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President Obama Tries To Makes The Case On Syria; Analysis Of Syrian Crisis; U.S. On Brink Of Entering Syrian Conflict
Aired August 31, 2013 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am John Berman.
Syria is the biggest story in the world right now. And that story just took a surprising turn. President Obama taking the podium at the White House a short time ago. Many expected this to be the official announcement of an imminent strike on Syria. But instead, this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After careful deliberation I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. That's why I have made a second decision.
I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress. For the last several days, we have heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree.
I ask you to take this vote for a national security. I am looking forward to the debate. In doing so I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or in politics at the moment. It is ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time, it's about who we are as a country. I believe the people's representatives must be invested in what America does abroad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So the president telling the world that a strike on Syria will only happen if Congress decides it should. Members of Congress of course are still on break right now, so any military action the U.S. might take would be at least ten days from now, if at all. So over the coming hours we're going to be covering every angle of this developing situation from the now delayed plans to strike, the findings of the U.N. weapons inspectors which are now just being reported to the United Nations. And there have also been scattered protests around the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Obama. Hands off Syria. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You hear them saying, hands off Syria. That chant also being echoed at some protests around the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Hands off Syria! Hands off Syria! Hands off Syria!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Whatever they're saying on the streets right now it does now seem a strike against Syria is in the hands of the United States Congress.
Jim Acosta is covering events for us at the White House while Dana Bash is in our Washington bureau.
And, Jim, the timing of this decision simply fascinating and based on what you're hearing, really last minute.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very much so, John. This was a very dramatic development that took place here at the White House yesterday after his administration was essentially moving in the direction of eminent military action, perhaps as soon as this weekend. The president made a different decision.
At 7:00 last night, he really made a last-minute decision to slow down, buy himself some time, and seek authorization from Congress. And according to senior administration officials who explained how all of this played out to a group of reporters, within the last hour, it sort of takes a little bit of time to explain but it's worth listening to.
At first the story first starts, according to the senior administration officials, that this option of seeking directional approval was not really talked about among his top advisers. It was something just really kicking around inside the president's head, according to these officials. And then, late yesterday after he made those remarks sitting down with the Baltic leaders, after the secretary of state made yet another passionate statement at the state department, President Obama at around 6:00 last night decided to go on a walk with his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough. And at this point he started to layout some of his concerns about moving forward without Congressional authorization.
And then at 7:00, he started talking to his national security advisers about this decision. And according to these senior administration officials, at that point there was sort of a robust debate that broke out among his national security team over whether or not this was a good idea. But at the end of the day, the president is the president and his national security team, according to the senior administration officials, now support this decision.
But you're right, John, I mean, this opens up a lot of different questions. First and foremost, can he get this passed through the Congress. I asked senior administration officials about this during this brief that they gave to reporters and they just really didn't want to answer that question. They say at this point, they don't feel like they're changing the calculus when it comes to who has the constitutional authority to take military action. They claim they are not sitting that authority to Congress. But they say in this instance, they want to get the Congress, the people's representatives, more invested in this decision. And they point out that in 1997, the Congress ratified the chemical weapons convention that was signed on to by many different nations around the world. They say this is not only the president's red line, it is Congress' red line -- John.
BERMAN: Let's find out what our own Congressional expert has to say about this, Dana Bash.
Dana, David Axelrod, a key advisor, former advisor to President Obama sent out a tweet about an hour ago which said that, Congress is now the dog that caught the car. A lot of members of Congress had been calling for a vote on Syria. They're getting it now. The question is, which way do you think this vote goes? Any signs?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well put and, no, it is still a question mark. Sources I'm talking to, thus far, are feeling much more confident in authorization passing in the Democratic-led Senate. Not so much because it's led by the president's own party, because just -- because somebody's a Democrat does not mean they support military action. In some cases it's just the opposite. But more because of the makeup of the Senate it actually has more moderates.
Fewer people now on either sort of an extreme, Republican or Democratic extreme than the house, meaning those people tend to be more libertarians, more anti-war in general. Having said that, I think what is also interesting, and maybe important context to add to Jim's reporting about the dramatic turn around that the president had, I was told by a Republican senator who participated in a briefing with GOP and Democratic senators on the armed services and Foreign Relations Committees yesterday afternoon, that there was some serious pushback from Democrats and not anti-war liberal Democrats but moderate Democrats.
Two Obama officials saying the president needs to come to Congress to get authorization. It is certainly interest that that call didn't happen in a vacuum. It was part of a larger discussion. Many more people pushing for authorization. But the fact that these kinds of Democrats, people in the president's own party were pushing for that in this private call and just a few hours later the president did make that decision after taking that walk that Jim talked about with Dennis McDonough, his chief of staff and also a veteran of the United States Senate, somebody who understands the politics there, is very, very interesting.
BERMAN: And now it looks like the president and the White House has somewhere between five and six days for an intense lobbying effort before the Senate does take this up.
BASH: And add one more thing on the timing of this. Senate Democratic sources say that they are not ruling out bringing the Senate back before the scheduled date, which is September 9th. So, they could be coming back this coming week. It's not yet decided. On the house side which is led by Republicans, House speaker John Boehner made clear in a statement that he does not see a vote happening there before the week of September 9th. So, the following week.
BERMAN: So, watch the space on the Senate timing.
Dana Bash, thanks very much. Jim Acosta at the White House, appreciate it.
Meanwhile, in Washington and beyond, politicians have staking out their positions now with many but not all supporting the president. The house GOP leadership issued this statement. They said, we are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised. In consultation with the president, we expect the house to consider a measure the week of September 9th. That's ten days away.
But Republican congressman, Peter King, chairman of the homeland security subcommittee on counter intelligence and terrorism had this to say. He said, President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president does not need Congress to authorize a strike in Syria.
And British prime minister David Cameron who just lost his own vote in his house of commons put out this simple statement, he said, I understand and support Barack Obama's position on Syria.
And there's one more we don't have a graphic for which is fascinating. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham just put out a statement a few minutes ago in saying, that they believe there should be a response to what they call a chemical weapons attack in Syria. But they say this, however, in good conscience we cannot support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield.
So it seems like some of those pro-intervention senators on the Republican side, even they may be hard votes for the president. Of course, any decision the U.S. makes about military action or, as the case maybe, inaction has huge implications for Syria's neighbors. To the north, that is Turkey, to the south U.S. ally Israel and there is the entire Arab world, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.
Christiane Amanpour chief international correspondent for us.
Christiane, one of the things you heard secretary of state John Kerry say yesterday when he was pushing for action in Syria was saying that U.S. credibility is on the line. And by that, he certainly implied credibility in the Arab world. How does this decision by the president today, do you think it affects U.S. credibility?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think around the whole world and really for the whole world order weapons of mass destruction of which chemical weapons are one type are banned by the highest standards of international law. So, this is a major issue. This is t not just a massacre, as terrible as they are. This is a crime committed with a weapon of mass destruction.
Now, Secretary Kerry, according to U.S. officials has called the members of the leadership of the Syrian opposition to say that the U.S. does still plan to hold the perpetrators of chemical weapons warfare accountable. But we've also heard from members of the Syrian opposition that they are incredibly disappointed. They tell CNN, they believed that they were on the verge of seeing strikes against Bashar Assad regime for this latest use of chemical weapons. And just about several months ago in the last such use, which was unmet by any punitive measures, I was told that they were very, very afraid, the Syrian opposition was very afraid that if it wasn't met, then a terrible new catastrophe with chemical weapons would happen. Of course, that has happened.
Now, we have also heard tweets from here in Britain whereby the foreign secretary William Hague, even though their prime minister was defeated in his attempt to join this military action, he said Obama, the president, made a very, very strong speech today.
We have also heard that the president Hollande of France assured the United States, assured President Obama that he stands ready to punish the perpetrators of these chemical weapons attacks.
So, that's what's going on right now. But nobody really knows what the next step may be. Perhaps we will wait to see what happens when the chemical weapons investigators publicly reveal their takings, whether that might add momentum to then continue this attempt to hold the perpetrators accountable -- John.
BERMAN: We know the president's speech was broadcast in Syria. There was no question that the whole world will be watching when the U.S. Congress takes up this debate.
Christiane Amanpour, always great to talk to you. Thank you so much.
All right, the president is willing to wait for Congress. He has asked them to vote. But with a go ahead, what would a limited military option against the Assad regime actually look like?
Ahead, we are going to go to the Pentagon for an answer.
BERMAN: I'm John Berman in New York. We are back with CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria.
While President Obama seek Congressional supposed for the military action in Syria, a recent poll shows that Americans really do seem split on tissue. An NBC poll conducted a few days ago found that 42 percent support U.S. military action in Syria, but 50 percent are opposed. Now, I should tell you that number is essentially split when you ask them if they support a limited operation. A majority thus supports that the limited operations, minority oppose.
Meanwhile, though, people took to the streets today as we showed you before to make their voices heard. There were some small demonstrations in several U.S. cities and around the world to protest a possible U.S. military action on Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Obama, hands off Syria! Obama, hands off Syria!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Dozens rallied outside the White House, which is you know, right outside where the president was spending his entire day.
Thousands of miles away on Australia, people gathered in Sydney against military intervention in Syria.
And in London, where the UK parliament voted this week to not join the U.S. military in any proposed action. Although Prime Minister David Cameron did give his backing today to the president's statement that he made in the rose garden. The British prime minister said I understand and support Barack Obama's position on Syria.
Even in the face of the protests and the complaints from some people around the world, the president during his Rose Garden speech said that military action will be just as effective now, next week, or next month.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime says it is ready for whatever the U.S. might give out. It is threatening Israel, saying it could be a target for retaliation.
I want to go now to the Pentagon and our Barbara Starr.
And, Barbara, one of the key questions that people have been asking since the president's statement is this, what would a delay mean for Assad and Syria? Might he take advantage of it and how would the U.S. be willing to respond to that?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been talking to sources here at the Pentagon about just that question, John. Not a lot of good answers just yet. One that senior official who has been very involved in all of this say I want to quote here, says if the Syrian regime thinks they will gain by any delay, they will be sorely mistaken. But what does that really mean?
The key question on the table, if the Syrian regime were to undertake another gas attack or chemical attack against its own people, how would the U.S. then respond before any Congressional action? And nobody really knows the answer. That's the question on the table for President Obama, what would he do?
Another senior official say they will be able to cope with any movement of Syrian forces around the country and any dispersal of forces that Assad may be undertaken and they believe he is to avoid a possible U.S. attack. So, they are talking a lot about being able to cope with all of this. But the real reality is we are not seeing any specifics -- John.
BERMAN: And what does the delay mean for the U.S. warships that are in the Mediterranean right now, the targets that may have been targeted this weekend will not be the targets ten days from now if Congress approves of the measure.
STARR: Exactly. They just might not be because think of it this way. The tomahawk missiles use GPS satellite coordinates to be guided to their targets very precise. So if they want to target an artillery battery somewhere in a suburb of Damascus, they know the GPS coordinates. They plug them into the missile, that's what the missile goes after. But in the next ten days if Assad decides to move the missiles around, if command and control elements equipment is dispersed, they have to keep after that using satellites to look for where this stuff is and keep reprogramming the missiles with those new GPS coordinates.
It's not that it's complicated. They know very well how to do it but it's a question of keeping up with whatever Assad may decide to do with his own force, keeping one step ahead of where he may be disbursing his men and material --John.
BERMAN: All right, thanks to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you so much.
I want to bring in now Ivan Watson. He is live on the border between Syria and Turkey.
Ivan, do you have any sense of what the Syrian regime is saying to this about the call to Congress and what the rebels are saying?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, so far on the Syrian government news websites, there's just been a few notes, just announcing, John, that Obama has basically made this decision so to try to get Congressional authority for any kind of use of force. What we are -- and of course, it is remarkable that it was carrying his speech live on Syrian state TV.
Now, we are getting a very different message coming from the Syrian opposition right now. I spoke to a spokesman of the national Syrian coalition. He was calling this a great disappointment that already Obama had basically decided that the Syrian regime was guilty of using chemical weapons and the decision not to act right now, the fear now is that that lack of action could embolden the regime further.
I have been talking to rank and file Syrian rebels who cross the border every day between Syria and Turkey. And let me say, it's very rare to hear them say anything very nice about the U.S. over the course of the last year. But everybody I spoke to over the last 48 hours were saying, yes, we really want the U.S. to hit our number one enemy, adversary, Bashar Al-Assad. And right now, social networking, Syrian opposition voices, have been lighting up, calling Obama a coward for not carrying through with his threat, basically, to hit Bashar Al-Assad and his military forces --John.
BERMAN: And any sense what the allies, U.S. allies in the region especially Turkey where you are standing right now, what do they think of this delay? WATSON: Well, one Turkish official says this is a firm expression of U.S. determination to act. And, of course, the internal decision making addressing Congress and getting Congressional approval, that's something that the Turkish government doesn't want to comment on.
It is very important to note, though, that the Turkish government is not only a member of the NATO military alliance and ally of the U.S. in the Middle East but it is also one of the most outspoken opponents of Bashar Al-Assad and the regime in Damascus and one of the most fervent supporters and patrons of the armed Syrian opposition and the Syrian opposition as well. So the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just last night, he came out with a remarkable statement to Turkish journalists where he said, hey, a one- to two-day U.S. military operation against the Syrian regime that just won't cut it. He called for a much broader military operation in the model of the U.S.-led operation against the Serbs in Kosovo in 1998, something that would weaken the Assad regime to the point of a compromise or even regime change entirely. And that is something that the Obama administration has not really voiced support for, making it clear they do not want U.S. boots on the ground across the border here in Syria -- John.
BERMAN: They made that clear and continue to make that clear.
Ivan Watson, live at the border between Turkey and Syria. Thanks so much, Ivan.
So an American president says a Middle Eastern country has become a threat to American security and U.S. military action is need. Some argue that President Obama's comments on Syria sound pretty similar to President Bush's comments about Iraq. My next guest says, not so fast. There are plenty of differences, she says, between those two conflicts. Stay with us.
BERMAN: It was a decade ago when President George W. Bush made his case for going to war with Iraq and why top and Mideast dictator was an essential step for both the United States and the world.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iraqi regime is a serious and growing threat to peace. On the commands of a dictator, the regime is armed with biological and chemical weapons, possesses ballistic missiles, promotes international terror, and seeks nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Nearly 11 years later another U.S. president in explaining why he feels getting involved in the Middle East is in the best interest of the U.S. people.
My next guest though says the similarities between the two conflicts are few. Jay Newton-Small is a terrific reporter and "Times" magazine's congressional correspondent.
Jay, great to have you here. You have written an article that a lot of team are talking about for "Time," it is called "six ways Syria 2013 isn't Iraq in 2003." And just to bring people to speed, differences as you say include how the U.S. is handling the regime, the time commitment given by the U.S., the support from the Arab world in Europe, weapons of mass destruction, and how much support there is from Congress.
Jay, let's begin with the first difference you list. Regime change. Explain the difference here.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, clearly when George W. Bush went into Iraq, his number one goal was ousting Saddam Hussein, getting him out of there. And Obama is exactly the opposite. He said over and over again this is not about regime change. They don't -- while he does want Bashar Assad to go from Syria, he doesn't want to topple him now because there is no end to that equation. At the other end you don't know who is going to take his place. And it could be because there's a real risk of it becoming a failed state, a giant power vacuum. So, that's the number one big difference.
BERMAN: What about support from around the world, the Arab region, and also in Europe? Because one of the things that's really happened since the other day when Britain voted not to get involved is in some ways the U.S. is standing alone here. In President Bush, he didn't have the entire world on his side but he did have something of a coalition.
NEWTON-SMALL: No, he had a very big coalition, the coalition of the willing which involved dozens and dozens of states. In this case, you know really, it's become a problem for Obama. He doesn't have the United Nations, Europe is split, which means that NATO can't really get involved. They are hoping that tomorrow the Arab league will vote if they moved up their meeting from Tuesday to tomorrow, significantly. And Arab league might vote to support this. But that still not a guarantee because Iraq and Lebanon are very leery of any kind of U.S. involvement in Syria. And so the Arab league is also split. And that is another big difference here is the level of international support you see between these two wars.
BERMAN: And another big difference, of course here, talking about limited engagement. That's the world you really keep on hearing. And by the way, if there's one person who seems to want to agree with you that Syria is not Iraq is President Obama because he and his administration seem to be bringing up Iraq almost every time they're giving a justification for action in Syria.
NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, there really seems to be almost a hangover from Iraq. I mean, I think it left a huge scarring on the psyche of not only America but you look at Britain and the failed vote there earlier this week where a lot of people worry about, you know, is the evidence correct? Is there really chemical weapons? Are we going to get embroiled in a decade long war which last time around Bush said five months and short and we're out, ten years later we were just finally leaving. So I mean, there is a real leeriness not just by the American people but American politicians and around the world because of Iraq to go into Syria.
BERMAN: Jay Newton-Small, "Time" magazine, always terrific talking to you. Thanks so much for coming in?
NEWTON-SMALL: Thank you.
BERMAN: So, the president today making his case for military action in Syria. We are taking a closer look at his plan and his strong messages to Congress, world leaders, and also the American people.
BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the Syria crisis.
Hours ago, we heard from President Obama in the Rose Garden making his case for a limited U.S. military action in Syria. We're going to go through the president's speech piece by piece, analyzing his words, what he said and why.
Let's bring in our panel: U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Short joins us now from Washington. CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer is in Telluride, Colorado. And Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent who has been doing some fantastic reporting just a few -- over the last few minutes is live with us from Washington.
President Obama started today by focusing on the horrific nature of the alleged chemical attack in Syria. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ten days ago the world watched in horror as men, women, and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. Yesterday, the United States presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people. Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its force preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place.
And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see -- hospitals overflowing with victims, terrible images of the dead. All told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children. Young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: General Short, I'm wondering if I can start with you here. The president focusing on the brutal nature of what the U.S. alleges happened there, talking about it being an affront to humanity. Why is it so important for him to send that message, not just here domestically, but around the world?
LT. GEN. MICHAEL SHORT, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET): John, I think she talking to a much broader audience than -- and an audience that might specifically be concerned with events in Syria. I think he is now talking to Kim Jong-un. He is talking to leadership in Iran. He is talking to anyone who thinks that the U.S. might bluff and not follow through when we've said we're going to do something.
So, from my view as a professional military man, this has ramifications beyond Syria and it impacts our ability to do the things we need to do in the rest of the world, quite frankly.
BERMAN: Bob Baer, you worked for years in the intelligence community and you heard the president there talk about the intelligence, the strength of the intelligence. He says the Syrians used chemical weapons against their own people. Based on what you've seen and your vast experience in this field, is it convincing evidence?
I'm not hearing Bob here right now.
Dana, let me ask you this, Congress, are they at all swayed by the horrific nature of what the president says went on in Syria?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's no question about it, and that really at the end of the day is going to -- if you sort of look ahead of what is likely to be pretty powerful and passionate debate, is probably going to be what is going to sway some people who are on the fence about whether to vote no or yes.
Having said that, I just got off the phone with a Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who told me that he is very much in favor of punishing Bashar al-Assad but he actually thinks he is inclined to vote no at this time and the reason is pretty much the same Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham gave in a statement that you read earlier on the air, which is that they obviously all have been very supportive of being robust and aggressive against Assad and helping the rebels, for example. But they think that a limited strike would actually do more damage than not. In fact, Senator Johnson told me if that's all it is, you're better off doing nothing and keep them wondering what we would do if we really got serious.
So, if you have those people who are hawkish and might vote no and then you have the more traditionally anti-war Democrats and Republicans, the president is going to have to make a lot of calls. We knew that already but it looks like his work is more cut out for him than maybe we thought.
BERMAN: Dana, while I have you here, if it's important as the president says to have Congress weigh in on this issue and if so many members of Congress agree that they should weigh in on this issue, why wait as long as they are? I mean, the House won't come back until September 9th, which is 10 days away from now. The Senate might come back a little bit earlier than that. If this is so crucial and there are stake and an important message to send to the world here, why wait a week?
BASH: That's excellent question and some members of Congress are asking that very same question, in some statements that they're putting out, saying, we think it's important to vote but why are we waiting?
I was also told by another Republican senator who was on a call this afternoon with Senators Hagel and Kerry and others that several Republican senators pushed them to say, why are we waiting, this doesn't make a lot of sense? If you think that this is so important, militarily and for others reasons, if we wait, what's to say that Assad won't get some civilians and put them in and around the target areas to make the collateral damage worse? The answer was that they were on a non-secure line and they couldn't give the classified reason why they feel comfortable.
But still, it's an excellent question and one that I know for a fact that they are debating inside the Democratic-led Senate whether or not to bring them back early next week.
BERMAN: Dana Bash, General Michael Short, Bob Baer, stick with us, because we're going to continue to break down the president's speech right after this break.
BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Berman with CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria.
We're analyzing President Obama's speech this afternoon. The president wants Congress to debate and vote on the limited U.S. military response, this after Syria's government allegedly unleashed chemical weapons on its own people.
Our panel will talk about this: U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Short, CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer and Dana Bash, chief congressional correspondent for CNN.
President Obama says that he is ready to act but he wants Congress to get involved first. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.
This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.
Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the joint chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. I'm prepared to give that order.
But, having made my decision as commander in chief, based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I'm also mindful that I'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That's why I've made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.
For the last several days, we've heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be hard. I absolutely agree. So, this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders and they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress come back into session. In the coming days, my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened in Syria and why it has such profound implications for America's national security.
And all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote. I'm confident in the case our government has made without wait for U.N. inspectors. I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.
As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress. And undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action.
Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Bob Baer, you've been in the intelligence community for years here. Hopefully, you can hear me right now. You've been in contact with some of your former resources on the ground in Syria over the last several days. How do you think they're responding to the president's delay or pause in going to Congress for some kind of vote now?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: You know, I actually talked to them right after the president's speech. And it came as a surprise to them. They were expecting to -- these are regime sources. They were expecting to get hit today or tomorrow. It came as a moment of relief for them.
More than that, they think they have a certain period here to start an offensive against the opposition in a couple of key areas. They look at it as the United States backed down on this. It was encouraged by this. And they didn't say they were going to use more chemical weapons, but the implication was they would launch some sort of offensive in the interim but before Congress could meet and see what they can get away with.
But I just think in my opinion this is a terrible setback in the Arab world, you know? We've been waiting for this for so long. Everybody was prime for something to happen. And then waiting for Congress now is a huge setback for the people in the area.
BERMAN: General Short, the president didn't wait for Congress or even go to Congress on the issue of Libya, when the United States joined the air strikes in Libya two years ago. The White House says the reason this is different than Libya is in Libya there was an eminent threat, the towns and villages may have been overrun by a Gadhafi's forces at the time and this time there's no eminent threat. You can act in a week, two weeks, or a month. That's the information that President Obama has been given by his military advisers.
As a former Air Force general, do you think that's the case? Do you think the timing here is irrelevant?
SHORT: John, I don't think it is. I'm an old fighter pilot. I certainly don't want to second-guess a chairman of the Central Command commander. What I focused on in the president's remarks were he said he wanted to take action to deter future use of chemical weapons and to degrade the capability to use those weapons.
I am not at all convinced that a TLAM strike and a TLAM strike only will act as a deterrent to future operations and I'm very, very concerned that using cruise missiles only will allow us to get to the target set that enables his use of chemical weapons. The chemical weapon target set is mobile. Were I the commander, the air commander, the subordinate to the CentCom commander I think I would have strongly advocated the use of Man Systems.
Now, I understand, that that increases the risk significantly for the president but I would have made the best case that I could make that the B-2 and F-22 were appropriate against this target set. There are certain targets denied to the cruise missile simply because of its design and capability. But putting man's systems into Syria, I believe, would allow us better to address the target set that the president appears to want to get after, the destruction of which would deter further use and degrade further use.
BERMAN: Dana, you're hearing a lot of skepticism on this panel here with you as to the president's actions right now. And you've been on the phone hearing a little bit of skepticism in Congress already. So, how much work does the White House have to do and how do you suspect they will go about doing it in congress?
BASH: A lot of work. And in part, their work is going to be tougher because they -- looks as though just from reading the tea leaves and talking to sources in the leadership, particularly in the House, Republican leadership, is they're saying -- this is your problem, Mr. President. If you want this, you've got to get the votes.
So that is going to make it an even more uphill climb. And also, just as we were talking I was seeing some more emails coming through from some people who should generally be the president's natural allies. Not necessarily on this issue but just in general.
For example, Ed Markey, the new senator from Massachusetts. He makes clear in his statement he is not sold at all and it's going to take some time.
Another e-mail from a conservative Senator Dan Coates, a veteran of the Senate who says the same thing, I've got to wait. I've got to see. I've got to talk to my candidates and get the classified information. So, it is absolutely not -- anybody says they know this is doing to pass from my reporting, they just simply don't know.
BERMAN: There's no one better at getting this reporting than you, Dana. Thank you so much. We'll continue to break down the president's speech right after this break.
BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Berman.
We're analyzing President Obama's speech today on the crisis in Syria. The president expressed some frustration today with world leaders who are not publicly supporting him. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What's the purpose of the international system that we built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
Make no mistake: this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to these who flout fundamental rules, to governments who would choose to build nuclear arms, to terrorists who would spread biological weapons, to armies who carry out genocide?
We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Let's go tour of panel now. Bob Baer, the president does sound frustrate with leaders around the world right now, in particular for their lack of support for standing up to the use of chemical weapons right now.
Does the president have reason top frustrated, do you think?
BAER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, hundreds of people have been slaughtered in Syria thanks to chemical weapons.
We simply don't know what Bashar al-Assad will do next. Will he be encouraged by this? We've done nothing. Will he hit Jordan? Will he hit Israel? Will he continue to slaughter his own people?
So, yes, he's absolutely right to be frustrated.
BERMAN: And, General Short, the president isn't getting the support that I think he would like from a lot of other countries from around the world right now, but as a former fighter pilot, as you said, how much does that support really matter?
BAER: I think it matters a great deal. We want to act as part of a coalition. We don't want to be seen as the cowboy as some folks have seen us for perhaps the last 10 years. This reminds me of Kosovo where the world was horrified over the genocide that was occurring but quite frankly it took us six months to act.
BERMAN: General Michael Short, Bob Baer, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Coming up, they've been in and out of Syria for the last two-plus years. Four of our international correspondents are joining this conversation right after the break.