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PIERS MORGAN LIVE

Will U.S. Strike Syria?; Interview with Former NFL Quarterback Jim McMahon

Aired August 30, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is Piers Morgan Live, I am Wolf Blitzer, in for Piers tonight. We want to welcome our CNN viewers in the United States and around the world. Tonight, there's breaking news on the showdown with Syria. President Obama making the case for a possible military strike. He says there is clear proof the regime was behind the use of deadly chemical weapons. The president also says he has not yet made a final decision on his military options, but he certainly appears to be moving closer and closer to using force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign, but we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understands that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll have the very latest developments this hour, including graphic video of a purported new chemical attack. And is the president doing the right thing if he goes it alone? What will it mean for America if he does?

I'll talk to Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations Weapons Inspector. Plus, the NFL's landmark concussion settlement, what it means for the sport and for the safety of the players. I'll talk exclusively with Chicago Bears great Jim McMahon, who is suffering from dementia. He's only 54 years old and has a lot to stay on the game, the risks and his life right now.

But we begin with the breaking news on Syria.

Tonight, President Obama is considering a limited attack in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons. The White House released today this photo of the President meeting with his top national security team, a lot to get to tonight on this huge story with enormous ramifications. Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

Barbara, the Russians -- the Russian Foreign Ministry just put out a statement reacting to Secretary of State Kerry and to the President among other things, the Russian are saying Washington statements threatening to apply force to Syria are unacceptable. Even U.S. Allies have call for taking a break to wait for the U.N. experts to complete their work in order to get an objective picture of what happened there.

What's the very latest you're hearing about a U.S. Military strike?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, well, from the U.S. point of view, their contention that the White House is, they have the information in hand that could lead the President to make that decision. What we are waiting for at the Pentagon is essentially an "execute order" from the President. In other words, he signs the papers and says, "Go ahead and do it." That would that then come here to the Pentagon, be sent out to the fleet and the next steps that you would then most likely see would be tomahawk missiles being launched from those five navy warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.

All of this await the President's decision of course. But they are making the case that they feel at least that they have the intelligence already in hand to back this up. Today, of course, they laid out that case of intercepts, human intelligence, satellite imagery from overhead, then many people around the world will say there are gaps in that intelligence mainly that they do not have the tissue samples, the actual medical forensic evidence from the victims. So, there's a difference of opinion on that front wall.

BLITZER: Let's see if the U.N. Weapons Inspectors have that, but for the time they make their report ready to the United Nations, that could be a week, two weeks and the U.S. clearly doesn't want to wait that long.

Once the execute order does from the Commander in Chief, Barbara, to the troops out in the Eastern Mediterranean, is it a matter of hours before those tomahawk cruise missiles are launched, days? Do we have any indication?

STARR: Well, certainly not I wouldn't think days. Well, if I think within hours or less perhaps. Tomahawk missiles are programmed with GPS satellite coordinates. So, they are very specifically programmed to go to a particular target. Some of those targets maybe updated in the final hours and minutes before an attack might be launched if it's ordered. So, all of these depends on fast they can get all of the missiles programmed exactly to go where they want them to go.

It will happen. We are told very quickly after the President signs that order.

BLITZER: Once he signs that order, gives the command then all systems go.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Joining me now, Hans Blix, the former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector who lead the team searching for chemical weapons -- other weapons of mass distractions in Iraq.

Thanks very much, Dr. Blix, for joining us. And I want to get your honest assessment about what's going on right now where the President and the Secretary of State here in the United States, they made it clear that they are poised to launch a military strike against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus because they say he deliberately ordered the use of chemical weapons against civilians killing more than 1,400, more than 400 of whom were children.

Do you think this would be a mistake for the U.S. to act militarily, why?

HANS BLIX, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think so. And I think that in 2003, they listened and saw our reports and they (INAUDIBLE) this time, they do not even seem to have time to look at the reports of the U.N. inspectors which I think they should do having urged the U.N. to send inspectors.

I also think that the assurance that the attacks would be limited is not very encouraging. It is like saying to the world that "Syrians can go on fighting their war, but they must not use gas." I think what the world wants to hear is a ban on the use of gas and other chemical means and a drive for a cease-fire and for peace.

BLITZER: I assume though, Dr. Blix, you are outraged by the use of chemical weapons against civilians as anyone. What would you do if you were in a position of authority to deal with this because the President is making it clear, the Secretary of State making it clear, that if the world does nothing, they will simply continue to slaughter their fellow citizens with these kinds of chemical weapons.

BLIX: Yes, I am as outraged as they are, and I think the whole world is. And I think this is the shortcoming of the U.S. present inclination that the U.S. would go ahead alone as the world policeman when, in fact, I think it ought to be possible to get the whole security council condemning the use of chemical weapons. They may not be able to point Assad or point to the rebels, but I think if Russians, the Iranians, everybody would condemn the use of chemical weapons, that will be already something. Only to have the U.S. and a few allies and a lot of correlates (ph) of the security council will not be a very impressive affair.

BLITZER: Listen to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, he spoke out about all of these. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATES: With our own eyes, we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, and death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Secretary of State and other U.S. officials say -- Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary General, has made it clear, these weapons inspectors were now returning to New York from Syria. Their only mission was to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used. They did not have a mandate to determine who used those chemical weapons. As a result, the U.S. says, "They don't need this report. They already know that chemical weapons were used."

BLIX: But it's a different thing to have a condemnation on behalf of the whole world by the world's highest council, the security council, rather than having -- simply coming over to Washington. I don't think -- I think it's a secondary matter to point out who used it. The accountability can come later, but now we will quarrels if the U.S. goes ahead rather than the United Security Council.

I think the Russians might be even taking initiative to the U.S. and say, "Come, let's go together and do the condemnation." And then go on not just to the condemnation but also try to seek -- to press the fighting parties to a cease-fire. After all, the war could not continue unless the fighting parties got support from various friends in the region and friends from Russia and from Iran.

This would be the aim. I don't think that a fight and an isolated attack by the U.S. will accomplish any of that.

BLITZER: There's more video that just diverged today showing children badly burned, a very, very graphic video and I want to alert our viewers here in the United States and around the world, it's very painful to look at this. I'm going to show our viewers this video. It happened in Northern Syria, the allegation being that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad using some sort of additional chemical weapons, burns, maybe napalm, but if you look at these pictures, Dr. Blix, it's awful. And the U.S. continues to say, the President and the Secretary of State, if they don't get the message, these kinds of attacks will simply continue.

BLIX: I agree that it may well be that the regime has used it. It may be also be that the rebels have used it. But I think the world is the right one to accuse the -- those who have used the weapons. And the essence of it I think has to do with the credibility of the President. That's the root of the problem.

He didn't say that "If they used chemical weapons I will change my calculation." All right. But I think that when they are planning or gearing towards an attack, it has much to do with the credibility, but perhaps the credibility to attack Iran, if Iran does not heed the request to stop developing a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Well, I think there's no doubt that the President of the United States and the Secretary of State, they are very concern about U.S. credibility not only as you point out with the Syrian government but also with the Iranians because if the U.S. were to back down now, it would send, what they fear would be a message to Syria and especially to Iran. The U.S. really doesn't mean it when they say there's a red line. If you cross that red line you will pay a price. This is a major source of concern for the U.S., right now.

But let me get back to the suggestion that -- I think you were suggesting that maybe the opposition, the rebels, have been using chemical weapons, is there any evidence you've seen that they have?

BLIX: I hear allegations similar to that and I say I don't exclude that have taken place. It may well be that the U.S. has better evidence this time than they had in 2003. I don't doubt that. But I think the proper place to present the evidence would be in the World Court, that is to say the Security Council.

BLITZER: So when they present this evidence publicly today to the American people, to the international community, as far as you're concerned that's not good enough?

BLIX: I'm not sure that the American people want to be the world police. Judging by the opinion polls that I see about 9 percent of the U.S. population would support an attack. And I'm sure that the world in general would not want the U.S. or NATO or any individual states to be a world police.

BLITZER: Well, some of the polls show much greater, a greater support maybe 40 to 50 percent of the American people would support some sort of limited military strike in the aftermath of chemical weapons attacks.

There's new polls numbers -- new poll numbers coming in all of the time, but certainly very small percentage the American people want to get involved in a long-ranged Iraq style or Afghanistan style war that would go on for 10 or 15 years on that. There is no appetite for that here in the United States.

Hans Blix, good to hear from you once again. Thanks very much for joining us.

So you just heard Hans Blix say the United States should not go alone in Syria, but what about the U.S. Congress? What's the poll out here at home if President Obama orders military strikes? I'll talk to a key member of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This kind of attack threatens international security interests by violating well-established international norms against the use of chemical weapons by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel, and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future, and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama is convinced the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, is directly responsible for the chemical attack. And President Obama said today, he's consulting with Congress. New York Democratic Representative Eliot Engel participated in a White House call last night about Syria. He's the Ranking Member of House of Foreign Affairs Committee. He's joining us now. Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in. And I know you just heard Dr. Hans Blix. He was the former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector going into the Iraq War back in 2003. At that time, as you all remember, he was skeptical about the Bush Administration's intelligence assessments. He was right. They were wrong. Do you think it's possible he's right again this time?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL, (D) NEW YORK: No, I don't. I agree with Secretary Kerry and the President. I believe that if he would be right, then the Syrians would have welcomed the international inspectors immediately to prove that they were being set up or that that they really didn't do these horrendous things. They kept international inspectors out for five full days and before they allowed them to come in. So that I think is clear. We've also gotten word, as the President has said, that there were communications that were intercepted, clearly showing that the Syrians were the ones who did this.

BLITZER: Did they play those communications, Congressman? For you, did you hear the actual voice of Syrian commanders speaking about ordering chemical weapons to be used?

ENGEL: No, we did not. But I think if the President of the United States and the Secretary of State say that they have them, that's good enough for me.

BLITZER: Was it good enough for you when President Bush and the then Secretary of State Colin Powell said they had the evidence that they were WMD in Iraq? Was that good enough for you then?

ENGEL: Well, look, I think to compare what's going now with Iraq is like comparing apples with oranges. There are children and civilians who have been brutally murdered by their own government using chemical weapons.

President Obama, in my opinion, rightfully said "That if chemical weapon were used, that would be crossing the red line." I think the Syrians crossed the red line. And I think it's time for the United States to say that we will not tolerate these war crimes whereby people are murdering their own people. And I think the President is absolutely right to draw a line in the sand. I do think the world is watching.

You know, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Blix. But when he says "We'll come to the Security Council," he knows we can't come to the Security Council. The Russians will have the veto there. They blocked every move ...

BLITZER: But it's not just -- let me interrupt for a second, Congressman, because it's not just Hans Blix. It's a bunch of your Democratic colleagues in Congress as well, including Senator Carl Levin, he's the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He issued a statement today. I'll put it up on the screen.

"I again expressed my view that the United States should not undertake a kinetic strike before the U.N. inspectors complete their work, and that the impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations."

He sounds to be closer to Hans Blix than he is to you.

ENGEL: Well, no, I know Senator Levin, I have a lot of respect for him and he's also said that he thinks the United States should be aiding the well-vetted rebels in Syria. I happened to agree with him on that as well. So everybody has their own opinion.

But I think when the President of the United States and the Secretary of State laid out and say that there is ample evidence, again, why would the Syrians keep international inspectors out for five days before they can come in and really find out what was happening?

It's clear that to me that is was a sign. It's clear to me that the Syrians, unfortunately, murdered their own people with gas. These children frothing at the mouths and foaming at the mouth, and dying. I don't think ...

BLITZER: All right.

ENGEL: ... that we want to send a message that that's acceptable.

BLITZER: One final question. So if the President were to order a strike, let's say tomorrow, or the next day, without the U.N. authority without a vote from the NATO allies, without even Great Britain involved, certainly no vote from the Arab league.

The US basically going in alone, albeit some rhetorical support from other countries. That would be OK with you.

ENGEL: Well, there are support from France and there'll be support from other countries. I think the President made it very clear that it would be a game changer for us if chemical weapons were used by the Syrians against their own people, and I think they did it. And I think the President is going to move accordingly, and then I'll tell every desk spot in the world that they cannot murder their own people with war crimes, with weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: I'll take that as a yes from Congressman Eliot Engel. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

ENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Any possible military action certainly comes with great risk and the administration today made a point of saying this situation will not be like the situation was in Iraq 10 years ago. With us now is Ambassador Paul Bremer. He was the U.S. Administrator in Iraq. He obviously knows a lot of about these kinds of subjects.

Are you in favor of the President launching a strike within the next few days? PAUL BREMER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ: Well, I don't comment on the timing. I think he has to do something. He said out fairly clearly a red line that now has been crossed at least the couple of times. And I can understand what Secretary Kerry said today about the American people being fatigued by the last decade war.

My concern frankly, Wolf, is what will be the impact on the broader regional situation which really means on Iran? That to me is the key question now.

BLITZER: So if the U.S. were to launch tomahawk cruise missiles over the next few days, take out some targets in Syria, what would be the fall out? What would happen? Because you have to think about the ramifications of that, what would the Syrians do? What would Hezbollah, the Lebanese allies of the Syrian regime do? What would Iran do?

BREMER: I think the real question is what are we trying to achieve with whatever strikes the President may authorize.

My concern is that with the emphasis that the administration has put on very narrowly-defined actions it could actually make the situation worst because it may make us look weak rather than strong. You know, for those of us who were around and you were also -- well, for the Vietnam War, the idea the Johnson Administration had was the gradual escalation and then stopping would somehow show the North Vietnamese we were tough. In fact it had exactly the opposite effect.

And I'm a little worried that a very narrowly circumscribed military action now may in fact give a message of weakness not a message of strength both in Syria and in Iran, more particularly in Iran.

BLITZER: Well, after the President of the United States draws that red line, after we heard very strong comments from the Secretary of state Today and later from the President today, if the U.S. were to do nothing militarily, what kind of message would that send?

BREMER: No, I think he has to do something because he basically said publicly some time ago, before the first attacks, chemical attacks earlier this year. He said this would be a red line and presidents should never bluff publicly in foreign affairs. It's a very dangerous thing.

He's drawn a red line also in Iran. He said, I think correctly that it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. So he has got to act in Syria. I hope frankly he acts in a much more vigorous and robust sense than we're getting the impression, we'll see.

BLITZER: What does that mean? Much more -- instead of just a few tomahawk cruise missiles, what else would you want him to do?

BREMER: Well, I think there should be a -- I'm not an expert on what the target set might be. But it seems to me there ought to be a no-fly, no-move zone along the borders. We should target the air force which is, after all, a way in which Saddam has done a lot of his indiscriminate killing of his own citizens is with the air force.

There's a lot of talk about how fancy the air defenses are. The Israelis have been in and out at least four attacks that they've admitted to in a last year without apparently losing any aircraft.

So I think a lot more can be done to suppress Saddam's ability to indiscriminately attack his own people. And it's very important that we leave a message very strongly into Iran that we're serious, because the Iran -- you know, people have missed the fact that the U.N. inspection team came out of Iran earlier this week and reported that there are now 15,000 centrifuges working on Iran's nuclear program. That's five times as many as there were four years ago.

So Iranians are busy working towards a nuclear weapon and we say it's unacceptable.

BLITZER: The U.S. invasion of Iraq 10 years ago -- and I remember you were there on the scene. You were working for President Bush. You were the first administrator that went in. It was based on flawed intelligence. Do you think it's possible U.S. intelligence is now flawed again?

BREMER: It doesn't sound like it. Of course I wasn't on the phone call the Congressman was referring to. I haven't seen anything but the public document that was released. It's quite a difference situation. I mean, we know that chemical weapons were used this week in Syria. There's no dispute about that.

BLITZER: Paul Bremer, thanks very much for joining us.

BREMER: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, gearing up for an attack, U.S. warships -- they are moving in the Eastern Mediterranean closer and closer to the Syrian coast right now. What would a strike look like? I'll ask experts. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: It matters because if we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very strong words from the Secretary of State John Kerry today saying there's overwhelming evidence Bashar al-Assad's regime is behind the deadly chemical attack on August 21st. It appears a U.S. strike right now may be imminent, but what are the risks for the United States?

With us now, retired U.S. Major General James "Spider" Marks, he's the CNN military analyst, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. Also joining his Fran Townsend, CNN's National Security analyst. She's a member of both the Department Homeland Security and the CIA External Advisory Boards. The Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, he's the author of "Trials of Zion" and the "Case for Israel" and CNN contributor. And former CIA operative Robert Baer. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

If the President signs the order, General Marks, how quickly for that order be implemented to target the various locations in Syria?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS: Wolf, all the targets have already been identified, the software has been uploaded so that the very latest targeting information has -- is available. So, the cruise missiles will strike where they are intended to go. It isn't a matter of rushing to an execution. When the X order or execution order comes out, the time has already been set by the Secretary of Defense, to Combatant Commander, General Lloyd Austin, they and General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman. They've determined when they want to launch these things.

So, it's not a matter of rushing to pulling the trigger. They know when they're going to execute, they will execute at a time of their choosing, but it could take minutes if that's really what we're looking at.

BLITZER: With all these discussions that's been going on, Bob, about a imminent U.S. attack, the Syrians obviously, they're taking precautions, they're taking steps to deal with this, no one is going to be surprised that it's going to happen eventually will happen. How much of this is potentially detrimental to the overall U.S. objective? In other words all this publicity?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I mean they have to have the publicity to go forward with this. We are trying to build the case against Syria and I think that's good case so far. They have used chemical weapons, and it's a question of what targets we pick. Are we going to go after the 4th Division, the Republican Guards that's commanded by the brother, are we going to go after fixed sites, are we going to go after the airport? Are we going to go after the Presidential Palace? And that's really going to be the key and that's going to be the key in determining how the Syrians react.

Now, I've been talking to the Syrians today in Damascus and they said if there's any indication that there's going to be some attempt for regime change or to really, you know, to loosen up the defenses at Damascus, they will respond with strategic weapons. They were very clear about that. And incidentally, Wolf, they didn't deny that that was a government attack on the suburbs. They just avoid in talking about it altogether.

So, they're taking this very seriously and they're waiting to see what's going to get hit before they decide what to do.

BLITZER: Bob, what does that mean? They would respond with strategic weapons, what do you mean by that? BAER: They'll use smart chemicals. They will -- you know, the question is and I ask them is would you hit Israel? Would Hezbollah be brought in this? Would they hit Israel? Would they hit Jordan? And they wouldn't answer, they just said, "It will be a serious response," if they think that we're trying to bring down the regime. Because this is a, you know, a minority who believes that their lives are at stake and they will turn over the table if they think they have to.

BLITZER: If he feels that he's in danger, Fran, who knows what he and his supporters in Damascus are going to do. That's a huge potential problem there.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Wolf. And it's one of those things -- it's why I've always been concerned about this notion of the President signaling this is going to be a very narrow strike. I mean, what you want to do is reserve your options to be able to anticipate and to respond to some sort of atrocity that Assad may go ahead and visit on his own people, holding his own people hostage in the international community, frankly, as a shield against any military attack that he could suffer.

And so, this is -- but this is all part, as General Marks will tell you, part of the military planning process. There's a contingency planning process for what your enemies reaction may be to the initial strike.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, you know, there's a statement that was put out today by the Jimmy Carter Center on behalf of the former President of the United States and I'll put it up on the screen it says this, "A punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war."

You're a law professor. Is the President of United States who himself once taught law at the University of Chicago, a graduate of the Harvard Law School, is he potentially going to violate international law if you believe Jimmy Carter?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: No, I don't think so. International law is very self contradictory in this regard. On the one hand we have sovereignty and the United Nations which looks in the direction of not allowing this kind of intervention. On the other hand, we have the emerging duty to intervene to prevent humanitarian crisis.

If Jimmy Carter were right, then it would have been unlawful for the United States to say to intervene during or before the holocaust to prevent the murder of millions and millions of people under Germany's control. There has to be some room for humanitarian intervention in extreme cases. Whether this is one of those cases obviously could be a closed question. But I do not believe that the President of United States would engage any illegal action if he went in -- in an effort to prevent humanitarian disaster. Whether it's a good policy or not is a different question. But it's not against international law, it's certainly not clearly against the international law as President Carter has suggested.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to ask the panel to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. If the United States does strike in the coming hours or days, what will the effects be on the region? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Promised by the President that no U.S. troops will be on the ground in Syria. The President is saying a military response, in his words, will be limited. Back now with Retired Navy General, James "Spider" Marks, CNN national security analyst. Fran Townsend, the Harvard law attorney and professor, Alan Dershowitz, and CNN contributor, Bob Bear.

Spider, the -- I know the President's intention is not to go in for anything more than a limited, very precise operation, but can he be 100 percent sure the U.S. won't be dragged into something much more substantial depending on the Syrian response?

MARKS: Wolf, if I would suggest, he should be a 100 percent convinced that the United States will be dragged into something that they choose not to be. You can start an engagement but you give to your opponent the decision in terms of when it's going to stop. If you don't defeat, and you have to define what defeat means, if you don't defeat your opponent, the struggle continues.

Look, the construct is action, reaction, and then counteraction. So, we're going to strike a blow. The Syrians are going to something as Fran has suggested and it's not predictable what that's going to look like. And then what are we going to do? What is the counteraction? That's where we start getting into an extreme entanglement and that's a very, very plausible scenario.

BLITZER: Let me play a little clip. This is the former President George W. Bush. He was on Fox earlier today, the U.S. asked about an imminent U.S. strike. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE: I should comment about this. The President has got tough choice to make, and if he decides to use our military, he'll have the greatest military ever backing him up. I was not a fan of Mr. Assad. He's a ally of Iran and he's made mischief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fran, you worked for President Bush and he's clearly trying to stay out of this debate right now. He doesn't want to step on the current President as he makes these very, very tough decisions. What kind of marks, Fran, will you give the current national security team surrounding the President on this sensitive subject?

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, because it seems clear to me that we are on the eve of decision to engage in military operations. I'm not going to -- I'm not about grading the current team. What I -- there are things that I might have suggested we do differently and timing differently, tactics differently, strategy definitely, perhaps.

But tonight is not really the night. You know, when the war -- when there's a military action about to take place, our thoughts, our prayers are with the men and women in uniform who are going to get that execute order and have to deal with it and deal with the potential retaliation and reaction of our opponent.

And so tonight is really not the night. I think President Bush is absolutely right. Assad is a reprehensible regime, deserves to be dealt with. But tonight, that decision rests with the President of United States and the administration.

BLITZER: And here's what the President himself as a United States Senator said back in 2007. Listen to this.

Let me read it to you. This is what the President said to Boston Globe.

The President -- these were the President said as a senator.

"The President does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Alan Dershowitz, what do you think?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, if that were the case, then every lawful act that has been taken by every president since 1941 will be unlawful. You know, the constitution changes with practice. And the practice since 1941 has been not declare wars but rather to give the President and the administration, the authority to engage in that -- sometimes it's worked well, sometimes it worked poorly.

You know, the physical target here of course is Syria. But remember that the real targets are Iran and Israel. This is a prelude to the possibility that either Iran will learn a lesson from this and stop its development of nuclear weapons or Israel will have to make a decision as to whether to trust the United States.

So, this has implications well beyond Syria and the United States for the region. I think it's always better to get congressional authorization for this kind of thing. And but without it ...

BLITZER: But clearly that's not going to happen. I got to cut you off because we're out of time, but that's not going to happen obviously the next few days. Congress isn't even here in session right now.

Thanks to all of you, Spider Marks, Fran Townsend, Alan Dershowitz, Bob Baer.

Up next, a very different subject, my exclusive interview with the football great Jim McMahon. Dementia he says caused by injuries on the field almost drove him to suicide. Tonight he is speaking out in the NFL's multimillion dollar concussion settlement.

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BLITZER: Jim McMahon was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has two Super Bowl Rings. The Chicago Bears' Great also took some big hits out there on the field including this body slam in 1986 that ended the season for him. McMahon is amongst several players who brought a lawsuit against the NFL over concussion-related brain injuries. This week both sides reach a $765 million settlement. Jim McMahon says the head injuries he suffered in the field caused his dementia.

Jim is joining us now for a Prime time exclusive along with his attorney, Larry Coben. Now, guys, thanks very much for coming in. What do you make of this settlement, Jim? Do you think it's fair what the NFL agreed to?

JIM MCMAHON, CHICAGO BEARS 1986 QUARTERBACK: Well, I think it's finally, you know, put to rest. Some of these guys that are hurting so bad that they're going to finally get some help. You know, they -- once your brain stars messing with you, you don't know where to turn, you don't know who to trust. And we finally got some funds now to take care of these guys.

BLITZER: If you knew then what you know now, would you have played football, Jim?

MCMAHON: Probably. I love baseball as a kid. I would have loved to had been a baseball player but I love the game of football. You know, there were -- I only know one way to play it and that's the way I did it. And unfortunately now, it's coming back to haunt me a little.

BLITZER: It certainly is. When you played, you suffered your concussions out there. Do you believe, knowing what you know now that the NFL team doctors were looking out for the best interest of the players?

MCMAHON: I don't think in all cases they were, no.

BLITZER: Give me an example without mentioning any names.

MCMAHON: Well, there was a lot of times that I know I shouldn't have been allowed to go back on a football field, and I saw it throughout my 15-year career. You know, but guys are proud, they, you know, they want to get out there and play hurt, be out there with their guys, and they'll do whatever they can and they'll sometimes lie to a coach. BLITZER: One of your fellow plaintiffs in this lawsuit is the family of the great linebacker Junior Seau who committed suicide last year. I know you yourself, Jim, you contemplated suicide. First of all, physically, how are you doing today?

MCMAHON: Well, physically I'm much better, you know? I was having some real extreme headaches, sharp pains in my head. I found out that my brain was filling up with spinal fluid. I was able to find some relief, found a doctor that can at least relieve those symptoms but, you know, it's -- I still forget every, you know, a lot of things. Daily routine is a, you know, pretty much what my girlfriend tells me I'm supposed to do.

BLITZER: You're 54 years old. You've been diagnosed, correct me if I'm wrong, with dementia, at least some form of dementia. Talk about that.

MCMAHON: Early onset. Early onset. You know, once all that fluid was in my brain, I mean that's what was causing all the problems. It was pooling in the front of my brain, actually pushing my brain to the back of my skull, and it was extremely painful especially on airplane flights. And I travel a lot and it was excruciating. And that's why a lot of times I was thinking about being better off just, you know, ending it.

BLITZER: Is that why you're wearing the glasses right now, the sun glasses?

MCMAHON: No, I've been wearing sun glasses since I was 6 years old. I stuck a fork in my eye and these lights are a little bright for me.

BLITZER: So that's it. Larry, what do you think about this settlement. Is it fair? The amount of money the players are going to receive?

LARRY COBEN, ATTORNEY: I think it's a great result for a great group of people. You know, we struggled with how to get this huge class action lawsuit finalized, and our goal from the beginning was to get as much financial benefit that we could as quickly as we could for people that are really hurting.

We could have gone on forever, and it probably would've given all the legal hurdles. But we were able to come to terms with a financial settlement that's going to provide tremendous financial support for players and their families that are hurting desperately now, and for many that will, in the future, suffer the kind of neurocognitive disorders that are just devastating to people's lives. And that's what this was all about.

BLITZER: Is there a dollar figure, a ball park figure? Larry how money you think Jim is going to receive as part of the settlement?

COBEN: No, there really isn't. Actually that still has to go before the judge and the judge has to make approval on different benefits for different types of injuries. But the goal is try to get to the most seriously injured former players as much money as possible to deal with their medical bills, to deal with the fact that they can't work, they're no longer able to care for their families. That's the goal, and that's accomplished by this settlement.

BLITZER: Jim, what advise do you have for parents out there who may have little boys thinking about playing high school football, or then going out to college football? Is this sport safe?

MCMAHON: I think they're finally realizing what, you know, what this -- the damage that can be done to the brain. And I think they're addressing it, and I think, you know, going forward from here the care is going to be so much better. People will not be able to be allowed to go back in if they've suffered a concussion and stuff like this. So I think it's going on the right direction and I think the kids will be safer in the future for it.

BLITZER: Jim McMahon, good luck to you. All of us who love football watched you play. You're a great, great player. Larry, thanks very much for coming in as well.

COBEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be right back.

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