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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Making the Case to Congress; Syria on the Brink

Aired September 2, 2013 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with the looming debate over attacking Syria, a debate that many members of Congress ask for and are welcoming even as some lawmakers say it's coming too late. The president started working on this Labor Day to get House and Senate members on board for the resolution for military action. And he's going to meet tomorrow with House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and with National Security Committee leaders.

Now in Syria, as we've said so many times, the violence continues. An opposition group says at least 63 more people were killed today including eight children. Eight more children to add to the death toll. The latest videos posted online attest to the violence we've been reporting on for more than two years.

As always, we can't independently verify what they show. The stories remain the same. Heavy shelling in the city of Idlib. Opposition forces with guns, fighting back against the regime that less than two weeks ago carried out what the Obama administration calls a major chemical weapons attack on its own people, killing more than 1400, hundreds of them children.

Administration officials have classified briefings on Syria's schedule nearly every day this week, but members of Congress. And in a few minutes, we'll hear from a congressman who was in one of those briefings today.

The president also met today with Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. After that meeting the senators said they are encouraged by the president's approach but they still have significant concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The key selling point that must be told the American people over and over is no American boots on the ground. They are tired and weary of it. And you've got to tell them no American boots on the ground. But you also have to show them a way forward. And that so far has not been articulated to the Congress or the American people.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We don't want endless war. John and I -- John knows better than anybody, war is a terrible thing. We want -- sustainable security. And Syria is a cancer that's growing in the region. And for two years the president has allowed this to become quite frankly a debacle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Congress is scheduled to return one week from today, which is the earliest a vote presumably would happen. The vote is expected to be very close and no clear indication about which way it might break. Indecisions certainly abound. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Any time you're talking about use of military force I don't believe any member can be whipped into doing one thing or the other.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: The whole approach to this is a concern for me.

REP. JANICE HAHN (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know if every member of Congress is there yet.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: In my mind it's far from settled.

BECERRA: A number of members have raised concerns.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think people are really grappling with this.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm still very skeptical about the president's proposal.

BLUNT: I need to hear more.

HAHN: I'm not there yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Chief national correspondent John King joins me now live with the latest.

A lot of moving parts obviously on the hill. Clearly a full court press by the administration. I know Secretary Kerry voiced confidence over the weekend in getting a resolution through Congress.

Are you seeing a reason for that confidence at this point?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Anderson. If you look at the map, no one has a firm whip count. But if you talk to senior congressional aides in both parties on Capitol Hill and the people at the White House who are keeping tabs of all these meeting, they would agree on these two things tonight. That if the vote were tonight, the president would lose. He would definitely lose the House and he might lose the Senate as well. But they also agree on this. If the president has time to get there, to get the votes for authorization. But they say he needs to be near perfect in the next few delicate days of handling this.

Let's go through this. One of the challenges is the language. Even hawks in the Congress, people who are interventionists, people who approved in the past of must be a military activity on a very narrowly defined resolution that says, as Senator McCain said, no boots on the ground, limited duration, and a very carefully defined mission.

But that's where you still have some questions. Members of Congress are saying the administration has yet to say, what would the targets be? What is its goal for what Syria looks like the day after and the week after? How does the administration want to degrade Assad's ability punish him for the alleged chemical weapons use and upgrade the opposition's military.

So those are the big question points there. And what the administration is doing, Anderson, is what is called flooding the zone. You want to talk to the president, you'll get him. You want a classified briefing, you'll get it.

But here's one of the problems for the president. As he makes the case and his team makes the case, and they are saying, this would send a big message to Iran, they're saying it'll be a big help for Israel in the region. But here -- how close on this personal footnote. Here's a president, five and a half years into office, who when he's on the phone or in a meeting with most of these lawmakers, especially Republicans, he has either very strained relationships as he'll have with the speaker who comes calling at the White House tomorrow, or in many of these cases, no relationship at all.

So this decision so important to the Middle East, so important to the trajectory for his second term, and the president is asking for help in some cases from people he barely knows.

COOPER: And it is interesting, John, because last week it was, well, this is in the national security interest of the United States. Now, as you mentioned, they're making the case about this benefiting Israel.

KING: Well -- and Israel is in the national security interest of the United States. Look, it's very complicated. They understand the skepticism. And so what are you trying to do? You're trying to look at an individual member, what are he or she, what are their most biggest concerns. So number one is the president is saying, and his team is saying, number one is you cannot tolerate, you cannot allow, what kind of a signal would it send if we allow Assad to use chemical weapons against his own people.

And some people, Anderson, I should note, are still questioning the intelligence. They're saying, does the administration really have beyond any reasonable doubt proof of that, but then the administration is also saying, look at a map of the neighborhood. Israel is right there. That Prime Minister Netanyahu is on board with this. They want the help. They want us to do this. And look at Iran. If we don't deal with Assad, what signal would Iran take?

So it's not just about the United States per se, it's about the United States and its key ally and its emerging foe in that region. It's a complicated case but the administration is making it again. They think they have a week and they think they'll get there, but tonight they don't have the votes.

COOPER: John, I also want to bring in Bill Kristol, editor of the "Weekly Standard," also senior chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour is joining us.

Bill, let me start with you. There are a lot of reports about how the president is going to have to rely on a large contingent of Democrats in the House to bring this vote across the finish line. That your party will mostly stand on the sidelines. You disagree with that, though. Why?

WILLIAM KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: You can't stay on the sidelines. They're going to have to vote, I think. And they're going to have to either vote -- it's a tough vote for them, they really don't trust the president. I think they have good reasons to disapprove of the president's foreign policy performance, distrust him to some degree, but I think as the case gets made and as people really confront the fundamental choice they've got to make when they vote, I think more of them will come around to supporting the president.

I think he manned up with the majority of the Republicans. He certainly does not have them now, as John say. They want to vote against Obama, but they need to really think hard about the fact that in voting against President Obama, they are in effect voting for President Assad.

That seems harsh, but I think that's the way the world will see it. I think as Republicans focus on that, I think they'll end up casting a very reluctant yes, vote.

COOPER: Christiane, how has the president's move to toss this to Congress been seen throughout the world?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's obviously the subject of immense scrutiny. And obviously if he wins, it's a massive, massive victory for him and for the United States. And if he loses it will be a catastrophe for the United States, not just him as President Obama.

Because it's all about America's place in the world now. And let's face it, it was Britain who brought really -- started this sort of vote ball rolling. David Cameron going to parliament and losing, it just sent shock waves through England, through Great Britain and through allies and through the rest of the world.

It's put Britain's place in the world at great risk and in great question right now because Britain has always been in the last many, many decades, together with the United States in all of these military ventures. So that's a big problem right now France right now is catching the sort of vote bug, but they're saying, no, we are not going to have a vote even though some opposition politicians are saying, hey, if the British did and the Americans will, why shouldn't our parliament.

France is going to have a public debate on Wednesday, but there will be no vote, according to the prime minister. And they say they will back the United States and go with the United States if there's action. They're worried if the U.S. doesn't go, are they going to be left going it alone?

COOPER: And John, President Obama calling -- we saw it there, Senator McCain and Senator Graham, to win their support. It sounds like that that might have actually worked.

How important is it -- to have them on board? Did they bring other members along?

KING: They can bring some along, but Bill knows this arguments and this schism in the Republican Party better than I do. Very interesting. You have there, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, two of the guys who helped push President Bush, the Republican president, into the troop surge in Iraq when President Bush was reluctant to do that.

These are the guys who are very muscular, very interventionist. But you have John McCain and Lindsay Graham going up against a growing group in the Republican Party like a Rand Paul who's like this isolationist, this libertarian. They have Rand Paul who says, this isn't any of our business. So what's happening in Syria is horrible but why should the United States intervene?

Ted Cruz, the new Tea Party senator from Texas saying, the president hasn't proven to him that this warrants as a core U.S. national interest. So this is an emerging debate in the Republican Party. And this vote -- this is about Syria, but this vote in both the House and the Senate will give us a test case, if you will, of which side in that internal Republican debate is winning.

COOPER: Bill, how do you see that schism? I mean, you think in the final analysis it won't matter.

KRISTOL: No, I think -- well, I think it's going to be a tough hall, and I think John is right. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are respected by a lot of House Republicans, but they don't regard them as their leaders. This is a different generation. They have a different view of the world on a lot of different issues.

What's interesting to watch, I think, will be what House Republicans step up, who are genuine conservatives, maybe first and second termers, friendly with the Tea Party and make the case for intervention?

Mike Cotton, the freshman Republican from Arkansas, Iraq war vet, is going to make the case for intervention. Mike Pompeo, a second- term congressman from Kansas, an army -- an army vet, a West Point grad, I think he's going to make the case for intervention. I think they will have more effect on the other House Republicans than Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

In the Senate, Graham and McCain have clout. I think in the Senate the president will probably be OK. And I think the Republicans will be mostly with him. The House, though, it's a real uphill call. And the -- fellow conservatives they make the case to conservative House Republicans, that much as they dislike this president and don't really trust him and disapprove of him, this is the right thing to do for the country.

COOPER: All right. Bill, stick around -- Christiane, stick around.

AMANPOUR: Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, go ahead, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: No, simply that this is a massive important case using weapons of mass destruction is prohibited under international law. And the problem that all these leaders are having right now is that they simply haven't made this case over the last two and a half years of this war, and we have had chemical weapons used before, during this war.

COOPER: Yes. Multiple times.

AMANPOUR: And so yes. And so Senator McCain and Senator Graham have been absolutely correct that there has been no strategy, no confrontation. Total impunity as the Assad regime has ratcheted up every single step of its offensive since it started two and a half years ago. You know, from on the ground to then from the air, and rockets, and then weapons of mass destruction.

I mean, weapons of mass destruction. That is something that is prohibited under international law. Iraq didn't have them, Syria does.

COOPER: We're going to talk more about that, we've got to take a quick break. We'll have more of Bill Kristol, Christiane, and John Kin. Stay with us, more of the 160 lawmakers that signed letters calling for a vote or a full debate for any U.S. action against Syria. Requests that's now been granted by the president.

One of those lawmakers is Oklahoma Republican congressman, Tom Cole. He joins me now.

Congressman, you were in the two and a half hour classified briefing over the weekend. In a nutshell, how was the case made to you and your colleagues?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, really, obviously there's a lot of nuance, a lot of detail and a lot of sourcing that you can't talk about publicly. But the case that was made is really not dramatically different from what the news media said. That is, that there has been an attack. How horrific it was, and it doesn't appear to have been an isolated incident or an accident. But it appears to have been planned and executed at the highest level for the Syrian government. That's essentially the case that's being made.

COOPER: So if the vote was held today, how would you vote?

COLE: Right now, I would be a lean no. This to me is a civil war, it's a religious war, and it's a proxy war for regional powers. And whether or not we should be in the middle of it, I think is something that I've yet to be convinced of. But I think the president deserves an opportunity to make his case, I think he had a powerful statement certainly on Sunday. The evidence in terms of the incident, I think, were -- is pretty compelling.

I think the real question is whether or not this is the appropriate response particularly with no international body at this point. Not the United Nations, not NATO, not the Arab League having actually asked the United States to do anything. And frankly, with no sign yet that Arab regimes in the area will not just verbally support or say nice things, but actually participate in the action.

COOPER: What are the chances, you think, that this would pass both chambers of Congress?

COLE: I think it's still an open question. And I think that's, you know, one of the things that's yet to be determined. A lot of members are clearly, you know, want more of a chance to think about it, review the evidence, and talk to their constituents. And frankly, so far we don't know if the vote matters. That is, the president has taken the position. The administration has taken the position that they have the right to do this anyway.

COOPER: Do you at all fear, though, a message it would send? I'm not talking about the president's credibility. But a message it would send if Congress rejects any resolution internationally? What kind of message would that send? Does that concern you?

COLE: Yes, it does. I think that's something you have to take into account. Now you also have to recognize that, look, this -- the president that made this commitment, announced it to the world, and then tossed it into the lap of Congress. Now I'm glad he did. I was amongst those that urged him to turn to Congress.

But I don't think there's been a lot of preparation or thought given to this. And I think it makes the chances of passage that much more difficult. You know, I think you need to give fair warning there, and I think that complicates the case for the administration.

COOPER: And finally, you know, I've heard -- seen some people on Twitter and e-mails to me say, if this is such a crisis, why isn't Congress coming back to deal with this before September 9th? Should Congress come back?

COLE: Well, I think it probably should. In a sense it is. Of course the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is meeting to begin working on the draft resolution tomorrow. I understand the House Foreign Relations Committee will be back in. I certainly am not going to be critical of the president for giving us time to actually listen to the briefs and read the evidence.

I just think this process probably should have started a long time ago when red lines were being drawn. There probably should have been consultation at the highest levels in Congress, and the president should have said look, we may confront this. I want to talk to you now about what our potential range of response is, maybe that was done. I mean, that's above my pay grade, but I'm certainly not aware that that happened.

COOPER: Congressman Tom Cole appreciate your time, thank you.

COLE: Hey, thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Let us know what you think. Let us know what you think. Follow me on Twitter @Anderson cooper. I'll be tweeting in the hour ahead.

Tonight much more on Syria ahead including where we are internationally. The latest on what support if any the United States is going to get from the rest of the world.

Also the latest line coming from Bashar al-Assad, what he's warning will happen if there's a strike in his regime. He has a new interview out.

And later the fifth time's the charm for Diana Nyad. Incredible. At 64 years old today, she reached a goal she first reached for 35 years ago. Became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective shark cage. It's a 53-hour swim. What she told Dr. Sanjay Gupta just moments ago coming up tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: On the face of a possible U.S. military attack, with his back against the wall, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is not backing down with the rhetoric. In an interview with the French newspaper today, Assad said the Middle East is a powder keg and that everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes, spreading chaos and extremism. He again challenged the United States and France to give a single piece of evidence that his regime carried out the chemical attack that killed more than 1400 people according to the U.S.

Joining me now live, Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Sanford University's Hoover Institution. Also Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor at "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast." And with us again, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Bill Kristol, editor of the "Weekly Standard."

Christopher Dickey, let me start with you. Secretary Kerry is going to testify before Congress tomorrow. Now we understand from our State Department correspondent, Elise Labott, that he's going to argue that the failure to act unraveled the deterrent against chemical weapons and risk emboldening Hezbollah and Iran. You've been not supportive of this whole idea of an attack. To that argument, what do you say?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, MIDDLE EAST EDITOR, NEWSWEEK/THE DAILY BEAST: Well, first of all, I think we need to ask ourselves why the urgency about the deterrence of chemical weapons? I mean, they are horrible weapons, they're weapons of terror, absolutely they are. But the last time that I think they were used was 25 years ago in Halabja, Iraq, and they haven't been used since.

So why is this the moment when we need to draw the line. I'm just not sure I understand the reasoning there. And why about chemical weapons and not the slaughter of 100,000 people in the Syrian war before that? So I think all those are questions that are very hard for the administration to answer, and I think Kerry is sort of taking this position of high moral tone as if he just discovered the Syrian war.

COOPER: Fouad, let me ask you about that. Why? I mean, we've seen -- you and I have talked -- covered this war extensively over the last two plus years. Hundred thousand dead, we've seen children tortured, horrible things done. Why now? Why chemical weapons?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I think Chris has it right. I mean, there is something odd when you sit out this war, you run out the clock on the Syrian people, you watch the destruction of proud ancient cities. We watch Homs being reduced to rubble. We watched the Aleppo be reduced to rubble. And this administration had nothing to say about this war.

Indeed the president himself and some of his principal lieutenants were pretty much in many ways speaking ill and speaking badly of the Syrian rebellion. They thought it was a rebellion of fundamentalists and Islamists. And, you know, this seems like just a very, very late and sudden convergent.

COOPER: Well, Christiane, I mean, you certainly intimated about it, you say there is a reason why now, why chemical weapons.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes, but, you know, Chris and Fouad are absolutely right. You know, it's gone on for a long time. And even Senator McCain has said that. And he says, look, what is the strategy for actually stopping this? And we have seen now 100,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. We've got apparently seven million people displaced inside and outside of Syria during this war.

And you have, you know, people who started a perfectly ordinary rebellion two and a half years ago. And because of the international community's inaction, it has allowed Bashar al-Assad to continue to prosecute this war. And not only that -- and not only that, but to allow also -- to allow also the vacuum to be created which allowed these extremists to come in.

But why now? Because weapons of mass destruction are prohibited by the civilized world. And weapons of mass destruction have to be confronted. Now one would hope that with that confrontation of that prohibited tactic, there would be some strategy to shift the playing field on the battlefield. And perhaps try to level it somewhat. Some are talking about finally boosting and giving real help to the opposition.

COOPER: But, Bill, I mean, to -- with all the things Christiane listed, this attack, as it's been described by this administration, is not going to go for a regime change, it's not going to go to change the calculus on the ground. It's to send the message. It's a shot across the bow. I mean, that's what we've been told. So, again, I guess the question is, why now? I mean, what it's going to -- what difference is it going to make?

KRISTOL: I mean, two points, Anderson. First of all, why now? Better later than never, you know? I mean, w should have intervened in World War II earlier, we should have intervened in the Balkans earlier. Sometimes it takes a spectacular episode to get a reluctant president or a reluctant nation to intervene.

But I don't think that's an argument for simply staying out. It is an argument, as you suggest, though, for intervening in a serious way. I've been very worried, as so many people have, so many of us hawks have that the president's intervention would be symbolic and shot across the bow, to use his own very unfortunate term.

And in that case, some people think it would almost be worse than nothing. I still don't quite agree with that. But nonetheless, I gather that, you know, that they are -- they understand, though, that the intervention has to be serious. He doesn't want to say it's for regime change. But we're an awfully strong country.

Even a modest intervention by us could help tip the balance on the ground. I think they are going to go after regime elements, command and control, some of the air fields. And I think that will -- it will be more than a slap on the wrist. I think that is why Senator McCain and Graham went to see the president today. And I gather that they feel somewhat better, not entirely better. But somewhat better that the administration is going to be serious about this -- about this intervention if they get the authority to intervene or if they choose to intervene without the congressional authority.

COOPER: Fouad, to a war weary public, what do you say, though. about -- look, I mean, after Iraq, after Afghanistan getting involved in yet another war, in this region?

AJAMI: Well, that's why we have the president, Anderson. That's why we have a commander in chief. That is why we elect someone to make the connection between our security here and their security and their order over there. And that's what the president hasn't done. And he hasn't done it because he really is not convinced of his own war.

This is going to be Obama's war, he has to own it, he has to prosecute it. Thus far, it's been in many ways for Obama that he looked at Iraq and denounced it. And he called it a war of choice. He took Afghanistan and adopted it as a war of necessity, but reluctantly, he had a surge in Afghanistan, they announced an end to Afghanistan. And then, of course, there was the intervention in Libya which was in many ways half hearted and it was done. The leadership was taken by the British and the French.

This is now Obama's moment in the world. And if he doesn't believe in this mission, I think it's best not to -- then we best not do it.

COOPER: Chris, when you hear Fouad talking about this, I mean -- to you does it harken back to Iraq? Do you see this through the lens of Iraq and Afghanistan?

DICKEY: I don't exactly see it through the lens of Iraq and Afghanistan. What I do see is that the experience of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan with precious little to show for it, has essentially bled the will of the American people to get involved in these kinds of things. Before we went into Iraq, I thought it was a terrible idea. Not because getting rid of Saddam was a bad idea, he was a horrible dictator, a horrible tyrant.

But because I didn't think that the American people had the will, the desire, the vocation to occupy another country year after year, $2.5 billion a week. Hundreds of thousands of people dead, and for what? I think that that's the context in which Iraq is important here, and that's what President Obama understands very well.

It's sad, it's a situation where probably we should do something in Syria, and something more than is being contemplated. But I totally sympathize with the American public that says, we just don't want to go there.

COOPER: Bill, you were obviously in the first Bush administration when it launched the first Gulf War, there were warnings then that it would spiral into wider regional conflict. We're hearing those warnings today from a lot of people including from Assad. As we said earlier, he called the Middle East a powder keg. Are those concerns real? I mean, that this thing could spiral out of control? That this intervention could spiral out of control?

KRISTOL: Things have spiraled out of control. There are 100,000 people dead in Syria. It is spilling over and it's destabilizing Jordan, it's emboldening Iran, it's emboldening Hezbollah. The notion that we can -- I mean, it'd be different if there were a stable situation that we were choosing to intervene. I would defend intervention in some such cases. And that's -- and would do still for Iraq.

But this is not that circumstance. So I think a case for intervention is actually not that hard. I don't think the downsides -- there are of course downsides, we have to be prepared for them, we have to be serious about it. But I think the case for intervening from a strategic point of view and moral point of view is awfully strong. The president has to make it, the president is the president.

You know, for Republican congressman can make it, people like us can make it, the president has to make it. He has to make it in a serious and sustained way. And he does have to realize that he can't just -- all this talk -- he thinks he's helping his case by saying, it's very limited, very narrow, temporary, it hurts his case. I mean, I understand why he says it because you do a snapshot, public opinion polls. People are scared, weary of war.

But the fact is, people -- to go to war, people want real leadership and he needs to really, I think, now say obviously we're not going to -- you know, we're going to try to keep it as limited as possible. But we are there to really make region, to begin to bring some order back to the region. To punish Assad and to really deter people.

I mean, if you let Assad use weapons of mass destruction, I mean, first of all the effect on the ground in Syria, it's all this horrible, obviously. What does that say about the future? Do we want to be the country that sits -- having the ability to do quite a bit, that does nothing, but I don't think it's a good excuse to say, the American public is weary of war. They're not that weary of war. With presidential leadership, he can win this vote. He can have all the support.

COOPER: All right. We've got to take a quick break. Christiane, thank you. Bill Kristol, as well. Everyone else stick around. I want to talk U.S. military strategy coming up next.

Even before Congress votes on whether to strike Syria, U.S. ships are on the move in the region. Assad's forces are making moves as well. We'll tell you about that. And new developments when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: While President Obama tries to sell Congress a military action in Syria, show of force by the U.S. Navy in the region today. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and four other ships in this battle group moved into the Red Sea. Some could be used for possible military action against Syria. The United States Navy doubled its strength in the Mediterranean over the past week. Six ships are now there, ready for possible cruise missile strikes against Syria.

Also Secretary of State John Kerry told that House Democrats in a phone call today that three Middle Eastern nations, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered the U.S. military use of their bases for action against Syria. Two senior Arab diplomats cautioned the talks are preliminary. Meanwhile, Assad's forces are making moves as well.

Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence joins us with more on the military maneuvering that we should know about. So there are reports that Assad is hiding military assets in civilian populations. President Obama says his military leaders have assured him strikes would be just effective a month from now. How confident are officials at the Pentagon that you're hearing from, the president isn't waiting too long?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line, Anderson, very, one official told us that if the Syrian regime thinks it's going to get some benefit out of this delay, they're sorely mistaken. That confidence comes from the fact that they feel they have 24 hour surveillance over Syria, the technology to hit precise locations, and they feel that Assad cannot hide some of his major assets.

They say he does not have the fortified underground bunkers to stash attack helicopters and planes and you can't position and park many of those next to an urban school or a mosque. On the other hand, I spoke with the former general who commanded the air operation over Kosovo who says the delay is making it much more likely that you'll get a cruise missile strike that will destroy say the defense ministry without any actual defense ministers inside.

He said they will have been moved to some hospital or mosque where they set up in an office and are affecting command and control from there. Pentagon officials say they are continuing right now to refine that target list, and when the president calls for it, it will be updated and ready.

COOPER: We talked about these Navy warships positioning in the Eastern Mediterranean. Today the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz moved to the Red Sea. What's the significance of the warships heading to the area?

LAWRENCE: Some of it is just for show, Anderson. I mean, the Nimitz and its battle group have not been given any orders to be part of even a limited strike in Syria. They're simply there to sort of maximize the options as a just in case option if necessary. It's the destroyers that you have to keep your eye on. All of them are armed with about 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Those can fly 900 miles. They can be reprogrammed to strike targets at mid flight. That range allows those ships to stay well out of the range of any Syrian retaliation.

COOPER: All right, I want to bring in our panel. Chris, thanks for the reporting. Fouad Ajami, Christopher Dickey and also joining us is Christopher Preble, Vice President of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the CATO Institute, and retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command. Appreciate all of you being with us.

General Zinni, let's start with you. The chairman of The Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey said there was no military down side to waiting until Congress return to session next week to take action. Do you agree with that?

GENERAL ANTHONY ZINNI (RETIRED), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I do. I think it was just covered in your piece. The targeting is ongoing. The assets are there to follow any actions he may take to move targets. There are plenty of fixed targets that can't be moved and I don't think it's a problem for the military to do major damage to the Syrian forces when the time comes even if it's later.

COOPER: And General, what's your biggest concern about this military action? What are the things you're looking at that would concern you most as a planner?

ZINNI: Well, I tell you, let me tell you what my concern is because it's way bigger than just this act. We're at a point in time in our history when we needed to decide what our power and purpose is in the world. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, I don't think we've understood where we are in the world. What we want to be, what we can afford to be. Are we going to be the world's policeman? Are we going to form new international groupings that we could lead?

I'm listening to our political leaders that have the range from interventionists to isolationists. I think this is a moment, if this debate is going to happen between the executive and the legislative branches to come to grips, what are we going to be in the 21st Century? What is America's role? As a military man, that impacts directly our military.

We've just come out of two wars. You know, we've been tasked to rebuild societies that are still in the 9th or 18th Century in our image. We're suffering through sequestering. We're getting new missions, pivoting in the Pacific and everything else. Our military wants to know, what do you want us to be, and will you give us the capability to be that?

COOPER: Chris, probably you think launching military operations against Syria would be reckless and counterproductive for the United States, why?

CHRISTOPHER PREBLE, VICE PRESIDENT, DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, CATO INSTITUTE: Mainly because I think the military mission has not been very well articulated, and the leading advocates for intervention, the hawks, if you will, are very explicit on this point. They do not want the mission to be limited. They understand the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to a war, especially a war that may spiral like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did. That is not going to be enough for them.

They will not stop at that. They will continue to call for greater and greater escalation. And so for them, this is just the first salvo in what they think and they hope is a much more concerted effort by the United States to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

COOPER: Fouad, when you hear, the United Arab Emirates is allowing a base to be used or something. Why is America the one who's the policeman of the world here, yet again on this thing? France wants to be involved, but where are these other Arab countries? Where are other countries in the region?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, STANDFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: You're absolutely right. The people who write to you have a compelling point. We have been tasked if you will. We have been left with the burden of attending to the pathologies of the Arab world and I think that's the American moment, and the American burden, and the American destiny at this time.

And I think when you take a look at the Arab world, there's something disgraceful going on there. We do have the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia committed to this effort against Bashar. They want to see the end of Bashar. They have pledged money. They have pledged support and they want to see the destruction of the Mafia that rules Syria.

But other Arab countries, really when you think about it is completely reprehensible. The Egyptians, 90 million people who have had their own revolution for liberty are now siding with Bashar Al- Assad against the rebellion in Syria. And then above and beyond that, you have the Iraqis, the Iraqis whose liberty is owed to an American war.

They now don't want to see an American intervention in Syria, that would deliver some deliverance, some redemption to the Syrian people. Look things in the Arab world are not good. They haven't been good for a long time and America is entangled in this evil. But we're not going to go into a big war in Syria. Our help could alter the balance of power on the ground without a major effort on our part. That's the hope at least.

DICKEY: If I may, what if it doesn't alter the balance of power, then what? There will be calls. There have already been calls for the United States to intervene more decisively on the side of the Assad opposition. It is that exactly. It's no wonder that the American people after having been entangled as Mr. Ajami says in the Middle East do not wish to become entangled again.

I'm grateful. I'm surprised a bit the president went to Congress, but it is after all Congress' responsibility to represent the wishes of their constituents. And I don't think anyone should be surprised that the American people are not anxious to become more deeply entangled in yet another civil war in the region.

COOPER: Mr. Dickey, do you think this will escalate? That we will get pulled deeper into the Syrian crisis?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, MIDDLE EAST EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK/THE DAILY BEAST": I really don't think there's any question at all. You know, we carry -- I have lived through many of these punitive raids on Arab countries in Libya. I was in Kosovo and in Belgrade when it was getting bombed. I see how it plays out. It's all very symbolic until there's a moment of massive war effort.

In Kosovo, it was all done from the air. In Iraq, it was done on the ground. I don't see any potential or any kind of limited raid to really make a real difference on the ground. I do see a huge potential for Assad to turn around and say, I survived, and you know what I'm going to do now, I'm going to use chemical weapons again, and what are you going to do about it? That's the easiest thing for him to do, and I think it's almost certain that that's what he will do?

COOPER: General Zinni, if that does happen, what then?

ZINNI: Well, what concerns me is not only that he can use it again and then we have to repeat this with no end in sight and no strategy, and no clear political objectives, but even if Assad is overthrown, and this mixed bag of opposition groups comes pouring in to Damascus, what does that mean?

I mean, there's an aftermath in here that could be even worse than what we see. We keep saying no boots on the ground. We had two administrations, first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, that did not want to put boots on the ground in Iraq, I think successfully contained Saddam, and avoided the mess.

And then suddenly everything for two administrations that we decided we wouldn't do, we suddenly were immersed in trying to rebuild that nation and into a mess we didn't understand. This is a religious war, in many aspects. We've taken sides now, and this mess is I think can lead to involvement in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. And I don't see anybody else doing anything more than just holding our coat in this.

COOPER: Fouad, just very briefly, you're more supportive of the opposition?

AJAMI: Well, look, we have to believe in people. We have to believe they have something in them, goodness in them, a desire for freedom. We have to believe the Syrian people are capable of spawning the regime of much greater mercy, much greater humanity. And that's what's been missing for the last two and a half years. That's why we didn't intervene, why we didn't arm them, we must trust them. We must trust them. Otherwise, we shouldn't do this whole thing.

COOPER: All right, we have to leave it there. Fouad Ajami, Christopher Dickey, Christopher Preble, and General Anthony Zinni, I appreciate all your perspectives. Thank you very much.

Up next tonight, Diana Nyad, becomes the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She's 64 years old, record setting swimmer, we're going to meet her ahead.

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COOPER: Welcome back about Diana Nyad made history today to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. This was her fifth attempt at the age of 64. The odds were certainly against her. In her first four tries, she was attacked by jellyfish, suffered an asthma attack, and got stuck in a lightning storm.

None of that happened this time, though she still had to swim about 100 miles through shark infested waters. She did it in nearly 53 hours. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to Diana Nyad just moments ago. He joins me now live from Key West. I'm amazed after doing that she was able to speak -- Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know it's incredible, Anderson, what she has done and what she was just able to do. We're on her porch actually here. We just finished talking, and I'll tell you, Anderson, I've met a lot of extraordinary people as have you throughout the years. But she is one of the ones that had inspired me the most. I want you to listen a little bit to the conversation we just had.

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DIANA NYAD, SWIMMER: You know what's so great about it, Sanjay, is that it's all authentic. It's a great story. Do you have a dream 35 years ago, that didn't come to fruition. You move on with life. You turn 60 and your mom just dies and you want -- you're looking for something, and the dream comes awake again in your imagination.

No one's ever done it, it's -- I'm not sure when the next person will do it, that's how hard it is to get everything right and when I say everything right, with all the experience I have, especially in this ocean, I never knew I would suffer the way I did.

GUPTA: Are you hurting right now?

NYAD: I was hurting then.

GUPTA: I know your face is swollen.

NYAD: That's OK. That's temporary. But partly because of the daylight being less these days, to avoid the fatal attacks, it would be different if you just had something else that just hurts, fatal, debilitating, even if you do live. I had a prosthetic mask made. In flat water it's good. With the bump and the wind, it was like glass.

And 90 minutes later, for 49 hours, the wind just blew like heck and it was rough. Tried to -- my whole launch this year was find a way, you don't like it, it's not doing well, find a way. You can't get a negative space. You know with endurance sports, you start going like, this hurts too much, why -- maybe another day. You talk yourself out of it. Even people with iron will quit when it's really tough.

GUPTA: Find a way, I like that.

NYAD: It was really rough that first day, after the start, I just said, forget about the surface up. Get your hands in somehow and with your left hand say push Cuba back and push Florida toward you. And forget about slapping grinding and feeling seasick, just push Cuba back. The jellyfish mask just about undid me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: You know, she's talking that way, Anderson, in part because she had to wear this special jellyfish protectant. She's wearing it for 53 hours. That's part of what causes those abrasions, but it was the jellyfish in the past that were problematic. She would sing songs to herself. She would think of think of people who inspired her. It was -- it just -- it was tough. I mean, she was throwing up at times. She had significant pain. She is 64 years old and just swam nearly 55 hours. It's amazing.

COOPER: It's just -- I mean, incredible. What an accomplishment. Sanjay, thanks very much.

There's a programming note I want to tell you about, don't miss Sanjay's special report, "Diana Nyad's Extreme Dream Come True," tonight at 11:00 Eastern on CNN. That should be great.

Up next, U.S. ambassadors called to the carpet in Mexico and Brazil. The latest international fallout over Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents when we continue.

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COOPER: Let's get caught up on some of the other stories we're following. Isha is here with the 360 Bulletin -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Brazil and Mexico summoned their U.S. ambassadors today after reports the NSA spied on their country's presidents. Journalist Glenn Greenwald told the Brazilian news program that the NSA intercepted e-mail and phone conversations from both countries' governments. CNN has not independently confirms the report.

Verizon will take full control of its wireless business by agreeing to pay $130 billion to buy out Vodafone, one of the largest deals in corporate history. Shareholders for the British firm are set to receive an $84 billion payout.

Anderson, big news with the "50 Shades of Grey" movie, Charlie Hunnam who plays Jack on "Sons of Anarchy" will star as Christian Grey. Anastasia Steel will be played by the Dakota Johnson, the daughter of actress Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. I know this is news you have been anxiously awaiting.

COOPER: I have no idea who any of those characters are. Isha, thanks. We'll be right back.

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COOPER: Ran out of time for "The Ridiculist" tonight. That does it for us. Thanks very much for watching. Join us again one hour from now at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, another edition of 360. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.