Skip to main content

tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  September 23, 2014 1:00am-2:01am PDT

1:00 am
that war litigated on the pages of "the new york times" and "washington post" and "wall street journal" despite what's going on over in syria on the ground. so i worry that in these other
1:01 am
jim miklaszewski and at the white house is senior white house correspondent chris jansing. yim what, do we know about the munitions involved tonight, the degree of this attack? >> u.s. military officials are describing these air strikes tonight as significant, not necessarily strike and awe, but, in fact, they launched cruise missiles from u.s. navy ships in waves of attack of bombers,
1:02 am
f-18s from bases in the region and from the aircraft carrier george h.w. bush that is stationed currently in the persian gulf. there were 20-some strikes against multiple targets there in syria around raqqah, which is the declared capital of the islamic state, isis. and they were aimed primarily at command-and-control headquarters, munitions depots, fuel depots and some troop or isis fighter encampments. the issue here of course, is that there were no isis leadership that were targeted in tonight's attack. and if you talk to military experts, past and present, they say that to do that, the u.s. just doesn't have enough intelligence on the ground right now to effectively go after leadership targets.
1:03 am
and that is what's missing. nobody here believes that these strikes tonight are going to have any kind of significant effect against isis that would be decisive, and that it's only the beginning of what will probably be a longer, larger military campaign, primarily from the air, by the u.s., against isis and syria. >> what are we to make of the statement from the pentagon tonight where it says that the decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by the u.s. central command commander, under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. is that to suggest that the timing of this was up to the central command commander? >> well, the president had earlier issued authorization and in fact it was up to the commander general austin there, the cent-com commander. and you know, it's semantical in a sense.
1:04 am
everything goes through the commander in chief. so it's a matter of timing more than anything, as opposed to authority. >> chris jansing, what are we hearing from the white house? >> reporter: absolutely nothing. they said we won't hear anything tonight. the president leaves tomorrow to go the united nations. but nick is absolutely right. the president signaled when he spoke prime time to the nation that he was ready to do this. white house officials have been questioned about it constantly, almost every day over the last 12 days. they say the president has authorized it, he's laid out the parameters for the strikes but they were ready to go. the timing is really interesting with him going in, and by his own admission, the way he put it, his job in going to the
1:05 am
united nations over the next three days is to rally the world around this threat, and there was this briefing today by senior administration officials, really focusing on this threat, focusing on foreign fighters and the concerns in europe and the united states, that they could come here. and that the magnitude and scale of that threat is so much greater, extremely worrying, is the way think put it, dwarfing what we've seen before. so there have been signals all along the way, starting with the biggest one from the president 12 days ago when he addressed the nation that he was ready to do this. now some of the really tough work begins at the u.n. where the president is going to try to bring more of this coalition on board to do more. so far, as you well know, lawrence, the only country that we have seen with these air strikes is france joining on, and being very clear about the fact that they're not going to go into syria, that they are in this just for iraq.
1:06 am
>> we are showing video, right now, from the defense department, from the aircraft carrier uss george h.w. bush, showing the takeoff of some of the aircraft involved in these attacks. and it does appear just after dawn on some of these takeoffs that we're seeing the video of right now. what about the part of the pentagon statement that referred to partner nation forces also being involved? what do we know about that? >> well, we're told that there are some arab allies who had participated in some way, had a role in some way in these air strikes tonight. it's not clear whether they actually flew in a combat attack missions. it's thought that they would have waited until the first american wave and come in after the u.s. aircraft and cruise missiles had been launched. but that's not even clear whether it was a support role, active combat role. but, again, they're trying to
1:07 am
push this idea out of the white house and through the pentagon, actually, that this will be a coalition front against the isis fighters and isis organization, not only in iraq, but in syria, but so far it appears that the response has been somewhat tepid. maybe in the next few hours we'll get more information on exactly what that role has been. but nobody's been willing to step forward and say exactly what that's been. so it leads us to believe that maybe it's not as significant as it's being portrayed. >> now chris jansing, was there any notion that you were able to pick up from the white house in the last couple days that perhaps the president would want to go to the united nations with an attack like this already under way so he could be going there to say you should join this operation that is already in progress and cannot be stopped? >> reporter: well, it certainly
1:08 am
sends a powerful message in that regard, but the only thing that they have said clearly is that they wanted to go there with commitments. you saw a foreshadowing from samantha power over the weekend who says that if we decide to do air strikes we're not going to do it alone, but a lot has been made over the last couple days about this resolution, and they believe, senior white house officials said very clearly today they believe it will pass, bringing together a coalition of nations to require, essentially, these countries to prevent the recruitment, the transportation, the financing of foreign fighters. they're working on a lot of different levels here to try to portray a united front. i spent a lot of time today talking to administration officials about the fact that there aren't a lot of teeth to this. there's no penalties for those who don't follow this. they think it sends an important mess able. it sends an important message that the president is going to be chairing this very unusual
1:09 am
session of the security council. but the biggest message that they can send is to come out clearly with what countries are participating and what exactly that participation is, which is something they haven't done yet, as you know, lawrence. >> and jim miklaszewski, they have said that think desperately want allies in this to make it look like it's not just the united states mounting this but here they are going in with, as they say, partner nation forces that they can't even name. i'm having trouble right now remembering a situation like this where we've had an ally in battle, and we could not publicly say who that ally is. >> at some point that's got to emerge, but even some of the allies in the region that prevent the u.s. military aircraft to be based there and take off and launch air strikes inside syria have not been revealed.
1:10 am
those sites have not been revealed. it's sort of been this long-standing kabuki dance between these area nations, those support nations and the u.s. who, who, those nations want to keep their identity and their contribution secret. although, we have been told that you know, it appears that saudi arabia is willing to step up at some point. don't know how. jordan certainly, but don't know how yet. so it's an ongoing process there in syria. but i mean, in that region. but you know, as the chairman of the joint chiefs, martin dempsey told reporters here at the pentagon several weeks ago, he said, look, you cannot defeat isis unless you go after them in syria. military officials say that has to include ground forces. and the u.s. military, if you listen to president obama, is
1:11 am
not going to put boots on the ground. many, even here in this building, say that you shouldn't, you shouldn't actually take options off the table when going to confront an enemy. that the president has chosen to do that. and it's not clear that peshmerga and certainly the free syrian army is in no position yet even with $500 million in aid from the u.s. and training that some predicted would take a year. others say it would take years to put together the kind of force that would be needed to take on isis. >> thank you both for joining us tonight. also joining us now is andrea mitchell. nbc's correspondent. what is your interpretation of the timing of this event on the eve of the president's trip to the united nations? >> you might think as he's about to address the security council on wednesday that he would not
1:12 am
want to have military action, but actually, i think that the timing is exactly what they have planned. they want to show that they have arab partners. they want to show that the world is united against isis. and in this case, i've been told that it does include saudi arabia, jordan, bahrain and the uae, certainly, unclear if qatar is involved. some are saying qatar is not involved in these initial attacks. the attacks that jim miklaszewski has described as massive, involving sea based and land based. so they are not, apparently using bases from turkey. that has been another one of the problems, but they are expecting that jordan in particular will have air power involved and that jordan will provide critical
1:13 am
intelligence, which has been one of the great strengths of jordan being right there, of course, along the border with syria and iraq. >> andrea, you just mentioned a few neighboring nations that are involved here, and since we have no other information at this point about who the partner nation forces are, i just wanted to go through those again. i just want to make sure i have the checklist right from you. i heard saudi arabia, united arab emirates, bahrain and jordan, is that it? >> that is farce i know at this point. qatar is noticeably missing. there has been a lot of tension. qatar was one of the funders of several groups that became metastasized into isil. so there has been a lot of tension between the saudis, the other sunni leaders and qatar, which they feel has supported
1:14 am
hamas, supported the muslim brotherhood and isis. >> and there are reports that turkey started sealing its border earlier today, so they may, must have been very well aware that something was coming. >> oh, absolutely. there have been meetings with erdogan and kerry. kerry was on this coalition-building mission, which was a shadow of what jim baker was able to do for bush 41. but he was certainly in the rest of the region getting the saudi support, getting king abdullah who was very resistant because of a lack of trust, frankly, between this saudi regime and the obama administration. they feel that he let them down in the past. but that was a very big part of putting together the coalition that they put together. one interesting thing is that kerry met earlier today with the saudi foreign minister and that the saudi foreign minister also met with foreign ministers from iran.
1:15 am
you don't see that every day, and that there will be a follow up meeting in riyadh so that enmity with isis has brought together the shiite iranians and sunni saudis. >> why would the statement from the pentagon tonight and the information as publicly released by the administration so far not include any of those nations, specifically, that you mentioned to be participating on this? >> i think because the operation is still under way. because clearly, by the time the president faces the world tomorrow, either back home in the white house before he leaves or potentially in new york, by that point, he's going to have to thank the allies who were flying and joining this operation tonight. so i think that it is probably because it is still an operation midway through. >> and so clearly the decision was made in the white house that better to go to the united
1:16 am
nations with this kind of attack already under way than to simply go there and continue to talk about something that hasn't happened yet. >> yes. and i think that they have done enough of the spade work in the last couple of weeks, diplomatically. the president had given his speech. there had been testimony on the hill, and there was surprising support from congress with the exception of some noteworthy people in both parties, such as rand paul and others in the democratic party, but for the most part, there was support for what would be considered limited air operations, not for ground forces, although there are others as you know, the hawks in both parties have been calling for the ground troops as well. now what we've seen is a commitment from kerry and the president, that the ground forces will be regional. and by that, they have said so far that they mean syrian rebel forces. they're going to take about a year to train, about 5,000 of them we're told, and also the
1:17 am
iraqi army. both of those forces are in disrepair to say the least. so it will be quite a while before those forces will be able to do anything at all significantly on the ground. and air strikes have to be called in. so there are, someone is calling in these air strikes. there's someone on the ground. and i'm betting that those are americans, and that they do wear boots, but they're not in a combat role, but they're forward deployed. >> what other possible ground forces, any of the other nations that you mentioned, would they be capable of having delivered some ground forces to this already? >> it would be really tricky. i don't think at this point, you might have to see what you'd get from jordan and from the uae and the saudis, but at this stage with assad still in power, it would be very, very difficult indeed. one of the things that's going to be very important to note is whether the syrian, russian-built, syrian air
1:18 am
defense system worked and whether there's any push back by assad. i suspect there won't be. i think they're going to go in and get to raqqah which has been the headquarters of isis in northern syria, and i think that they will not be stopped by syrian air forces. and maybe there was some back channeling as to that as well. >> what about that, andrea? what would be your expectation of, assuming rational actors in damascus, what would be the syrian regime's reaction to this bombing? >> to welcome it. because isis is their worst threat. the rebel armies can be dealt with, and they have been dealt with. the syrian regime has managed to crush the rebel forces. periodically with the help of iran, with the help of russia, but isis has been a significant threat, and i think that assad would probably welcome the fight, even though it's clearly
1:19 am
uncomfortable for the united states, for this white house to be on the same side as assad. >> andrea mitchell, thank you very much for join us tonight. >> you bet. we're now joined by phone, amman, what is your sense of what the reaction to this is going to be in the region, the public reaction to this in the region? >> caller: i think the first major concern is going to be about the humanitarian aspect of what an operation like this may mean for some of the neighboring countries. we've been talking about perhaps the involvement of jordan and others. there's no doubt that the government in amman and turkey, lebanon, they're going to have serious concerns about the spillover effect. in the past three or four days alone, turkey has seen a sudden spike of refugees crossing its border. it's one of the reasons that led the turkish government as you mentioned earlier to shut down its border with syria.
1:20 am
about 200,000 refugees passed that border just in the past three or four days alone. i think there are going to be a lot of questions, but also there are going to be a lot of support for the u.s. operations and the support is getting from some of the arab countries in some of the arab capitals. we know that secretary of state john kerry has met with a lot of the arab leaders, including those in the gulf countries as well as egypt. many of them have said they are going to participate. and tonight, they have confirmed that they are operationally involved in the air strikes on isis targets inside syria. but you're also going to see a lot of moral and public support with statements, perhaps, coming out from important allies like egypt and other regional powers. >> the pentagon statement on this tonight referred, kind of in a gray way, to partner nation forces. no specificity at all. andrea mitchell just reported to us that it's her understanding
1:21 am
that saudi arabia is involved, united arab emirates is involved, jordan. does that jibe with your understanding of who the partner nations may be at this point? >> caller: absolutely. in fact, we do have confirmation from at least one senior gulf diplomat who has confirm thad there are arab nations involved operationally, that's the word he used to describe the ongoing campaign inside syria. now exactly what that means is still a little bit ambiguous. we can expect comments to come out tomorrow after the president speaks publicly about there for the first time. you can also expect governments to come out with what roles they are playing. but at least in the run up to this strike and the, perhaps the strikes themselves are not a surprise, but the timing certainly is. we've been speaking to a lot of people in the region who have been saying that they are willing to play a role. and these roles vary. some of it is going to be with intelligence gathering.
1:22 am
some of it is going to be with air support and logistics and offering air bases to airplanes that are needed. so there's no doubt that arab countries have publicly come out and said this, but perhaps we're going to learn more in the coming days what exact role they're playing if logistical. >> is it possible that some of them advised the administration to get this started before the president goes to the united nations, that would allow him to make a more forceful presentation there? >> caller: i think there has been pressure on the u.s. by arab countries to act. in fact, if anything, there has been criticism that the u.s. did not act fast enough. in some cases, some of the arab leaders and some of the rhetoric coming out of these closed door
1:23 am
meetings with the secretary of state was that if the u.s. really wanted to build this coalition, reminiscent to the one that was put together in 1991, but that there was a desire to see action happening on the ground before isis continues the rampage that it has carried out in both iraq and syria. there is no doubt, also, some criticism now against the u.s., getting involved in this war three years after it began, when many were saying the u.s. could have gotten involved much earlier to try to suppress some of the outbreak of groups like isis and other al qaeda-related groups earlier on in the syrian conflict. but also the interesting question going forth is what does this syrian government now do? the syrian government has been very clear in the past couple of weeks that they adamantly rejected and warned the united states not to carry out any strikes on its territory without coordinating it with damascus. and we've heard from the u.s.
1:24 am
administration saying repeatedly that they will not be coordinating with either the syrian regime or even perhaps the iranians about specific air strikes inside syria. it will be interesting to see what the syrian government does tomorrow, whether it's going to tacitly accept this or perhaps even try to counter with any power it may have. >> is it possible that one of the partner nations coordinated with syria on this and that would give syria enough cover for that demand that this be coordinated? >> caller: absolutely. the u.s. has relations, obviously, with lebanon which still maintains its channels with the government in damascus. the syrian embassy is one of the few that remains open and operational in bay route in the region. and know that there are some further countries far from syria that are in communication with the syrian government. it has been one of the major problems in building not only this coalition but also the general policy of the region in the last several years is that
1:25 am
the arab countries have been divided. some have been saying that the government in damascus is legitimate and has to be backed and is important in this fight against terrorism, while others say precisely that the persistence of assad to stay in power has led to groups like isis. but you can definitely expect that some of the countries in the region that the u.s. has been communicating with certainly have relayed that information to the syrian government. again, whether or not the syrian government has the capabilities to defend its airspace or even try to do so in the wake of what the u.s. is now doing as opposed to just simply turning a blind eye, because it is advancing the syrian regime's fight against the extreme elements, that also remains to be seen with the reaction expected probably as early as tomorrow morning. >> and the government of turkey has just issued a statement indicating that turkey will be discussing its participation in
1:26 am
this at the united nations tomorrow. we're rejoined by chris jansing from the white house. chris, that's -- >> okay. >> that seems to indicate turkey's statement saying that we will be discussing our participation in these operations tomorrow at the united nations. it seems to indicate that some of the partner nations involved must have thought it best to get this under way before the president, president gets to the united nations. i'm told we do not have chris jansing now. now the control room has decided that we do indeed have chris jansing. chris, we just learned that turkey has announced that they will be discussing their participation in this operation tonight at the united nations tomorrow. and that seems to indicate, then, chris that some of the partner nations involved in this probably wanted this under way so that their participation could be discussed in the forum of the united nations.
1:27 am
that that was a safer place for them to be publicly revealed about being involved in this. >> reporter: you're absolutely right about this. one of the things administration officials were saying today is that they wanted to lend support to each other to make this look like an international coalition. and one of the things that administration officials have been saying to me over the last couple weeks is that they want opportunities for countries across a broad swath of the world, but particularly, obviously, that part of the world, to be able to contribute. now they always say depending on what their own personal capabilities are and what their own political situation is. so a lot of this is about the messaging. a lot of this is, indeed, about the politics of it, lawrence, to be able to go there as a group, to say here's how we're going to move forward and to give them different levels of opportunity to participate.
1:28 am
obviously, they're looking to see who will support them militarily. the president has said, samantha powers has said we won't go this alone, but they're doing all different levels of participation, including this binding resolution, that the president will lead, that he will introduce, that he will chair the meeting to give them an opportunity to adopt and say we stand together in really making a statement about the threat that isis poses, about the threat in particular that the foreign fighters, something that u.s. officials just today again called unprecedented. so you're absolutely right. the timing of this, really critical as these other countries go in and also have to, obviously, make a statement to their home countries about what they're doing and why. >> chris, speaker boehner's office just released a statement saying, saying simply and nothing more than, the speaker spoke with the president by phone this evening.
1:29 am
now that is very likely to have been a phone call from the president to the speaker informing him before he would learn on television what's going on in syria tonight. >> absolutely. we have expected that the president would make those phone calls. he's been in, i would say, more touch with congress over the last couple weeks. look, this has been, sort of, classic in the sense of how the president has rolled this out. he's very methodical. some would say even professorial. but he has approved this in a step by step way after the air strikes began in iraq and the address to the nation. and the indication that we were ready to go into syria, and the indications that in fact already they had the authorization that they need, that the president was waiting for the military to look and see how the timing was and make sure, obviously, that they had their targets right. but in the middle of all that, the president, you'll remember
1:30 am
when he spoke to the nation 12 days ago, asked congress for just one thing. he asked them to vote and to approve the authorization for the training and equipping of the syrian rebels. so he got that. he went in to that with an indication that he knew that that was going to happen. there was another message today. you mentioned john boehner. we don't know that there was a phone call, but peter king, the republican from new york saying it's time for us to support the president. so all of these things have lined up and lead to the president going tomorrow. i do think one more thing that's just worth noting in context here, lawrence is that a year ago, when the president addressed the united nations, he talked about shifting away from a perpetual war footing, about the draw down in iraq and afghanistan. and of course, here we are one year later with air strikes in syria.
1:31 am
>> and it is 5:31 in syria. braking news coverage tonight. two and a half hours ago, the united states began air strikes on islamic state targets in syria. jack, based on what you're hearing tonight, what do you think is the extent of the first campaign in syria? >> caller: well, obvious concentrations that they've seen before and that they've kept an eye on for a look, long time, which there was a lot of impetus to strike before, but the president didn't want to do it and finally made the decision to go ahead and strike it. but we've been keeping our eye on these command-and-control locations, training areas, troop concentrations which are easy to move, but ammo storage facilities which are not. and what's going to happen is the following. there will be a bomb damage
1:32 am
assessment afterwards. and then the decision made to probably to strike other targets that have moved, and they can see, or to re-strike targets that have already been hit, strike them again for a second and perhaps even a third time. but the information that we have is all from satellites. and reconnaissance aircraft and other facilities. we don't have a lot of information from human intelligence on the ground at the end of the day. that's always the best to have if you can have it. but we don't have it in syria. and it's not something that's going to develop over a, except over a long period of time. in addition, just striking these targets as has been said many, many times by itself, these strikes, by themselves, these strikes are not going to do anything but degrade isis capability at the end of the day. somebody has to be on the ground to seize and hold terrain. and unfortunately, there's
1:33 am
nobody to do it at the moment. the coalition, not withstanding, i don't think you're going to see lots of saudis on the ground or any of that kind of stuff. and we've been talking about training the free syrian army perhaps, or moderate rebels, which is something of an oxymoron. the numbers of those are very small in any case. and most observers can't see the five or even 10,000 rebels who can be trained and then reinserted or inserted into syria having much of an effect. but at the end of the day, it's going to take not just air strikes. it's going to take a concerted effort on the ground to have some positive effect, which is one reason why everybody in the administration's been talking for quite some time about this being a longer campaign than most people are thinking about. >> colonel jacobs, what kind of pause do you expect between air strikes and can the united nations expect this to be going
1:34 am
on at some point in every day that they're meeting this week? >> caller: yeah, it's, that's a very interesting question. it's a heck of a backdrop for the united nations meeting. there can be a very, very short pause. typically, what will happen is the following. there will be a primary target list and a secondary target list that can be struck in quick succession after the first. and then other lists as well. also there will be targets of opportunity, no doubt about the fact that air strikes are going to chase isis concentrations around. and they're going, they'll be observable, easily observable when they start moving around. other targets which had not been seen before, let's say concentrations of ammunition, ammunition storage facilities and so on. once they start moving that stuff, especially by convoy, we're going to be able to pick that up too. so you have the strange
1:35 am
juxtaposition of the united nations meeting and the backdrop is perhaps even continuous air strikes in syria. >> jack, what are the kinds of strains that could develop with the list of partner nations that we've seen to have information about so far, turkey having some involvement that it says it will discuss tomorrow at the united nations. andrea mitchell reporting saudi arabia, bahrain, uae, jordan. what are the kind of stresses that develop in alliances like this? >> caller: the stresses that you're talking about are going to exist from the very beginning. you mentioned turkey. turkey has been obstructionist in all this for quite some time. turkey has been a conduit for the oil that isis has been selling in order to fund a lot of its operations.
1:36 am
turkey has also, the source of a fairly substantial number of recruits for isis. and turkey has had some fairly tough talks with the united states in recent times. so it is a, it's a pleasant surprise to hear that turkey is talking about, perhaps, participating, but i don't think we should expect much from turkey or from qatar either. the other states we're talking about are actually very, very scared that isis is as big a problem as it is, and wants anybody's assistance. that includes jordan and the other gulf states. but it will be interesting to see what we get out of turkey. and whether or not turkey and/or qatar can actually become some kind of participant in this coalition. but i don't think we should be
1:37 am
sanguine about what we're going to see from any of these guys. saudi arabia's going to give us some training areas so we can train the rebels. they're probably going to cough up some money. there's also a possibility they may participate with air strikes they have a fairly substantial air force. many of whose pilots trained by the united states. so we have a very close air relationship with them. but you know, this is going to be a u.s.-dominated strike. as long as it's going to be in the air, the united states is going to be launching missiles, going to be launching precision-guided missiles from aircraft, going to be launching cruise missiles, perhaps even from surface ships. it's going to be a u.s. dominated and controlled attack. and unless and until there can be, they can be arab states on the ground following up on this stuff, i don't, you're going to see isis degraded but not
1:38 am
destroyed. >> colonel jack jacobs, thank you very much for joining us tonight. >> caller: yes, sir. >> we're joined now by analysts. what is the reaction inside the islamic state tonight? >> the islamic state fighters as well as supporters are really expressing, actually, outrage more than anything else. and that outrage at the fact at being attacked by the united states. this is something they've been expecting. they've seen it in iraq but not in syria. but outrage that they're not getting enough recruits, not getting enough to join their ranks not just in iraq and syria but in other arias. the spokesman of isis over 24 hours ago released a massive audio encouraging supporters to attack the united states and france and so on and so forth. but he expressed grievance of
1:39 am
lack of attacks in places like yemen. so we're seeing a mixed reaction but most importantly we're seeing outrage, and i think he's driving the message to supporters to up their game. and we're expecting to see a massive amount of attacks. >> and what will their reaction be to the partner nations that the united states is referring to so far, not by name, but the information we seem to be getting tonight indicates that may include saudi arabia, united arab emirates, bahrain, jordan and turkey in some way? >> isis leadership has over and again expressed their interest in expanding inside saudi arabia and jordan. we've seen pockets of groups inside both countries expressing support to isis by pictures and video. coming out of places like amman, and in saudi arabia. there is enough support for isis
1:40 am
in these countries to cause some havoc. now we have, we know that the intelligence agencies in these countries are allies with the united states. they're cooperating with them in this war. we expect that the risk to attacks in these countries is going to get higher. >> michael leiter, what is your sense of the reaction within the islamic state tonight? >> i think they expected these strikes, lawrence. this won't be a surprise, although there's a tactical surprise which the united states wanted. strategically think were expecting this. and the targets that were hit tonight are generally fixed things that they couldn't move anyway. so this is to be expected. i think they were already, as we saw with the foiled attack in australia, already moving and pushing some of their adherents to attack outside of the rye john. i think this will accelerate but won't be that we're provoking it.
1:41 am
quite clearly they were intent on attacking outside of the region and in the west. this will heighten their efforts to do so in the long term. >> the islamic state wants this. they want an attack by the united states. is it possible that they could want that? what would be the conceivable net benefit to this kind of thing? >> you know, isis spokesman really summed it up in two lines. he said if you attack us, we get just stronger. and if you don't attack us we expand even more. so when we actually attack them or not, they want an engagement. they present themselves as this state, head butting with the united states, they present that to their followers as well as to others. and they also are trying to rise to the occasion. they're saying nobody is really confronting the united states. we are. and i think in the long run, they really do want troops in the region. and i think for them, that solidifies the ideology, that
1:42 am
solidifies that there's a true crusaded war against the islamic state and that we are the only people that can actually defend the islamic nation, and i think that would be a rallying support for their, for the group. >> but michael, for them to want that, they would have to believe that they have the tactical ability to survive this. >> that's right. that only works if, frankly, they aren't seriously degraded. and i think destroyed is a long ways off, but really, really hurt by the u.s. and it also goes to the point that several others had made. the importance of having non-american, sunni nations fighting in this fight alongside. now that doesn't totally eliminate their propaganda perspective, because they would say the saudis are happening, the jordanians are helping, these are apostate areas. but having free sunnis helping our air strakes is critical that
1:43 am
it doesn't become a west versus sunni islam. >> the other dimension of this, for the islamic state, is retaining morale within the group, many of whom now are near the possibility of the bombing areas affecting them. there's a new reality to being in the islamic state that wasn't there yesterday. >> that's correct. and islamic state has actually been a, its leadership has been very centralized. so the commands come from the top down. this is not something we see in al qaeda groups for example. and the command has been that be ready, be ready, because they're anticipating this campaign. and we've seen, for example, tunnels being dug underground. we've seen artillery and vehicles being transported across the borders between the iraq and syria.
1:44 am
there are territory previously under the control, and isis having taken over that. and that's just expanded the area where it could have hideouts, where it could spread its fighters. we've seen control on the borders between syria and iraq. so that gives it some area to move in and out. so we're not really talking about just hideouts. we've, we see them operating, you know, in the open. we've seen their convoys. so it's really the focus on getting the leadership. is the leadership being targeted right now or not. and that's what, something we should really be focused on to break the morale. >> michael, we're now getting a report that indicates in addition to the other nations we've already mentioned, saudi arabia, uae, bahrain, jordan, that in fact, qatar may well have been involved in the
1:45 am
coalition tonight. what would be the significance of that? >> qatar's important, because it has been one of our friends who simultaneously over the past three years have provided what would be viewed as counter-productive assistance to the rebel groups. so having qatar involved, not just their involvement in the strike but might mark a real turning point for them being willing to cut off some of that aid and break do you know on some of the foreign funders. now foreign funders aren't as important to isis as they once were. but it's still a very important statement. so i expect it's quite possible that air strikes could have been launched from qatar and bahrain. i expect saudis could have provided some air assets, and undoubtedly the jordanians provided at least information support. >> if we are to, as they keep saying, destroy the islamic state, how many islamic state
1:46 am
fighters do we have to kill in order to do that? >> that's a very good question. and there has always been this question about speculation about how many fighters do they really have? and we have to actually calculate before they took over mosul or after they took over mosul. you know, when they took over mosul, they were around 8,000, 10,000 fighters between both iraq and syria. but after taking over mosul, they were able to rally a lot of the tribes, a lot of the sunni tribes that have animosity toward the shiite-led government. and so we have to be really careful about seeing actual fighters on the ground, actual troops or support in general who are providing them with logistical and statistical support. it's a lot more what jets can handle. my estimates would be beyond 25,000 at this point, which is not a small army, considering that they have actual places where they can operate.
1:47 am
>> what would you say is the quality of the training and the capacity of those 25,000? does that mean that there's 5,000 who are, you know, much more capable and another 20? or is it mostly the ill-equipped, untrained people? >> it really varies. we've seen doctors, engineers and so on and so forth. but when we talk about military capability. they have enough capability to bring jets down. they have anti-aircraft artillery. they have seized m-198 guns that were left by the united states in iraq, and they took it over across the border to syria. so we see military capability. we see logistics capability. but in the overall, in the overall targeting of the group, we need to be careful where we target them, because we still don't know where they're hiding these artillery or these weapons. we've seen an excellent
1:48 am
manufacturing of weapons, homemade weapons. they've manufactured their own rockets. and that's very important to take note of, because we still don't know the locations of these rockets, but we do know they have developed them. >> thank you very much for joining us tonight. we're joined now, by phone, by msnbc contributor steve clemons. what is your reaction to the developments so far tonight? >> caller: i think it's our form of quick shock and awe. we're going to have to see what happens after the dust settles. it was great to hear the analysis from laith saud. i was fascinated that john kerry's remarks were sent out tonight. he was at a party of those concerned about the damage to cultural antiquities in syria and iraq. when you read these things, his hierarchy of concerns in the
1:49 am
region, there's no indication that secretary of state kerry, at least in those comments made a short while ago, he's either a great actor or had no idea what was coming. when you hook at the statements that have come out, very few, and talks with the white house, it was clear that the president gave the commander of central command the authority to move forward. and he did, in an incredible coordinated barrage. we'll see how degraded isis is at this point. >> steve, you mentioned secretary kerry's event and the antiquities at risk here. i saw an invitation, a notification about that event that was to occur at 6:00 tonight. i believe, at a museum in new york. that turns out to be a beginning, anyway, about two and half hours before the barrage began.
1:50 am
it just shows you that they, you know, they clearly had a schedule here in new york and the united nations week that they intend to stick to. and this is simply going to become an additional component of what they were coming to the united nations to talk about anyway. >> caller: right, i think it's an amazing point that right now you have the world on parade in new york at the u.n. general assembly. there's a very bold action to take. it kind of dares anyone in the world to basically stand against it. particularly, it's going to be interesting to see how russia shapes its posture. we haven't seen any word from russia just yet. but the fact that they were sending signals before that they were very uncomfortable on any incursions into syrian space, despite their own incursions, of course, into ukraine, a bit of inconsistency there, but it's a
1:51 am
bold move by us. and striking. and i think just like laith said, with the news that you're getting that the saudis were fundamentally there, that is a very big piece of news as it is with qatar. but for the saud eye military to be involved is a step further than many of us thought they'd go. >> to get this set of partner nations ready to go tonight. it wasn't just the united states that was ready to go tonight, but according to the information we currently have, it would be turkey and qatar and this was a significant number of agreements had to be made to take this action tonight. >> caller: and i think that it is a very big leap. you and i have talked previously about this, where it looked as
1:52 am
if the uae was all in and jordan, but there were a lot of other missing planks and that the custodian of the two holy mosques, in my view, saudi arabia, had to essentially send a much more strong message to people in the region that what isis represented was outside, completely outside their interpretation of what sunni islam represented. so john kerry has been busy at work. you're probably right. he did know what was going on. but he's put together a coalition in the arab world that's much bigger than those of us who were watching thought. we thought it was fairly meager. we hoped that the sunni involvement would be greater. there was a lowest common denominator approach to some of this, and we were all hoping to see a much more maximalist point of view. so what we've seen before in
1:53 am
these reports is it's substantial. and i'm sure these governments will have to struggle with their own backlashes internally, but nonetheless, this is a really, really important punctuation point in our relationship with these nations in the middle east, taking action to clean up their neighborhood. >> steve, this makes tomorrow one of the very dramatic days in the history of the united nations. and i'm wondering what you expect. we know what the president is going to do tomorrow. but what do we expect from the other partner nations at the united nations? is that the forum they will choose to publicly speak about this through their united nations ambassadors? >> caller: well, i think speculating, i can't see it any other way, i don't expect them to participate in such an action and then hide from it. this week, of all weeks, is, is the one in which every nation, warts and successes on display,
1:54 am
and it's not a time one can hide. laith was just speaking about qatar. they've been both supportive of us in various ways, but they also have a complicated relationship, they're not, in my view and reporting i've done, not involved to a substantial degree with isis, but they are substantially involved with al nusra, another al qaeda-affiliated group within syria, and that's part of the rubik's cube of syria, to see how other parts of the opposition of assad are treated. and my guess is that they're going to go out and say not that they were glad they joined the united states, but that they were glad they took steps to try and rid the region of a scourge which threatened them all, so this is a collective action, a very, very rare collective action that one hasn't seen in a very long time between arab states. >> we're joined now by william mccants.
1:55 am
he's involved in counter terrorism. what is your reaction to everything we've been learning so far tonight? >> caller: well, it's a really stunning development. raqqah has been the headquarters of isis for over a year now. they've been terrorizing people from there. they've spread out through eastern syria and into western iraq. and now the united states and its gulf allies, and jordan is striking against it. it's a remarkable development and a major testimony to the president and secretary kerry's diplomatic skill at pulling together such a coalition. i was really skeptical that those countries would be engaging directly, militarily inside syria. and of course we have to wait until the morning of the next few days to see who exactly did what. but if the early reports are true, it's a remarkable development.
1:56 am
>> and knowing the inside of the islamic state as you do or as well as anyone does here, what do you expect their tactical reaction to be to this? >> caller: well, they have already been preparing, i'm sure. they knew these strikes were coming, telegraphed weeks ago, so they would have hidden away any really valuable artillery or tanks. they will probably blend in to some of the cities where they are holding people hostage. not just american hostages or british hostages but also locals, christians, other minorities. they will begin to execute them to redact some sort of retribution against the united states. they will survive this early round of strikes. they will claim it as some sort of moral victory, and then we will begin the long slog of trying to diminish their hold on territory inside iraq and syria.
1:57 am
>> and steve clemons, if that is what we see and suddenly there is a spate of public video beheadings, how do we expect that to affect the coalition? i guess we don't have steve clemons. william mccants, i'll go to you on that. i'd like to have you play out for us the action and reaction on both sides. what we can expect as you just gave us a sense of what the islamic state reaction would be. and then how do you expect the reaction to follow then from the coalition to whatever they do? >> caller: well, it looks like the coalition members have decided they're going to be undeterred. it certainly didn't keep the united states or the, from striking. it hasn't prevented the british from supporting it. the holding the turkish hostages didn't prevent them from even providing some tepid support to
1:58 am
the united states. i think they've made the calculation that they're going to press ahead, no matter what is done to the hostages in these villages, but it is going to be an awful, awful situation in the areas they control, and look, the islamic state knows how to use helpless civilians as a weapon. not just by executing them but also driving them out of areas that they drove out the kurds over the past few days. in order to place pressure on turkey. we're going to see the same sort of tactic used in the coming days. and there is no capable force on the ground as your previous guest said who can really capitalize on isis pulling back from various positions. >> and there's been some talk prior to now of some of these potential partners of the united states being halfhearted participants in this and perhaps continuing to, in the shadows,
1:59 am
do things that aren't entirely oppositional to the islamic state, what is your sense of the kind of commitment that these nations would have actually had to deliver in order to be involved in this tonight? >> caller: well, according to the press reports, it was pretty strong showing. i mean, you even have bahrain possibly participating in some sort of air strike. the country at least provided an air force base from reports i've read and perhaps even some planes. and this, you know, this coalition coming together has not been able to do did prior to this. isis has really filtered through. before this, there was a lot of infighting. and the united states was not able to corral them in a single direction. this strike is not just a physical manifestation. thank y
2:00 am
for joining us tonight. >> my pleasure. taking the fight to the terrorists. a special edition of "first look" begins right now with breaking news. target isis, arabs fighting arabs. the u.s., our allies and five arab nations unleash a massive air attack inside syria. u.s. jets pounding 20 targets and isis stronghold. target list, it is big. the life blood of isis. we're talking about weapons dee poes, training sites and command centers. take a look at this amateur video reportedly from inside the strike zone. missiles litp