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President Obama Sends Letter to Congress; Reid Announces Public Hearings
Aired August 31, 2013 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Don Lemon here. It is the top of the hour. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Syria's civil war today moved from an international crisis to also a domestic political battle. President Barack Obama announcing that he will delay potential military action against the Syrian government so that he can seek congressional authorization for the use of force.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the last several days, we've heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, the president' decision has already opened a vigorous debate even with most lawmakers out of town on recess. They are scheduled to return, by the way, September 9th. But already, many are speaking out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I am very glad that President Obama has listened to the bipartisan calls for him to go to Congress and seek congressional authorization before any possible use of force in Syria. That was the right thing to do, and many making that decision it seems he agrees that there is no imminent threat requiring action before Congress can consider the issues and make the decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's get to Washington now and CNN senior White House correspondent is Jim Acosta, of course.
And, Jim, you have new information about how the president decided to pursue congressional authorization. What do you know?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, I have to tell you, the president essentially called a time out in his deliberations over what to do about Syria. This was laid out in detail by senior administration officials earlier this afternoon. Those officials saying that the president essentially was kicking around this decision in his head for several days but not really sharing that with his national security team. They weren't even discussing this during national security meetings.
And then around 6:00 yesterday evening, the president came to this remarkable decision, really almost a reversal of course for this administration, which had been really moving steadily toward military action. He decided the go on a 45-minute walk, his administration officials say, with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who has very close ties with, of course, where they talked about this idea of seeking congressional authorization, going through the pros and cons of this kind of decision.
And then he came back to the White House and announced this to his national security team and then those advisers got into this very heated debate from what senior administration officials are telling us about this course of action -- this new course of action the president was taking. He then got on the phone and called his vice president, called the Secretary of State John Kerry, called Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary.
And then this morning, they all reconvened for what they call the principles meeting at the White House. That's just not the national security team. It's also the intelligence team, people like the director of national intelligence. James Clapper, he was in the room.
If you look at that culture, you can tell, people are being brought in from perhaps their Labor Day weekend plans. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, you can see him wearing sort of tan blazer with a pink polo underneath.
So, really, I mean, this came as sort of a shock to a lot of administration officials, Don, because this was not something they were really entertaining among their range of options. This is something the president decided to do very late in the game. It's going to buy him some time.
But, Don, I have to tell you -- talking with administration officials, they knowledge that this decision, this course of action, does come with some risks. Obviously, the vote may not go their way in Congress when that goes down. Obviously, there's the risk that Bashar al-Assad could launch more chemical weapons attacks.
So, this is a roll of the dice from this president, and it comes with a lot of ramifications if it doesn't go his way, Don.
LEMON: Let's go back inside of the Situation Room and talk about what you said. You said this wasn't something considered in their range of options. What was in their range of options, this getting -- seeking the approval of Congress not in there? So, what was?
ACOSTA: Well, what was in there was the president is seeking to use military force to essentially punish Bashar al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons around Damascus on August 21st. And there's a little bit more to the tick tock in all of this, and that administration officials say it was last Saturday, about one week ago, when people inside the administration had essentially come to the conclusion that Assad was responsible for the use of these chemical weapons. The president was reaching the conclusion he had to take some kind of action to show the world that this kind of use of chemical weapons won't be tolerated.
He did not make the final decision to use military force until yesterday, Don. But all week long, the president was very much in favor of doing this sort of thing but in the back of his mind, he was -- he was wrestling with this notion that perhaps he should have Congress come in and have a vote on this. And that's when he shared with his administration last night to the surprise of a lot of people here at the White House, Don.
LEMON: Great detail. Jim Acosta standing on the lawn of the White House -- Jim, thank you very much for that.
We're going to continue now in Washington. And our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joining us.
Dana -- so, this was a lot of pressure from Congress. You heard a lot of members of Congress saying, we want to have a say in this. Our people at home are demanding that we have a say. Many of them are against this.
How much pressure does that put on the president?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESONDENT: A fair amount. Look, I mean, I think you just heard from Jim's reporting. The White House says the president kind of had an epiphany late yesterday after he had been knocking it around in his own head. Well, there were a lot of factors that went into this decision.
But there's no question that the fact that members of Congress, members of his own party, and I'm told some of the more moderate Democrats who don't tend to be anti-war said to administration officials yesterday afternoon on a conference call, hold on a second. If you're not racing to go ahead and strike militarily like you didn't do it yesterday, then there's no rush then you should come to Congress and get an authorization before going forward.
So, absolutely, there was pressure from Congress to do so. The open question, though, now, Don, is whether or not, obviously, the president is going to have an embarrassing vote or set of votes in the Senate or the House, or whether or not he is going to be able to muscle this through, because already talking to Republican sources who run the House, they're not going to really help the president twist arms. They are sort of throwing up their hands and saying this is the president's decision, this is the president's mission, and it's up to him to find the vote.
LEMON: Yes, I'm going to ask you this and then another question. So, yes, quickly -- I mean, it seems like, the president has put a lot, has he backed himself into a corner here? BASH: You know, we'll know the answer to that after we see the votes. I know that sounds like a cop out answer, but that's the truth of the matter. This is very risky. He really has stunned a lot of people.
I mean, look, just a couple of days ago I was reporting based on conversations I was having with senior people in Congress that part of the reason they felt the president was not coming to Congress for authorization vote is because it wouldn't pass. That was before what happened in Great Britain, where the prime minister there had a hugely embarrassing vote.
So, it really is still an open question. He's putting his faith, in many ways, his credibility, not the U.S. credibility, in the hands of Congress that has not been reluctant to go their own way even when this whole issue of the president saying that there's a moral obligation or anything else is in front of them.
LEMON: Listen, I say this, I'm smiling but it's serious. Every time I turn the television on today, you had some new information. I came at you with two questions when I introduced you. So, maybe it should be the stock reporter or anchor question, what new information do you have? Do you have some new details that you wanted to share with us?
BASH: At this hour, not anything fresh off the phone or off the e- mail but I have been --
LEMON: My panel is laughing because they're agreeing. You always have new information. Go ahead.
BASH: You caught me. But I will say to maybe the best thing to do at this hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, is to wrap up the sort of gist of the conversations I've had with various senators and so forth who have been on conference calls and in briefings is that even those who are kind of at their heart, natural allies of the president and want to be aggressive and want to go after Syria, they simply do not feel comfortable. Never mind the intelligence that Assad really did use chemical weapons.
LEMON: Because of the -- because the people at home don't want them to go, right? Because of the public opinion.
BASH: Not just people at home don't want them to go. It's because they still do not feel that they still do not feel that they understand the president's military objectives and military goals and that even just a pinprick strike is going to perhaps do more harm than good. That's what a couple of senators said to me today.
LEMON: All right. Dana, I want to talk to you. Will you stick around with us? I want you to be part of my panel. All right? Will you do that?
LEMON: Because next, we're going to break down the president's entire speech with our amazing panel. Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is here. He's in New York. Also with me is Chris Dickey of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution. And security analyst Rick Francona in Washington.
Don't go anywhere. It's going to be interesting.
LEMON: We have been going through President Obama's speech today piece by piece analyzing his words and getting reaction from many different sources.
So, let's bring in now, Dana Bash. Bring her back in. She is our chief congressional correspondent in Washington. Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is here with me in New York.
Also with me is Chris Dickey of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast", Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution, and security analyst Rick Francona in Washington.
Thanks to all of you.
So, President Barack Obama started today by focusing on the horrific nature of Syria's alleged chemical attack. Let's listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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 forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets into 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)
LEMON: So, let's talk about this.
Fouad, I'm going to start with you. President Obama used very emotional language focusing on hundreds of child victims. He used the word massacre.
What do you make of his choice to start there?
FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, look, if he wants to go to war, even if it has to be a limited war, a set of strikes, you have to make case why you're doing it, because most people do not make a connection between their security and what's happening in Syria.
And the president himself actually really did not pay the Syria crisis much attention. For 30 months, he kept it at bay. He out sourced it to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And they ran out the clock on the Syrian people. And there were all kinds of choices in 2012.
LEMON: Didn't he have choices in 2012?
AJAMI: Absolutely. Arming the Syrian rebellion, establishing a no- fly zones on both the Turkish and the Jordanian borders, which would have completely changed strategic landscape on the ground. We did not have to be there. We do not have to send our forces. We don't even have to send these warships. We could have -- in 2012, we could have made the difference.
But remember, for quite some time, the Obama administration was still invested in the thesis that Bashar Assad is a reformer or possibly reformable.
LEMON: Yes, I heard you talking about it. You said --
CHRIS DICKEY, NEWSWEEK & THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. You know, look, I mean, Fouad is being kind to Obama in a sense.
LEMON: Was that a strategic blunder?
DICKEY: It was a strategic blunder and it was an electoral year. Nobody wanted to see us getting involved in Syria, in the election year. You didn't hear Mitt Romney coming out and saying, gee, Mr. President, why aren't we more involved more deeply in Syria? Why are we not arming the rebels? Why are we not declaring no-fly zones?
That wasn't going to happen in election year. It may be -- it may well be too bad from a strategic point of view.
LEMON: I'm going to Rick, but first, I want to ask you, why the investment in Bashar al-Assad?
AJAMI: Well, they believe -- look, they believe that Bashar could be changed. Bashar could be reformed. If we sat down here and read the WikiLeaks documents and reports that were coming out of Syria, everyone was going to Syria. Nancy Pelosi landed there, all kinds of Congress people and particularly, John Kerry, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
LEMON: You agree with that?
DICKEY: No, I don't disagree with that. There was that hope -- if you're not going to get involved with the war, then you look for some diplomatic way out. There was a tremendous amount of wishful thinking about Bashar al-Assad and his beautiful wife and his pretty children.
LEMON: Is there anyone at the White House going I told you so? DICKEY: I think there are probably a lot of people, among them Samantha Power. I think that a lot of people are saying to him, you know, we should have done something then. But that's, you know, would have, could have, should have.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the president who had many of his principals come to him last year and suggest a plan for arming and intervening and he overruled them because he didn't see the need for America to get involved with another Middle Eastern war --
DICKEY: In an election year.
LEMON: Yes, Nick Paton Walsh, much more with you. And then, also our military analyst, Rick Francona, we'll get to you as well.
I want to get to CNN's Dana Bash as fate would have it. Always with new information as I mentioned before. Dana, what do you have, new details?
BASH: Well, we now actually have the request for authorization. The resolution that the White House sent to Congress, that they want Congress to vote on. They actually wrote out the language which they rarely do.
But here is the key point -- what they are asking for is as the president telegraphed very limited. It's authorization for the armed forces to be used in connection with chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict of Syria in order to prevent and deter the proliferation of WMD, including chemical and biological weapons, and also to protect the United States and it allies and parties against the threat posed by such weapons.
So, it is very much focused as the president said on these chemical weapons. It's pretty short. It's two pages, plus just a couple of lines. This is exactly what's going to go to Congress.
Now, obviously, Congress does have the right and the ability to amend it and try to change it. There's no doubt that some people at least will try to do that. And we'll see where this takes us when the Congress actually comes back which is not scheduled to happen until a week from Monday.
LEMON: And, Dana, if people are just tuning, explain to us what this letter is and the significance of this letter.
BASH: The significance of this letter is the president made an announcement today, a stunning announcement that instead of going ahead and authorizing strikes on his own against Syria for the kinds of chemical weapons that he says the Assad regime has used against his civilians, he was going to come to Congress and get authorization because he said that it's the oldest constitutional democracy in the world and he believes that it is the right thing to do.
So, what he's done now is sent that authorization, the language of that authorization, he wants Congress to pass to Congress and it is, again, as he promised -- very limited just to the idea of dealing with chemical weapons used by the Assad regime.
LEMON: Yes, and, Dana, thank you very much. We'll try to get some of the quotes in that letter and have -- either Dana or I, or both of us go through it.
And keep it right here on CNN. I want to talk more about chemical weapons and the significance of chemical weapons and the language the president used today. We'll talk about that with my panel coming up next.
LEMON: All right. More now on the president's letter, the one he sent to Congress now on military action in Syria.
Dana Bash is our chief congressional correspondent. She joins us now with more details on that letter.
Dana, take us through some of it.
BASH: Well, it's actually very simple, which is sort to the point that the president was trying to make earlier today in the Rose Garden, which is that he doesn't want to ask Congress for authorization for anything drawn out. It is a very specific request that he wants them to authorize which is military action for dealing with chemical weapons in Syria. In fact, I said it, it's shorter than two pages. It's a page and a little bit more.
In the authorization, it just asked for help using the U.S. military to prevent proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria and protect the U.S. allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.
Clearly, again, written in way to assuage the concerns of many in Congress, even many in his own party, maybe special his own country, about getting involved in a quagmire, getting involved in something that is open ended.
LEMON: Dana, I think it's interesting for me and for our viewers, because this is written very much like a legal document, as I'm reading it here. It says, "Whereas on August 21st, the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in suburbs of Damascus, Syria, killing more than 1,000 innocent Syrians. Whereas these flagrant actions."
So, this is a legal document. At least it reads as one.
BASH: It is. Exactly. It's the legislative language that he's giving. It's a draft. We understand that they might change it, I mean, Congress might change it before they vote on it. But this is actual legislative language that he sent to Congress that he wants them to vote on. And if you look at resolutions like this, this is sort of the way they tend to be written.
They're written with the "whereas", the evidence that they put on the record for why they need.
LEMON: Here's the evidence.
BASH: Here's the evidence --
LEMON: Here's the evidence. This is what you need to know.
OK, got you. Stand by --
BASH: Exactly, that's getting the country on the record with that.
LEMON: OK, let's move on now, and I want to include you in this, Dana. The president wants Congress to debate and vote on a limited U.S. military response after Syria's government allegedly unleashed chemical weapons on its own people. I want you to listen to what he said today and then we're going to get back to our panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This could 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 when ever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. And 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 longed 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 heard. 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 waiting for U.N. inspectors. I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyze 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)
LEMON: OK. So, my panel here now.
First, I want to get to Rick Francona, who is CNN military analyst.
We scurried warships. This -- after hearing this speech, does it sound like a whole lot of hurry up and wait? I mean, many people agree with the president. They think he's doing the right thing. Obviously some. But does it seem like we've got -- you know, we got the big build up and then OK?
RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. If it was so critical why aren't we -- why aren't we carrying this out? Now why didn't we do it last night, went out the night before? So if it's not time sensitive then why the big rush? Why did we have to deploy all those ships that quickly? And of course, the delay, as we talked earlier, plays right into the hands of the Syrians.
It's interesting the language that is in this resolution. It doesn't really require the president to strike the chemical weapons themselves. It's to deter him from using other things. So I think the military will be looking at other targets because I honestly believe that they will not be able find any of those in chemical weapons because they're all in hide sites now.
You know, I lived in Syria. I followed the Syrian military for several years, while I was there. And --
LEMON: In the '90s. What was your title? You were an Air Force attache --
FRANCONA: I was -- I was the air attache at the embassy. My job was to observe and report on the Syrian military capabilities. And the Syrians can hide things. And they've got alternate places for everything. And I'm sure that in the next 10 days they're going to be moving things probably multiple times. And although we have great reconnaissance capabilities, great intelligence capabilities, it's a shell game.
They'll just keep moving the stuff around. I think we would be wise to go after other targets. Maybe degrade their air power. And I think Fouad mentioned that earlier, this is the Syrian Air Force that is inflicting the most damage on the rebels. And then we have to decide what's our goal.
I still have not heard what the mission is. Is it to deter Assad from using chemical weapons or deter is it to somehow deter him from killing his own people?
LEMON: Nick Paton Walsh is this where -- you report from here, from Syria. What do you make of the president -- here's a better question for you. As this is happening, I'm watching the response from Syrian television and -- and immediately they're spinning it, the president is wrong. He realizes it. He's backing off. It's an embarrassment for the Obama administration.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the Assad regime will have us take comfort in there's no immanency of missiles raining down upon them, but you can't build up the Syrian air force to be that terrifying a beast. I mean, it's a paper tiger in many ways.
A year ago when I was in Aleppo they were using training jets to indiscriminately drop barrel of bombs, homemade bombs on civilian areas. That's why the casualty toll is so high. Because they simply don't have the technology and weaponry half the time to inflict the sort of military damage and success you'd expect.
That use of chemical weapons is on many way a sign of desperation because they were losing parts of territory to the rebels. So, I mean, it's important to realize that if faced with the entire might of the U.S. military it's probably not going to take particularly long to degrade them sufficiently.
The question is, is that what we're trying to do? And we're not. The U.S.' goal is not that specific.
LEMON: Bashar al-Assad watching this, many say, he doesn't appear to be worried. His -- one of his prime ministers came out earlier and said, you know, we're ready if the U.S. does strike us. We're ready. Our people are -- you know, have their finger on the trigger so to speak. He's watching this. Do you think he's afraid?
WALSH: I think they all obviously realize that the tables could significantly turn towards them. I mean, in some ways, you're not talking about a rational actor here. This is a guy who's had his back against the wall for over a year now in very difficult circumstances. The decision to use chemical weapons, if that's what he did, that's not a sign of somebody who's necessarily the most rational individual around. Because he could have been fully aware he'd been inviting these consequences. So you have to wonder what his next move is going to be.
There is a real risk here, Don, that you're going to see retaliation around the region that causes a whole series of follow-on problems. And maybe that's why Barack Obama wants Congress behind him in case this turns into a longer conflict.
LEMON: That's a very important point. Hold that point. We need to get to a break. More of the president's speech and analysis after this break.
LEMON: We're analyzing the president's speech today on the crisis in Syria. And sometimes some of the things you don't see and you should see more important. I want to get my panel's reaction. I want you to see the panel's reaction as the president is speaking so they're going to -- we're going to put their faces up as well when we play the president's speech.
The president expressed frustration with word leaders who are not publicly supporting him. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's the purpose of the international system that we've 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 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 others who flap fundament international 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.
So just as I will take this case to Congress, I will also deliver this message to the world.
While the U.N. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted. I don't expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. Privately we've heard many expressions of support from our friends, but I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: First to Christopher Dickey. The president -- there was a whole lot of what he said there, but do you think that he is seeking this authorization, making this case, as he did today, just in case the scope of this mission broads beyond what he says is limited?
CHRIS DICKEY, PARIS BUREAU CHIEF, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, I think there are a couple of things. Absolutely in terms of the American Congress, he needs that support going in because it's almost certain this will escalate. It's not going to be contained.
Bashar al-Assad has his back to the wall as Nick pointed out. He's not going to tie one hand behind his back and say, I can't use chemical weapons because Barack Obama says it's immoral. He's going to do whatever it takes. But the other thing he's talking about is this week he goes to the G-20. He's going to be with the 20 most powerful leaders in the world and he's got to make his case to them that they are responsible.
And this is one of the reasons that I think he decided he wanted a time out.
LEMON: I have a question for you.
FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Sure.
LEMON: And I'm sure you're going to -- you're going to talk about this and elevate it for me. He talked about what do we -- what kind of, you know, signal do we send to the rest of the world. And as we were -- as I was researching this, and we were talking about it, there are atrocities that happen all over the world. And, you know, we were talking earlier. There's Congo, North Korea, where people die in mass numbers all the time. And there is no urgency about it.
What's the urgency here?
AJAMI: Well, it's the luck of the draw. We have to be honest about this. There's some conflicts that, in a way, arouse our intention, arouse our interest. In the '90s, Bosnia was one of the great conflicts of the time.
LEMON: What do you mean the luck of the draw?
AJAMI: The location. Syria is on the Mediterranean. It's a kind of a country that in way -- it's the traffic of the world goes through Syria. In a way it doesn't go through Congo. It's close to the oil fields. It's an Arab country. The Arabs are an important --
LEMON: U.S. interests?
AJAMI: Exactly. Exactly.
LEMON: But it's not necessarily always --
AJAMI: But I do have sympathy for the president when he's talking that he's -- he feels like he's a man alone. That in fact it's the kind of our imperial destiny, it's the fate of this country, if you will, guard the order of the world, but some of it is also of the making of Barack Obama himself. He really is a man alone. He has not sought to cultivate other leaders. His whole modus operandi has always been that he is really a man alone.
LEMON: Yes. It's an interesting question that I want to post to Nick Paton Walsh when we come back. How are other leaders around the world reacting to the president's speech today, this letter to Congress. After this.
LEMON: The decision to take military action in Syria now in the hands of Congress, but how do congressional members feel about U.S. involvement in Syria and how the president has handled the situation? The very latest now in their own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: There's one key question that every American and every member of Congress should ask and that is, what is the outcome? Yes, we have to fire missiles. Yes, we have the FB-52s, we have air dropping bombs. And then what?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I am very glad that President Obama has listened to the bipartisan calls for him to go to Congress and seek congressional authorization before any possible use of force in Syria. That was the right thing to do. And in making that decision it seems he agrees that there is no imminent threat requiring action before Congress can consider the issues and make the decision.
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: It's absolutely no question I would vote no because there's so many questions even if the draft was not instated. And one of them, is this a war? And if it's not war, if it's a limited war I've never heard of anything in my entire life. If you're going to fire shells and bomb a community that's war. And you have to have a declaration of war that Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it and I haven't seen that evidence.
GINGRICH: If this is just an exercise in petulant anger, it's not going to impress the world. It's not going to impress dictators. We are in a mess in the region. The enemies of Assad, frankly, are probably more anti-American than the Assad dictatorship so there are no good sides here.
And I would just like to have the president or Secretary Kerry or somebody explain, what is it they hope to accomplish over time?
RANGEL: Under what authority do we place our young men and women in harm's way without the U.N. National Security, without the U.N., without Great Britain, without France, without anybody supporting us? Where is there any statement in our Constitution or otherwise that America has an obligation to get rid of evil people?
CRUZ: The objective is simply to express disapproval then I think that objective is ill-served. We are not the world's policeman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash who you see there.
Dana, you have the developing news about the president's letter. Now I'm understanding you have a response from a pretty significant member of the Senate.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right. It is. The person who deals with the schedule of the Senate, and that of course is the Senate majority leader Harry Reid. We have the first lengthy statement from him just now and he is announcing that this coming week there will be public hearings in -- at least in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The chairman there, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, has agreed to hold public hearings. He will call up members of the Obama administration to explain to the Senate and of course to the American public and be involved in some grilling from these Senators about exactly what the mission and the goals would be in Syria.
And then beyond that, the Senate, it looks like, is still on board to come back at the time that it is scheduled to come back, which is September 9th. So a week from Monday. And he says that the vote to authorize force in Syria will happen no later than September 9th.
So that is the schedule going forward. The bottom line is this vote is not going to happen next week, we're going to hear a lot of talk, we're going to see a lot of members coming back, a lot of briefings, but the vote at this point will not take place until the week after next.
And one other thing -- one of the things I should note is that in this statement, the Senate majority leader does say that he supports the president. You might say, well, of course, he's a Democrat, he should support the president. It should not be taken for granted.
He says that he is onboard with this idea and that that does matter because he's somebody who can help twist arms, even from -- and of Democrats who don't necessarily say that they're onboard right now. And, of course, he is somebody who does have some sway in the Senate.
LEMON: But this is an interesting one, Dana, because not all Democrats are supporting the president on this one.
BASH: Not at all.
LEMON: And we talked about that.
Dana, thank you very much.
Dana is part of our panel. She's going to join us. My panel is here. I want to get more of them after the break. I hear you on social media. Love the conversation. Too many commercials. I wish I could control that. But we'll be right back.
LEMON: President Obama's decision to hand the decision on whether to strike Syria over to Congress is getting a lot of reaction around the globe. I want to get some of the perspective on today's developments from our Nick Paton Walsh.
Nick Paton Walsh is our senior international correspondent. He's live here with me in New York.
You've covered the conflict from the very start. I want to ask you about how civilians feel about the involvement and also reaction from leaders around the country. Let's start with the civilians.
WALSH: There's certainly, I mean, there's apprehension that if there was a U.S. military intervention, Assad being, as we said earlier on, not the most rational character, could take that as an excuse to unleash whatever he wanted on civilian areas.
You've got to bear in mind that these people who've had pretty much everything thrown at them for the last two years anyway. So they're just terrified it could get potentially worse.
Then, of course, there is some who think that maybe this will, in fact, buy them a little bit of time for some military progress in some way or another. And there's the international community, too. They're still digesting, I think, this move by Barack Obama to go to Congress. But beforehand, and actually just slightly after, as David Cameron in the U.K. who was spectacularly defeated by his own parliament in trying to get a motion through to begin these steps towards authorizing military action, said he understood Barack Obama's position.
Well, absolutely, I'm sure Barack Obama will hope he doesn't reach the same fate and get Congress to go along with him.
LEMON: And when I read that tweet today I said, well, yes, he does.
LEMON: Of course he would say that. Yes.
WALSH: Absolutely. And then we of course are going to see how France's responds and then Russia has been very blunt already saying they consider claims that the regime used chemical weapons to be utter nonsense. And this just goes along with their pretty stalwart backing of Damascus and in incredulity in many ways, we might say, synthetic incredulity, that these weapons could have been used by the regime.
LEMON: If Bashar al-Assad, and if you guys can do this quickly because I want to get everyone. If Bashar al-Assad is taken out of power, will anyone we -- this is a question that you --
AJAMI: Well, there will be celebration in all Sunni Arab countries and all Sunni Arab population and in Turkey. Who will we put in? The Shia in Lebanon, Hezbollah, because they're his allies. The Alawite community from which he hails and which is implicated in this terrible war and this terrible carnage. The Iranians will wait for him because they'll have to figure out how they can protect their interests in Syria without Bashar.
LEMON: What do you think, Christopher?
DICKEY: I'd agree. The only other group that I would add probably are the Christians in Syria who are terribly afraid if there's a Sunni takeover, especially a radical Sunni takeover, that they will pay the price.
WALSH: I think in 48 hours people shooting their guns in the air and being ecstatic and then you have a vacuum. And the people who fill that are probably the extremists and you see a much longer mess after that.
LEMON: Lieutenant Francona? Is he there? OK. He's not there.
OK. Before we go, I want to -- people are sitting at home, this is always a question for me. And when I go into every show, especially breaking news situations, what does this mean to the people who are sitting at home watching me on CNN? What does this mean for the American people? What the president did today and the consequences of either going to war or not going?
AJAMI: Well, you know, Don, it's always hard to take a nation to war. It's hard to take a middle class bourgeois society to war. People want to take care of their kids, they want to do their barbecues and here's someone telling them there are these menaces abroad and these threats far away from you.
And that's the task of a leader. A leader has to explain to a population the stakes in a world where chemical weapons can be freely used. Where people can be freely and widely slaughtered by their own rulers. And we -- we are not the French. We are not the Chinese. We're not the Indians. We are the United States of America. And there comes with that a kind of imperial burden for better or worse.
LEMON: Do you agree with that? Because this is -- you know, being the long weekend --
DICKEY: I've been a foreign correspondent long enough to realize that what the American people really want from the rest of the world is to forget about it. And that they usually only get interested in foreign policy on the basis of pity, fear or anger, and those are very short- lived emotions.
If the United States wants to be an imperial power, it has to have long-term commitments. And this is not a political system that's -- that gravitates toward those kinds of commitments. So I think the idea that we should plunge into countries and fight the savage wars of peace, as Kipling used to say, is a very dangerous one for the United States. And I think most people think Syria is not our war.
LEMON: I think what you're saying, and I saw you sort of flinch when he said that, and I don't know if that was in agreement or not. It's what -- it's what many Americans think about New York City. There's New York City and then there is the rest of the country. We tend to be very New York focused. If something happens in New York, the same thing could happen in another city and it barely gets coverage. But if it happens in New York, we pay close attention to it and the coverage is often overblown. And people feel that about Americans around the world. Unless it has something to do with -- there's America and then there's the rest of the world and they think that Americans are very myopic in their view of the world. Correct?
WALSH: Yes, I mean, there are two glaring implications for Americans at home here. One is, is America still active in the Middle East as a power whose word has to be respected? If Barack Obama doesn't punish Assad for crossing this red line he's giving a red light to Iran to develop a nuclear weapon? And there's a second thing they have to remember, this is a slow process where eventually it may come to your front door.
Nobody thought Taliban in Afghanistan --
WALSH: -- would necessarily be a problem until 9/11. So you have to be careful to retain an influence in areas like that or it might come back and bite you a couple of years later.
LEMON: Our senior international correspondent is Nick Paton Walsh who has a column, NPW here at CNN.com.