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MSNBC's O'Donnell Gets Schooled by Garry Kasparov on Obama's 'Red Line' Waffle

Media Research CenterOn Monday's The Last Word show, after former chess champion and Russian political activist Garry Kasparov charged that President Obama had "blown up [the] reputation of his office" by allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk him down from his "red line" warning against Syria, MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell tried to argue that Obama had not really lost face since he never specifically promised military action, even though the President warned of "enormous consequences" if chemical weapons were used. [Video below]

The back and forth started after O'Donnell asked "what advice" the Russian activist had for Secretary of State John Kerry's "day to day negotiations" on the matter, prompting Kasparov to respond:

I think they already lost because it's not verifiable. And basically, the agreement gives Assad green light because suddenly, Assad who two weeks ago was sitting in bunker fearing for his life, now he's part of the deal. And as long as he's complying or pretends he's complying, he can keep killing his people.

And even if he does something outrageous again, there's no trigger there. Then, it goes back to United Nations. So Putin got everything he wanted. I think even beyond his wildest expectations. And Obama who once said "red line," he's just blown up reputation of his office.

The MSNBC host then asserted:

Well, the President and Secretary of State, their stated mission from the outside was to stop this use of chemical weapons by Assad. They seemed to have stopped the use of chemical weapons, and the process they're engaged in is to prevent them from using it.

Kasparov called out the spin in O'Donnell trying to argue that President Obama had not changed his position:

Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, I think, I agree that that was the goal, and that's why President said, "red line." I understand that red line means that if somebody crosses red line, then you act and don't talk anymore.

A back and forth continued:

LAWERENCE O'DONNELL: That's not what he said. He didn't say this is what I will do if you cross-

GARRY KASPAROV: No, red line, whether it's in Russian or in English or in any other language means that you act if somebody crosses it.

O'DONNELL: No, no, no. You can't say if you use this phrase, that means you must do this.

KASPAROV: We are sitting here talking in studio, Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. And if he says, "red line,"  he should put at face value his words.

O'DONNELL: I would say, what I would say to you is if he says, "red line," you shouldn't assume this extra stuff that you're assuming about.

KASPAROV: Okay, again, the problem is not what I assume. The problem is what Iranians and North Koreans assume.

O'DONNELL: But they've stopped using chemical weapons and the President has said that if they do use chemical weapons again, the United States does reserve the right to strike militarily without-

KASPAROV: That's exactly what he said a few months ago.

O'DONNELL: No, he did, he never said, you got to remember this, he never said if you use chemical weapons, I will strike militarily. He never said that.

In August 2012, President Obama had threatened "enormous consequences" if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons:

We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.

Below is a transcript of more of the segment from the Monday, September 16, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC:

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: On Saturday, the United States and Russia reached a deal on how to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. Here is Secretary of State John Kerry announcing the deal.

JOHN KERRY: We have no illusions about the challenges ahead. The United States and Russia have not always seen eye to eye. That is known. And we still don't see eye to eye on everything.

O'DONNELL: The next day, President Obama said this.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify," and I think that that's always been the experience of U.S. presidents when we're interacting with first soviet leaders and now Russian leaders. You know, Mr. Putin and I have strong disagreements on all range of issues, but I can talk to him. We have worked together on important issues.

OBAMA CLIP #2: And so, you know, this is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the United States and Russia.

O'DONNELL: Joining me now, political activist and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. ... So you have learned the Putin way of doing business the hard way, by actually living in Russia and dealing it with on a daily basis.

GARRY KASPAROV: And millions of other Russians.

O'DONNELL: There are so many things I want to talk to you about beyond Syria but including Syria certainly. What advice would you give John Kerry in going forward with his day to day negotiations over this?

KASPAROV: I think they already lost because it's not verifiable. And basically, the agreement gives Assad green light because suddenly, Assad who two weeks ago was sitting in bunker fearing for his life, now he's part of the deal. And as long as he's complying or pretends he's complying, he can keep killing his people.

And even if he does something outrageous again, there's no trigger there. Then, it goes back to United Nations. So Putin got everything he wanted. I think even beyond his wildest expectations. And Obama who once said "red line," he's just blown up reputation of his office.

O'DONNELL: Well, the President and Secretary of State, their stated mission from the outside was to stop this use of chemical weapons by Assad. They seemed to have stopped the use of chemical weapons, and the process they're engaged in is to prevent them from using it.

KASPAROV: Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, I think, I agree that that was the goal, and that's why President said, "red line." I understand that red line means that if somebody crosses red line, then you act and don't talk anymore. Now, these red lines-

O'DONNELL: That's not what he said. He didn't say this is what I will do if you cross-

KASPAROV: No, red line, whether it's in Russian or in English or in any other language means that you act if somebody crosses it.

O'DONNELL: No, no, no. You can't say if you use this phrase that means you must do this.

KASPAROV: We are sitting here talking in studio, Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. And if he says, "red line,"   he should put at face value his words.

O'DONNELL: I would say, what I would say to you is if he says, "red line," you shouldn't assume this extra stuff that you're assuming about.

KASPAROV: Okay, again, the problem is not what I assume. The problem is what Iranians and North Koreans assume.

O'DONNELL: But they've stopped using chemical weapons and the president has said that if they do use chemical weapons again, the United States does reserve the right to strike militarily without-

KASPAROV: That's exactly what he said a few months ago.

O'DONNELL: No, he did, he never said, you got to remember this, he never said if you use chemical weapons, I will strike militarily. He never said that.

KASPAROV: So the fact that Assad killing people by not using chemical weapons is acceptable now?

O'DONNELL: It turns out that was acceptable, yes. Without using chemical, I mean, that's the story. That's the weirdness of the story.

KASPAROV: If he uses the chemicals again, then what happens? Then we go to the United Nations?

O'DONNELL: The position now is, no. No, we won't-

KASPAROV: No, no, that's an agreement.

O'DONNELL: No, no.

KASPAROV: There's no trigger in that agreement.

O'DONNELL: No, you got to pay attention to what the President and John Kerry are saying. They're saying if he uses chemical weapons again, John Kerry has been very clear, the president has been very clear, the president reserves the right to use a military strike.

KASPAROV: Okay (INAUDIBLE) the United Nations again. Okay, fine.

O'DONNELL: Okay, but we can continue to talk about that over time because we're going to watch how this goes if it will work or not work. We'll see. You don't think it's going to work at all, I get that.

-- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center