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Syria without Assad; Syrian Chemical Weapons; American Dream No More?

Aired July 24, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to the program.

For months now, the world has been wringing its hands over what to do about the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. But my brief tonight: does the United States or any other country, for that matter, have a plan for Syria without Assad? His stranglehold on power has slipped with last week's assassination of his top military leaders, a growing number of defections and rebels stepping up their assaults around the country.

And alarmingly this week, for the first time, Syria confirmed that it does have chemical weapons, which it threatened to use on any foreign invaders. It seems clear the U.S. has little intelligence about that cache or its whereabouts.

Israel has vowed to prevent those weapons getting into the wrong hands, and even Russia has issued a strong warning to its Syrian ally not to use them. President Obama seems now to be drawing a line in the sand.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Given the regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States, should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.


AMANPOUR: What does that mean? In a moment, I'll ask the former national security adviser for President Obama, General Jim Jones. But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): It began half a century ago with a call to arms.

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The Nobel prizewinner says the land of opportunity for all has become a gated community for the few.

And in Iran, a case of fowl play, the price of poultry is going up and angry protesters are ruffling feathers. Guess what the Iranian government is censoring now?


AMANPOUR: And before General Jones joins me, let's go straight to Syria and to CNN's Ivan Watson, who's now inside that country.

Ivan, what are you noticing, now that you're inside, about the organization of the rebels?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's remarkable how much this rebel movement has transformed, just within the last 4-5 months, I'd estimate. When I was here in February and March, these were men armed, in some cases, just with shotguns. And now we see them equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, with Belgian assault rifles, high-caliber rifles, with, of course, Kalashnikov rifles.

And we've seen and heard about more high-powered rocket-propelled grenades that have proven effective at taking out Syrian armored vehicles, which has really succeeded in cutting off entire Syrian government units from moving back and forth on roads that they once traveled on freely and have forced the Syrian government troops, in some cases, to get their resupply by helicopters only as they kind of barricade themselves into outposts in countryside that is surrounded, not only by rebels, but by local population that support, feed and shelter the rebels.

AMANPOUR: Ivan, you know, a lot of talk has been about creating safe havens for the rebels. Today, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that what's happening, essentially de facto safe havens by the rebels gaining so much territory. Does that -- is that what it seems to you now in the location you are, that there is a safe haven for them to operate from?

WATSON: Certainly. The rebels have been -- and they've largely done this without any foreign assistance, which is remarkable when you consider that the Assad regime has accused the opposition movement of being a foreign and imperialist plot from the get-go. But what you have seen is the opposition carve out, meter by meter, village by village, a de facto opposition enclave that has grown and, in the last couple of months.

And it does tend to cluster along the borders and spread out from borders such as the border with Turkey here in northern Syria. And we've seen the rebels moving to try to seize a number of key border gates to try to firm up this de facto rebel enclave. Of course, the fear would be if the Syrian government could mount a significant offensive with tanks, with helicopters and its forces, that that could crumble very quickly these enclaves.

But the fact that the rebels have been able to mount offensives on key cities like Damascus, and currently Aleppo, that's put the regime forces on a bit of a defensive. And we've seen that here in these rebels enclaves. Last night, in this village where I'm staying -- I can't identify the location for security reasons -- hundreds of rebels last night loading up ammunition and fighters to head straight for the battle in Aleppo, which is just about a half-hour's drive away.

They're trying to mount the offensive and capture neighborhoods there. And they're suffering losses. We saw one fighter from one village, who was buried today. He -- that village has lost four of its sons over the course of this conflict --

AMANPOUR: All right.

WATSON: -- and that's a big blow for a community of perhaps a few thousand inhabitants.

AMANPOUR: Great reporting and great latest developments, Ivan. Thank you very much indeed for joining us from inside Syria.

And now I want to turn to the former U.S. national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones.

Thank you for coming in.


AMANPOUR: I want to ask you all about the rebels gaining strength and what the prognosis is. But first about these chemical weapons that it seems Syria has, frankly, publicly admitted to having them. You heard what President Obama said. Is this, from your experience, something that could draw the United States in in order to try to get them, neutralize them, deal with them?

JONES: Well, I think it introduces an element that we obviously have to take seriously, just as we did the thought that Saddam Hussein might have had nuclear weapons as well.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying go in and get them?

JONES: Well, I -- you know, the president, I think, really did the right thing by drawing the line in the sand -- excuse me -- and I think some of our recalcitrant friends and allies, like the Russians and the Chinese, ought to be thinking about that very seriously as well.

AMANPOUR: From your experience and from what you know even now, are there any plans, any military plans that have been drawn up to actually facilitate that?

JONES: Well, that I don't know. I've been gone long enough. But I do know that, you know, whether Assad himself uses them or not, after he leaves, it would be wise to have a plan to go in and secure those weapons before they really do fall into the wrong hands, just as we did in Libya.

AMANPOUR: Do you have any idea what Syria has? I mean, there's this alarming story that actually the CIA doesn't know. They're not in there, although I'm sure they're trying to get in, maybe some are in, as I've been told. But do they know what Assad has? Do you know?

JONES: I don't know. But I think it's commonly accepted they do have those kinds of weapons. And you know, in moments of desperation, a leader like Assad, you can't, with a leader like Assad, you can't just hope that they won't be used.

And but even if he doesn't use them, at the end of the day, they have to be secured. Otherwise, they might fall into the wrong hands and then we might have even a bigger problem.

AMANPOUR: I've heard that Al Qaeda is in there, not just to battle Assad but to get hold of those weapons. Do you think that's a likely scenario?

JONES: I wouldn't discount that. I wouldn't discount other interest groups, particularly terrorist organizations from having that goal. It's always been a goal of an organization like Al Qaeda to achieve and to obtain weapons of mass destruction, which is one of the things we worry about when you talk about a country like Iran that could, once achieving that technology, would export it to non-state actors.

The significance of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorist organizations or so-called non-state actors make -- will make it an infinitely more difficult problem than it does with recognizable states having those weapons.

And so this is one of the big reasons why we're concerned about Iran, not only because of what they might do but because of -- they might -- it might trigger a nuclear arms race in the Gulf, and it also might find its way to the non-state actors.

AMANPOUR: Before I get to Iran, I just want to say -- I mean, does it surprise you that there doesn't seem to be any U.S. plan for a post-Assad Syria?

JONES: Well, I think there -- I think there is one. I mean, I think --

AMANPOUR: I've reported and reported and reported, and nobody can tell me a plan.

JONES: You know, I -- you know, I'm not in government now, so obviously I wouldn't be privy --

AMANPOUR: But you were national security adviser --


JONES: That's true, but --

AMANPOUR: Isn't that kind of strange?

JONES: -- but, you know, you -- it was OK to be surprised by Tunisia, for example. Maybe you could excuse a little bit in Egypt.

But now with this phenomenon of going down the road -- and Syria is a real big strategic country, particularly as it relates to not only stability (ph) in the Middle East, but what happens to Lebanon, for example. If Assad goes, what happens to Iran? This is certainly not something that Iran wants to see happen.

AMANPOUR: So the U.S. should have a plan, but it doesn't.

JONES: And we -- I think we should -- obviously, I think we should have a plan. I think we're -- as a global leader, we need to consider what the elements of that plan are. From my standpoint, it's not just about sending in troops, but it's about having economic incentives and packages. It could be -- it could be international. It could be multinational.

But we have to figure out as quickly as possible who is likely to emerge in a leadership position, how do we talk to them and how do you put something on the table that meets the expectations of the people of Syria who are putting their lives on the line for a better life and a better future.

AMANPOUR: You've talked about Iran. I want to move on to Iran. We've talked about the possibility of these nuclear negotiations working. We don't know whether they will or not. Obviously everybody's looking for an alternative. You have been engaged to speak for the MEK, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, as have many other former U.S. officials.

And I want to know two questions. One, it is listed on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Do you think it's appropriate for you as the former national security adviser to be talking to this group, you know, within such a short time of leaving the administration?

Or at all, frankly?

JONES: Well, my interest at first was having to do with speaking on Iranian policy, to our policy with regard to Iran to start with. Frankly, the issue of this particular group never came to my attention when I was national security adviser. It was just something --


AMANPOUR: But do you know what it is now?

JONES: Of course. And --

AMANPOUR: Have you given back the fee?

JONES: I accepted speaking fees to start with. And then when I fully understood what this was about and what it wasn't about, I stopped accepting --

AMANPOUR: So do you still support them as a viable alternative?

JONES: I -- my interest in this particular group has more to do with the Iraqi treatment of them from a humanitarian standpoint.

AMANPOUR: But do you think the secretary of state should delist them from the terrorist group?

JONES: I do. I think the evidence is overwhelming that since 2003, the United States has had a policy of protecting Camp Ashraf and those people from --

AMANPOUR: But just to get to Iran, I mean, if you're looking at a wider strategic level, they have no credibility inside Iran. They're kind of a cult --

JONES: Yes, again, I'm not suggesting --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) think it'll come back to bite (inaudible)?

JONES: I'm not saying that that's a -- the future government of Iran. I'm -- that is not my interest. My interest -- my -- where I was appalled was that a country that we have liberated and rearmed and retrained would be -- would -- could go into a camp like that and massacre innocent, just armed people, men, women and children, a year ago.

I do think that there's no credible evidence to show, as do my colleagues, by the way, that -- I'm not alone in this. There are people of distinguished careers, from the government and all over, military people, former military people, that basically align themselves with the fact that since 2003, the United States by policy protected these people from the Iraqis and from the Iranians.

Our interest is to do two things. One is make sure that it doesn't happen again, that they're not harmed, that we find homes for them wherever possible and that secondly that, on the issue of whether it's a terrorist organization, I find it very odd that we would agree with Iran on anything as to who's a terrorist organization --

AMANPOUR: But sometimes the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

JONES: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to the United States and so-called soft power. You have been quite worried that it seems like, for instance, when you go to Africa or elsewhere, that the U.S. just isn't there; whereas the rising power, China, is. What is the U.S. missing out on and what effect will that have?

JONES: Well, I think it's extremely important that in this century the United States, at the end of the day, is still a nation of great consequence. The world wants that, in my view. The world needs that. And everywhere I travel in my unofficial capacity, particularly in some several countries in Africa, their question to me is, OK.

We understand the pivot towards Asia. But don't you understand that Asia is pivoting towards Africa? And I think that on this global playing surface that the United States has global responsibilities. And the African continent, in my view, is a continent that is going to come to the fore in the 21st century.

And the more we engage, not only just militarily, but economically and providing the third pillar of what we can bring to the table, governance and security, I think there is a possibility that we, with our government, our private sector, which is second to none, and also NGOs, that we can fashion solutions that will have long-term benefits for peace and stability and prosperity and, in the long term, I think this is the best way to defeat radical fundamentalism wherever it might poke its head up.

I believe the same thing, that we should do more in our own hemisphere. We've been an East-West country for a long time, for good and sufficient reason, that as we pivot towards one region, we should be careful about the effect of the other regions, who are drawing conclusions that we might not want them to draw.

AMANPOUR: All right. General Jones, to be continued.

JONES: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thanks for joining me.

JONES: Good to see you.

AMANPOUR: And we'll be right back after a break.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, where we want to now discuss the American dream in this time of economic crisis.

That dream is that each generation of children will be more successful than their parents. And it is what defines America and it's what also attracts people here from all over the world.

The shocking fact, though, now is that over the last few years the United States has become one of the world's most unequal countries with little real opportunity to move up that social ladder. A new report due to be unveiled in September shows poverty will be higher than it's been at any time since 1965 here in the United States.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel prize-winning economist who chaired President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, was chief economist at the World Bank. His new book is "The Price of Inequality."

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Of course, I said social ladder, but what I really mean is the ladder of social mobility in economic terms.

It is going to come as a shock to our world viewers that this is no longer that land of opportunity.

STIGLITZ: That's right. I mean, not only is the United States the most unequal of any of the advanced industrial countries, it's also the country with the least equality of opportunity, which means that a child's life prospects, economic prospects, is more dependent on the income education of his parents than in any of the other advanced countries for which we have data.

AMANPOUR: And we've been talking about this. Look, the income inequality, Mexico, the highest; United States, second, as you've just been saying. And Europe is the most equal at this moment.

STIGLITZ: Yes, and --


AMANPOUR: How did that happen, because Europe was not meant to have that kind of --

STIGLITZ: Well, it wasn't (inaudible) Europe and Mexico was not in the bank's industrial countries. And there's some reasons why developing countries often have more inequality. So among all the advanced countries, we are the most unequal.

But the thing that really disturbs me is we've also become the country with the least opportunity, which means that, if you're born at the top, you stay there. If you're born at the bottom, you stay there.

AMANPOUR: And again, you mention that -- we have a whole load of statistics -- this idea that there is no longer that sort of opportunity for the American children. We have this incredible statistic that, let's say the Walton family, which is a huge family, which, I believe, owns Walmart --


STIGLITZ: That's right.

AMANPOUR: -- $89.5 billion they have, which is equivalent to the bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households combined.

STIGLITZ: Yes. Well, that tells us two things. One, there is an awful lot of money at the top, that, for instance, the top 1 percent has about 20 percent of all the income. And the other part of the story is that there's so little income and wealth at the bottom. And things have gotten much worse in the last five years.

AMANPOUR: But why? Is it just the economic crisis? Or is there something fundamental?

STIGLITZ: Oh, no, this was happening before that. But the crisis made it much worse because most Americans had a lot of their income invested in their homes and the home prices went down. They got devastated. I think the fact is there -- our economic system is, quite frankly, unfair.

And that's one of the main points in my book, "The Price of Inequality," that we are paying a high price for this inequality. It's not like it's the people at the top have contributed that much and everybody has been lifted up as a result, everybody benefits -- no.

The fact is that a lot of that money at the top comes from monopoly power, from the financial sector taking advantage of those at the bottom, from corporate CEOs taking a larger share of the pie.

AMANPOUR: You know, Warren Buffett, one of the richest men, not only in America but in the world, told me -- and I'm sure he told many people -- that this so-called rising tide does not lift all boats; it lifts all yachts.

And you are kind of describing that right now.

STIGLITZ: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: And you have an amazing sort of anecdote in your book about Mitt Romney and his, let's say, annual income -- apparently it's something like $21.7 or something like that million. And that he was likely not to be spending all that.

Describe the difference between very rich people who have a lot of money, because obviously the counter argument is that it's meant to trickle down. The wealth is meant to get to all sectors of society.

STIGLITZ: And it doesn't happen. And the fact is that this growing inequality is one of the reasons our economy is so weak. It's one of the reasons that such instability -- and the reason's very simple.

What keeps an economy going is people spending. And the people at the top save a lot more. And when they spend, they spend abroad; they'll invest abroad. They'll spend some of it home, but a lot of the money goes abroad.

People at the bottom have no choice. They spend 100 percent of their income. In fact, before the crisis they were spending 110 percent of their income. That was part of the problem.

AMANPOUR: Borrowing too much.

STIGLITZ: Borrowing too much, but it's what kept the economy going.

AMANPOUR: Again, it is very political. The economy seems to be only political over the last few years. And the politics seem to be suggesting that the rich people should actually be allowed to keep more of their money. Taxes should be lower. What does that do, beyond the politics of this matter, to the national economy and therefore the global economy?

STIGLITZ: Well, one of the striking things about the United States is that not only do we have more inequality before taxes and transfers, we do less to make our society more equal.

You know, one of the things that's very striking about the United States, again, very different, that the people at the top, the top 1 percent, for instance, pay an average tax rate that's less than half of those who are lower.

They pay average tax rate about 15 percent. If they were creating these big innovations, transistors, lasers, computers, that would be one thing. But a lot of what they're doing is (inaudible).



AMANPOUR: Saving it.

STIGLITZ: And speculating, gambling. So it's not things that are creating jobs in America, making the country stronger, making innovations that will transform our economy, our science. That's not what's going on.

AMANPOUR: Let me tell you something that President Obama said -- and he's got a lot of political heat for -- and it's about this idea of having government help in order to create infrastructure and innovation.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have, that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, that -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.


AMANPOUR: And of course, that last line got him into a lot of trouble, "If you have a business, you didn't build that."

But what he also did say was that if you have had a leg up, it's because you had a great teacher or you've had the great system that he mentioned.

Is it legitimate that he's getting into a lot of trouble? Did he misspeak? Is there a sort of a class warfare going on around this?

STIGLITZ: Well, first, he makes a very important point. Nobody makes it on their own. Everybody has somebody that's contributed -- usually a lot of people have contributed. What he's saying, every business, that's true, too.

Yes, the business man has made a big contribution. He's risked his capital. He's done a lot. He should get credit for that. But he could not have done that without other people contributing. Every Internet, you know, Google --


STIGLITZ: -- been there. If the government had not funded the research that led to the Internet, you could not have built on that.

AMANPOUR: Joseph Stiglitz, thank you so much for being with us today.

And America has known economic misery before. In the Great Depression, the Southern populist Huey Long promised "a chicken in every pot."

In Iran today, the pots are empty. The people are angry and the government has decided to make chicken a dirty word. Feathers will fly when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where diplomacy has become a game of chicken. In Iran the harshest economic sanctions yet have sent prices soaring. Chicken, a staple, costs three times more than it did a year ago. And people are crying foul and taking to the streets to protest.

The government tried to head off unrest by censoring movies and television shows that show people eating chicken. But Iranians can make a joke out of even the hardest of times, and this one making the rounds, the caption reads, "Photo of the richest family in Iran." That would be the chicken family.

That is it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. You can always find me at Twitter, @camanpour. Goodbye from New York.