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The West Weighs Options To Respond To Syrian Chemical Attack; Copenhagen "Waterproofs" City

Aired August 27, 2013 - 16:00   ET


HALA GORANI, HOST: The U.S. is ready to act, France is poised to punish, and the UK is refusing to stand by as the call for military action against Syria grows louder.

This hour, the very latest from CNN correspondents around the world, including Damascus.

And special analysis, the case for intervention from former Afghanistan commander Richard Kemp and why Russia believes that is a big mistake. I'll speak live to expert Dimitri Simes.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

GORANI: Welcome everyone. I'm Hala Gorani.

The U.S. government says no decision has been made to use military force against Syria, but officials in Washington and other western capitals are clearly laying the groundwork today for some sort of response, possible military strikes.

A White House spokesperson says President Barack Obama is still considering his options, but believes there must be a response to an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Listen.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The deliberations that are taking place now and the options that are being considered by the president and his national security team are not around the question of whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria on a significant scale, causing mass death and injury, to innocent civilians, to women and children, it is not around the question of whether or not the Syrian regime is responsible, it's around the question of what is the appropriate response to this clear violation of international norms.


GORANI: What is the appropriate response?

Today, UN weapons inspectors were supposed to return to the scene of one alleged chemical attack to continue gathering evidence, but postpone the trip because of security concerns.

Syria, for its part, the regime, is denying that it has used chemical weapons against its own people. It warns that it will defend itself against any attack with measures that will, quote, surprise the world.


WALID MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): We all hear the drums of war. If they want to attack Syria, I believe they'll chose the chemical weapons as a pretext. It's not right. It's a pretext that cannot be of any use, as I said. I'd dare them to bring out in the open any evidence. But if they want to achieve other objectives from this attack, this aggression, then I'm thinking what are these objectives. The logical answer to this, what are their objectives from this military campaign is to affect our psychology. I think they are wrong.


GORANI: That was the foreign minister for Syria Walid Moallem today.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron plans to recall lawmakers from their summer break early so that they can vote on whether or not Britain should participate in action against the Syrian government if and when that time comes. But Mr. Cameron maintains that any action in Syria would be proportionate and legal and would specifically be about deterring chemical weapons use, that it's not about overthrowing Assad.

As far as the French president is concerned, Francois Hollande, he also reacted in strong terms today. He said France has a responsibility to protect civilians in Syria and increase military aid to opposition groups.

Now, over the region Israel says it's ready for any scenario with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning Damascus that he'll respond forcefully if Israel is attacked.

What about Saudi Arabia? The foreign minister Saud al-Faisal says the Assad regime has lost its Arab identity and has called for firm and furious action against it.

There has been reaction from Syria's allies as well. Russia is not happy with the U.S. for canceling a scheduled meeting on the conflict and says Washington is creating artificial groundless excuses for military intervention in Syria.

Another Syria close ally, Iran, says military intervention will result in a conflict engulfing the whole region.

Syria is challenging anyone who accuses its forces of using chemical weapons to come forward and present the evidence. The United States is promising to do just that some time this week.

Let's get more from Elise Labott at the State Department in Washington.

Do we know when to expect this intelligence assessment, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hala, well it was expected in the coming days the administration has been kind of debating about, a, how much intelligence to declassify. As you know, there is very sensitive information about sources and methods and how the U.S. obtain that information.

They also need to brief congress, I would say in the next couple of days we should see something. And what we expect to be in it is evidence that the U.S. collected from its sources tissue samples, intercepts of phone calls between Syrian officials, talking about the use of chemical weapons and also satellite imagery that shows members of the Syrian regime at chemical weapons sites.

GORANI: Let's take a listen...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if the order comes, you are ready to go like that.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are ready to go like that.


LABOTT: And that was defense secretary Chuck Hagel when asked by a BBC reporter how quick the U.S. could issue some kind of response. The U.S. isn't saying that President Obama hasn't made any decisions about what to do, but clearly if you listen to Defense Secretary Hagel and others, it does seem like some kind of military response is in the offing, Hala.

GORANI: Now, as we've been discussing today with you and others, Elise, the time table is very tricky here for the Obama administration. Not only are UN weapons inspectors still in the country at least for the next few days, but then there is a big G20 summit in Russia where President Obama and President Putin of Russia will see each other. And they both very much disagree on what should be done in Syria.

So what are the options for the administration?

LABOTT: That's right. And already that meeting was already a little bit strained because President Obama canceled a meeting with President Putin in an individual summit because of the Edward Snowden affair.

And then tomorrow you have President Obama giving a major address to the march on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

So a very tight window. We understand that the administration wants to take care of this very quickly for a few reasons, wants to get this done before President Obama leaves for Russia, also wants to make sure that they have answered these charges very forcefully and immediately showing that President Assad and his regime that there is a cause for using the chemical weapons. They don't want to let it drag on. And also, Hala, there's a lot going on in Egypt right now. The U.S. currently in a very intense review of Egypt policy and reviewing whether it's going to suspend aid to Egypt since officials tell me they don't want to have the two conflated.

And they want to put the Syria response behind that, because as you know this isn't part of a larger Syria policy, this is expected to be a kind of one-off response to the chemical weapons attack. And then the U.S. really needs to debate what it's going to do about the Syria crisis.

GORANI: Right. And we know there's not much appetite for that from ordinary Americans, as we've seen in polling. So we'll see what happens over the next few days, crucial next few days. Thanks very much, Elise Labott.

And we're hoping to go live to Damascus at some point and speak with our Fred Pleitgen. And as soon as we're able to get in touch with him we'll you that.

And of course you're watching Connect the World. And still to come tonight, France joins the chorus that calls for action in Syria. We'll go live to Paris to find out what the French president says he's planning to do. Stay with us. We'll have that and a lot more.


GORANI: All right, welcome back.

And let's talk more about Syria. We're able to go live inside Damascus to our correspondent Fred Pleitgen, the only western television reporter there. And we want to show you some newly obtained video of one of the Syrian towns allegedly hit by chemical weapons last week.

Fred, what can you tell us about this material?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, video that we've acquired from a filmer who was on the ground there. And it's a very credible video. What it shows is the town of Zamalka (ph), this is a suburb of Damascus to the northeast, and also pretty much the place that had the highest death toll in that alleged chemical weapons attack on Wednesday, Hala.

Some of the video that you're seeing there is a lot that you see that was used as a mass grave, but also one of the things I found really remarkable is that there are a lot of bodies still there that are unidentified, where people have not come to identify and to claim them and they have not been buried yet and they're still inside the field hospital.

The interesting thing about those bodies is that they don't show any signs of outside wounds. And so it does appear as though they might have inhaled something and been killed.

And what the people there on the ground told this journalist is that apparently a lot of people in Zamalka (ph) were killed in their sleep because this gas that came all of a sudden apparently came in the middle of the night and many people were asleep and especially the ones who were asleep didn't make it and they were killed.

So this is some very interesting video that we've gotten. A lot of people talking about how many people were killed there, but there were also some miraculous tales of how people who survived. There was one man who made a gas mask out of some cotton, some goal and a plastic cup. And he said that helped him to survive.

Now the Syrian regime, of course, for its part is still saying that it's not behind these chemical attacks, however they are also saying that at this point in time, Hala, it's probably more a question of when there's going to be some form of intervention rather than if there's going to be intervention.

I want you to listen to an interview that I did earlier today with the information minister of Syria Omran al Zoubi.


OMRAN AL ZOUBI, SYRIAN INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): If the United States administration has a proof that we've used chemical weapons then they should present this proof to the rest of the world. If they don't have proof or evidence, then how they're going to stand up to the American public opinion and to the world public opinion and explain why they are attacking Syria.


PLEITGEN: So the information minister is saying there that there is no proof that the U.S. had put on the table there. He kept talking about how the UN inspectors should be given more time. And one of the things, of course, that Syrian government keeps saying is that they were not the ones to hold up the mission of the UN inspectors. They said they've been asking the inspectors to come into this country for a very long time. And that in fact when this incident then did happen on Wednesday that they moved as fast as they could to get the inspectors into the field.

Of course, the U.S. and its allies take a very different view, as you know, Hala.

GORANI: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much with some very disturbing video there. And as you see, we take the time to warn you of the graphic content and these people -- obviously lifeless bodies of children. It's very, very disturbing to see that.

It's been almost a week since an alleged gas attack struck that Damascus suburb, or several Damascus suburbs. And we don't have a firm picture of exactly what unfolded last Wednesday, however the U.S. as we've been saying and its allies say they are sure the suffering captured in these pictures of an attack were an attack by the Syrian government.

No doubt is what the White House said today. The Assad regime strongly denies it. And Russia has warned of catastrophic consequences if the international community creates what Moscow calls artificial groundless excuses for military intervention.

That's not the way the British prime minister sees it. David Cameron has cut short his holiday so that the British parliament can vote on how to respond to the attack, a vote that could come as early as Thursday.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But I would say this to people, there is never 100 percent certainty, there is never one piece, or several pieces of intelligence that can give you absolute certainty. But what we know is this regime has huge stocks of chemical weapons. We know that they have used them on at least 10 occasions prior to this last widescale use. We know that they have both a motive and the opportunity whereas the opposition does not have those things.


GORANI: David Cameron there.

Now, Syria does have international allies, among them Russia, which is still pushing for a diplomatic solution. Top diplomats from the U.S. and Russia were due to meet in The Hague tomorrow, but Washington has now postponed those talks.

Let's bring in Dimitri Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest. He's recently been in Russia to meet with senior officials and joins me live now from Washington.

So, Dimitri Simes, thanks for being with us. Syria once again getting in the way of, I suppose you could call, smooth diplomatic relations between the two countries, but this time there's a huge divergence on what both countries think should be the way forward.

DIMITRI SIMES, PRESIDENT, THE CENTER OF THE NATIONAL INTEREST: Well, I think first the Russians are not quite convinced that the attack was done by the Syrian government forces when there -- we talk about who and why would do it? The Russian argument is why would Assad would want to do it? It was a suburb of Damascus. His forces were having an upper hand. The inspectors have just arrived.

I, of course, am not in a position to judge how the Russians themselves believe in this explanation. But that's, of course, what they are officially saying.

GORANI: So the Russians are saying potentially this could have been a rebel attack to frame the government?

SIMES: The Russians are definitely saying that. That was an official statement of the foreign ministry. The Russians are not alone. Some inspectors in the past, just several months ago, including Carla Del Ponte, who you may remember from the history of the Balkan wars, very famous Swiss prosecutor, she said that she believed that the rebels were responsible for previous attacks.

So the Russian position is not that unreasonable.

However have done it, have done something very illogical. And what the United States believes the Syrian government is capable of doing and what the Russians believe the rebels are capable of doing suggests two very different narratives.

GORANI: Right. Although we did speak with weapons experts, several of them, all agreed that it had to have been done by at least a military structure that is organized enough and that has the expertise to deliver these chemical weapons in the way that they were.

Let's talk about the diplomatic relations between the two countries. This is the second Russia U.S. meeting that's been canceled, the first one over Snowden, this one now a chat on Syria at a lower level, of course.

But it seems as though the relationship between these two countries is just deteriorating further and further.

SIMES: Well, there is no question about that. Let me say one thing about what the Russians I'm sure are not going to do. They are not going to become involved in any hostilities. They have said that. I'm sure they mean that. Russia is not going to be a party to that war. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that much to two days ago.

Moreover, the Russians don't particularly like and trust Bashar al- Assad. They don't want the United States to go changing regimes, but that does not mean that they view him as a friend and as a client. There is a limit to Russian support of Assad.

So if you are talking about a military operation against Bashar al- Assad, I think it will be relatively easy. What is going to happen next in the U.S.-Russian relations I think will be much more serious with potentially the (inaudible) national security consequences for the United States.

GORANI: Right. And can you expand on that?

SIMES: Well, I will give you a simple example. I know that you're personally very familiar with the history of the Balkan Wars. Back in 1999, (inaudible) the Russian Prime Minister was flying to Washington to discuss, among other things, security cooperation against Taliban and al Qaeda. Because of U.S. attack on Serbia, that meeting was canceled, negotiations never took place, and as a result our possible removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan did not take place.

Very recently, a lack of Russian cooperation on terrorism, U.S.- Russian partnership on terrorism led, of course, to the fact that Russian warnings on the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston were not followed by the FBI and we know there was a terrible terrorist act with a loss of life.

So I think that if you...

GORANI: I'm sorry to jump in Dimitri, but you're making a very interesting point here that this could be self-defeating for the United States not to have a closer relationship with Russia even though there are strategic and diplomatic disagreements, yes?

SIMES: Well, let me make this point, when core American interests are involved, as the president said, you go and do what you need to do and if the Russians are unhappy so be it. I'm not persuaded that core U.S. national security interests are at stake. We're not the world policemen. The Syrians, particularly Bashar al-Assad are doing terrible things, but that does not mean that the United States should become involved with nuclear (ph) plan.

Just listen to Chairman of Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey who is making very clear that if you want to prevail in Syria you have to go all the way. You need forces on the ground, boots on the ground, otherwise you are not going to control the situation. And you may find al Qaeda creating another international base in Syria, just think about that.

Obama administration objectively being on the same side as al Qaeda. To me it's absolutely crazy.

GORANI: All right, Dimitri Simes, always appreciate your analysis there. And certainly, as we've been saying the next several days are crucial when it comes to this situation and the U.S. response to it. Thank you for bringing us your point of view and analysis, Dimitry Simes.

Some of the strongest international criticism of the Syrian government has come from France. And there was more today from President Francois Hollande.

Let's get more from Paris. Senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann is there live.

Jim, we heard some very harsh words coming from the French president saying that those who gassed these innocent civilians must be punished and that France will punish them.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Hala. And some of the strongest language you've heard from Francois Hollande, the French president, in quite a number of months.

In any case, he started off is his day by saying that France would stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and that it would cooperate in any kind of military action that he told to the French newspaper.

But he served, he saved his strongest response to the Syrian crisis to a meeting of the ambassadors, the French ambassadors who are in town gathered here. And he used some very strong language indeed.


FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): The chemical massacre that took place in Damascus cannot remain without a response. And France is ready to punish those who took this disgusting decision to gas innocent people.


BITTERMANN: And its quite an evolution for Francois Hollande who came into office saying that he was going to withdraw French troops immediately from Afghanistan and was going to avoid any military adventures. Then of course he sent troops into Mali to fight Islamist terrorists and now he's ordering the military to get involved in the Syrian situation. Exactly how they'll get involved is another big question. But he did say that military aid would be going to the opposition groups in Syria -- Hala.

GORANI: The big question on two continents this evening, how these countries plan to respond.

Jim Bittermann is live in Paris. And Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

Coming up, we ask the former head of British armed forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp what options the international community has in Syria. We'll be right back.


GORANI: Welcome back. I'm Hala Gorani. We're going to break away from our Syria coverage for a moment as we bring you a special segment on Connect the World. How does a city prone to flooding water proof itself?

All this week, CNN is highlighting some of the most serious challenges the world faces coupled with some ingenious solutions.

Diana Magnay went to Copenhagen, Denmark to discover how that city is tackling climate change.


ANNOUNCER: Index, Design to Improve Life in association with House of Green.

SOREN NORDAL ENEVOLDSEN, ARCHITECT: To me, design is basically about functionality, space, and experience. My name is Soren Nordal Enevoldsen. I'm a skateboarder and an architect.

The basic feeling about skateboarding is about speed, adrenaline and freedom. When I ride down a street and I see a bench and a good surface, I instantly look at a new possibilities to move and move on that object. And I really use that in my architecture to combine and look at new functionalities in each object I design.

My (inaudible) is an example of dual functionalities where you take a basic need of water drainage and put it together with the skate park.

(inaudible) project came about when a skateboarder called me out of the blue because the city of (inaudible) was doing a big drainage system. Instead of just making it conventional, they wanted to incorporate new stuff and new activities into the area.

One of the big challenges doing this project was to combine the technical specifications where you have to lead the water to specific place at a specific time and to combine that with the free form and the free flow of skateboarding.

I think when the kids come and skate in this area, they will experience a skate park and a playground in a new context.

I hope this can inspire the kid and maybe come up with new functionalities in the environment.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From boards to bikes, I'm off to find out more the Danish capital is doing to tackle climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the future, the weather will be more extreme. On the second of July 2011 the biggest cloud burst ever recorded in Copenhagen flooded streets and basements, stopped traffic and even threatened to take out the power to a hospital. It caused damages estimated at 800 million euros.

Unfortunately, this was not a coincidence or a one-time experience.

MAGNAY: Copenhagen's Lord Mayor explains how the city is water- proofing itself against future flooding.

FRANK JENSEN, LORD MAYOR OF COPENHAGEN: We have investments in new methods, a new design for the city to lead the water to places where it can be absorbed.

MAGNAY: And green roofing is a major part of that. You already have 2,000 green roofs across Copenhagen.

JENSEN: Yes. This eight house is a very, very famous house in Copenhagen. A lot of the rain water is absorb off the green roofs and also in the lakes and the channels in the area. So when we have a very heavy rain in Copenhagen, there was no floating here in this area.

MAGNAY: This is one example of a larger vision for the Danish capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to add a blue and green layer of infrastructure to the city to support our pipes and sewers below the surface.

By building green spaces and recreational areas that can absorb and delay large amounts of water, and by constructing water boulevards in the streets in combination with underground pipes we can steer the rain water out of the city and into the sea without it ever entering the sewer.

MAGNAY: Then what exactly is to Copenhagenize?

JENSEN: It's about livability, to have a high quality in your life. All cities must go green and invest in new sustainable solutions for the cities. And we want Copenhagen to be a kind of green laboratory.

MAGNAY: A work in progress is may be, but Copenhagen's mission to turn water from a problem into a resource is already transforming the urban landscape.


GORANI: Well, for more on the Index Awards and to vote for your favorite design, go to the Index Awards website on

The latest world news headlines just ahead.

Plus, as American policymakers debate how they should react to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, we take a look at Washington's military option.

Also, some of the world's top generals are meeting in Jordan for a summit on Syria. We'll take you live to Amman with the perspective with Syria's neighbor just ahead.


GORANI: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, the top stories this hour. A stream of US officials have come out today to declare there is no doubt that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Vice president Joe Biden was the latest saying the regime appeared determined to wipe out the targeted areas.

The US appears to be laying the groundwork for possible military action, although it says no decision has been made.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At President Obama's direction, all of us on his national security team have been in close touch with our foreign counterparts. The president believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women, and children, should and must be held accountable.


GORANI: Global financial markets were also impacted by the possibility of military action. The Dow, as you can see there, closed more than 1 percent down, down 170 points. And European markets also reflecting that trend, with the main indices in London, Germany, and France closing lower.

Germany's finance minister tells CNN he doesn't foresee any further bailouts being needed in the eurozone. Troubled eurozone countries have been granted almost $590 billion in financial assistance since 2010.


WOLFGANG SCHAEUBLE, GERMAN FINANCE MINISTER: No, I don't see it. I think we -- the problems are not solved, but we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago. You can see, if you look at the rates for sovereign debts, we are -- they are stable. Markets have confidence in the euro and the stability of the eurozone as a whole.

And economy is recovering in the whole eurozone, and the average deficit has been halved in all member states of the eurozone the last three years.


GORANI: At least 14 people in eastern Mexico have been killed because of Tropical Storm Ferdinand. It made landfall around midnight local time and brought torrential rain with it. The flooding triggered mudslides that killed 13 of the victims. Reports say at least one person drowned.

The Obama administration insists it has not made a decision to take any military action against the Syrian regime so far, but officials have told CNN there are a number of options at the president's disposal if and when he decides to take action. Chris Lawrence has that story from the Pentagon.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Within days, President Obama's national security team will present him with its final detailed options, and the administration is already making the case for taking action against Syria.

JOHN KERRY, US SECRETARY OF STATE: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

LAWRENCE: Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Assad regime of gassing its own people and called it --

KERRY: -- a moral obscenity.

LAWRENCE: If the president gives the order, a senior defense official says four navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea could execute a mission within hours. US and British submarines are also likely nearby, all armed with cruise missiles.

The extremely accurate Tomahawks can be fired from 500 miles away, with an ability to change course in mid-flight. The potential targets include the delivery systems that can be used to launch weapons, militia training camps being run by Bashar al-Assad, and most importantly, the Syrian government's command and control centers.

The options are not designed to overthrow Assad's government, but send a message and deter any further use of chemical weapons, President Obama's red line.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: And anytime you throw down a diplomatic gauntlet, your words have repercussions.

LAWRENCE: The president is under some pressure to back up his own ultimatum, and while the US is consulting with allies, officials say it may not need a formal coalition to execute the response.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


GORANI: Now, let's discuss the military options the US and its allies have in Syria, and what impact an attack would have on the ongoing civil war. I'm joined by Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. He joins me now via Skype. Thanks for being with us.

You've called in the past for some devastating strikes if the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in Syria. Now we're hearing more and more from reports that perhaps cruise missiles from navy warships stationed in the eastern Mediterranean could be used to launch surgical attacks. Can that be effective?

RICHARD KEMP, COLONEL, FORMER COMMANDER OF BRITISH FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: I think it can be effective, and clearly there's a number of options that no doubt the president will be considering. And those include a specific attempt to try and target chemical weapons and chemical weapon delivery systems.

That would be a very complicated operation and actually attacking chemical weapon storage sites is likely to be more hazardous and therefore is not going to be -- probably not going to be an option on the cards. But actually targeting the artillery, the aircraft, and the ballistic missiles that can be used by Assad to deliver chemical weapons is certainly an option.

Another option is to target high-value targets and high-profile targets, such as palaces and military headquarters, communications headquarters and the like, which will send a very clear message to President Assad, without necessarily completely crippling his armed forces in a way that, I think, probably President Obama doesn't wish to do.

GORANI: So, perhaps not chemical weapons depots, that kind of thing, but perhaps landing strips, airports, certain storage areas where these missiles that might be used to carry chemical warheads are stored, is that what you think could potentially be the target list here?

KEMP: Yes. Obviously, the closer that a punitive strike by the US and its allies is linked to the actual cause, which is chemical weapons, the closer the link is made the better, I think. And it'll -- it delivers, I think, a much more specific message.

But I wouldn't at the same time exclude the possibility of attacks on communications headquarters and commander control systems and even political headquarters. I don't think we can exclude the possibility.

I think in order to deliver a sufficiently decisive message to Assad and to the world about the use of chemical weapons, it does need to be a very strong, sustained attack. When I say sustained, I mean perhaps over a period of days, not a period of weeks or months.

GORANI: And this all sounds good on paper, but there are real risks here. First of all, surgical strikes aren't always surgical. They don't always succeed. They could carry with them what is called collateral damage, which means, essentially, you're killing innocent people. This isn't as easy as it sounds.

KEMP: I don't think it sounds easy to anybody who has any understanding of military operations. I think anybody who embarks on any form of war fighting or any kind of military attack has to recognize the uncertainties of doing so.

When you unleash military forces, you have a plan, you have an objective in mind, but that is not necessarily going to go according to the plan, so you have you be ready for other alternatives.

And as you mentioned, the possibility of collateral damage, obviously, every step needs to be taken to minimize the likelihood that we're going to add to the 100,000 civilian casualties that have already been sustained in Syria.


KEMP: But you can't exclude that possibility from occurring.

GORANI: But how do you do that in such a short period of time? It has to be hurried if you in -- since the attack happened -- alleged chemical weapons attack happened on August 21st, we're only about a week later, this is something that they're scrambling to put together, or would they have had this plan in the works already just in case?

KEMP: Well, I'd be very surprised, knowing the way that British forces and our American allies work, if there hasn't already been a great deal of work done on target planning, perhaps over the last year or more.

And of course, that depends very much on intelligence. And clearly, there's a great deal of intelligence effort. Britain has significant intelligence assets in the Mediterranean.

Probably the country that has the greatest intelligence access in Syria is Israel, and I've no doubt that Israeli intelligence material is being used by the US and other Western countries to try and work out what the targets should be.

But you're right, doing an operation like this, relatively short time frame, does again, it carries further risks.

GORANI: And lastly, you are the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Would you advise President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, of doing this? Of striking some strategic military targets in Syria, or do you think it carries too much risk?

KEMP: I think it's a very, very difficult decision for -- it's very difficult for the military advisors to advise in the right way, it's very, very difficult for the political leaders to make the right decisions. A lot has to be weighed up.

Of course, you've mentioned already some of the complications, some of the potential problems. I think on balance, my view would be that we should be going ahead with a strike, we should carry out a limited but significant strike in order to deliver a message that chemical weapons cannot be used in this way.

And that -- not -- I don't think we should be trying to change the regime, I don't think we should be trying to engage in the longer term Syrian civil war that's going on, but I think we should be absolutely clear that we cannot tolerate this kind of action.

And I think, reluctantly, my advice if I was in a position to be giving advice would be that we should go ahead and carry out some form of punitive strike.

GORANI: Colonel Richard Kemp, thank you very much for being with us this evening on CNN.

With international calls for action in Syria growing, some are warning against a rush to war. Joshua Landis is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He says that any international military intervention in Syria is complicated by the lack of viable partners on the ground, and he joins me live from Oklahoma. Joshua Landis, thanks for being with us.


GORANI: You think this is a bad idea?

LANDIS: No, I think that -- Mr. -- Colonel Kemp has it about right. You need -- America has an interest in dissuading any power, and particularly Syria, from using chemical weapons.

But as he said, entering into the civil war, trying to change the balance of power, is something that President Obama probably does not want to do because it'll suck us into a civil war, which we can not adjudicate, as we discovered in Iraq.

And so, in that sense, I do think that one has to be careful, because if you destroy the regime, there are still millions of people who live in Damascus and many cities that have been affected by the civil war but have not been destroyed.

There are over a thousand militias in Syria, and the real strongest ones are quiet Salafist, some are jihadist and linked to al Qaeda. You would open up the doors to these cities to be overrun by these militias who would -- it could create much greater instability in Syria, and that's the danger of just lashing out without limitation.

GORANI: Now, you've been an observer of this Syrian regime for a very long time. Do you think that the Bashar al-Assad regime gassed its own people?

LANDIS: I do. I do. I think it's -- they're fighting a brutal war, and in war, you try to kill your enemies. And we can't forget, the United States used the atom bomb, we firebombed Dresden, killed hundreds of thousands of people at a whack because we wanted to win and we wanted to kill our enemies.

And I imagine Bashar al-Assad is using the same strategy. He's running out of options, and he has a big chemical --


GORANI: But he had the -- Joshua, if I can jump in -- he had the upper hand on many battlefields. UN weapons inspectors were right there, five kilometers away from the alleged weapons attack site. Morality aside, it's not logical, some people say.

LANDIS: Well, you want to win. That's the logic of war. And for the enemy -- and I've gone over this quite a few times and thought through it - - for the opposition to have engaged in this kind of conspiracy to kill their own people in order to engage in a false flag mission that would then bring in external force to hit at Assad would be an extremely dangerous game.

Because it would require dozens of people to be involved in the conspiracy. It would eventually get known, and those people would be killed by their own -- the head of the opposition engaged in this kind of conspiracy to kill their own people would be -- they would be eventually assassinated because the word would get out. It just doesn't make sense for them to do it to themselves.

GORANI: Right. Well -- and many people agree with you as well, and weapons experts, by the way, Joshua, as you know, say that the delivery systems required for this need a bit military structure behind them in order for this to be an effective attack. Sadly, effective, that it seems has killed more than a thousand people.

So, what's going on with the Assad regime, then, going forward, now that they face the real threat of military intervention?

LANDIS: Well, I think they miscalculated once again. They thought that he death toll has gone up and that they could begin to use this. They just watched the United States give a pass to the Egyptian military to kill upwards of a thousand people in Egypt in order to destroy Islamic fundamentalists, and probably they calculated they could do -- get away with the same thing --

GORANI: Are you --

LANDIS: -- in Syria.

GORANI: Are you surprised that Bashar al-Assad has acted the way that he has over the last two-plus years?


GORANI: When the Arab -- when the uprising first started and up until today, has anything surprised you in the way he's responded?

LANDIS: I think we're all shocked that things have unfolded the way - - I mean, it's hard to ever predict this kind of brutality and this kind of a civil war.

On the other hand, Lebanon, Iraq have gone through almost identical civil wars, and so -- sadly to say, we've seen this before. Minoritarian regimes fighting tooth and nail to hang onto power.

And the different religions communities and socioeconomic communities in Syria are, in a sense, rebalancing the power between Shiites and Sunnis, between the rich and the poor. And America doesn't have an answer to this new -- to whatever kind of new power-sharing is going to emerge or if the Syrian state falls in pieces and you get several states coming out of what is today Syria.

And in order for the United States either to waltz in and try to build a new state and get power-sharing would be extremely expensive and not guaranteed success, or to divide the country up like Yugoslavia. But either way would require hundreds of thousands of troops to police Syria while you engage in this kind of military nation-building.

GORANI: Right.

LANDIS: And you have to disarm the militias, and that's the danger. And there are so many militias in Syria today, and most of them are quite Islamist and are quite brutal as well, so when you sweep away the government, things could get worse. Despite the brutality of this government, things could get worse, and that's the danger for the United States.

GORANI: And it's sometimes hard to imagine worse than what we're seeing now, this tragedy unfolding before our eyes for years now. Thank you, Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma, for your take on this.

Live from CNN Center, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Our Syria coverage continues, but first, after this short break, a top US executive and self-described nerd tells us how she developed a sense for business. That's Leading Women up next.


GORANI: This week's Leading Woman had three dream jobs as a child: becoming a vet, a doctor, or a businesswoman. Well, it seems the executive made the right choice -- the most lucrative choice, for sure. Felicia Taylor has more.


FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deanna Mulligan's rise as a top executive in the US is due in part to her thinking outside the box even about gender.

DEANNA MULLIGAN, CEO, THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA: I don't really think about it as a man's world. I think it's all of our world.

TAYLOR: In 2011, "Fortune" magazine named the Stanford University graduate among the 50 most powerful women in business. The same year, she became president and CEO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, which has about 3 million policyholders in the US.

TAYLOR (on camera): Excuse me for saying this, but the life insurance business isn't exactly the sexiest business I can think of.


TAYLOR: What stimulates you about that?

MULLIGAN: Life insurance is all about statistics, and I always loved statistics in college and in graduate school. So, there you have it, I am a nerd. And yes, it's not sexy, it's not glamorous, but I'm willing to make that trade-off in order to build something that's lasting.

TAYLOR (voice-over): Mulligan developed a sense for business early on and, as she says, started reading the stock tables at around nine years old. Her parents were her early mentors, and now today, she acts as a mentor as well.

MULLIGAN: I think mentoring is important to everyone. Occasionally I get e-mails or letters, "Will you mentor me?" And that's -- kind of an interesting situation. I think the situation that works the best is a relationship that grows over time where the person wanting to be mentored has something to offer, is willing to work a little harder or has a particular skill and there's kind of a natural working relationship.

All right, let's try -- come on.

TAYLOR: When not in the office, Deanna Mulligan often can be found outdoors. She's been riding since childhood.

MULLIGAN: It's a great way to clear your mind and unless you clear your mind once in a while, it's hard to be creative.

TAYLOR: Mulligan once took two years off work to reflect on her life. She now says she's charged and looking to the future.

MULLIGAN: You know, it was probably the best investment I ever made in my career, because at that particular time in my life, I had lost some people who were close to me, my husband had been in an accident and had a recovery period. I think the time off is always valuable. It provides perspective. But I think it was important that I came out of it with a clear definition of what I wanted to do.

TAYLOR (on camera): Does anything frighten you?

MULLIGAN: Not much.


MULLIGAN: I don't think -- fear's really not a productive emotion or productive state of being, and I do think that part of the success, to the extent I've had any, has been sort of a lack of fear.


GORANI: Coming up after a short break, we return to our top story, Syria. Strong condemnation from the Arab League. What they have to say on Syria and whether anyone is listening is up next.


GORANI: The US and other Western nations are laying the groundwork for possible military strikes against Syria. A spokesman for the Arab League placed the blame for last week's alleged attack firmly on President al-Assad's government.


NASEEF HATY, SPOKESMAN, ARAB LEAGUE (through translator): We place full responsibility on the Syrian regime over this horrid crime and we call for all perpetrators to be tried in international courts for war crimes.


GORANI: Meantime, military chiefs from the West and Middle East are meeting at a summit in Jordan to discuss the situation in Syria, and that's where we find our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. So, what are the discussions centering around? Possible strategies? Possible responses to Syria?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's such a sensitive issue here in Jordan right now. Very few details are being released, Hala. We're being told that it's a discussion about a regional situation, about the crisis in Syria, but the Jordanian government's been very keen to say that there is going to be no decision taken here about military action inside Syria.

They don't want to sort of appear to ramp up Jordan's involvement in supporting the rebels inside Syria. However, what regional diplomats here are telling me is they believe that the potential for strikes is very, very close. They say that unless there is an action against these alleged chemical strikes, there is no point in having the Geneva peace talks or those talks would be dead or stillborn.

The reason that they say that is the only reason that the Geneva peace talks will work is that both sides go into it, Bashar al-Assad's regime and the rebels, go into these talks knowing that they cannot win on the battlefield.

And right now, the assessment is Bashar al-Assad thinks he can win on the battlefield, and unless there is an action against these alleged chemical strikes that he's believed -- his regime is believed to be responsible for, then he will have no reason not to use them again and to continue to believe that he can win on the battlefield. So, that's why they say there has to be a reaction, Hala.

GORANI: All right, let's talk about the Arab League. We don't hear from the Arab League often, and when we do, let's be honest, nobody really cares all that much.

ROBERTSON: What I understood talking to a regional diplomat earlier today -- and this was before we heard from the Arab League emergency meeting -- was to expect condemnation of the Syrian regime.

I was also briefed at the same time that there would be the ministerial meeting of the Arab League coming up within the next few days, and after that, I was led to believe that there would be a call for intervention.

So, it is possible that we're going to see in the coming days the Arab League ministers, when they meet, making a stronger statement calling for intervention. And what diplomats are saying widely at the moment appears to be that they're unlikely to be able to take military action against Syria right now with the UN's support because Russia and China would block it.

So, having the Arab League come out, potentially, and call for something, if you will, would perhaps give some international cover for such a strike. This is speculation, but that's what we've been led to believe will happen at the ministerial Arab League meeting. So, yes, potentially, people may pay attention or use this as an opportunity, Hala.

GORANI: All right. We'll see how the Arab League responds to this and whether or not they become more forceful in their approach to this unfolding tragedy in Syria. Thank you very much, Nic Robertson.

And that was CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Hala Gorani, thanks for being with us this hour. Your world headlines are coming up next.