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Will U.S. Strike Syria?; David Cameron Calls Parliament Back; Child-Free Flying; Was Famous Tennis Match Rigged?

Aired August 27, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar, sitting in for Brooke Baldwin. A nd first up, we now know the U.S. will punish Syria. After two years and five months of attacks on its own people, President Bashar al-Assad crossed what the U.S. called "the red line". One step too far in this civil war, using chemical warfare on his own people.

Today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that the U.S. is ready to go if President Obama orders an attack on Syria.


CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, as I have said, and I think Prime Minister Cameron has said, I think President Hollande has said, our allies, our partners, leaders all over the world have said, let's get the facts, let's get the intelligence, and then a decision will be made on whether action should be taken, if action should be taken, what action, or no action.

QUESTION: But if the order comes, you're ready to go like that?

HAGEL: We're ready to go like that.


KEILAR: Months of questions about Syria's use of chemical weapons came to a head on Monday as Secretary of State John Kerry took the podium at the State Department, Kerry saying he has little doubt that the man he himself sat down with for a meeting in 2009 is responsible for the "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians."

Frederik Pleitgen joining us now from Damascus.

Fred is the only Western TV journalist inside of Syria.

Fred, you have been talking with the information minister there. I find it pretty fascinating what he said. Tell us about it.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the information minister basically prodded the line that the Syrian government continues to use. They continue to say that they're not responsible for using chemical weapons here last Wednesday in the Damascus suburbs. They believe that all of this was fabricated.

Now they're saying they believe that the U.S. is using what they think is fabricated evidence to try and go to war in Syria. Both him and the foreign minister of this country have said that the U.S. is trying to find a pretext to go to war here in this country.

They keep saying that the United States should get the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors, who of course are still on the ground here, but were not able to go into the field today to check things out because of security concerns, that they should be given more time to evaluate things and then a decision should be made on how to move forward.

However, it does appear very clear that they do realize that it doesn't seem to be a question of if the U.S. and its allies will strike, but of when they will strike. And so you do hear them tone down their rhetoric a lot in the recent hours really. While before they kept saying Syria was going to defend itself in every way, shape or form if it was attacked, now all of that seems a little more subdued than it did before, Brianna.

KEILAR: What do you think, Fred, that the Syrian response might be here or that we could see from Syria's allies?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think that would really depend on what sort of action was taken. I think if there was limited action, I'm not sure there would be a response at all.

There have been other instances in the past where we could see that. Remember that the Israelis, for instance, struck this country several times. I was actually on the ground when they hit a gigantic ammunitions depot right near Damascus that set a whole mountain on fire for several days. There was some rhetoric coming out of Damascus. But there really wasn't any other sort of response to that, certainly no military response.

I would be very surprised if there was a response if it's limited action, if the U.S. and its allies go in and do targeted air strikes or perhaps cruise missile strikes. There really also isn't very much that the Syrian air force could do.

We have to remember that most of the gear they have is from the 1980s, certainly no match to what the United States has. On top of that, you have the fact that this military is engulfed in the civil war that is stretching it to the max at any case. The last thing the military needs is to open another front against an adversary that is much more powerful than the Syrian military, Brianna.

KEILAR: Fred Pleitgen in Syria for us, thank you so much.

In addition to Washington, U.S. ally Great Britain is putting the wheels in motion. Prime Minister David Cameron is calling Parliament home from vacation, saying that Syria has crossed the line.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Let me stress to people, this is not about getting into a Middle Eastern war, or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict. It's nothing to do with that. It's about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn't stand idly by.


KEILAR: Despite the urge to act now, this is a fight that Washington, London, and NATO have gone to great lengths to avoid. Here's a sobering thought today from national security analyst Peter Bergen writing at

He says: "Whoever prevails is hardly going to be an ally of the U.S." Peter Bergen goes son to say, "It's an ungodly mess, in short, a problem from hell."

On that note, let me introduce Mike Baker. He's a former CIA agent, "TIME" magazine editor at large Bobby Ghosh as well, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Mike, I want to start with you, because one of the things we're waiting for here first before President Obama makes his final decision we're told is this intelligence assessment. How quickly are we expecting this and is this something that's just perfunctory or does this really at this point lead his decision-making?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: Well, hopefully it will lead the decision-making.

It's separate from the U.N. investigative team's efforts. If I'm smiling, it's only because I can't imagine anything more feckless and really useless on the ground than a U.N. investigations team. But the intel report is important. It just I'm hard-pressed to see how they have any other options at this stage. When you use the words undeniable evidence now and no doubt and then you combine it with red line and moral obscenity, you have no place to go other than to push the button for the cruise missiles.

They have to take a measured response and so like a lot of things, there's not a lot of options on the decision tree. I think what they're doing right now is really kind of setting the table with the public and with Congress as opposed to trying to see if they have got enough intelligence, because, if they don't, then they have clearly misspoken out of the White House and the State Department.

KEILAR: OK. But, Gloria, to you. If they have misspoken, it seems rhetorically they have already laid the groundwork for what we would expect to come, which would be a strike from the ships, these warships that are out in the Mediterranean. It's hard to fathom that really even though the administration will not say a decision has been made, it's hard to fathom that anything besides this happens or is that overstating it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think what we're watching first from Secretary Kerry, then the notion that they will declassify some of this intelligence, making their public case, what we're watching is the rollout of this.

I think it's just a question of when we're going to do this, not if. I think they're trying to get as much of a coalition together as they can. The specter of Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction not materializing there kind of haunts all of this. They want to make sure they have the evidence. They want to make sure they have a large coalition in place and, you know, they want to be absolutely sure and try and get the American public to understand this before they go do something.

KEILAR: And, Bobby, when you're talking to folks, what do you feel the administration is trying to achieve here? Is it to just punish Syria? Is it to do something more than that? And obviously there's a lot of risks with whatever they're trying to do.

BOBBY GHOSH, DEPUTY INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME": My fear is at the moment that it's sounding very much like a rap across the wrists for Bashar Assad.

A lot of the language has been couched so carefully about we're not in the business of regime change, we're not trying to change the balance of power on the ground. All we're doing is trying to send Bashar Assad a message. Bashar Assad doesn't take messages like that. This is a man who has without chemical weapons slaughtered 120,000 of his own people.

To prevent him from using any further chemical weapons, if indeed a military strike works out that way, is not going to stop him from slaughtering another 100,000 of his people in the next 12 to 14 months. It's a little unclear what exactly the endgame is here.


KEILAR: Do you think also, though, Bobby, to not just send a message to Syria, but to other foes of the U.S. to say, hey, if we draw a line and you cross it, we're actually going to do something? Obviously I think of Iran.

GHOSH: Yes. That is the hope. But the message has to be a strong one. If the message is not even strong enough to deter Assad, then it's not going to be strong enough to deter Tehran. This is walking -- talking softly carrying a small stick. That's never been known to work in international diplomacy or war.


BORGER: The question is, if you can't carry a large stick because you don't want to get bogged down in a quagmire in their civil war, do you just sit back and do nothing as chemical weapons are used on innocent people?


GHOSH: I don't think going in -- I don't think a big stake involves putting -- I'm sorry to be mixing metaphors -- boots on the ground here.

It is people to use the weapons that are being discussed right now, cruise missiles mainly, to take out larger parts of Saddam -- I beg your pardon -- Assad's arsenal, not simply to sort of sort of slap him across the knuckles, but take out big chunks of his airpower, his artillery. That's a much stronger message. That's a message that will be heard in Tehran, not two days' worth of cruise missile strikes against indeterminate targets.

KEILAR: And if I had another couple minutes, I would call you on that interesting Freudian slip where you said Saddam there. It's an interesting question to ask. But I'm go to have to leave it at that.

Mike Baker, Bobby Ghosh, Gloria Borger, thanks for being with me, guys.

Coming up next, we all know flying can be pretty frustrating. Right? You have your long security lines, baggage concerns and, of course, those crying babies. But one carrier says it has a solution to one of the problems at least. Next, an airline with an age-12-and-over policy?

Plus, a 40-year secret revealed, a stunning admission known as the battle of the sexes. Did Bobby Riggs lose to Billie Jean King on purpose? One man says yes. Now he's breaking his silence and explaining why Riggs would throw the match.


KEILAR: Cooing babies are cute, but crying babies? Yes, that on a plane when you're trying to sleep, it can make you feel cursed, right?

Well, now there is an option for passengers who are willing to pay a little more for a kid-free zone. And this is being offered by an airline based in Singapore called Scoot.

To talk about this, CNN's Richard Quest is joining us.

First off, Richard, how much money are we talking about to sit in the zone? And let's be honest. If you're on an airplane with a screaming baby, it doesn't matter where you're sitting. Right? You can still hear it?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. Couldn't disagree with you more.

If that baby is down in row 39 and you are up in row six, you won't hear the baby over the engines. For $15 or so, sometimes up to $20, $25, Scoot is joining other Asian airlines, like Malaysia, like Air Asia, in offering these kid-free zones at the front of the aircraft. This is a straightforward revenue-raising exercise by the airline, but it is also a reflection of demand, particularly in Asia, where you have lots of overnight flights down to Australia from Singapore, from Bangkok, from Kuala Lumpur.

And people are basically saying, we paid for a -- we want to be able to travel in a business environment and that includes not having to listen to children wailing. It may not be pleasant, Brianna. It may not be politically correct, but that is what people and passengers are saying.

KEILAR: It's not even the crying. Sometimes it's the kids kicking the seat that really gets me, I will say, not necessarily babies.


QUEST: It starts with -- it starts with -- and at 3:00 in the morning, you know what's coming. And it turns into a full-scale wail or running up and down the aisle.

Now, I have come off the fence on this. As the presenter of "CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER," I have come off the fence and said ban babies in business class, and for good reason. You don't allow a child to go to the theater or a movie theater and wail. You have no problem in saying that's not acceptable, but we allow people to bring their children into business class where people are paying thousands of dollars on transatlantic or transpacific flights and we think nothing of sort of saying, actually, it's a business environment.

If you can afford it, go into first, otherwise, back in economy, but business is business.

KEILAR: And, Richard Quest, ladies and gentlemen, has spoken on this topic.

Richard, thank you.

Well, you know it's perhaps the most famous tennis match in history. Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs. But new reporting suggests this battle of the sexes may have been rigged and it involved the mafia. Wait until you hear this bombshell next.


KEILAR: A stunning new claim that the mafia fixed a match that millions of Americans watched. Maybe you remember this, 1973. All eyes were on the battle of the sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Well, King went on to beat Riggs in straight sets, but did Riggs lose on purpose to settle a gambling debt? One man says the answer is yes. Hal Shaw says he kept the secret for 40 years until he appeared on ESPN's "Outside the Lines." Shaw says he overheard mob bosses planning to fix the match.


HAL SHAW, FORMER ASSISTANT GOLF PRO: The main thing that astonished me was they brought up the name of Bobby Riggs. Bobby had approached Ragano about a proposal to set up two matches between the two best women players in the world.

He mentioned Margaret Court, and it's easy for me to remember that because one of my aunt's name was Margaret and the second lady was Billie Jean King. And Riggs had assured him that he would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank and he will make it look and appear that he's trying his best, but Billie Jean King is just overwhelming him.


KEILAR: Well, Shaw says he kept that secret until now because he was scared of retribution from the mob.

For more on this amazing story, let's bring in a man who covered the match, tennis historian Bud Collins. He's joining us from Brookline, Massachusetts.

Bud, you were there. I want to get right to it with you. Do you think that Riggs threw the match?


I think -- I was there at courtside. I got a photographer's ticket so that I could be right up close. And I could see Billie Jean with a new look of fire in her eyes, and Bobby wasn't in shape. That was the whole center to the match.

Bobby just had thought so much of his king of the world sultancy. That's what he thought he was because everybody was slobbering all over him, giving him commercials, all sorts of things like that, and he was So a great competitor, but he forgot to get in shape. And I was very close to it, and he was perspiring and limping and he was a good sport about it, but there was no point for him to throw the match, despite the story, because that would have been the end of him.

He loved being the sultan. He was next to play Chrissie Evert. He had played Margaret Court and won that one easily. His tactic was to play the ball in the sun, but there was no sun at the Astrodome.


KEILAR: Let me ask you about this, Bud, because Riggs -- OK. Let's just play devil's advocate here. Riggs was known for his accuracy, especially with his serves, but he missed almost half of his first serves in that first mass. You just think that was because he hadn't trained, was out of shape?

COLLINS: No, I think a little of everything. I think he was nervous for the first time in his life.


COLLINS: Usually, he was great for this sort of thing, gambling, and I wouldn't say that he didn't gamble on matches, because he did, but he didn't gamble on that one. Nobody really knows how much money they both got.

They split the purse, I believe, but it was fight, fight, fight for the women. That was the motto of Billie Jean King. She came onto the court and she was very angry at me because I had picked Riggs, and so she came on and I was rooting for her inside, but she...


KEILAR: But you thought that probably she wasn't going to triumph, and to that end obviously a very competitive spirit. Bud, she told ESPN that she knows when players throw matches and she said Riggs wasn't throwing this one.

COLLINS: Oh, sure.


KEILAR: But it was also -- was it also well-known that he had a lot of mob friends?

COLLINS: A lot of what?

KEILAR: Friends in the mafia.

COLLINS: Well, I suppose everyone has if you're in sports.

KEILAR: I don't.

COLLINS: But I don't think that had anything to do with it. Billie Jean came on there as a woman possessed.

She was the Joan of Arc in short pants, and she was settling all the arguments across the world really where men were going against women and thinking that Billie Jean would crumple. She didn't. She didn't. It was no fun, because it was over so quickly. He just couldn't get the ball in play and she moved him all over the court and she was ready for him and they had gone through the battle of the sexes so- called with commercials for both.


COLLINS: But after the match, they made up. Billie Jean was -- they gave Bobby a pig as a prize, the other women of the Women's Tennis Association, and Billie Jean said, well, we have got Piggly Wiggly here. But she didn't want to do it. She didn't want to play him originally, but when Margaret Court lost to him, then she felt compelled to take over and just support the women of the world.


KEILAR: Yes. And certainly it's so interesting to hear you -- it's so interesting to hear you describe that match, Billie Jean King, a woman possessed.

Bud Collins, thank you so much for being with us.

Now, unpredictable and moody, that is the description of Bashar al- Assad from one of the few people who have gained personal access to the Syrian president. We're going to take you inside the mind of a dictator next.