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tv   The 11th Hour With Brian Williams  MSNBC  April 6, 2017 11:00pm-11:31pm PDT

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it's 2:00 a.m. here on the east coast. breaking news at this hour on the u.s. missile strikes launched by president donald trump on syria. i'm ayman mohyeldin joined by frances rivera. at approximately 8:40 p.m. eastern, tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at a single target inside syria. the video you see there are those exact missiles, shared with us by the department of defense. those thousand-pound missiles rained down on shayrat airfield in the homs province of western syria, where military officials
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tell nbc news the u.s. believe seer the syrian president fired chemical weapons into idlib. the pinpoint -- the strike, i should say, ordered by president trump was targeting aircraft shelters, fuel and ammunition supplies as well as air defense systems. the strikes were a response to tuesday's horrific chemical weapons attack that killed and injured hundreds of people. many of them women and children as seen in these disturbing images. images that moved the president to change his years-long stance against intervention in syria as he confirmed in his brief statement overnight at his mar-a-lago resort. >> tonight i ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in syria from where the chemical attack was launched. using a deadly nerve agent, assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. it was a slow and brutal death
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for so many. even beautiful babies were cruelly murded in this very barbaric attack. no child of god should ever suffer such horror. >> now, the syrian government claims charges, they were responsible for the chemical attack are fabricated while a u.s. official confirms the russians who have backed assad were warned ahead of the missile launch. more than two dozen members of congress, including the gang of eight that includes both democratic and republican leaders of the house and senate were briefed prior to the strikes with mixed reactions on both sides. so the question now, is this just a retaliatory strike or the first step in a greater incursion in syria. we hope to delve into that in the next few hours. i want to bring in colonel jack jacobs and also msnbc correspondent to cal perry.
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i want to start with you, colonel jack. talking about the options that the united states could have taken here and the timeline. so do you think that this was the ideal one to take given the other options there and the effectiveness in the short and long term. >> yes. given what the president wanted to accomplish. you've got to start at the end and work backwards. what is it he wanted to do? he wanted to demonstrate that he's strong. don't forget there's a domestic audience as well as an international audience, and he wanted to demonstrate some resolve. he had already talked about a line drawn, just like president obama had done. president obama hadn't acted on that, and trump wanted to make sure that he didn't act like that. the second thing is that the gas attack occurred just a couple of days ago, and like any punishment, the retribution has to occur as soon as possible thereafter. it would have been nice had we been able to go out and get concurrence from the rest of the allies. but he was advised by his
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military hierarchy that if you wanted to punish the syrians, the time to do it was sooner rather than later. you can't do it two or three weeks later and say, by the way, that was for what you did before. you've got to do it immediately. >> even if it means during the time that you're at mar-a-lago meeting with president xi jinping. >> there's an argument that says was one of the audiences for this. it may be a stretch, but i'm thinking if you want to do something about north korea, who is rapidly getting out of control, and the only way you can do it is with the concurrence of china, what better opportunity do you have when xi is here. he's going to be leaving shortly, so that he understands that there's some resolve here. and i think china more or less is on our side, doesn't want to see anything happen over on the korean peninsula. this demonstrates some resolve on the part of the president of the united states. in terms of proportionality in size and so on, other than doing
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nothing at all, this was actually quite a small strike. >> cal, let me ask you about the dynamics inside syria. the colonel was talking about this being punishment for the chemal aack for the assad gime, hoping to deter him maybe from committing another type of crime against the syrian people. but specifically in terms of the dynamic of the war inside, is this likely to change any dynamic on the battlefield? >> probably not. bashar al assad now controls over 80% of the country. we've heard recently from the u.s. an indication that they're perhaps willing to give up on the policy of removing bashar al assad. i think we need to take a step back here and look at the big picture. the u.s. has carried out 7,000 air strikes on syria in the last three years. so this idea that the united states somehow went to war tonight is just a false narrative, and it's probably what we're going to hear from the kremlin tomorrow. that the u.s. attacked a sovereign nation. that this is a big step, a step too far when, like the colonel is saying, this is the furthest we could have gone without
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seeing a reaction to our troops in the field. what we will likely see is rhetoric and words, not action. that was the purpose of this strike. >> colonel, there is no word on any casualties at this point, that nbc has independently confirmed. but in talking about that, when you look at the offensiveness and how that may cripple on that side, we're talking about the 59 tomahawk missiles, the hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistic cal storage, how will that cripple them? >> well, it will slow them down to be sure. don't forget that we already told russia before we were going to strike that we were going to strike. i'm not sure we told them where we were going to strike, but they probablyould have come to the conclusion that we were going to go there since we were going to retaliate for the gas and so on. so they may have withdrawn a lot of aircraft. there were a lot of helicopters there before. but the shelters are ruins. the fuel points are ruins. the maintenance sheds are ruined. they won't be able to use that
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air -- i don't know whether or not the runway itself was cratered, but even if it wasn't, that will be unusable for quite some time. don't forget that air power is pretty much the only thing that the assad regime has in its favor, and what it's been using almost continuously to counter the strength of the rebels on the ground. having said that, if this only deters assad from using chemical weapons again, then it will have been a success, all the rhetoric notwithstanding. >> that's what comes into play is you have those that for the symbolic meeting behind this and also the strategic as well. >> yeah, and i wanted to bring up the point about the comments we're hearing from lawmakers on capitol hill. they're using the word "proportional," that this was a proportionate response. there's also the question of the legality of this response and under what legal basis the u.s. carried this attack out. we'll probably hear about that in the coming days. but in terms of the proportionality, talk to us a little bit about that. what is the argument that this
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administration is making in terms of being an appropriate and proportional response. >> i think sending the message that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable is absolutely necessary, and it's been a long time coming. that said, there is no proportional response to the use of chemical weapons on a civilian population. i don't know what the proportion the response would be to something like that but it's not something we're willing to do. this was something that sends a message not to just damascus but sends a message to russia. i'm not sure how much the russians care about assad. they care about having a footprint in syria. this may be the first communication between president trump, vladimir putin and assad. this has been a president who has been ineffectual from health care and immigration, and this is one thing that he ask do that doesn't necessarily need congressional approval, and it sends a message to the international community that he's engaged and willing to do something. >> here at home you're saying whether or not there was -- who knew about it, whether there was
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congressional approval and that is the argument here at home, and you have senator tim kaine using the word "illegal" as far as not going to congress when it comes to this. you also have, you know, representative gabbard who is saying, wait, these strikes in her belief could lead to nuclear war with russia. >> well, let's see. let's see how the russians respond. i would say i think it's important that the gang of eight would have certainly been consulted on this, right? the gang of eight would have been talked to about this. but i think what's really interesting about this is the fact that you have this unilateral action that may result really in nothing. it may result actually in some kind of response from the syrian authorities against the civilian population. i think bashar al assad is going to have to show people in syria that he still has the capability to carry out air strikes or these barrel bomb attacks in helicopters. but this, again, shows that donald trump, a man with 35% approval rating, who has shown himself again to be ineffectual around other world leaders is
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able to carry this out in consultation we should say with general mattis, general mcmaster. those who be the two people really behind this. >> you're saying now we're going to say what the regime will do. colonel jacobs, what do you see that retaliation looking like if at all? >> well, i mean it's very easy for the regime to, as cal was saying, to take out -- to conduct retribution against civilian populations with something other than chemical weapons. but i know we don't have very much time, but let me just pass on one other thing. you talked about this being a message and to putin and everybody else. this may be an opportunity for the russians to look -- remember tillerson said, you guys, you russians got to think about who you're backing. this may be an opportunity for putin to actually act on that in a way which may pave the way later on for multi-party talks on solving the problem of syria in our lifetime. you never know.
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it would be interesting if this were the catalyst to make it happen. >> let's not forget the russians were supposed to deal with the chemical weapons. this he were supposed to get rid of this. >> we'll see if russia changes its calculus about president assad. i want you guys to stick around. we're going to get back to you in a few minutes, i should say. let's bring in liucy cavanaugh. let's talk about the international community reacti this morning. give us the lead on what european capitals are saying in terms of what happened overnight. >> reporter: we are getting some response from the russians now. that's something that was quite key to look at. we've been waiting for them to speak. we've been getting some new lines from the kremlin just moments ago, and no surprises there, ayman. the kremlin saying that president putin sees these air strikes against aggression against a sovereign nation. putin sees this action as an attempt to distrack the world from the quote, many civilian
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deaths in iraq. this is a favorite propaganda tactic by the russians. this what aboutism, if they get accused of something they point back and accuse the accuser of whatever it is that they were doing. not clear how the russians will actually respond. it is apparent from these latest comments that whatever feelings of warmth that existed before between trump and putin are now likely a thing of the past. now, we also are getting some new responses out of syria. the governor of homs province, which is where the air base is located, suggested that these u.s. missile strikes resulted in deaths. now, this is not something that we have been able to independently verify yet, but the syrian observatory for human rights, an activist group that monitors casualties in syria is l reporting that according to them, four syrian soldiers, including an officer, were killed. again, nbc has not verified this info independently. but more notely, the governor of
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homs said that neither syrian leadership nor syrian policy will be changed as a result of this u.s. tristrike. it's a significant point because it raises this question of how effective this u.s. military action wprove to be. does it lessen assad's grip on power? not likely. will it scare the government from carrying out more strikes? not unless the u.s. is prepared to follow up with more action. air bases can be rebuilt. there are plenty of other areas from which the syrians and the russians can stage attacks from. so does it change the dynamics on the ground? not very likely. >> let me ask you as someone who knows russia very well. what is the calculation in moscow this morning in terms of what russia can do in terms of the ongoing conflict in syria? is this something they're going to double down on now with assad and back him up to the hilt? are we going to see them try to internationalize what happened tonight at the u.n. with the security council resolution for example? >> i actually believe the russians when they say that
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they're not -- their support for assad is not unconditional. it's never been about assad, the man himself. in fact, i think they see him as a sort of unwieldy ally. they wish that he would sort of be a more easily influenced bhi what they want to achieve. the russians as cal perry was explaining earlier have some very concrete goals and things they want to achieve in syria. mostly maintaining their stronghold in the middle east. maintaining control and access to their bases there, especially the tar tas base on the water. this is a priority to them. it's a military priority to them. it's a national security priority to them. assad himself is not so much someone that they care for. will they double down? that remains to be sign. i think for russia they'll certainly milk this to the fullest for the domestic propaganda value. especially if these deaths we have not confirmed to be true, the ability of putin tos an
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audience. >> well, at the very least, what it could potentially signal to china is when the obama administration -- pardon me. when trump administration officials say things like they are prepared to handle north korea alone if need be, for the chinese president to be in mar-a-lago when this strike on syria took place, completely unexpected, it certainly drives home the point that the american president is not playing around, that perhaps other foreign powers should think twice before doubting him. but certainly introduces that element of unpredictability. will that play in trump's favor? that, again, also remains to be seen. >> we appreciate your perspective especially given it has been a long night for you. lucy, thank you. still ahead here on msnbc, we will talk to a former fbi double agent about how president trump
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is handling russia's putin who is a firm supporter of president assad. that tangled web next.
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tonight i ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in syria from where the chemical attack was launched. it is in this vital national security interest of the united states to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. >> that was president trump just hours ago announcing his decision to strike the assad
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regime just days after that horrific chemical weapons attack that killed over 80 women and children in syria. here with an early read on how president trump has handled this first major military test thus far, a senior fellow of the program on national security at the foreign policy research institute and also former fbi double agent. i appreciate your being with us in this late hour here first as we delve into this and knowing what the options could have been taken by the president, by this administration, and knowing the timeline as well. your thoughts on how we went about it and where we stand now as far as the effectiveness and the message that has been sent. >> let's go back to what the president said, that he wanted to do something that was going to deter the further use of chemical weapons. if that was the intention, i'm struggling to see how we've done that. look, this is perhaps one step better than saying, don't cross that red line. but tactically we haven't stopped at all. we haven't removed assad's ability.
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we haven't struck the chemical weapons themselves, for example. the t-lams that hit the airfield, by tomorrow morning they'll have filled up the holes with gravel. i don't really understand exactly how we've impeded assad here, and i don't know other than making a big statement, you know, we talked about north korea. this is not a real impact to assad. i think it is messaging, sure. it is messaging that we can do something, but i don't know that that something has achieved the goal that the president stated at the outset. it's politically safe. 's an easy decision in tt no american lives are put at risk. but frankly we haven't taught assad a lesson here. >> how would it embolden the regime now as far as retaliation against his own people, civilians and others? >> i think that's, you know, the previous dpeguest was talking specifically about that, that he expects assad to strike quite heavily at unfortunately the civilians. that may be true. i don't think this emboldens
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him. if i'm assad, he might want to take a beat and slow down. on the other hand, it doesn't necessarily encourage the russia russians. again, we didn't go after the chemical weapons themselves. we didn't go after the assembly, the infrastructure that supports or the people that support that. we chose a target that was devoid of russians because we don't want any escalation. so i don't know that -- he meay lay low. the russians are still supporting hip. the iranians are still supporting him. i don't know that he really has to do all that much. he's still in power. >> we have reaction from the kremlin and i'm paraphrasing as i read this. it says president putin sees the u.s. strikes as aggression against a sovereign country which violates international law and distracts from many civilian deaths in iraq and impairs u.s.-russian relations is what we're getting out of russia this evening. >> you know, look, go back to bosnia, for example, 1995. president clinton was watching,
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and you yugoslavia, all these places where genocide occurred, in many cases in order to stop the genocide, in order to stop these atrocities against our fellow man, we had to break international law. these were instances in which the united states was not directly impacted,and,ou know, again that doesn't -- there's a moral compass here. clearly you look at those videos, and we had to do something. so i will say that thatsomethins this. the russian response, there's not going to do anything. they're not going to escalate. i don't think this really changes anything. i don't think the russians are going to leave syria anytime soon. they clearly want to stick around. this is an important strategic asset for them. they want to be in the middle east, so i don't think it changes all that much. they're just going to send some messaging out and probably in a week or so, it's business as usual. >> let me ask you about iran. obviously they have a great stake in what is happening tonight and certainly with the
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assad regime. give us your assessment or your analysis in terms of what iran is thinking tonight. are they going to double down in backing assad? are they going to add more resources to this fight or do you think they too will have a moment of pause now that the u.s. is going after the regime itself? >> you know, i think that is a very good point that you brought up. we've had 7,000 air strikes in syria. as far as i know, not one of them has been targeting anything about the assad regime. in that regard, targeting assad and the regime is a pretty big marked change there. i think the iranians, you know, they want to be, as we're seeing in yemen, the conflict between them and, as you said, a proxy war with the saudis. we are seeing them want to become a regional hedge mond, and i think that scares the israelis who are willing to cooperate with the saudis, and i don't think the iranians don't want to necessarily move out. if they're smart, they're going to kind of lay low. they're going to keep pushing down south because that's where
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they want to be. i don't think they're going to double down because, look, the americans made it very clear. they want to target assad. they don't want to target iran. they don't want toart the russians because they don't want escalation. the target they chose was very specific so that it was going to be a limited, a one and you're done. it's not going to be a follow-up. there's not going to be anything else. they've made a point. there's no escalation. there will be no response from iran or russia. we go on. >> when you say that, we go on, as far as the united states and this administration, when you have those who are going back and forth with the meaning of this, the flexing of the muscle and also how in your point, we'll give assad reason for pause, but where do we go from here? what next for the president? >> that is the -- you know, that is the big question is that this is the thing that has escaped i think not just previous administration, other countries as well. i mean there really has not been a post-assad or a post-isis strategy. look, is syria broken up?
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do we have a kurdish state? what happens to that physical land that isis holds today? when they guy away, who takes it? who takes over the northern part for the kurds? are they going to, you know, just peacefully give up the land that they hold? and if they don't, is that going to be okay with the turks? these are all questions that are more than just isis. they're more than just assad, but they involve all of them. i think until we have a strategy for that, there's not going to be a solution. >> questions that we hope you'll be around to help us answer along the way. i appreciate your being with us. hopefully we'll be able to chat with you a little bit later on. still ahead here, did president trump alert other world leaders ahead of this missile strike, and what's the likely fallout for the united states? later today. that's next.
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