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tv   Andrea Mitchell Reports  MSNBC  October 30, 2015 9:00am-10:01am PDT

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the president had clearly not wanted to go down, we would think, but that's where we're going because what's been going on there just hasn't been working. >> ron, you mentioned the president's words in the past. i'm looking at one such statement, september 10th, 2013, my answer is simple. i will not put american boots on the ground in syria. but that's one of several pronouncements today apparently what we are going to hear is situations change. ron allen in the briefing room at the white house. we will go back to ron as the timing of this announcement nears. those of you tuning in to see andrea mitchell's broadcast at 12:00 noon eastern time will be going to andrea in just a moment. first over to the pentagon across the potomac from d.c. our pentagon correspondent jim miklaszewski. jim, you were listening to richard engel's reporting as you have all morning. anything you would add to the list and anything you would
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preview that may or may not be coming out of the white house or pentagon today? >> reporter: i would like to go back to your question, brian, about air strikes in syria, and i can tell you that on any given day, there would be as many as a couple of dozen air strikes against isis targets at various places, primarily in the north, and the eastern edges of syria. but ever since the russians started flying war planes in iraq, the number of u.s. air strikes in syria has dropped off precipitously. one, maybe two specific targets a day. they did reach this memo of understanding, memorandum of understanding with the russians to deconflict the air space so that russian and american or other coalition aircraft wouldn't be flying in the same air space at any given time. but it appears, anyway, i know u.s. military officials will contest this, but it appears
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that the u.s. and the coalition have pretty much forfeited large spaces of air space there in syria, at least for the time being. and in terms of the special operations forces that are being -- going to be inserted, not imbedded or based in syria, as far as we can tell, talking to military officials, but inserted for specific operations, there's a saying in the military that if you want to kill the snake, you cut off the head. well, the leadership in isis, for isis, is located there in raqq raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital. much of this may be trying to dismember isis at the top and so far, the u.s. military from the air has been unable to do that. as you know, u.s. military officials will tell you just cannot win a war with air strikes alone.
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you have to have a certain number of boots on the ground. and that is -- that appears to be where the administration has finally decided it has to go. >> again, jim, just the ultimate irony that part of the armor we are going after and blowing up is, you know, some of it made in america that we left behind after the war and now being used against us. jim miklaszewski, please stay where you are as we are awaiting this white house announcement. those of you tuning in for what we normally air at this hour will be pleased to know we will switch to nbc's andrea mitchell. andrea, on your normal beat, the state department, it looks like today we are going to hear from the secretary of state, if not the president. >> you hear from the secretary of state and as i have been framing it, he's kind of the good soldier here, describing a very unpopular policy and one that he has been pushing for, more military action combined
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with diplomacy. military action to support the diplomacy. he is in vienna meeting for the first time at the table not only with russia and with the others on all sides of this engagement but also with the iranians at the table. so about an hour from now, we are going to hear from john kerry at the conclusion of these meetings in vienna. the meetings that began today for the first time in earnest. they have been working on this. the president has been on the phone, calling those in the uae and others of the gulf allies who are dead set against iran being engaged diplomatically. the fact is ever since september 30th when russia began its air strikes with no warning to the united states, only 48 hours after vladimir putin had been at the united nations meeting with president obama, once russia was involved so directly, not just in support to assad on the ground but also support from the air, propping up assad and iran on the ground, there's no way to keep iran out of this and there's no way to not try to
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finally get those negotiations under way. we understand also that there will be no conclusion out of these meetings today, that in fact, kerry might be circling back to vienna next week or some place else in europe to pick up these talks. this is just the beginning of long-delayed talks. i should also point out there are many in congress in both parties who have long been calling for a congressional war authorization and the statement we are going to hear shortly from senator king from maine, a statement now from tim kane, the leading democrat on this front, who has been saying and said again today, that 15 months plus since the military engagement began against isis, we still have what he calls a non-constitutional executive military action without any authorization by congress and he and others, you certainly heard it from john mccain, and from lindsey graham and others in the republican party, they believe this is not an authorized military action and that there needs to be some congressional
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buy-in under the constitution of the united states. >> one question about what you just showed us and that is the start of these talks. the images, so badly fight each other what we are showing on one side of the screen, the kind of military exercises, and now what we are showing, that very typical long table with bottles of water and microphones and people sitting politely under flags. those two images are in conflict. why after the first hours of the talks would we learn today about this ramping up? is that strategic or merely a result of reacting to a leak? >> i think it's more tactical, frankly, that we are not showing the muscle militarily, the u.s. isn't, that russia and iran are. now you've got iran at the table, russia pushing this and claiming that they are in league here. you have jordan, one of our lead partners against isis, having a joint command center now with the russians.
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we frankly, the united states looks very weak diplomatically and you need military muscle to back up the diplomacy. look at those pictures again from that table in vienna. lavrov is at the head of the table with john kerry. america is supposed to be leading this coalition against isis and russia is now claiming either joint leadership or primary leadership here because it's the russian air strikes that have been a game changer in recent weeks to prop up assad. >> jim miklaszewski was saying from the pentagon one expression you hear over there a lot, if you want to kill the snake, chop off the head. there's another expression, though, and that is that it's harder to kill an idea. this military campaign, this war against isis, is going to be very difficult because of their recruitment, because of their -- of the idea of isis, really the face of evil in the modern world. >> the other piece of this is
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the sunni/shia split. in large parts of iraq, there is so much resistance to the shiite-led government and the influence of iran there that you've got real divided loyalties there and no national loyalty to baghdad, because they believe that baghdad has so badly failed them and has been so hostile, frankly, to the sunni interests in large parts of iraq. >> andrea mitchell, stand by there. let's go to retired four star army general barry mccaffrey who has been listening to all of this. he is in seattle today. general, kind of a general question, actually, about what i asked jim miklaszewski at the pentagon. would americans be surprised, we haven't always dialed in as a society to the war on terror and frankly a lot of that is because it's so secretive. we are not allowed to know the pilots, we are not allowed to
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know the special operators. would people be surprised to learn about the tempo of the air campaign we have been carrying out and have you any concerns learning today's news about this ramp-up, this change in our stance where special operators are concerned? >> yeah. well, you know, brian, i think first of all, you're right. we have had a major campaign going on, continuing in iraq, with thousands of troops on the ground, a major u.s. air force and naval air pounding isis throughout syria and iraq and a significant obviously cia presence in jordan and elsewhere. look, i think going forward, this is less about a military objective and techniques than it is about domestic politics and international politics. so what we're going to hear a lot of is how small this force is and what it won't be doing. i would be concerned,
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significantly concerned, about micromanagement of a small military operation by people in the white house. at the end of the day, what they're supposed to do is decide on the political objective to be achieved, the military objectives to be achieved, then use appropriate levels of force. so what we were doing before wasn't working. it was illogical. here's the secretary of defense, ash carter with his ph.d. in nuclear physics saying that doesn't make any sense. this will change the game considerably on the ground so in that sense, it's a good move. >> two problems here. number one, the quote i read earlier from the president saying he will not be putting american personnel in syria and number two, the phrase we like to use, the war-weary public. what do you do to prepare a war-weary public for the fact that we may lose some people on the ground, that this kind of third front even though it's a
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continuation of all our middle eastern problems? >> well, you know, i think again, this is about domestic politics. you want the american people, 320 million of them, to support you, you got to be transparent and straight with them. what is the objective? clearly what we are going to do is incur casualties, troops may go missing in action. these special operations units are absolutely magical in their capabilities but they are still going to be in harm's way and so will the air force, naval air and special ops that will be going in there with them. i'm concerned that domestic political considerations and this byzantine international situation where de facto we are allies of the iranians and the russians in this operation will sort of damage the ability for centcom, we have a four star general, lloyd austin, who is
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supposed to be running this war or is it being run out of the west wing? again, we have an issue going forward. the military definitely will be able to pull this off, though. i think isis will take some severe blows in the coming six months. >> general barry mccaffrey, i hope you will be staying along with us. i want to bring in richard hass, head of the council on foreign relations in new york, with vast foreign policy experience, including but not limited to his time as head of the office of policy planning at the state department. richard, every time we talk, i ask you what keeps you up at night. the answer has varied a little bit over the years. i will ask it this way. where does isis rank these days on that list? >> oh, it's pretty high on the list. not simply because of what it's done so far and the threat it holds to the immediate situation, but i think saudi arabia. if you are a group that calls itself the islamic state, you are not going to be comfortable
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or satisfied until you have set up a caliphate and that either means taking control of baghdad but the iranians are pushing back there, damascus, now thanks to the russians, they are being pushed back there. that leaves saudi arabia and mecca. the nightmare scenario for the middle east would be isis pointing its guns literally and figuratively at a new target. >> and do you see this american announcement today incremental as it's going to be and diminish as they are going to try to make it when the white house does talk about it, do you see it as kind of a natural progression? >> it does, but you put your finger on an important issue. the administration has to understand that the more it says what this isn't, in some ways removes or undermines the very thing they trying to achieve strategically. what we want to do is send not just the reality but the message that the united states is prepared to do more militarily which should help move the situation on the ground which in turn should strengthen the hand
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of john kerry and others at the table in vienna. it's almost like the policy in afghanistan where we would build up but then we would set an exit date and it tended to be contradictory. we don't want to get into that situation here where we say what we're going to do but also, we hint at what it is we're not prepared to do. >> what about the challenge of how hard it is to kill an idea? we all read the stories about young people, whether recruited or not, who pack up and go off to fight with isis because they like the idea, they like the cause. >> well, what we can do is kill the momentum. i don't think isis is so much an idea as it's a way to, what, show that sunnis can do well in this middle east. it pushes back against iran, it pushes back against shia. it basically does something about what's been a prolonged era of humiliation. what isis is going for, it's done well. so if the united states acting more militarily here in concert with the kurds and selected arab
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groups can begin to change some of the momentum on the ground, i think it doesn't kill the idea but it discourages people from going to join somehow this inevitable victor. so we don't kill the idea but we can make isis a much less attractive place for people to basically sign up to. >> what does the future of assad looks like? >> it's really interesting what's going on. the debate that seems to be happening is not whether he ultimately goes, it's when. at what point in a diplomatic process. so the united states and others are beginning to compromise and say he doesn't have to go as the engine of the train, it's not the first thing, and what you're beginning to see from the russians and the iranians i think are hints that he doesn't have to stay forever. so that he's somewhere before the caboose. now we are basically arguing to stretch the metaphor where in the train of the syrian political future assad steps down, under what circumstances, what happens to him. it's really i think increasingly
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become a question of when and not whether you have some kind of political transition. in the meantime, though, it's all theoretical because have you to stabilize the government. the last thing you want to do is see the government pushed out and collapse which would just open the road to damascus for isis. so i think it's going to be a long process but i do think that we are beginning to see the beginning of some sort of a weak consensus forming that there has to be a successor government. >> richard hass, council foreign relations in new york, always a pleasure to have you. thank you for spending time with us. we have a number of people watching and listening along with us, as we await the announcement from the administration, the story officially that we have been reporting this morning, a change in the stance, a more robust u.s. presence, especially special operators, in the region. we will take a break and be right back. for the same price. so five more gigs for the same price?
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continuing our breaking news, the announcement expected momentarily from the white house that we are expanding the u.s. military operations, particularly special forces who are going to be deployed in northern syria. joining me, senator angus king of maine, member of the armed services and intelligence committees. let's talk about whether or not this war is authorized under the u.s. constitution. we have now been according to senator kane and others, we have been militarily operating against isis for 15 months plus without any war authorization from the congress of the united states. >> i think the short answer to your question is no. it's not authorized. the administration relies upon the so-called authorization for the use of military force, aumf, that was passed a week after september 11th. it's a very tenuous argument but
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the problem here is not with the administration. the president sent up a proposed authorization about six months ago to the congress and basically it's languished. i think the congress is doing what it really does well, which is criticize, sit on the sidelines but not take responsibility. >> why not? >> because they don't want their hands on it. hillary clinton is still living with the decision she made back at the beginning of the iraq war politically and people as i say, it's a lot easier to criticize than it is to say yes, this is what we should do. there's also a controversy about it which is very interesting. the authorization the president sent up was fairly limited in time and in scope, and the democrats thought it was too broad and the republicans thought that it was -- it wasn't broad enough and it was fascinating for me to watch the same people who were complaining about executive authority suddenly saying the president ought to have unlimited authority for troops in any area
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of the world, and so there's an internal political dynamic. >> you are an independent. you caucus with democrats but you talk to both sides. you are one of those people in congress, those senators who talks to republicans and democrats. why can't you on the armed services and intelligence committees, why can't you all sit down and write an authorization that has enough support to go to the floor? >> well, i think it got pretty close. as i say, a few months ago. then it sort of languished and went away. last night we passed a budget. if we can pass a budget we ought to be able to do this. i think there is some opportunity but it will take some political will. as i say, people don't necessarily want to take that vote. but i believe along with rand paul, it's a very interesting coalition of people, i believe that's our responsibility. >> what is the implication of having boots on the ground in syria? americans can die. we have had one soldier already, one special forces operative who lost his life in iraq in the
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last two weeks. >> i think the administration is trying to find a way to solve the gap in its strategy. the strategy was to attack isis from the air, which we have done, and also try to bring about some level of indigenous boots on the ground. the train and equip mission failed. didn't work. not enough people. it just wasn't successful. this is another alternative. the problem is that if we convert this into a western war against islam, that's a gift to isis. that's what they want. they want to have our people there. it has to be ultimately local people. the problem is, this is complicated by the whole relationship with assad. churchill once said russia is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle inside of a mystery. that describes syria right now. it is a very complicated situation. and these talks in vienna are
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not about isis. they are about transitioning and getting assad out. as long as assad's in power, i think the strategic mistake the russians made, they can't prop up assad and fight isis at the same time. assad and isis are evil twins. assad brought isis into being by being so brutal against his mostly sunni population. we have got to get assad out and then turn the attention and here's where we and the iranians and the russians have a similar interest, of taking care of isis. but i also think you're right, some indication of military intentions will help in vienna because it strengthens our hand diplomatically. but those talks in vienna today are very important. they are early, i don't think they are going to be any breakthroughs but the fact the russians and the iranians who
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are totally supporting -- assad would have been gone three years ago without them, that they're at the table voluntarily and also the regional other countries to talk about how do we get rid of assad, as richard said, you know, it may not be day one, but how do we get assad out and yet still have a functioning government, then everybody turns their sights on isis and that's how this is going to be resolved. what the administration has done is a small step, but as we say, i think it's a significant one. these are going to be americans that will probably be casualties as there were last week. congress ought to authorize it. but we can't turn this into an american ground war. >> senator angus king, thank you so much. thanks for being here. of course, we are watching the white house briefing room expecting a statement at any moment from josh earnest. you are watching "andrea mitchell reports." breaking news only on msnbc.
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breaking news out of america's expanding military role against isis in syria and iraq. this is already a big issue on the campaign trail for the candidates in both parties. we have breaking news on the political front as well. for the democrats, a brand new nbc news survey monkey online poll reinforcing hillary clinton's post-benghazi hearing strength, hitting 50% for the first time among democrats and those leaning democratic with a 20-point edge over bernie sanders. more on that in a moment. on the republican side, at least ten campaigns now saying they would join a sunday summit of rebels challenging the republican national committee's authority over debate formats. joining me, nojeremy peters, cal lee and peter hart, nbc news pollster and founder of hart research and associates. peter, first of all to you. we have got this breaking news on the military. you have been out, you have been in indiana with focus groups. what are americans saying about the prospect of more military engagement overseas? >> well, i think it's always
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been terribly cautious, especially when it comes to the middle east and our last nbc/"wall street journal" poll on this said they don't see it as an imminent threat. they want to wait and there's a hesitancy on this. >> we have got the survey monkey polling, online polling. this is a very large survey. it indicates that at least among democrats and those leaning democratic, hillary clinton is up to 50%, she's got a 20 point lead over bernie sanders but some caution flags are there bernie sanders' support group, millenials, younger people, are very enthusiastic. >> they are but this is great news for hillary clinton. what it comes down to is groups that she wasn't doing well with such as men, she is now doing well with. she is doing well with the key groups that she needs to do well with, minorities, et cetera. all of this i think is good news for her and it does one thing that poor jeb bush doesn't have. it buys her time.
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so she has a lot of time to now start figuring out where she wants to go and what she needs to fix. >> carol lee, you cover foreign policy and the white house and politics as well. let's talk about what the white house is announcing today, because this goes dead set against what the president has been saying for years, starting in 2013, we are not going to have boots on the ground in syria, and what they are going to announce today, any way you cut it, are no matter what the numbers, boots on the ground in syria. >> they are. the white house has two challenges. one is to come up with an answer for why they have said no boots on the ground and you will hear that from the press secretary today saying that what the president always meant was no large-scale military invasion of ground troops. the second thing is that the president has said that these folks who are sent into iraq and syria are not going to be in combat. well, obviously that's not the case. but the interesting thing about this is that the president has
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made this decision and in the last two weeks has also announced that he's going to keep troops in afghanistan and has taken that provocative action against china and south china sea. so you see him taking these steps involving the military that he has not wanted to do since taking office. he's ramping up in ways when he thought he would be toning things down, so this is all just happened in the last two weeks, but make no mistake. this announcement today is a major significant reversal in certain things that he had said initially at the outset of this campaign. >> jeremy peters, looking at the republicans now, jeb bush campaign that seems to be on life support, even as marco rubio and ted cruz emerge not only doing well on campaign contributions but in all the reporting coming out of the debate. what does jeb bush now have to do to try to retool that campaign and reassure the donors? >> i think he needs to say
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something a little more convincing than my campaign is not on life support. i think that he's got to come into the next debate with a very strong performance. i know that's not exactly a really insightful comment about the position he's in right now but i think it does illustrate the dilemma he's in. he's not a skilled debater, not a natural attacker. everybody around him for the most part believes that he was forced into attacking rubio against his better judgment. there were some advisors who wanted him to do this and it's not in his nature. they are friends, let's remember. they have known each other for 20 years and it put him in a very awkward position. he said it himself. he's not -- debating is not his forte. he told donors this in a call yesterday. it's hard to see in this modern campaign era where debates have become such a central part, such a defining part of campaigns, that he can really get out of
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this spiral. >> peter hart, you have watched campaigns for so many decades. when candidates try to be something they are not, it's instantly obvious to those watching. >> it's inauthentic. what we found in the work we did in indiana is big problems for bush because he is seen as too soft, and the difficulty of trump, he's too strong, too tough. there's ben carson sitting in the middle as intelligent and the right temperament. that's what the voters are going through. long road but that cake has been baking a long time. >> it's almost as though they're not listening to what ben carson may or may not be saying. they like his affect, they like his experience, they like his authority. >> you have it exactly right. >> peter hart, thank you so much. carol lee and jeremy peters. of course, we are expecting to have the official news of what we have been reporting since richard engel first broke the
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story earlier today from the white house at any moment from the briefing. not from the president of the united states, we are told, but it will be from the briefer, most likely josh earnest, that u.s. troops are being sent to fight isis in syria as well, it's expanding operations in iraq. you will hear it live right here. we'll be back with brian williams and the whole msnbc team.
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as we continue our breaking news awaiting the white house announcement about expanding the military operations now to boots on the ground in syria, as well as in iraq, i'm joined by senator lindsey graham, obviously a member of the armed services committee, republican candidate joining me from manchester, new hampshire. senator, you and john mccain and others have been saying there should be military operations sooner than this. >> yes. >> is this too little, too late
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or is this the right option for the white house right now? >> well, number one you need a no-fly zone inside of syria for the refugee problem so people don't have to flee their country. and you need a place where you can train soldiers, a no-fly zone allows you to do that with safety and security. this is in my view, an incremental change so it will not change the conditions on the ground. in the eyes of the enemy, this is weakness. in the eyes of our allies, this is unreliability. isil is not going to be intimidated by this move. you know, they are all in for their agenda, the caliphate and their view of the world. president obama is not all in when it comes to degrading and destroying isil. this just reinforces that. >> senator, you know better than anyone what people are saying out there on the campaign trail. how do you persuade the american people that we should be all in? >> isil is going to hit us if we
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don't hit them first. look at what they're doing to the region. we are americans. we are the good guys. we have to balance, you know, our character against our national security needs. it's not in our national security interests to allow syria to continue to fall apart. it affects our friends in jordan. we don't want to lose the king of jordan to a radical islamic group. we don't want lebanon to be overrun so the syrian refugee problem affects our allies. it is a safe haven for isil. they want three things. they want to purify their faith. they are destroying their christian religion also. they want to destroy israel and hit us. al baghdadi, the head of isil, told the american colonel i'll see you in new york. so it's a direct threat to our homeland is what i would say. >> and what do you think of iran sitting at the table with russia and john kerry today in these first multi-lateral talks to figure out a diplomatic solution to how to get assad out? >> literally makes me sick to my
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stomach. we are about to sell out syria. assad is being reinforced by russia, iran and hezbollah and the millions of people in syria who want to replace assad because he's butchered their families have nobody standing behind them. so john kerry is about to turn syria over to russia and iran. guess how these negotiations are going to end when assad has no military threat against him any longer because of russia and iran? iran's influence in syria is going to be through the roof. russia's presence in the region is going to be enhanced. assad is going to be left in place or a proxy of assad will be left in place to our national security interests and to those of the people of syria. >> let me also ask you about this summit of candidates, republican candidates rebelling against the republican national committee and the debates. what do you want your representatives to argue for and how do you argue against the
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front-runners, because you might have different interests. they might want fewer debates, you probably want more. >> well, what i want to do is make sure we have the best process for the republican party to pick the most qualified person to go into the ring against most likely hillary clinton to win an election we can't afford to lose. so the undercard debate i think is really hurt in this regard. i don't think i'm an undercard candidate. the difference between fourth place and last place is within the margin of error. so using national polls this way has never made sense to me, and the top tier debate, you are having too many people, not enough time to talk. so what i would suggest to the republican national committee is that we have an embarrassment of riches. we have a lot of good candidates. don't overly micromanage the process. let's have two debates, randomly draw names out of a hat, and over time, this will work out. i really do believe the process that we have embarked upon has hurt us more than it's helped
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us. priebus is a good guy, he's trying to do the right thing for the party, he's probably trying to correct from the 2012 problem but at the end of the day, this is not the solution. >> senator lindsey graham, thank you very much for taking time out from the campaign trail on an important day of breaking news here in washington. thank you, sir. joining me now is nbc white house correspondent kristen welker, colonel jacobs and barry mccaffrey as well as david ignatius and richard hass. an embarrassment of riches. first to you, kristen, you will be hearing what the president is about to do exactly what he said since 2013 that he would not do. how will they explain this away? >> reporter: i think you will hear white house press secretary josh earnest say this is an expansion but not a change in strategy. white house officials throughout the morning with whom i have
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been speaking have been saying that look, these 50 or so special forces who will be in northern syria will be there in a train, advise and assist mission so the mission remains the same. one administration official saying that their goal will be discreet, tactical and targeted but make no mistake about it. as you say, president obama in 2013 said this quote, i will not put american boots on the ground in syria. so you can expect press secretary josh earnest to get a number of questions about that, also about the aumf. does the administration actually have the legal authority to move forward with putting u.s. forces on the ground in syria and of course, this does come against the backdrop of an announcement just two weeks ago by this president that he was going to have a larger than expected presence in afghanistan. this is not only a reversal in course inside syria, but for this president, who ran on a platform of drawing down u.s. troops in afghanistan, in iraq and in recent weeks, we have seen just the opposite.
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so expect josh to get questioned about all of that. now, in terms of the timing of this, this is a clear indication that the u.s. policy inside syria is not working, that they need to ramp it up, but according to one official, it also corresponds with those diplomatic talks that you have been discussing all morning long. secretary kerry trying to bring about a political transition of power inside syria. andrea? >> kristen welker, we are also joined by david ignatius from "the washington post." is this deployment to syria going to make a real difference on the ground? >> it certainly will bolster the forces that our special forces will be going in to advise and assist. this is really a serendipitous force that the u.s. came upon last year, principally syrian kurds, about 25,000 of them now supplemented by about 5,000 arabs. they have been extremely successful in northeast syria.
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it's really the only positive thing that's happened from the u.s. standpoint in this syrian conflict. i think what the white house has decided is to go with what seems to work and augment it by having these advisors on the ground in addition to the air strikes that we have been providing for the last year to this group, and to pull back on what doesn't seem to work which was the train and assist program coming out of turkey that was such a disaster that the president basically decided a month ago should be scrapped. >> richard, we just talked to lindsey graham, who said what john kerry is doing diplomatically is a disgrace, it makes him sick to his stomach we are basically selling out the syrian people by cutting a deal with russia and iran to prop up assad. do you see it that way? >> i don't. what i think the secretary of state is trying to do is to work with all the parties to engineer a political transition. if that means that bashar al assad has to hang around in
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damascus for some time, i think that's part of the reality. quite honestly, there's not an alternative to the current government that's ready to step into its place. the last thing we want to see in syria or damascus is what we saw say in tripoli and libya. we don't want to see a collapse of authority because isis could fill that vacuum. on the other hand, we don't want to go over to the iranian and russian position where assad has to stay in an open-ended way. that's obviously the outlines of the compromise. it's a question of when he goes, exactly what the terms are, what's the nature of the political entity. i think that's perfectly legitimate for the secretary of state to be negotiating. >> of course, we have seen what happens when there is a vacuum of leadership in libya and egypt and elsewhere. we will take a quick break. we'll be right back. ideas are scary. they come into this world ugly and messy.
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we have been watching andrea
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mitchell but a last minute flurry of activity in the west wing of the white house, we are less than two minutes away now from the official white house briefing which will presumably be headlined by the news we have been reporting, a changed and more robust u.s. stance in syria, including special forces on the ground. kristen welker has been waiting in the west wing briefing room for this. kristen, as far as we know, this will be josh earnest, the white house press secretary and we can anticipate they will want to control how this story is told. >> reporter: it's significant that we are hearing from the white house press secretary and not from the president himself and that is our understanding according to multiple officials thsh thsh , this will be white house press secretary josh earnest who is going to announce there will be less than 50 special forces in northern syria to fight against isis but they will be there in a
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train, advise and assist mission. so he's going to argue that this isn't a major shift in policy, that the president has promised that he's not going to bring about an open-ended expanded mission like the one that we saw under george w. bush in afghanistan and in iraq, but make no mistake, this is a significant shift for this president who vowed back in 2013 that he would not put u.s. forces on the ground, and that is in effect what is happening. so josh earnest is going to get a number of questions about that. more broadly, though, this president has campaigned on drawing down troops in afghanistan and in iraq and instead, in recent weeks, we have seen just the opposite. the president announcing just two weeks ago that he was going to have a larger than expected troop presence in afghanistan through 2017. so a lot of tough questions that josh earnest will be getting and i can tell you reporters have started to gather here in the briefing room, ready to ask him about all of it. brian? >> i see one of them, mark
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knoeller from cbs radio is trying to get around you to his seat. we are waiting for the blue door behind you to open. again, throughout the morning, there were hints perhaps that we may hear from a more senior official, that perhaps the president would talk about this, but in part because of some of the reaction you have heard during andrea mitchell's broadcast from capitol hill, from those running for president, looks like this will be just the press secretary in the white house. >> good afternoon, everybody. happy friday. before we begin, let me do a quick readout. the president spoke today by telephone with iraqi prime minister to discuss the political and security situation in iraq and underscore the united states' enduring support for iraq in its fight against isil. the president commended the recent progress iraqi forces have made against isil and welcomed the ongoing campaign to
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isolate isil in ramadi, noting that the united states in partnership with the iraqi government will intensify support for iraqi security forces in these efforts. the president also voiced support for the prime minister's leadership in his efforts to combat corruption and implement governance reforms critical to promoting iraq's political stability and economic prosperity. the two leaders noted their full support for the u.s.-led global coalition to counter isil, emphasizing that both the united states and iraq are fully committed to partnering with the international community to degrade and ultimately destroy isil. they also reaffirmed their commitment to the strategic partnership between the united states and iraq. this is part of the discussion that -- part of this discussion was some of the efforts that the united states will begin to undertake to intensify those elements of the u.s. strategy and our coalition strategy against isil that have yielded some progress. i know there's been some reporting on this already today.
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i anticipate that will be the subject of some discussion with all of you today. kathleen, we can go ahead and get start order whatever topic you would like. >> i will start there. so the white house is saying fewer than 50 forces [ inaudible ]. there's initial reaction calling this a band-aid on a gaping wound. what exactly do you think will be accomplished? >> i certainly wouldn't underestimate the capability and capacity of our u.s. special operations forces. to be an important force multiplier anywhere around the world they're deployed. the president does expect that they can have an impact on intensifying our strategy for building the capacity of local forces inside of syria to taking the fight on the ground to isil in their own country. that has been the core element
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of the military component of our strategy from the beginning, building the capacity of local forces on the ground. that was the essence of the call that the president just completed with the prime minister. the united states and our coalition partners have worked effectively with the central government of iraq. they have got command and control of iraqi security forces in that country and because of training and advice and assistance that the united states and the coalition partners have been able to offer to those iraqi security forces, we built up the capacity of iraqi security forces to be more effective on the battlefield inside of iraq. the situation in syria is quite different. the united states and our coalition partners do not have a central government with whom we can partner. the assad regime has lost legitimacy to lead that country for a variety of reasons. in fact, they have actually used the military of that country to attack innocent civilians. so with the united states and our coalition partners have been focused on doing is enhancing the capacity of moderate opposition forces on the ground inside of syria. there are already a variety of
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ways you already know about that the united states and our coalition partners have offered assistance to those forces. some of those efforts have included carrying out military air strikes in support of their operations on the ground. in some cases, those local fighting forces have been enhanced through decisions that the president has made to resupply them, offering them military equipment and ammunition that they have used to effectively make progress against isil. when it comes to northern syria, in particular, we have seen moderate opposition forces inside of syria who have driven isil out of kobani. you recall some of these opposition forces were under siege after being resupplied by the united states military, these forces didn't just drive isil out, they drove them out of the broader region. now there's a 500 mile long border between turkey and syria, all but 90 kilometers of that border is now secure.
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we have also seen these opposition forces make progress in the direction of raqqa. this is the self-declared capital of the islamic state. there are now moderate opposition forces that are 45 kilometers outside of raqqa. so there's been important progress that's been made in this area. and the decision that the president has made is to further intensify our support for those forces that have made that progress against isil and all along, we have indicated that the president is prepared to intensify those elements of our strategy that are showing promise. obviously our support for moderate opposition forces in northern syria have made progress against isil. they have shown promise and that progress would not have been possible without our support. we have also demonstrated a willingness to scale back our investment in those aspects of the strategy that have not yielded progress. there's a lot of discussion in this room a couple weeks ago about the train and equip program that wasn't yielding the kind of results that we would
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like and the president announced a significant change to that element of our strategy. so that was a long answer, but i gist want just want to give you the full context of this latest decision that the president has made to intensify this element of our strategy that has already shown some promise. >> reporter: just to be clear, you said you think it will have an impact, is that significant impact? doesn't sound like you are selling this as a game changer. >> i think you are astute to make that observation. i think what -- the president has been quite clear that there is no military solution to the problems that are plaguing iraq and syria. there is a diplomatic one. the president has put in place a multi-faceted strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy isil and this military component of that strategy is an important part of the president's top priority which is the safety and security of the american public.
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and because of this strategy, we have taken extremists off the battlefield inside of syria who were hoping to use a safe haven inside of syria to attack the united states and our interests. so we know that we need a political transition inside of syria in order to address the root causes, the root cause of so many of the problems that we have seen in syria and that those problems range from hundreds of thousands of syrians who have lost their lives in the civil war in that country, millions of syrians who have had to flee their homes to escape violence, some of those syrians have unfortunately died trying to flee their country. and it's a tragedy both in terms of the human toll that it's had on the syrian people. it's also significant in terms of the destabilizing impact it's had throughout the broader


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