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tv   The Last Word With Lawrence O Donnell  MSNBC  January 2, 2020 7:00pm-8:01pm PST

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guard corp had been killed in some sort of strike in baghdad, we're watching and monitoring iraqi state tv reports on that. that eventually escalated tonight to there being iranian confirmation of this, and now just within the past couple of minutes the u.s. defense department confirming it was a u.s. military strike that has killed soleimani as described by our bureau chief moments ago he's not only a well-known figure in the middle east and in middle eastern geopolitics, in his telling he's essentially the second most powerful man in iran after the supreme leader. what the consequences will be of his assassination which is being confirmed by the defense department in the last few minutes remains to be seen. that's going to do it for us at least right now.
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>> we're going to be continuing the breaking news coverage of this event. the information in the last 10 minutes has just changed dramatically. as you began reporting on it, it was hard to even confirm this had happened, we really just had iraqi sources at the beginning and we finally had iranian forces and now the department of defense. so it seems everything we need for confirmation of this we now have. >> not that long but for the initial coverage it was all those iraqi tv sources and then everything sort of fell into order pretty quickly in term of iranian sources. >> andrea mitchell is going to join us this hour. but one of things striking about it is she had secretary of defense esper on her program this afternoon. and when he was speaking about this situation, it really sounded like from his perspective things were under control now and the situation
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had calmed down. you couldn't get any clue from that appearance this afternoon that something like this was planned. >> yeah, and i mean -- you know, u.s. military and cia targeted killings around the world are a big deal, and they always are. but in terms of a consequential targeted assassination, in term of its military consequences, it's hard to imagine all that many that would be more consequential than this. when you set aside putting a strike on the head of a foreign head of state, for example. if you take away the idea of decapitating a state, one level below that kind of the most consequential military assassination you can imagine in the world is to kill the head of the koods force from iran. i don't know how long they had this planned and how much they prepared but we are about to see it. >> we have a bunch of experts
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here going to help us with it. thank you very much, rachel. i want to say presidential candidate and future trump impeachment trial juror senator cory booker will be joining us tonight. and there has been plenty to talk about as a presidential candidate and senate trial juror, but now we'll also drawing on his expertise to get his reaction to these developments in iraq tonight where the pentagon has just confirmed the top iranian general has been killed in a u.s. missile strike at an airport in baghdad. i'm going to read it in full. it says at the direction of the president the u.s. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect u.s. personnel abroad by killing the head of the iranian revolutionary guard corp, the koods force, a u.s. designated foreign terrorist
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organization. this is continuing with the department of defense statement. general soleimani was continuing plans to target u.s. forces throughout the region. his force was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of americans and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. he had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in iraq over the last several months including the attack on december 27th culminating in the death and wounding of additionally american and iraqi personnel. the general also approved the attacks on the u.s. embassy in baghdad that took place this week, and this is the final part of the department of defense statement tonight, the final two couple of sentences. the strike was aimed at deterring future iranian attack plans. the united states will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are
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around the world. we are joined in our breaking news coverage of these developments in iraq tonight by andrea mitchell, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for nbc news. cal perry is with us. ambassador wendy sherman, a former under secretary of state in the obama administration will join us, she was the lead negotiator on the iran nuclear agreement, and she's now an msnbc global affairs contributor. ned price is with us, a former director and spokesperson for the national security counsel in the obama administration. and a former state department and white house official in the obama administration is also with us. andrea, i want to start with you and i actually want to start with that interview you did this afternoon with the defense secretary. i watched every minute of it. it seemed as though things had calmed from his perspective, and there was no clue about what was going to happen tonight. >> well, there were some hints along the way because he had briefed pentagon reporters this morning as well and said there could be a preemptive strike if
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they felt that u.s. interests or certainly u.s. lives were at stake. but there's no real hint in our interview. we asked what would happen next, and appropriately if they were planning this he certainly would not comment on it. they had him do our interview, he did one other interview i know of, and mark esper was very carefully saying that the u.s. had the forces, that the u.s. would respond, that enough is enough said he. and we also heard earlier today over at the pentagon that correspondents there from the chairman of the joint chiefs saying that anyone trying to issue a further attack would run into a buzz saw. certainly esper was saying they thought other attacks were planned. and what they are saying in the statement tonight is that they have a legal predicate for what was done because they said u.s. interests, that further attacks were planned and that this was defensive in nature and that
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would be according to the legal scrimture for decades on official kills or assassination, targeted assassinations. this was the most significant attack i can remember since certainly what happened with baghdadi, what happened with bin laden. now this relates to certainly the widespread state sponsored terror that has emanated from iran, that has been the source of what esper was saying 40 years of iranian activities. now, they have claimed they had diplomatic overtures to iran. there's none i can detect. wendy sherman whom i covered for years during the iran negotiations, both the secret negotiations, that she was leading and then the former negotiations knows very well that there's diplomacy that's engaged with iran for years
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until that was canceled by this president with the withdrawal from the iran nuclear deal. and that and the increasing sanctions, the maximum pressure that failed to collapse the regime which certainly was the underlying theme even though they denied it, has certainly led to this eeventuality. i cannot predict what will happen, but in talking to other experts in my experience having covered every other engagement the u.s. has had with iran since the taking of our embassy back in 1979 and having witnessed what happened when the shah fell in all of these years, lawrence, you've seen this from your experience as a journalist and previously at the senate. there are going to be reprisals around the world. iran is the most widely engaged foreign military force in both terror and in diplomacy and is
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recognized by great britain, by all of our european allies who had embassies in tehran. iran is not iraq. this is not saddam hussein. this is much larger country, a much more established culture and regime. and we're going to face repercussions for this now acknowledged it was a military strike that killed soleimani who was an official leader in iran. >> i want to quote one more line from the interview with the defense secretary today where he says enough is enough, other things. one of the notes struck that sounded to me he was trying to take down the temperature was this. he says there's a lot we can do and then he followed that immediately by but. i think it's important at this point in time to not make this a united states versus iran issue. his department tonight has just issued a statement saying this
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is a united states versus iran issue. >> yeah, i'm not sure what the communication is inside the defense department. i think donald trump's tweet of just an american flag is going to leave many people to wonder what is the strategy here. this man is and was an icon in iran and in the middle east. the face of the middle east as we know it, and it's hard to overstate this is in large part drawn by soleimani. the war against isis ended the way it did in large part because of soleimani. hezbollah has its power because of him. depending on who you talk to, he was a terrorist. others will say he was a stabilizing force. it's impossible to imagine anyone in iran and iraq and
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syria and lebanon viewing this as anything but the u.s. versus iran from today forward. as andrea is saying, you can expect there will be a response. iran is now put in a position where its back is against the wall, and it has to respond. you know, with someone like ambassador sherman on the panel, i have to wonder how we step this back. the iran nuclear agreement was partly such a break through because it opened communication between the u.s. government and iran in a way that we haven't had in a generation. and those communications tonight are just not going to exist. the u.s. will certainly as far as its military posture have to go to a war footing. folks who are in that baghdad embassy are going to be in an incredibly delicate position to say the least. and iraq will go almost immediately to a war footing. however you want to put it the, the doolz day clock has ticked, another step towards midnight.
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and certainly looks as though the u.s. is headed towards a wider conflict now in the middle east. >> cal perry has just handed it to you with now what? >> well, i wish i knew what all the now what's were. i quite agree with what they've said. there will be terrible, terrible reprisals. they will likely happen in the middle east, but they could happen really anywhere in the world, and as both of these journalists have pointed out, we have people all over the world that could become targets. and of course our military and iraq are targets. our embassy in baghdad is target. lebanon is a likely place to be targeted. in a situation like this, lawrence, what usually happens is if there's a small group in the white house with all of the pentagon, the intelligence community, the state department meeting very quietly, they send out a classified note or briefing to key embassies to
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have a regional security meeting, to get ready to figure out how they're going to defend themselves, whether there are authorized departures so families can leave embassies. an enormous amount of work goes in so we can make sure we're steady and ready. he's a ruthless, ruthless killer. there is no doubt about that. nobody weeps that he is gone as a person and what he did and the terror he brought about in the world, but that said, the obama administration at least to my knowledge did not go after him and target him because we understood what the consequences were. we were in the midst of diplomacy. we hoped that we would find a peaceful path, understanding that there were many issues in iran that still had to be addressed besides their nuclear program, and we had the sanctions, the tenacity, the alliances to do it. so i think tonight the immediate
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concern for all of us is what both andrea and cal have said, and that is the reprisals, where and how they will happen, they will be asymmetrical. it doesn't matter where our troops are, they can be targets. even though he was this unbelievably unique counter military strategist, but we are at a very, very exculatory moment here which can lead us into a wider war. i hope we do not go there. i pray with all my heart that the trump administration has a plan and strategy. but all i've seen to date around policy is one off action, and this one off action can have unbelievably horrific consequences. >> ned price, given what we just heard from former under secretary of state wendy sherman, there comes the question of why. we understand the reasons not to do this as just outlined by
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ambassador sherman, the reasons why the obama administration did not take an action like this and presumably what the resources they had could have. what is the why for the trump administration when you read the department of defense statement tonight, it seems to be because of what they expected general soleimani to do next. they say general soleimani was actively developing plans to attack american diplomats throughout the region. now that's the trump administration asking us and the world to believe them about that point. >> well, certainly, lawrence, i think it's true what others have said that no one should be shedding any tears for soleimani. he had american blood on his hands and american blood nonetheless in conflicts throughout the region from syria to iraq to elsewhere. but at the same time i think the
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fact as ambassador sherman said that the consequences of this could be unbelievable. look, my concern throughout this had always been a conflict with iran would start not with a bang but with a womimper of any numb of tit for tat escalations that the trump administration has mounted against iran since may 2018. tonight i think we heard that bang and it was a very loud one. it is impossible to overstate the level of prominence, the authority figure that soleimani was within society. he was a political figure, he was a cultural figure. unlike osama bin laden, unlike baghdadi, this was not a transactional and essentially stateless terrorist that was homeless without a country that would weep for him.
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this was a revered figure in iran and i think we have consider all possibilities for retaliation, ambassador sherman mentioned a few potential theaters, i would add one more. i think back to a case in 2011 when individuals were arrested in the united states for a plot to attack the saudi ambassador at a washington, d.c. restaurant. just across town from where i am now. this was a plot that had links to the force that soleimani oversaw at the time. it's certainly to true to say americans in syria, americans in lebanon, americans throughout the region will be under increased threat. my concern more so is that americans here at home will also be under increased threat as a result of what happened tonight. >> your reaction to where this story stands at this hour. >> well, first of all, i'm thinking about the americans who are serving overseas right now who are facing incredible danger of retaliation and are hoping that the trump administration as
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folks have said have a real plan to deal with that. this is brutal thug with blood on his hands all across the middle east and peaceful protesters in iraq. so again no tears for soleimani. the question is what now. america and iran stuck in between war and peace ever since trump walked away from the iran deal. and the question now really is where do we go? we seemed to have entered a whole new phase of this conflict marked by serious escalation and a risk of a kind of spiral into retaliation and more bloodshed. i still don't think iran wants to go to full-fledged war with america, but i think they're backed into a corner where they're going to have to find some way to respond and inflict pain. and that could lead both sides into further escalations. and i don't see a way back from
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them. the question is where the middle east goes from here and where america can go. >> andrea mitchell, where does the story go from here and the questions we should be asking? >> all the questions you are asking and the experts you have around you, lawrence, because we're all caught between knowing his history, his history of terror and oppression against his own people. but the fact is at recent stages he was the most popular political figure in iran because of iranian popular reaction against the so-called moderates, and i use that phrase very carefully against rouhani and zarif and others. they were blamed because the iranians had been promised economic benefits for signing onto a deal they also did not like. it was a compromise neither side was totally satisfied as wendy
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knows better than any off of us. and it was a compromise the first step to limit for at least ten years and for longer than that in terms of the fuel supply lines, to limit production of nuclear weapons material to permit space for diplomacy to get to the delivery systems, the ballistic missiles and other things that were never contemplated to be covered. it was not signed off by the senate because the obama administration could probably not get confirmation. it was not a treaty but it was a u.n. agreed upon agreement signed by the united states and by the other six powers ratified by the united nation. and the fact we walked away from it was such a dramatic departure from diplomacy, from agreed upon, you know, deals that it marked a real departure and an end of diplomacy in iran. and how we cover this now,
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there's no way to protect our forces adequately overseas because individual americans will be targeted, individual intelligence operatives as well u.s. uniform military. and our diplomats as well as others, as well as american interests. iran through hezbollah has been active in south america in argentina years ago when we covered those attacks against jewish community groups in south america. so there's no telling what will happen to israel, and it is interesting that saudi arabia, iran's adversary has recently been having back channel talks to try to reach accord with iran because they felt the u.s. did not really support them following iran and in fact the attacks against the largest saudi oil field. half of their oil supply for weeks knocked out that they could no longer rely on america,
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their closest ally in the west. so there are so many ramification diplomatically, and in the world on the war on terror. and as both ned and wendy have pointed out, we do not know that the usual steps to protect american interests overseas and american diplomats have been taken. >> ambassador wendy sherman, you helped negotiate and put in place the iran nuclear agreement with the united states and other countries that prevented iran from developing a nuclear weapon. where would you put that, the iran nuclear deal if say you were part of editing tomorrow's page one new york times story about these events tonight? >> i think some of those things have even been said in the last couple of days after the attack on the u.s. embassy in baghdad and that is in my view very painfully it is president trump's withdrawal from the iran
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nuclear agreement that started a series of steps that have led us to this day. now, that doesn't mean iran is not responsible for taking steps to counter steps we have taken. iran does bear enormous responsibility, but nonetheless there seem to be a set of one off acs as i said earlier without a coherent strategy. the president, i think, believed that the iran nuclear deal should have dealt with all of the problems in iran, the states sponsorship of terrorism, the unlawful detention of american citizens which goes on even today and those americans who were held in prison today i also have great concern for under these circumstances. they're not getting out any time soon. human rights abuses, iran's maligned, all of these things are ballistic missile programs. all of these things are of great concern, but you cannot deal
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with all these issues in one negotiation otherwise you just end up with a mediocre on everything. iran would say, okay, i'll have a few less centrifuges but i want some more missiles or i will agree to maybe not give hezbollah so much money but i want this nuclear technology. so you don't end up really solving, so president obama thought he had to first get rid of the potential for a nuclear weapon, because if iran had a nuclear weapon imagine if we are where we are today and if they could project power of a nuclear power into the middle east, how our deterrent would be so nearly impossible, so i think that president trump walking away without a strategy basically hoping that maximum pressure would either incite a riot that would overthrow the regime or that iran would be brought to
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its knees was without an understanding of the consequences. we saw the other day that the president should have known if in fact we took the retaliatory action we did in response to americans being killed, by taking a strike that tld would be an action. we should have fortified our embassy and talked to the iraq government and it doesn't appear we did any of those things, which makes me very nervous whether in fact there is a plan to deal with what's to come in the days ahead. they would react but do it as we would, at a time and place of their choosing and that means we have to be prepared everywhere. >> joining us by phone is hallie jackson, nbc news chief white house correspondent. and what are you learning from the white house tonight, and have you learned anything from the white house about plans to deal with retaliation?
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>> yes, it's an interesting question, lawrence. we've been doing a lot of reporting from our sources here in west palm and back in washington. i can tell you president trump was at mar-a-lago tonight. our team is confirming he spoke with his national security advisor and ambassador robert o'brien. tonight i'm told by one source o'brien is at mar-a-lago with the president or had been this evening at mar-a-lago with the president. not surprising given the enormity what's at stake here. the president, you have to think about how he spent his day. he was largely for most of the day off twitter which has been somewhat unusual over this holiday break. he's been particularly vocal about the impeachment proceedings against him and he spent about 5 hours plus at his golf club and then returned back to mar-a-lago where he's been since right around 3:15, 3:30 this afternoon. the white house is leaning on this statement you have been reporting tonight from defense
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secretary mark esper confirming, of course, the death of soleimani, the question now is what happens next with iran, how does the u.s. essentially disentangle itself or not from this escalation that has occurred tonight? the president -- keep in mind the activities this week just 48 hours ago was standing at the steps here in palm beach telling reporters, telling americans, telling the world he believed that peace with iran would be the better solution, essentially. telling people he did not want war with iran. that is the concern that that is what the u.s. is stepping into potentially here. the other piece of this we're watching is not just what would happen to the president tomorrow, and by the way it's still not clear what his judgment will be. i can't share that with you right now because we just don't know. he's been set to visit a church
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for an evangelical sort of rally or event with evangelicals who support him. so it wouldn't be surprising if we did see the president tomorrow. i would imagine he would want to speak about this now the defense secretary has confirmed it. you also have what's happening in congress. we've seen some of this already tonight and perhaps surprisingly really bifurcated along party lines. you have-curves for example senator ben sasse, rubio and calling solemani forgive my french here but an evil bastard. and the president took this action without seeking congressional approval, and i think that's the other piece of this you're going to see play out on capitol hill. >> hallie jackson, thank you very much for joining us. really appreciate that. i want to go to cal perry.
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cal, the question comes up -- i'd also like to ask the control room to go back to the photographs we have of the scene tonight. that's what you were seeing before. that is at baghdad airport, that is where this missile strike occurred. and, cal, it raises the question what was general soleimani doing there? why would someone that high ranking, a military officer that valuable be in the line of fire tonight? >> i think it speaks to who he was as a figure in iran when i tell you he did this fairly frequently, he would visit the front lines and visit the battlefields both in syria and in iraq, and then his photo would then be circulated across iranian media and across the country. interesting to note it was actually his name being spray painted along the walls, the outer walls of the u.s. embassy during those protests. our bureau chief actually handed me this.
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the former head is vowing, quote, revenge against the united states and we're starting to get some reaction now from iran. when you look at this from the iranian perspective, when we talk about why perhaps obama never followed through and did something like this to soleimani and keep in mind it was widely understood that he's someone you don't touch because of the repercussions. i can't think of anybody else in that category who's maybe the secretary-general of hezbollah would fall into that category. but the reason you don't do that is because of this strong response but also because of what it does politically in iran. it strengthens those who are radical and those who speak out against the u.s. it lends weight to those who want to develop nuclear weapons in iran to protect iran from what they would consider a rogue state in the united states. the that is how this is going to
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be viewed in iran and in parts of syria and iraq and in parts of lebanon. and keep in mind we're talking about a region that continues to sort of lie on a knife's edge especially when you look at lebanon, and when you talk about the places that we could see a reaction, lebanon has to be the top of that list where hezbollah is very strong in the south and could retaliate in some way against israel and it raises the question. i know this is string of questions what the president knew, when he knew it and how the u.s. prepared for this. were they a part of this, what was the talk amongst allies, if there was any talk? certainly a figure of this stature makes you wonder not only how the decision was made but as everybody else is saying, not only what happens now but in what way was the u.s. military prepared, the state department prepared? this is going to have ramifications on countries not in the region, frankly on the
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global economy, lawrence. >> ned price, again to this question of soleimani putting himself in the line of fire like this. we never see an american commander of that high rank, this is equivalent in effect to a cabinet level position, joint chiefs of staff officer. this is just an extraordinarily high level. but soleimani himself had to know -- he had to know the kind of chance he was taking by being in baghdad and being in the baghdad airport. >> well, it's possible, lawrence. but at the same time this is something general soleimani had done for quite some time, frankly. he was quite often in iraq, in syria, quite often elsewhere, even traveling as far afield in some cases as russia. again, this was not a stateless terrorist as bin laden or baghdadi was. this was a powerful, military, security and political figure within iranian life.
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probably the most powerful, the second most powerful person in iranian society. and to your question, we've been talking about this question of why. i think we also need to raise the question of how this was done. and i would flag two things. number one, this was done in iraq. and that is significant, i think, because it really puts on a knives edge and potentially even has the potential to eliminate the partnership that we have enjoyed with the iraqi government for some time, a partnership that was, of course, predicated on the initial disastrous decision in 2003 but that successive administrations have found a degree of success working with iraqi authorities against collective challenges, keefly the challenge of counter terrorism and combating isis. i think the operation tonight on sovereign iraqi soil really calls into question whether we will have a partner in baghdad
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going forward. but, second, we are already seeing the trump administration essentially -- about this. the department of defense has issued a statement saying explicitly president trump ordered this operation himself. look, the chances of retaliation on the part of the koods force, on the part of other iranian proxies are profoundly high, and i don't think we're going to get away without some sort of retaliation. at the same time if the administration had taken a different approach, even if they had decided to undertake this operation but had done so in a way that was quieter, perhaps more discreet, leaving open questions and even this idea of plausible deniability, look, this is region where bad things happen to bad people. instead of taking that route, trump has decided really to it seems take a victory lap, tweeting this strange american flag tweet, having his defense department say it was him who personally ordered this strike. and i think that unfortunately puts even more of a target on
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americans both in the region and as i said before even further afeld to include in the united states where we know the koods force in the past has had some associates and even some degree of capability. >> hallie jackson when she was with us talked about the president this week, saying he was interested in peace with iran. we have video of that, of what hally was referring to. let's watch that. >> i don't think that would be a good idea for iran. that wouldn't last very long. do i want to, no. i want to have peace. i like peace. and iran should want peace more than anybody. so i don't see that happening. no, i don't think iran would want that to happen. it would go very quickly. >> that was the president tuesday night on new year's eve. couple of things to react to
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there, but let's react to the last thing the president said. he doesn't want war with iran, but he said war with iran would go very quickly. i guess he means it would go quicker than war with iraq. >> that's exactly it. look, america is the most powerful military in the world. we have the most powerful conventional military. we're stronger than iran. they are experts at unconventional warfare. it's not clear where that kind of war would end. it would be incredibly destructive for both sides. trump is right that conventionally we're superior, but they have all sorts of other ways to make america feel pain, and there are simply better ways to handle this problem than reaching the precipice of war with iran. and i think the iran nuclear deal showed that, and the kind of violence we may see in the days ahead is deeply troubling. i prefer peace, but i don't see he's put us on a path to de-escalate this conflict. it's good to get rid of bad
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people, but it's bad to have the region on the brink of war. >> joining us now is jonathan alter. and here is president trump who ran on the i was against the war in iraq, i'm going to get everybody out of there. he's actually increased the number of troops in the region, specifically in iraq and certainly increased the tensions to put it mildly in iraq tonight. >> you know, when he said it wouldn't last very long -- >> war with iran wouldn't last very long. >> you know what that reminded me of, lawrence, in 1914 both the germans and the french thought this little fight between them was going to last for a couple of weeks. it was kicked off by an assassination of arch' duke france ferdinand. it was called world war i. people don't know how wars end. it's much easier to start a war than end one. and this was an act of war.
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maybe the predicate made it necessary. we don't know all the details yet. but the only comparison to this in all american history was after pearl harbor president roosevelt ordered the assassination of general yamamoto who was the architect of pearl harbor in retaliation of that. but that was 1942, what the united states did tonight i think it will be understanding for the iranians to react to it as an act of war. the question is how hardened are our targets around the world, and i think the answer is not hard enough. look at the $750 million embassy that we have in baghdad. they were able on december 26th to breach the wall of that unbelievably fortified embassy.
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think of all the other embassies around the world. >> all of which are generally less fortified. i want to bring you back into this going off the point trump made on new year's eve where he said it would go very quickly and he's talking about of course with a full-scale war with iran. it's reminding people of different things. it's reminding me of a moment on "meet the press" with our dear friend when the vice president of the united states said to him that the american troops would be greeted as liberators in iraq and in baghdad meaning it was his way, that was dick cheney's way of saying it would go very quickly. we are still with guns drawn patrolling iraq. >> and i'm glad you brought it back to iraq because one of my deepest concerns tonight is how this would be viewed in iraq, where there's so much shia
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influence where the u.s. embassy is close, where iranian militias, iranian backed militias and the attacks they were -- the u.s. retaliated against killed 25 iraqis. now they were iranian sympathizers, iranian supporters but there was fury in iraq. all those protests, weeks and weeks of protests we've seen against iran and other interests in iraq changed almost overnight after those weekend attacks because it was considered disproportionate because iraqis died, because there was no warning. we warned other leaders in the region, but there was no warning to the iraqi leaders. that was probably considered because of military security, but the fact was that iranian -- iraqi nationalism has arisen against america over this in the last couple of days. we've seen anti-americanism run
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rampant in iraq and no longer considered libilators at all with all the ups and downs of our terrible experience in iraq, which you remind us of with that dick cheney interview with tim russert. the fact is that in the days since last weekend where an american contractor tragically died and that was reason to retaliate, but the way we retaliated and the deaths of 25 iraqis really enraged iraqis. and when mark esper said to me, the defense secretary said to me today they reacted solely, that was a signal we also heard from other u.s. officials i've been told that there's no way that the militias, they're not protesters, they were militants, rioters, they could not have gotten into the green zone if there was not some compliance from the iraqi security that is so heavily embedded with
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iranians and with iranian supporters. the iranian influence, i mean the iraqi government is torn between the u.s. and tehran and tehran was its neighbor next door, and we're not going to win that battle. >> we're going to have squeeze in a quick break right here. when we return we'll be joined by presidential candidate senator cory booker. we'll get his reaction to the developments in iraq tonight. we'll be right back. n iraq tonit we'll be right back. can my side be firm?
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we're covering breaking news from iraq tonight. it is best described in a statement issued by the defense department which i will read the beginning of tonight. it says at the direction of the president the u.s. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect u.s. personnel abroad by killing qassem soleimani the head of the irany revolutionary guard corp quds force. general soleimani was killed in a missile strike by the united states at baghdad airport tonight in iraq. joining us now is presidential candidate senator cory booker. he is a member of the senate foreign relations committee. senator, i want to get your reaction to this development from iraq tonight, the killing of the top iranian general at baghdad airport. >> well, first let's be clear soleimani has american blood on his hands. he's been involved and ordered attacks that have cost american lives and wounded many soldiers.
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this is somebody who is a bad person. but we also have to look at the larger strategic situation in that area. we have a president who has had really a failure in his iranian policy, who's had a larger strategic plan and made that region less stable and less safe not only for americans but for other countries, whether it's our ally israel, whether it's the fact hezbollah, whether it's a situation in the gulf, whether a situation in yemen and more. this is something facts are still unfolding. we have a lot more to understand wrg whether this met the standards of authorization for military force. what was the involvement for iraqis in terms of their strategic objectives and what will the following days be like for the safety and security and the strength of our overall situation right now with iran? >> if the iran deal -- the iran
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nuclear deal negotiated by president obama and ambassador wendy sherman, john kerry, if that had held in place, if president trump had not tampered with it, where would we be tonight? >> first of all, understand the president's america first policy is really isolated america alone. we turned our backs at having -- standing firmly with our allies in a strategy with iran, and we pulled out of that deal. and now iran has been doing more things to disable that region as well as now violating the original plans, the original part of that deal by heading more quickly towards a nuclear weapon. so clearly that was a bad decision and has destabilized the region and has alienated us more so from critical allies we would need in a diplomatic fashion and this president has no strategic plan for that area
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and made it less safe and made it harder for us frankly to come to diplomatic conclusions that won't necessitate what it seems like he's going towards is more and more military conflict. >> now, if the iran nuclear deal had stayed in place and we never got to this point, which may be the case this wouldn't have come up. but it is now in front of us as a presidential decision. and i want to put the presidential decision to you. and it's in the first -- it's in the second sentence, actually, of the defense department's statement tonight. they said this. general soleimani was actively developing plans to attack american diplomats and service members in iran and throughout the region. how would you make the presidential decision about what to do about that if that's accurate and if you were accurately presented with information that said general soleimani was actively developing plans to attack american diplomats? what would you need to make a
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presidential decision about what to do here, and what would that decision be? >> let's have no -- no unclarity about this. let's be resolute and clear. if there are imminent attacks on the united states of america, the president of the united states has a obligation to defend this nation whether it's here at home or our troops abroad. and so again these are statements coming from the trump white house. there's a lot more facts that have to come out to see if indeed this president who has already done things that have undermined what people on both sides have said and again our involvement in yemen, bipartisan rebuke of that, again his attacks on the assad regime, there were many of us in the senate that said very clearly that did not amount to the authorization of having military force. there's no question about it. the president needs to be resolute and strong in defending
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this nation, but this is president that again has made this country less safe because a lack of strategy and doing foreign policy by impulse, by tweet against even his generals and advisers who many are finding out about his policy decisions from social media not to mention peace in that region. >> senator, i want to ask you about the president's new year's eve comment. we ran it earlier on the video on the show, what he said about war with iran. he was asked about that by a reporter who said do you foresee going to war with iran, and he said i don't think that would be a good idea and his final line about a war with iran was it would go very quickly. what was your reaction to that? >> look where we are right now in iraq and afghanistan. this is a president who has had now years of being a president at war, and he has not ended
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them very quickly. this is president who claims to know about military issues than his own generals. this is president who has shown from my opinion in situations like the middle east to be an ultimate failure when it comes to policy. he used national security waivers to put tariffs on our canadian neighbors. so i have grave concerns about the safety of this nation and our ability to stand with our allies to meet our challenges whether it's nuclear proliferation in north korea and iran or even the greatest national security threat we see, to humanity over the next 20 plus years which is climate change. again he pulls out of international agreements. this middle east we have seen is not going to be solved. as we know in afghanistan now with the papers coming out, we are not going to solve these problems as our own
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>> no. and i think it's worth mentioning we are mindful of u.s. troops in the field. but as the sun comes up in iran and it is 7:00 a.m. there now, it is worth mentioning and it is worth remembering that millions of people in iran and in syria and in lebanon and in israel are waking up this morning, very, very scared in a region that seems to be one step closer to another war, lawrence. >> daniel, what do you expect to see in news coverage what we will see, literally see in iran tomorrow? >>ra i think you'll see qassim soleimani treated as a martyr and treated as a hero of his country,er which is not how we americans see him. but you can certainly expect the
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iranian regime to use this for all the propaganda value they can. inside iran, across the region, and in iraq, where the iraqis are just caught in between america and iran and feeling trampled under these big dogs at the moment. as you can expect iran to use this for propaganda value everywhere. >> and jonathan alter, one thing we are sure of is that this president won't be handling the aftermath of this publicly the way any other president would. >> right. i think that's what's maybe most frightening about it. let's assume for a minute that he was at the baghdad airport and deserved this, okay. let's just stipulate that. let's just say maybe it was the right decision to take him out. but you have in that case right decision, wrong commander in chief. so you need somebody at the helm who can navigate skillfully in extraordinarily complex set of events that he has now set in motion. and i personally have no
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confidence that this particular commander in chief can do that. so we have a guy who is driving down the highway at 100 miles an hour going through the guardrails. he was going through guardrails here in the united states. now he's going through guardrails internationally. and we do not know what the wreckage is going to be. >> andrea mitchell, what are you looking at as the next stage of this story?at >> well, there is going to be a lot of claiming of credit for this. theofre president with his flag tweet has certainly made this a u.s. versus iran event, if it weren't already from the claim of responsibility for this as a defensive act, they say. interestingly, israel had many opportunities to takel soleima out and did not for fear of retaliation, for fear of what a cultural figure he was throughout the middle east. so iro fear retaliation. and as others have suggested, at
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the time and place of iran's choosing, whichti could even reh over the waters to the united states. grave concerns that there is no plan, that there is no policy, that this is another one off act, perhaps, well, justified by soleimani's career of murder and terrorism, but one that has not been well thought and well planned. >> ghwendy, on that point that israel certainly had the capacity to do this, they chose not to. israel is a bold actor in the region. they're not timid about making the decisions that may make. review for us the case they make against taking out this general thiski way. >> the case against taking him out is buzz of the retaliation, because of how he is seen in the middle east. he is not loved by all the iranian people, but among the politicians in iran, he is a cult figure, and he's used to really pull the country together.
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so this will increase the nationalism, and it will increase the a retaliation. >> that is our last word for this urhour. i want to thank you all. andrea mitchell, wendy sherman, daniel benjamin, cal perry, thank you all for guiding us through this breaking news event tonight. that is "the last word." "the 11th hour with brian williams" starts now. the breaking news tonight, the trump administration takes a major step in hostilities with iran inside iraq killing a top iranian general after strife outside the u.s. embassy in baghdad. this as more troops are on their way. we have the latest. and more than two weeks after the house impeached president trump, the senate leaders prepare to square off and democrats hammer away at new report, accusing the white house of a cover-up. plus, the presidential race gets even more volatile as new deadlines close and voting is just weeks away as "the 11th hour" gets under way on this thursday night.