a situation like this and set a very maximalest objective which is to kbasly
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bring down the iranian regime, which seems to be the policy, that is an objective for which we have very few allies. in iraq right now it's not just u.s. troops we have a part of this effort to build a coalition. we built a coalition of almost 20 military contributors in iraq with us. france, the u.k., den mark, australia, new zealand, they're all there with us and that's been a very successful endeavor, and i think they're also asking what comes next. just on that point i think a strategic risk is that we will be asked to leave iraq. i think the iraqi government right now is extremely weak. there is a protest movement, kind of a dual protest movement among shia groups, some are backed by iran and some are pate patriotic liberal oriented who want to see reforms.
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and the iraqis could ask to leave iran and so all the games against isis for the rast five years could also begin to unravel. all that said i want to emphasize as an american i feel this is measure of justice, but i'm also concerned that the second or third order consequences have not been adequately prepared for and i think it's incumbent on congress on others to demand to answer those questions. how are we mitigating risks and what are our next moves. >> it's been reported in the past the u.s. had the opportunity to go after soleimani in other times especially during sort of the peak of the iraq war, u.s. special forces had shots of him if they wanted and they chose not to take them. u.s. policy makers chose not to go after soleimani personally even though they might have
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tactically had the ability to do so. i don't want to talk about anything classified but is it fair for us as civilians to look at that reporting and look what happened tonight to think the u.s. government may have changed its risk assessment about how dangerous it is to take somebody out like this in terms of what the retaliation might be, or is it possible that the calculation was the same but this is just a much more risk-friendly administration? and even though they believe it's as danger as previous administration might have, they don't mind. >> look, it's a great question. in the bush administration we were in a very hot war with iranian backed groups. and it's important to remember that we have 160,000 troops in the country. we had very few restricts on what we could do. we inflicted casualties on these iranian backs militias and yet we never stopped rocket attacks on our facilities. it was only stopped in the summer of 2011 after a political
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arrangement wean the iraqi government and leaders of iran like soleimani. so soleimani does have a disciplining effect on these groups. and if he says don't attack americans, we're not going to be attacked. and all these proxy groups he has nominal control over, but that was a very difficult situation in 2007, 2008. but it is a reminder there are kind of quick and easy military solutions to mis. leaders killed and celebrated and before you know it the situation gets even worse. in terms of the deliberative process i want to think but i'm skeptical there was a careful dl deliberative process where this goes and what comes next. when we pulled out of the iranian nuclear deal i don't think anyone said certainly where this might lead is to a
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series of provocative attacks from iran in the gulf, bombing oil tankers, attacking our people in iraq which just start only three months ago after an 8-year pause in any attacks. so that shows the assumptions underlying the policies are actually faulty and leads to what you call an action-reaction cycle. so if that was planned for we would have moved these additional sources into the region before hnhand as a precautionary measure. they've taken action, we've taken action and now the ball is back in their court. and i think experts who study iran are looking very closely are very certain we will see a reaction. it may not come soon. they might weight. it might be invisible at first, but this will be very serious and i think we have to take it very seriously. >> former special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat
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isis, a really serious night and appreciate having your perspective. >> thank you, rachel. >> again, sobering words there saying we should presume that we are now in a state of war with iran, not that that is at risk but that is here. we just received a statement from speaker of the house nancy pelosi. that and more. stay with us. nancy pelosi that and more. stay with us dream is a reality. nexium 24hr stops acid before it starts for all-day, all-night protection. can you imagine 24 hours without heartburn? are your asthma treatments just not enough? then see what could open up for you with fasenra. it is not a steroid or inhaler. it is not a rescue medicine or for other eosinophilic conditions. it's an add-on injection for people 12 and up with asthma driven by eosinophils. nearly 7 out of 10 adults with asthma may have elevated eosinophils.
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we got a response from house speaker nancy pelosi to this action tonight by the trump
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administration the u.s. department of defense saying it was a u.s. military strike that killed the leader of the quds force in iraq, qassem soleimani. pelosi's statement not only responds to that announcement from the trump administration, it also answers a key question tat a lot of us have been trying to report on tonight, which is the question of whether or not the u.s. congress was notified ahead of this strike given its import. in cases like this you might or might not expect the entire congress to know something like this was going to happen in advance. but you would under normal circumstances expect the so-called gang of 8 to be notified. that's the top leadership of the house and the senate and the intelligence committees. you'd expect notification there. nancy pelosi making clear in the statement tonight that hasn't happened. quote, american leaders highest priorities is to protect american lives and interests, but we cannot put the lives of american service members and diplomats at risk in engaging in
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actions. tonight's air strike risks provoking further escalations of violence. america and the world cannot afford to have tensions escalate to no return. the administration has conducted tonight's strike on iraq targeting high level iranian officials and killing commander qassem soleimani without authorization of military force against iran. firth this action was taken without the consultation of congress. that answering a question many of us have had tonight. pelosi concludes, quote, the full congress must immediately be briefed on this serious situation and the next steps under consideration by the administration including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region. again, after there were demonstrations and an attack and some fire set at the u.s. embassy complex in baghdad earlier this week, u.s. military announced that a hundred marines, a hundred additional marines would be sent to the baghdad embassy complex to protect it and that troops from
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the 83nd airborne would be sent to nearby kuwait essentially to function as a rapid action in case they were needed by iraq. speaker pelosi noting the administration made the strikes against irabbian military officials without authorize from congress is a confirmation of something we figured was true. her saying congress was not notified presumably means that includes the gang of 8 which would include herself. that would be a departure from past practice. joining us now is the executive vice president of the institute for responsible state craft. the founder of the national iranian american counsel. he's written several books on america's relationship with iran. his latest is losing an enemy, obama and the era of the triumph of diplomacy. thank you for making time. >> thanks for having me. >> let me ask you an open question to your reaction to this news tonight as it's
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coming. >> well, it's so much similar to some of your previous guests thin sense it's really difficult not to see this as an act of war. it's really difficult not to see how this will celebrate further, it's really difficult to see how the u.s. government has any idea of how it will be able to prevent that escalation. i mean the pentagon statement said this was aimed at deterring further attacks but so was the previous attack and the previous ones before that. in the previous case we've seen these measures have led to further escalation rather than deescalation. i don't think the u.s. government expected that the attack on the iraqi militia that killed 50 would lead to the attack on the embassy, yet it did. now we have this attack again and assassination of the number two person in iran.
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what preparation do they have and what are they actually doing in order to de-escalate it to ensure it doesn't lead to something as big as a full-scale war as it very well may do? there's a lot of question marks as to whether the trump administration has thought this through and has nothing to do with whether soleimani is a good guy or bad guy. it has to do with what happens next, and that's the part i'm most worried about. i don't think the u.s. government is truly worried about it. >> if this was an act of war, if we should see ourselves in a state of war which you just referenced, what do you think americans should expect about what a war between iran and the united states is like? what will iran consider among its range of possibilities in terms of how to respond next, what they consider to be proportionate or whether they will in fact seek a disproportionate response as revenge. >> i think what was said earlier
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is quite correct, that i don't think the iranians are going to rush this. i think they're going to be consulting with the russians and chinese to try to gauge their reaction to what a response iran may be considering. i think they will likely do something that will surprise us in the sense that i was part of those trying to figure out what the iranians were going to do in reaction to the trump administration trying to push down their oil exports to zero. i did not expect that type of attack on saudi facilities that have been attributed to iran by the u.s. government. so i think they may very well surprise. but i think if this leads to a full-scale war i think the calculation on the iranian side is going to be that their ability to be able to come out of that war is to inflict as much damage as possible on the united states in a short period of time in order to break the american will. and if you have a scenario in which a war is taking place that did not get approval from
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congress, may end up not being particular with the american public, then that strategy may have some prospect of success. but it would mean that a lot of people are going to die on both sides, and that's not something that's happened to the u.s. since the vietnam war because i think we're talking about casualty levels much beyond what we've seen in iraq and afghanistan. >> you would see u.s. forces abroad, u.s. forces in iraq, u.s. forces in afghanistan as initial targets for those kinds of attacks, or do you think iran has reached in their ambitions in that kind of worst-case scenario would extend geographically further to the u.s. homeland? i'm not seeing any evidence they have capacity to do so, but i'm not privy to any intelligence that would be able to assess whether they do or not from the u.s. side. but i do wonder if that would be an step that the iranians would be cautious about. because if they were to do anything on u.s. soil, i think
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they would change the nature of this conflict from one end which a lot of americans would start seeing this as a defensive war, and that's a completely different ball game. i think that would be a step they probably recognize would backfire on them if they did. but at the same time i don't think they had the expectation soleimani would be assassinated. i'm sure they knew he say a target. but i'm sure they also understood on numerous occasions the u.s. probably did have the capacity to assassinate him, chose not to do so precisely because the u.s. didn't want to escalate. and they didn't expect now the trump administration did want to escalate things. >> the executive rooips of the quincy institute, author of losing an enemy, obama, iran and the trial of diplomacy, thank you for being here. still ahead some new reporting on what the u.s. military is doing tonight now that they have confirmed this strike. live report there when we come back. stay with us. live report there when we come
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since the news first broke tonight on iraqi television of all places that iran's top military commander had been killed in baghdad, a household name iran, the leader of iran's militia and covert operations around the world, since that news first broke tonight we've been counting on national security and pentagon correspondent for nbc news for leading edge reporting as this continues to develop, particularly now that the defense department has put out a statement acknowledging responsibility for this strike. courtney, thanks for being with us. i know it's been a very busy night. >> it has. >> what's the latest in terms of the u.s. military response? we've heard the defense department statement claiming responsibility for this. do we know anything else how the military is potentially preparing for retaliation? >> so they're obviously shoring up their installations and locations all over the region. but specifically in baghdad, what they're doing right now is looking at the possible threat
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streams. so what specific threats there are to u.s. military and diplomats to americans in iraq and in the region, and also don't forget there's over 600 americans in syria right now. it's a much smaller footprint than what the u.s. had there several months ago. so they're looking at any potential vulnerabilities and how they could potentially shore them up. you mentioned earlier in the show that the u.s. sent these roughly 700 soldiers from the 82nd airborne, and these are the quick response, global response soldiers to kuwait should they need them. it wouldn't be surprising if we see additional deployments to the region should they be needed, but right now in baghdad they're look at what the potential vulnerabilities are for u.s. troops and diplomats in the country and trying to figure out how they can address them immediately. >> obviously this was a u.s. military action, and so the u.s. military knew they were going to do it even if congress didn't,
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and the other side didn't. is there any indication that the u.s. military took steps to harden targets to up our forced protection levels or to preposition assets in advance of this strike, anticipating that there would be a quick need to take care of u.s. forces around the region in response to the killing? >> that's actually the exact question i've been asking since we got all this confirmed tonight because it hasn't made sense to me why they sent the battalion of the 82nd to kuwait in the first place. after benghazi they established a special purpose marine air ground task force specifically for what we saw happening in baghdad, where an embassy was under threat. it's called crisis response, and, you know, after benghazi they have these marines that are stationed throughout the region in europe mainly that are quick
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reaction if there is an embassy threat. it made sense to send the guys in, the hundred of marines for the embassy, but why did they send the 700 additional? and i've been asking that question all over. was it because they knew this was coming? the u.s. military, the circle of people who knew these strike wurz coming against qassem soleimani and who the target was is extremely small, and it was a matter of hours people knew this was happening in that small group. so the fact question i've been trying to get an answer to tonight, rachel, is exactly what they were doing in advance and how far in advance was the u.s. military planning for this and what the potential blow back could be and how they could prepare in advance for it. general milly said today specifically he has the forces there necessary to protect u.s. assets, but that was hours before this happened. and the entire situation has changed since then, rachel. >> courtney, in terms of what happens next year, obviously we've been talking tonight with
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all these experts in the field, national security experts talking about how iran may take their time in response and that they may respond in a way that is quite irregular rather than just the asymmetric warfare they mount all over the world, they may pursue assassinations and change how they go after specific human targets they think would merit a proportional response. is it the pentagon that responds to that, u.s. intelligence that also responds to those kind of threats? >> it's going to be all of the above because also with iran we don't know if they're going to respond necessarily to u.s. installations, to military bases, to diplomatic posts, or will they respond to go after commercial shipping as we've seen them do over the summer? the potentials, also they could go in a cyber realm. the potential is so wides and
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broad at this point i think the u.s. government i can imagine at this point all over the u.s. government they're looking at the potentials and how they can shore up any kind of defenses all over for any potential iranian response. >> pentagon correspondent for nbc news, thank you. much appreciated. all right, we'll be right back. . much appreciated all right, we'll be right back
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it's almost 1:00 a.m. on the east coast. we're continuing to follow the late breaking news that president trump ordered the killing of the top military leader in iran. this is not your typical tit for tat escalation of haostilities. this is something for which the potential ramifications are bottomless. we'll continue to keep you updated through the night. now it's time for "the last word with lawrence o'donnell." have a good night. before we get to what's happening tonight, i want to say the presidentia

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